Who’s Responsible?

t5d1i

I’ve been thinking a lot about personal responsibility lately and just kind of wondering what it really means.  It’s phrase that gets thrown around a lot, especially in regards to politics.  Conservatives use the term quite a bit but often don’t seem to behave in a way that shows they grasp the meaning or try to determine if it’s actually true.

When I googled the definition it gave me this:

Personal responsibility is the idea that human beings choose, instigate, or otherwise cause their own actions. A corollary idea is that because we cause our actions, we can be held morally accountable or legally liable.

Let’s look at the truth of this statement first.  There are plenty of arguments that can be made to show that this does not reflect life in any way.  Simply because the choices that any one person has in front of them are simply different.  A person living in poverty has a completely different set of choices to make than a person who is wealthy.  Now let’s throw in a genetic background which varies across the human population.  Now let’s throw environmental influences.  now let’s throw in information about how the brain develops and how one can be indoctrinated or brainwashed into a certain way of thinking.  Now let’s throw in levels of education which vary.  We are all conditioned for a certain set of responses that is either likely or more likely, which I discussed in a previous post about free will.  And of course this idea of personal responsibility is used to imply that all poor people are lazy and are poor by choice.

Now even if this notion of personal responsibility was entirely true, why is it that we have a government who shows no personal responsibility?  And I’m talking about both sides of the aisle, both Democrats and Republicans.  We simply don’t have a government that demonstrate personal responsibility.  How often do we hear politicians admitting their own mistakes?  How often do they apologize for the suffering they might have caused?  How often do they apologize for the policies that haven’t worked or been implemented effectively?  How often do they apologize for not doing the things they said they were going to do?  Sometimes I wonder if the reason there is a lack of trust in government in this country has less to do with the fact that they keep doing stupid things, but rather not owning up to the stupid things they do.  I mean seriously would you trust somebody who lacked so much self-awareness that they didn’t even seem to care or notice that they are screwing you or other people over?  I know I wouldn’t?

And that brings me to a bit of a side question.  Would you be more likely to re-elect someone who admitted to his/her mistakes or someone who denied that they made any?  I guess the answer seems to lean towards the latter because it seems we spend so much time trying to prove that someone made a mistake (and yes mistakes when you are in a position of great responsibility can cost people their lives), but do we do that because we know they won’t admit themselves, or were we really expecting them to be perfect?  The rest of us make plenty of mistakes, so does anybody really believe that those we elect are part of a select group of people who don’t make any mistakes?  Isn’t the most important thing that we learn from mistakes and don’t make them again?  Take the Benghazi situation. In hindsight it seems like a lot of things could have been done differently, and perhaps they will in the future, but shouldn’t we expect that with dangerous situations, even a slight error might lead to unnecessary deaths, and that such an error might be made by anyone?  Maybe somebody else might not have made the mistake.  Or maybe somebody wouldn’t have made the mistake 99/100 times but perhaps it just happens on the wrong day where they are more tired than usual and a mistake happens.  I’m not trying to imply that Hillary is guilty of any wrongdoing, but simply that expecting high ranking politicians to be faultless is a ridiculous high bar to set, especially given the high volume and level of decisions they make daily.

It seems to me that we have to allow for some error in judgment.  We should be able to expect politicians to be honest about admitting those errors and thus we can place values on their honesty and their ability to correct their own mistakes.  This to me seems to be an important part of personal responsibility that is missing from our daily lives.  Rich and the powerful always seem immune from the standards of personal responsibility that they hold to the rest of us.   Bill Cosby is a great example of a celebrity who placed himself above this standard, even though he certainly had a lot to say about African-American parents and being personally responsible.  Isn’t there something inherently untrustworthy about a person who does not practice what they preach?  What if Bill Cosby confessed what he had done.  Made some reparations to those he has raped, and turned himself in? We might not like him still, but at least we can appreciate a person who is taking responsibility for the pain that they caused.

In the end, it seems to me that “personal responsibility” is not a philosophy to center one’s self around.  It seems largely untrue, and even if it was true we rarely see it from the people in this world who should be the most personally responsible because of how powerful their positions, their influence, and their voice is. If one wants to believe in personal responsibility then let’s look at the factors that encourage people to be more personally responsible and address those issues instead.

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26 thoughts on “Who’s Responsible?

  1. “It seems to me that we have to allow for some error in judgment. We should be able to expect politicians to be honest about admitting those errors and thus we can place values on their honesty and their ability to correct their own mistakes. This to me seems to be an important part of personal responsibility that is missing from our daily lives.”

