A Classic Case of Whodunnit // By Sam Wheeler

Your child just knocked over a glass of milk and it spilled all over the kitchen.  A neighbor drunkenly crashed their car into your mailbox.  The son of a friend got poisoned by E. Coli after eating some contaminated meat.  A depressed student and a mentally unstable student just fired guns and killed thirteen fellow classmates at your school.  Each and every one of these events may frustrate you, anger you, and even shock you, and if you’re like most of us, you are likely to blame what’s right in front of you.  You would blame the child who knocked over the milk, you would blame the drunk driver who broke your mailbox, you would blame the meat company for selling tainted meat, and you would blame the shooters for committing such a horrible crime upon your school.  Now what I’ve learned about writing an academic, literary piece is that you often need an answer.  Unfortunately for this essay, and for the situations described above, I don’t have an answer.  In fact, when it comes to blaming people and things, I don’t have any answers at all.

Police blame the killers, brothers blame their sisters, students blame their teachers, and citizens blame their government.  And yes, to an extent all of these victims have someone to blame.  It’s unreasonable to say that no one is ever to take blame, but to look at a crime, or conflict and be so oblivious as to not consider confounding factors is ignorant.  And in general, throughout the United States, that’s what we do.  We lock up the serial killer who murders for pleasure and constantly rapes women, but we overlook the motivations behind the motives.  We disregard the pedophile who harassed the serial killer when he was a young boy.  We pay no attention to the fact that this harassment went unnoticed and resulted in serious psychopathic tendencies.  Unfortunately, while everyone wants someone to blame, there is hardly one person alive on earth today who doesn’t have someone or something else to blame for their misdeeds.

No one chooses to do wrong, we all do and believe what we think is right and rational.  And although the rational decision for one person may not be the rational decision for another, we do things because we believe they are logical.

Starting small, take for example a memory of mine when I was five years old and in Kindergarten.  I had just gotten off the bus and my mom had walked my home.  She was sorting through old family movies in a big box above our old TV.  I’m not sure exactly what happened, but she ended up spilling the box of movies and cassettes all over the floor.  She was obviously very frustrated, and I tried to make her feel better by saying, “Good mistake mom!”  That didn’t go over well, she sent me to my room and I completely did not understand why.  Earlier that day in school I had remembered my teacher, Mrs. Crober, saying that mistakes were good, and that they helped us learn and prepare for the future.  So me, taking what I had learned in school applied it to my mother who had just made a silly mistake.  For me, it seemed the rational decision, it’s what I had learned and therefore I used it.  For my mom, the rational decision was not making fun of her (as it may have seemed from her perspective), and maybe asking if she needed help cleaning up.  Still, to this day, I remember the complete awe I had with my mom for punishing me for saying something I thought was supportive and rational.

And from my perspective, I did nothing wrong.  Going to school that day, paying attention to my teacher, and taking what I had learned back to my home was exactly what I was supposed to do as a kindergartener.  I had no control over the potential for me going to school that day, sort of like people with mental health challenges often have no control over their predisposition for chemical imbalances in the brain (Rutter).  We’ve all seen instances of it, and people with mental instability are often victims of discrimination, frustration, and anger when they truly cannot control themselves.  My brother, for example, is clinically depressed, and although he is on medication, and is essentially fine now, his depression affected my family very negatively for a while.  Looking back, a less informed Sam Wheeler blamed my brother, Ben, for so much anger within my family.  But how is it okay for me to blame my brother, when a mental predisposition that he had utterly no control over is mainly responsible?  I acted like most humans would in this instance, I took my anger and frustration out on someone who wasn’t responsible for their own actions.  I only skimmed the surface of the issue, and didn’t dive in deep enough to uncover that there was a lot more at play than just a misbehaving brother.  Genetics, behavior, childhood, parenting, social life, and so much more are all factors that go into creating who a person is, and that includes the presence of mental health (Collins).

