We are not rocks, we are human beings

The Thinker by Rodin

Psst! You are personally responsible for everything you do! Actually, in modern political discourse, this is not whispered so much as it is shouted. You hear it from Republicans and conservatives all the time. I can’t shout on a blog, but I can do something worse: use caps. So just in case you don’t get the message from the daily drumbeat of news, Republicans want you to know that YOU ARE PERSONALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR EVERYTHING YOU DO.

And because you are personally responsible for everything you do, you can change your behaviors any time you want because you have this magic stuff called free will. You can do it, just like that! It’s easy! By taking personal responsibility for your health, for example, you could eat little but nuts and berries, plus run twenty miles a day. And if you made the personally responsible choice to marry and have children you are personally responsible for raising your kids, their behavior (at least until they turn eighteen), and eating little but nuts and berries, plus running twenty miles a day after work. You can do all this plus sleep eight hours a day, have a satisfying (missionary only position) sex life!

It turns out that if you practice personal responsibility, you can do everything right, manage everything perfectly and intuitively solve every personal problem. The inconvenient fact that trying to maintain perfect health and doing everything right for your spouse, family, parents, siblings and the community will prove humanly impossible is irrelevant. It’s far more important to know that you are personally responsible, and any deviation from the ideal of personal responsibility deserves nothing but contempt and scorn.

Yes, you are personally responsible even if you don’t have the means. You could have been abandoned by your parents as a child, forced to live in the streets (since Republicans don’t believe in a welfare state), end up selling your body to have food to eat, and you are still personally responsible for somehow getting an education on your own nickel, excelling in school, never breaking a law, living a healthy lifestyle, maintaining a roof over your head (a cardboard box will do in a pinch) and maintaining optimal health as well. When you are personally responsible you never, ever ask for a handout. The very idea! You are personally responsible and you are required to be completely self-sufficient. Got it?

Of course you do! You could not possibly miss the message these days, particularly since it is brought to you free of charge by overbearing, generally very well moneyed and often hypocritical Republicans, the vast majority of whom had parents who provided for all their needs, taught them they belonged to a privileged caste and now beneficently use some portion of their fortune to drum in the message continuously via the media. You know, like the Koch Brothers. You are contemptible if you fail to be one hundred percent personally responsible at all times. Actually, you are something close to toilet scum. We must all be the very model of a modern Major General, all the time. Just do it now and do it perfectly, for crying out loud!

There are all these additional temptations out there, just to truly test your mettle. Let’s not, for example, do what New York Mayor Bloomberg is doing, and try to limit the size of these supersized sodas sold in the city. After all, New Yorkers might actually get healthier without overt action. Rather, you must be personally responsible enough to understand that these empty calories will make you fat at very little expense, or at least you will if you spend your days obsessively plugged into various health oriented web sites, and of course being personally responsible, it’s something you must do. Armed with this knowledge that you will acquire from psychic vibrations coming through the ether if necessary, you will magically find the willpower to pass these endless temptations by. So don’t try to regulate these liquid empty calorie behemoths just because some mortals are weak. It’s anti-American. It’s too Big Brotherish. Worst of all, it’s anti-corporate.

However, the good part about personal responsibility is you also have freedom. So if you want, go ahead and indulge in a supersized Slurpee. And should you choose to get fat and develop Type II Diabetes, that’s okay too, providing not one cent of the costs of your choices are borne by anyone else. That’s the bottom line when it comes to personal responsibility. (Qualification: the above does not apply to the environment. Feel free to be personally reckless toward the environment. After all, God wants us to be.)

You would think though that with the ever-present mantra of personal responsibility many more of us would, well, actually behave in a personally responsible way. But for some reason most of us do not. In fact, consuming all those supersized Slurpees is evidence that most Americans, while they doubtless get the message, simply refuse to take it to heart. Because every year Americans on average gain more weight. At the same time, fewer of us have or can afford health insurance.

Naturally your environment has nothing to do with your problem. Even if it did, you can easily surmount it. You just aren’t bothering to try. The fact that you can hardly travel anywhere without seeing billboards for pizzas and junk food, or turn on the TV without seeing ads that promote an unhealthy lifestyle, is wholly irrelevant. Nor is the fact that your friends are also eating too much of the wrong stuff and for the most part not exercising relevant. Because if you are personally responsible, then by extension you must also believe that you are completely autonomous. You must also believe that all those connections and relationships don’t affect your behavior. Marines may have to go to Parris Island in order to get fit and learn to properly kill people. However, you can achieve personal responsibility all by yourself. Simply grab yourself by your bootstraps and pull. It’s that easy!

But for some reason Americans aren’t taking the message to heart! Every year we get fatter. Every year we exercise less. Every year we spend more time diddling with our smartphones rather than huffing on running the trails behind our house. Strangely, even most Republicans seem to be having problems with the personal responsibility thing. Or perhaps they are independently wealthy enough where they don’t care. Morbidly obese but excessively preachy Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey comes to mind. That’s the good thing about having wealth: you are exempt from the rules because you (probably) won’t be foisting off the costs of your unhealthy lifestyle on anyone else.

As always there is the ideal and then there is reality. It is true that we are personally responsible for the choices that we make. But that doesn’t mean we magically have happened to learn how to be personally responsible, or that they are innate skills inside us. Even if we do possess the skills, there is little likelihood that most of us, given the billions of possible choices available for any action, will always choose to behave at all times in a personally responsible way. Nor have most of us acquired the education and mentoring to learn how to make wise decisions. The skill has to come from somewhere. If we don’t possess it then we have to glean it from someone. A friend. A teacher. A minister. Someone. Except to acknowledge this, we also have to acknowledge that we depend on other people. We have to acknowledge that our world is relational, instead of each of us being beacons of individuality and self-sufficiency. We have to acknowledge that we are all connected. No, it is better to live in a fantasy world instead.

That won’t do, of course, so get with the program. A song will get you into the spirit. Find a guitar. And start belting out that 60’s song by Simon and Garfunkel:

I am a rock,
I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.

I’m betting while you are attempting to do so, you are suppressing a tear because you are just another human being with foibles like the rest of us and are grabbing another handful of Cheetos.

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