Response I wrote to “Sue,” a rather trollish commenter on activist-psychologist Bruce Levine’s blog. http://www.BruceLevine.net
Sue, you’re right, we do need to look at ourselves and ask ourselves how our politicians are actually reflecting our own greed and selfishness.
However, our problem is not lack of self-responsibility. Americans are very good at taking responsibility for OURSELVES. Our problem is that we’re not taking responsibility for each other. We are in desperate need of social responsibility in this country. Interestingly, some countries are too socially responsible: Asian countries, for example, where conformity supersedes individual freedom. “Conform or be cast out…” as Geddy Lee of Rush once sang. I’m certainly not an advocate of eliminating all individual freedom or individualism. It’s the extreme, self-involved, “rugged” individualism that is disturbing.
Ironically, rugged individualism, our selfish desire to think only of our own individual needs and to ignore the needs and rights of others, is leading to the destruction of our individual freedoms! Who would have thought it! As humans we were made to take care of ourselves AND each other. We all suffer when we tip that balance.
The Rush song, “Subdivisions” says it all: (Leave it to the Canadians!)
“Growing up it all seems so one-sided,
Opinions all provided, the future pre-decided,
Detached and subdivided in the mass production zone.
Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone.
In the high school halls,
In the shopping malls,
Conform or be cast out.
In the basement bars,
In the backs of cars,
Be cool or be cast out…
…Where some will sell their dreams for small desires…”
Sound familiar? We talk about self responsibility, about individual freedom yet we are oppressed (not freed) by our inability to see outside ourselves, by our inability to connect with other people.
Yes, placing other people’s needs before our own can sometimes be dangerous. We need to take care of ourselves too. But right now, our country has swung in the opposite direction. We’re too self-centered, too individualistic.
A self-effacing need to conform and to put other people’s needs above one’s own can cause self-detachment and can be detrimental, yes. But so can loneliness, isolation, feeling detached from society, having no one to rely on but yourself. Why do we have to take things to extremes? Taking responsibility for one’s self and working hard to solve one’s own problems are great ideas when one is in a quandry, but we still need to be able to seek out help from others. And we should be ready and willing to help each other so that others will be available and willing to help us when the time comes. Trying to solve our own problems alone because we’re too proud to ask others for help when we need it can cause some problems to become major disasters, unmanageable and unable to be solved.
Sue, the shipping clerk buys lottery tickets because he knows he’s never going to make a lot of money no matter how hard he works. The system is set up to keep poor people poor, to make middle class people poor and to help the mega-rich get even richer.
Your comment is presumptuous and judgmental. You suggest in your comment that people are poor because they aren’t taking responsibility for something… In other words, they’ve done something to cause themselves to become poor. What exactly are the poor responsible for, Sue? Are they responsible for the decisions politicians made to deregulate big corporations that are now often allowed to eliminate safety precautions that kept employees safe on the job, to pay their employees unliveable wages, and to outsource labor to third-world countries, unpunished by our government, while millions of Americans are laid off or demoted in the process? Are they responsible for lower wages mismatched with higher costs of living? Are they responsible for their bosses’ refusal to provide health insurance benefits? Are they responsible for the U.S. government’s refusal to make health care accessible to all Americans? Are they responsible for the high cost of medical care and of higher education? Are they responsible for how other Americans choose to vote? Are they responsible for choices made by other people? by their landlords? their bosses? their politicians? Are they responsible for the opinions, ideas and choices of your friends Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, and Bill O’Reilly?
Whew. Poor people sure are responsible for a lot of things. Makes you wonder why they’re still poor. With all that responsibility, shouldn’t they get paid more?
We all take responsibility for ourselves. We wake up every morning, we get dressed, we go to work, we put up sometimes with abuse at work because we need that paycheck to support ourselves and our families. Sometimes we put up with abuse at home because we can’t afford better living conditions. It’s sad, even heartbreaking, what some people must put up with every single day. Yet we’re doing the best that we can. We take care of our families because we understand that beyond self-responsibility is social responsibility. So we don’t throw out our spouse and kids into the street, telling them to fend for themselves. We work to support them as well as ourselves. Not very ruggedly individualistic, is that?
When public libraries, parks, schools, roads, sidewalks, fire departments and police departments are budget-cut out of existence and we are all required to pay out of our own pocket for these services then we will see the importance of social responsibility. Because then we will really struggle to pay for all those services and we’ll see how decisions made (not by us) but by a government (now controlled by large corporations) affect us. Actions and decisions made by other people affect us. We can’t take responsibility for other people’s choices or the things they do. We can only take responsibility for our own actions and, unfortunately, our own actions are not always enough. No one is an island. Not even you, Sue. My guess is that your parents spent a lot of time, energy and money raising you as a child. Did you ever consider paying them back?
Nor did you receive your education alone. Your parents, teachers and surrounding community taught you whether you liked it or not. You drive along a road that was built not by you but by someone else who stood outside toiling for tiny wages, most likely, to pave that road. You watch that TV that was built by someone else, then distributed by a team of someone elses then sold to a store owned by someone else whose salesman or woman sold it to you. Everything in your life, Sue, was influenced by someone else. We are not islands but men and women. Whether we like it or not, we are influenced by each other and we depend upon each other. You can try to be alone, to be a rugged individualist. But that would involve saving up some money to get on someone else’s boat or plane and travelling to an island where you’d have to rely on someone else to safely land you and then you’d have to be ready to hunt and gather your own food, to make your own clothes, to manufacture your own housing. Can you do that, Sue?
My guess would be no.
It’s a little too complex to explain in this little blog here, but suffice it to say that we are all connected. We do need each other. To say that we are responsible for only ourselves is to show ingratitude, yes ingratitude, for all the various people who’ve come together to help you in some way (large or small) to live the life you’re currently living. Think you’re responsible for the outcome of your life? If you found out tomorrow (not on your own but after seeking help from a doctor) that you needed an operation in order to continue living, would you:
–seek help from someone else, i.e., a surgeon perhaps
–decide to operate on yourself?