    Personal responsibility is for everyone else. Not ourselves. We want people held accountable for their actions. When we make mistakes or commit misdeeds we want mercy. It is interesting you post about this. I listened this morning to part of Tony Blair’s interview on CNN and he admits mistakes were made in Iraq. The news crew talked about how refreshing it was to see a politician reflect on mistakes they made while in office and using it as a motivator for going forward as a better person. Then they contrasted him with the Bush Administration’s inability to admit any mistakes. They were right and that was all there was to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah I sort of liked what he said too. He did say he wasn’t upset that Sadam got ousted. Neither am I. He was a bad dude. And to be honest if somebody just said “We need to invade Iraq because Sadam is the most evil man on the planet”, I might have been more supportive. Yeah I think Colin Powell is the only one who expressed some regret, which is why he’s no longer the Republican’s token minority anymore.

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      1. Yes, I think the assertion that removing Sadam from power caused the uprising of ISIS is a bit extreme. I think that was going to happen either way. Perhaps the fact that there was no viable replacement government in place might be more to blame. On the one hand you have a guy gassing his enemies and his own people, on the other you have extremist groups. I’m not sure which is worse and I’m also not sure that the Arab Spring wouldn’t have impacted Iraq and toppled the regime anyway. Now, as to whether it might have been better to let it play out and let the people stand up for themselves is another discussion entirely.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Removing evil always has value, but it’s clear that the U.S. tends to apply U.S. cultural norms to people in other countries and really didn’t go in with a good understanding of what would happen once Saddam was removed. Bush was so sure we’d be greeted as liberators. Is ISIS better than Saddam? It’s evil apples and oranges, but usually a country heals best through self-determination. There definitely wasn’t a good plan to help them towards that goal. But I’m of the opinion that it’s in America’s best interest to have the region unstable for purposes of western control of the oil. The U.S. and UK have a history of such activity. But I try to not be too conspiracy minded!

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  2. Really well said, Swarn. You wrote:

    “And that brings me to a bit of a side question. Would you be more likely to re-elect someone who admitted to his/her mistakes or someone who denied that they made any? “

    The first thing that came to my mind is the God complex, where no matter the glaringly obvious mistakes, oversights, or how unethical the behavior of a said god, he/she/it is afforded immunity in personal responsibility and defended by the worshipers.

    Another thought I had was that people may be more forgiving of said mistakes of their “leaders” because they were ultimately the ones who put them in those leadership positions, so even the commoners don’t take personal responsibility and continue to vote against their own best interests.

    In the case of Benghazi, several of those involved in the investigation, who were wanting to crucify Hillary, voted against increasing security for U.S. Embassies before the bombings, yet they refuse to take personal responsibility for those actions. Instead they sought a scapegoat.

    In answer to your question I quoted, a resounding yes. Why? Because they are willing to admit they are not perfect, they are human. IMO, those who chose not to admit their mistakes have a God complex.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the comment Victoria! I too also thought about God complexes, but it has to be more than that. Because while you can understand someone developing a God complex, it’s less easy to understand why someone would keep re-electing someone with that God complex. And while you, Ruth, and I might definitely vote for someone who could admit their mistakes, because we are awesome sensible people, perhaps we are the exception rather than the rule. What if studies show, admitting mistakes is bad, because it is remembered in the minds of the voters and makes the incumbent less likely to win. I don’t know I’m just spitballing.

      I also thought that perhaps it’s like some positive feedback loop where groupee voters who believe their candidate can do no wrong validates the candidate enhancing the God complex, and the candidate in turn knows how to say all the right things to validate the blindly devote fans in a never ending cycle.

      Also I thought about our propensity to raise celebrities, politicians up to levels of perfection. What I’m calling the perfection expectation, or perfexpectation (TM). 🙂 Perhaps many people simply delude themselves. I mean there are still people defending Bill Cosby.

      Finally maybe we are just so used to crooked politicians that it’s just the norm and it takes a pretty clear and heinous injustice for us to turn our backs on a politicians who makes mistakes and lies about it. It’s all bad news either way. lol

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      1. Yes, I agree that it’s more complex than the God complex, but it’s a big part of it because we live in a societies that nurture the God complex, and I’m not just referring to America.

        Here’s something to think about. A study published in Current Biology described how primates will “pay” a cherry juice reward in order to view images of dominant specie members. This appears to be a form of hero worship — that although dominant species can be abusive the lower ranking monkeys are still starstruck. [ S.V Shepherd, R.O. Deaner and M.L. Platt, 2006, Social Status Gates Social Attention in Monkeys, Current Biology 16(4):119-20.]

        The reason they gave up their cherry juice was because they were getting more dopamine by viewing images of the dominant members.

        In an experiment by Westen et al. (2006), researchers found that conservatives and liberals activated their dopamine reward systems as they experienced positive information about their favorite political candidates. [D. Westen, P. Blagov, K. Harenski, C. Kilts, S. Hamann. (2006) Neural Bases of Motivated Reasoning: An fMRI Study of Emotional Constraints on Partisan Political Judgment in the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. 18: 1947-1958.]

