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We are responsible for our careless decisions

Guest Column/Daniel W. Pugh

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[mk1] "Each of us insists on being innocent at all cost, even if he has to accuse the whole human race and heaven itself." -- Albert Camus, The Fall.

We are getting away with a diminished sense of responsibility for our actions. We are more concerned about being thought innocent than about actually being so. And we would rather place our guilt on someone else than accept it ourselves. Recent legislation on liability for drinking deaths and date-rape are examples of this escape.

Legal precedents established on drinking injuries and deaths place blame squarely on the host of the function where drinking occurred. Over the last few months, bars, restaurants, college fraternities and living groups have been held liable for injuries resulting from drinking on their premises. This is a good idea in cases where minors are served alcohol in violation of the law. But the host should not be blamed when a legal adult injures or kills himself by drinking too much.

An adult must act in a responsible manner when conducting himself. If he violates the law or the rules of polite society, he must pay the price. Yet if he dies by making a poor judgment, his family can sue the host where the drinking occurred. The offender is no longer at fault.

Judges must feel that shifting blame for the indiscretion of the injured party onto the host will somehow make the bereaved relatives feel better. The relatives feel better because of the check for millions of dollars that they get as a result.

The courts do not question whether the injured person was under age when living groups are sued for injuries stemming from a party. Just the fact that the person drank alcohol on the premises of the living group and later injured or killed himself gives nearly anyone legal standing to take that living group for all the money they have.

Date-rape cases have also established a precedent of refusal to accept responsibility. When one party forcibly takes advantage of the other on a date, there is no question that rape has occurred. But when a partner participates with full consent, and then wakes up the next morning to change his mind, rape has not occurred. That person, however, can now bring charges against the partner on many grounds, including an incapacity to make a decision due to drinking, or even psychological stress. Forced sexual intercourse is not the issue here.

The result is that nobody is forced to accept responsibility for their own decisions anymore. All they have to do is change their mind in the morning to be able to make life miserable for the other party. Judges again seem to feel that this lack of a willingness to take the consequences for personal actions is a beneficial social trait. It is simply too easy to create extenuating circumstances from the night before and use these in court as proof against the other party.

Even arguing that drinking had<>

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impaired the judgement of those alleging date-rape is not valid proof of guilt. With the decision to drink comes the risk of drinking too much and losing control. If these people expected to develop impaired judgement at some point in the evening, they should also accept the possibility that they would wind up in bed with someone they would not remember.

Nobody wants to have to admit to himself that he made a mistake, but sometimes it must be done. Even more important than accepting responsibility in your own mind is the necessity for not trying to shift the blame onto someone else.

Our society is still fairly open in the manner in which people relate to each other, but it is becoming increasingly easy to sue each other. The reasons for such suits are becoming increasingly trivial. When our society reaches a point when anybody can sue anybody else for any reason, and receive a ridiculous settlement for it, it will collapse. I would hate to see that happen because of irresponsibility.

[gd]