27 November, 2012
I don't know who the author of this little article is, but he nails it squarely. We live in a day and age where there is little accountability and people refuse to take the responsibility for themselves and their actions or inaction. It is always someone else's fault, and if they cannot find anyone to blame, then you are accused of being malicious and attacking them for confronting them for their behavior. We see it in all aspects of life, from the White House on down.
One of the most significant apparent differences between primitive and modern societies is how each perceives reality. Without an understanding of the real causes and effects within nature, primitive man created his own. He animated his world. Objects assumed purpose, good or evil intentions. Since his own society quite obviously thrived within a structure, primitive man created an analogous structure for his animated world.
Today we know a great deal about the causes and effects surrounding us. Our insights into weather, for instance, have caused us to abandon the rain dance in favor of more effective prediction and control methods (although some would argue that there is little difference in the outcome).
The ancients were not entirely clear on the relationship between responsibility and accountability either. When a rain dance failed to produce rain, did this result from the rain god’s anger, his fickle attitude, or was it simply a result of ineffective dancing? The rain god obviously was responsible for making rain, but who was really accountable when the rain didn’t come?
Now, of course, we don’t see things this way. Some day, perhaps we will find ways to control weather patterns—to make rain, but for now we rightfully ignore responsibility and accountability in this area. On the other hand, we diligently pursue these concepts across a vast spectrum of human and non-human activity.
Unfortunately, recognizing accountability too often devolves into assigning blame. Years ago I served under a submarine skipper who confused these concepts. When something went awry, the first thing this man did was look around for the nearest officer on whom he promptly blamed the problem. The result was that in an emergency his officers scattered to avoid being blamed, leaving him minus the expertise he needed to solve his problem. Implicit in this man’s actions was his reluctance to accept his absolute accountability as the submarine commander.
In a guise that harps back to primitive perceptions, blaming (sloughing off responsibility, rejecting accountability) has become a stupefying problem within modern society. It’s not the drunk’s fault—he’s an alcoholic. It’s not the mayor’s fault—he’s an addict. It’s not the gunman’s fault—we sold him a gun. It’s not the driver’s fault—we let him drive too fast.
We blame alcoholism, drug addiction, guns, speed while absolving the alcoholic, the addict, the gunman, the irresponsible driver.
Alcoholism sounds more sophisticated than Bacchus, but the ancients blamed the animated object, whereas we just blame the object. They understood that accountability rests squarely on the shoulders of someone who is accountable. In their scientific naïveté, they spread accountability well beyond the human race, yet they still attached it to beings.
What excuse do we have?