Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Why Liberals Snicker at "Personal Responsibility"
Just as a preface, I arrived at the conclusion of personal responsibility on my own when I recently made a case against limiting the sodium content of food. The logical conclusion, for me, was that one’s sodium intake is a matter of personal responsibility: you should know that too much salt is bad for your health, and you should take steps to ensure that your daily sodium intake is healthy for your body.
So when I mentioned this phrase to some of the folks at Crooks and Liars, many of them accused me of “rolling out the talking points.” I was sort of taken aback, as my conclusion was so clear and logical to me that I couldn’t believe that it is dismissed as a “talking point.” Usually, talking points are perceived as tired arguments that generally don’t involve any explication beyond simple phrases.
After a series of discussions I’ve had recently, I think I’ve figured out why Liberals roll their eyes whenever a Conservative brings up personal responsibility: it’s because some people use it just as vacuously as a Liberal uses the phrase “help those who can’t help themselves.”
Both of those phrases actually have ideological and moral merit. The problem is, however, that the people using them I think are hugely mistaken in their view of human nature.
In my recent article on Political Realities about the War on Drugs, someone used personal responsibility to prove his point about why drugs should be legalized. The argument was that this is a case of the government being a “Nanny State,” and that personal responsibility should be the guiding policy for drug use.
Well, I’d buy that for a quarter if I didn’t think that most people are stupid. Do we need the government to force us to live healthy, productive lives? No. You’re allowed to be a complete moron if you choose, and you’re allowed to destroy your life. But does that mean we should not at least try to deter people from destroying themselves?
Why is drunk driving illegal? Because it’s dangerous to the drinker and to everyone else. Do we simply rely on personal responsibility for that? Do we say “well he should just be responsible enough to do the right thing”? No. We have severe punishments in place not only to exact justice for the wrong-doing, but to try to prevent it as well.
The funny thing is that Liberals and Conservatives are not very different in the sense that they place too much trust and confidence in human beings. The difference is in whom that trust and confidence is placed.
Conservatives trust the people themselves to be good and forthright. If only that fantasy were true, then there would be no need for law whatsoever. Why do we even have law if everyone just follows the notion of personal responsibility? Well, that’s because there are many people who don’t care about the consequences.
Liberals seem to place their trust and confidence in the government, apparently not realizing that the government is not some sort of weird, non-human entity. The government is made of people, the same people who are either too stupid or undisciplined to be counted on to always make rational decisions.
When Conservatives start using personal responsibility as a response to nearly everything, the idea itself becomes laughable because it almost seems like we’re advocating lawlessness. If you believe that people are colossally stupid, then why would you want to make it easier for them to destroy themselves just because you believe in personal responsibility?
I can’t imagine ever turning to drugs because I count myself responsible for my own actions. But that’s only from my perspective. I don’t expect everyone to have the same level of integrity that I have.
The whole of human history is enough to prove that “personal responsibility,” only goes so far, especially when it comes to human-beings’ penchant for destroying themselves.