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Responsibility and Playing Victim

January 21, 2008

After being accused of “playing victim” the other day, I found myself thinking on some very important ethical dilemmas, and found there’s a deep labyrinth of questions regarding this difficult area.

You may wonder what event caused this line of thinking to spawn in me.  Well, I have multiple people who have promised me things they would do, and now they are not doing what they promised, even when I’m depending on these things.  It’s not surprising that these things do not happen, because they all involve people owing me money they promised me, yet are all unwilling and or unable, because of their own situations to fulfill their obligations.  I’m not new to this kind of thing, however.  I’m quite a veteran in these kind of affairs.  Nobody who has ever promised me anything worthwhile has ever came through on their word.

In the business world, “obligation” is just a word that really means nothing.  If there’s no threat of prison, or legal contracts to enforce the person to give up their money, literally backed by the armed military to make them pay the money they owe you, you might as well bet they’ll find a way to get out of their end of the bargain, even if all was agreed upon, even if in a written legal contract.  When I was younger, I developed an entire software package for an organization, with the plan to sell this software and share in the profits. The owner of that organization told me basically, “You never were an owner of this project.  I never told you any of these things, you’re lying.  When did I ever say you’d share in the profits?  I never said any of this.  This project belongs to us.  We paid you, and you agreed to do this project for the money given.  If you have a problem, we’ll have to settle this in court.”  This, of course, was just taking advantage of the fact that I had no money to pay lawyers.  I ended up being completely screwed out of my entitlement in the project completely, and ended up developing the entire project for dirt cheap labor.  These were sometimes multi-year projects, where I worked 8-10 hours per day on the project. (I had only initially agreed to work on the project because of hope in sharing in the profits it would make, so I had agreed to develop the project for nothing but money to live on in the meantime.)  I’ve had this same story happen to me twice, on two major projects which I was betting my entire life’s security upon.

Anyways, on the phone, one of the people who promised me money told me I was playing victim.  I heard a line from a sort of pseudo-philosophy, “If you’re suffering, and saying stuff happens to you, you’re the one in the wrong.”  In other words, you’re just playing victim, and should’ve taken proper precautions against the fact that they won’t come through with what’s promised.  I haven’t exercised some sort of mental wizardry and pulled myself out of the fact that people don’t do what they promise.  The blame is on me of all things.

This kind of philosophy is rooted in an extreme view that everyone is responsible for their own life completely.  Basically, what they advocate is a complete lack of trust in anyone, and not working with each other at all unless there’s a direct threat of death if your partner(s) don’t fulfull their end of the agreement.

My parents brought home a video the other day called, “What the Bleep Do We Know”, some physicisits advocating a completely contradictory view of their own interpretation of quantum physics.  They kept talking about people playing victim, and that ultimately, everyone is responsible for their own life.  They talked about things like super-position of the electron, and that what a person believes is reality.  They promoted a view very similar to that of ‘The Secret’, but in a more detailed scientific way.

They advocated a view that what a person thinks in their mind becomes reality.  This is supposedly “scientifically proven”.  After all, look at the role of the observer in quantum physics! I thought, yeah, to an extent.  But what they’re not taking into account is the fact that there is MULTIPLE OBSERVERS (multiple people) living in this world.

It’s true that every action we do has a set of corresponding consequences, and that we are free to choose what actions we do.  But what they’re not taking into account is the fact that the actions of other people also bear consequences on all of our lives as well.  If it was sufficient to believe in your mind and that became reality, which person does reality take preference to if two people believe two different things?  They say there is a law behind creation, and this law is belief which creates.  But you can’t have a law which isn’t subject to any law.  It becomes completely arbitrary, and isn’t a law at all.  They’re mixing logical propositions (possibilities) and truth, and making them one.

Honestly, how can a physicist study all the laws of physics, and then be so blind to think that reality is completely determined by what we believe?  Do they really think Jupiter’s orbit around the Sun is subject to what we all believe?  People used to believe the heavens were perfect.  They believed the Earth was the center of the universe.  They believed that all the planets orbits were circular.  How come none of these things sprang into reality, even though that’s what everyone believed?  Maybe Aristarchus’ beliefs were so powerful they overrode the beliefs of all the rest of the world?  Somehow, I don’t think so.  And you certainly can’t say that people didn’t ardently have views contrary to what scientific evidence has told us.  They weren’t lacking faith.  The Catholic church was killing people who held contrary views to their doctrines, as they were betting that when people died, they rose up into these perfect heavens to live there.  People don’t normally burn people on a fiery stake unless they believe something very devoutely.

But we’re not finished discussing this issue.  We all know the fact that there is a certain degree of truth to what they’re claiming.  People can change, and there are really times when people are playing victim.  Reality is, to an extent, moldable to what we desire from it.  So the question becomes this: To what extent is reality moldable by what we think in our minds?

I think Sartre said it best, in Being and Nothingness, when he talked about freedom and responsibility.  Basically, he said we insert our free will actions into “the network of determinism”.

