Responsibility Expoundathon


Cartoon of two differently sized men sitting at a table with angry faces pointing at each other.

© Ron Tandberg

I’ve had quite a few problems with people who persistently abdicate and/or misattribute responsibility.   Mostly due to these problems, I’ve formulated a certain view of human responsibility.

I’ve spend a super goodly amount of time considering this view, and challenging it, and rethinking it, and testing it against diverse circumstances and other ideas, and so far it’s always held true.   And the more it holds true, the more it supports my other ideas about people.

So I cling to my view of human responsibility pretty strongly, and it supports and flavours pretty much every idea I have about all human beings and everything they do.

Now, I understand that many people have complex ideas about responsibility and culpability, and stuff which causes other stuff.   However, my ideas about human responsibility and culpability are very, very simple.   So for any productive discussion or debate I really need at the very least a mutual understanding of what I think ‘responsibility’ means and how I apply it to human beings.

Note that I don’t require people to agree, just to understand where I’m coming from.

This post is for my convenience so I can link to a clear explanation of my view of human responsibility.   So all jokes about ‘blaming society‘ aside, this is a summary of my view:

    What any individual does or doesn’t do is entirely and solely their own responsibility.

And for the mutual understanding and convenience of my discussion partners  (and all you other good people who like to read my drivel),  here’s a more fleshed-out description.

Human Beings – Choices And Responsibility

xkcd - Creepy - 28 September 2009

© 2009

Assuming reasonable degrees of emotional and intellectual brain function, I believe that

  • Every individual is totally and solely responsible for their every choice and action.
  • Other people are totally and solely responsible for  their  choices and actions.
  • No individual can ever force another to contravene their own choices.

For illustrative purposes, here is an extreme  (and only partly imaginary)  example.

Extreme And Only Partly Imaginary Example

Imagine that Person A is holding a gun to my head and telling me to walk somewhere.

Imagine that I choose instead to stand still and remain where I am.

First principles:

  • I have full and sole control over my choice to walk.
  • Person A has zero control over my choice to walk.
  • The gun is solely under Person A’s jurisdiction.
  • I have zero control over what happens with that gun.
  • My choices and Person A’s choices operate independently of each other.
  • Person A transgressed my consent and is therefore untrustworthy.
  • I prioritise my own well-being over pleasing Person A.

Because Person A has zero control over my choice to walk, the only way Person A can get me to walk is to persuade me to  change my mind and choose to walk.   So to that end, Person A chooses to threaten me with the gun which they  do  control, to encourage me to make a choice which is  outside  Person A’s control.

Now it’s true that Person A can choose to pull the trigger at any time and shoot me dead.   Whilst my fear of being shot and desire to remain alive might coerce me to change my standing-still choice into a walking choice, Person A’s choice to either pull the trigger or leave it alone can be  entirely independent of my actions.

Person A could tell me they will leave the trigger untouched if I walk, and Person A  could be lying.   The validity of what Person A chooses to say and do is  also  entirely outside my jurisdiction and control.

  • If I stand still, Person A could still choose to leave the trigger untouched.
  • If I walk as Person A directs, Person A could still shoot me dead.
  • If Person A shoots me dead or drags me anywhere,  I still won’t be walking.
    Conclusion  –  Person A can’t force me to do shit.

Sew-on circular cloth badge with a frowny face in the middle surrounded by the words - 'Blame Token' on the top and 'It's Your Fault' on the bottom. If Person A shoots me and then says  “Now look what you made me do”,  then Person A is simply abdicating responsibility.

I didn’t  make  Person A do anything, and even if I tried I couldn’t.

Even though the possible consequences of standing still represent a threat to me, that threat exists regardless of what choice I make.   So I can still choose to stand still.   And no matter how many guns are pointed at me or how many ways my life is threatened,  the only person who can change my choice is me.   And Person A can still pull that trigger and shoot me dead at any time whether I do as Person A directs or not.

    But shooting me did not make me walk when I chose to stand still.

