Dividing Over Personal Responsibility

The conservative brand often seeks to own the notion of personal responsibility. But it always fails, and that failure is owing to the fact that other ideologies usually focus on their own aspects of personal responsibility.

In short, most of the distance in political divides comes from a split in what exactly personal responsibility entails.

Of course the individualist tendency of conservativism tends to strengthen the false ownership of personal responsibility, and conservatives often seem to mean something closer to “every man for himself” than a more nuanced phrase like “personal responsibility.”

But they don’t really mean that, anyway. Because they admit to familial obligations. And, to whatever extent, they do value duty to country.

The liberal meaning differs, to include a broader definition of family. But at least in the United States, that family can still be rather limited, at least when more direct obligations are entertained.

But take environmentalists as an example. The main beef that conservatives seem to have with environmentalists is the notion that people should take greater personal responsibility for their environmental footprint.

And if we keep pulling at the strings of the personal responsibility cloth, step right up and see it unravel in real time.

We have bankers who don’t budge on their borrowers’ loans, misforclose, launder, and a whole vault full of mistakes, but of course personal responsibility for a bank amounts to a bailout, not the bankrupcy it means for a city like Detroit.

And then we have voting. Which hinges on convincing people of one sort of personal responsibility. If your responsibility is to pay the least taxes, vote for a taxbusterican. If your responsibility is to pay more to help the poor, vote for a helpmocrat.

But if your responsibility is to reduce government as much as possible, via a smooth, realistic transition that ensures growth of charity in the short term to meet the falling government assistance? Good luck finding a sane candidate for that.

Or if your responsibility includes using the same government that subsidizes polluting industries to reduce their pollution? Yeah, that’s not in fashion. Please hang up and try again.

Pork? Now that’s part of personal responsibility. If we all lived like our local representatives and senators act, we’d all be pilfering cable. We would all be receiving government funds to build useless additions to our homes. We would cook our meals in every room of our homes, to receive indoor air pollution credits and grants.

We should give up on these broken notions of personal responsibility and replace them with a saner one. It’s much like the Golden Rule, or maybe the categorical imperative, or maybe the notional social contract, or even utilitarianism.

But it says, we should build our society in the manner which increases functionality and diminishes dysfunction. The problem is, it’s just as easy as personal responsibility to knot into a balloon poodle.

Indeed, we apparently don’t need new definitions of personal responsibility, but just a new will to actually carry it out. The personal responsibility to compromise.