“J’accuse …!” ( “I accuse…!”) was a famous open letter to French president Félix Faure, published January 13, 1898 in the newspaper L’Aurore by novelist Émile Zola. It accused the French Government anti-Semitism and a breach of justice in the prosecution and imprisonment of Alfred Dreyfus, a French Army General Staff officer sentenced to lifelong penal servitude for espionage. His well-argued accusation was the epitome of effective finger-pointing, and played a major role in bringing down a corrupt government.
Nonetheless, pointing fingers where they need to be pointed, when they need to be pointed, is inconvenient for the incompetents, miscreants, con artists, spinners and otherwise accountable parties so accused. Thus they and their allies often exploit this peculiar rationalization, which is better described, perhaps, as rationalization fertilizer, since it is a catalyst for the employment of many others, including the Biblical rationalizations. “Don’t point fingers!”, or its common variation, “Stop pointing fingers!” provides protection for the very people who most deserve to be pointed to, allowing them to deny culpability, avoid the just consequences of their failings, and best of all, divert appropriate attention from what they have done or not done to the supposed meanness and vindictiveness of critics who want to make sure the same mistakes don’t occur again, especially with the same officials in charge.
And, ironically, the cry “Don’t point fingers!” is often followed by those who cry it pointing fingers themselves, at others. It has unlocked, in such circumstances, the use of Rationalization #7, The Tit-For-Tat Excuse, which holds that one party’s unethical conduct justifies similar unethical conduct in return. Continue reading