Sunday, March 24, 2013

Finding Responsibility

I think one of the reason I've always been interested in reading philosophy is a desire to understand responsibility. Our parents and schooling, religion and the community seem to direct us to those questions of personal responsibility once we push through the womb to daylight. Philosophy makes us ask questions and challenge assumptions, often peeling back the superficial to help us see things in the core we haven't previously considered.

Of the books I'm reading at the moment (I finished Vijay Mehta's The Economics of Killing this morning) at least two are by philosophers. Harvard University's Michael Sandel's What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets and Oxford' University's David Miller's National Responsibility and Global Justice. Two others I'm pushing through, Adam Kahane's Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change and Gandhi's Autobiography while not written by trained philosophers certainly explore philosophical questions. The impulse to write this brief entry doesn't come from any one of these current reads, but is really (I think) an amalgam of these five books and perhaps even a play we saw the other night, Sweet Mercy that wrestled with issues of race, genocide, love, and responsibility.

Regardless of the origin of the impulse I have struggled, and am struggling, since my childhood with questions of responsibilities. To family, to employer, to community, to the human family, to the other living things, to future generations. I frequently feel guilty for having so much in a world where so many have so little. I feel privileged to have basic security - personal, economic, social while so many don't even know what it feels like. Perhaps this unease has led me to pursue multiple careers, to join in with many different community efforts, to look under every rock for a hunk of wisdom from which to forge a direction with some confidence that it will improve the lot of the human family.

If I look back to the impulses that drove me to write the 37 blogs since I began this exercise at Thanksgiving, I can see a quest to determine what should I do? How important is where we invest, where we choose to shop, how involved with the political system, to share concerns with government officials, with the newspaper reading public, with the employers, with the businesses we avoid or support? What is the geography of our responsibility? What do we owe the people of Iraq, Sudan, Mali, Palestine, Haiti, etc.? If our government is responsible, even in part, for the conditions of poverty or abuse of citizens in some other place on the planet, what is our culpability? What special responsibility goes with being wealthy - and even the poorest among you reading this in the developed world is by global accounts wealthy - in a world where personal safety, access to shelter, to water, to food to education is available to all?

I  believe our responsibility is more than most of our culture considers. I say that because simply looking at the data for how much we give to others beyond our borders, both through our government and through personal donations is a pittance of what we have or what other nations and citizens give. Of course, money is only one thing we can share. Many do work to change a system that invests so much in war and military and that allows unfathomable wealth, and therefore power, to concentrate in fewer hands. Working to change the systems that are driving us towards even more separation from each other is noble work that needs more of us privileged folks to join and put our shoulders to the wheel. With privilege comes responsibility. It's really a small world. Start now from where you are.Our broken world is calling for your help.

Thomas Pogge, a leading philosopher in this arena of citizen responsibility has launched an effort Academics Stand Against Poverty that might interest some possibilitator readers who are employed in the 'academy'.