The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Go Zen: Drop Deserve and Take Responsibility

1) Almost everything you have more than someone else is because of where you were born, and who your parents were, including your genetic endowment and your life experiences.  Whether you believe in nature, nurture, or both, you don’t “deserve” squat.

2) Justification for having more than other people can, thus, only come down to whether having more means we will contribute more.  Will you use your more to make society better off? Do we want you doing MORE of what you’re doing?

3) Since we don’t deserve anything, “deserve” can’t be used to deny people what they need to live and be happy.

4) Lots of people are broken, and can’t do much that’s of use.  They don’t deserve that, they didn’t choose their genetics, their upraising, their parents.  Perhaps they shouldn’t have more than they need to live and be happy, but that’s only based on whether we want them to do more, it’s not based on anything else.

5) It is in no one’s interest to have unhappy, sick, broken, economic zombies.  Unhappy people suck to be around.  Sick and broken people can’t contribute as much, and unless we’re Nazis, and bearing in mind the whole “deserve” bit, we should, ethically support them.  And money spent contributes to the economy if it’s a billionaire spending it, a janitor, or someone without a job.  People chained by debt and low wages bring everyone down.

6) Until we get past the idea of “deserve” we won’t ever really fix our societies.  There is NO positive relationship between how much money people get and how they contribute.  A cursory look at the banking sector and CEOs should prove the point to anyone who isn’t paid not to understand.

We all want to believe we’re special.  Unique.  That what we have, we deserve.

We don’t, or not more than almost anyone else who isn’t a monster of some sort: someone who will keep murdering or raping or stealing if given more money. Like, say, the people who run the US and Britain, the people who run the banks, and the people in the Congo who we pay to rape and murder so we can have cheap electronic goods.


Our society runs on it, it’s mixed in with your phone, your oil, your car and far more besides.

Our societies aren’t made up of anyone but us, and we bear some responsibility for what they do. This is what’ll make readers mad, me saying that, me saying that you, we, are responsible.  We refuse to accept our responsibility. It’s all the fault of the politicians, the bankers, the military, the… someone else.  But not you, oh no, not you.  Not me.  Not us.

I’ll tell you this, if you don’t accept responsibility, you don’t accept that you have the power to make change. Slaves have virtually no responsibility.  Free people take responsibility.  Those who aren’t free take responsibility for revolution, or they are slaves.

The world doesn’t have to run on so much blood, so much rape, so much torture, so much murder, so much sickness.  It’s not necessary.

Or rather it’s not necessary if people are willing to live a different life than the suburban American life.  If they’re willing to imagine a different future.  But if what you want is a life where you live in your little suburban castle, driving your oil-mobile to your job, gazing at your lawn, eating factory food, then yeah, it’s necessary.  If you want to maintain the current Western, the current suburban lifestyle, then people have to die. They have to be raped.  They have to live sick.  That’s what is required to maintain your lifestyle.

It’d be one thing if it were impossible to live a good life except by murder and rape and environmental genocide.  But it’s not necessary.  Depression in America has increased 10 fold in the last hundred years.  Diabetes rates are through the roof.  Americans and westerners are fat and getting fatter.  Civil rights are being gutted, standards of living for each generation post-boomer are dropping. We’re not even living well off the blood we suck.

The rich and powerful don’t want change they can’t control, the middle class just want to live like their parents, but with smartphones.

And so people die and suffer.

Not because they deserve to, any more than we in the West deserve our lifestyle, a lifestyle created not by us but people long dead.  They die because they had the bad taste to be born in the wrong place, to the wrong parents.  They’re raped because they were born female in the Congo, or perhaps in some shitty little town where the sports team thinks rape is no big deal.  They suffer because they can’t afford medicine, or mosquito netting, or food which could be provided for an amount of money the first world wouldn’t even notice, food that rots in our silos.  They live lives of despair because we won’t move off petroleum, on to an energy source which allows everyone to contribute.

Deserve.  They don’t, and we don’t.

And until we get that, until we stop allowing CEOs to pay themselves millions, until we stop allowing people who lose their jobs to suffer, until we decide that every person on Earth must be given the chance to contribute, the chance to live: until we stop throwing away human lives like dross—well, until then, we’re going to slide down, and down and down.  We’re going to blow past 10 billion, and then we’re going to lose billions and many who don’t die will wish they had.  We’re going to have drought, famine, war, pestilence.  Mass rape as a weapon of terror.  And not just in the “developing” world, oh no, it’s going to come home to the first world.

