8. PERSONAL VERSUS GROUP
you explain the last two paragraphs of Lesson 3? I especially don't understand
the relationship of the last three sentences of the final paragraph?
is important to distinguish between true personal responsibility, the responsibility
that you bear regarding the choices that you make as an individual, and group
responsibilities, where you are told that you must fulfill a certain social role.
Such societal demands always harbor the potential for dictatorship, and you should
only accept them after careful consideration and only then if you agree with them.
Relinquishing personal freedom to a group demand should always be done with the
greatest of care.
Related to this, the existence of personal responsibility
also reveals that all of the different types of problems that we experience, and
which we blame on social institutions, including governments, religions, schools,
corporations and the media, begin with us and our personal failings as humans.
Since individual humans are selfish, and compete rather than cooperate, human
institutions do so as well. You cannot fix the second without altering the behavior
of the first. We get the government, and all the other social institutions as
well, that we deserve."
In the paragraphs in question I am
making a certain distinction. Because of free will we have personal responsibility,
over our personal actions. This then extends to the actions of the groups to which
we belong: we are responsible for the behavior of these groups - you might call
it a collective responsibility. But, the first is more important. We have to get
our own behavior right - what Buddhism refers to as "right action."
Also, our behavior is driven by our own desires - we are selfish - as well
as the demands of, again, the different groups to which we belong. Most people
can discipline their personal selfishness, e.g., by not breaking the law. But
it is often much more difficult to resist group selfishness - group demands. We
let down our defenses, submit to group propaganda, and do things that as individuals
we would never consider. We change from a collection of rational individuals to
We need to guard against both our personal desires, if they might
lead us to do something unethical, and these group demands. But, the second is
usually the bigger problem. Consider a Burma Army soldier. Most would normally
not rape and murder, at least when they enter the Army. But after indoctrination,
many do such things willingly.
About the last three sentences in the second
paragraph, I didn't really go into the issue of selfishness in the book - it is
philosophical and somewhat removed from the basic questions of democracy - but
I did mention it here. Personal selfishness directly causes us to compete, with
one another. Inside groups, we compete with other people in the groups, and also,
as groups, with other groups. Social institutions are groups, but they are composed
of individuals. Our personal behavior determines the overall behavior of the groups.
Specifically, the most competitive people rise to the level of group leaders,
at which point they dominate the groups and also seek to dominate other groups.
We often think about the need to change this institution or that, the Burma Junta,
a major corporation like Chevron, etc. In doing this we target their leaders.
What we fail to recognize is that such unscrupulous individuals are a direct result
of the overall system. Our society is based on selfishness and competition, not
selflessness and cooperation. Hence we typically end up with self-obsessed leaders
who misgovern the institutions, and blame everything on them. But it really starts
with us, all of us. If we disciplined ourselves effectively, and resisted groups
demands, Burma's Junta, unethical major corporations, etc., the individuals who
want to lead and abuse them, would never get the chance to accumulate and exert