This is in the way of a response to the irresponsible meme floating around Facebook now reading “Everything you do is based on the choices you make. It’s not your parents, your past relationships, your job, the economy, the weather, an argument or your age that is to blame. You and only you are responsible for every decision and choice you make.”
I can’t think of a time when I have actually disagreed with any of that. The suggestion that most people at whom this charge is levelled do is only made with incredible chutzpah. This is a claim entirely made out of shreddable straw, and the people who take a moment from their day to distribute this looking-down-their-nose-at-you opinion statement know damn well that it is.
People who have known me for a while know that I am a great fan of the French existentialists, principally Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre, in particular, is known for his forceful claims about how individuals are wholly responsible for their own fate, and what he wrote is, and really has always been, what I believe on the matter:
“Existence is prior to essence. Man is nothing at birth and throughout his life he is no more than the sum of his past commitments. To believe in anything outside his own will is to be guilty of ‘bad Faith.’ Existentialist despair and anguish is the acknowledgement that man is condemned to freedom. There is no God, so man must rely upon his own fallible will and moral insight. He cannot escape choosing.”
In short, I don’t disagree that it is the individual alone who is morally responsible for everything he or she does. However, I disagree with the Facebook meme artists, and agree heartily with Sartre, that this kind of freedom blows chunks. It is a freedom to which we are “condemned”, as Sartre put it, not another kind which makes us feel free or appreciate the wonders and benefits of freedom.
It is that second kind of freedom to which I am attached, and for which I struggle. The first kind of freedom, by contrast, is just choosing to face an ugly world and taking as much of the responsibility for changing it as you can on your own shoulders.
The reason I am so frustrated with people who have this chirpy up-with-people attitude about individual choice is that they seem to think life gives everyone a full menu. _Of course_ choices are harder for some than they are for others, and _of course_ those for whom they are harder – especially when this is unnecessary and unjust – are resentful of the inequity. But that does not _at all_ mean that those people aren’t out there every day slogging it out making whatever meagre choices they are allotted, and it also doesn’t mean that they don’t think those choices are ultimately what define them as people. Sartre thought that, and so do I, and so do millions of other people out there.
Really, it’s realism, anyway…when you know bored, distracted people with privileges they do not even acknowledge they have are going to throw everything in your lap anyway, you _have_ to act like _only you_ can fix things – because in reality, that’s probably the case.
Anyway, I would like to politiely encourage those of you who think this meme offers great advice to the unwashed masses (that is, anyone who’s not a very responsible you) to think again. Some of us may be more attached to individual freedom and responsibility than you are. Indeed, we might even believe in it while at the same time acknowledging how awful it is and how much of a pain it is to deal with.