In building my Bloggers League baseball team, I want Ann Althouse on the roster for a power hitter position in the rotation. She hits another one out of the park:
Like many from my generation, I am very strongly dedicated to the ethic of individual expression. That does not, however, in any way make it hard for me to acknowledge the absolute rule against adults doing anything sexual with children. I think you can flatly reject what Foley did and still believe in the value of individuals finding their own way around conventional morality and making their own rules about what is good. Obviously, social conservatives are the big champions of the moral order, but that doesn’t mean that to oppose what Foley did requires you to become an all-out social conservative. A responsible, freely expressive individual recognizes the need for some rules. (Emphasis added)
While individuals go about the process of “finding their own way around conventional morality and making their own rules,” in my observation, quite a few seem to drop the bit about being responsible for the consequences of their decisions and actions on other people. I’m sure it’s a complex problem, but it appears as if in the process of expanding the expression of their individuality they come to believe that the only way to “really” manifest their complete individuality is to drop the idea of limits entirely. Rules set limits. By extension, so does the concept of responsibility. Rules and responsibility become bad things on the path toward absolute individualism.
Abandoning limits on individual expression, and therefore abandoning responsibility for however that expression may manifest, imposes greater limits on those around such a person. Someone expressing themselves with an extended vocal outburst of profanity in a public coffee house will cause those within earshot to place additional limits on their own expression by reducing the number of coffee houses to which they may frequent by one (assuming the don’t want to hear extemporaneous profanity à fortissimo, of course.) This is but a trivial example.
On a larger stage, the effects are more pervasive and less easily remedied. The effects from the Law of Unintended Consequences begin to manifest as the spin goes out of control. This is what I see happening with the events surrounding the Foley scandal. Things get recursive and bizarre (Gays asserting “traditional values” to out other gays for the purposes of advancing a liberal party agenda? What’s up with that?) The hyperbole is enough to make one dizzy. People who’s experience with taking responsibility for their own actions is, shall we say, a bit rusty, are all gung ho to dust off what ever “moral code” seems to serve their agenda and apply it to the object of their moral outrage.
There are many other current events which illustrate this principle. Declaring “freedom” from the shackles of responsibility reveals all manner of contradictory outrage in individuals as well as larger collections of individuals. Their actions become decreasingly rational and increasingly emotional. In classic ends-justify-the-means style, behaving from such a frame leads to actions devoid of any need for explanation or justification and the consequence to others is of no concern. So, for example, we see soldiers hiding behind women and children in Lebanon (applying the apposing side’s moral code of not killing women and children) for the benefit of fulfilling their own individual expression (saving their own ass) with zero regard for the consequences (women and children caught in the crossfire.)
A manager’s dilemma. My Bloggers League baseball team isn’t even a post old and I can’t decide if Althouse should go in the rotation as a power or clean-up hitter. I see she has a post today that beautifully illustrates my point about adherents to the Church of Individualism loosing track of the consequences of their actions.
Her post addresses recent developments around an incident involving protesters at Columbia University who stormed a stage where Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minuteman Project, was giving a presentation (video here). It seems Columbia’s investigation involves looking at various Facebook profiles.
As of late Thursday night, 13 Columbia students and alumni had joined a Facebook group titled, “YES, I was there when Gilchrist was rushed faster than CUFT’s Quarterback.”
“I don’t [agree with the decision], but there’s nothing we can do about it,” Patric Prado, SEAS ’09 and creator of the group, said. “I was there, and it’s fine that they want to incriminate people who actually started violence. … Yes, we were stupid, but we got our message across that we weren’t going to accept this on campus.”
Universities, employers, and law enforcement agencies have widely contended that materials posted on Facebook-including posts, photos, and personal information-are admissible in investigations. Hornsby emphasized that screening Facebook was just one of several methods that the University would employ to conduct its investigation.
Student leaders expressed concerns Thursday night about the tactic.
“I was worried that that was going to happen,” Marcus Johnson, CC ’07 and co-chair of the University Senate’s student affairs committee, said. He later added in a statement, “As a University Senator and chair of the student affairs committee, I will do my best to make sure that all students are as safe as possible. On another note, everybody should quit Facebook right now.”
“On some level, I have to agree with the University,” Daniel Okin, SEAS ’07 and president of the Engineering Student Council, said. “That being said, it worries me that they would use the Facebook for that.”
The protesters did themselves in by not thinking about what might follow from their blunt protest (University launches investigation) and the subsequent posting of their involvement on a public web site (University collects evidence). But, Ann pushes the run home:
To use the material in an investigation is not to presume it is conclusive proof of something. What makes people think that if they do something in a place that makes them feel confessional it somehow doesn’t count? The students storming the stage also seemed to feel entitled to act out. That doesn’t make them not responsible for what they did. They can’t say oh, we were surrounded by friends who all thought this was just fine and we felt in charge of our own space. Really, these are intelligent college students. Why do they feel a special immunity from being observed in a public place?
Read the whole thing. She illustrates how the selective application of rules and responsibility exposes various agendas among the players involved.
One example of the hyperbole around the Foley scandal. Gateway Pundit has a post related to the scandal in which he states:
Representative Jack Kingston and 10 fellow Republicans sent a letter to the Democratic leadership asking them to go before the Ethics Committee and disclose what they knew about Foley’s activities for the safty (sic) of America’s children.
I took issue with this in the comments to Gateway Pundit’s post, specifically, the “for the safety of America’s children” phrase:
I don’t think what Foley did, in context, was a threat to America’s children. Rather, a threat to a specific (yes, vulnerable) group.
To my knowledge, Foley didn’t have access to the entire nation’s children and the entire nation’s children were not somehow at greater risk from Foley’s behavior. Acceptance into the White House page program is a highly competitive process, not just any child/young adult can participate. As a result, it’s a select group of bright kids. What ever the result of the Ethics Committee’s inquiry, it would likely have little or no bearing on the safety of America’s children. It could, however, have a significant impact on how the White House page program is monitored and therefore the safety of the children/young adults in the program.
The more rigorously problems are defined, the higher the quality and durability of the solution. And in cases like Gateway Pundit’s post, the scope is too broadly defined to yield a meaningful solution to the actual problem at hand (i.e. the relationship between elected officials and their pages.)
This is but one example of what happens as scandals are sensationalized. There has been so much of this in the Foley scandal that the whole thing has spun off its axis. In this state, no one will be happy with the outcome as any proposed solution will not sufficiently cover each position’s definition of the problem space.