Assigning Blame

It’s all your fault. You — you personally — didn’t do enough to stay safe from the pandemic.

For that matter, you didn’t do enough to prepare for retirement or for getting laid off or for getting sick or injured so you couldn’t work.

You borrowed too much money to go to school or buy a house and now it’s your fault that you don’t make enough money to pay it back.

And it goes without saying that you bought too many things, took too many trips, and didn’t recycle. You caused climate change.

I could go on, but you get the gist. It’s all about personal responsibility here. If things are wrong in our society, our world, it’s all your fault and my fault and the fault of every individual who ever had to make a decision on the fly in an over-complicated world.


Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favor of people being personally responsible. A lifetime in the martial arts makes one think like that. I get tired of hearing people whine about things they could fix if they took better charge of their lives, too.

But personal irresponsibility is not the reason the pandemic is out of control in the United States. I’m very tired of hearing blamed heaped on those who got together with others for a holiday, and I say that as someone who stayed home at Thanksgiving and Christmas just as I have been doing every day for the past ten months.

Personal responsibility is one small part of our lives as human beings on this planet. One of the places we most need to exercise it is in working cooperatively and responsibly with our fellow human beings. Working together well is how we keep ourselves safe and take care of each other.

One of the ways we work together is by developing systems. Mutual aid societies, cooperatives, and similar organizations are important, but let’s not forget government. Even monarchies are supposed to take care of their people, but in a democracy, the whole idea is that we set up a government to take care of the things we need.

In the case of the pandemic, our government has completely failed us. True, this is in large part due to the fact that we ended up with a con man who wanted to be king in charge of our federal government and many people in positions of responsibility spent their time enabling him, so that we did not have the right people in the right jobs to handle a crisis of any kind.

But it is also true on the state and local level, where our public health agencies and preparations for pandemics have been shunted aside for many years.

Given the failures of our governments, it’s no surprise that people left to their own devices made bad decisions.

This is a good place to point out that pandemics have been at the top of the list of possible crises for some time. Read some good science reporting from ten years back. Read some science fiction. Read the damn news. We ducked worldwide pandemics at least three times in the last twenty years.

Now I’ve been personally responsible. The riskiest thing I’ve done since the pandemic hit is go to the grocery store, wearing a mask and swearing at people who weren’t doing a good job of keeping their distance.

And I did end up saving for retirement (much to the relief of my family, who didn’t think I was preparing at all well to take care of myself), though that’s because I went to work for a company that was employee owned and had a union (cooperation and mutual aid). I bought stock in my company and I got a pension because the union fought for such things.

I’ve done all those things and I don’t feel safe at all, because I can’t fix everything by taking personal responsibility or even by cooperating with my co-workers. Too many of the problems of the world are too complex for one person, even a very responsible person, to solve on their own.

For example, if I should develop Alzheimer’s disease and end up in a care home (for which I hopefully have enough money), I cannot control whether that care home is properly run. For that I need government oversight and systems.

Have you seen the Covid death rate of people in nursing homes and assisted living lately? The care homes aren’t doing well. Many of them are owned by corporations that are milking them for money and not providing good services.

And finding an opening in one in a time of crisis is very hard. Often people don’t realize just how bad the place is until after something horrible has happened to their loved one.

The pandemic has shown us just how far away our government systems are from providing us the services we really need.

That’s high on the list of things to fix, once we get the criminals out of our government, deal with the insurrectionists, and get the pandemic under control.

At the moment the best use of your personal responsibility is to lobby your government officials and work with your neighbors to build the kind of democracy that we need.

Oh, yeah, and wear a mask, keep your distance, wash your hands, and don’t get together in person with people you don’t live with.

Me, I’m spending my time trying to figure out when I can get the vaccine. I’m getting tired of being so damned responsible.

8 thoughts on “Assigning Blame

  1. What we need more discussion of is… well, inter-personal responsibility. I don’t believe that a rising tide lifts all boats, economically (it seems that far too many rising boats are happy to crush smaller boats in their wake) but socially? Yeah. When we take responsibility for the society we live in, maybe we don’t have millions of people dead in a year.

  2. You raise a lot of good points. But there is one sentence that I strongly disagree with as written…”At the moment the best use of your personal responsibility is to lobby your government officials and work with your neighbors to build the kind of democracy that we need.” In fact, my disagreement is with one word…”best.”

    What you have done in that sentence is set up a false hierarchy where one set of actions is better than another set.. The pandemic responses we normally consider as personal responsibility – wearing a mask, social distancing – directly interrupt viral transmission. Government action, which I agree is also critically important (wearing a mask doesn’t substitute for that), operates on a different scale and different time base. Both are equally important in terms of dealing with and ultimately controlling the pandemic.

    Had you written “At the moment an equally important use of your personal responsibility is…”, I would have been in complete agreement and not written this particular comment.

    1. That’s a valid point. One of the weaknesses of blogging is the lack of editing. I didn’t mean to imply that it was more important to lobby and work with others than to wear masks and so forth.

      But I do want people to get better at working together and pushing for the kind of government we need and deserve so that we don’t have this kind of mess to begin with.

      1. I’m in complete agreement with your last sentence. It’s also important for us to recognize that government is really the only “entity” in a position to invest in the public health resources that are needed to deal with any significant disease outbreak. That’s not to say the private sector doesn’t have a role to play in that, but the strengths of the private sector and what it can do well are not the same as what good government can do.

        1. I so agree. One of our biggest problems with the pandemic is that our public health sector has been shunted to the side for a long time, so the resources and people were not in place when we were hit with something that everyone knew was coming. No entity but government can put together all the resources it takes to keep the population safe. There’s not enough money in it for the private sector, so they will do only the things that make a profit (and if you look at the state of nursing homes these days, you can see what profit does there). Charity is hit or miss. Every local jurisdiction needs a public health office networked in with a statewide system that is networked federally. If that was in place as it should be, we would have had a set up for good testing at the beginning, along with contact tracing, and would now be able to roll out the vaccine.

          Instead at the point at which I would have thought things would be relatively safe as long as we kept paying attention until everyone could get vaccinated, we’re facing the worst days of the pandemic. We know enough; we just didn’t do anything with our knowledge.

          (Very grumpy about all that this morning.)

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