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Zuma's avatar

At what point does "personal responsibility" end and the "just world fallacy" begin?

Asked by Zuma (5908points) May 13th, 2009

I just read an article that makes the case that the reason we are bailing out AIG instead of all the people in foreclosure who were duped into sub-prime mortgages by predatory lenders because the borrowers were somehow at fault.

There seems to be a kind of epidemic of blaming the victim; that whatever happens to the underdog, he’s got it coming—even though those who victimized him were far more greedy and predatory. (It’s a bit like saying the woman deserved to be raped because she was dressed “provocatively.”)

The following is from a post under another article in a similar vein:

“Quite often the ‘personal responsibility’ argument is used to justify this fallacious way of thinking. It goes to follow with the discourse of ‘Life is what you make of it’ ‘People need to stop blaming the system for their problems’ etc. etc. It never ceases to amaze me that the people that use this discourse would never be found saying things like ‘we are our brother’s keeper’ walk a mile in another person’s shoes’ or the sometimes popular: “There for the grace of God go I.”

“I was at a toastmasters meeting the other day when the ‘Toastmaster’ the emcee of the evening gave opening remarks about the theme of ‘Responsibility’ She described responsibility as being confused with blame…She stated and I quote “People either take responsibility for their consequences or they blame others or they blame the system”...she continued “When we realize that we cause our conditions and situations then we know we are taking personal responsibility” Moreover she went on to claim that there is a rise in people who constantly want others to take care of them and that it is now considered a mental disorder with people blaming others and wanting others to take care of them”.”

“I sat with my mouth agape. Does this woman (who by the way is a best selling author of low-carb cookbooks) honestly believe that everyone’s life lives in a vacuum? I know people who have been ostracized and been treated like dirt their whole life. I know people who have suffered many hardships that they did not bring on themselves. I know people who have been wrongfully fired from jobs and ended up homeless. Don’t get me wrong, I believe we all contribute to our outcomes and we all should be self-reflexive to see how we can improve ourselves. But when thirteen people in the room loudly applauded to this woman’s rant against all underdogs of society I wanted to bang my head against the wall.

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5 Answers

ubersiren's avatar

I think you would enjoy Peter Schiff if you don’t already. I’m not sure the borrowers were the victims either. I think the tax payers who are paying for all the mistakes (the lenders’ poor decisions, the borrowers’ lofty dreams and the government bailing insurance co.and banks out) are the getting the worst of this. While I agree that the borrowers and the lenders were both careless, the lenders were the only ones being deceptive. I think this point is missed when arguing these points. Borrowers perhaps try to get away with buying a house they can’t afford, they know they can’t really get away with anything. They know their financial and credit information will eventually be viewed. But the banks have the ultimate say in who can and cannot afford a house. And who’s paying for it? We, the people who didn’t sign up for any of it. But that’s how it goes—- prosper together, suffer together, right? Unfortunately.

YARNLADY's avatar

I see the final idea of personal responsibility as the response one makes to the circumstances. It’s not a matter of blame, but rather how to build on the experience. Some will blame, others will turn their back, and the rest will find a way to proceed in the most productive way possible.

TaoSan's avatar

I’m sorry, but I can’t even elaborate on this bullshit anymore. It’s not the consumers fault, is bankers granting mortgages they shouldn’t and then use that debt to back other speculative instruments.

I’m so tired of this….

GQ Monty!

SeventhSense's avatar

TaoSan’s right. It reminds me of a sleazy car salesmen in the leasing department who just keeps manipulating the terms to increase his commission. He could care less if the car is repossessed because his commission is money in the bank within weeks.

I also like the “just world fallacy”.
The fundamental attribution error is the tendency that most people have to assign things that happen to other people, and things that other people do, to a characteristic of that person, but to explain their own behavior as a reaction to circumstances.

This is human nature and will always be with us. I think as self preserving human beings with an “animal instinct” we do this just to continue living in our own skin and avoid self condemnation. I also think a trait people have, is to form loose alliances with members we are currently involved with to join against the “other”. I don’t think it’s a strong conviction though as much as it is a tendency of human nature.

The real ugliness is the politicizing of this tendency by the hucksters and politicians, who would deflect attention from their actions. Salesemen and politicians are cut from the same cloth and that’s the reason they are often in bed together.

cwilbur's avatar

It’s a combination. Many of the people with adjustable-rate mortgages where the payments exploded when the rate adjusted should have known by looking at the numbers that that would happen. When they’re foreclosed upon, it really isn’t sensible to blame the lender; they should have looked at the amortization table and said, “holy @#$%, if the rate adjusts, we won’t be able to make the payments!”

At the same time, there was a lot of fraud involved in the processes where those mortgages were approved, and there was definitely deception and misdirection when they were sliced and diced and used as the basis for other paper. This is the fault of the bankers.

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