Privates, Publics and Politics

With which sentiment do you agree more?

1. I’m pretty much responsible for my own happiness

2. People are pretty much responsible for their own happiness.

There is a distinction, and it explains something about the gut level differences between those labels we love to toss around—liberal and conservative; even Democrat and Republican. It’s about private truths and public policy.

Suppose you’re speaking with a female acquaintance, and the dialogue goes like this.

Woman: It was just horrible. The way he broke up with me…then the divorce…that bastard tried everything…my life is a living hell…I can’t sleep…gained/lost weight…medication…he’s ruined my life…I don’t know if I can ever recover…

You: That’s awful. How long has it been since the divorce?

Woman: Eight years now.

Many of us would agree, that woman needs to get a life. She is the owner of her own oppression. Someone, hopefully a good friend, needs to tell her to get off the pity pot and take some responsibility for her own life.

Now—how many would say, “I don’t want to spend a nickel of public money, company money, insurance money, or any kind of money to allow people to get counselling for things like getting over divorce. Or PTSD, or ADD, or XYZ, or any kind of emotional distress. We have too much coddling. Those are private matters. People need to get off the pity pot and take responsibility for their own lives, otherwise they end up dependent on public handouts.”

The first message is about personal responsibility. It’s something that liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans alike, can probably agree with. It’s a message delivered well by groups as diverse as AA, Bill Cosby, Landmark Forum, rational cognitive therapy and the Republican Party.

But the second message? Drop off everyone but the Republicans.

What’s the difference? Private truths vs. public policy.

Now for some really big generalizations.

The conservative/Republican grouping of people tend to lead with observations about individuals—private ethics, personal responsibilty, religious beliefs, freedom. They then approach public policy as an extension of those personal belief systems.

Which is you how get absurdities like Terry Schiavo—the massive interference by government into personal affairs by those who claim to be against governmental interference into personal affairs. Which Democrats then gleefully exploit as a contradiction.

And rightly so.

But the Democrats have their own logic issues. They tend to start with social observations—how people should get along, respect each other, watch out for each other and create Great Societies. They then subject personal interactions to the application of their social beliefs.
Which is how you get absurdities like political correctness, campaigns to make the “N” word illegal, and rent control. Which Republicans then gleefully exploit as a contradiction.

And rightly so.

The conservatives are right about individual responsibility—with respect to ourselves. And the liberals are right about collective responsibility—with respect to others. We need a new ethic that combines responsibility and generosity. And we need a new politics to go along with it.

It shouldn’t be that hard. Any culture that entertains concepts like charity, hospitality or civility makes a distinction between what we take on for ourselves, vs. how we treat others. In our rush to create a society that is both universal and ethical, we risk ending up with one that is fractionated and amoral.


0 replies
  1. Lark
    Lark says:

    Brilliant post Charlie.

    The date of your post was my 53rd birthday, the same as Loony Bins Johnson, Pee Wee Herman and Mother Theresa.

    George Lakoff speaks to your topic better than I ever could…

    … But then you know I seem to have an opinion about most everything!

    Today’s comment from me marks a departure from convention – it’s short and sweet, and I’m tending to a new blog… per my link to it.

    Your post’s conclusion reflects similar viewpoints I share with you.

    Labels – and the words we use to describe them – must support ideals of sustainability and cooperation if we are to succeed in our efforts to get along.

    Our futures depend on it.

    Since I’m active politically these days I see this more-and-more in our world:

    "Words can either divide us or unite us – and all of us must know we have freedom of choice no matter the ways in which we employ them."

    Duty calls… so, I hope we’ll talk soon!

  2. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:

    Happy Birthday Lark! 

    Anyone who shares a birthday with Mother Theresa and Pee Wee Herman (and notices it), has got to be a little bit like Buckaroo Banzai’s description–born going in at least two directions at once!

  3. lgattruth
    lgattruth says:

    I am surprised that you have cited Landmark Forum which is a "course" given by the for-profit, privately owned company Landmark Education as an example of what you refer to as "responsibility."

    Landmark Education has an interesting view on responsibility.  When the Federal Government of France ruled that they must treat their unpaid volunteers in the "assissting program" as employees, they instead decided to shut down operations in France in 2004.  This is discussed in the documentary, Voyage to the Land of the New Gurus and there is more behind Landmark Education’s attempts to suppress that video elsewhere on the internet.

    More recently, Landmark Education has been investigated by the United States Federal Department of Labor.  These investigations have taken place on (at least) three separate instances, in United States Federal Department of Labor branches out of Colorado, California, and Texas.  In the 2004 California investigation, Landmark Education paid back $187,000.00 in backwages to employees.

    In my personal opinion, this does not seem like a good example of "responsibility."

    More information on all of the investigations by the United States Department of Labor :

  4. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:

    lgatruth (or whatever your real name is), you’re not "surprised" at all.  You troll for references to Landmark so you can trash it.

    I am no defender or fan of Landmark the organization.  And you are dead wrong: I did not "cite them as an example of responsibility."  Read the blog again.

    I said they, along with many other groups, preach the message of personal responsibility. 

    I agree with that message.  If you google "personal responsibility," you will find others  who preach it include Oklahoma State University, the White House, the New England Journal of Medicine, and psychiatric organizations. 

    Does that mean I support, agree with, or cite those institutions as "examples of" what I mean by personal responsibility? 

    No.  And ditto Landmark.   Enough with your attempts at smear campaigns.  Speak to the issue, not the speaker; speak to the principle, not the personality.

  5. lgattruth
    lgattruth says:

    Yes.  I am surprised.  It is rare to find that anyone else has heard of Landmark Education, let alone cite them in an instance of "personal responsibility."  You have cited Landmark Education and Werner Erhard in this blog.  That is simply an interesting event, and yes, I am indeed curious about it.

    As to this blog, I was simply pointing out that an interpretation of the investigations of the United States Federal Department of Labor into Landmark Education’s labor practices could lead one to believe that Landmark Education does not practice what it "preaches" with regards to what you call above "personal responsibility."

    You say you have not taken any sort of Large Group Awareness Training.  I am curious then, as to the two references to Large Group Awareness Training individuals/organizations so far in this blog – namely Werner Erhard and Landmark Education.

    There must be some sort of connection.

  6. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:

    I knew people 30 years ago who attended est.  I read Erhard’s biography 25 years ago.  I know several people who are past or present Forum attendees.  

    Landmark Forum is not a secret; the New York magazine article you cited was, I think, from 2001.   I don’t know if Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld had it in mind in their "Serenity Now" episode, but many others have made the analogy since then, and analogizing to Seinfeld puts something pretty much in the public eye.  

    I think there may be a higher level of general awareness than you suspect.

  7. lgattruth
    lgattruth says:

    Perhaps.  Perhaps the documentary: Voyage to the Land of the New Gurus and Landmark Education’s subsequent attempts to suppress people’s ability to watch that video on the internet has raised some "level of general awareness" about them.  That story was carried by Reuters and hundreds of newspapers around the world.

    Which biography did you read of Werner Erhard ?  The book, OUTRAGEOUS BETRAYAL, by Steven Pressman, is a most excellent read.  It was cited in hearings before the United States Congress for background on EST / Erhard Seminars Training and Landmark Education.


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