The Assassination of Personal Responsibility

Personal responsibility can die in two ways—by suicide or by murder. Lately, we’ve seen the rise of the latter.

Personal responsibility commits suicide when an individual blames others for his behavior. Such is the Lemming defense: “Everyone was doing it.”

The murder of responsibility is, however, different. When one individual defines another by the traits of a group, rather than evaluating him as an individual, personal responsibility suffers a fatal blow. Where individual personhood is denied, personal responsibility must necessarily die as well.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned against such assassination when he implored his nation to judge his children not by the color of their skin, but rather according to the content of each child’s individual character. Groupthink belittles this individuality, curtails freedom, and denies personal responsibility. How can an individual crave and exercise personal responsibility when he is told that he has no individuality; he is not an individual, he is black; he is redneck; he is liberal; he is racist; he is privileged; he is socialist; he is white; he is misogynistic—not by virtue of his personal choices or actions, but merely by an association that exists not in reality, but only in the mind of another, to which he is subjected and by which he is judged?

I know a man who is a racist. He genuinely believes in the racial superiority of white people. He also believes that the United States federal government should balance its budget. I agree that it should. Am I therefore also a racist? Does my agreement with his fiscal views imply my agreement with his racial views? To impose such a conclusion on me denies my individuality and my ability to take responsibility both for my rejection of racism and for my embrace of conservative fiscal policy. Both are mine, but neither are truly allowed to me if I suffer identification with all of my friend’s views because of my agreement with one of his views.

“All whites are . . .” or “Everybody who is protesting the election is . . .” or “Everyone who voted for Trump . . .” Such statements murder personal responsibility because they murder personhood; they assassinate individuality, and when you take away a man’s personhood, you foreclose upon the possibility that he will learn to accept personal responsibility for his actions. You deny his individual voice, and teach him slavery to a preordained identity. The tyranny of imposed expectations suffocates accountability.

If any people should stand in the gap and say, “Each man is responsible for himself,” it should be Christians. Even as Paul teaches in Romans 14:12, “Each of us will give account of himself to God.”

Any man who denies this truth commits suicide; any group that denies it to him murders his personal responsibility.

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