In my own views, we have the ability to create some sort of electrical discharge in certain areas of our brain.  That’s basically it.  The rest of free will action is a test of efficiency.  As for these trivialities they’ve discovered, such as monk blessing water and the water crystals taking “pretty” shapes, that’s neat, but could likely have other laws behind it we’re not aware of.  Certain aspects of the mind may not be completely temporal and spatially confined.  Thinking about something may not be completely spatially located in the brain, and we may be able to create these minor energy field disruptions and emanations in other locations than just our brains by thinking about things.  This may well explain why we sometimes get a feeling we’re loved, or being thought of when people pray for us.  It does not follow that reality is completely moldable from what we think in our minds.

A man in the “What The Bleep Do We Know Video” said that if we just had enough postive belief, we could walk on water just as Jesus did.  I thought, “What grounds do you have to advocate that?”  Then again, he has an entirely different view of truth than I do.

I can’t say that people think in their minds, then their bodies move.  You break a person’s neck and cut a few nerves on the spinal cord, and you’re paralzed and confined to a wheel-chair.

I think the power in mankind lies in the fact that we can observe consistency.  We have the power of “If this, then this”.  That’s our only main tool, and this tool seems to depend near entirely on the health state of the brain.  Our other tool is something much weaker, which is the electrical discharge when we decide to want to move.     With that, reality basically asks us to do the rest.  With the mind we determine when to move the body, and at what time, and in what way.  Whenever an action is too precise to be done with our bodies, we have to use logic and our minds to create a machine which can move at speeds fast enough, accurate enough, precise enough, etc, to handle whatever purpose we’re trying to accomplish.

Every machine we build has start and stop buttons which are big enough to be pressed by our fingers.  Screens which make images of the microscopic big enough to be seen and interacted with using much bigger tools (our hands).  Computers which think faster than our minds can process to determine calculations (mechanical processes of symbols) faster than we could write them down on paper to compute them.

I think this view is much closer to the “truth”, whatever truth may be.  Say a crazy man broke into my bedroom with a loaded pistol while I’m asleep.  He yells at me and I wake up.  He tells me he’s going to shoot me if I move, and if I don’t move, in 5 seconds he’s going to shoot me in the head.  He begins to count down, “5, 4, 3, 2…”  I can try to move, but he likely is a good shot, and at that range, he probably won’t miss.  The only other option I have is speaking, and if I have not developed my psychology skills high enough to deal with the insane, I won’t know what to say to calm him down.  Or, if he’s a hired assassin, it won’t matter what I say really, as he’s in it for the money.  In other words, I’m pretty much done for.

It is true I could’ve taken precautions against this.  I could install a series of buttons along the side of my bed which link to all kinds of weird protection systems.  Maybe one button is wired to a giant blade where my ceiling opens up and drops this guillotine blade from the ceiling to kill my assaliant.  Combine this with other systems to keep people out.  But, every system of this kind is mechanical and if the assaliant was smart enough he could overcome all of these protections I’ve established.

Really, however much protection I set up will be based on how paranoid I am of someone wanting to kill me.  None of these systems are full-proof.

This is how reality decides what happens.  It comes down to who uses their mind to control the most powerful forces.  People control the machines they build with buttons and other controls, direct them toward each other, and whoever wins is based on the laws of physics and whose machines are more powerful, and how effectively they’re used against each other.

The mind is very powerful, but at the same time, greatly limited as well.  We can easily be deceived into trusting other people, or believing things which are false.  You can study all day long and learn every law of physics, and how everything works, but in our society, where you’re oftentimes required to rely on other people to do things, as you can’t do everything yourself.  To say you’re responsible for everything that happens to you is simply impractical, and also untrue.

I suppose God can claim all power and all knowledge, and can walk around in this state of mental wizardry, and never be victim, but as for the rest of us, we do not operate in such a powerful state, and are oftentimes weak in areas and depend on each others to live.

These people though, who claim such power of their minds really are operating in pride.  Pride is whenever you think you’re more than you really are.  I have dubbed my own term for this complex, “The hallucinating kitten complex”.  Whenever I see CEOs and these other “self-made” people who think they’re such hot-shots, living a good life, I see kittens looking in the mirror, hallucinating that they’re some sort of lion, combing their big mane which doesn’t even exist.  They throw this money around, and think, “Yeah, yeah, look at me!”  They’re lucky so many people out there put up with the system that exists today.  If people wouldn’t get up and work for low wages, and do all the hard grunt work, such as building the buildings, growing the food, digging the ditches, etc., these people living the good life wouldn’t be able to do so now would they?  They better watch themselves before one day the masses decide they don’t want to put up with the system anymore, and they’ll let you manage your own trash, deliver your own products in trucks, and repair your own air conditioner or heater.  If you think you’re soley responsible for the life you’re living, then maybe God should throw you into an Earth all by yourself?  We’ll see how good you are.