So go zen: drop deserve, and take responsibility.

The life you save might be your own. Might not, too.  But it will be the life of someone you care about. Maybe your children, you friends, your family.  The people you claim to love.

Because if you won’t do right by everyone, you can’t do right by those close to you.


Overruling NYC’s Ban on Large Sodas


Why Hackers Get More Jail Time Than Rapists


  1. Lurker the Third

    >if you don’t accept responsibility, you don’t
    >accept that you have the power to make change.

    This is perhaps why some of us have never sought power. Instead all we’ve gained is shame, as the power and responsibility is ours anyway.

    In the meantime, we’ve allowed the world to careen wildly toward destruction, despotism and desperation.

    Cower no more. Take a stand. Take over. Billions of lives depend on you… on us.

  2. evil is evil

    True, true true. Just exactly how many pairs of pants and how many excellent meals can Bill Gates eat and use? When his fortune will allow his descendants to never work again just off of the interest on the interest on his fantastic fortune.

  3. scruff

    While we’re at it, let’s abandon the idea of people “deserving” to control the action of people and profits simply because they’re the ones who “own” the capital. It’s just an idea, like the idea of “deserving” things, and it’s just as horribly destructive.

  4. “No man is an island,
    Entire of itself.

    Each man’s death diminishes me,
    For I am involved in mankind.
    Therefore, send not to know
    For whom the bell tolls,
    It tolls for thee. “

  5. I think this post gets important things exactly wrong. I see zero utility in the notion that we don’t “deserve” things — none. I don’t know why any intelligent person adopts such a stance, or thinks it will somehow be useful to persuade others to identify with a movement to alter the dreadful path that our society is inexorably pursuing.

    Everyone deserves to be respected. Everyone deserves to be recognized for what they contribute to society. Everyone deserves to be cared for when they can’t take care of themselves. Everyone deserves the opportunity to make a living. And yes, everyone IS special, with a unique constellation of needs and capacities to contribute.

    This notion — that nobody “deserves” anything — seems to me to be something of a corollary to a related notion, that “we” (generally Americans) are getting what we “deserve” (i.e. a toxic corporate state that’s waging war on everyone else), even though superficially the two notions seem completely incompatible. They both seem driven by an understandable anger and frustration at the indifference with which society at large (or a large segment of political cognoscenti) respond to the obvious-to-me-and-you-and-most-commenters-here progress of mankind to an unimaginably hellish future.

    I share your frustration, Ian. But it should be apparent to anyone with half your intelligence that channeling that anger through sentiments such as the ones expressed in the OP are self-defeating.

  6. @ballgame I interpreted the word ‘deserve’ to be in relation to the word ‘entitled’ . Maybe I’m wrong. Given that context, I appreciated the writing.

  7. S Brennan

    I saw an interesting documentary last night, “The One Percent” by Jamie Johnson of Johnson & Johnson fame on the same subject…not much new, but two things stuck with me.

    Many so favored ask themselves why..and then return to a thoughtless existence. And two, when Warren Buffet’s grand daughter agreed to appear in the film over Warren’s objection, she was dis-owned and dis-inherited. Apparently, in many households of wealth, children are thought of as [pampered] slaves…one can only wonder how little they think of the rest of us.

  8. BlizzardOfOz

    I took the “deserving” line of argument in the OP as directed at people who are well-off in our economy, and its meaning as follows. You (upper-middle-class person or plutocrat) don’t deserve to be making 5, 100, 1000 times the average worker, in the sense that your additional efforts and talents (if any) don’t merit, in any just conception of society (eg, Rawls), that much higher reward than a person who is merely average or even at the bottom in those areas.

    I think that argument is absolutely correct. Look around, and you might notice that people are very, very pleased with themselves, and people like them, without much justification. Now, good luck finding any substantive accomplishments to justify such high opinion. Our current generation’s ratio of smug complacency to actual real-world achievement is in the stratosphere.

  9. dan henry

    Thanks for that recommendation S Brennan. Watching it now…it is striking to see these billionaires candidly…in the flesh, so to speak…propaganda is just so damn effective.

