This is arguably the most important article on this website. You could spend a lifetime studying politics, but what’s the point if you aren’t going to fix anything? And how can you fix anything without dealing with the evil people who corrupt things in the first place?
Accountability is generally associated with bad or evil. Yet it’s a necessary thing, which makes it good. In fact, there can be no accountability without good and evil both.
One could complain about evil people all day, but what good would it do? There can be no justice without holding evil or corrupt people accountable for their crimes. That translates into punishment.
One of the most obvious signs of a corrupt political system is a double standard regarding justice or accountability. For example, the U.S. has the largest prison population in the world and the second-highest per-capita incarceration rate (exceeded only by Seychelles). Yet many of the people in U.S. prisons are guilty of very trivial crimes or completely innocent. At the same time, some of the world’s biggest criminals are allowed to profit from their crimes while being shielded from justice. Examples include George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Obama, probably every member of Congress and Bill Gates.
Let’s learn more about this two-edged sword called accountability.
What is accountability?
Merriam-Webster defines accountability as the quality or state of being accountable; especially: an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.
Thus, accountability ranges from simple transparency to punishment in cases where one’s actions violate ethics, company rules or the law. In other words, accountability should apply to everyone. It’s another way of saying we should all be responsible for our actions (or inaction).
Holding People Accountable
In the political arena, people often talk about holding other people accountable. For example, people often say things like to “Let’s hold the Democrats (or Republicans) accountable in November” (by voting corrupt or incompetent politicians out of office).
The words hold accountable therefore generally refer to people who have acted irresponsibly, unethically or illegally. Telling someone you’re going to hold them accountable is essentially a threat to punish them.
Ironically, voting them out of office isn’t really much of a punishment. Corrupt politicians who have made millions of dollars may be only too happy to leave office and spend the rest of their lives making more money as corrupt lobbyists or advisors.
This article focuses on punishment, not transparency, which was discussed in the last article in this series, Good and Evil.
Accountability vs Punishment
It’s interesting to note that the word punishment is commonly used in the political arena only in reference to people who are considered criminals, terrorists or threats by the ruling class. For example, the government and its media lapdogs often talk about punishing people who help Muslim terrorists (who may actually be freedom fighters). They also talk about punishing protesters and activists, who may also be described as terrorists. Former Washington State Governor Gary Locke even boasted about using the WASL (a standardized test) to punish students.
But people rarely openly talk about punishing even the most corrupt leaders of their respective countries. This is due largely to an army of propagandists who tirelessly preach the gospel of civility. If you speak out harshly against a corrupt politico, their defenders may point a finger at you, accusing you of being uncivil or even mentally unstable. Even your mood may be a target; people who are justifiably angry may be portrayed as volatile or unstable, even if they’re very intelligent and in perfect control.
Purpose of Accountability
Accountability and punishment can perhaps best be put in perspective by understanding their purpose. In fact, accountability has two primary functions, deterrence and justice.
When we deter someone, we make them decide not to do something. For example, a man may decide against robbing a bank if he knows there’s a good chance he’ll get caught and spend years in prison.
Justice can be accomplished partly by compensating crime victims. For example, a man who assaults someone and breaks their legs might be forced to pay the victim thousands of dollars in restitution. Justice also includes the simple knowledge that people are being punished for their misdeeds. When people feel the government isn’t holding bad people accountable, they may seek justice through revenge or vigilantism.
Yet another purpose of accountability is safety. People who are mentally unstable may pose a threat to society, even if they aren’t literally corrupt or evil. Such people sometimes have to be monitored or even incarcerated for the public good. This might be loosely described as a form of accountability.
When bad people (e.g. corrupt government officials) punish people, they aren’t necessarily holding them accountable — especially if the people being punished have done nothing wrong. Rather, bad people often punish good people to deter them from doing good things. For example corrupt government officials and corporate executives don’t like whistle-blowers, activists, protesters or anyone who might embarrass them or, worse, bring them to justice. That’s why the FBI and police officers alike often harass, assault and even murder protesters and activists.
In other words, corrupt people typically punish people to thwart justice.
Corrupt entities may also punish people to make them frightened, intimidated and confused. This makes people weaker and easier to control.
