A subject I’ve pondered a fair amount about. Who’s responsible for what?
To begin with:
Who’s responsible for their own actions if we consider we’re merely the product of our circumstance?
So the subject of responsibility is heavily tied to the eons old ideological battle between destiny and free will.
If we imagine an axis with those two extremes, on on hand, everything is already predetermined, therefore we’re not responsible for our actions, on the other, nothing is predetermined and everything is a blank slate. One side is almost the side of comfort, but also of victimisation and passivity. What’s going on is happening to me, and I have no agency over it.
The other I’m the agent of what’s happening around me. And it’s empowering, freeing yet overwhelming and uncomfortable. It’s perhaps similar to this ‘blue pill’ vs ‘red pill’. The red pill is the choice of free will and discomfort.
Like almost everything in life, it is a spectrum. And there are a great many things we don’t control and we’re just going with the flow, a few things it seems we can control. And that is perhaps the soft illusion of life being a human being. This idea that “I’m not a slave to fate”.
The right wind/left wing divide is often tied to this idea, that everyone got what they deserve, and a focus on personal responsibility. So that everyone is responsible for their lot in life. But are we?
It’s easy to want to believe when you’re successful and things come easy to you, that you deserve everything that you have. Because you’d feel guilty otherwise. That’s the dilemma that Left wingers like me who become successful ingredients of the systems can get to. I got richer and more successful than a lot of fellow human beings, yet I didn’t believe that I deserved it. At least, not having 5 to 10 times more income than a fellow human being who get to work on something far more alienating than me. I got to work on big scale projects for names, doing something rather stimulating, so why would I complain? Everyone wishes for a highly paid job doing competent work and having a good social status. But is it really a good use of time to be the sponsor of the system when you’re not aligned with its values? Ironically, successful entrepreneurs will believe so much that their success is only theirs. They won’t really acknowledge the key players who helped them along the way and the context that allowed their success to happen. It’s in that sense that a complete belief that one is fully responsible for its success is just as flawed as a belief that one has no responsibility for their own lives.
Like colours, It’s all very much a spectrum and we don’t really have a grasp on where the ratio of free will/destiny lies.
So I believe the healthiest approach is to consider that we’re co-responsible for everything, to various degrees. I’m co-responsible for my health along with the pharmaceutic companies, medias, doctors, food security administration, advertisement, co-workers, and many other ingredients…
Who’s responsible for the social unrest in a country? Is it the president? Yet the president is only a representation of people’s votes. People’s vote is conditioned on the media that they consume, their ideological upbringing and many other factors…
It’s funny to notice how Trump detach himself from responsibility by saying that “Some people are scheming etc…”. What’s the point of having a top dog in charge if the top dog is saying that he isn’t really the top dog?
And it’s the problem of diffusion of responsibility. The most extreme yet concrete example of that is with gas chambers. How can you have individuals exterminate ruthlessly thousands of innocents of people? You proceed step by step and make sure you have a very diffuse responsibility chain.
One guy is shaving their heads. “I’m just shaving their heads”
One guy is just escorting them to the room. “I’m just bringing them to the room”
One guy is just closing the door. “I’m just closing the door”
One guy is just turning the gas valve. “I’m just turning this gas valve. I didn’t put them here. I’m just doing what I’m told”
One guy is just moving the bodies. “I’m just moving the bodies. I didn’t gas them.
And so on… And the coordinator of all that may just be a planner who don’t get to see what’s really going on. So no one is really faced with the consequences of their actions. There’s no one who’s really taking full ownership of the whole process. Or you could say. Well, it’s all Hitler’s fault… But is it?
A guy who was democratically elected and has been supported by millions of fanatic followers.
So who’s responsible really?
No one, and everyone. We’re all co-responsible for pretty much everything that there is. We’re all co-responsible for the state of the world. The pollution, the climate change, social unrest. Since we all have potential agency over the changing of it, we’re all co-responsible. And I believe a lot of the issues of our time is this unwillingness to acknowledge responsibility over things.
If anything, I believe it might be a good thing to give more responsibility to some individuals who are most able to yield it. But then, giving great power, implies great responsibility. Giving responsibility, means giving power to someone. But then, either in the positive or the negative. Responsibilities mean taking ownership of incompetence. In ancient Egypt, if an architect were to be late on his project, he would be beheaded. It was implied that if you don’t deliver on your promises, You get to pay the ultimate price. It’s a bit extreme but now it seems we’re on the other extreme. Where those in power who abuse it or to which incompetence leads to much disarray will almost never be made to be responsible for their acts.
It’s the carrot and the stick. People in charge, don’t have a stick the way little people do. They have a big carrot. And it’s only the size of the carrot that’s at stake. So after a while, the size of the carrot doesn’t make much of a difference. As long as you get to live in the comfort that you’ll have a big one.
We also don’t reward proportionally to the responsibility of value creation in this world. It’s rare that the originator of a invention, is the one that reap the most rewards from their work. It’s more of a legal patent game, and if you’re a smart social gamer. The world belongs to social gamers, not to producers.
Politicians are in the business of playing the social game well. Not in the business of solving problems. Problem solvers are not those who are made to be put in charge. Because they don’t really focus their energy towards being in charge.
So it’s fair to say I have an issue with how responsibility is considered and to whom do we give more responsibility. It’s normal that some people would not be given much responsibility, if you’re disabled, unable, sick or weakened, it is better to not be given much responsibilities. To be taken care of. But if you’re strong, enabled, able, healthy and competent, more responsibilities ought to be given to you. And that’s for the betterment and good allocation of people in the right places. But I would say that more important than competence is virtue. Which is not a notion that is considered very much in our modern days. But Hitler was a very competent leader. Yet was he virtuous? Wouldn’t you want to have virtuous individuals at the helms first? And then competent people to support them? One could argue that Jesus was one of the most virtuously competent leader.
Where are those who lead with virtues and willing to be the keepers of those ideals?
In a way I think Steve Jobs as that. A leader that was extremely competent because he lead with values first, and having competent people around him able to execute on the vision. Or Churchill? Or Lincoln? The people who make the best use of the power that is granted to them are those who seem to possess a tremendous ability to discern, to delegate, to take full responsibility for things and to be the agents of the advancement of virtues, With the various values that each of them sponsored. We could say Elon Musk is one of those virtuous leader who took responsibility for reducing the carbon emission and offering a potential exit route to humanity in case of an extinction event. And I’d say it’s all to his honours. I’d be more reserved on his way to tackle the rise of A.I through merging with machines. But that’s a subject for an other time.
The point is if we’re fully able to assess who’s responsible for what now, and who would be most able to be put in places of responsibility, we would have a more harmonious society.