This is an edited version of Part 2 of an essay, which I posted four years ago in my blog, ‘Forty Two’. Part 1 was titled: “London’s Burning… What Can We Do”. It was also spurred by a conversation about who is responsible for the mess we seemed to be in following the London riots and the state of the UK’s economy – has it improved since then, one may ask. A rather political conversation had started in a post on the riots on Facebook. This essay was already germinating in my mind as I was completing Part 1, so I thought that I might as well put this out now to clarify my thoughts and convictions on the subject of the responsibility of individuals for their own actions and open a discussion on parental responsibilities in this vein.

I would preface this by saying, that, wherever and under whatever circumstances we are brought into this world, when we are old enough, reach the age of majority or at whatever point in our lives we are capable of thinking for ourselves, we must take the first steps that enable us to become responsible for our own lives and become accountable for our actions. This is so that we can not only fit into our community, but also contribute to it.

In the same way, this means that we are responsible for our own economies, that is our personal finances; making provision for hard times is part of that, rather like a farmer stows hay in the barn to see his cattle through a bleak winter. Whatever the conditions out there, whatever the state of the country’s finances, we have the power to resist the temptations of consumerism and to cut our coat according to the cloth we have. Most politicians, whatever their political colour, with a few exceptions have always and will always be guided in varying proportions by three things: their personal ambitions, the party line and corporate sponsorship; listening to the electorate is the last thing on their agenda.

It is within the power of most individuals in the affluent, developed and ‘free’ world, to live well and securely – far, far better than a majority of the world’s population in the third world. The exceptions to this are those who are genuinely incapable of coping, of taking control of their lives, because of the way they are wired, through physical or mental disability or some other predisposition, which does require the support of a caring welfare system; and I have for most of my adult life held a conviction that, however much of our infrastructure is in private hands, we must always be able to provide school education and health systems, that are free to all, funded by National Insurance.

The trouble is, for the capable majority, that we don’t exercise our free will to manage our lives; we act like sheep, greedy sheep. We run up a burden of personal debt, in pursuit of materialistic self-improvement, chasing a kind of mock celebrity status or some misguided notion that ‘success’ is expressed by the size of your house, by the size and specification of the four-wheel drive you park in front of it, by the designer clothes you wear and by how exotic the location of your holiday destination.

But what happens for too many of us is that we end up financially far worse off than we should be. This is all well and good whilst the going’s good, whilst the economy is ‘flourishing’, but when the bubble bursts, as it always will in these conditions, and times get hard like they are right now, all we tend to do is complain that it’s the fault of whoever’s in power, or somebody else; anybody is to blame but ourselves. This is the crux of it: individual responsibility, taking control of our own lives, by harnessing the power of our own will, given the solidarity of family and community. Perish the thought that one day we are no longer able or permitted to exercise this freedom. And let’s not kid ourselves that we have a divine or enduring right to this freedom; we have to earn it by taking responsibility, making ourselves, first and foremost, accountable for our actions. Then and only then will we be qualified to comment and contribute to an improvement in the lot of others.

For those that want to judge me, or anybody for that fact, to categorise me in some neat political pigeonhole, I would say simply this. Never judge, keep an open mind and nurture common sense. Don’t be hidebound by a party line; don’t be a sheep and be a member of a ‘gang’, just for the sake of ‘belonging’; be a thinker. But, above all ensure that you show respect for your fellow man or woman; do not be anti-social by word or deed; and honour the principle espoused by John Stuart Mill almost two hundred years ago. I have been mindful of his philosophy for all of my adult life… and I’m still trying to hold to it.

Could this be part of a blueprint for parental responsibility..?

– John Anstie

© 2016, essay, John Anstie, All rights reserved

2 thoughts on “Individual Responsibility . . . Whose job is this?

  1. Really hoping that my nation will begin to be serious about providing education and health care for all! At the same time that so many Americans feel entitled to a high standard of living, we are paying exorbitant prices for college and health insurance. And certain political parties keep touting consumerism as the highest duty of a patriot. This year, I have the choice to vote for a Democratic Socialist, and I and all 6 of my children and children-in-law will be voting for him!

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  2. Hear! Hear! I can’t answer your question at the end, as I am not a parent of human children (fur-babies are different), but I think you have nailed one of the most insidious problems of living in a first-world, Westernized society – namely, that people need to be (and be held) responsible for their own, consumerist tendencies. Thinking along minimalist and Zen lines, the ego cage has trapped a majority of the same people bitching about “those others” (whoever the “others” may be to blame, whether political parties, ethnic groups, etc.) while making them blind to their own part that they play in not just their personal misery, but their contribution to societal misery as a whole. /rant

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