Punishing people in other countries may help destabilize those countries, perhaps leading to revolution, anarchy or a change in government. A country like the U.S. or Israel will then have more control over the weaker country. And if the weaker country has something of value, like gold or oil, the stronger country can more easily steal it.
Again, this is an example of punishment, not accountability. It is the stronger country (e.g. the U.S. or Israel) that needs to be held accountable for crimes against another country.
Types of Punishment
People have invented a dizzying and frankly scary variety of punishments. We might organize these punishments into four general categories — capital punishment, corporal or physical punishment, non-corporal punishment and incarceration.
2. corporal punishment – physical punishment
3. non-corporal punishment...
> financial punishment
> psychological punishment
4. incarceration (e.g. jail or prison)
If we think of crime and corporate-government tyranny as forms of punishment, then almost every U.S. citizen has been subjected to financial and psychological punishment. Many children are further subjected to corporal punishment in public schools, and some school programs can even be seen as a form of incarceration. That was especially true of the government schools Native American children were forced to attend after being virtually kidnapped from their homes and villages.
1. Capital Punishment
Capital punishment is generally synonymous with the terms death penalty and execution. Historically, execution was often preceded or even induced by other forms of punishment, including torture.
People have devised some frightening forms of execution, including crucifixion. The best known crucifixion by far was the alleged crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans. Today, a cross is probably the most familiar symbol of Christianity.
During the Middle Ages, Europeans invented a number of ghoulish torture contraptions that were often used to kill people. Most of these sinister machines faded out with the Middle Ages. The guillotine (left) — a device with a sharp blade that beheads people — is commonly associated with the French Revolution. Far more common were execution by firing squad and by hanging.
Long after the Chinese invented gunpowder, firing squads became a common form of execution in the military arena. For example, U.S. soldiers who deserted during World War I were executed. However, firing squads are no longer utilized by the U.S. government.
Hanging is especially associated with the American West during the last half of the nineteenth century. Hanging could be ordered by government officials, or it could be carried out by vigilantes.
Hanging was notably promoted in the movie Hang ’em High, in which an innocent man (played by Clint Eastwood) survives a lynching (hanging by vigilantes). The ritual even inspired a game called Hangman, along with the term “the hanging tree,” which in turn inspired a song featured in the movie Hunger Games.
After freeing the slaves, President Abraham Lincoln presided over the biggest lynching in U.S. history, when thirty-eight Indians were hung on December 26, 1862. Black Americans were commonly lynched well into the twentieth century.
In the U.S., hanging as an official form of punishment was replaced by the electric chair, which has in turn been largely replaced by lethal injection, which itself remains controversial. Beheading is a common form of capital punishment in Saudi Arabia.
Capital punishment can also be accomplished via assassination. Famous U.S. assassination victims include President John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lennon and perhaps Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone and Representative Hale Boggs.
However, such politically motivated killings aren’t usually described as capital punishment, especially if the victim committed no crimes that merited punishment.
People can also be punished in foreign countries. This was traditionally accomplished through warfare. However, the U.S. and Israel have pioneered many ways to punish people, including proxy warfare, wrecking national economies, destabilizing governments and hijacking and blowing up commercial airliners.
2. Corporal Punishment
The term corporal punishment describes physical punishment, ranging from spanking and hitting to torture.
In the U.S., corporal punishment — including spanking and caning — remains common in public schools. In 2014, it was still legal in nineteen states (Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming). Not surprisingly, Texas is the leader in corporal punishment in the classroom.
Ironically, corporal punishment may be applied less frequently to adults, at least on an official basis.
Nevertheless, police officers routinely assault people with their fists and feet, as well as a variety of weapons, ranging from batons to rubber bullets, tasers and firearms. Police officers even beat and rape people who are incarcerated.
In some cases, rogue police officers may be assigned to attack specific political targets. (Undercover cops frequently infiltrate protests and other public events.) In other cases, police violence is imply used to send out the message that dissent will not be tolerated.
Torture has been commonly used as a form of punishment around the world and through the ages. The rack is one of the best known forms of torture used during the Medieval Period. However, it had a lot of competition from some truly ghoulish torture contraptions. And Europeans weren’t the only people to experiment with torture.
Some forms of torture are so horrendous, merely thinking about them can make people uncomfortable. Torture, even more than murder, probes the outer limits of evil.
