On the Responsibility of Power


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Julie E. Creech

Hypatia Society

Perhaps it is my history as an adult survivor of abuse, but I tend to believe that a lot of the evil in the world stems from a lack of interest or concern over the responsibility that power and advantage conveys. It is my personal belief that any advantage one gains or possesses over another contains just as much responsibility.

Our advantage over animals, in that we have the power to choose for their life or death, care and lifestyle makes us responsible for being wise and compassionate about the choices we make on their behalf. This does not necessarily mean that I think it is wrong to kill animals for food and or clothing, I dont even necessarily believe that experimentation is wrong, but it does mean that I believe that as humans we agree to choose the most compassionate methods of treatment for said animals, that we should use kindness and sensitivity when developing our methods of care and slaughter, that we should respect their natural needs and impulses and that we dont have the right to inflict avoidable pain or torment upon them.

I come from a family of hunters and I see that they are committed to the kind treatment of animals. They do not hunt for sport, they always eat the deer and rabbits they kill. They take care to provide a safe environment for their livestock, they see that all of the creatures under their care are given the best medical treatment available and show them kindness and love in all of their interactions... as far as it is possible to do so.

When humans decide that killing animals is wrong we decide that nature must be changed to suit our opinions. The planet is set up according to natural systems that are often quite delicate. These systems work both within the ecological planes of existence and the philosophical ones. The same delicate balance of power exists within natural cultures. If an outside force disrupts the natural culture of a people the system begins to derail. In Africa for instance, there were once a great many natural tribal systems that supported the population. These systems worked in relative harmony for hundreds of years until western civilization decided that they would be better off civilized. We entered their lives and taught them to desire the consumerism of western culture. We taught them that western education superceded their traditional knowledge, we convinced them that their established societies were backwards, sexist, unsanitary, and wrong, but did we ever consider that the systems they came from were far better suited for their natural environment and cultural conditions?

We have created a mess of individuals who live in poverty stricken countries, who over-crowd cities looking for the American dream, suffer from diseases that they would have otherwise never encountered, and from wars that are primarily the result of our ignorance about the importance that culture plays in human development. How can you teach someone the value of an hour when they live in an environment much better suited to a less time oriented way of life? How can you teach someone that they should go get an education and a career when their country does not have the economic ability to support a large group of educated career-seeking individuals?

Before our intervention those people had lives with deep meaning. Their every action was important because it contributed to the group. They lived lives with deep connection to family and tribe... I wonder why we thought we would be helping them in the first place (could it be our aversion to death?).

If only humanity could learn a bit of wisdom about the application of power. If we could learn to think about the ramifications of our actions, not just upon ourselves, but also others. If we could learn that not only do individuals have different likes and needs but also different cultures have unique preferences.

As I watch the development of the situation in Iraq I am saddened by the American position on the composition that the new Iraqi government should possess. I cant see how our ability to force the Iraqi people to submit to a government of our choosing gives us the right to choose to force a government who is not representative of their people down their throats. Even if we have decided that Islam is dangerous how can we, as Americans who claim to espouse the grand ideals of freedom and true representation of the masses, not protest when our government installs a group of non-religious people to take power over a religious nation? How is that representative of the people? And how can we think that ignoring the religious zeal of Iraqs inhabitants will save us from Islamic Fanaticism? Would we not save ourselves more effectively from a terrorist response by finding religious leaders of a tolerant nature? would we not at least serve our responsibility better by creating a balance between our desires and the desires of the people in Iraq?

All of the Iraqis I know are very happy to be rid of the regime of Sadaam, but they are also angry at our blatant prejudice against their beliefs. It is not the religion of Islam that creates this terrorism, it is the perception of the terrorists that they are being treated unfairly and without respect. It is their fear that we are trying to make them into American countries with the western acceptance of recreational sex, a lack of family values, and little sense of honor. If we were more concerned with promoting tolerance of their beliefs, of allowing their societies to function in their natural states, of allowing them to keep their women from the eyes of society, of allowing them to condemn drugs and alcohol, behead murderers, stone adulterers, and cultivate their culture according to their beliefs then perhaps we would face an end of terrorism from that front.

The Israeli issue is a whole other story that is too long for me to get into now, so Ill just say that terrorism is also a symptom of perceived injustice within Israel.

As a citizen of the most powerful country in the world today I feel a great deal of responsibility towards the people whom we have power over. It is not because I am in a position to change our policy, but because I have the right and responsibility to contribute to the dealings of my government. Our constitution gives me that power and makes it also understood that such power conveys inherent responsibility. We can take this example of our responsibilities as citizens and expand it into our lives as a whole. A person with great physical beauty has a responsibility to be careful with the power it can give them. A person of wealth is responsible for using their money wisely and compassionately, a person of extraordinary intelligence is responsible for teaching and sharing the fruits of his gifts, and the talented artist is responsible for being wise with the messages he sends to the world. Does that mean we should not have the choice to misuse power or neglect responsibility? No, we are creatures of free will and we have the right to live our lives as we choose, but if we choose to live our lives in the right way to go through our days as responsible, kind, and honorable individuals.... the choice to use power wisely should have already been made.

Great genius takes shape by contact with another great genius, but, less by assimilation than by fiction.

~ Heinrich Heine