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Powerlessness and Responsibility

“As Caspary observes, powerlessness has a negative effect on morals; it is difficult to feel responsible for what is outside of your control” From Christopher Ansell. Pragmatist Democracy, ch7, p15. He cites Caspary, 2000, p158.

This comes in terms of the irresponsibility of the American voter on demands made of government. They ask of everything with no regard as to how it can be accomplished. I think this is a very incisive point and it relates to questions of political attitudes and beliefs of the poor and powerless. Those who have no stake in the system are prone to revolution. But those who are extremely poor cannot afford a revolution (thus De Silva in Brazil was voted in by the middle class not the peasants on the promise of social change, peasants or those in poverty like stability, see article on De Silva by Perry Anderson in LRB)

This could explain the tendency to fatalism, which I do not think is unnatural or deserves any explanation really, in poorer communities. The ability to change ones life affects the perception of how much control you have over your life. This in turn leads to political irresponsibility. What form does this irresponsibility take? One possibility is apathy, but another possible hypothesis is that it could lead to suicide bombings or terrorization of other people. When all venues for change are closed off, then killing may be the only option. Does it explain attitudes towards the state by the poor or by immigrants who feel they have no control over it? Does it explain the lack of assimilation into host societies? I am tempted to say that it is part of the explanation, but it is too easy to fall into the blame the poor for their own ills argument. Describing them as aliens, who are driven by irrational and unaccountable behavior is simply falling into the old rhetoric of civilizing the brutes. Still I think the point on powerlessness, responsibility and “morals” explains some of that dynamic with respect to orientation to certain political and economic institutions.


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