Let's Not Assign Blame
This story was written for a Bar Room Writers Offensive in March 2015. The theme was "This is Your Fault, Not Mine."
Blame is the opposite of good.
Bad…That’s the word I was looking for.
Blame is bad, and it is…also bad…that there’s a lot of blame going around the city of Seattle right now. That’s what people tend to do when something goes as horribly wrong as it did last week, but I just don’t think that blame is in any way productive…
I see a couple people here looking a bit confused. I assume that you’ve suffered some sort of head trauma recently or have come directly from one of those religious retreats where they don’t let you use the Internet.
As everybody else knows, it was last week that Seattle attempted to tackle two large issues that the city was dealing with.
Problem one was that Seattle had too many homeless people. They’d done a survey last month and found, not counting people in shelters or transitional housing, nearly three thousand people were sleeping outdoors in the city. People were found in doorways, alleys, parks, bus stops, anywhere they could find shelter. You could even see people looking for a place to sleep under overpasses and in the overgrown blackberry tangles of the city. The homelessness problem was getting worse, and was so bad that people who had sought refuge in the woods along the interstate were rolling down hills and dying on the roadside.
Problem two was Bertha, the broken tunnel digger. Bertha had dug a small amount of a new transit tunnel before she broke down, more than a year ago. It was suggested that she might never work again and it’d be nearly impossible to get her out. So rather than digging a tunnel, what Bertha dug was a non-tunnel or a dead end.
So, the two problems were homeless people and a never-to-be-finished tunnel. Typically, one problem is not solved by another problem. In fact, the cases where someone has too much chocolate and someone else has too much peanut butter are rare.
But in this case, months ago someone came up with the idea of housing the homeless in the unfinished transit tunnel.
The apparent thinking was that the homeless people would have someplace to stay, the tunnel/dead end would get some use, and churches could get their parking lots back from tent cities. The idea was that everybody won, keeping in mind that there are many kinds of winning and not everyone was represented in this particular equation. Was this thinking overly simplistic? Oh god, yes. It was also completely wrong.
If it wasn’t such a terrible idea, it’d be laughably bad. Now, of course, there was opposition to this idea. However, the opposition’s main argument was, “Are you kidding me?”
But when there are no answers for a problem, people tend to jump on any solution that’s offered. In retrospect, several psychologists have termed this the “It’s just so crazy, it might just work” mind frame. So the plan kept moving forward, all the way until last week when they opened the tunnel, which had been renamed “Opportunity Village.”
The realization among all involved parties that Opportunity Village was not working, and would never work, came very quickly. 15 minutes, in fact. Basically, immediately following the aborted ribbon-cutting ceremony, the shouting and a canned food fight began.
The 15-minute mark is also when people started to look for someone or something to blame.
And I’m here to tell you that blame, in this case, doesn’t work.
You can’t blame Bertha. She was just a machine. In the end, an $80,000,000 incredibly flawed machine built to cut through stone and rock, and not the steel pipes that were accidentally placed in her path and destroyed her.
You can’t blame the eight-inch pipe that brought Bertha to a screeching halt. The is something satisfactory about that pipe beating the odds. A steel pipe destroying the largest tunnel boring machine on Earth? It’d be inspirational if it weren’t for the 80 million dollars lost.
It wasn’t Bertha Knight Landes’ fault. While Bertha the digging machine was named after her, the first and only woman mayor in Seattle history died in 1943. At no point during her administration did she ever advocate for a tunnel.
You can’t blame the City Council, they didn’t want Bertha the tunnel machine or the tunnel she was digging. And maybe they were grasping at straws by voting for Opportunity Village, but that’s because they knew they didn’t want people to be homeless and having homeless people rolling down steep hills and dying on the interstate was not something they wanted to discuss during the coming year’s campaign.
You can’t blame the police department. Yes, they did round up the homeless population of Seattle and escort them forcibly to a hole. But they were just doing their jobs, which is working for the people of Seattle. They were just attempting to provide transport to a place where the homeless could go and be safe, like a mine that has never had cave-ins or a prison that’s not for bad people. Certainly, they may have overstepped their boundaries on a few occasions but that’s why we have the police. And, anyway, the Justice Department will look into it later.
