Thursday, 24 March 2011

Victims Of Circumstance

[this post contains plot information about Breaking Bad, so if you haven't seen the show be warned]
I've been watching season 3 of Breaking Bad, and the question of responsibility is one that continuously comes up. Where does blame lie in any one event? There's always a series of complicated factors, where a number of people are implicated by themselves or others.

Take the ending of season 2, where two planes collided in mid-air. As it turns out, a distracted air traffic controller made the mistake. But the air traffic controller was distracted because his only daughter had just died from a drug overdose, and that drug overdose wouldn't have happened if the main protagonists hadn't befriended her which got her back onto drugs... and so on.

In the way we focus on moral problems, we seek responsibility and thus someone to blame. And in a case like this, where does the blame lie? At least one of the pilots failed to evade and keep an awareness of what was going on. The air traffic controller also failed in his responsibility, but why was someone in that condition put in that position? It's a failure of management and failure of the system. But it's also true that if the girl hadn't OD'd that the accident would not have happened, so there is in some sense a responsibility there too. But the girl was her own person and knew what she was getting into, just as if events hadn't transpired in the previous residence of the protagonist, he would have never met her.

The point being that when we're in a complicated system where many individuals interact, there's a shared responsibility. At any one point in a chain of responsibility like that, we can find a role that someone played that if they had done otherwise then there would have been a different outcome and the crisis averted. But at what point can we stop this regress? Do we accept our role in anything, or dismiss our significance in everything?

The view that no-one is responsible seems as absurd as seeing there is one person at fault. But where does responsibility lie? Perhaps the way of looking at responsibility for the possibility of blame is the wrong way to go about it. That maybe we can look at the responsibility for our own actions and whether or not those actions in particular contribute to the problem, for if we start looking into chains of events then we're always going to find some level of culpability. If things were different they would have happened differently, it's the nature of contingency.

No comments: