Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Responsibility Reconsidered

Originally posted on January 1, 2011

A friend wondered, “Why haven’t humans done a better job of taking care of themselves and the environment?”

I responded, after a friendly greeting: “Fair question: Why have humans not done a better job? Answer: Species wise, homo not-so-sapiens is, as a species, fairly immature, emerging through several species levels over 1,000,000 years to be its own species only about 100,000 years ago. (Compared to, say Dinosaurs, who dominated animal life for over a hundred million years, humans are still pretty new.) Even as a maturing human species who has existed for only around 100,000 years, anything approaching near civilized humanity—“neolithic”— has only been happening  for 10,000, and pre-history refers to the time before any writing began to record historical events less than 5,000 years ago. The idea of accuracy in historical writing—rather than propaganda flattering and supporting the ruling class—only emerged less than 2500 years ago.

At this rate, my hunch is that our species may take another several thousand years before it can do a fair-to-good job of taking care of themselves and their environment, if they haven’t extinguished themselves before that. We haven’t done a better job because we didn’t know the facts, the issues, or how to address them wisely. It’s all quite new!”

My friend replied. “If rats are not responsible for their actions, should humans, who seem to be acting only because of their innate nature and cultural environment, also be excused for their actions? Actually, it is comforting for me to have an excuse for past actions that I regret.”

I replied: “You open up an interesting question about different meanings of the term responsible. Earlier you asked why humans are so foolish, and I noted the general immaturity of the species—which is mainly a tautology—we’re foolish because we are indeed relatively foolish compared to our future potential. Part of that potential is to learn the skills of love, faith, and responsibility. That we haven’t learned it is no excuse for recognizing here and now that we have more learning to do. Responsibility in the here-and-now is ongoing. Accountability involves the relationships with others in the social system regarding the standards of responsibility.”

“Then again, here’s another excuse for past actions: You didn’t know all you need to know. Now here’s your responsibility toward those actions: Did you learn what you needed to learn so that you don’t repeat those mistakes? If you haven’t learned, if you have just felt regret but haven’t really gone after finding out exactly what you did wrong, why, and how not to do it again, you haven’t taken responsibility. Ideally, guilt in small to moderate doses should drive that investigation.

Alas, most adults just ask for "forgiveness," never really taking the responsibility to call their own shallow consciousness into question. They may be forgiven their folly, but not forgiven their copping-out from truly making amends and correcting their mistake. This happens 84.3% of the time, conservatively. Interesting question about mistakes, excuses, forgiveness, accountability, different issues involved.”

4 Responses to “Responsibility Reconsidered”

  • John Swardstrom says:

    I like the part about not knowing better also being a good excuse, or reason, for many actions.

    Growing up on the farm I had my guns and would indiscriminately shoot and kill gophers, rabbits, and crows. Now they and much other diverse wildlife are not generally found in that region anymore.

  • Responsibility = “You broke it; so you fix it, replace it, or pay for it!”

    As far as forgiveness goes, as I recall, in the Xian faith, forgiveness requires prior repentance. Genuine repentance requires acknowledgement of having done wrong. That would seem to involve some degree of acceptance of responsibility.

    However …. in the Xian faith forgiveness sometimes does not seem to require much more than a TOKEN willingness to make amends, like seven “Hail Marys” and a dozen “Our Fathers.”

    In modern culture, too often people seem to want forgiveness to me nothing more than forgetting about the transgression. That’s very unhealthy.

    There seems to be a very genuine human need to have the books balance. A need for fairness and justice may be as necessary for human survival as food.

  • Adam says:

    Dear Arnold, I just got that the Xian means Christian, x standing for the Greek phoneme, Kh and from there, X meaning the gutteral Kh, then turning into hard k and from there to Ch as in Christos…
    See my paper on forgiveness on my website— it’s a complex concept.

    Your points, though, lead to further contemplations of the nature of responsibility. I agree that what is needed is the awareness that one must identify and correct a mistake, whether that refers to an interpersonal ethical injury, an individual moral decision, or a scientific theory or technical problem. Punishment and its associated images places the problem outside of this learning and self-correcting frame that is closer to what I mean by responsibility.

  • Terry Teaters says:


    Historically speaking, there have been a small minority of people who have evolved in consciousness and made attempts at explaining their process in an effort to help others. Unfortunately, they have been largely misunderstood or ignored.

    I have found J. Krisnamurti and other such consciousness pioneers to be essential reading for the process of “waking up.”

    I also suggest that inter-generational trauma plays a considerable role in our constricted awareness of self and other.

    It is indeed sad that we do not have emotional literacy as a required course in all schools.


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