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Archive for February, 2010

Whose responsible for what?  and Why?

I can’t seem to shake this question.  As I begin reading “Responsibility in Context” a “gut level” take is that because we are social we have a responsibility one for another.  I don’t yet see where this is a foundation of society – good or bad.

A given person’s worldview would seem to dictate what they considered essential and valuable in context of their social environment.  Worldviews could hardly be considered infallible.  One may have a worldview of “top down”, where the most powerful “hero” is the leader.  This person may be able to exert the most force to get people to do what they want.  In their worldview, it may be that they believe they have the best idea of what their subjects need.  But if you depart from their prescribed order, you may be imprisoned, tortured, or killed.

Is the leader responsible for his/her followers?  What role to the followers play?  Again, these terms are defined by worldview.  Lets move away from “leader/follower” for a moment.  In more traditional corporate responsibility, we engage the corporate body in responsibility to the social/societal context in which it operates and functions.

Does responsibility rests in those with power and influence?  Or does responsibility rest with the individual regardless of power and influence?  Do we sue the automaker for accidents due to faulty manufacturing?  Does it make a difference if there was an unknown defect? or deliberate cover up?  Do we sue the automaker when we have an accident, because they built a car that goes faster than the legal limit?  we can apply these questions to physicians, corporations, individuals, governments, and so forth.  Who is responsible for what? and why?  What is the responsibility of a company to its employees?  the President to the citizens?  A nation to the world?  Can we question all basis of action? What is “good” or “bad”?  Who defines these?  And perhaps it is important to know how they come to be defined.

Across my computer screen this week, I have read about “selfishness”.  What is it?  Is it a virtue?  Does it make the world go ’round in peace and harmony?  There seem to be two definitions of “selfishness”.

The first and most common, seems to have come into existence between 1628 and 1640.  It centers around self-interest without regard for others.  Richard Dawkins is quoted as saying “Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs.” [Richard Dawkins, “The Selfish Gene,” 1976].
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/selfishness

The second declares “selfishness” a virtue.  Promoted widely by Ayn Rand, this type of selfishness has the best interest of self and others.  It is opposed to altruism (as self-sacrifice) towards others.  Where she views altruism as asking “Who benefits?” And making the morality of “right” being self-sacrifice of the giver.

All of this is based in her ideas of “objectivism” and reason.  This type of selfishness rejects the satisfaction of whims because they may actually be harmful to one’s self or others.  It rejects altruism because, to be morally “good”, one must harm themselves.  Indeed, one of Rand’s critisims of religion seems to be around the teachings of “altruism”, as giving to the hurt of one’s self.

My own interpretation of the teachings of Jesus, is that this type of altruism is not what he had in mind.  (Matthew 25 – parable of the 10 virgins; Matthew 22:39/ Mark 12:31/ Romans 13:8-10/ Galatians 5:14/ James 2:8 – love your neighbor as yourself).

I have not read Rand’s book.  I have only read through the links below.   There is much to appreciate about her approach. It seems that the main point is that every individual human being has objective needs.  The selfish human will reason that it is in their best (moral good) to take care of their “self” and the “self” of others.  In this I wonder how far off “selfishness” is from “Agape”.  I am still thinking.  Clearly, however, “reason” only goes so far.  There are so many interpretations of what is right and reasonable.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayn_Rand
http://www.objectivistcenter.org/cth–406-FAQ_Virtue_Selfishness.aspx

In her own life, she rejected all forms of organized religion and faith as “antithetical to reason”.  Her ideals influenced Alan Greenspan. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Greenspan) among others.  Her ideals are embedded in the Republic Party of the United States.

Clearly in our current society there is a gap and breakdown of this type of “selfishness”.  Our economic collapse, both of 1929 and in the 2000s, show us that the typical “selfishness” is still at play.  Another breakdown is just how far we extend the ideal of Rand’s “Selfishness”, just as there is a break down in “Agape”.  Does Rand’s selfisishness extend to one’s family? Community?  Nation?  Those who hate and abuse one’s self?  who judges or arbitrates?

The question then becomes how do we balance society?  Are we living in an interconnected web of life? What is our responsibility towards others who view their responsibility differently?  Is the question one of selfishness? or is it possible that we might better be looking at another term?  I would suggest “Agape”.  Next, I would suggest that “Abuse” is the opposite of “Agape”.  Our responsibility is to “Agape” ourselves AND others – not to abuse ourselves or others.

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In my M.Ed program I recall looking at Social Responsibility. The context was clearly corporate social responsibility. About as deep as I recall going was the role of higher educational institutions’ role in corporate social responsibility.

We can see the actions of corporations and the impact on the areas/locations in which they operate. Soda manufacturers using up water in remote places, or instituting opportunities for employees of one country to contribute to the benefit of the communities where the company has plants.

In other cases where a USA based electronics or garment manufacturer works with factories in poorer countries, but have agreements in place to protect workers from abuse, to pay locally appropriate wages, and that have built-in accountability.

To explore social responsibility for my PhD, it seems right to probe deeper. I found a new book “Responsibility in Context”. I will be reading through this and providing reactions, reflections, and questions as I process through the book.

Social responsibility seems to be rooted in some sort of morality/ethic. It seems to me that various cultures and contexts will interpret social responsibilities differently. Then a question that comes to my mind is this: who defines “social” and “responsibility”? Does one group define it for all? Is there an “absolute truth” to beings socially responsible? Is anyone exempt from responsibility? Who is responsible for what? When it comes to “leadership” how does “Social responsibility” fit into the competency of a “Leader”?

I am not sure I will find the answers to all of these questions. Though I will be thinking about these and more.

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