Ultimately, the only one who can decide to pull the trigger or leave it alone is Person A, and the only one who can decide whether I walk or stand still is me.

So Person A will never be able to  force  me to do shit, only coerce.   And whether Person A succeeds in coercing me or not, the walking happens  only when I choose to walk.


xkcd - Hell - 07 April 2010

© 2010

The way I see it, there is no such thing as “having no choice”.   Sure, the choices available may be limited, uncomfortable, or undesirable, but they are still choices.
No matter who or what you blame or credit for what you do or don’t do:

  1. Choices are always available.
  2. People only do what they choose to do.
  3. Force cannot compel, only coerce.
  4. Every individual choice and action is always entirely and solely that person’s responsibility.
  5. Other people’s choices and actions are always entirely and solely  their  responsibility.

It really is that simple.

Blame - No single raindrop thinks it's responsible for the flood.  ©



About Lady Lubyanka

I am a 45 year old musician, and also a multisexual, polyamourous, Jewish, socially dominant woman within my romantic BDSM relationships.
This entry was posted in Consent, Human Beingness 101, inclusion, Psychology, Respect, Safety. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Responsibility Expoundathon

  1. wendolen says:

    I think I agree with everything here.

    Where it starts to get hinky for me is when people take completely reasonable logic like this and then apply it to emotions, and I’ve had that happen so much that I can’t keep my mouth shut about it. I don’t agree (and I don’t know that this is what you’re saying) that people choose to get angry/hurt/jealous/whatever. Of COURSE we have a choice about what we do about that — but some basic emotional and physiological reactions (such as bursting into tears) are not under our conscious control, even if they make other people uncomfortable.

    This isn’t about me abdicating responsibility for my tears, but about my refusal to accept it when people who have been treating me abusively turn around and say it’s my fault they feel bad now because I’m crying, because OBVIOUSLY they can’t MAKE me do anything.

    Then again, for years my Facebook bio has been “Blame is for cowards,” a quote from the finest webcomic in history. Another favorite is from the refrain of James’s Born of Frustration: Stop stop talkin’ ’bout who’s to blame when all that counts is how to change.

    • Telling you your responses are wrong, blaming you for having them and blaming you for their feelings is utterly, utterly crappy behaviour and that’s their responsibility for sure.

      My life got a whole lot easier once I got my head round what was definitely my responsibility and what wasn’t.

      Yes, you can own your feelings and how you respond to them, and you can also acknowledge that the other person’s response to you was wildly inappropriate, invalidating, denigrating, marginalising and judgmental. Responsibility goes more than just to you, it goes back to them too. It can be difficult to separate that shit out but once you can it only gets easier.

      I’ve been there and I know.

  2. Joy says:

    I mostly agree with you.

    But there are circumstances like:

    If we were to be driving down the highway together – say two lanes going the same direction and I’m closer to the center and you’re closer to the edge. And I get up so that my nose is forward of you but my tail isn’t, and I start moving closer to the edge into your lane. Now, at this point you’re responsible for your decisions involving steering, brake, gas, maybe changing gears. I’ll agree with that. However, regardless of whether your decisions are good or bad, if something goes wrong it would be pretty messed up for me to claim that it wasn’t my fault that you hit something on the side of the road, when if I hadn’t transgressed into your lane you almost certainly wouldn’t have left it.

    Or: your choice may be to walk or be dragged, but you may not have the choice to go from point A to point B.

    • I always try to remember when I’m driving that I’m in control of what’s in front of me but not what’s behind. So if I was the other driver I could have slowed down til you were totally in front.

      Slowing down is a way underrated safety technique, in my opinion. :)

      I don’t choose to be dragged, that’s outside my control. And being injured so I can’t walk is also outside my control. If they want me to go from A to B then they may drag me there, but I’m not going to help them, you know?

      In short, in your example I’m responsible for my driving and the other driver is responsible for theirs.

  3. tgru says:

    The first two frames of the comic by themselves carry more wisdom than the whole.

