What Is “Predatory Explanation”?

I have coined this term to cover a cluster of related devices that, taken together, comprise a language designed to prevent your actions being discussed on their own merits or demerits, thereby offering you – in your own eyes and in as many other eyes as possible – immunity from all criticism.

Predatory Explanation offers the Holy Grail of modern culture: the guarantee that whatever you do, you can walk away from the crash feeling good about yourself. Like Eric Segall’s definition of love, therefore, Predatory Explanation means “never having to say you’re sorry”.

The rationale behind the term is as follows. Humanity is divisible in many ways: by gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, intelligence, personality and so forth. Explanations of the bad things that happen that employ only one of these divisions and attribute them to the category to which you do not yourself belong allow you to revel in an absolute self-righteousness. The essential thing is at all costs to obscure the alternative division of humankind – a division that runs at right-angles to race, gender and all the other categories under heaven – the one between predator and prey. Because in that latter division, you might be on the wrong side.

It is old news that human beings prey on each other. Economic, sexual and emotional predation come immediately to mind. Now, attribution of characteristics and motives to others in such a way as to maximise one’s own chances of having one’s own way and getting away with it afterwards, while the other party carries the can, is clearly another form of predation. Here, too, other people are being employed as “food”. That is, other people exist solely to provide you with convenient explanations of what happens, in the world in general, and in your vicinity in particular – explanations that point the finger well away from yourself. Predatory Explanation puts you at the top of the “food chain” of self-exculpation.

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