President Truman famously kept a sign on his desk that said “The buck stops here”, a gift from an avid poker player. Yet whilst we might appreciate the imagery and the sentiment, should we really rely on there being a ‘buck‘ to pass? Is there always a man in charge, someone with whom the ultimate responsibility lies? The public at large like to believe so. Having someone who is nominally in charge provides a feeling that there is some level of control over daily events, that there is some direction to the madness that seems to govern our lives. It isn’t particularly important whether that person you believe in is God, the president, the Führer or Chuck Norris. Nor does that responsible person need to be an individual, it can just as easily be taken as being particular position, a group of people, or an organisation.
Yet having someone to look to as the ‘Man in Charge’ also entails having someone to blame when things go wrong. In general, people are not willing to look at events as the result of complex systems of uncountable interconnected threads. Such systems lack palpability, they invoke confusion and lack obvious conclusions. Much easier to view events as the result of simple inputs and outputs, revolving around the decision-making roles of important personages. When the proverbial hits the fan, the easiest response is to find those at the helm, whether particular individuals or a group, and lay the blame as thick and fast as the cement mixers can provide it. It’s a simple and effective reaction, since any person that can be held culpable must have made decisions, and any decision can be deemed retrospectively fallacious. Ergo any individual can be made and held responsible. ((We should not forget, of course, that as much as we enjoy seeing certain individuals as being responsible for the workings of the world, both for the comfort it gives us whilst things are ticking along smoothly, as well as the convenience of having someone to blame when they don’t, the individuals themselves also enjoy a level of revelry in the illusion that they are the ones with all the answers.))