Though torture has largely fallen out of favor, it has been used covertly by many governments. Torture is now officially embraced by the U.S. military, which openly subjects prisoners to waterboarding at the infamous Guantanamo Bay facility in Cuba. Even more sadistic forms of torture are utilized at an unknown number of secret torture sites around the world.
3. Non-Corporal Punishment
The term non-corporal punishment is used here as a catch-all for all forms of punishment other than capital punishment, corporal punishment and incarceration (e.g. jail or prison), which is discussed next.
The most common forms of non-corporal punishment can be classified as financial or psychological punishment.
Monetary fines are probably the most common form of official punishment in the U.S. and many other countries.
Citizens often pay predetermined fines for common offenses (e.g. $25 for jaywalking). However, people who are sued for criminal actions or even negligence may be forced to pay far bigger settlements.
For example, you could be sued for financial compensation if your dog mauls one of your neighbors, even if you tried to restrain the dog. If you celebrate Independence Day with fireworks and accidentally burn a neighbor’s house down, you will likely be sued for damages.
Organizations (e.g. corporations) and countries may be similarly fined through international law. In other cases, they may be punished with economic sanctions. The U.S. has punished a number of countries with economic sanctions, including Cuba, Iran and Russia. However, these countries did nothing wrong; they simply stood up to the U.S. government’s bullying and intimidation.
Psychological punishment is far more common than most people realize. One of the most common forms is intimidation, which is widely practiced in the workplace (including schools), in the media, on the Internet and in public.
Supervisors who bully employees are so common they’re almost a yawn. Ironically, some unions use intimidation to bully their own members. One of the best known examples is the Teamsters, a famously corrupt union commonly associated with physical as well as psychological violence.
A more recent form of intimidation revolves around the so-called social media, such as Facebook. In a classic conspiracy uniting the Internet, media and the corporate sector, the media occasionally air stories about people being fired because of things they posted on Facebook, Twitter or similar sites.
Exactly how common or legal this practice is isn’t clear. But merely publicizing it can intimidate people into refraining from making political statements online; they’re effectively cowed into silence, which equates with obedience.
Conformism (aka peer pressure) can be seen as a form of implied intimidation or even punishment. An example is standing for the national anthem at sports events. Even if attendees aren’t literally ordered to stand, they’re clearly expected to. Anyone who doesn’t stand will likely be jeered or even assaulted by other spectators, the so-called “football patriots.” People who don’t stand for the national anthem are sometimes ejected from games. So much for free speech.
Students who refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance have also felt the system’s wrath. In fact, school children could once be expelled for not saying the Pledge in school. The issue was resolved in the 1943 Supreme Court decision West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, which ruled that the right to not speak is equally protected under the First Amendment as the right to free speech. However, students and teachers alike are still pressured to say the Pledge in many schools.
Peer pressure is also a key player in the practice of making students wear dunce caps and sit in the corner or the room, where their classmates can laugh at them (left).
Psychological punishment can also take the form of character assassination through demonization or libel. For example, candidates for public office who genuinely champion reform are often ridiculed as unpatriotic or crazy.
Psychological torture is popular in part because it doesn’t leave visible scars and it isn’t as controversial as physical torture. Yet psychological torture can be every bit as excruciating, even driving people to commit suicide.
Blurring the line between psychological and corporal punishment are drugs that are used to induce mental anguish, anxiety or confusion. For example, the corporate media recently (2015) reported a new drug that makes people feel as if they’ve been locked up behind bars for a thousand years.
Sentencing people to jail or prison is one of the most common forms of punishment for criminal offenses. Sentences can range from one day to life, though sentences can often be commuted, or reduced. Prisoners are sometimes pardoned, especially if they have friends or supporters in positions of power.
Most people view incarceration as a step above torture or the death penalty. Yet incarceration itself can be a form of torture. This is especially true where people who are either innocent or guilty of trivial crimes are given lengthy sentences. One can scarcely comprehend the pain inflicted on innocent people who spend decades behind bars, dying a little bit every minute of every hour, every day for the rest of their ruined lives.
Though incarceration isn’t generally classified as corporal punishment, it can devastate a prisoner’s physical as well as mental health.
In the U.S., political prisoners are often placed in solitary confinement, which is an even more obvious form of torture. Many prisoners are also subject to beatings or rape, turning incarceration into a form of corporal punishment.
