January 28, 2023

responsible humans

(Originally published 2008)

It’s never been easy being a human being. From the dawn of time, we have struggled to survive, struggled to find shelter, struggled to find safety, and struggled to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and alive. The way we do this has changed, but the necessity to do so has not. The world is a brutal place, even without the brutality we cause to one another. One need only look at the headlines to see this is true. The world is a deadly.

When one adds to all the natural disasters, the threats posed by other human beings, the world becomes that much more dangerous…and complex to survive in. In Hawai’i are fortunate that we have more deaths from drowning each year than from disasters, both natural and man made. Unfortunately, that is not the case throughout most of the planet. My purpose in writing today is to explore the reasons why we, as humans, tend to create political and social institutions that make basic survival that much more difficult for our fellow human beings.

When I speak of human disasters, I am referring to the worst that we are capable of doing to each other. I am referring to genocide, murder, rape, and looking on as others starve, die from disease, and suffer in plain site. How have we let this happen? How have we allowed these things to become our reality? How have we let this world come to be a place where we look on as these things happen and feel that we can do nothing to stop it.

Strange as it may sound, I think I actually have an answer. At some point in creating societies and civilizations, it was necessary for individuals to take on different specialized roles of responsibility. This is a necessary and good thing, within limits. For instance, one person took on the responsibility of growing food, another person took the responsibility to create tools, another person became a builder, and so forth. This specialization allowed for the refinement of crafts and trades which in turn allowed us to develop more sophisticated technologies. These technologies created the means for us to live in abundant, secure, and peaceful communities. This division of labor was a successful strand in the cloth of our cultural evolution.

Imagine, the first community of farmers, builders, weavers, and tool makers celebrating after their first truly successful season. The shelters were warm, the clothing was functional, the tools were efficient, and the specialized techniques of farming had created a surplus of food. Great stuff! Suddenly, there was the time to create art, the time to create music, enough surplus food to try new recipes, and perhaps even the impetus for a harvest celebration.

And that is when another band without these advances wanders into our peaceful setting. Since they speak a different language, they cannot understand why some should have so much when they have so little. They begin to take from the efforts of our young society. They are doing so without contributing.

As you might imagine, this quickly becomes a problem. Since our young society has been so successful in assigning specific responsibilities and leaving other responsibilities to others, they decide rather quickly to assign responsibility for this new challenge to a specific sector of the population. Thus are born the first lawmakers and the first law officers to enforce those laws.

RESPONSIBLILITY IN ANCIENT TIMESThe farmer can now keep farming and the lawmen will protect his crops. The builder can build and the lawmaker will decide where the property line is. The cloth maker can weave and the law will set a price and be sure it is paid. When there is a problem, refer it to the law. When there a question about the law, refer it to the lawyers. When protection is needed, seek it from the soldiers and police. In order to make these protectors more efficient, give them the means to create new laws and the strength of arms to enforce them.

Responsibility was given away. Personally, I think this was our first mistake. Think about it. Maybe it is time to start taking the responsibility for our lives back. The question is, how do we do that?

I would love for this to be one of a series of ongoing dialogues so I encourage you to respond with your thoughts and comments. Even you mom!



  1. Although widely attributed to the (almost) immortal George Burns, it was apparently Voltaire who said, “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”
    Cheers to personal responsibility and taking control of your own little part of the avalanche. It might seem like nothing, but if some other snowflakes join you, it can be very powerful.

  2. Difficult to have a dialogue with someone who’s thoughts are so credible…..However, I
    have been given permission to respond, and so here it is. Not all the snowflakes (thanks Mink Hippie) are the same. Not even one. I believe those humans who have leadership talents, and a drive to attain the almighty dollar and material possessions, stepped up to the plate and created these political and social institutions that keep the common folk in chains. We are so busy trying to raise families and meet the cost of living that we cannot JOIN TOGETHER to make change. Not even the million truck drivers who are on the road will join together to protest the rising cost of diesel. They could stop the country by doing so for just a day or two. No one can “afford” the time nor loss of money. Over many years I have written letters to congressmen, signed petitions, voted, protested via email, and even have written more than one senator and president. The result. NADA. A standard letter in response to some concerns – “thank you for your comments – blah blah blah.” There is a point you decide that the only thing you can do anything about is within your own world of family and friends-your daily communication with those in your life. My mama told me that the industrialization of man was the ruination of man.
    In many ways I concur. Our technology has surpassed our growth in loving one another and finding true peace on earth. The media has convinced us we NEED it all – the bigger, the better. The obsession with “stuff” is ruining us. You have the right idea about releasing things and I am in the process of trying to do just that. Afterall, the sentiment is lovely, but that isn’t
    anything but a memory attached to a thing. The memory of those who shared, those who love…that is within and takes no room to store. It can be recalled instantly and happily.
    I do think having a governing body and laws is important. Those who are bullies and tyrants would run amok if allowed to do so. I do appreciate the fact there was a police officer to kill the man who beat his 2 year old to death. He was simply to late to change what happened. The problem is, again, those with connections and $$$$$ have control. I may have wandered
    to different subjects in this reply, but honestly, I believe the only way we can take back our
    lives is to live them within our circle of life. Be it on the level of a neighborhood, or the neighborhood of the world. If we learn to love one another, not judge each other, and be honest and honorable in our deeds, we could change the world, one person at a time.
    Thanks for stimulating my brain cells. Really, without prejudice, I am enjoying the hell out of your new format of WRITING what’s on your mind. My brain appreciates it too…I can hardly wait to see what’s next!

  3. A lot of my older, wiser, anarchist friends definitely have a similar attitude. I remember a guy I met in Eugene who had retired from the post office and THEN become an anarchist who told me that young anarchists are focused on changing the world, middle aged anarchists become focused on changing their community, and that old anarchists decide that changing themselves is challenge enough. I asked him if that wasn’t a bit of a cop out, maybe because the old anarchists were too tired or jaded and he smiled and told me that the hardest challenges are reserved for the elderly.

    I think this is when I started to reflect seriously on the idea of personal responsibility as a means to change the community and the world.

    Around that same time I was introduced to the idea that autonomy creates community, that is, if you are able to take care of your own needs, it frees you to contribute to the needs of others.

    Any thoughts on this?

  4. Autonomy produces insanely powerful positive leverage. I would argue that the only real battle is the one you have with yourself, all others are a waste of time because they’re fake. Too soon we get old, too late we get smart.

    For want of a nail the horse couldn’t be shoed to be able to pull the cannon into the key position where it could have fired the shot that won the battle that would have led to winning the war. Instead, all was lost.

    Young anarchists concentrate on winning the war with no clue regarding the critical importance of a single nail doing exactly what it was meant to do. To say that’s a copout is an understatement, and that’s why they always lose, even when they win according to their way of measuring. They are top down…usually liberal and favoring big government solutions that the less evolved should help pay for for their own good.

    Old anarchists focus themselves like laser beams into being a good nail, once they understand its place in the web of reality. Old anarchists work on themselves creating the ripples that turn into tsunamis the farther they radiate. They work from the bottom up, having fatigued of seeing their castles in the air fade with the breeze. The sooner an individual sees that working on himself is not only the best battle to choose to fight, but that it’s the only battle that actually exists, the sooner he will be a positive force in the wider society.

    The Rev has spoken, and he’s at least as good as the pope.

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