25 - student - NYC That's all for now.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Blame Game: Who is the Real Culprit?

It's interesting. I recently advertised my little Belize adventure on two separate Belize-related forums - the belize forum and the island board. My initial intention, believe it or not, was to share an experience that I believed would appeal to people familiar with the locale.

Some were upset that I seemed to be denigrating the country. Not so. Take a look at the title I gave my first entry - I came away from the place with fond memories. What surprised me most, however, was the negative reactions I received from some members of the forum. Don't get me wrong - I dropped a few names - and I understand why someone might feel compelled to come to their defense.

I'm not interested in that. What I'm really curious about was the tendency - the very human tendency - to "blame the victim." Let me give an example - here is something I pulled off the board (you can visit the originals at the links above - I may have edited to some degree but I don't think unfairly so).

"I laughed so hard at your Cave tubing adventure, but OMG how stupid to leave anything of value out in plain sight. I felt sorry for your misfortune. But really, it was self induced. We travel extensively, and always keep valuables and/or important documents under lock and key or at least under our noses. It's too bad Erica didn't use a little more of a consoling attitude, but come on. On a first floor balcony. It was only a matter of time!"


"I can't help feeling that Dan had an exceptionally naive approach to travelling. I would not leave valuables and important documents inside a locked hotel room without taking other precautions. To leave it all in a backpack on a balcony right next to a public beach (I know Mata Rocks) AND THEN LEAVE THE PREMISES is absolutely incredible. How can you possibly ascribe any blame to Mata Rocks?"


"In the times we live in treating the security of U.S. passports with such admitted gross negligence should perhaps be an offense punishable by non-issuance of a new passport for a period of 1 year."

So the theft was my fault. Again, don't get me wrong. There was certainly an element of contributory negligence. I left the bag out on the balcony. I was "asking for it." Well, I'll grant you that it was a stupid oversight. And one I'm unlikely to make again.

But this is an interesting phenomenon, nonetheless. It was present on the forum and, more atrociously, was present in my dealings with the hotel staff. "It's too bad Erica didn't use a little more of a consoling attitude, but come on. On a first floor balcony. It was only a matter of time!" Yeah. Perhaps it was. Perhaps we should expect theft and take all precautions to avoid it. Don't walk in Morningside Park at 3am, if you're shot, it'll be your fault.

Why do we do this? Why are we so willing to blame the victim? Perhaps we don't want to hear him whining about something that he might have prevented. He's just as guilty as the criminal. What is it about us that rejects empathy and wants to lay blame on the speaker?

I can think of a couple things to account for its occurrence in this instance. First, I understand that the Mata Rocks staff felt a need to push responsibility away from themselves. The theft took place on their property, under the nose of their guard. I left the bag out, but their safety precautions failed in this instance. I never suggested they were to blame - and I don't do so now. But I think that when it occurred they felt a need to deflect any potential blame. Therefore they say - "you shouldn't have left it out." Thanks. I get it. First reason for blaming the victim - deflecting blame on yourself, avoiding responsibility.

Second, there must be a different reason for the reaction of the forum members. They obviously bear no responsibility for the theft. Why do they feel the need to play the blame game? Well, one reason might be the felt need to defend the country of Belize against an unfair attack. I thought I was quite explicit in saying that I like the country despite everything, but I see where the story might lead you. After all, I was posting this link on a de facto tourism board. Another reason might be a human need for superiority - "here's a dumb guy who left his bag out. I would never do that. I'm better than him. And I should let the world know. And I should let him know." Maybe that accounts for it. A third possible reason could be that we're comfortable blaming the victim because we understand and empathize with him. We don't understand the criminal and so we accept him as a given. The victim is an individual whose agency we can comprehend - we see his mistake and we feel the need to point it out because we understand it.

I don't know. I don't know if any of these things are true. I welcome any other ideas.

As a postscript, all I wanted to just share a funny story. Indeed, I don't feel bad about anything that happened really - aside from my desire to recoup the $800 in insurance.

And by the way, thank you for all the warm compliments, I only wish that they might be left on this blog here, as it seems so balefully devoid of comments.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great stuff, Dan. And your assessment of "blaming the victim" is right on.

