Ramblings: Personal Responsibility, the Crux of the Divide

With all the fog of political divides, it is sometimes hard to see the forest for the trees. It appears that there are a thousand issues that separate the political right from the left without an unifying theme. It appears that racially-motivated police brutality of people is yet another unrelated issue in which we disagree. However, with that said, I think it is really only one issue and that is the view of personal responsibility. This is the unifying theory of all that’s in conflict between the two sides.

To stake out definitions, sometimes we have to start with the extreme positions, knowing that in reality few hold such extreme views but some modification of those views. I want to look at it like a spectrum, focusing on those end-points to make the distinction clear.

Personal Responsibility

Those who believe in total personal responsibility believe that we are all born as a blank slate or tabula rasa. It is like a running race and we are all starting from the same point. That who we become, who we are, how we act, are all determined by our free-will decisions such as choosing to work hard or make moral decisions.

The Death of Personal Responsibility

The reason that people favor this view is that it is reassuring to their own accomplishments. Those accomplishments can be measured in money or by a perceived moral superiority. “I am a rich guy or a good guy, because I chose to be rich or good and worked hard at it.”

To bolster up this idea, you must look at others with contempt, pointing out that they failed to reach your level because of their inferior character.

I don’t need to say much but you can see why this world view is very attractive to those Christians who find it important to see themselves as good or those who are rich and want to see themselves as deserving of those riches. Ben Carson is the love child of the right, especially of evangelicals. The reason is, (and some of his childhood friends dispute this), he presents a narrative about his life of being born in poverty and with all the usual anti-black sentiments of his local society, and despite that, he rose to become a brilliant neurosurgeon. So that narrative supports that view.

You can apply this view to any social circumstance. Immigrants are fleeing their countries and coming to ours simply because they are bad people, making bad choices or too lazy to make it in their own country.

The poor are poor because of their own bad choices, such as being lazy.

Black men being killed by police is partially, or mostly due to the black man’s choice of doing bad things, like handing a store clerk a fake $20 bill.

A woman seeks an abortion simply because she is a bad person and bad people are taking her astray.

A gay person is gay due to their own (and bad) choice.

This view is favored by political conservative philosophy. Conservative philosophy is embraced by the rich and some forms of Christianity because of the reasons mentioned.

Comprehensive Influence

I know that there are better terms for this other end of the spectrum, but this is the one that comes to mind at this moment. In this view, who we are is a compilation of many sources, including genetics, family, society opportunities, events in life, over which you have no control of.

In this view, the immigrant at our boarder may be seen as the family hero, fighting to save their families from horrible social conditions in their own countries. In the extreme position, alcoholics or drug addicts have no choice because of genetic influences. Some with mental health problems are so because of genetics and abuse from others. You can also see how, as a large group, blacks are poorer and have less opportunity due to social limitations and not from their own personal choices.

The politically liberal favor this view and they base it on the more rational view of society. Progressive Christians are drawn to this view as well.

But It's Not My Fault! Responsibility and Problem Solving Lesson Plan

My point this morning is that these two competing views explains the real difference behind our multiple disagreements between the two sides. However, as true in most things, reality has a blend of the extremes. But when I argue (which I have this week) with people who are totally opposed to the BLM protests and the Black Lives Matter movement itself because they believe in the “Law and Order” approach. But I know that our arguments are really based in this more philosophical realm of personal responsibility. None of us are totally responsible for who we are and what we have. No one is totally exempt from personal responsibility when we make bad moral decisions.


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