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Old 07-25-2019, 11:27 AM
thorny locust's Avatar
thorny locust is offline
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I think both liberals and conservatives favor personal responsibility, even if liberals are far less likely to use the phrase; but I don't think they mean quite the same thing by it.

I get the impression that what conservatives mean by "personal responsibility" is a combination of two things:

1) each person is responsible for their own actions, and the socially-expected results of those actions.

2) each adult is financially responsible for paying their own bills, and those of any minor children they have.

What liberals mean by it is more like:

1) each person is responsible for the effects of their own actions. Doing something that accidentally causes harm doesn't make you a bad person necessarily, and avoiding it entirely may be impossible; but that doesn't remove the responsibility, and the person who causes accidental harm should do their reasonable best to ameliorate it.

2) each person is responsible for pulling their own weight. This may be done in financial or in non-financial forms; 'their own weight' is a variable measure both between people and at different points in any one person's life; and nobody is pulling, or can pull, the whole load.

Both of these can be hard on people in different ways. The conservative attitude seems to lead to results such as: if you did poorly in school, it's because you didn't study hard enough, and you deserve not to be able to get a good job. If, whether or not you did well in school, you don't have enough money to pay your bills as an adult, this is because you made some wrong choice along the way; you've done something wrong, and whether or not you get some form of grudging help you deserve to be denigrated for it. If you took a gamble in your life that didn't work out (and conservatives seem to be all for encouraging people to 'take risks'), that's your own fault, and you deserve to be poor and to be denigrated for it.

But the conservative sense means that, if you did manage to be doing well financially, and you're not doing anything obviously considered socially evil such as bashing your neighbor's head in, you're off the hook. You can keep all your money, except what you owe for services directly rendered to you, and you don't have to spend any time or energy or money worrying about anybody else. (The hook may get you unexpectedly at any moment. But that's usually not allowed for in such thinking, or is handwaved as something that won't happen if you just keep Doing Everything Right.)

The liberal sense means that you're responsible for a whole lot of other people, some of whom you know next to nothing about. If you say something innocently that damages somebody else, you ought to apologize and quit saying it, even if that means that you have trouble thinking of an alternate wording. If you discover that tuna fish caught in Thailand was very likely caught by slave labor, you're not a bad person for having bought such tuna before you knew about it; but now that you know you ought to be looking at cans of tuna to see where they're from, and pay extra for the ones that say they were caught and processed somewhere else, and worry that the somewhere else may not be any better. No fair deliberately refusing to look at the news so you won't find out. And you shouldn't complain about, and should support directly and/or vote for, money and/or time to be spent to help people who aren't doing as well as you are; at least as long as the money and/or time to be spent won't do you serious harm.

But when you need help yourself, you're off the hook. Because nobody can be expected to pull the whole load, and at any given time some people can pull less than others; and that doesn't mean they're bad people who ought to be denigrated. As long as you're doing your best to pull what you reasonably can, that's enough.