A few years ago, San Pedro was a place where you could leave a backpack anywhere and the locals would pick it up, find you and return it to you. That's not the case there now as crime has become a growing concern. Robberies are now common and violent crime has begun to occur. There's no excuse for someone who commits a crime, regardless of the temptation provided by the victim. Right's right, wrong's not; simple as that. Blaming the victim is an indicator of the "blamers" need to justify their own lack of mores.

The people who are criticizing you on the forums are all expats who are losing their little bit of paradise to development...which is not your fault other than to be one of the tourists driving that. They'd like the island to revert back to its sleepy fishing village days, which it never will. The locals are adapting to change much better than the expats, whose home it never was to begin with. They just don't want to have to pull stakes and start over on the next yet-to-be-discovered island paradise.

Regardless, your account is accurate enough to be a primer for anyone facing a similar situation.

Crimes in San Pedro don't get solved. After a while, people just quit talking about them.

This should get you some traffic.

12:58 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've lived in San Pedro for over ten years. The pirites of the caribbean live and thrive today! No peg legs, no hook hands, no eye patches but, they are here! The weird things is they are the same people you talked to earlier in the day that were so nice to you on the street. We are all victims here. You got the reaction you did because if the island gets a bad name then tourism goes down and then who will buy all the property for sale! I've been robbed more than 30 times in my stay here. They popped my safe in 10 min. Let me list the recent robberies for you, post office, town board, Fidos, most of the resurants, allot of the tourest of thier jewery & money, then just the other day .......the new vet that we have been waiting two years for, they got it sll. Basicly, it's an island of runaways, throw aways, and a hand full of real prople. If you type your own police report and then send it you might just get someone to sign it for you. I've written every report I've ever made, of course with no results, ever! We are third world in every sense of the word. Finger printing is out as they don't know how to take one even from the people they arrest much less match two up. The good news is I found a backpack on the road and hunted down the couple to give it bsck, they had a happy ending but it could have been different!

3:25 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems weird to me how you go on and on about how us Belizeans are and the unfair treatment that you got. Yes it is all under unfortunate circumstances but that is no excuse for you to intentionally try to put blame on any one but your self. I for a fact know that there are safes in all of the rooms at Mata Rock's just like there are in many of the hotels on the island. Also i think your judgement is off on a lot of things. I would never; anywhere in the world just get in a cab and have them take me someplace to do a tour. You are lucky that you weren't taken somewhere else or that nothing worse happened. I have travelled all over the world and worse things happen daily in the united states but i guess since belize is a third world country then according to you nothing good is to be expected. I am very insulted by the way you refer to all of our wonderful Belizeans. It is also funny how you choose to complain and insult us then go and try to make us feel sympathy for you by saying you like Belize. I have lived here all my life and love the tourists that come here to visit we all make a living from all of them. There are always a handful that come here like your self that act like you are on a different planet and that things don't work like they do where you are from. I don't think that you would do home the things the same way you did them in Belize, because for sure you would have a worst fate.

Please try to give clear facts when insulting our Island. The picture of our "police Station" is our fire station. Sorry if we do not have fancy buildings or ugly garage doors. Many people come her to see the shacks and houses on stilts tha tyou talked about. You should have gone somewhere else if you were expecting something like your town or city. True travellers have an openmind and appreciate the same things you criticized.

A very proud and insulted San Pedrana!

4:59 PM

Blogger Dan Chirlin said...

If there are any further facts that are incorrect and therefore insulting, let me know and I will change them. I removed the fire station picture - I had no idea it was going to bother people so much.

As for the taxi tour - it was dumb to leave with so little time - but as for danger there are two mitigating things:

1. I tend to trust taxis (maybe I shouldn't), but I would certainly allow a NYC taxi to take me somewhere. I live off taxicabs here in NY.

2. We met the guy in a small department store where he had a kiosk and was well spoken for by the store employees. I suppose they could have been in cahoots, but that doesn't seem like good business.

10:39 AM

Anonymous margeka said...

Thank you for quoting me in your blog. I love how you try to figure every comment, word out figuratively. You are so correct in your observations. I just never took the time to disect every remark or statement made in answer to your posting. I hope you make it back to San Pedro, and I hope I'm there when you do. I'll buy you a Belikin, as long as you tell me your backpack is tucked safely away in your room. Ha! Ha!

11:41 PM


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