Personal responsibility is apparently something we all have and we should think twice when making decisions – such as when we line up to buy food from supermarkets known to build on school playgrounds because they’re cheap; or when we give hard-earned money to utility companies who rip us off because we have to; and when we go to work for idiots because we’re not stinking rich.
I live in a world where I have to work to survive. I live in a country where newspapers are closing down almost weekly. I live in an economy that is failing and freelance contracts are as hard to find as Rupert Murdoch’s conscience. Somehow, though, I should take personal responsibility and refuse to work for a newspaper – any newspaper – with a right-wing agenda.
Personal responsibility, I’m told, means taking the moral high ground and turning down work for the greater good: being an NUJ activist wouldn’t be enough. Arguing with editors and coming up with creative alternatives to the knee-jerk right-wing news will not suffice. No, I have to go hungry, to refuse wages from a boss I don’t respect and a company I can’t stand.
Would you do the same? Do you work for a council making cuts? A company ripping off customers? A corporation taking advantage of others? A multi-billionaire who will survive no matter what you do?
Most of us do – and journalists are no different.
Calling for personal responsibility is in itself right wing: to blame workers – and demand a decision to starve rather than take a living wage – isn’t just romantic moralising, it isn’t just smug condemnation, it’s daft. It’s beyond ridiculous when journalists are compared to fascists.
Journalists are workers – some are also black, some gay, others are women, some are disabled, even those working on tabloids – and like all workers have to go where the work is and we too face discrimination when doing so.
This new rhetoric around personal responsibility simply shifts the blame from the powerful – from the owners of the work, the holders of the purse strings – to the workers.
We might be responsible for our own actions but we can only change things by taking responsibility as a whole – not by singling out individuals for condemnation: no matter how much better we feel about ourselves when doing so.
Maybe if we all take personal responsibility and stop being fat, curb our alcohol intake and don’t have chronic diseases we won’t need the NHS either.
I think I’d enjoy being able to choose not to buy in the cheapest supermarket, not to give my money to a corrupt energy company and not to work for a boss who is powerful enough to spread nasty opinions globally, but it’s not a choice I’ve ever had.
When right-wingers condemn those on benefits as scroungers they often do so claiming people should take personal responsibility and not rely on the state. The rhetoric of personal responsibility is not far removed from that of responsible capitalism – and neither looks to make life better for workers.
Those condemning News International journalists aren’t demanding personal responsibility – they’re just looking for individuals to be held responsible.