Delusion 'I Am Not Responsible'
Robert J. Burrowes, New Age Islam
One of the
many interesting details to be learned by understanding human psychology is how
a person's unconscious fear works in a myriad of ways to make them believe that
they bear no responsibility for a particular problem.
psychological dysfunctionality cripples a substantial portion of the human
population in ways that work against the possibility of achieving worthwhile
outcomes for themselves, other individuals, communities and the world as a
whole. In an era when human extinction is now a likely near-term outcome of
this dysfunctionality, it is obviously particularly problematic. So why does
this happen and how does it manifest?
if a person is frightened by the circumstances of others or a particular set of
events, their fear will often unconsciously delude them into believing and
behaving as if they bear no responsibility for playing a part in addressing the
problem. This fear works particularly easily when the person or people
concerned live at considerable social and/or geographic distance or when the
events occur in another place. But it can also work with someone who is
socially or geographically close, or with an event that occurs nearby. Let me
illustrate this common behaviour with several examples which might stimulate
your awareness of having witnessed it too.
became seriously interested in this phenomenon after hearing someone, who had
just returned from India, describes the many street beggars in India as 'living
a subsistence lifestyle'. As I listened to this individual, I could immediately
perceive that they were very frightened by their experience but in a way that
made them not want to help. Given that this individual has considerable wealth,
it was immediately apparent to me that the individual was attempting to conceal
from themselves their unconscious guilt (about their own wealth and how this
was acquired) but I could perceive an element of anger in their response as
well. This anger was obviously shaping the way in which street beggars were
perceived so that there was no apparent need to do anything. So what was the
unconscious anger about? Most probably about not getting help themselves when
they needed it as a child.
widespread version of this particular fear and the delusion that arises from it
is the belief that it is the direct outcome of the decisions of others that
make them responsible for the circumstances in which they find themselves.
Obviously, this belief is widespread among those who refuse to take structural violence,
such as the exploitative way in which the global economy functions, into
account. If the victim can be blamed for their circumstances then 'I am not
responsible' in any way. Men who like to blame women who have been sexually
assaulted for their 'provocative dress' are also exhibiting this fear and its
attendant delusional behaviour.
the most obvious manifestation of evading responsibility occurs when instead of
doing what they can to assist someone in need, a person laments 'not being able'
to do something more significant. And by doing this, their fear enables them to
conceal that they might, in fact, have done something that would have helped.
This often happens, for example, when someone is too scared to offer help
because it might require the agreement of someone else (such as a spouse) who
(unconsciously) frightens them. But there are other reasons why their fear
might generate this behaviour as well.
common way of evading taking responsibility (while, in this case, deluding
yourself that you are not) is to offer someone who needs help something that
they do not need and then, when they refuse it, to interpret this as
'confirmation' that they do not need your help.
of this behaviour is to dispose of something that you do not want and to delude
yourself that you are, in fact, 'helping'. I first became fully aware of this
version of evading responsibility (and assuaging guilt) when I was working in a
refugee camp in the Sudan at the height of the Ethiopian war and famine in
1985. Companies all over the world were 'giving' away unwanted stock of
unsaleable goods (presumably for a tax benefit) to aid agencies who were then
trying to find ways to use it. And not always successfully. I will never forget
seeing the Wad Kowli Refugee Camp for the first time with its wonderfully
useless lightweight and colourful overnight bushwalking tents instead of the
large, heavy duty canvas tents normally used in such difficult circumstances.
