The Fault, Dear Friends

“The fault dear Brutus is not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are
underlings”  (Cassius, in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar).

There are a zillion entries in Google for this quotation. And why not. We’ve
all thought at one time or another that a problem – whatever we’re facing,
however defined – is our fault. And, not to make things too complicated –
much of the time we want to think that our problems are our fault. Because
if they are, then we can do something about them.

“The fault is in ourselves”: it’s an idea that inflates our sense of
individual and collective “agency.” Our fault! O.K. So, let’s change things.
Let’s get to work.

Assume responsibility. Mend the world. Reduce our carbon footprint.

I am not going to talk about climate change. When the subject is broached,
e-mail chat lines crumble; life-long e-enemies are formed, blogs die.

But perhaps, we’ll clarify thinking on fault and cause in public policy.

We can side with Brutus. The “fault” lies with the stars; climate change is
caused by the sun and sunspots, the circling stars and planets. Ten thousand
years ago the Northern hemisphere was covered with ice; ten thousand years
from now, there’ll be ice again. But to side with Brutus is to give up that
precious sense of human agency. From the Brutus-perspective, there’s not a
great deal humans can do. We can hope to adapt. Move populations; build
dikes; grow new crops; be kind to one another as we diminish. We’ll read
Camus. We’ll read the Greeks on the plague in Athens.

Or we can side with Cassius. Humans are to blame. The sense of agency and
purpose returns! Now we have plenty to do and it’s all very satisfying.
Attacks on capitalists and capitalism are just the beginning. Don’t curse
the cold and darkness. Or the heat! Light your personal candle.

Brutus or Cassius. I’m not making recommendations.

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