During the summer after my sophomore year of high school, I attended debate camp. Many would categorize this organized engagement as birth control for future NPR listeners, but for others it was an incubator for teenagers with a desire to hone their verbal jousting skills, temporarily escape home, and momentarily think they were cool.
Every night our camp had a strict 11pm lights out policy. No matter the reason, if you were caught out of your room after curfew, or had individuals in your room past that time, you’d be punished for violating the camp rules.
On the second to last day, a ferociously intelligent, kind, and ambitiously contagious girl from Idaho named Daisy was turning sixteen. Many thought it would be defiantly delightful to sneak out around midnight to celebrate the age that ushers in a driver license, acne, and prom. Sure enough, the strategic plotting of the young argumentative ingénues was foiled by two camp counselors who overheard their plans during dinner.
As a result, the residence manager punished the two girls who snuck out. In addition, the debate camp overlords reprimanded Daisy and her roommate (who had been sleeping). They claimed claimed that the opportunity to sneak out and break camp rules would not have been possible without both parties, making all parties equally culpable of the crime.
I think back on this when I see, almost two decades later, the practice of applying equitable blame when problems arise is back in fashion; believing that an astute and fair diagnosis of culture, political, and commercial problems that plague society can be equitably traced back to the actions of every party involved is cognitively chic. Naively doling out blame, in an ignorantly proportional manner, has become the diplomatic pumpkin spice latte of problem solving.
We can all agree that hitting the reset button on how we analyze important topics has been long overdue. However, approaching every topic by trying to equally balance the weight of two issues is neither sustainable in the long run nor a proper method of analyzing those issues.
But the recently championed thought process, which acts as an updated comparative model that allegedly broadens the understanding of an issue, actually minimizes the complexity of a topic while neglecting to reasonably allocate blame.
The dangerous drawback of dissecting every problem as if the groups involved are proportionally reprehensible paints a foggy glimpse of the situation; ignoring the reality that a certain action caused a reaction which spawned the conflict. Chalking up false parallels thins the line between the aggressor and the responder or the demeanor and the demeaned. Our forced equitable empathy often can conflate a victim with the perpetrator because we notice a degree of inconvenience that the perpetrator might endure when they are scrutinized for their misdeeds.
In the real world this indulgence in blindly blanketing blame equitably has given justification to the narrative that those who deny science and those extremely passionate and hyperbolic are intellectual twins, has also indulged a false parallel between white supremacists and a small overzealous faction attempting to combat this bigotry, has allowed many to push the false narrative that alleged sexual assault survivor and barbaric white privilege, emotionally unhinged, sexual assaulter are both equal victims. And has been exploited to make many believe that a kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality is just as dangerous, if not more, as men and women in blue abusing their power.
Friction among groups can indeed be stemmed from multiple variables, multiple parties, and multiple events, but coercing yourself to believe that each party is proportionally culpable strips away the context of the situation. Believing that “both sides” can be blamed for a certain tension blatantly ignores the gravity and impact of a certain tribe’s action, running counter to the intentions of those hoping to grasp the issues plaguing society.
I was able to get a hold of Daisy from debate camp. Today, she is a conflict negotiator for the United Nations and has spent the past ten years resolving disputes in Brazil, Rwanda, and Iran. From her campsite in South Sudan, Daisy told me she was fed up of speaking with friends who have been seduced by the equitable apprehension approach to problem solving. When I asked her if there was ever an instance that this type of thinking was justified, she said she couldn’t name one.
“You’re an idiot and a shallow thinker if you buy into this notion that a neatly even and equivalent denouncement makes you a more in tuned individual or gets you anywhere in life when facing major dilemma. I don’t know why all my friends adopted this type of thinking after the 2016 election. It’s just stupid, counterproductive, and did I mention, as an international war crimes arbiter, incredibly fucking moronic? It just is. That’s not up for debate.”