Responsibility is Something to “Take”

(They always blamed Curly!)

(See also yesterday’s post “On Avoiding” and how we supposedly do it. It’s a good one, full of ironic realizations! Immediately following this post under the menu category The Connection. We are on a roll, here at The Nature Religion Connection. And now back to this ‘Responsibility’ thing!)

Adults have the responsibility for what they do, or so we normally think. There are limits to this, of course. If you trip and then fall down a flight of stairs, that is “an accident“–-it happened to you; you did not intend that and with different luck and a little more attention it would have been “avoided,” we normally think. It was not your fault.

So, having responsibility is not automatic. We all kind of play along with this rather uncertain situation. The very language we use reveals that. We say a person “takes” responsibility, and that often we (other persons) have to “hold” them responsible if they don’t take it. It’s a social thing. Seemingly it is for the benefit of all of us—collectively—even if it is not so great for us individually, if we run afoul of the norms.

And you can always ‘appeal’ a decision. You may refuse to “take” that responsivity and ‘plead’ some special circumstances. “I wasn’t responsible for it because…”

But this “holding responsible” becomes clearer as having a responsibility” when in many situations we are all in agreement. If you are what we call “a parent,” “a teacher,” “a doctor,” or even just climb behind the wheel of a car, you have responsibility because if you mess up your fellow “persons”/”citizens” can come down on you hard!

There are few options often, because these are some serious norms. We almost all always play along with them, and it is like Responsibilities Are “Real” because We All Believe In Them and Act Accordingly. We are trained to do so; it’s called Socialization.

We often say, “Seeing is believing,” but how about “Believing is seeing”? That happens too, it seems. “I can see my responsibility, clearly,” we could say!

(The Ghost of Marley appears to Scrooge! Would “ghosts” be real if we all believed in them and acted accordingly? What of the “ghost” of Responsibility? Could a great scientific discovery prove that none of us are really responsible? Maybe this has already occurred.)

So, how did we get to this, this system of “responsibility”? Personally, it really was not that long ago that you and I were still pooping our pants and peeing our diapers. Socially, it was not that long ago when, without “civilization” and “government, “life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” as Thomas Hobbes said—our “natural” state, he contended. And in nature, though it was a fair ways back—some 17 million, thousands of years ago—all was just a flash of pure energy some nanosecond after The Big Bang. It has been a long and winding road to this “doorway” of “Responsibility!” Like trying to compose a great song; you have to slowly and painstakingly put each piece together to create the new whole.

Putting Together a New Song, and then the singing of it.

“Responsibility” is part of a New Whole

Or so Dennett contends. When we talk of it, we are singing a new song. We are allowing for new possibilities. When we all play this game, we do assert the power to be in control of ourselves and be responsible for our actions. Like a god, a little bit—“I make myself and am therefore responsible it!”

But most of us also know that that is Not Absolutely True! Only fanatics, like Ayan Rand, take such extreme positions to be fact. They are extremists; they are Absolutists unwilling to acknowledging the reality of the gray areas.

To the rest of us, Responsibility” is more reigned in. It means doing the best with what we have been given and Making the most of ourselves considering where we started. When we “take” responsibility for ourselves we also acknowledge our limited nature, but pledge to do the best we can with it.

Luckily (or “naturally”), a thing we call “learning” is also part of this new song of “Responsibility.” We believe that when we examine ourselves and our behavior, and also “the world” around us, we find that we can and do change, and often in a more self-aware and self-controlled way. We learn, and many of those social norms no longer seem so foreign and demanding. They become part of us.

So, it wasn’t that long ago that I was peeing my pants and pooping my drawers. My parents kept trying to teach me and may have even become impatient and demanding at some points when my inabilities lingered. But eventually I got it; I took control of my bladder and bowels. I was now Responsible for them! It was a harbinger of bigger things to come.

A man who seems to have missed out on a lot of the finer points of responsibility and socialization. Or maybe he’s still soiling himself, too!
Thanks to Tom Toles, I hope he doesn’t mind me using it.
Another “Long and Winding Road,” except this one tends to stay way in the background of “Responsible Human Behavior!” Scientists and philosophers who think that scientific truths eliminate human responsibility are also Extremists and Absolutists but on the other side of the spectrum from Ayan Rand. (Not this photo again!)
“We almost all always” now there is a qualification! Logo by Marty

4 thoughts on “Responsibility is Something to “Take”

  1. The numerous bathroom references are surprisingly appropriate!

    Dr. Mark K. Wourms
    Executive Director
    Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest
    502 995-8512


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