My theory on responsibility

In 1920 a couple of psychologists/sociopaths performed an experiment on a human baby they impersonally called, “Little Albert.” They repeatedly presented him a white rat and then made startlingly loud noises behind Albert every time he saw the rat. Eventually Albert learned to associate the rat with the noise and would freak out when he saw the rat even if there was no noise. A similar thing happened to me as a child. Every time my dad would talk to me about responsibility he’d do it with shouting and spanking and insults and such. So by the time I was 14 even thinking about responsibility would fill me with dread and anxiety even if my dad was hundreds of miles away. And guess what, for the longest time I was the poster child of irresponsibility. Until I realized the big secret that transformed me into…well, maybe not the poster child for responsibility…but a pretty damned responsible person. However, you’ll have to sit through the rest of my introduction before I tell you what it is.

I look around and see irresponsibility everywhere. If you’re over 30 you just have to think of all the run of the mill whiney vidiot emo mall rat bitches with no sense of direction with their long hair and marijuana cigarettes you’ve seen loitering around town when they should have been in school, and you’ll agree with me. If you’re the type who likes statistics to prove things then just look at how many people are on welfare, in prison, or dependent only on their social security to survive old age. And how many are financially secure but just unforgivably fucking stupid and live lives of constant, unnecessary drama? Granted, some people end up on skid row because they got a raw deal in life through no fault of their own, but let’s be honest. Think of all the people you know personally whose lives suck. How many of them got a raw deal and how many were just irresponsible? Apply that ratio to the rest of society. Scary isn’t it? At any rate, I have an analogy about raw deals. This analogy might not apply to everyone, but if you’re sane enough and educated enough to be reading this then there’s a 99.9% chance it applies to you. If someone pushes you into a deep hole then it’s their fault you’re in the hole. Once you’re in the hole if you don’t do everything you can to get out of the hole then it becomes your fault you’re still in the hole.

Anyway, what is it about responsibility that people don’t get? Is responsibility really as hard to learn as Latin? Is it actually really simple but we as a species are just that fucking stupid? Why is everyone so irresponsible? I’ll tell you why. I don’t use this phrase very often, but I blame the parents.

Responsibility is actually a pretty simple concept. It’s definitely not Latin. The reason our society at large is irresponsible is because we’ve been miss-educated about responsibility, and generation after generation we continue to pass down that miss-education.

Let’s look at how we were miss-educated. Training someone to be responsible in life is like training someone to fix a car. In order to be a good mechanic you need to have a firm grasp of how an engine works. You have to know how everything is connected. You have to know why each part does what it does. You have to know how to tell when something isn’t working properly. Once you’ve grasped the whole concept you can use logic to break down any engine problem…even in your head…hundreds of miles away from a car. You can even redesign engines to improve efficiency. In reality, this concept applies to basically everything you do in life. If you want to do something right you have to understand it. Duh. That takes like no brain power to understand, but this is the opposite of how most people learn about responsibility from their parents.

First of all, most parents don’t have a comprehensive understanding of responsibility. So they couldn’t teach it to their children if they wanted to. So they never give their children extensive lessons about responsibility and answer all the children’s questions. They just let the children figure it out on their own.

Here’s what parents do do though. They make a list of rules that keep the peace in the immediate present: obey your parents and don’t stand up for yourself against them, clean your room, do your chores, don’t stay out late, don’t have sex, don’t do drugs, go to school, don’t break the law. Those rules are enforced with punishment such as yelling, belittling, grounding, physical force, revoking privileges, etc. That’s where most parents stop. Some parents will send their kids to a religious temple to be indoctrinated with moral rules and let the threat of God’s vengeance…oh, and also the hope of God’s reward to carry some of the burden of keeping the kid in line.

And that’s it. That’s all most parents do to teach their kids responsibility. Notice that none of this has anything to do with teaching the child a comprehensive understanding of reality.

If/when a child does ask questions that would require delving into a comprehensive understanding of reality the parents stonewall the child with logic stopping arguments such as:

“Because I said so.”

“Because God says so.”

“Don’t talk back to your parents.”

“Don’t question God or you’ll go to hell.”

“Don’t question your parents.”

“Don’t talk back to me.”

“You’ll understand when you’re older.”

Do parents tell children these things because they believe the child won’t understand the real answer or is it because the parents don’t know the real answer? Or is it because the real answer would undermine the parent’s authority and give the child autonomy?

Why would parents tell a child, “Don’t have sex.” When they know damn good and well that their children’s bodies are telling them that sex is more important than anything else? Why would parents lay that ultimatum at their children’s feet when they know it contradicts everything their children are feeling and everything they (the parents) felt during adolescence? Because on the surface it seems like that’s the safest route for the parent even though the parent knows the level of emotional torment and confusion it puts the child in. It’s easier to teach the child to say “NO.” than to teach the child about how to have sex and when it’s safest/most rewarding to have. But saying, “NO.” doesn’t actually teach them anything. So the parent would be better off not saying anything since the same result will occur but without the child’s emotional torment. This one example holds true for many moral/responsible lessons that parents miss-educate their children on.

The point is that the typical American parent deters their children are from understanding reality by withholding information and threatening their children with punishment (sometimes eternal) for trying to understand reality. Parents actually teach their children to understand the world they live in and the real consequences inherent in that world… by not thinking about the world.

Imagine if a mechanic tried to teach a new hire how to fix a car by telling them not to ask how an engine works and threatening/punishing the new hire every time they try to learn something new, make deductions about how the parts connect, or question the logic behind the new mechanic’s teachings. The new hire would never be able to fix shit. In fact, they’d be paralyzed. It’s no surprise we have so many people who are responsibly-paralyzed and aren’t able to fix their lives.

Obviously, thinking about life, asking questions, demanding real answers, and standing up for yourself are all part of being responsible, but that doesn’t cut to the heart of responsibility.

The definitions of the words, “responsible” and “responsibility” are pretty vague and circular. So I’ll have to paraphrase this myself. Basically the definition of “personal responsibility” is -to be accountable for one’s self. What parent could argue with that?

To be responsible is to take care of yourself. And you can’t take care of yourself without thinking about yourself. Think about it. Ultimately, being responsible for yourself means being selfish. Now, all teenagers are selfish, but their selfishness is short-sighted. Responsibility requires real selfishness. The kind of selfishness that takes into account the future and the rest of the world. Responsibility is being selfish in a way that returns the most amount of good possible. Looking at reality in that light it’s easy to see that going to college is far more selfishly gratifying than getting stoned and playing video games all decade.

Being responsible means looking out for yourself, which necessitates thinking for yourself, which contradicts obeying your parents. Of course parents aren’t going to want their children to be responsible…not really. They just want their children to be blank zombies and then all of a sudden turn into intelligently selfish success stories once they’re kicked out of the house. That’s not realistic. Parents need to train their children to be intelligently selfish before they leave the house so they’ll be prepared to be intelligently selfish in the real world.

Think about it.

Originally published at thewisesloth.com on October 30, 2009.

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