Prisoners may also be given drugs that impair their mental health. Some of Iris Chang’s supporters believe the author of The Rape of Nanking was a victim of such abuse shortly before she committed suicide.
What constitutes appropriate punishment for a particular crime or misdeed? Opinions are all over the map.
For example, many people think the death penalty is absolutely indefensible. But other people ask what else would suffice in the case of a really heinous crime. Moreover, many people who are opposed to the death penalty actively support the troops who kill innocent people in other lands, a clear double standard.
This irony points out a key rule: No Double Standards allowed. (Does this remind you of the golden rule?)
If a bank robber who steals a million dollars is sentenced to five years in prison, then a politician who steals a million dollars from taxpayers should also get a five-year sentence. In fact, the politician might deserve an even harsher sentence, because 1) he abused the public trust, and 2) most corrupt politicians are cogs in what can be justly described as organized crime.
Yet politicians and corrupt corporate executives and lobbyists routinely bilk taxpayers out of billions of dollars a year, at the same time eroding their civil liberties and general quality of life. And most of these people will never spend a day behind bars. That is a spectacular double standard called injustice.
Let’s set some boundaries by defining a minimum and maximum punishment.
Actually, minimum punishment is a no-brainer. It could be as trivial as a warning: “Don’t do that again!” But what should be the maximum punishment allowed by law? And what crimes deserve the maximum punishment?
Some people think the death penalty is obscene and should never be used. This attitude is prevalent in Europe. The logical alternative would be life in prison. Ironically, that could be crueler than execution. In fact, it is not uncommon for prisoners to commit suicide.
Governments sometimes declare martial law in the face of massive unrest or natural disasters. In this spirit, we could compromise and allow capital punishment only in emergency situations.
Since presidents George W. Bush and Obama encouraged the military to torture prisoners, it seems only fair that they should be tortured in return. But most people would consider that far too barbaric. Yet many of those same people aren’t bothered by the many people tortured by the U.S. military. And they may not be bothered by long prison sentences, which is a form of torture, especially when the people behind bars are innocent.
If George W. Bush and Obama were handed over to their victims, they would probably be killed on the spot without a trial, before they could be tortured. Would that be justice or revenge, and is there really a significant difference in this case?
Do unto others...
If people like Obama, Hillary Clinton, members of Congress, Benjamin Netanyahu and Bill Gates could be brought to justice, what punishment do you think they should receive? Should it be commensurate with their crimes, or would displaying the same cruelty make us just as evil as them?
Unfortunately, we’ll probably never be faced with that choice, as none of the people mentioned above will likely ever be brought to justice. But if there was a revolution, the people won, and you wound up in charge, what punishment would you reserve for the people who have done so much to wreck the very planet we live on?
Who should be punished?
Some people think accountability is a concept that only applies to public officials and ordinary citizens who have committed crimes. In fact, accountability is linked to responsibility, which might be loosely described as duty. For example, citizens who live in a democracy have the right to vote.
But is the right to vote a privilege or a duty? That’s a matter of opinion.
Vote for WHAT?The best argument against voting is probably the complaint that there are no good candidates to vote for. That’s generally true of national politics in the U.S., especially presidential campaigns, and it’s also true of most state-level campaigns. Elections have become so corrupt and dysfunctional that even some local elections are nearly hopeless. Try finding a good candidate for any office in Seattle, for example.
The irony is that the system became corrupt because citizens allowed it to become corrupt, largely through not voting. It takes work to maintain a democracy, and it takes even more work to reform a democracy that has become corrupted.
If it’s truly too late to vote in the U.S., then the only hope may be revolution.
But think about three housemates who take turns preparing meals, washing the dishes and taking out the garbage. Is taking out the garbage a privilege or a duty? It has to be done, and few people would consider it a privilege, so why should we consider voting a privilege if it also has to be done?
Using this logic, we can argue that the right to vote is a responsibility and therefore a personal duty. And if people don’t vote, or if they don’t vote intelligently, we might argue that they deserve to be held accountable, or punished.
Ironically, clueless voters and apathetic non-voters punish themselves by nurturing corrupt and incompetent government.
