My friend who lent me the Francis Fukuyama book has told me that I have to write more about what I thought of it. Gee, it’s bad enough that I had to read something, now I have to write about it as well. Anyway, I’ll pick on some things Fukuyama says and this means I might end up sounding a bit hard on old Francis, so I’ll begin by pointing out that it is very easy to nit pick a book, it’s much harder to go and actually write one.
Francis Fukuyama seems very concerned that as our knowledge improves about our bodies, people may have a tendency to blame their biology for their actions rather than take responsibility themselves. But this makes me wonder, when have people ever taken responsibility for their actions? Or at least when have they ever taken responsibility for the bad results of their actions? Throughout history people have taken responsibility for good things that happen and denied responsibility for the bad things. It sounds like increasing knowledge of our biology will result in a SNARB. Situation Normal, All Responsibility Denied.
Now I’m aware that taking responsibility is viewed as a good thing by many people but this doesn’t change the fact that it doesn’t often happen. I’m not quite sure why taking responsibility is viewed as being good. I think a person’s actual actions are more important than whether or not they take responsibility for them. In fact when people do take responsibility for their actions it can be quite disturbing. I’d rather be locked in a room with someone who says, “I didn’t mean to kill him, it was the drugs. I never meant to kill anyone,” than be locked in a room with someone who says, “Yep, I killed him. I made a decision to kill him, and I followed through on it. Teach him to make fun of my hairstyle.”
But don’t people who take responsibility for their actions lead much better lives? I’m not sure about that. Perhaps people with better lives have less problems to not take responsibility for. For example if I had a great career, a great marriage and wonderful kids I’d gladly take responsibility for all those things. But if I didn’t get on with my grandfather I’d probably blame the old coot. A person with a lousy life does exactly the same thing, they just have more lousy stuff to blame on outside forces and less good things to take credit for.
Now I can see how taking responsibility can result in people changing their behaviour for the better so that they will end up leading better lives. For example if a person says, “I continuously told my last three boyfriends that they were stupid and all three left me. That was my fault. In the future I won’t call my boyfriends stupid and hopefully they won’t leave me,” then that person might wind up with a boyfriend who will stay. But a person who says, “I continuously called my last three boyfriends stupid and all three left me. I did that because I had an abusive childhood. In the future I won’t call my boyfriends stupid and hopefully they won’t leave me,” could achieve exactly the same result as the first person despite not taking responsibility for her actions and blaming her actions on her past.
I think people who are rationally able to think about how their behaviours affect their lives and then change them are more likely to be able to avoid problems and enjoy life than people who have difficulty doing this, regardless of whether or not they take responsibility. Although I must admit I think it is better when people do accept responsibility, mainly because it then means that it’s not my fault.