  4. Definitely! I also agree with your response to emotions. It is our choice how we react to our emotions. It can be tough to overcome the foolish responses that we often learn growing up, but by doing so we are able to evolve into better human beings. I always say that we should try to lead by example, and this is a great way to start!

  5. eva-fate says:

    I could not disagree more, and you can choose to think I’m a coward or a fool for thinking so.
    If someone has a very deep seated need for something, and I’m talking about the basics on maslow’s hierarchy here, food, safety from obvious and immediate physical threats, etc. They will do anything to get that need met.
    To say that, for example, you are hungry, and you don’t have the money to buy food, and your options are either
    A) do something you find morally wrong
    B) starve
    If you think you would honestly be ABLE to pick B in the face of biological necessity, I think you have never been truly hungry.

    Coercion is absolutely a thing. We are wired to seek our own survival above all things, and history has shown us again and again the things that people are capable of when their survival is threatened. From an emotional perspective- say, I had no choice but to enter into a poly relationship with my boyfriend because leaving him hurt too much and no one else would ever want me! Is obviously stupid thinking. But from, say, an economic perspective, when the only way to get money for basic survival needs is to get someone to offer you a job, and you are offered one job where you are mistreated, you can’t say “well you CHOSE to take a job at the iphone factory, you could have chosen to starve” is wildly arrogant.

    More importantly, because hindsight is a wonderful thing but panic, fear, and stress can actually alter the way the human brain works, it’s also arrogant to say that if you were smarter, you would have come up with that crazy third option like writing the Harry Potter books instead of living in the third world factory. Not everyone has the same aptitude, chances, or choices presented to them. Every situation is unique and coldly whining that everyone who has a bad life is just refusing to make good choices instead of acknowledging that there are situations where there is no option that will create a positive outcome for the person making the choice is in complete denial of how our world works. I have always been inclined to believe that most of us cannot know what headspace extreme situations can put you into unless we’ve been in that headspace.

    It’s not that this can’t be an empowering decision for some people to make, it’s more that people who practice all kinds of widescale abuse of large groups of people, such as racism, unnecessary economic strife, etc. often try to use this argument to avoid taking responsibility for their own part in what’s a very imbalanced system. If you own a business and you choose to exploit people, it doesn’t make it okay because they choose to keep working there when you have many more choices that give you a good life than they do, and they might not have any other choice which involves them eating regularly at that time. It’s the same rationale many abusive spouses use as well- If you don’t like my behavior, you can leave, so anything I do to you must be okay. I have given you many reasons in the form of control, brainwashing, etc. not to leave, but even if I lock you up, you chose to have this happen to you if you didn’t slit your wrists.

    • eva-fate, I think you may be confusing ethics/morals with responsibility.

      I’m not talking about right or wrong at all. What I AM talking about is jurisdiction – what is legitimately withIN a person’s control, and what is not.

      • eva-fate says:

        Basically, yeah. Responsibility implies that you did something knowing what would happen if you made a choice, and that if your actions have a negative consequence, even if you did not know and had no way of knowing that these consequences would occur, it’s your “fault” that it happened. Responsibility IS fault because if something is your responsibility, and you ignore that any other person or situation could have negatively influenced your decision, and that you have 100% autonomy, who else could have caused your situation?

        In a more troubling vein, philosophies like this imply that any human being in a negative situation ALWAYS has the power to alleviate that situation, which unfortunately is not always the case. It removes the idea that people and situations CAN remove choices, either by keeping you from discovering that they are available or by making you do something that will put you into more danger and hardship on a more primal level. It’s implying that blackmail, coercion, etc. do not exist and should not be taken into account. I’ve seen people use this argument many times to argue that if there is any chance that people can resist coercion, that the behavior is not wrong and should not have to stop. I’ve seen it justify victim blaming and various types of horrific cultural elitism. I’ve seen it used as a reason not to help people who needed help.

