Last week the National Post (NP) ran a most interesting series on the death of personal responsibility . Many of the reporters spoke nostaligically of a time when life was determined by the decisions of individuals and families unmitigated by the so-called nanny state .
This vociferously argued dialectic seems to me a false one. It seems to glorify the condition of individual responsibilities at the expense of the role of the state. The articles went a long way to extend the argument in defense of the rights and freedoms of individuals into reclaiming the requisite responsibilities that are needed to balance those qualities of life. Not surprisingly (given the NP’s conservative editorial bent) the nanny state was painted as an interfering bureaucracy that created the conditions where citizens not only used it as a means of gaining unearned entitlements, but that its very existence made citizens dependent on the state, like an addictive substance that robbed them of personal will and responsibility.
What is missing from these well written (and entertaining) stories is any perspective that might transcend and include both personal responsibility and the nanny state. Using an integral lens (and particularly the Spiral Dynamics developmental framework) it is possible to see that values relating to both these conditions of life alternate in individual human development and social evolution. In fact they emerge in tandem with one another.
The cycle of personal development starts with the most basic condition of being able to survive at birth, which is enabled by the mini “nanny state” of the family (or surrogate) that supports young life. The next stage of personal development emerges as personal expression (very ego-based with few constraints) which can be bounded by the duty, rules and good government of the institutions of (even budding) democracies (or the dire strictures and threats of fundamentalist states). The third stage of personal development desires sufficient personal responsibility to reap the rewards of efforts and success – a condition that has ironically in the democratic world, produced such wealth that it can fund the emergence of the so-called nanny state. And the purpose of the nanny state according to many of the NP authors is to curtail personal responsibility because the success of the individual threatens the greater good of all – and especially the greater good of the state bureaucracy.
Somewhat lacking in the NP examination of this topic is the emergence of an organization that is neither individual person nor state – the rise of the corporation – an organization that has the rights and freedoms of the individual, but until recently, little of the ethic of personal responsibility. The rebellion against corporate irresponsibility – especially in its intrusion into the rights of the commons - has raised the hackles of both those who defend personal rights and freedoms and those who resent the corporations’ intrusion into traditional state territory.
While the NP writers bemoan the loss of personal responsibility, they do not expound on the virtues of corporate responsibility – and it is this kind of responsibility that the world needs to encourage now. It must transcend and include personal responsibility and the nanny state and sweep in the missing elements of corporate responsibility. (Indeed it should also include the whole area of civil society that embraces not-for-profits, NGO’s, and social enterprises.)
The key to this next stage of emergence is that it will be a systemic responsibility – one that not only embraces the four pillars of sustainability (economic, environment, social and cultural) but that also reveals responsibility in the four quadrants of an integral life – individual thoughts and actions and collective cultures and systems – all embraced by the environmental imperative that is under attack by all levels of irresponsibility - personal, state and corporate.
So thanks to the NP for raising these important issues on the decline of personal responsibility. But when will we hear next about an entirely new view of the relationship between the individual and the state and the corporation? This is a call for systemic responsibility that would emerge a true ecology for personal transformation and a state governance that relinquishes the inadequacies of nanny-ism to grow up into an effective instrument that can defend the common good for the co- and-inter-dependence of individuals, corporations and the environment ?