WHO’S TO BLAME
BY JIM FARNSWORTH
Who’s to blame for the acts of evil in our society? In a recent discussion a person I was debating was saying the individual was a product of society and as such was not solely responsible for his actions. The initial post made the argument that talk radio among other things was responsible for evil actions rather than the person himself bearing that onus. Part of my response to her is below:
“Our existence and behavior is only partly deterministic in nature. We make choices within that context and bear sole responsibility for our actions. Two children raised under the same roof with the same parents can have vastly different outcomes even though they came from the same environment. We will have this kind of problem until the end of time. It is just part of the nature of the universe. There is an opposition in all things and always will be. Good versus evil. Light versus dark. Fixing society is a nice thought but will not prevent evil acts among men. Neither will silencing the voices of those with whom you disagree. Evil men will always find a justification for the acts they have the desire to commit with or without the voices of others. People still respond to the voices within (whether they be good or evil). We all must choose which voices we follow. In the end we alone will be responsible for our actions and yes this is just and as it should be. We should always bear sole responsibility for our actions. Why? Because if we do not society can never be fixed. Blaming society excuses the individual thus perpetuating the cycle.”
Is a society to blame for the acts of its individual members ? If I as a member of a society perform a sterling act of altruism does society get the credit for that? On the other hand if I commit a heinous act of depravity does society get the blame? During World War II, many people would argue that one of the most evil regimes in history perpetrated an act of depravity on the whole world. The regime had a desire to control the entire world and many of them believed they had the divine right to do so as they were the master race. Millions died as a result of the evil actions of this society. Within this society were people who followed along because the state told them to. Others within this society followed because they were firm believers in the cause. Still others protected the weak by hiding Jews (and others targeted by the Nazis) helping them escape the evil acts of the state. There was a whole spectrum of behavior in response to the general society around them. All of these people were within the context of their society. Who gets the credit? Who the blame?
To say that those who committed selfless acts to help others during this time did not deserve credit for their actions because they were just products of their society is ludicrous. Conversely to excuse those who perpetrated acts of depravity and violence for the same reason is nonsensical. The refrain of, “I was just following orders.” was uttered time after time as an excuse for individual behavior. It has been acknowledged by virtually the entire world that this was not a valid defense for the war crimes of the individual despite the society he came from. Yet we are now frequently saying that the individual is not to blame for his actions in a far less depraved social system because he is a product of his society. We did not excuse the acts of evil committed by those within Hitler’s regime. We cannot excuse the actions of evil committed by those within our society either for the same reason. The individual is responsible for his own actions. In addition it is the individual and his actions that create the society in which he lives. One could argue that the individual was responsible for the actions of his society just as much as the society is responsible for his actions.
Why then do we now try to blame the actions of evil men on the weapons they use or the society they come from? Thus excusing their actions on that basis at least to a degree. Why are the words spoken by a talk show host seen as causation for a depraved individuals actions? Why the inanimate weapon the cause of the violence? Part of this is the trend to not have the individual be responsible for himself. We can (if we choose to) be taken care of from cradle to grave never taking responsibility for even providing for our own welfare. We can graduate from high school (in some areas) without having even gotten a basic education. When we do commit a heinous act many come forward to say it is not your fault. You had a bad life. It’s societies fault. You are not to blame. This type of thinking can and does actually perpetuate the very behavior we abhor. When these acts are forgiven or not appropriately punished the next person coming along sees no reason not to commit such an act.
Are we a product of our environment? Of course in part that is true. From the environmental viewpoint our fate is determined if not completely then mostly as a direct result of our environment making our existence deterministic in that we have limited control of our behavior it being determined by our environment/culture, thus removing our responsibility for our actions. In my time as a correctional officer many inmates justified their behavior in this fashion. It was not their fault it was societies fault. What differentiated them from their siblings and others in their environment? I believe it was personal responsibility. Those with a fatalistic approach of being victims of society succumbed to the environmental factors around them. Those who accepted responsibility for their lives sought out and found the means to become better than their environment.
We as individuals are responsible for our own actions and we share in the responsibility for the society we live in. We are indeed connected to each other. Our actions as parents in instilling values in our children help form that society. Our educators help in that regard as well. We as responsible and informed individuals form our society by those we elect to positions of authority. We share in the responsibility of their actions as well. We should not be just acted upon we should by our actions help create a better society around us. Every act be it good or bad radiates from its source in a wave that interacts with all the other radiated actions of others. We should so live as to be the source of a positive influence. Society is not responsible for the people’s actions rather people are responsible for their society’s actions.
Blaming talk radio, guns, society or any other factor for the action of an individual is counter productive. Holding the individual responsible for his own actions and meting out justice in response to his actions will move towards that better society we claim to want. Relieving him of that responsibility will lead to increased acts of violence. We must change ourselves to change our environment. Environment is only one factor among many others that affects our behavior. How we integrate what we see and hear from others determines what the outcome will be. We are in control of our fate. The environment and others only have as much control as we lend to them. Relieving one from the responsibility of his own actions also relieves him of that control. I for one am not and will not be a slave of my environment. Be responsible for your own acts and share in the responsibility for your environment. When we accept responsibility for our actions only then will we have a more responsible environment.
Are we as people fated to be a certain way because of the circumstances of our birth? Is who we are determined by how, where and to whom we are born? Perhaps there is some truth to this as our environment is a very large contributor to who we are. Nonetheless we should act as though we are totally responsible for our actions for it is only then that we and our society improves. Our environment exists. There is little we can do about that. Our only power is in how we react to that environment. That power is our greatest attribute. People do not rise to greatness or inflict great harm because of the society they are in. They rise or fall due to their response to it.