RESPONSIBILITY FOR OTHERS

 

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In a perfect world, where every decision can be undone and people fully embrace the other three core values, Responsibility for Others is simply a moral imperative, rather than a key democratic ideal. In that perfect world, people accept accountability for their own actions, but not responsibility for another's mistakes. They might choose to help a stranger in distress, and in doing so (by the Golden Rule), encourage that stranger to be helpful in return; but neither are forced to cooperate.

Yet the world is imperfect. The facts required to make a sound decision are often hidden. Harm often emerges from the the actions (or inactions) of groups, making it difficult to assign culpability. Leaders may be accountable for their actions, but if the remedy is unrealizable (such as bringing a child poisoned by unsanitary food back to life), the government must step in.

Our long democratic history supports the concept of a "greater good". Religious and civil organizations take it upon themselves to build libraries, run soup kitchens, and volunteer at nonprofit hospitals. Individuals sacrifice their free time to tutor an immigrant in English. And governments take on responsibilities, such as defense or environmental regulation or social security, where no individual can hope to be as effective.

Our responsibility for others is a heavy burden- we may act too soon, or with a leaden hand, or without good cause. And we may choose poorly. But a society that does not recognize a responsibility to others loses the right to be called civilized.

Charitable Deductions

Government and individuals share a responsibility to help others. The government can and should encourage individuals to exercise this responsibility, providing those actions are not in violent conflict with other democratic core values. Charitable deductions can be one such incentive. If a charity uses their assets to promote their own moral agenda as well as helping others, they are well within their rights. However, if the government has abdicated its public responsibility by delegating the public good to charities with strong moral biases as a subterfuge to advance that moral agenda, such charitable deductions would be inappropriate.

Teaching Evolution in School

Absolutely! To deny the truth of Evolution and its role in shaping life on Earth, is to deny reality. Evolution is among the most well confirmed of scientific discoveries, and it would be irresponsible to raise children ignorant of reality, and unprepared to participate as adults in a world that depends more and more on integrating complex scientific decisions into society.

We have a responsibility to teach children to think for themselves. Thus, it is very important to teach the scientific method, and (for older children) that science itself evolves and changes as new facts emerge. In that context, Intelligent Design can be taught as an example of a flawed, nonscientific theory (somewhere between Alchemy and Astrology in validity), to help students develop their critical thinking skills.

Gay Adoption There are millions of abortions which might not occur if more couples were open to adoption. There are millions of orphans or abandoned children who need to be raised by loving parents with appropriate nurturing skills. Studies show committed gay couples are at least as successful as traditional couples in raising healthy children. Our responsibility to children requires us to employ every resource at our disposal- and gay couples (and in some cases individuals) are one such resource that is under used and maligned.
Environmental Protection

We should be free to use our own property, and to use it unwisely. So we can plant cotton, even though it is a profligate consumer of water and energy- and let the capitalistic system decide our fate. We should be free to cut down trees, shoot deer, and dam rivers on our property. But only to a point.

Like it or not, we all live together on one planet, with one atmosphere, one supply of water and one connected ecosystem. Volcanoes in the Pacific cause atmospheric haze which cause crop failures in Europe. Burning coal in the American West drops pollutants on the East which lead to numerous childhood diseases. While lawsuits and accountability can sometimes resolve these interacting conflicts, in many cases the damage is unrepairable. A dead species is lost forever. The 50,000 lives lost a year to air pollution in America are gone forever. Florida flooded by global warming is lost for millennia. In these cases, there is a strong responsibility to defer narrow, temporal human property rights in favor of the greater long term good. Sensible regulation, informed by unbiased science and balancing social needs, are the result.

Child Welfare

In general, the individual Freedom to Be extends from parents to their children. Government and neighbors may suggest, but not dictate, how other people's children are raised. This is true even if the parents raise their children to accept blatantly erroneous facts- such as the inferiority of blacks, or that women have one fewer rib than men. As long as such guidance is reversible when the child becomes an adult and assumes independent decision making power, the family is king.

However, some parental decisions are not reversible. These include physical dangers (child abuse, not wearing a motorcycle helmet, ..) and medical decisions (denying critical blood transfusions, avoiding inoculations, ...). In these cases, the government must intervene to avoid permanent damage to the child or to society.

Circumcision

Adults enjoy a near right perfect right to modify their body as they see fit- including mutilation, decoration or even amputation. But such rights cannot be imposed on a minor, because many of these modifications cannot be undone at 18. Our responsibility as parents is to teach our children well, but our past actions should not t limit their options once emancipated as free-thinking adults.

Thus, adults cannot permit their minor children to be tattooed. To be circumcised. To have plastic surgery except as medically necessary. As our children age and mature, their ability to think independently grows, and depending upon the child, their wishes should be honored by their parents and caregivers.

Gun Control

There is no doubt the Constitution protects gun ownership. And, for many in society, gun collecting and hunting is a way of life for themselves and their community. So gun ownership should never be outlawed in the US. However, guns are dangerous weapons and are often misused with disastrous consequences. The need for accountability, and responsibility for others requires gun ownership to exist in balance with sensible regulation. This regulation (as in a "well regulated militia") should be consistent with the regulation of other balanced rights -such as the freedom to travel balanced by the licensing of drivers. So gun ownership should be permitted; all guns must be registered; all users must pass a licensing test, and mandatory insurance must be purchased to pay for those times when people use guns unwisely.

Gun regulations are not a "conspiracy" to violate the Constitution- instead, they reinforce and strengthen this democratic right by assuring gun misuse will not someday result in their banning.

Future Discussions Stem cell research, intervening in foreign lands, immigration, zoning laws..

 

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