        In complimenting what you wrote in your reply, here is a study about status hierarchies showing that overconfident individuals are seen by others as more competent. The higher status, including the rich, tend to behave badly, but their bad behaviors are often socially accepted.

        http://escholarship.org/uc/item/5zz0q2r0#page-1

        The famous economist Adam Smith (1723-1790), wrote:

        “This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition, though necessary both to establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.”

        Karl Marx wrote in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844: “The Power of Money”

        “The extent of the power of money is the extent of my power. Money’s properties are my – the possessor’s – properties and essential powers… I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honoured, and hence its possessor. Money is the supreme good, therefore its possessor is good. Money, besides, saves me the trouble of being dishonest: I am therefore presumed honest. I am brainless, but money is the real brain of all things and how then should its possessor be brainless?”

        Notice that Donald Trump stands with much confidence, and brags a lot about having money, though he appears to be a megalomaniac? He’s done and said a lot of bad shit, yet he’s the leading Republican presidential candidate.

        Which brings me back to the God complex.

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  3. On the CBC, they were talking about “Apology Legislation” so that doctor’s can apologize when they make mistakes (or things just don’t go the intended way) without it being considered a legal admission of guilt or negligence. These are already in place in some provinces to different extents and it has a (not surprisingly) real effect on the likelihood that you will receive an apology. It suggests that people are willing to apologize, but not if it will cost them too much.

    I knew a guy who apologized while resigning from his job. That was a real apology.

    Politicians don’t need to apologize because they represent you, so really you should apologize for them.

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  4. Wow Swarn, I have all sorts of thoughts, feelings, and even a heavy sense of obligation to comment on THIS subject! Can you guess why? I’ll answer that at the end. 😉

    Simply because the choices that any one person has in front of them are simply different. A person living in poverty has a completely different set of choices to make than a person who is wealthy. Now let’s throw in a genetic background which varies across the human population. Not let’s throw environmental influences. Now let’s throw in information about how the brain develops and how one can be indoctrinated or brainwashed into a certain way of thinking. Now let’s throw in levels of education which vary. We are all condition for a certain set of responses that is either likely or more likely…

    …it seems we spend so much time trying to prove that someone made a mistake (and yes mistakes when you are in a position of great responsibility can cost people their lives), but do we do that because we know they won’t admit themselves, or were we really expecting them to be perfect? The rest of us make plenty of mistakes…

    How many “mistakes” should a person be allowed and why that number? Those answers (of mercy & forgiveness) always fascinate me! Why? They seem to reflect exactly what you mentioned Swarn: “because the choices that any one person has in front of them are simply different.” It is much easier, safer to be the observer rather than the observed, isn’t it?

    Isn’t the most important thing is that we learn from mistakes and don’t make them again?

    I have found in my experience that one can still make mistakes but they can be in a different form given your’s and other’s CHANGED thinking and actions. Humans care so much about ‘acceptance’ that we can get lost from who/what we are. This begs the question again, How many “mistakes” should a person be allowed and why that number? Better yet, WHO should allow it if we are all imperfect?

    It seems to me that we have to allow for some error in judgment.

    Indeed.

    For my answer from above, I’m still learning a LOT about sexism/feminism relative to my personal culture/background and expectations from both genders. I’ve received some bloody-noses, slaps, and questions on my intelligence. Yet, I am determined to make fewer mistakes as I navigate that social minefield!

    I like the discussion & comments of a God-complex above. I might label myself as having a Messy-God-complex. 😛

    And of course that self-label certainly comes from a very subjective POV all relative to my own experiential life which finally taught me near the midway-point that being vulnerable has many, MANY great benefits!!! Wisdom? Messier? 😉 Unless someone or something fatally hurts me…I will survive. Que the 1978 song by Gloria Gaynor! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment Professor. You raise a lot of good points and interesting questions.

      “How many “mistakes” should a person be allowed and why that number? ”

      Well I don’t know that a number of mistakes should be the threshold for anything, because every job and situation is different. I think just like if you were an employer and hired somebody, after giving them a chance to sort it out on their own and trying to help them, at some point they are just too incompetent for the job. I would say that as long as the person is making strong efforts to learn and correct for their mistakes while doing the duties largely successfully that’s probably okay. In selected the right politician we should be looking at their level of competence thus far, and assuming they are the most suitable candidate for the job, all we can ask is that they continue to get better at it with time.

      One of the things that always impresses me about you is that you do ask questions, you do think about things, and you always try. Now someone can have such an attitude and be absolutely terrible at a particular job, but in general such an attitude serves one far better than just pure overconfidence and denial. And I knew exactly where you were going at the end. lol

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      1. In selecting the right politician we should be looking at their level of competence thus far, and assuming they are the most suitable candidate for the job, all we can ask is that they continue to get better at it with time.

