- Capitalism and Alternatives -

abrogation of "individual responsibility"

Posted by: bill on August 24, 1999 at 04:23:16:


< SDF: The question begged by this above formulation is one of HOW late-capitalist society empowers the person to take personal responsibility. If personal responsibility under the current system limits Joe Six-Pack to the role of being a well-managed employee while making responsible consumer choices when off-duty, is this relevant
to what the authors want out of Joe Six-Pack in terms of personal responsibility? Please see James O'Connor's ACCUMULATION CRISIS for more detail.

Also it's important to note my critique of the sortof environmentalism that approaches it from the other end, that environmentalist utopia is SOOOOO far away from Joe Six-Pack that the only thing left to do is denounce as insufficient Joe Six-Pack's
efforts to turn out the lights when leaving his house.>


Yes...(with a caveat I'd like to develop)

It is one of the tactics of the "right" to spout at long length about the "personal" and "individual" responsibility of a nation's citizenry. Failure, when it comes to finding employment, adequate housing, education of children, healthcare, etc., is regarded as a failure of individual personality - an abrogation of "individual responsibility".

On the other hand, when it comes to protection of property, individual responsibility becomes collectivized - "We require" a fire department, police department, judiciary, etc.

Another word receiving a lot of attention is "empowerment" and is also worth investigating. Following are some excerpts from a paper by Sherrilynn Young - Psychological Empowerment and Other Mythological Beasts:

"A particular example of an academic presumption which alienates service-deliverer from service-deliveree, "helper" from "helpee," is the currently fashionable notion of empowerment. It is my thesis that social scientists advocating the empowerment paradigm are not (as often advertised) abdicating their role of power in the social services' hierarchy; rather they are restating their authority, in disguised fashion, over the realm of "care." In this way, I consider the tension between psychologists and oppressed peoples as analogous to that relationship between a landowner and people living uninvited upon his/her land. Psychologists, aware on some level that the self-help movement is "squatting" in their territory, have sought to reinstate, maintain and expand their foothold by introducing a paradigm which arrogates control to themselves, even as they proclaim that they are only there to advise, help, or suggest the community-assertive movement…."

"Psychologists also tend to ignore (or downplay the significance of) the assumption implicit in the proper use of empowerment that one person has the authority to grant power to another. Rappaport (1987) states that in order "to understand the meaning of empowerment one must know ... what, or who, one has authority over" (p.130). In this regard, how and when did Psychology receive the right to allocate or withhold "power" from certain individuals or groups? As Thomas Paine eloquently stated (with respect to

Toleration is not the opposite of intoleration, but it is
the counterfeit of it. Both are despotisms. The one assumes
to itself the right of withholding liberty of conscience,
and the other of granting it. The one is the Pope armed with fire fagot and theother is the Pope selling or granting indulgences.

Likewise, empowerment and disempowerment are not opposites, but instead each carry their own particular seeds of ideological deprecation. To "empower" or to be "empowered" necessarily implies an acceptance of power relations, power status, expertise, etc., that denigrates one party while simultaneously elevating the other....

"...many day-to-day practices preserve status differentials. Such differentials arise in part from the "I know something you don't know" attitude formal education seems to impart. For another example, psychology greatly restricts the "level of analysis" that is considered proper: mention of possible economic or political influences in human behavior often provokes the rebuke that those things "aren't psychology", and consequently should be ignored (Kitzinger, 1992).

The level of analysis issue is more profoundly damaging than this, however. Psychology has been described as obsessed with internalizing and individualizing problems (Bhaskar, 1989; Sarason, 1981). As we have seen, the rationale behind much of the empowerment literature is that psychology's clientele are in a position of inferiority not so much as a result of injustice, inequality, or segregation, but because of insufficient attention drawn to realising their skill potential. If disempowered people simply boost their kills, then presumably these people would function more effectively in their environments; once they display mastery it naturally follows that they will take (or be granted) more control over their lives....

Without challenging the philosophy driving our actions, we may be oblivious to the (subtle) ways in which we oppress others. Psychologists deny what they are doing by, for example, 1) hiding agency; 2) giving consumers the illusion of control; and 3) attempting to legislate their own notions of empowerment and seeking to clarify them by empirical investigation. In fact, one could sum up the current role of psychologists, including "empowering" psychologists, as that of developing and perfecting new techniques, practices and inventions with which to manipulate and predict the world, by which the quality of our lives is evaluated and modified as needed (Sarason, 1981). To the extent that psychologists get away with legislating new meaning to empowerment, it is due to public trust accorded to psychologists by virtue of their status as a "scientific expert."…


While this focuses on the use of the word "empowerment" as it relates to the field of psychology, it is also reflected in the larger socio-economic environment. The above paper quotes Michael Parenti as follows:

"Today, `reform' means increasing the opportunities for economic mobility for some select few low-income persons, `integrating' the poor into the `mainstream' values of the society by teaching them better lifestyles, and giving them enough public assistance to take the
edge off their discontent.

The poor are to be `bettered' not by a collective advance in their class conditions through fundamental economic transformation but by the power of moral example, by exposure to middle-class values and the efforts of middle-class missionaries who descend upon them
in the guise of social workers, community workers, and the like, it being presumed that with the right kind of guidance, education, and opportunities for individual self-improvement, the poor will become `a part of society' like the rich and the rest of us. (p. 88)"


Let alone the conundrum of "empowering" Native American tribes by providing casino gambling licenses.

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