It seems obvious that people should be held accountable for their actions: a murderer, rapist, and thief, for example. However, we encounter nebulous territory when we begin to speak about disadvantage and poverty; we do not easily lay judgement on those who have been given disadvantaged and difficult beginnings, most of the time. However, this changes only when we speak of crime because we understand that no matter the difficulty faced in the beginning, a crime is still a crime, and we are safer without these people on our streets, although we speak of rehabilitation, yet do we actually embody it? I don’t think so.
Choice and Crime
Life unravels itself as we walk, opening and closing doors depending on the words we say, the actions we do or don’t take, and the decisions we do or don’t make. Yes, the decisions we do or don’t make are sometimes influenced wholly, or in part by our circumstances, emotional state, access to resources, familial support and biological factors such as autism, ADHD, bipolar, schizophrenia etc. However, if someone murdered someone, it doesn’t really matter what the circumstances were, although a little — though they have still ended another human’s life, and that is unforgivable, almost; a debt that cannot ever be repaid. We can use restorative justice to help the victim’s family grieve and feel that some justice is being done, while also ensuring the offender genuinely understands and concedes to the damage they have caused. Despite all this, we still choose to lock them away, and in my view rightly so. People should be held accountable for their actions, else what is the motive to cease their harmful behaviours? Should others not be protected for their malevolence? With respect to criminals, our society holds people accountable for their behaviours, this is for sure.
Choice and Disadvantage
I have autism and ADHD, I grew up relatively poor, with little to no social support, a neglectful and absent family, and so I can speak from first-hand experience about the effects of psychological and social disadvantage. And yet, despite all this, no, because of all this I was able to rise above my circumstances. I was a malnourished child, and so I started working out and eating lots. I had no skills or knowledge, so I started studying at TAFE (practical skills school, for job-ready industry-specific training), and then eventually studied at University, graduating with a 3.0 GPA from a Bachelor of Information Technology, eBusiness major, with Distinction. I suffered at the hands of mental illness, substance abuse, nearly going to jail, having no friends, or friends that were as equally damaged as I, and yet I was able to succeed. Admittedly, I owe a lot of my ability to succeed to Centrelink, which is an Australian social support institution that allowed me to pay the bills, and put a roof over my head, and to the Australian Government’s HECS FEE-HELP program which allowed me to borrow money from my future earnings, in the form of increased taxation, to fund my studies. I chose to do all of these things. There were many, many, many times where I wanted to not go to the gym, where I didn’t want to study, where I didn’t want to go to work, or when the stress was so overwhelming that I couldn’t function, and yet, I overcame. Now, you might say that all of this success was a function of my intellect and discipline, but in high school my results were mediocre, I couldn’t pay attention without my ADHD medication, and generally lacked any form of discipline at all, whatsoever.
We all have choices in life, and the choices we make accumulate and aggregate into your future life. Yes, circumstances have an impact, but at the end of the day, all we have in our power are our choices. We can cry disadvantage and oppression all day until the cows come home, and still, we would not adequately address the role of choices in how the story of our life unfolds. We chastise and punish criminals for their choices, and yet we give anyone who has suffered any hardship at all a free pass, and for what? because their crimes are self-inflicted and not inflicted upon others? Is this the arbitrary distinction that we draw because it is convenient and makes us feel good? or are we going to hold everyone, criminals and the innocent alike to the same standard regardless of their actions and intent?
Choice and Future Earning Potential
If we choose to listen to music to and from work, rather than an audiobook or a podcast to become more educated, this is a choice, and this choice affects our abilities and choices in the future. We choose to watch TV instead of going for a walk, we choose to spend money on frivolous material objects, yet we neglect to spend on healthy nutritious food; we choose to drink and take drunks, and yet we neglect to spend the adequate time increasing our skills, knowledge, and experience, and so we pay the price — stultification and poverty. At what point do we hold people accountable for their own actions, and as a result, for the product of their life? I can speak from experience that social mobility is possible with the willingness to confront fear, challenge, and to make disciplined efforts to improve one’s skills, education, self-awareness, and interpersonal skills, which can improve someone’s lot in life. It is possible, one just needs to make better decisions across sustained periods of time.
There are choices that we can make to increase our ability to earn money, to attract a healthy partner of character and social standing, improve our interpersonal relationships, and our own self-awareness. We can choose to do these things, and these choices will compound over time, producing more opportunities, better luck, and at least in Western societies, a better life. However, we may choose to not do all of these things — consciously. We may actively avoid discomfort, fear, challenge, and our own inadequacies, and we will pay — we will pay in the form of quality of life, finances, relationships, and most of all, our happiness and fulfilment. Our life is in our hands, gamble responsibly.
Choices and Parenting
A woman chooses to try for a child, and then cheats while her husband is overseas on deployment, only for him to find out, and forgive her — it’s amazing that this even happened, the forgiveness, that is. Now, they decide to continue trying for a child, only for the woman to be caught in bed with another man, again, but this time there is a twist — she is pregnant with her husband’s child. And now, even though the husband wants to stay, he does not trust the woman enough to continue their relationship, and that’s fair enough — who would? So now this woman, this mother, has created her own circumstances of disadvantage for herself — she is now a single mother without financial support, and yet she cries victim; yet she lays place elsewhere. And who suffers here? The child, of course. This child now loses the opportunity to have a two-parent family because of the immoral actions of its mother. This child was me.
All throughout my life I had to hear my mother whine and complain about my father as if he were the devil as if he were the perpetrator, but really it is her fault; it was always her fault. Humans are notorious for the difficulties they face when trying to confront the consequences for their actions and decisions, and so they misdirect blame, and so the scapegoat father was created. Now let’s fast forward until 11 years of age, and just when you don’t think that childhood emotional neglect, being raised by a single mother (let’s not forget, as a result of her own choices), and having autism and ADHD, this mother, this person who is supposed to protect and support her child, now decides to abandon the child, all under the guise of that it was the child’s decision; keep in mind that this is an 11-year-old child — an age where very little to no agency for self is legally entrusted, nor entrusted by any with common sense.
Now this child is severely psychologically damaged, to the point of multiple attempted suicides, countless events of serious bodily self-harm using blades, alcohol, and drugs. This child is the product of adultery, emotional neglect, and just generally bad parenting. But does this mean the child is destined to grow up and commit crimes, abuse others, raise a family and then proceed to emotionally neglect the children? Definitely not — these are just the preconditions for this child’s existence, but not the determinants of its path.
Each day is a series of moments, moments within which we are presented with forks in the road, and we must choose. There are no neutral decisions with respect to your life trajectory, only choices that move you closer towards a better life, and choices that move you further away. Each choice you make adds to the compound interest account that drives the momentum and trajectory of your life; are you going to overdraw and stack up overdraft fees, or are you going to make deposits every day. Easy choices, hard life; hard choices, easy life — choose wisely.