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Whatever Happened to Personal Responsibility

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There is an old adage which states that you do not know how big a tree is until you try and cut it down. Today, as cultural forces slowly destroy it, we are beginning to understand that the same thing can be said about personal responsibility.

Society no longer believes that people ought to bear their suffering with dignity and grace. Rather, it now believes that the problems of the individual ought to be made the problems of the community. Individual problems are no longer the consequence of individual decisions, but come as the result of race, gender, class, and so forth.

The result of this move towards collective responsibility has been the invention of victim culture. According to this culture, non-whites are the victims of racism and white privilege, women are the victims of the patriarchy, homosexuals are the victims of a heteronormative society.

The 20th century is a perfect example of what happens when responsibility is taken from the hands of the individual and placed in the hands of the mob. The twin evils of communism and Nazism – which blamed the problems of the individual on economic and racial factors, respectively – led to the deaths of tens of millions of people.

Furthermore, such ideologies led otherwise decent individuals to commit acts of unspeakable violence. Whilst observing the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a former SS soldier who had been one of the architects of the Holocaust, the writer, Hannah Arendt was struck by the “banality of evil” that had characterised German war atrocities. Arendt noted that the men who conspired to commit genocide were not raving lunatics foaming at the mouth, but rather dull individuals inspired to commit evil due to a sense of duty to a toxic and corrupt ideology.

The Bolsheviks taught the Russian people that their misfortune had been caused by the wealthy. And that the wealth was gained through theft and exploitation. Likewise, the Nazis convinced the German people that their problems could be blamed on the Jews. It is not difficult to see how this philosophy led, step by step, to the gulags and the concentration camps.

The same thing is happening today. The only difference is that those who play it have become more sophisticated. Today people are encouraged to identify with identity groups ranked by so-called social privilege. Then they are taught to despise those with more social privilege than them.

Under this philosophy, crime is not caused by the actions of the individual, but by social forces like poverty, racism, and upbringing. Advocates claim that women should not be forced to take responsibility for their sexual behaviour by allowing them to essentially murder their unborn children. Sexually transmitted diseases like HIV is caused by homophobia rather than immoral and socially irresponsible behaviour. And alcoholism and drug addiction are treated as a disease rather than a behaviour the addict is supposed to take responsibility for. The list is endless.

Personal responsibility helps us take control of our lives. It means that the individual can take a certain amount of control over his own life even when the obstacles he is facing seem insurmountable.

No one, least of all me, is going to argue that individuals don’t face hardships that are not their fault. What I am going to argue, however, is that other people will respect you more if you take responsibility for your problems, especially if those problems are not your fault. Charity for aids sufferers, the impoverished, or reformed criminals is all perfectly acceptable. But we only make their plight worse by taking their personal responsibility from them.

Responsibility justifies a person’s life and helps them find meaning in their suffering. Central to the Christian faith is the idea that individuals are duty bound to bear their suffering with dignity and grace and to struggle towards being a good person. To force a man to take responsibility for himself is to treat him as one of God’s creations.

You cannot be free if other people have to take responsibility for your decisions. When you take responsibility from the hands of the individual you tarnish his soul and steal his freedom.

Freedom from responsibility is slavery, not freedom. Freedom is the ability to make decisions according to the dictates of own’s own conscience and live with the consequences of that decision. Freedom means having the choice to engage in the kind immoral behaviour that leads to an unwanted pregnancy or AIDS. What it does not do is absolve you from responsibility for those actions. Slavery disguised as kindness and compassion is still slavery.

THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF MARRIAGE

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The focus on rights and privileges has become a major characteristic of our modern culture. This focus has manifested itself in a variety of ways. One of these has been the focus upon the denial rights of the so-called underprivileged and oppressed – these namely being women (who, for some reason, are considered a minority), homosexuals, transgendered peoples, non-whites, non-Christians, and more. This focus on rights and privileges has perverted and corrupted all aspects of social and cultural life, including marriage.

For centuries, numerous political philosophers have seen the organisation of sex and reproduction as being vital to the health of a society. The most obvious form of this organisation could be found in marriage: an institution used by society to regulate family life, sex, and reproduction. The American political scientist, James Q. Wilson (1931 – 2012), said in his book, the Marriage Problem (2002): “Marriage is a socially arranged solution for the problem of getting people to stay together and care for children that the mere desire for children, and the sex that makes children possible, do not solve.”

Wilson observed in his book, the Moral Sense (1993):

“In virtually every society, the family is defined by marriage; that is, by a publicly announced contract that makes legitimate the sexual union of a man and a woman. Even in societies where men and women have relatively unrestricted sexual access to one another beginning at an early age, marriage is still the basis for family formation. It is desired by the partners and expected by society. Marriage, in short, is not simply a way of legitimizing sex, and so it cannot be dispensed with just because sexual activity need not be made legitimate. Marriage exists because people must take responsibilities for child care and assume economic obligations. Marriage, and thus the family that it defines, is a commitment.”

Christianity sees marriage as a covenant based on duty and commitment, not one based purely on feelings. Christian marriage is based on agape: the sacrificial love for another person. It is a love that is genuine, that endures through both good times and bad, that is not diminished by time or circumstance, that has a spiritual dimension, and is based on words and actions. This is a compassionate love, not a romantic one.

Marriages work when husbands and wives contribute equally to its health and vitality. Suffice to say, both husband and wife have duties and responsibilities in this regard. The first duty of the individual, then, is to psychologically separate themselves from their parents and siblings and form a new identity as husband or wife. (It is important to note here that this does not mean alienating or abandoning one’s birth family). After this, husbands and wives are duty-bound to love, honour, and trust each other. They should avoid any activity that may cause reasonable suspicion our jealousy so they may live in peace and harmony with each other. Finally, they ought to treat each other with reverence and respect: tolerating each other’s imperfections and being kind and charitable with one another.

The modern obsession with rights and privileges has created an imbalance. This imbalance can only be redressed by asserting the importance of individual responsibility.  One of the central places this can occur is through the focus on the obligations and responsibilities of spouses within the confines of marriage.