February 14, 2009

In Praise of Irresponsible Behavior

Recently, a Wall Street article "In Praise of Transgressions" (Feb 14, 2009) suggested that "everyone should lighten up" on accusations of public figures with notable failings. The article leaves out any discussion of responsibility, which is at the heart of the matter. We want someone to hold responsible; however, in more "vague and amorphous" situations, there is diffusion of responsibility.

Each of the big issues addressed in the article - such as drugs in baseball, issues in Gaza, stock market drops, and stimulus packages - are complex. They involve numerous people. There is no one specific individual to hold responsible for them.

Society does not hold anyone responsible unless it can point to one person. We still gnash our teeth at the complex situations, but we do not point fingers at any specific person.

People such as Mr. Rodriguez, Mr. Phelps, Mr. Dashle, and Ms. Simpson can each be held responsible for their specific failings. It is difficult to hold Mr. Rodriguez responsible for all the drugs in baseball. Countless numbers of people make the game "filthy", but we can hold him responsible for his specific part. Likewise, it is difficult to hold Mr. Dashle responsible for actions of Congress. There are so many fingers in the Congressional pot that we can not hold him responsible, but we can pinpoint him for not paying his taxes.

Each of the specific failings are at the "human scale", as the article aptly suggests. We grasp the concepts of a person doing drugs, not paying taxes, or gaining weight. More importantly, though, is that responsibility is clear in these situations. We know who is responsible for those actions. Responsibility has not been diffused.

Contrast those individual actions to actions of corporations, the economy, and governments. It is difficult to determine the specific individual responsible for those actions. We can not find only one person to hold responsible. Responsibility is diffused.

The heart of this matter is responsibility. The real question, then, is "should we lower the bar on what we consider "responsible behavior"?"

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