So in regards to events such as Columbine, a school shooting that occurred on April 20th, 1999, the blame is still uncertain.  Two seniors brutally shot and killed thirteen fellow classmates, however at least one of the killers was depressed, and the other showed warning signs of psychopathic and sociopathic tendencies.  Whether nature or nurture were responsible, each shooter was clearly disturbed in the head.  And again, when they committed such a horrible crime, they truly believed that what they were doing was just, rational, and seemed like the logical thing to do given their circumstances.  Killers Eric Harris, and Dylan Klebold both blamed the world they lived in, and the people they were surrounded by for their attack. (Cullen) If the victims blamed Eric and Dylan, but Eric and Dylan both had other things to blame themselves, than doesn’t that create a sort of cycle of blame?  And who are we as human beings to define who is truly to blame.

We blame others for our problems, who blame others for theirs, and so on.  You can’t pinpoint and assign blame to one single source when each and everyone of us plays a part in each and every one of our lives.

Take for example Kevin, a young boy whose story was depicted in a film entitled, “Food Inc”.  While on a family trip to New England, Kevin unknowingly consumed contaminated meat.  This resulted in him contracting “E.coli O157:H7” (Kowalcyk).  Kevin became incredibly sick incredibly fast.  Within twelve days Kevin had died.  A perfectly healthy young boy had been poisoned and killed in twelve days. (Kowalcyk)

Kevin’s mother and family were obviously all devastated but what struck me was the mother’s reaction.  Kevin’s mother naturally wanted to blame someone.  Of course, the first reaction would be to blame the meat packing company which is exactly what she did.  “All I wanted the company to do was say ‘We’re sorry.  We produced this defective product that killed your child, and this is what we’re going to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.’  That’s all we wanted, and they couldn’t give us that” (Food, Inc.).  And although I feel for Kevin’s mother and agree that what happened to her son was a horrible tragedy, I’m not sure her blame is focussed in the right direction.  And to be fair, I’m not sure I know what the right direction is.  She can blame the company, but the company may put their blame on the fact that their factory farming system is able to feed a much larger population of the world than other farms.  In fact, since 1967, factory farms have been able to produce 700% more poultry meat than ever before. (Leyonhjelm) They may say that due to their capability to feed so many people, that a few tragedies along the way may not be as big a deal in the grand scheme of things.  And sad but true, they have a point.  Again, the victims of a tragedy are unable to blame a source that doesn’t have other factors to blame for its’ own misconduct.

It’s a hard concept to grasp, and I understand that.  But blame is a complicated topic with a whole lot of grey area.  In our modern world, everyone feels the need to have a scapegoat, to blame one another for their own personal tragedies.  However, in almost all cases of blame in the world, there is hardly ever an instance where only one party is at fault.  We all contribute a little something to each and every person we interact with, and in turn, we help mold those around us.  So many problems in the world stem from multiple sources, and even those sources come from somewhere else.  It’s a vicious cycle, and until we understand how complicated and deep the concept of blame is, we will continue to blame people whose motives came from the motivations of others.  There is hardly ever one individual person or thing to blame, and the scattered, convoluted chain of blame is truly endless.

Works Cited

Collins, W. Andrew, Eleanor E. Maccoby, Laurence Steinberg, E. Mavis Hetherington,

and Marc H. Bornstein. “Contemporary Research on Parenting: The Case for Nature and Nurture.” American Psychologist55.2 (2000): 218-32. Web. 8 June 2015.

Cullen, David. Columbine. New York: Twelve, 2009. Print.

Food, Inc. Dir. Robert Kenner. Movie One, 2008. DVD.

Kowalcyk, Barbara. “Kevin’s Story.” CFI  |  THE CENTER FOR FOODBORNE ILLNESS RESEARCH & PREVENTION. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 June 2015.<http://www.foodborneillness.org/kevin-s-story.html>.

Leyonhjelm, David. “Factory Farming Is Essential to Feed the World.” Factory Farming.

Ed. Debra A. Miller. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2013. Current Controversies. Rpt. from “Factory Farming—Essential to Feed the World.” http://www.onlineopinion.com.au. 2012. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 10 June 2015.

Rutter, Michael. “The Interplay of Nature, Nurture, and Developmental Influences.” Arch

Gen Psychiatry Archives of General Psychiatry 59.11 (2002): 996. Web. 8 June 2015.

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