Posted tagged ‘dependency’

Self-Responsibility

February 10, 2008

 This is part five of a seven part series, with a new post each day. Each post will be linked to the preceding post. The essay in its entirety can be found on the “Page” titled “Politics and Social Philosophy” which will be posted on 2/12/08.

            Another great value that was once central to the American tradition, and that has now all but disappeared, is one very close to my heart as a psychologist, namely the practice of self-responsibility. We began as a frontier country in which nothing was given and virtually everything had to be created. We began as a country of individualism in which, to be sure, people helped one another and engaged in mutual aid, but it was certainly taken as a foregone conclusion that each individual adult bore primary responsibility for his or her own existence. If you helped people, it was to get them back on their feet. The assumption was that the normal path of growth was from the dependence of childhood to the independence and self-responsibility of adulthood.

             That vision has all but vanished, if not from our culture, then from the intellectual spokespersons for this culture. We hear more and more stories about the insane things that happen when people are no longer held to any kind of accountability or self-responsibility. You may have heard of the agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who was found to be embezzling money from the bureau to feed his gambling habit. When he was discovered, he was fired. He sued the FBI under the Americans with Disabilities Act, arguing that he was being discriminated against because he had a disease, namely gambling addiction. The judge ordered him reinstated on the job. Has there ever been a civilized society in which it has been easier to avoid responsibility?  

             As a psychologist, I am keenly aware that in working with individuals, nothing is more important for their growth to healthy maturity than realizing that each of us has to be responsible for our own life and well-being, for our own choices and behavior, and that blaming and dependency are a dead end; they serve neither self nor others. You cannot have a world that works, you can’t have an organization, a marriage, a relationship, a life that works, except on the premise of self-responsibility.  And without that as a central cultural value, there is no way for people to really get what libertarianism is all about. One of the main psychological, ethical underpinnings of libertarianism is the premise that we must take responsibility for our own lives and be accountable for our own actions. There is no other way for a civilized society to operate.  

             For thousands of years, to turn to an ethical dimension, people have been taught that self-interest is evil. And for thousands of years they have been taught that the  essence of virtue is self-sacrifice. To a large extent that is a doctrine of control and manipulation. “Selfish” is what we call people when they are doing what they want to do, rather than what we want them to do.  

            The world is changing. Imagine, for example, that a speaker was addressing a room full of women, only women, and he said, “Ladies, the essence of morality is realizing that you are here to serve. Your needs are not what is important. Think only of those you serve; nothing is more beautiful than self-sacrifice.” Well, in the modern world, such a speaker would rightly be booed off the stage. Question: What happens if the same speech is made to a mixed audience? Why is what’s wrong with it different if men are also in the audience? We need to rethink our whole ethical framework. We need to rethink and realize that it is the natural right of an organism, not only to defend and to sustain its own life, but to fulfill its own needs, to pursue its own values, bound by the moral obligation not to violate the rights of others by coercion or fraud, not to willingly participate in a coercive society. 

To view previous parts of this essay please click on the following  link – Part 1, Part 2 , Part 3 , Part 4 

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