Let us each begin with the consideration of our voices. Many of us are writers and those of us who aren’t are at least either blogging or on facebook/twitter (at least you are if you’re reading this) and this means we communicate with words in a very public way. What responsibility do we have for those words? How far does it go? If you are seeking publication, or are published, then what responsibility do you have for those words? Other authors- what responsibility do they have? What about politicians? How far does the culpability go? For what?
It is my contention that we are all responsible for our actions. Nothing more or less. The varying degree of public exposure matters little to these points for me because, quite frankly, all we can ever be responsible for, with very few exceptions, is ourselves. I can not rightly be blamed because a neighbor of mine took offense to my words and then went out and committed vandalism (this did NOT happen so please put your phones down). Why? Well, because I didn’t commit the vandalism of course. The person who CHOSE to commit the act is the one that committed the crime. The most that I would be guilty of is shooting my mouth off to a friend which, let’s be honest, we all do. Sometimes our friends aren’t exactly mentally balanced (I’m not one to judge my friends – pot calling kettle and all that) and so our trust in such vitriolic outpourings wind up being slightly misplaced.
Let’s change the venue. Perhaps what I said was through a character in a work of fiction, a reader I didn’t know took it as inspiration and then decided to act out violently as a result. Am I responsible? What if it was a work of non-fiction? Does that change anything?
In my opinion it doesn’t. The only thing I can take responsibility for are my words and this is, more than likely, what my response would be: Yeah, I wrote them. I even did so on purpose. What of it? When my words become a means for persecution simply because a person made a choice to do something allegedly as a result of them it means we have criminalized words, not action. If we are forever relegated to this mentality nothing will be written simply out of the fear that one person could act out malevolently and be able to place the blame at the author’s feet. This is a never ending situation and one that demonstrates a lack of personal responsibility. It is a way of making the blame appear upon someone else’s doorstep and, in matters of the public, this becomes a public beheading not unlike what occurred in France when the blood of the aristocracy ran through the square. Those who are unpopular in the masses get beheaded first even if they committed no action.
Assuming we have decided to criminalize words then what do we have left to use for discussing ideas or even spreading information? Pictures? Things that in many ways are more ambiguous than finitely defined words? Would those things not get criminalized as well and for the same reasons? How could they not be?
When we make every public person out (this person acts in a way that I don’t want young girls to see, and that’s her audience, and how dare she….) to be culpable for the wrong doings of whoever may be in their audience we are saying the audience isn’t responsible. The public quite necessarily seems to feel more comfortable blaming the outspoken, the people with ill and violent words, instead of the people who don’t necessarily say a thing but instead act violently, with cruelty and depravity. Actions are things to consider and what this brings home to us is that not all of us are balanced and respectful of others, many want, can, and do cause harm to others. These are not comfortable things. But therein lies what we necessarily must acknowledge while walking around in this world: People often do bad things and there are NO reasons that can be given that will make it okay, make them LESS responsible, make the person/s injured less so.
When we assume there is a reason for every bad thing that happens, that there is a causation we can root out, kill, forbid, we are perpetuating a dangerous myth. The person is no longer responsible, or at least LESS responsible, for their actions and so, too, are we. Unless we do something publicly. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t choose our words carefully, that our actions are thought of and the intent thereof addressed – for freedom is absolutely something that comes with responsibility, but that it is the action that must remain the crime lest we fall into the world of Minority Report or 1984. Each of us has ownership of our actions and sometimes those actions come with consequences.