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Fearless Philosophy For Free Minds: Personal Responsibility

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Personal Responsibility

This post is in response to a comment made on Gary Borque’s article Why I am a Conservative on his blog Both Worlds. I feel that my response bears repeating here because personal responsibility is a Libertarian virtue which often goes overlooked. Also, I encourage everyone to read Gary’s original post as well as the comments to his post. For those of you anxiously waiting for What I Have Learned From Air America: Part II, I should have it posted by Friday.

Linda, "While I agree that those who engage in risky behavior should be responsible for the consequences,too often the victims of such behavior are innocent children. What do we do then? Society does pay a price for such behavior."

That is exactly my point Linda. Rather than making 'society' pay the price, we ought to be moving in a direction which requires individuals to be responsible for their actions (sadly we seem to be going the opposite direction). The intent of blaming society is to make everyone responsible but has the effect of making no one responsible, especially the person(s) who should be held responsible.

On your second point: "Also, I have watched the change in the culture ever since these so-called "sexual freedoms" have been celebrated. It is now at a point where I have to monitor everything my child sees or hears because of all the garbage out there, I cannot let him go to the park without supervision, and even the library has become a source for concern. And personally I cannot comfortably walk down the street at night anymore. What kind of freedom is that?"

The fact is that you do have to 'monitor everything' your child does; that is what you signed up for when you decided to be a parent. Don't buy into this Hillary Clinton 'It takes a village' nonsense. It takes a parent. Speaking as a parent myself, I understand this. My children are not the responsibility of 'the village' but mine alone. If I am negligent while raising my children, then I should be held accountable; not Hollywood, not the music industry, not pop culture. I do not wish to change these things. Before we decide we want to restrict other's freedoms, we should take a good look in the mirror first.

**UPDATE: Linda Responds***

Full text of her response:

Gary: Thanks.

Stephen: Sometimes the result of "sexual freedom" (or is it bondage?), are innocent children who are either aborted, abused or neglected. Women who are treated like objects. Young girls who think they have to sleep with a guy to keep him interested. And look at the number of young women - single mothers - in poverty as a result. Believe me, it has not always been this way. And one way or another, there is a price to pay.

So who is responsible? The individuals involved? The pornographers? The ALA which thinks no knowledge is bad for children? Our public school system which thinks teenagers can be equated with animals in heat and are not able to rise above their hormones? Or a public which is afraid to stand against this and thus allows it to continue in the name of individual freedoms.

And I do understand that it is my responsiblity to parent my child. But let me whine about it just a little. When I was growing up our popular culture had a sense of decency, so my parents never had to worry too much about it. The culture supported their values. Now, as a parent I feel at war with the culture (the village) so it makes it difficult at best. I can't follow him everywhere - I can only teach him values and hope that when he is confronted with a culture that tells him differently, he will want to do what is right.

As for anything Hillary might have to sell, I'm not buying.

Posted by: Linda April 26, 2005 08:15 PM


Blogger Chipman said...

While I agree that people must be responsible for their action, it also is my feeling that a good society is built on the idea that well will also help each other. There are times when individuals and local organizations can not or do not handle this need. In these cases it is the government that must help the poor, unfortunate and weak in our society or we become a society of animals all caring only for ourself.

7:43 PM  
Blogger Sunnye T said...

I agree to a point, Chipman. Parents must take the responsibility for raising their children, but there comes a time when "the village" (meaning teachers, friends, church, family) must help too. Teenagers are particularly unwilling to listen to parents but often will listen to an outsider. That's where "the village" can help.

I also disagree that government must help the poor. Usually government does more damage than good -- it should get out of the way and let communities do that job.

11:22 PM  
Blogger Stephen Littau said...

When I refer to sexual freedom, I am meaning consenting adults – not those who find themselves in such a relationship that is against his/her will (Such as in the case my wife wrote about in her Polygamy post). You seem to continue to deny the responsibility of those who willingly engage in destructive behavior and want to blame the results of the behavior on the porn industry and pop culture. In your example: “Young girls who think they have to sleep with a guy to keep him interested.” The fact remains: the young girl made a choice.

