How Collectivism Diffuses Responsibility

How Collectivism Diffuses Responsibility


The collectivist mentality among progressives and leftists has its foundation in redistribution. The inequity created is allegedly offset by the good it does: stealing from the rich man benefits the poor man. Voila, morality! This deep-seated desire to redistribute comes from a failure to correctly identify the underlying problem. We are familiar with the economic fallacies, but an equally destructive progressive ploy is the redistribution of blame.

In a broken world, tragedy strikes somewhere every day. Too often, we hear about famine in South America, bombings in the Middle East, or sexual assault in Europe. Immediately, conservatives and progressives come to two different conclusions. The conservative looks to the closest reason for the problem: individuals and their actions that created the situation. He blames the dictator, the bomber, the rapist. The progressive tends to overlook the individual and place focus on tangential factors, blaming society or politicizing a group or item. Rather than identify the closest cause of the problem, they see only problems and attribute blame to a variety of sources. While identifying systems as the problem, progressives also seek systemic solutions, entirely wrapping themselves into the idea of collectivism and rejecting both individual culpability and specific solutions.

According to the progressive view of proximate cause, individuals never act alone. Articulating this mindset, President Obama reminded the country that “you didn’t build that!” Thus, no one who does wrong bears the full weight of judgment. In an alternate (perhaps more consistent) universe, President Obama lectures a criminal, “you didn’t steal that!” ‘Twas economics made the beast. This plays into the idea of social justice, the futile pursuit of equality at the expense of the individual. Rather than promote justice, social justice redistributes blame from individuals onto society. As Jonah Goldberg points out, there is no social justice, only individual justice.

Shootings highlight the redistributed blame better than any other tragedy. Instead of looking to the root cause of the shooting, the Left immediately blames guns. Nevermind that the shooter made the conscious choice to commit the atrocity, it is the fault of Congress that the shooting occurred! By identifying legislation as the proximate cause of a shooting, the actual evildoer bears less responsibility. In law, proximate cause is important for pinning the bad action on the appropriate person. In politics, this concept is manipulated to blame the expedient cause, rather than the proximate one. It could be anything from the education system that failed the shooter to talk radio hosts who “radicalized” him, but the last person the Left will blame is the shooter himself. It isn’t that progressives fail to blame the actor, but they water down the blame by showering blame on unrelated actors.

The shooting in Las Vegas is the highest casualty civilian shooting in U.S. history. Emotions are appropriately high. As Ben Shapiro noted, however, “Good policy is good regardless of timing; bad policy is bad regardless of timing.” The Left’s rush to blame guns comes before we have even identified what guns were used or how they were acquired. The call to ban automatic weapons proves that redistributing blame is unjust. Congress already largely banned civilian ownership of automatic weapons, so if Congress is blamed even after doing what progressives want, why did they put blame on Congress anyway? But even if the shooter acquired legal guns that should have been regulated and carried out this nefarious action, the proximate cause is still the shooter and his trigger finger. Congress does not compel anyone to commit shootings, even if it does not restrict some dangerous weapons. Blaming Congress cannot come before blaming a shooter for committing evil. Given the peculiarities of this shooting with no apparent motive or outside influence, it is even more important to blame the shooter and not guns, laws, groups, or society, until we better understand the situation.

The progressive belief in institutional evils enables them to ignore the moral culpability of individual actors. The diffusion of responsibility allowed progressives to invent concepts like “rape culture” to blame perfectly good natured men in society for the actions of a few bad actors.

Oscar Wilde was prescient when he said, “life imitates art.” The progressive insistence on blaming the country is becoming its own parody, as it reflects nonsensical television shows like The Office:

Michael: We are here because there is something wrong with society.
Jim: See, you’re always saying there’s something wrong with society, but... maybe there’s something wrong with you.
Michael: If it’s me, then society made me that way.

When a temperamental petulant character sounds more like legitimate commentary than comedy, maybe it is time to reevaluate our approach to blame.

Focus on the whole society is misplaced anger directed away from injustices brought on by individuals. The protest of the National Anthem blames the country instead of individual bad actors. When a police officer abuses his power, he should be appropriately disciplined. When a shooter kills innocent civilians, he should be brought to justice. When a public institution discriminates, it should face the proper legal recourse. Society and the Constitution do not create or perpetuate individual injustices. Do religion, politics, and other factors contribute? Yes, and that should be understood and evaluated. Do any of those factors replace the blame and responsibility of the actor? No.

The United States does not have a gun problem. It does not have a law problem. It doesn’t even have a culture problem. We individuals have a problem. We have broken souls and human nature with the capacity for wonderful good and immense evil. When one person acts, he alone is responsible. We should not cheapen that by blaming others.

Follow this author on Twitter @bendierker

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