Saturday, February 04, 2006

Individual Responsibility and the Culture of Corruption

My recent posts have centered on the moral wrong of making over generalized statements meant to promote hatred and distrust of people, based not on whether that person has done anything wrong, but based on whether that individual is a member of the target group.

Another example of this form of persuasion is coming from the Democratic Party. Their strategy for the 2006 midterm elections is to promote the idea that Republicans are mired in a "Culture of Corruption." Even the Republican who faces no allegations, who has taken pains to stay on the right side of the law, is to be portrayed as guilty by association.

The Essence of Bigotry

Headlines from around the world show us clearly how poorly we are served by the idea that whole groups can be blamed for the wrong actions of a few.

No homosexual or priest's rape of a child should be used to make the charge that all homosexuals or priests are guilty of a crime.

No terrorist act by any Muslim justifies the conclusion that all Muslims are terrorists.

No African American guilty of a violent crime justifies the conclusion that all African Americans are violent.

No white male serial killer justifies us in claiming that all white men should be treated as serial killers.

No dumb blond justifies the conclusion that all blonds are dumb.

No Republican's corruption should be used in a campaign that implies that all Republicans are corrupt.

Those who participate in this campaign will be doing nothing less than giving their approval to a way of thinking that sits at the heart of all bigotry and prejudice. They will be engaging in a campaign that says, fundamentally, “There is nothing wrong with blaming all members of a group for the crimes of a few who belong to that group.”

After all, the only difference between the form of the argument that the Democratic leadership is promoting and these other forms of bigotry is the identity of target group to be vilified. The Value of Individual Responsibility

Why is the concept of individual responsibility important?

Because if people are judged by the actions of others -- actions over which they have no control -- then they have little a reason to be concerned with the quality of their own actions. It is extremely easy to go from this to, "If I am going to be blamed even if I am innocent, then I might as well be guilty."

At heart, we understand the fundamental injustice of blaming a person for a crime he did not commit. We recognize that an individual should be presumed innocent, and that he is not to be punished unless he is actually guilty. We recognize that this is vital because it provides the key incentive for individuals to remain innocent. In adopting these rules we are telling people, “If you are virtuous and good, then you will be safe – it is only those who become vicious and evil who need to worry.”

Yet, this doctrine of blaming all members of a group for the actions of a few undermines this. It says that remaining innocent is of no use, because he will be blamed anyway if somebody like him – somebody from the same country, religion, or whatever -- is thought to be guilty.

Now, the Democrat leadership is getting into the act, planning to devote a great part of its energy for the next nine months promoting the idea that it is okay to blame whole groups for the crimes of a few individuals. It will spend tens to hundreds of millions of dollars and produce countless editorials, articles, speeches, and papers telling the American people to embrace the idea of hating whole groups for the crimes of a few.

When it is over, the moral principle of individual responsibility and accountability will be that much weaker, and we will be worse off because of it.

Public Participation

Of course, one of the reasons that the Democratic Party is pursuing this strategy is because its pollsters and public relations groups are telling them that it will work.

They are telling them that it will work because it does work.

It works because people are too happy and willing to hate whole groups for the actions of a few.

We can look at the news headlines today and see how this way of thinking promotes hate and violence, how it makes the world much less secure than it would otherwise have been, how each and every one of us must hide out of fear that we will be punished for somebody else’s crimes.

And, yet, the public relationships companies know that this form of argument works against us, and they will continue to advise their clients to spend money embracing this form of reasoning -- because we will almost certainly allow it to work.

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