You asked the all-important question: “Who is responsible?” Maybe I should ask you, who do you think should be responsible? The individuals involved? Yes. The pornographers? How? Everyone who participates in the porn industry is (should) also be responsible for their own actions from the producer, director, the ‘actors,’ and the end customer who buys the video. If Peter Pervert buys a XXX video which angers his wife and results in a divorce, should ‘the pornographers’ be held liable? How do you figure ‘the public’ should respond; pass more laws? Maybe we should go back to the days of scarlet letters for all sexual deviants as defined by ‘the public’ or ‘the village.’

I sympathize with you on how difficult it is to raise children in this environment. I can’t even watch TV with my young children without a Viagra commercial coming on at some point. My six and seven year-old boys are now singing the jingle for the genital herpes drug ("It’s a brand new day"). What should I do about it? Boycott all of the shows that run these commercials? I prefer to raise them the way I see fit and tackle these issues as they arise, by parenting. Nobody ever said it was supposed to be easy. You know that PSA: Parents: the anit-drug? I think that is a message we should listen to, parents do make a difference – even more than you think.

1:29 PM  
Blogger Linda said...

Hey Stephen: I followed you here.

Allow me to make one clarification. Being responsible and being held accountable are two different things. For example, a person (consenting adult) who purchases pornography encourages the making of pornography and is in a way "responsible" for its effects. And part of personal responsibility would be to conduct ourselves in such a way that we know our actions will ultimately have an impact on someone else.

Being held accountable is another story.

What would I like the public to do?
Stop being so silent about it.
Stop heralding Hugh Hefner and Larry Flint as champions of free speech. Speak out against it.

As for passing laws, that's where it get tricky. At the very least, we should do everything in our power to protect children from accessing the stuff. For an example, if someone needs to use the library to access pornograpy, why not require a separate room - adults only - and let them pay for it. (Better yet, keep it out of the public libraries).

Ah, the scarlet letter. what a great idea. Seriously, it might not be a bad idea to bring back shame, though.

And I know that parents do make a difference. That's what I'm counting on. I just wish our culture was a little more friendly.

3:11 PM  
Blogger Gary B said...

I side with Linda on this one. That is, I think her argument has the moral weight.

One problem is we separate personal freedom and personal responsibility/accountability. Another is that fans of personal freedom like to say they accept personal responsibility, but usually they mean they accept responsibility for their behaviors' effects on themselves. Few truly accept the effect on others, or, if they say they do, really fathom the extent to which our behaviors actually affect others or even want to think about it. They are too caught up in reveling in their freedom.

For example, a personal who frequently indulges in pornography is going to affect his or her character in a detrimental way, which is ultimately going to have an effect on other people. If someone through cultivating certain mental habits transforms himself into a selfish jerk, that's going to affect other people, too. You just can't avoid it.

It requires a keen moral sense and wisdom to navigate these waters.

Saying you welcome personal freedom, responsibility and accountability is sort of like saying you want three wishes. Be careful what you wish for, because your choices matter and eventually the chickens come home to roost.

5:41 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

I’ll admit to being odd by comparison. I’m a Christian-libertarian-single parent (of three minor kids). I agree completely with Stephen on this. Although it hasn’t been articulated as such, I hear a hint of the often lamented phrase: “the coarsening of the culture”. What is meant by this, I think, is that secular people tend to have the audacity to act in a secular fashion. This is not unlike moralists acting on their moral values.

Both parties would do well to ask themselves the following question: would I allow one, that doesn’t share my values, to dictate my lifestyle choices? The honest answer is absolutely not. Since both subsets (generally speaking) find the other’s world-view repugnant, I’m more than happy to praise the genius of the First Amendment, which guarantees that neither can abrogate the liberty of the other…nor can the Government. Everyone ought to realize that cultural concerns are subjective in nature and objective harm can be addressed by the neutral arbiter: the Courts.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Gary B said...