Speaking of non-voters, what about the people in Hiroshima, Japan whose lives were snuffed out by an atomic bomb near the end of World War II? Many right-wingers believe the Japanese people deserved to be held accountable for their government’s crimes. That suggests the Japanese people were somehow responsible for their government’s crimes. Perhaps they should have protested or revolted against their government.
Yet if U.S. citizens revolted against our corrupt government, right-wingers would be the first to urge a brutal government crackdown.
And what about the children who died in Hiroshima; could they really be blamed for corruption in the Japanese government and military?
Some people sidestep this argument with the claim that destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki shortened the war. Using such logic, any innocent civilians who are injured or killed can simply be dismissed as collateral damage.
The U.S. military and government officials calmly brush off civilian casualties as “collateral damage.” Yet there is no excuse for civilian casualties if a war or military action is unjust to begin with. Thus, there was zero collateral damage in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia or Syria. All there was was state-sanctioned murder.
But what if a team of Afghan freedom fighters attack a U.S. patrol and accidentally kill an innocent bystander? That would be an example of collateral damage.
If there’s a revolution in the U.S. some day, there will probably be massive collateral damage. Yet the results of not revolting could be even worse.
Collateral damage might thus be seen as a grim mathematical formula. If we retaliate against the invading Americans, we will probably kill 200 civilians. But if we don’t retaliate, they may stay here for ten more years, likely killing over 50,000 civilians.
It’s important to remember that collateral damage isn’t limited to military action. Every time an innocent person is murdered by rogue cops or sentenced to years in prison, that person’s friends and relatives will also suffer. Families may be destroyed when a person is sentenced to prison, whether innocent or guilty.
That’s a brutal fact of life that mature adults have to deal with, even if it takes the edge off idealism.
So exactly what are YOUR responsibilities? We might classify them into three broad categories — personal, civic and environmental.
Humans are social animals, and families cannot function without certain rules.
You probably learned early in life that your personal responsibilities include cleaning your room and occasionally helping wash the dishes and taking out the garbage. However, the rules vary between families; perhaps your parents never asked you to take out the garbage.
But if you had housemates when you attended college, you probably assumed new duties, like taking out the garbage.
People are generally held responsible for their behavior. Irresponsible behavior thus includes rudeness and threatening behavior, which can even be illegal.
We are also held responsible for personal hygiene. That includes bathing and brushing our teeth.
Responsibilities to ourselves are more complex.
Your parents may make you study, but many parents don’t make their children exercise. So do you have a responsibility to maintain your physical and mental fitness? Do you have a responsibility to try and find a good job?
This is kind of a gray area. However, people who aren’t fit physically or mentally can be a drain on society, as are people who are unemployed or marginally employed.
If you have a family, you have a definite obligation to provide for them. That means trying to find a good job, which may require a good education and mental fitness. If you’re in really bad physical shape, you may have health problems which can burden your family. Alcoholism and drug abuse are a great prescription for ruining a family.
People have certain responsibilities to their neighborhood, community and country. In fact, many of these responsibilities are specified by law, though they vary between countries.
For example, school attendance and/or military service may be mandatory. Voting generally isn’t mandatory, but it’s commonly regarded as a civic duty.
People are obviously expected to obey local laws, which requires some knowledge of the law.
Almost no one would deny that we all have personal and civic responsibilities, but environmental responsibilities — seriously?
In fact, people had a deep reverence for the environment long before the first cities were built. Long before the birth of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, most people practiced animism, which might be thought of as either a primitive, nature-oriented religion or a blend of religion and spirituality.
Cultures around the world worshiped the sun and moon, the sky, the sea and the plants and animals they depended on for survival. They weren’t perfect environmentalists. In fact, human hunters were driving species to extinction thousands of years ago. But they impacted the environment to a far lesser extent than today’s technologically advanced urbanites.
Many people around the world live as subsistence hunters, fishers or farmers even today. They hunt whales in the Arctic Ocean, gather medicinal plants in the Amazon and trek across the vastness of the Sahara Desert.
People who study science may rediscover the beauty and importance of Nature. They may come to regard soil as an incredibly complex mosaic of life that can take millions of years to evolve, rather than “dirt.”
Under assault by a growing population, increasing pollution, global warming, genetically modified food and other problems, Earth is crying for help. Extinction, population crashes, drought and melting glaciers are among the warning signs. People who warn that the end is near are no longer universally derided as kooks. Many scientists openly debate the probability of the human race surviving into the next century.
