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TOTD 10 Sep 2001

...it is now conventional wisdom to treat the producers and providers of many goods and services as responsible for the harms that people might suffer as a result of purchasing the goods and services the sellers offer. Examples abound. We treat individuals who manufacture cigarettes and operate casinos as businessmen responsible for their behavior, but treat individuals who smoke cigarettes and gamble (and lose) as child-like patients not responsible for their behavior. Lawmakers, judges, juries, the media, and the public consider this policy not merely morally desirable but "scientific." It is neither. It is simply a decision to treat one set of adults as morally competent persons who ought to be punished for offering a truthfully labeled product or service for sale in the market, and to treat another set of adults as morally incompetent persons who ought to be excused for yielding to certain ("irresistible") temptations; and to use this distinction to punish and discourage certain behaviors, and reward and encourage certain other behaviors. With the naivest of conceits, we regard this disjunctive attribution of responsibility as both natural and just. Actually, it is a pathetic rationalization of our confusion about how best to cope with the complex risks inherent in modern life.

-Thomas Szasz, The Meaning of Mind: Language, Morality, and Neuroscience

Only by remaining 100% accountable for my choices can I ensure my own conscious autonomy.



( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 10th, 2001 02:31 pm (UTC)
It's weird how you posted this today. I was having this same discussion with a good friend of mine last night.

thanks for all the great quotes,
Sep. 10th, 2001 03:40 pm (UTC)
Uncannily apropos?
Hi Mike,

I've been sending out the TOTD for five years now, so, statistically speaking, it should come as no surprise that some people report an uncanny correspondence between their current concerns and the topic of the TOTD on any given day. Even so, I love to hear about it when it happens.

Thanks for the feedback.

Take care.

Sep. 10th, 2001 03:09 pm (UTC)
what he said!
i agree, i have always wondered why cigarette smokers have a certain amount of unaccountability while (to some degree) alcoholics are seen as somehow accountable or able to control their behaviour. A matter of severity perhaps? Perhaps it depends on the acceptability of the vice? for example, right now no-one in the mainstream is suggesting that the USDA, McDonalds and the FDA be held responsible for the state of obesity in our country. at this time, it is seen as a problem of the inability of fat people to control themselves. but i think the day is coming (probably as a larger percentage of the population becomes morbidly obese) when the media starts speaking about the situation as a "disease." Right now 20/20 and the like are already calling the situation an "epedemic" of obesity. I understand the reasoning behind the switch in wording, and that in some ways, addictions are diseases. But I think that naming them in this way allows for a shift in the blame. It takes control out of the picture. These people can't control this, because it is a disease! Once this shift happens, the media still needs a goat to pin it all on, and then we turn to the corporation, "how long did they know?" etc.

(I just realized that i've written a long paragraph in support of corporate irresponsibillity. clearly i am susceptible to any line of thinking that comes along. i should be kept away from the television at all costs.)

I still think that when a corporation knows that they are sacrificing safety or health for profit, that they should be accountable. But I think a large part of the control and accountability lies with the consumer. Having said that, boycott the diamond trade!

(sorry about all these long posts KMO, but I got no job right now.)
Sep. 10th, 2001 03:52 pm (UTC)
Re: what he said!
Hey Steffan,

First of all, I always enjoy your posts. The longer the better. That doesn't go for everybody, but it does for you.

You wrote:

(I just realized that i've written a long paragraph in support of corporate irresponsibillity. clearly i am susceptible to any line of thinking that comes along. i should be kept away from the television at all costs.)

I laughed out loud when I read that. :)

Here's what a former co-worker (on the TOTD email subscriber list) of yours had to say on the topic:

He [Thomas Szasz] seems to want to say that cigarette smokers are responsible for their own actions, except in cases where the cigarette manufacturers didn't truthfully label or advertise their product; which is the whole point, though, isn't it?

Does he want to give cultural imperialism and economic imperialism a free pass because in both cases the locals are choosing to watch Brad Pitt instead of playing the saz, or they're picking American pharmaceuticals over folk remedies? If he's saying that that old Operation Push plan to make Nike pay lots of money to inner city organizations because lots of inner city kids buy Nike tennis shoes was blaming the wrong people, I'd agree. But if he's saying Nike has no responsibility for the world around, I don't know that I would.

Yes, sure, we're responsible for what we buy & what we buy into. But the best minds of our time, with all the money in the world, are in the business of convincing us we should have things; the strongest, smartest, and most self-sufficient of us usually cave. What chance do the uneducated or naive have?

Sigh. I dunno.

I doubt the author of this post would be concerned or angry if I identified him, but I'm keeping his identity under wraps because I'm posting his comments without his knowledge or permission. I'll direct him here and he can own up to them and elaborate if he so chooses.

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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