        I think it’s shortsighted in the extreme, especially as more and more data on things like how brain chemistry under stress effects the way the brain works, NLP, propaganda, etc. come to light. It might make a few people feel very powerful and in control of their lives to think that no one has ever forced them to do anything, and that they owe nothing to anyone else because no one has ever forced THEM either, but it’s a mean, stingy way to look at the world which says that you don’t have to feel bad for anything you do to anyone else and if you’re not 100% happy, it’s because you’re not a good enough, highly evolved enough person with a high enough self esteem, and no one’s actions or behavior could POSSIBLY have anything to do with it.

      • “Basically, yeah. Responsibility implies that you did something knowing what would happen if you made a choice, and that if your actions have a negative consequence, even if you did not know and had no way of knowing that these consequences would occur, it’s your “fault” that it happened. Responsibility IS fault because if something is your responsibility, and you ignore that any other person or situation could have negatively influenced your decision, and that you have 100% autonomy, who else could have caused your situation?”

        I never said responsibility equals fault, and I definitely do not mean that.

        If a person drives a car and it gets them from A to B, then sure, they were responsible for driving the car and getting themselves there.

        If a person drives a car and another driver drives drunkenly through a red light and ploughs into the side of them, then the first driver cannot be responsible for what the other driver does. And the drunk driver cannot be responsible for what the first driver does.

        Responsibility in my world equals JURISDICTION.

        Responsibility is not only about what one person controls, but also WHERE THAT CONTROL BEGINS AND ENDS.

        So that means recognising where your control begins and ends, and where another person’s control begins and ends.

        I hope you can understand the utter evilness of misusing ‘responsibility’ to blame others for what they cannot control.

      • “Responsibility implies that you did something knowing what would happen if you made a choice”

        In my world people are not psychic and have no ability to predict the future. I really think you are seeing things in my post which I most definitely did not put there.

      • eva-fate says:

        Okay. I probably just need to back off.
        Maybe I just have issues with this particular line of thought because it’s been used against me by certain people in the past.
        It’s probably not fair to assume that this line of thought always leads to the lack of compassion some people who use it have.

      • Eva, the whole point of this post was to highlight the wrongness of people who use this shit as an excuse!

        Those scumbuckets try to (and sadly often do) get away with stuff like ‘look what you made me do’ and ‘if you get shot it’ll be your own fault’.

        But this post was all about pointing out that we, people like you and I Eva, we can NOT make anybody else do anything, and we can NOT be responsible for what somebody else does with a gun.

        ‘Anybody else’ is the ONLY one who made ‘anybody else’ do anything, the person with the gun, was the ONLY person responsible for using it to shoot somebody.

        So if a guy called Fred has a gun, and Fred threatens me and says I have to walk or he’ll shoot me, and Fred shoots me, then I could NEVER have made Fred shoot me, and me getting shot was NEVER my fault, because Fred had the gun, Fred shot me, and he can blame me all he wants but he’ll still be the only one responsible for shooting me.

        The ‘look what you made me do’ thing is broken, and that is what this post is about.

        I hope that cleared that up?

    • Johanus Haidner says:

      Eva-fate, you are definitely confusing ethics with responsibility. I also have to disagree with you about the choice of starving or choosing what we think is morally wrong. Hundreds of Jews chose to starve in World War Two rather than go against their morality and religious beliefs when offered forbidden foods by the Nazis. Ghandi went on a hunger strike that nearly killed him because of his strong moral convictions. So have countless others. There are people you can meet in every city today who choose to work in jobs that pay less than what they could potentially earn, simply because they believe that it is the morally right choice – and the more responsible one. Granted, they are hard to find, since most people don’t have that level of morality nor acknowledgement of their own responsibility in life.

    • Oh, maybe you’re mixing up ‘fault’ with ‘responsibility’?  Either way, I think you may be nuancing in a value judgement where I put none.

      For instance your last example looks to me like it’s about victim blaming.

      “you chose to have this happen to you”
      The only one who chooses what somebody does, is the somebody who does it.  This was what I was getting at.

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