But an army of corporate propagandists deride environmentalism and spirituality as kooky. And even if you see through their lies and want to be a good global citizen, how can you?
Most people have to work to survive, which usually means commuting by car or bus, which consumes fossil fuels. If you use electricity, you have an impact on the environment. The food you eat and the water you drink aren’t created out of thin air. And how do you dispose of leftovers and food packaging? Do you recycle?
In short, environmental citizenship is similar to voting: it’s a great idea, but it can be damn hard when the game is rigged.
Nevertheless, every living person has an environmental responsibility. It begins with understanding the environment and our relationship with it. That’s one of the reasons you should support science education.
People play many games in either dodging accountability or attempting to paint innocent people guilty.
Scapegoating is the practice of blaming one’s crimes or problems on someone else (the scapegoat). For example, Muslims become scapegoats when they’re blamed for terrorist attacks that were actually the work of people working for the U.S., Israel or their allies.
Scapegoating is very similar to passing the buck (aka buck passing), in which a guilty person simply assigns responsibility (and therefore guilt) to someone else. (However, the phrase can also describe innocent parties who simply shirk responsibility by “passing the buck.”)
Passing the buck is popularly associated with large bureaucracies. It inspired the phrase “The buck stops here,” which was popularized by President Harry Truman. Ironically, Truman gets to take the blame for ordering the military to drop atomic bombs on innocent civilians during World War II.
Passing the trash is a euphemism for the practice of dealing with corrupt individuals by giving them transfers, new job titles or even promotions. The phrase is perhaps most commonly applied to teachers who have sexually abused children. However, that may ironically indicate an even bigger instance of passing the trash — by focusing on bad teachers instead of the school officials and corporate executives who exploit and abuse children, teachers and parents on a far bigger scale.
In fact, school district superintendents have become notorious for getting nailed for incompetence or criminal actions, after which school boards buy out their contracts, allowing them to transfer to often higher-paid positions with school districts in other states. Some prominent examples include Stuart Berger and Al Jones.
By extension, it can also be applied to stinkers who jump from ship to ship, even though they may not be convicted of any crimes. Examples of “carpet-bagging superintendents” include Arlene Ackerman — who bounced from St. Louis, Missouri to Seattle, then to Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Philadelphia before dying in Arizona — and Rudy Crew, whose cross-country jaunt was temporarily interrupted when he was recruited by Bill Gates to head a short-lived K-12 “Leadership Institute.”
Guilty people are often defended with the claim that “He (or she) was just naive” or “He didn’t know what he was getting into.”
For example, watch this video of Bernie Sanders “grilling” Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan. At about 0:27 Sanders says, “Because you’re an honest person. . . . I think you just don’t know what’s going on in the real world.”
That’s an utterly absurd statement. Alan Greenspan is a brilliant (though corrupt) economist who served as Chairman of the Fed for many years. During that time, he was deeply involved in politics and was surely peppered with countless questions and complaints. He presumably read articles about himself and the Federal Reserve in magazines and newspapers as well. He was fully aware of what was going on.
Another popular excuse is “His hands were tied.” For example, Obama’s supporters blame his almost unbelievable failure to fulfill his campaign promises on Republicans, who they claim fought his efforts to reform government or right wrongs. Yet Obama never even made an honest effort to stop the torture at Guantanamo Bay (or other, more secret, torture centers) even when the Republicans (in Obama’s own words) supported such a gesture. And Republicans didn’t force Obama to invade still more countries, including Libya and Syria.
“They were only following orders” is still another lame excuse designed to evade accountability (by passing the buck). This phrase is perhaps most commonly applied to military personnel who are apparently expected to follow even unlawful orders without questioning their superiors. So if military personnel are one day ordered to open fire on civilians here in the U.S., who will bear the responsibility for their actions?
Similarly, Obama and other government power brokers are often said to be innocent because they’re only following orders from the bankers and corporate interests that control the government.
People often say that hating or punishing a bad person makes you worse than the bad person you punish.
We can best understand the illogic with some examples. For example, imagine if someone assassinated Obama because of his frightening crimes.
