25 October 2005

Who is Responsible?

The response of the citizens of Key West to the onrushing Hurricane Wilma could be called many things. Brave. Foolhardy. Stupid.

The word I'm going to use is irresponsible. As taxpayers, they have the right to expect that their Federal Government will do everything in its power to rescue them if needs be, and to restore services as soon as possible. However, does the fact that they ignored the mandatory evacuation order, thereby knowingly placing themselves in mortal danger, mean that they have less right to expect rescue than those who did what they were told and got into trouble anyway?

If Wilma had hit Key West (and its parties) hard, then hundreds of rescue personnel would be involved to get them out. The people who choose to risk themselves in these situations need to realise that their actions affect not only themselves, but others as well.

And it's not just in life-or-death situations either. Failure to take responsibility for your own actions appears to be worryingly prevalent these days. Whether its people eating or smoking themselves to the point where they draw valuable medical resources from really needy people, or parents who blame the actions of their kids on schools, or 30-somethings who continue to feed off their parents, or people fraudulently claiming benefits.

I'm going to stick my neck out and call this a First World problem. People can shirk responsbility because many of us live in an over-controlled, over regulated "nanny state", where every aspect of our lives has constraints. The more constraints there are, the less decisions each of us have to make. Consequently, we take less responsibility because more of the things that affect us are outside our control.

In the Developing World, I will bet you dollars to pesos that everyone takes responsibility for their actions, because if they don't, no-one else will. If they didn't take responsibility, they'd be dead inside a week. There is no government agency to throw money at aid schemes, or touchy-feely think-tanks, or regulatory bodies to tell them what they can and cannot do.

Progress is a double-edged sword. While it gives us clean water, Art, air travel and iPods, it taketh away self-determination and control and, to some extent, pride. And that's the biggest loss. Pride in your achievements, pride in what you have built, or made, is an incredible thing. But if 80% of the work required for those achievements was given to you, you feel hollow. Something given has no value.

Those who do not take responsbility for their actions, and who believe that it is their right to be supported by others are, in my opinion, the biggest drain on society. If it was survival of the fittest, like it should be, they'd all be toast. That would mean we'd be eating toast for a very long time.

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