Responsibility Or Duty

"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." These famous words spoken by John F. Kennedy were part of his inaugural address and a call to action to all American individuals.


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source: Picpedia.org

However, this call to action was not rooted in individualism. Kennedy believed that democracy can only thrive when citizens contribute their talents to the common good. These were times when "responsibility" was not merely the responsibility for oneself, but the responsibility to society. In this version of responsibility each individual had a personal responsibility to contribute to the greater good and the increased well being of all members of society. This was during the Cold War, when capitalism still had something to prove, namely that it could compete with communism's organized solidarity through voluntary solidarity. We now know that this was doomed from the start because capitalism is founded on the idea that if each individual takes responsibility for increasing the well being of themselves and themselves alone, this solidarity would magically appear, as if guided by an invisible hand...

The notion that individual responsibility is aimed only at oneself is relatively new, and is unnatural, a negation of what it means to be human; we're social creatures that are specialized in collaboration and can not survive, let alone thrive on our own. But that's exactly what capitalism wants you to believe; that you CAN survive on your own, and that your achievements as well as your failures are your own. This is a lie, and deep down we all know it to be a lie. I've given this example a number of times in the past; I am not the sole creator of this post. This post is not all mine, even if I'm the one typing the words streaming into my brain right now. I didn't create the computer. The knowledge (or lack thereof) I have is not mine. Without you, dear reader, I wouldn't even have a reason to do all this.

A brief word on the paradox between this drive toward individualism and atomization of the political right, and their professed nationalism or patriotism. It is a paradox because they absolutely refuse to increase the well being of everyone in the country, they have disdain for any sacrifice they're asked to make for building up the country, they say taxation is theft. They even go so far as to say, in the open, that it's NOT their responsibility to pay for the education or healthcare of their society's least fortunate. It seems as if they think that a country consists solely of the borders that contain it, the military that defends those borders and the police that protect their material possessions. In truth a country is shaped by the cohesion of its people, their willingness to take care of each other. So, with all the flag-waving and "USA! USA!" chants we see predominantly during right wing protests and rallies, recent polls show that American patriotism is at a historic low, especially among young Americans.

I'll keep it short today and invite you to watch the highly interesting (in my opinion) video linked below. It deals with the history of the term "personal responsibility" and how it became to mean what it means today, essentially how it transformed from a sense of duty to one's country and fellow men, to a tool for assigning blame and merit. It's rather long, more than 50 minutes, but I highly recommend it as it paints a clear and well argued picture of the atomization in our crumbling society, and how this relates to a resurgence of eugenicist ideas about innate racial differences as well as poverty. Enjoy!


The Invention of Individual Responsibility


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