Sarah Palin is wrong.
Now, that will come as no surprise to a large percentage of my readers, who are predisposed to take that position based on her speaking history over the past years, but I’m referring to a particular point this time. In today’s New York Times, Ms. Palin (or her writers) waxes eloquent on the Real American Value of Individual Responsibility:
She said acts like the shootings in Arizona “begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state.”
I know this is a popular view, especially after events like the shooting in Arizona. We want to put as much psychological distance between the killer and ourselves. If we admit that there was something society could have done to prevent it, then we are ourselves culpable, and we must shoulder a part of the blame, for our inaction. Can’t have that.
Ms. Palin quoted former President Ronald Reagan as saying that society should not be blamed for the acts of an individual. She said, “it is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”
Convenient that Jared Loughner must be held accountable, but Sarah Palin refuses to take responsibility for her own actions and her refusals to act.
Palin’s individualist rhetoric (not her bellicose rhetoric) allows her to ignore the plight of those for whom a supportive environment might mean the difference between life and death. They are responsible for their own situations.
Ms. Palin, by your own words, we must hold you individually responsible for your actions. You have chosen a path where your words are intended to have the widest audience, the widest influence possible. You cannot pretend that you have not tried to move people to action; you cannot pretend that you speak just to hear your own voice. You can acknowledge the power of your position and take individual responsibility for your own words—including their effect on your followers.
I do not hold you responsible for Loughner’s actions. But I do not think his actions begin and end with him. Nor do you, unless you honestly think your own speaking has no influence on your listeners. We are a social species; we cannot help but influence one another. We cannot choose to not get involved; even that choice is our responsibility, and it is wrong to stand by and do nothing when we could help. We are interconnected. We all influence one another, constantly.
Those who speak to millions, like Ms. Palin (and yes, the TV and radio voices, and public figures across the political spectrum) have the opportunity to influence these millions. If you believe the doctrine of individual responsibility extends to yourself, then recognize the power of your position and take responsibility for your rhetoric, and use your influence to make the world a better place. If you believe, though, that the doctrine of individual responsibility absolves you of any blame, that your words cannot move others to action… then why are you talking? Do the world a favor and shut the fuck up.
We need to help our fellow man.
Because we should. Because we can.
Because it’s wrong and downright shameless
To dole out blame while staying blameless.