        Agreed. How many voters want to take that time required to accurately determine their competence and full track-record? What sort of personal life, family life, parenting do they have or have had? Do their “public” speaking engagements & campaign-tour speeches/debates LINE-UP with their political track-record? Some are non-existent. LOL!

        I know this Swarn, without any doubt whatsoever: I have no inkling of desire to be in political office, EVER! Politicians, especially federal, have absolutely NO PRIVACY whatsoever now, about their past, nor their near future while running or in office! I’d rather be strung-up by my nipples after being skinned alive before putting myself through the unbearable torture of public crucifixion. 😛

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I too would never want to run for office for the reasons you mentioned. Not that I have anything to be ashamed of or any regrets, but rather the fact that my personal life history has no bearing on how effective I could be at the job. But in this country that somehow matters. In other countries this matters a lot less. In other democracies they also get a greater voter turnout. Does that mean that they are necessarily more informed? Perhaps not. But imagine a political system where politicians could have honest conversations. Admit their mistakes and how they’ve learned from them. Imagine politicians who treated people like they were intelligent human beings. Studies show that when you have higher expectations people rise to meet them. Instead politicians spend most of their time exploiting human weakness through fear mongering, pandering, and creating an illusion to hide behind so you don’t really know what they are like. Yes I know I am being idealistic, but ultimately there is no reason why we can’t be more like that, even if we are not perfect. There are countries where politicians do behave like that. And when we see a candidate like Bernie Sanders, you can tell that he is a sincerely good person whether one agrees with him or not. Why can’t more politicians be like him, regardless of whether they are Republican or Democratic?

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Ack, I must have messed up on my quote tags. My comments got mixed in. Swarn, please delete my comment above. Instead of asking you to fix my blunder I will redo my comment below.

    ———————————————————————————————–

    We know through neurological studies that money and power impact reward neurotransmitters, leading to addictive behavior. In his book, “The Winner Effect: How Power Affects Your Brain”, neuroscientist Ian Robertson writes:

    “Democracy, the separation of judicial powers and the free press all evolved for essentially one purpose – to reduce the chance of leaders becoming power addicts. Power changes the brain triggering increased testosterone in both men and women.

    Testosterone and one of its by-products called 3-androstanediol, are addictive, largely because they increase dopamine in a part of the brain’s reward system called the nucleus accumbens. Cocaine has its effects through this system also, and by hijacking our brain’s reward system, it can give short-term extreme pleasure but leads to long-term addiction, with all that that entails.

    Too much power – and hence too much dopamine – can disrupt normal cognition and emotion, leading to gross errors of judgment and imperviousness to risk, not to mention huge egocentricity and lack of empathy for others.”

    Unfortunately Americans tend to worship the wealthy and power — even when those who are wealthy and powerful abuse their privilege.

    Who is responsible, you ask? I think it’s obvious.

    ” For men tied fast to the absolute, bled of their differences, drained of their dreams by authoritarian leeches until nothing but pulp is left, become a massive, sick Thing whose sheer weight is used ruthlessly by ambitious men. Here is the real enemy of the people: our own selves dehumanized into ”the masses.” And where is the David who can slay this giant?”

    ~Lillian Smith

    Yeah, I sound like a broken record, don’t I. 😉 I just don’t see us improving as a nation until we address the root causes of America’s dysfunction.

    Liked by 1 person

          1. Agreed, but Canada still allowed this power-hungry fear-monger PM to rule your country for how many years? He was the 6th longest running PM in Canada’s history.

            As Bernie said, we need a political revolution. That’s what happened in Canada and they kicked Harper to the curb. I see glimmers of it happening on social media. If we want to see change, then we have to stop the insanity — “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Agreed…but I think the way the government works here is that we need a lot more Bernie Sanders types to run in the House and Senate. Not to mention governors and state legislatures. States have a lot more autonomy here than the provinces in Canada.

              Liked by 1 person

            2. We need to make major changes like not allowing Congress to do inside trading with Wall $treet, and we need to do away with Citizens United and lobbyist. The system produces Hubris Syndrome: an acquired personality disorder which arises in some leaders because of the effects of power on their brains. Some of the symptoms are:

              **A narcissistic preoccupation with one’s image (eg, about not being seen to back down and lose ‘strong man’ image).

              **A tendency for the leader to see the nation’s interests and his own as identical.

              **An excessive confidence in the leader’s own judgment and contempt for the advice or criticism of others, along with a sense of omnipotence.

              **A tendency to feel accountable to History or God rather than to more mundane political or legal courts.

              **A tendency towards a loss of contact with reality and progressive isolation.

              **“Hubristic incompetence”, where things go wrong because of over-confidence and impaired judgment.

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  6. Pingback: Why wouldn’t we all be liberal? | Cloak Unfurled

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