The problem is that some harm is not objective, but is just as harmful as the kind which is easily identifiable by courts. How do we address this then? Hope it doesn't get too bad? Believe the apologists who tell us we are overreacting? Whole civilizations, Rome for example, have collapsed due to moral degradation. Are we just supposed to take by faith that this won't happen to us?

I don't mean to sound like an alarmist, but the fact is society has to have some way to address the ravages of moral depravity and its consequences--self-centeredness, dishonesty, betrayal, divorce, broken families, damaged children, damaged adults and the whole thing spiralling down generation by generation until it's too late.

Simply singing the praises of personal freedom and directing people to the courts is not going to solve this problem nor avert its consequences. Doing so sounds very neat and tidy. Unfortunately that's an illusion.

6:48 AM  
Blogger Stephen Littau said...

Wow, who knew personal responsibility would be such a controversial topic? Each of you have brought up some interesting arguments; I am enjoying this debate very much. You have brought up so many items I’m not sure I’ll be able to address them all but I’ll try to hit on the most important points.

Chipman said...
"While I agree that people must be responsible for their action, it also is my feeling that a good society is built on the idea that well will also help each other. There are times when individuals and local organizations can not or do not handle this need. In these cases it is the government that must help the poor, unfortunate and weak in our society or we become a society of animals all caring only for ourself."

One point I may have neglected in my earlier statements: yes, there are times when an individual will need help from others even when the individual has acted irresponsibly. Part of being responsible is acknowledging you have made a mistake and trying to make it right. That first step should be taken before asking others for help. Who’s help should be solicited? Ideally friends, family, a local charity or church – all of these entities of which also have a choice as to whether to help or not. When government does the job, this choice is denied to the taxpayers who are helping via government programs. The government goes beyond its constitutional limits when this happens. A good society does help those in need with or without the government’s help. I reject this notion that if government does not help people in need, fellow citizens will not fill that void. I’ve seen it happen several times over in my own life experience– regular people helping others financially, emotionally, and otherwise. For all the bad people in our society, there are still plenty who want to do good. Read my January 11th post ‘Generosity With Other People’s Money’ for a more complete explanation.

In an attempt to answer some of Linda and Gary’s points, yes it is true that innocent people get hurt by bad decisions by others. If the offending person fails to act responsible for doing this harm, then others have to hold this person accountable through whatever means warrant the offense (i.e. the courts, arbitration, confrontation, etc.).

Making laws against those who ‘might’ be irresponsible is usually not the best way to go. When we start basing legislation on ‘it’s for the children,’ we need to be extra cautious. That reasoning is behind many bad laws we have now and proposed laws going through congress. There are instances when laws do need to be enacted to protect children, but this reasoning should never be used if it violates our basic constitutional rights. We should all defend the rights of even those who we disagree with whether it is Larry Flynt, Jerry Farwell or anyone else.

It is much better to make persuasive, logical arguments against those things in society you find repugnant. This is something we can all do without violating anyone’s individual rights. Unlike many on the Left who scream about rights but want the government to step in when we make mistakes, I understand that we cannot expect to be independent and act like children at the same time. We cannot demand rights if we are unwilling to be personally responsible for the consequences of our own actions.

1:02 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

Gary, what I tried to point out was that, for those that don’t share your morality, your world-view may seem detrimental to societal health. Since you likely reject such a notion, try to consider the possibility that they think similarly, but in reverse. It seems to me that everyone ought to be afforded basic individual liberty, so long as direct harm is not caused. The harm you describe is nebulous and not empirically demonstrable, because if it were, the courts would provide relief.

I would urge you to read my most recent post, in which I attempt to elucidate the proper role of government.

2:03 PM  
Anonymous Linda said...

Gary - Thank you for stating it much better that I ever could.

