Humanists believe in personal responsibility. Realizing that you
need to think before you act because anything and everything you do has consequences
and you should therefore take care to make sure those consequences are good
is a central tenet of the philosophy. Obviously, some behaviors and actions
are more risky then others. But from the Humanist perspective, if you aren’t
willing to pay the price of the consequences of your risky behavior, you should
not engage in it. If you do, then you own it. In other words, if you break it,
you should fix it.
Now, we have a massive oil spill caused by the negligence of BP.
I live in Florida so this affects me personally. There are libertarians trying
to tell us that not only should the government ease regulations of the oil industry,
they should make sure that the fiscal liability of the companies that cause
problems be capped. They are trying to be probusiness. The problem is that this
approach, which is to give companies the right to take risks, also indemnifies
those companies against the consequences of those risks.
As a Humanist, this approach offends me. BP took a lot of risks.
They were fined by OSHA for problems 760 times. In contrast, Exxon was only
fined once. In other words, BP was taking a lot of risks. It is not hard to
understand why they had such a major disaster occur as they clearly negligent
in managing their risks. As a result, I have no sympathy for them. From a Humanist
perspective, they are responsible for the consequences of their negligence.
If they aren’t willing to pay the cost of failure, then they should not be taking
those risks. It is not the government’s responsibility to save big companies
from the consequences of the risks they take. All the government is responsible
for is to make sure the if a company has a major failure as a result of the
risks they take, is to make sure if the company cannot financially survive their
self created disaster, that they are dissolved in a way that is fair to the
people to whom the company being dissolved owes money.
In the case of the BP oil disaster, the government also has a
responsibility to make sure that the one company is not capable of destroying
the economy of say, 5 states, which is why regulation is actually ethical and
a proper use of government. Because some risks aren’t just going to negatively
affect the company that takes them. Some risks will impact everyone else, and
in that case, everyone else has a right to protect themselves from those risks
by requiring minimum safety requirements be followed to try and minimize those
risks and the government is the only organization that can manage and enforce
Finally, in the case of a major disaster that is a consequence
of one company’s negligence, the government also has a responsibility to make
sure that the company in question doesn’t shirk it’s responsibilities in relationship
to the problems they caused by taking the risks they did. And again, only the
government can do that.
So to recap: yup, there are consequences to your actions. Companies
are responsible for their actions and the consequences of their actions to and
should make sure that they manage their risks properly. If they don’t, the government
should make sure that they are held responsible for the consequences of their