Monday, September 22, 2008

A note on personal responsibility

"Personal responsibility" is one of many songs sung by the powerful to the weak as a way of diverting attention from the basic truths that keep one at an advantage over the other. If you listen closely, you will hear the music everywhere, because there is no place where power does not require perpetual defense and deflection against the natural tendency of the weak to perceive that their weakness is not wholly of their own making; that, in fact, the powerful have marshaled most of their advantage in the name of ensuring that the weak remain subordinated to their needs.

That the powerful devote so much of themselves publicly to subjects like personal responsibility owes to the fact that, in the end, the powerful do not live by the same rules as the weak. For example, the self-proclaimed "masters of the universe" justify their monopoly on economic life by arguing that markets make have made it so, all while living daily with an implicit government guarantee precisely because they monopolize the economy. "We can't let the economy get out of hand, after all" -- which is just another way of saying "out of the hands of those who have monopolized it." "Just think of what will happen to Main Street," which is certainly a valid concern when Main Street is beholden to the arbitrary whims of international finance, with little to say about it one way or the other. The rule holds true whether it is the airlines or the auto industry or industrial agriculture or banking or finance: whoever owns the productive wealth of a nation is ultimately in a position to demand that the government preserve their ownership in the face of whatever malady may arise.

Well, these are the conditions we have accepted, and so it should not come as a surprise when government by and for the possessing classes inevitably intervenes on their behalf at everybody else's expense. This is the very definition of "personal responsibility" under the circumstances: the responsibility of the working person to sacrifice for their "masters" when times are good, even more so when times are bad; and, as if that was not enough, to devote additional time in serious consideration of how their personal failings have contributed to their plight. The worker files for bankruptcy and is still liable for her debts; now she is responsible for industry's as well.

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