Thursday, September 21, 2006

“Society’s Responsibility?”

In Chinua Achebe “No Longer at Ease” the importance of society on the individual is made clear through his main character Obi. In the story, Obi makes life decisions based on what society expects of him. He decides whom he shouldn’t marry based on society’s expectations and the events in his life that occur afterwards are a direct result of that decision. How would the story have ended had Obi ignored society’s input? In the environment (place, era, etc) he lives in, would that have even been possible? Obi’s life is shaped almost entirely by his society; his education and therefore his future especially is a byproduct of the society in which he lives.
How responsible should society be held for the actions that its members commit? In utopias like Campanella’s “City of the Sun” the society controls every aspect of life (from your parents, your birth date, your “life partner”, even the way in which you live out your final days). Therefore we can say “yes” they are responsible for your actions and the impact that they have upon others. But the society in which Obi lives is not a Utopia and the society in which we live in certainly is not. Can society, therefore, be held responsible or accountable for the actions of its citizens? This question has always been asked in regards to the education of the youth and crime rates, not only in our city, but also in all cities.
I am a future educator for the State of Maryland and as a result I am aware of the current status of Baltimore inner city public schools. If I were to become a teacher for Baltimore county schools would I still be considered a member in a society or a member of the society. Would I be held responsible for the actions that my students commit inside and outside of the class? Can we hold Baltimore County for the condition of their students? Are “they” (society) responsible for the poor test scores, the high rate of dropouts, the violence in the streets due to the lack of education, or the level of poverty? Where is the line drawn for societies responsibility to its members? Would Obi have committed a crime if his society had not restricted in his personal life choices? In my opinion, no, I think the story had, Obi not been dictated by society’s actions would have had a happy ending, but when society plays a role on the decisions made by the protagonist (like in Obi’s case) there’s usually never (in my memory) a happy ending. The society’s we live in should only help to shape the people who we are to become, it should not define the person we are to be.