In the legal arena, one could say Obama’s assassin acted outside the law and is therefore guilty of a felonious crime (murder). But how could assassinating one person possibly be worse than torturing and killing thousands of people and ruining the lives of millions, as Obama did? The comparison is simply absurd. In fact, millions of people around the world would celebrate Obama’s assassin as a hero.
Saying a person who simply hates Obama and/or wishes for bad things to happen to Obama is worse than Obama is even more absurd.
Many of the people who use this twisted logic are simply brainwashed or not very intelligent. However, this logic is often employed by propagandists who want to protect corrupt individuals from accountability. When people justly criticize corrupt government officials, the propagandists simply shift the blame to the accusers, no matter how illogical the reverse accusations are.
In the 19th century, government services were spread thin in the vast reaches of the western U.S. It was thus common for people living in the “Wild West” to deal with bad people themselves. For example, a man who stole someone’s horse might be lynched (hung). Taking the law into one’s own hands is called vigilantism.
People who think the government’s justice department is corrupt or dysfunctional may become vigilantes even today. For example, people who are tired of being brutalized by rogue police officers may kill a cop in return.
But is vigilantism a form of justice or revenge? Some people think each case should be judged on its own merits, while others believe citizens should never take the law into their own hands.
Revenge is best served cold.
As governments become increasingly corrupt, growing numbers of people may agitate for what some call “wild justice” on an even bigger scale. They may engage in massive protests or violent riots, for example. In more extreme cases, angry people may even attempt to overthrow the government. If enough people get involved, the unrest could mushroom into a revolution or a civil war.
Similarly, millions of people around the world are tired of being tyrannized by foreign governments while the international justice system looks the other way. They may have no choice but fight back themselves. When defending their homelands, such people are commonly called insurgents or terrorists by the government and media.
In some cases, private citizens may even launch attacks in other countries. For example, citizens of Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria or Libya who have lost their homes and families to U.S. bombs and missiles could launch a terrorist attack in the U.S. Such large-scale, international incidents of revenge are commonly labeled blowback.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks are still promoted as an example of blowback, though the evidence overwhelmingly frames the incident as a “false flag attack.” In other words, the attacks were planned by the U.S. government and/or Israel and blamed on Muslim terrorists.
If revenge, vigilantism and blowback are too extreme for your taste, there’s a much safer, though still courageous, way to make a difference. It’s called defiance.
Refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance or stand for the national anthem are examples of defiance. A labor leader named Eugene Debs who ran for president while in prison is another example of defiance. Senator Paul Wellstone, who dared to vote in opposition to other Demopublicans, was an example of defiance. Muhammad Ali risked his boxing career by refusing to enlist in the military during the war in Vietnam.
At the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico, two U.S. athletes, both members of the Black Panther Party, shocked the world by giving the black power salute during the playing of the national anthem at an awards ceremony. (One of the men, Tommie Smith, describes it as a “human rights salute.”) The men were shoeless but wore black socks to represent black poverty.
A third man — a white Australian — who appeared to be divorced from the protest was actually an unsung third hero who, like the U.S. athletes, was punished for his defiance. Yet he died a hero, unlike most Australians and Americans, who die on their hands and knees, in corporate servitude and often in poverty.
That man, Peter Norman, left us with these words of inspiration:
“I couldn’t see why a black man couldn’t drink the same water from a water fountain, take the same bus or go to the same school as a white man.
“There was a social injustice that I couldn’t do anything about from where I was, but I certainly hated it.
“It has been said that sharing my silver medal with that incident on the victory dais detracted from my performance.
“On the contrary. I have to confess, I was rather proud to be part of it.”
What does this have to do with accountability?
First, the Olympic protest seen round the world was an extraordinary embarrassment for many people, from Olympic Committee personnel to government officials to ordinary racist citizens. More than an embarrassment, it was a slap in the face.
At the same time, the three protesters fulfilled their responsibility as global citizens. Have you?
As you can see, the subject of accountability offers lots of food for thought. What do you think about vigilantism and revenge? Can they be seen as a form of justice? And if it was OK for U.S. citizens to rise up against the British government during the Revolutionary War, would it be OK for people living today to revolt against the U.S. government, which many fear is too corrupt to ever be reformed? And do you think a revolution is likely to happen when few people even have the courage to raise their fist in defiance?