  10. anonymouse & BlizzardOfOz: You’re both in agreement with what you wished Ian wrote and not what he actually wrote, which was:

    Whether you believe in nature, nurture, or both, you don’t “deserve” squat.


    Since we don’t deserve anything, “deserve” can’t be used to deny people what they need to live and be happy.


    Until we get past the idea of “deserve” we won’t ever really fix our societies.

    etc. etc. There ain’t nothin’ in the OP about people under certain income levels deserving things, while our society is plagued by the decisions made by the over-consuming classes. If he HAD written something like that, I’d probably be nodding my head in agreement.

    Unfortunately, he didn’t. What he DID write comes across to me as either incoherent or frankly offensive.

    Straighten me out, Ian. Where am I getting you wrong?

  11. S Brennan

    Yeah Dan, I had no idea that Buffet was such a authoritarian jerk. The weird part is, she didn’t say anything that would make her grandfather look bad. The only person that made Warren Buffet look like an asshole was Warren Buffet. But now that I think about it, for all his wealth, has Warren Buffet ever made the slightest contribution to society?

  12. dan henry

    Well he spent some time with his granddaughters back in the day, so he hasn’t been strictly evil incarnate.

    I was struck by his father, he seemed like such a bumbling dipshit… I was in awe of him. To be so clueless with all that “power”, but then that is the crutch of our problem as I can see it. How many of us would watch this film and aspire to exactly his position.

    I’m unsure about the father though, his earlier film is obviously a sign of understanding. His life is probably actually a horrid mess of cognitive dissonance, depression, and forced delusion.

  13. Chaz

    “TAKING RESPONSIBILITY”! Ahhh, yet again those two magical words! But what do they REALLY mean? I see this phrase banded about a lot of late. People really seem to love to say that they are “taking responsibility for their actions” for example. But when one looks at the issue more closely they have done no such thing. It seems to me it’s just some nice words that sound good and fool folks into thinking you have been deeply troubled by your conscience, but that’s about it. The pain carnage mayhem destruction and ill will you have caused still remain so and the true accountability for ones actions remain zilch. It’s like when people answer a terrible event like a mass shooting for example as “EVIL”. What a crock! And what a way to conveniently ignore the real issues behind it and never have to deal with or look at the fundamental root causes of it. So you go ahead and “take responsibility” for your “evil” deeds thus ensuring you get away with it yet again…

  14. jcapan

    “Or rather it’s not necessary if people are willing to live a different life than the suburban American life. If they’re willing to imagine a different future. But if what you want is a life where you live in your little suburban castle, driving your oil-mobile to your job, gazing at your lawn, eating factory food, then yeah, it’s necessary. If you want to maintain the current Western, the current suburban lifestyle, then people have to die. They have to be raped. They have to live sick. That’s what is required to maintain your lifestyle.”

    Ballgame, this is what Ian’s talking about—that westerners feel they deserve the above lifestyle, whether they have it in spades or merely aspire to it. That our wealth and excess is poised not only on the backs of our own poor but on the world’s, poverty that makes the American variation look like spa-living. That that smug teenager’s smart phone might be made with conflict minerals—that his doppelganger in Africa might literally be a slave so he can live large. And that simply identifying bad multinationals, politicians etc. is simply not enough, as decades of such efforts attest. And he doesn’t even touch on the other reason our insatiable appetites will wreck our species—biosphere collapse. At this pt. I’m not even sure personal responsibility will be enough to arrest what’s coming—a legion of eco-terrorists might do some good though.

  15. Aquifer

    S Brennan –

    Do you have a link where i could watch that documentary – The One Percent?

    Thanx …

  16. eclecticdog

    Mass rape is already a first-world weapon. Just ask any Russian women living under German occupation or any German women in 1945 under Russian occupation, or a Vietnamese women during the French, then American, occupations.

  17. I think the argument about “just deserts,” is dependent on which way the finger is pointing, but the point that I would make, to use health care as but a sample, is that it doesn’t matter whether or not people “deserve” basic health care. The point is moot, since we as a civilized society have an obligation to provide it to anyone who is part of our sociaty, whether temporarily so or permanently, if we are to call ourselves “civilized.”