You can’t blame the mayor. He didn’t come up with the name “Opportunity Village,” I’m sure a staffer did that and picked up the vinyl banner. It’s not like the mayor forced any of the people into that hole, the police did that, and he has little to no control over them. And I don’t care what anybody says, uninspiring leadership is not a crime and he did insist the Opportunity Village was a temporary situation. As for the botched ribbon cutting, you can’t hold him at fault.
You can’t blame the novelty scissors for not cutting, because the word “novelty” is in their name. Sure, you could say that the other part of their name is scissors and that seems to indicate usage, but I would argue back that, much like rock, the word “novelty” trumps scissors.
You can’t blame the local media and when I say local media, I mean the interns who blog for the Times and The Stranger. While they did ridicule the oversizeness of the mayor’s scissors they weren’t the people who wrote the mayor’s speech and included the phrase “planting the seeds of progress” which, needless to say, is not a good line to read while forcing oppressed homeless people into a hole. Sure, The Stranger intern introduced the idea of mole people, but she never said the homeless were mole people.
And you can’t blame the Internet for picking up the idea of “Seattle’s homeless are mole people” and running with it in every direction like a bad dog with a piece of cooked spaghetti. It was really a meme too good to pass up. And you really can’t blame the Internet, because it’s a cesspit of human desire, and if the Internet people hear that you’ve said anything bad about them they will take your money and erase pictures of your children.
You can’t blame the majority of homeless who erupted in violence after the botched ribbon cutting ceremony ended and an attempt was made to usher them into Opportunity Village. There was not exactly a welcoming feeling. Plus, when the rest of the city decides to put you in a hole in the ground, there are going to be some hard feelings. And you can’t blame them for throwing punches on their way out or for ripping down the Opportunity Village sign or for throwing cans of lima and green beans.
You can’t blame the people who were supposed to set up Opportunity Village and ended up just leaving a pyramid of sleeping bags and tarps along with random piles of canned goods by the entrance, because it was dark down there in the tunnel and a little bit spooky.
You can’t blame the homeless who may have actually gone underground and might still be there, because there was nobody really watching what they were doing. In a canned food fight, the smart people keep their heads down and the dumb people don’t remember what happened. And maybe if there are any underground homeless people they enjoy the idea of a subterranean kingdom and want to be mole people.
You can’t blame the mole people, because mole people do not exist. Sure, there may be an undetermined amount of homeless people living under Seattle now, but it takes millions of years to adapt to that life underground and develop a keen sense of smell, fingernails for digging, and an unquenchable taste for surface dweller blood.
You can’t blame my wife or child.
I was asked to say that.
And you can’t blame me.
Despite what you may have heard.
You see when everything fell apart and nobody came forward to claim credit or grovel for the cameras, people started looking for the source of the idea. And that’s when someone searched for the keywords “homeless” and “Bertha” and discovered a Tweet of mine from a last year.
I would like to say that I only ever written two Tweets, the one from last year and one from 2011 that read “I’m hungry.”
In both cases, these Tweets were satire. I was not hungry in 2011 and I certainly was not suggesting anything specific when I wrote, “Why don’t we house homeless people in the Bertha tunnel? #Letsmakemolepeople.”
Now, that may sound awfully specific to what happened, but I wrote it as satire because that is actually something that I didn’t want to happen. I wanted the complete opposite.
But people who cannot recognize topical humor without a “JK” or “HAHA” or “HAHA, JK” hashtag felt that I was the one to blame for the attempt and subsequent spectacular failure to house the homeless of Seattle underground, that I was the mastermind behind this nefarious plot who set everything in motion.
To them I would say that a thought leader does not have seven followers on Twitter. I’d also point to my blog that includes satirical pieces such as “Vote for my dog for port commissioner” or “Vote for my dog for mayor.” Both of these are intended humorously, because animals cannot run for elected office and if they could you would not want to vote for my dog.
Unfortunately, because people did not recognize satire, I have been all over the Internet and the news, all with the same fuzzy profile picture of me wearing a Rainier half-rack box over my head. I’m getting daily threats of violence and I’ve called both “World’s Worst Person” and “Holenazi.”
Despite that, I cannot take the blame.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand the urge to blame, especially when a community collective’s actions and non-actions have caused something not good to happen, like homelessness or hunger or inequality or sports teams moving.
In this case, where an entire city went along with a bad idea, and when that idea led to hard feelings, can injuries, and possible mole people, people wanted to step away from any responsibility. And that’s what led everybody to me.
In the end it doesn’t matter who was at fault, the important thing for everybody to remember is that it wasn’t me.