Individual or Group Responsibility?

All cultures I know about accept both. If an individual commits a crime, the individual is punished, if possible. There are many cultures which add a layer of group responsibility. If a person from group A commits a crime against a person from group B, sometimes retribution goes to anyone from group A. This is something the western world tries to avoid. It starts feuds, which often can never be settled, since the groups always feel they haven’t evened the score.

Yet western civilization does accept some group responsibility. If I go into a neighborhood and it looks trashy, I tend to blame the neighborhood, not the few individuals who are responsible. But the blame is only in my mind, and the only action I take is to avoid the neighborhood. There are more important examples. If country A sends an army against country B, country B is not just going to target the army and the people who sent them. Civilians have some responsibility for their government, and if they tolerate a government that attacks someone else, they run the risk of being killed in a counterattack.

Responsibility can also be considered in a positive light. When I was in college, I read Ayn Rand and was wooed by her view of success being attributed to individuals. Now I see success is much more complicated. A successful plane flight isn’t just a good pilot. Not only do the mechanics, the air traffic controllers, and the aerospace engineers have an impact on it, but the baggage handlers and TSA both matter. Even the people who clean the airplane and the airport make a difference.

A while ago, someone killed some Europeans because an American publicly burned copies of the Koran. This is a bizarre case of defining the group which is responsible in ways that defy logic. There is a tendency for some people to feel that all societies have equal value. I disagree and cannot value a society which condones individuals who exact retribution upon the easiest and most convenient target. Justice should be related to responsibility, not expedience.

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