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Blame games and volcanic ash: who’s fault?

As the ash cloud billowed from the spewing volcano in Iceland the accusations and recriminations over who was to blame were sure to follow, but nobody’s to blame for this act of God.

Or are they? Complaining is one of our favourite pastimes, and finding others to blame has recently become a treasured national sport. Before the dust had settled over the continent, Brits began to find fault. While nobody could be blamed for this freak of nature, we were quick to turn on those who were left to handle the fallout. Airlines, insurance companies, the government and the air traffic controllers all came under fire. The scientists were over-cautious in their judgement of the danger; the air traffic authorities were wrong to ban planes from the skies/ground us for so long; the insurance companies fell short when it came to stumping up sufficient compensation; the government’s response was too slow, too inefficient…

And yet had a flight been allowed to take to the sky and suffered damage, there would have been extensive recriminations against the air control authorities. The government was attempting to deal with an unprecedented, widespread crisis and people omitted to take into account that plans were quickly implemented to ship people back to British shores, while Embassy officials were promptly dispatched to ferry ports and airports to support the stranded hordes.

The Icelandic volcano is not the only example of how keen we are to find a scapegoat for anything that befalls us: Brown was blamed for the causes and consequences of the worldwide recession; police response is often found wanting, the NHS is criticised on an almost daily basis. The penchant to place blame filters down from a national scale to a day-to-day level. Today’s frenzy of alarm frequently whipped up over ‘health and safety’ issues is not born of a developing concern for the welfare of our compatriots but spawned from not unfounded fears that blame will be placed and litigation will follow, for teachers, parents or any individuals.

Where does this deep-rooted need to place blame come from? Perhaps it stems from our lack of willingness to accept personal responsibility and our dependence on New Labour’s Nanny State. I’ve clumsily tripped over a paving stone so somebody must be to blame. My kid grazed his knee in the playground so somebody was negligent. Do we for some reason feel out of control? Or are we simply pessimists, too quick to see the negative rather than praising the positive? Is it that the post-war generation never had it so good and now, bored of our lot, we expect everything handed to us? Whose fault is it anyway?

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