Putting the "Response" in Responsibility

The first time I read Freud - I mean really read Freud - I was sitting in the same desk chair I am now as a junior (or something like that) in College. I had of course read about him in Psych survey textbooks and I'd learned about Fruedian slips and I'd heard all of the jokes about Oedipal complexes and whatnot, but the first time that I actually sat down to read a significant volume of work by him wasn't until my junior year. I poured over a series of essays by the famous Psychoanalyst that developed his thoughts on psychosexual and ego, superego, and id development, arguing (in a VERY broad, bloggy way) that depending on the areas of psychological fixation at different stages of development, there will be significant personality consequences during later stages of life.

For instance, according to this theory, weaning an infant is what begins the infant's awareness that they do not control the exterior world. What they previously got by simply screaming no longer comes to them just because they screamed for it; they learn of delayed gratification, leading to developing trust and independence. BUT, if something goes awry in this stage, such as weaning way too early or too late, it can lead to later issues related to what the Oral stage provides, commonly called Oral Fixations. A proclivity to chewing on ends of pencils, gum, smoking, eating compulsively, etc.

According to Freud, the orally aggressive or passive also may be more likely to be gullible or immature.

So much depends, it seems (to paraphrase William Carlos Williams), upon how somebody else treated you before you could help it.

Feels Bad, Man

It bothered me because I found myself spending a great deal of time trying to find something I did or some behavior I exhibited or some recurring pattern of thought I experienced that wasn't accounted for at some point in his theory. "Of course you're being bothered by this," my professor offered. "Being out of control is uncomfortable."

So what I want to know is why are we so comfortable blame shifting?

I'm sitting there with my nose in this book, looking for wiggle room. I want to believe that I'm at least in control of something about myself. Or I'm trying to at least figure out why we seem to be all for taking credit for things that went well or for some triumph of human will or a major intellectual accomplishment, but when it comes to the man paying for sex from a twelve year old, we can "understand" once we learn that he was abused as a child too, so this was just the natural consequence. The endless cycle of can't-help-it.

"It's no wonder he turned out this way," they'll say of a boy with a homemade pipe bomb in a school building. "He was treated so terribly there."

"This is how I was made" gets tossed around an awful lot (you can read how I feel about the "I was born this way" excuse here). "She was driven to it." You get the drift.

My Issues With It

The problem with this mentality is that it really works. It's nice to blame shift, because most of the time we can shift it to something that can't defend itself. There was a wreck, so I'm late. There weren't adequate warning signs on my cup of coffee about it being hot, so I didn't know how carefully to handle it.

We've taken that convenient mentality, read the scientific studies about what makes people the way that they are (because there are things we're "born into": proclivities, temperaments, defects, etc.), and catapulted it into the convenient extreme: Because I have a propensity for _____, that makes it okay.

How about the 8 year old a couple of weeks ago in Louisiana who shot his grandmother in the head after playing Grand Theft Auto? It has re-sparked the conversation about violence in video games translating to violence in real life. We did it with the Columbine shooters and the Aurora movie theater massacre as well. We want to blame senseless violence on sensible causes, because asking "why did that 8 year old have a gun in the first place?" and "if violent video games create killers, why have the 9 million other people who play the same games not murdered anybody?" becomes troublesome. We have to start blaming people for their own actions, and that becomes politically incorrect.

We don't want to talk about the 4 black men who raped, tortured, and mutilated Channon Christian and Chris Newsom not because it's the most gut-wrenching story I've ever read, because it smacks too much of racism and because we have a hard time finding a motive for such a gratuitous crime. We can't fathom this stuff without motive, because motive relieves killers of some small portion of the blame. "If we could just understand where they were coming from, it may just make a little bit of sense."

We fall back on established responses when talking about people responsible for these things, like labels and terms such as "sociopath" and "disturbed," because they all lift responsibility from the individual and place it squarely on the shoulders of the category.

The Reversal

What I want to see is, instead of the glorification of the victim who grew into the tragic antagonist, a spotlight on the dozens of people who came from the exact same situations without being serial killers, rapists, bombers, drug addicts, prostitutes, or terrorists.

Nietzsche, one of my all-time favorite philosophers (probably because we agree on almost exactly nothing), wrote in his vehement diatribe against Christianity, AntiChrist, "The Christian church has left nothing untouched by its corruption; it has turned every value into an un­value, every truth into a lie, every integrity into a vileness of the soul."

What does he say of what is valuable, of what is good? "Everything that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? Everything that is born of weakness."

For Nietzsche, the ultimate good was the discharging of strength and the expression of man's will to power. "Good" was the hawk expressing its nature: scooping up the field mouse and devouring it in its nest. "Good," therefore, is the strong man expressing his strength. The ultimate good, then, would be the ultimately strong ruling absolutely from his iron-clad position above the weak. "To demand of strength, that it should not be a desire to overcome, a desire to throw down, a desire to become master, a thirst for enemies and resistances and triumphs, is just as absurd as to demand of weakness that it should express itself as strength."

I wrote a short paper in response to Nietzsche, which I've linked to before here, and in argument completely against his attack on Christianity. What does it have to do with this?

I'll end this quickly, for it is already much too long: Nietzsche argues that "good" is expressing the strength you have. It's acting out in fullest the propensities with which you've been born, for that is your nature, and nature is uncorrupted. I challenge this by asking that if nature is uncorrupted and ultimate good, why are we so offended when people express it? Is there not some standard to which we hold ourselves, either consciously or unconsciously, that causes us to ask, "Yes, I was born with this desire to have sex with small children, but perhaps it's not good that I act on that"?

What kind of change could it make on this world if we started saying, "yes, he has that predisposition. Yes, she had horrible things happen to her. Yes, they had every 'right' to do that, but beyond that, they had control over their actions and it is the actions we are judging, not the motivation behind them."

Floating downstream is the easy way out - it's paddling back up it that is commendable.

Hamilton Barber

The subject of this page is an introverted writer/musician/lunatic from Chattanooga, TN who dabbles in lexical dexterity, unorthodox thoughts on prosperity, and being overwhelmingly undeserving of the privilege of waking up every day. He hopes that everybody who reads these words takes them to heart and leaps higher than he ever could. He reads, thinks, and speaks too much; he listens, works, and loves too little; and he says “I” entirely too often. The words on these pages are not his: they are the words that were given to him.