Saturday, September 1, 2012

To What extent are we Responsiblr for Others?

Another justification for restricting the freedom of others is that we are responsible for them, and therefore have a duty to protect them from themselves. I think we can take as read that this true in certain cases, and to differing degrees. The question then becomes one of where, in any given case, the boundary lies, and who decides whether it’s been crossed.

I have no children of my own, but in my professional life I am regularly responsible for the children of others. I restrict their freedom by requiring them to follow certain guidelines, sometimes made up on the spot in reaction to some particular circumstance. I do this partly for their own safety, partly because a certain kind of order is necessary for them to learn well which is what they’re there for, and partly, to be honest, for my own convenience. They are used to being told what to do and so, broadly speaking, they accept it.

If I came across a man in the street, on a cold night, insensible with drink or drugs, I would think it my responsibility to look after him until he could take care of himself, get himself home, or someone else could take charge of him. This, despite the fact that he has freely got into that state, knowing the consequences. If a friend, neighbour, relative were damaging his health and affecting his life through drink, drugs, gambling or any other behaviour, I would consider it my responsibility to be regularly told to bugger off and mind my own business.

I have done all of these things, most of us have, I imagine, not because I am an interfering busybody but because I recognise that there are times when we are responsible for others. We are, I repeat once more, social animals. It is in our instinct to help those around of us who are need of help. As moralistic beings, we translate it into the language of morality, but it comes to the same thing. I should feel that responsibility because in general we do feel that responsibility.

But we are speaking of personal responsibility. Why is it the task of government to take over this responsibility in so heavy-handed a way? There is nothing personal about government, everything is done by force, from behind a barricade. This is as far from the human instinct of looking after your fellow man as it is possible to get.


Sackerson said...

I remember reading Ivan Illich's books in the 70s/80s. Reification. Institutionalised benevolence is no better than any of the other aspects of humanity that are taken from us and turned into corporate entities.

General shift away from mores and towards leges, that's where it went wrong.

CIngram said...

Yes, I think that sums it up. Once the assistance of society is dehumanised it is no longer recognised and acknowledged as goodness on thepart of those who provide it; it becomes sth to be demanded of those charged with requiring others to provide it. It changes the whole framework of relationships within society.
Ivan Illich is now added to my reading list.