This is not to the liking of the “law and order” type. He wants some law and order, but only to the point where he can still keep people from confronting his own crimes. Because his beliefs and policies lead him to impose “law and order” in a way that oppresses the individual and turns him into a criminal in the eyes of the State, his insistence on “personal responsibility” is not borne out of some rational argument, but rather out of a desperate need to blame others for his own mental violence and his own sins.
It should be obvious that people who are unable to get out of that mindset cannot have any hope of constructing a sane society. Likewise, structuring an ideology about crime which defines crime as an action that exists in a vacuum, divorced from all context, which is the natural consequence of the “personal responsibility” doctrine, ensures that crime will never, ever be solved as a social problem, and that we will always remain at risk.
Ultimately, the only way to make any headway towards eradicating crime is to remold society so that its institutions stop attacking people’s self-determinism and stop hurting them at a sexual, physical or mental level. We should already want to do this anyway from an ethical standpoint, regardless of whether it has any effect on crime or not. But if we posit that one of society’s fundamental and most ancient roles is to prevent crime when people associate, then the necessity to do so becomes even more pressing.
Why does our capital-democratic system not do this? Why does it constantly aggravate all the conditions which create crime, instead of lessening their impact? Basically because it cannot do otherwise but the former, and because doing the latter would entail tearing at the fabric of capital-democracy itself. It would be political suicide for any politician to try to actually prevent crime, and it is political gold for “law and order” politicians to aggravate the causes of crime by creating more and more laws, attacking the safety of his subjects, and punishing them more and more. No policeman wants to have his bread and butter, as well as his ego boost, taken away. No judge wants his court to shut down. And most important, all those big American corporations using prison slave labour don’t want to lose slaves.
If we share a social responsibility, then we must also share a social duty. “Duty” is not a word I throw around lightly. As individuals, our duty is to not physically hurt others, or defraud them, or otherwise control them. These are the only rules where, when broken, it is justified to use aggression upon anyone. Duties are, in this view, merely the flip-side of rights; each right entails a duty to not break it.
Our social duty is to ensure that those people who were hurt by the institutions in our society are not made victims a second time by other institutions. These people should be supported in their personal attempt to deal with the hurt they were dealt, not viciously attacked. Self-destructive activities should be treated as natural reactions to severe abuse, not as crimes. “Shoplifting,” drug dealing and homelessness/”squatting” should be treated as consequences of poverty, not as crimes. And so on and so forth.
And the sad fact is that, in our own “justice system,” all the victims of crime are equally dehumanized and humiliated. Not only are they trotted out over and over, and forced to relive their trauma on command, but they are made to pay for their aggressor’s prison stay through taxation.
Does my acknowledgment of this social duty mean that I would support some government agency whose role would be to redistribute rights or resources in accordance with the principles I’ve laid out? Absolutely not. Giving any power to a government, or any other hierarchy, can only lead to that power being manipulated for the leaders’ benefit. Any process of enforcement of any rule or principle which is structured in a hierarchical fashion is by definition a failure.
The fact that no such process exists to fulfill the duty I have discussed demonstrates that our society has failed this duty, and I think this is one of the most powerful indictments against it. A person who cannot fulfill his most basic duties towards other people (i.e. who cannot stop himself from killing, hurting or controlling others) is a criminal. An organization which cannot fulfill its most basic duties towards its members, and society at large, is a criminal organization. A society, such as ours, which cannot fulfill its most basic duties towards its members (such as “recognizing that it hurts people, and ceasing to hurt people whom it has victimized through its institutions”) is a criminal society.
This is not to say that I believe we should be mired in guilt. Guilt, after all, is a tool used to turn obedience into a compulsion. Religious guilt, for instance, is based on sin, which is defined as disobedience to God (not “doing bad things,” as many believe). It becomes an addiction, a compulsion, which is meant to stay with you for the rest of your life. It is meant to control you and keep you in the fold.
I believe that taking responsibility for one’s actions should not lead one to guilt, but rather to a more cautious attitude towards one’s words and actions, which can only be healthy. It must lead all of us, even Anarchists, to reconsider supporting, or staying silent towards, institutions which hurt people. It is also empowering: if a capital-democratic society can create misery on such a grand scale, then an anarchist society could create well-being on a grand scale.
Conservatives and liberals do not accept this duty because their ideology is pragmatic and they don’t want to be subject to any kind of clear judgment or standard. They want to be comfortable while continuing to openly support institutions which hurt people, and which they know hurt people, and they want to be comfortable while continuing to persecute those people they have hurt through all the criminal laws (laws which are criminal) they identify with. Anarchists not only accept this duty, but throws it in their face. It should not be done maliciously; done as a wake-up call, it is an act of great love, as all wake-up calls can be.