Robert: I am somewhat amused at your statement "the courts would provide relief". While the ACLU combs the country to find anyone offended by all things pertaining to God, and the courts accomodate them to give relief to all those offended by "God" thereby stripping us of our heritage, your argument does not work with me.

Take a good look at Roe vs. Wade and tell me the courts are the answer to everything.

The "secularists" are fighting to have their way at every turn. In your world, they win.

I am reminded of the quote "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing".

4:38 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

Linda, with all respect, you demand from secularists that which you refuse give in return…namely: the freedom to hold an opposing point of view.

It simply does not follow that their voice must be silenced, while yours must be trumpeted. Can you not recognize the obvious hypocrisy? Attempts to selectively stifle political discourse can only endanger your own liberty (the same is true for the other side). Try to consider a society wherein those of your ilk are/were in the minority…China and the former USSR spring to mind. The logical end of your argument is: tyranny of the majority.

6:37 AM  
Blogger Gary B said...


I understand what you are saying about others seeing me the same as I see them. But I don't want to ram my beliefs down anyone's throat. I want to persuade people to agree with me.

I don't think Linda or anyone else here is trying to silence anyone. What we are doing, if I may speak for Linda, is objecting to the deck from being stacked in the favor of secularism. Which is exactly what happens when all religious influence is scoured from public life in the name of separation of church and state. The doctrine of separation--it is just a doctrine because it isn't in the Constitution--says implicitly and for all practical purposes that secular values are preferrable to religious ones. That's an unfair bias and it is the environment in which we live now. You talk about tyranny. We are already under one--the tyranny of the secularization of all the values our laws are based upon.

I have not called once for something to be made illegal or for someone's individual rights to be limited. What I want is for us to be more honest with ourselves about the negative societal effects of the abuse of personal freedom. And not just say, as you seem to be saying, well if the courts can't do anything about it then it must not be a big problem. That's shows an irrational trust in courts which demostrably, as Linda pointed out, often have their own agenda.

Further, many of the negative effects I'm talking about are not "nebulous." They are quite obvious, observable and measurable. Yes, it is difficult for the courts to address many of these issues. But that doesn't mean they aren't problems.

So how do we address this? Well, as a start we discuss it, which is what we are doing here. I don't think that is silencing anyone. In fact, we are encouraging others to speak.

But simply prostrating at the altar of personal freedom is not the answer. And I speak as one who cherishes my personal freedom as much as anyone.

9:49 AM  
Blogger Stephen Littau said...

If you and Linda are saying your arguments are solely moral arguments rather than making the laws more restrictive to fit your moral views, I will take you at your word. Don’t you agree that there are those on the Christian Right that do want their beliefs codified into our laws?

A great example of this occurred this past weekend on ‘Justice Sunday’ (should have been called ‘Theocracy Sunday’). What The Christian Right is saying is that if you don’t like judges who want to make their Christian beliefs into law, you are Christian bashing, discriminating against people of faith, or simply hate Christians. This is an unfair argument.

The prototype judges The Christian Right want are those with a judicial philosophy of Robert Bork and Roy Moore. I do not know much about the President’s current nominees. I don’t know if the Democrats are simply playing politics (which is possible) or legitimately concerned that some of the judges rule on the basis of the Bible rather than the constitution and the Rule of Law. The fact that The Christian Right loves these choices is enough to give me some pause.

I want to know more; I’ll do my homework and post whatever I find when I do. Judges have too much influence on our laws for too long of a period for this to be subject to a simple majority.

11:41 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

Gary, on the need for civil dialogue, we agree. What I fear though, is the (seemingly) growing desire of moralists to lobby their representatives in Congress to codify their narrow beliefs. It sounds like you and Linda (and myself) fear that the Courts (9th circuit) are acting on behalf of secularists, to purge the public square of any/all religious symbolism.