Better than nothing you might say. For a week, perhaps, but only barely in 55
popular way of evading responsibility is to delude yourself about the precise
circumstances in which someone finds themselves. For example, if your fear
makes you focus your attention on an irrelevant detail, such as the
pleasantness of your memory of a town as a tourist destination, rather than the
fact that someone who lives there is homeless, then it is easy to delude
yourself that their life must be okay and to behave in accordance with your delusion
rather than the reality of the other person's life.
that some people evade responsibility is to delude themselves that a person who
needs help is 'not contributing' while also deluding themselves about the
importance of their own efforts. This is just one of many delusions that
wealthy people often have to self-justify their wealth while many people who
work extremely hard are paid a pittance (or nothing) for their time, expertise
of another delusion include 'I can only give what I have got' and 'I can't
afford it' (but you might know of others), which exposes the fear that makes a
person believe that they have very little irrespective of their (sometimes
considerable) material wealth. This fear/delusion combination arises because,
in the emotional sense, the person probably does have 'very little'. If a
person is denied their emotional needs as a child, they will often learn to
regard material possessions as the only measure of value in the quality of
their life. And because material possessions can never replace an emotional
need, no amount of material wealth can ever feel as if it is 'enough'. For a
fuller explanation of this point, see 'Love Denied: The Psychology of
Materialism, Violence and War'. scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1305/S00186/love-denied-the-psychology-of-materialism-violence-and-war.htm/
is too scared to accept any responsibility for helping despite the sometimes
obvious distress of a person in need, they might even ask for reassurance, for
example by asking 'Are you okay?' But the question is meaningless and asked in
such a way that the person in need might even know that no help will be
forthcoming. They might even offer the reassurance sought despite having to lie
to do so.
way in which some people, particularly academics, evade responsibility is to
offer an explanation and/or theory about a social problem but then take no
action to change things themselves.
widespread way of evading responsibility, especially among what I call 'the love
and light brigade', is to focus attention on 'positives' (the 'good' news)
rather than truthfully presenting information about the state of our world and
then inviting powerful responses to that truth. Deluding ourselves that we can
avoid dealing with reality, much of which happens to be extremely unpleasant
and ugly, is a frightened and powerless way of approaching the world. But it is
evade responsibility, of course, simply by believing and acting as if someone
else, perhaps even 'the government', is 'properly' responsible.
however, the most widespread ways of evading responsibility are to deny any
responsibility for military violence while paying the taxes to finance it,
denying any responsibility for adverse environmental and climate impacts while
making no effort to reduce consumption, denying any responsibility for the
exploitation of other people while buying the cheap products produced by their
exploited (and sometimes slave) labour, denying any responsibility for the
exploitation of animals despite eating and/or otherwise consuming a range of
animal products, and denying any part in inflicting violence, especially on
children, without understanding the many forms this violence can take. See 'Why
Violence?' why violence and 'Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology:
Principles and Practice'.
of course, we evade responsibility by ignoring the existence of a problem.
everything presented above, it should not be interpreted to mean that we should
all take responsibility for everything that is wrong with the world. There is,
obviously, a great deal wrong and the most committed person cannot do something
about all of it. However, we can make powerful choices, based on an assessment
of the range of problems that interest us, to intervene in ways large or small
to make a difference. This is vastly better than fearfully deluding ourselves
and/or making token gestures.
powerful choices are vital in this world. We face a vast array of violent
challenges, some of which threaten near-term human extinction. In this context,
it is unwise to leave responsibility for getting us out of this mess to others,
and particularly those insane elites whose political agents (who many still
naively believe that we 'elect') so demonstrably fail to meaningfully address
any of our major social, political, economic and environmental problems.
If you are
interested in gaining greater insight into violent and dysfunctional human
behaviour, and what you can do about it, you might like to read 'Why Violence?'
and 'Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice'
And if you
are inclined to declare your own willingness to accept some responsibility for
addressing these violent and dysfunctional behaviours, you might like to sign
the online pledge of 'The People's Charter to Create a Nonviolent World'
http://thepeoplesnonviolencecharter.wordpress.com and to join those participating
in 'The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth'. http://tinyurl.com/flametree
have had a good laugh at some of the examples above. The real challenge is to
ask yourself this question: where do I evade responsibility? And to then ponder
how you will take responsibility in future.
Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to
understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since
1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a
nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of 'Why Violence?'