    It is, additionally, in our best interest to do so, moral considerations aside, as doing so strengthens the social fabric.

    It isn’t about the people we are “taking care of” it is about the kind of society we aspire to be, and is about maintaining the strength and functional integrityof our society.

  18. Jeff W

    That film The One Percent by Johnson & Johnson scion Jamie Johnson is fascinating, S Brennan—thanks for mentioning it. (You can see the film here, aquifier.) I had to remind myself at points that I was not watching some mockumentary.

    I agree with Bill H. It’s better to step out of the whole “deserve/do not deserve” frame—which might be what Ian is suggesting when he says “drop deserve”—and talk about what a civilized society does.

  19. Oaktown Girl

    Closely related to deeply held beliefs of “deserving” and “undeserving” are the equally toxic notions of “guilt” and “innocence” that run rampant in this country.

    The unborn are “innocent”, so women should never be allowed to have abortions. But Black people are inherently “guilty”, so police brutality and egregiously unconstitutional policies like “Stop and Frisk” are OK. Killing a Black or Brown person on death row, even after it’s clear they’ve almost certainly been wrongly convicted, is OK because hell, you know they’re guilty of *something*. A woman who wears “provocative” clothing is guilty. Poor people are guilty of being lazy (and stupid), so it’s OK to make things difficult for them by keeping the social safety net as thin as possible and to keep gnawing away at even that. Same for the long-term unemployed.

    Except for a few bad apples, rich people are not only “innocent”, but favored by God and therefore better than the rest of us.

    That’s how we roll in America. And as long as we keep viewing the “other” as inherently “guilty” and therefore less “deserving”, things will continue to deteriorate.

  20. love this…..
    love your articles about the controllstate and i love to see its based on moderate buddhist morals…
    this guy also writes good stuff….readable and hars to denie…

  21. I also read it the way anonymouse, BlizzardOfOz, and jcapan read it.

  22. P.S. Jan Kouwen’s recommended article is by Bruce Schneier, who, yes, is a constant source of logic, empirical evidence, and common sense. Which is why so many people in power ignore him:

    The Internet is a surveillance state
    By Bruce Schneier, Special to CNN
    updated 2:04 PM EDT, Sat March 16, 2013

  23. S Brennan

    Dan, on the subject of “deserving” a–holes.

    Why the Rich Don’t Give to Charity
    The wealthiest Americans donate 1.3 percent of their income; the poorest, 3.2 percent.

  24. The wealthiest Americans donate 1.3 percent of their income; the poorest, 3.2 percent.

    Charity is regressive. Who knew?

  25. dan henry

    Comedy gold, that. 8)

    ” They are, he continued, “more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with, say, assholes.””

  26. jcapan

    Watched a pedantic preaching-to-the-choir docu last night that shared these data pts:

    1/2 the world’s wealth is held by 2% of the population

    50% of those in poverty globally live in resource-rich nations (where are the profits going, he wonders)

    20% of the world’s population consumes 80% of its resources

  27. Aquifer

    Jeff W – Thank you! Very good film …

  28. John Puma

    Well, you’ve hit on another reason to define “affluence” as regard to the book in progress.

    Given the close attachment of “affluence” to the blood, rape, torture, murder, and sickness-requiring “suburban American life,” I’d suggest we need to give up striving for affluence as much as we need to give up the concept of “deserve,” … or radically redefine “affluence.”

  29. @John Puma:

    …I’d suggest we need to give up striving for affluence as much as we need to give up the concept of “deserve,” … or radically redefine “affluence.”


    For The Love Of Success Is A Root Of All Kinds Of Evil…

  30. Rob Grigjanis

    “So go zen: drop deserve, and take responsibility.”

    Nice words, Ian. And all true. But what does “take responsibility” mean? I could retire, and probably have enough resources to support myself, and help people close to me who need it. I can even devote some of those resources to charity. How much is enough? That’s a rhetorical question. I think about it a lot.

  31. Yes, Ballgame, it is about moving from a moral framework, with imaginary postulates, to a realistic framework, let us say a humanist one, with very different postulates. Because you are operating within a moral framework, along with one or two others that have commented on this thread, you don’t see that it is not about denying that any particular group of people are deserving of something. Rather, the notion of “deserving” no longer applies, because a more rational framework replaces it.

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