The fact is that both camps are stealthily and incrementally attempting to shape the broader culture to conform to their own ideal. As I said, the First Amendment was ratified to impartially arbitrate between the two. When I mention the courts, I’m presupposing that they will fulfill their Constitutional mandate. Judicial activism, in either direction, ought to be condemned.

I would only caution that, while one rightly criticizes the inappropriate behavior of a political opponent, one should also examine one’s allies…it’s the beam v. the speck in the eye axiom. Also persuasion is one thing, but state coercion is quite another.

12:03 PM  
Blogger Gary B said...

Robert and Steve,

Good points and taken.

The Christian right is a broad term and a group I'm never quite sure I belong to. Yes, I am a Christian, yes, I'm on the right. But I rarely match the broad characterizations given that group.

The fact is, anyone who is trying to get any law passed or repealed is trying, in some small way, to shape the country as they see fit. As I have said before, if you are involved in the political process you are trying to, for lack of a better term, force you beliefs on others. Now, you might be totally convinced that your views are really and truly reasonable, healthy and good for everyone in the long run. But, as Robert alluded, likely *everyone* feels that way. But someone is right and someone is wrong.

Liberarians are convinced that more freedom is better. I tend to agree with them, but only up to a point. Because some adults abuse freedom to the detriment of society but not in a way which could be easily identified as violating the rights of others. Not having a pat answer to this does not mean it is not a problem.

Another point is that we have to get our values from *somewhere*. If they happen to come from a religion why should that disqualifying them or threaten us, especially if those values ring true? Would it make us feel better is we got them from a secular philosophy, or just made them up? If so, why?

"Theocracy" is a loaded term and is often used as a perjorative. But any belief system can be applied religiously and fanatically. It's just easy to condemn Christians as fanatics because so many people are willing to do so. But they are no more fanatical than environmentalists, gay militants or (gasp) libertarians.

3:21 PM  
Anonymous Linda said...

Gary: Thank you. You may speak for me anytime because you nailed it.

Stephen Said:

"A great example of this occurred this past weekend on ‘Justice Sunday’ (should have been called ‘Theocracy Sunday’). What The Christian Right is saying is that if you don’t like judges who want to make their Christian beliefs into law, you are Christian bashing, discriminating against people of faith, or simply hate Christians. This is an unfair argument."

Please tell me where they have said this. My understanding is that members of the judiciary committee have stated concern for nominees because of their "deeply held beliefs" (translate - they may oppose abortion on demand). Why are you so concerned when these Christian get together to exercise their free speech against a strategy that is denying nominees a vote on the Senate floor. Why are you not concerned about the fact that certain members of the judiciary committee hold meetings and invite special interest groups to participate (Naral being one). Or haven't you heard about the "secret" memos which the mainstream press has chosen to ignore.

Robert said:

"What I fear though, is the (seemingly) growing desire of moralists to lobby their representatives in Congress to codify their narrow beliefs."

Robert: What laws are you talking about?

It seems you have bought into the secularist view of the so-called "religious right". You seem to feel threatened by them. I am interested in what precious freedoms you think you will lose if the religious people have a say in government.

Yes, those pesky Christians. They were instrumental in eliminating slavery - whatever will they do next?

I wonder how Abraham Lincoln would fare with you.

8:07 PM  
Blogger Stephen Littau said...


I agree with you for the most part. There are extremists in every camp, no question about it.

Also, after debating you on several occasions and reading your blog, the way you approach issues I don't consider you as the fringe of the religous right. I see you as a very independant thinker. We may not always agree but I respect the way you use logic to reach your conclusions.

As far as theocracy goes, it is rarley a the type of government which is fair and just. That's not to say that there haven't been secular governments which didn't honor individual freedoms. Like I said, there are extremes in every philosophy and no philosophy is perfect to be sure.

8:19 PM  
Blogger Ontario Emperor said...

February 5, 2006 - this blog post and some of the ensuing conversation have been referred to in my post Tension, which addresses (among other things) the GoDaddy commercial, the Danish cartoons, and the religion of Secularism.

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8:47 PM  

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