“Cui prodest” is a Latin phrase for a simple yet essential question when determining the motives behind an action: who stands to gain? In a society such as ours, when any actor on the grand stage of the socio-political system is up for bid, we must not look at the actors, but at the puppet masters, and we do this by first asking, “Who stands to gain?” We must do this because the motives of these actors are secondary to the forces controlling them, so to best understand, and if need be, halt these influences, we must put two and two together and pull the mask off of the master. I find it is both incredibly relevant and important to analyze the connection between this concept and our ingrained sense of self blame.
Let us look at this narrative of having no one to blame but yourself. It is not to say that there is no truth at all in this statement, as one’s own choices absolutely have a role in one’s own life, and it is absurd to think otherwise. That aside, it is equally absurd to believe that one can live in a society without being subject to its influence and coercion. So whereas some amount of personal choice is involved, we must not only consider all of the various variables of society, but also the fact that one’s entire method of forming one’s thoughts (and choices) are entirely influenced by the world around them. With that outlined, this narrative of divine personal choice is simply put, a half truth at best, and if something is only half the truth, it isn’t true.
Despite the clear irrationality of this narrative of having no one to blame but yourself, it is incredibly pervasive, to the point where people can make careers telling impressionable young people that they are all to blame for all their issues … and that you can get past this by signing up for a course on how to be a “real man.” So who stands to gain? The obvious answer is the self care industrial complex, but it goes so much deeper than that. Before self care took off and took on a life of its own, we had the cold, judgemental, paternal narrative of self blame, usually pointed at those worse off in life, but also turned inwards for a good dose of self degradation.
Eventually though, this destructive outlook was abandoned seeing as how mentally damaging and socially isolating it is, and because of the fact that a gaggle of entrepreneurial individuals realized they could make a killing off of tellings all these depressed rubes that they could practice puritanical self blame from the comfort of a cushiony progressive liberal world view.
Now let us return to our question, who stands to gain from this aforementioned dedicated dogma of self seething? Well, let us return to where we picked apart the idea itself. If we recall, the individual is not the only participant within the creation of their own circumstances, we must also remember our friend society. With that said, society is not a living, breathing thing, so how possibly can it be to blame? This is not a bad analysis at all, but let us look at where society comes from, and who generates it. Society is a vague word for a collection of superstructural, or immaterial, phenomena that arise from the organization of the material world. Society is rather, a machine that exists to continuously reproduce its material conditions until it can no longer, but this machine has a purpose: domination.
Take a step back and look at the totality of society and breathe in. Consider just how isolating our world is, particularly in two of the main fields in which we spend a large portion of our waking hours: social media and work. While appearing very different at first, on both of these mediums, we, the worker and the consumer, become commodities on these markets. In fact, we become among the most wretched of the commodities, continually being sold for the benefit of everyone but ourselves. This translates into other aspects of our life, whether it be the competition or the alienation of these two facets. The worst part is that these measures are incredibly effective at pacifying us and encouraging us to lash out at ourselves and other individuals around us rather than the oppressive state machinery, lurching over top of us.
We have largely ceased to question why the world is the way it is, and instead accept it as how it has always been. For an example of this, we have all heard, and likely internalized the phrase, “It’s a dog eat dog world.” This phrase was inspired by the Latin phrase, “Canis caninum non est,” which in fact means, “A dog does not eat another dog.” Yet all this time, we have not even considered why our world has degraded to the point that the dogs must feast on one another, because we are sadly too worried about our own ability to eat within a dog eat dog economy. These so-called “Social Darwinists” are a direct reflection of our flawed Darwninist economics, when in fact a genuine understanding of Darwinism would promote mutually cooperative, collectivistic approaches to society as opposed to domineering and competitive, hyper individualistic ones.
On the topic of our hyper individualistic society, we must also touch upon the vulgar idea that social ills such as climate change are our responsibility alone. It is a great travesty that a broad section of the movement in defense of our environment are hyper focused on the carbon footprint of an individual, while largely turning a blind eye to forces such as the U.S. Armed Forces, that pollute more than most countries.
Such a phenomena is the epitome of the phrase, “Skipping a dollar to pick up a dime,” because even if we were all to buy electric cars, install solar panels and go vegan (of course ignoring all the various social and economic barriers that make these tasks nigh impossible for most of the population), the death march of climate change would still go on, though at a slower pace. This is sadly yet another instance of the societal machinery turning us against each other to distract from the atrocities it carries out before our very eyes. All these individual milestones can accomplish is help an individual feel a wee bit less guilty about the world crumbling in around them, giving them the opportunity to cough out the phrase, “It wasn’t my fault,” just before they succumb to the smog and fires that are consuming everyone else around them.
So, to finally answer our question, who stands to gain from self blame? Simply put, those who dictate our society, along with those who stand to gain from society continue to be dictated in the same manner. Inversely, we who do not get to steer the direction of society lose out, both economically and psychologically. With all the above being said, the entire liberal basis of philosophy is rooted to this idea of the sacred power of the individual, ergo we must completely break with such a philosophy if we want to be able to change both our society and ourselves in a total and holistic way. We must both uphold our individual agency to ruthlessly criticize existing society as well as joining together in mass, collective action to create a society in which the broad masses guide themselves, as opposed to some elite cartel standing above them, whether on the basis of divine right, property rights or party membership.