The Responsible Society

March 31, 2008 at 11:28 am 5 comments

We teach the subject of social responsibility in our universities, we lecture the topic to our children and I think many assume that society is generally responsible. But, are we? It seems to me that just as a person is responsible for their choices, society is likewise responsible for its collective actions. What does this imply? It implies that society is responsible for the failure of the systems it implements and that poverty, homelessness, hunger and inadequate healthcare are the manifestations of our system’s failures.

Throughout this blog, I’ve tried to capture the implications of responsibility by describing the essence of what distinguishes children from adults – taking responsibility for their actions. It does not magically happen at the age of 18, 21 or even 74. It is a state of mind that we accept when we are mature enough to comprehend it. And, like a teenager modern society wants the benefits of being an adult, but we still try to escape taking responsibility for our choices.

As a society, I think we have yet to mature to the point of accepting our full responsibilities. The huge variance in incomes demonstrates that we still do not believe every person and job in a system is essential to the mechanics of society. Our economics is like the unexplored frontier where everyone is on their own. But, in a day of global communication, transportation and trade, with a population racing toward 7 billion, we ignore the obvious interdependence and reliance of one people’s prosperity and wealth upon another’s labor. Indeed, we are all in this together and our individual prosperity stands on the shoulders of many others. In a responsible society we will be treating our brothers as we would have them treat us. We’re not there yet.

Getting people to wrap their heads around sustainability is an uphill battle, so framing the argument in terms of responsibility is more tangible, but still neither sexy nor motivating enough for most to take action. So, in search of motivation I ask the following: Is a responsible society also a moral society? The debate of what is moral behavior can become dizzying and lost in the relativism of perspectives. However, if you believe as I do that being responsible is a subset of moral behavior, then by society focusing on meeting its responsibilities we will move a long way toward becoming a moral society.

The good news is that a responsible society also turns out to be a sustainable one. So, while people may not understand what sustainability is, most people value and can strive for being responsible. But now I’m wondering does that also imply our society will not be a moral one until it is sustainable? Hmmm. Curious, very curious…

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. rghusted  |  March 24, 2012 at 6:11 am

    Reblogged this on The Sustainability Puzzle and commented:

    While I work on a new post, I thought I’d recycle one that hasn’t been viewed in a while. One of my other writing themes has been to find the magic argument that will convince the rest of the world that we need to become sustainable now. I’ve tried many different angles including religion (see Manifesting the Golden Rule). This post was an attempt to wake people up to being truly responsible for their actions. Hopefully someday someone will find that magic words…

  • 2. EZ Solar House  |  March 28, 2012 at 7:24 am

    Only when people come to realize they are neither separate from nor superior to, but rather a part of the environment will they learn to be responsible. And yes it is a morality issue because unless we’re considering the impact on future generations it’s probably neither moral or sustainable.

  • 3. alloporus  |  March 29, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    First, great blog Robert, more good energy to you.

    My take is that it all starts with that slippery and elusive concept, awareness.

    If we don’t know what it is that we are doing then we tend to just do it. If we realised that shouting at an errant child not only hurts the child but the neighbors too, we might think twice about shouting.

    Only awareness is something that just comes, you can’t teach it or learn it, it just is.

    However all is not lost. Because awareness is also contagious and it only takes a few to wake up the many.

  • 4. jgwhitener  |  May 12, 2012 at 6:03 am

    Robert, I agree that responsibility is defined by morality. One can only evaluate what is responsible by what is right. The Golden Rule sums it all up.

    One element I didn’t see you mention is that people don’t undertake responsibility at least in part because the powers that be don’t want that to happen. The upholders of the status quo actively (if often unconsciously) discourage the taking of responsibility by anyone but themselves.

    As far as “the magic argument that will convince the rest of the world that we need to become sustainable now,” I suggest the tactics used by those who get things the way they want them: you have to appeal to emotions, i.e. negative emotions.

    Develop among people an indignation that the rules and rulers are abusing and neglecting them, harming us for their benefit. Also inculcate fear about how the coming drastic scarcity of oil is going to end society as we know it. Fear and anger work wonders (unfortunately). Whether that can be tempered with a love for others is debatable, but we can all see that the negative tactics change people’s minds. (I’m being rather Machiavellian, here. I’d rather go the love route, but we may not have the time for that at this point “past the 59th minute” of <a href=""the Suzuki video.)


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