Half of these “hot-shots” couldn’t even survive if thrown into the wild all by themselves.  They’d starve, freeze to death, and be eaten by some wild animal.  So much for the lion.  So how is it that they do survive?  Society as a whole, taking care of their needs and helping them out.

Who builds the inventions which make our lives so nice?  How many of you reading this know the first thing about electricity, the physics involved, and even how the most rudimentary component of the electrical circuit works, much less the operations of these fancy computers we’re all using?  I’ll be first to say, I really don’t understand most of it.

I’ve written a lot of software and I can tell you this, Microsoft Windows is a master-work of engineering.  Even with its short-comings, there are probably billions of lines of code to this written by countless people over the past years.

This brings us to another point: The actions and past actions of others also have an influence on us all as well.  If it wasn’t for all the forefathers of science and politics who built up the world we have today, where would we be?  Most of the knowledge I’ve learned I’ve learned from reading books written by other people who had to painstakingly figure it all out, with no help.

So I encourage all of you, don’t listen to these kittens telling you they’re lions and you can be too.  Remember where you came from, and be objective about what you’re actually standing on.  If you’re truly strong in some area, and truly were responsible for some change in this world, then you can take credit.  But when you’re building on the work of someone else, then stand on the high height looking down on all the others, thinking you’re so great, the rug’s going to be pulled from under you my friend, and it’s for your own good too.

These kittens are really just people who are unthankful.  Thankfulness is understanding why the good things in your life exist, and where they came from.  These people have no concept of this.  They’ve watched “The Secret” and think these wonderful things were drawn into them with their mind.  How wonderful!  Forget Issac Newton (discovered forces and calculus), or Kepler and Galileo (early astronomers, mathematicians, and physcisits).  Who needs Aristotle (the first person with a scientific mindset), Descartes (inventor of the coordinate system), Kant (a great philosopher who influenced countless great thinkers), or Einstein (the discoverer of the true nature of matter and energy)?  Forget the Greeks and Egyptians and all their studies in engineering.  Forget the Romans and all their developments in political science.  Or John Locke, the first philosopher to create seperation of church and state, and the philosophy of toleration.  Or Martin Luther King Jr., and other civil rights movement leaders.  Adam Smith and his research into economics and the workings of money. Who needs them?  You made this reality didn’t you, with that great big powerful mind of yours.  Whatever.  You’re just looking like a fool.

This marks a good place to summarize.  Responsibility is a complex notion.  First of all, the actions of a man or woman have effects on not just them, but on others as well.  These effects could be positive, or negative, or even neutral.  You must remember though, we’re all in this together.  This world doesn’t exist for just you.  Secondly, the value of the philosophy of ‘responsibility for your actions’ is moreso a mindset of continual change for YOU, not to try to change others so much, because you can’t oftentimes do that.  Responsibility is just another word for defenses.  You determine if you were or were not responsible for the bad things that happened, and if you were not, try to take proper precautions against dealing with people where this same bad effect will be generated again.  Precautions against the bad actions of others can never be full-proof however, so we need to have mercy on people who get stuck in difficult situations.  When people are in a rough time, it’s not the time to tell them, “You just don’t have the mental faith”, “You’re just playing victim”, “You’re just not awesome like me”.  Unless you want to believe man can somehow reach omniscience, advocating all people are responsible for all actions really isn’t of much use to us.

What good is it to come up to someone who failed at something they tried and tell them, “You’re responsible for what happened?”  What do you want, a cookie?  Of course I’m responsible, but that doesn’t do anything for us, now does it?  What the person who is having a rough time wants is a solution, not your worthless talk about responsibility.  If responsibility doesn’t identify causes of the failure and advice replacing it with something that will help them rise above their problems, it’s really nothing but bigotry and condescending pretension.

After I heard that “playing victim”, crap on the phone, I thought, “This is even worse than religion.  In fact, this is religion, masked in another form.”  Christians oftentimes look at someone dying of cancer and tell them, “Rise up!  You’re sick?  You lack faith my brother!”  All suffering, after all, is because you don’t hear the voice of the Lord!  The source of perfect action and goodness.

In the hallucinating-kitten complex, the voice of the Lord is simply replaced by their own imagination of believed causes for success, which all points back to them.  The person having a rough time lacks the power of faith in the power of their own mind!  (Psychologically, if I was to break this down into the components of the mind and how all that works, we’d see it’s the same exact situation.  No different.  Faith in the abstract intangible God, or faith in themselves and their imagination, same thing)

I can’t stress this enough – You can’t look down on other people.  Nobody in a rough situation wants to be there, or expected that their life would end up like that.  Lend a hand, and help them get out of it, if possible.  We have to work together.  Don’t try to be a societal super-hero like these kittens.  You won’t live long enough to master everything you’d need for solo pursuit success, and why would you even want to?  Work together.  There’s strength in numbers.  That principle will always hold for mankind.

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