Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why Liberals Snicker at "Personal Responsibility"

When I first got into the whole blogging scene and started ruffling Conservative and Liberal feathers alike, I was very confused at first when Liberals derided me and balked at my mention of “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.


Karen Howes said...

Yeah, this is my problem with some aspects of Libertarianism. I'm unequivocally pro-life, don't believe in legalizing dangerous drugs, and am not automatically against war.

I'm not sure that conservatives have an optimistic view of human nature-- to believe that humans will always do the right thing if left alone, is-- for Christians at least-- a heresy.

Leftists ("liberals" is a misnomer) are idealists-- but yet don't believe in personal responsibility. If they could get the state to crap for you, they would.

Jack Camwell said...

"I'm not sure that conservatives have an optimistic view of human nature . . ."

and that's what is so confusing to me with Libertarians and why they think that we should have only the minimum of laws. I thought that one of the tenets of conservativism is a strong support of realism, understanding that humans are flawed and if left to their own devices entirely that they will ruin themselves and others.

Harrison said...

Liberals know better that's why they drive Toyota Penises and have bumper stickers saying "hope." If they really believed they didn't know better them they'd have to just worry about themselves.

Silverfiddle said...

It's not that conservatives and libertarians trust too much in human beings. That misses the point. Better said, we trust in human nature.

Yes, give the average person a pile of cash and all the intoxicants he can ingest, and chances are he'll be dead or destroyed in short order.

But human being also learn from others, and can anticipate consequences, which is what keeps every last one of us from being stumbling, useless addicts.

People probably get tired of hearing me say it, but if you shield people from the consequences of their stupidity, you will get more stupidity.

Harrison said...

well said i believe in the freedom of letting people make good or poor decisions.

Jack Camwell said...

It's not really about sheilding them, as we can't stop people from breaking the law, but it's more about increasing the consequences to give them more incentive to not do the wrong thing.

I honestly don't know if legalizing drugs would increase the number of addicts. I think that scenario is all speculation.

And I, too, believe in letting people make their decisions, poor or otherwise. They can make bad decisions, but they will have to pay the consequences for that.

Silverfiddle said...

Yeah, the problem I have is that squared-away Americans end up paying the consequences for the screw-ups.