Political Responsibility and Structural Injustice

“Political Responsibility and Structural Injustice”RMP 598-612“If we wish to understand and criticize the way that many individuals and groups face too limited and unsavory sets of options, then we need an account of large scale systemic outcomes of the operations of many institutions and practices that constrain some people at the same time that they enable others” (RMP 601).Overview of Young’s essay:This text addresses an aspect of ethics that we have not as directly discussed so far, the issue of responsibility. Part of what it is to be a moral agent is to be someone who is responsible for their actions. This essay argues that the liability model of responsibility (what we typically think of as determining who is casually responsible for a specific identifiable harm and holding that person accountable) cannot adequately address many of the moral situations that we’re faced with.In particular, Young argues that the liability model is inadequate for being able to make sense of or offer any guidance for responding to structural injustice. For that reason, she also makes the case that we need to supplement the liability model with a model of political responsibility. Some background concepts:Structural injustice: “Structural injustices are harms that come to people as a result of structural processes in which many people participate” (RMP 603).Structural processes: “Structure denotes a confluence of institutional rules and interactive routines, mobilization of resources, and physical structures; these constitute the historical givens in relation to which individuals act, and which are relatively stable over time” (RMP 600).“The term structure also applies to wider social outcomes that result from the confluence of many individual actions within given institutional relations, whose collective consequences often do not bear the mark of any person or group’s intention” (RMP 600-601).Why does Young think that the example of Sandy described on pages 598-600 is an example of structural injustice?Young’s guiding question for the remainder of the essay:“How should moral agents—both individual and organizational—think about their responsibilities in relation to social justice” (RMP 603)?What makes thinking about these responsibilities challenging?1)    “Although structures are produced by actions, in most cases it is not possible to trace which specific acts of which specific agents cause which specific parts of the structural processes or their outcomes” (RMP 603).2)    “Because it is therefore difficult for individuals to see a relationship between their own actions and structural outcomes, we have a tendency to distance ourselves from any responsibility for them” (RMP 603).Because it is so challenging to identify which agents are responsible for which parts of processes that generate structural injustices, those injustices are sometimes obscured, and instead are considered to cases of bad luck.The liability model of responsibility is inadequate though insofar as we find ourselves faced with large scale structural problems like global warming, volatility of financial systems, and Covid-19.  “We need a plausible way of conceiving responsibility that connects individual agency to structural processes” (RMP 604).Young’s proposal for conceiving of political responsibility:“By proposing a model of political responsibility, I do not aim to replace or reject the liability model of responsibility. My claim is, rather, that this model of responsibility is either insufficient or inappropriate for assigning responsibility in relation to structural injustice” (RMP 604).“A concept of political responsibility says that we who are a part of these processes should be held responsible for the structural injustice, as members of the collective that produces it, even though we cannot trace the outcome we regret to our own particular actions in a direct causal chain” (RMP 605-606).What is meant by political in this context? –“phenomena and movements of collective action, where people work together to form public works and institutions” (RMP 606).Five features that distinguish the political model of responsibility from a liability model:1)    “Unlike a blame model, political responsibility does not seek to mark out and isolate those to be held responsible, thereby distinguishing them from others, who by implication then are not responsible” (RMP 606).2)    “A concept of political responsibility in relation to structural injustices on the other hand, evaluates not a harm that deviates from the normal and acceptable, but rather often brings into question precisely the background conditions that ascriptions of blame or fault assume are normal” (RMP 606).3)    “Political responsibility differs from a liability model of responsibility in being more forward-looking” (RMP 607).4)    “Political responsibility is relatively open with regard to the actions that count as taking up the responsibility” (RMP 607).5)    “Political responsibility, finally, is responsibility shared in specific ways….Taking political responsibility means acknowledging that one participates in social processes that have some unjust outcomes, and one participates with many others. Discharging the responsibility entails enjoining collective action with at least some of these others” (RMP 607-608).But doesn’t this lead us to the conclusion that almost everyone is responsible for everything?Young suggests that we should reason along the following parameters when determining for ourselves where to focus in pro-actively aiming to respond to structural injustices:1)    Connection – “We are connected by our own actions to processes that cause injustice for others” (RMP 609).2)    Power—“The power and influence parameters for reasoning suggest that where individuals and organizations do not have sufficient energy and resources to respond to all structural injustices to which they are connected, and they should focus on those where they have more capacity to influence structural processes” (RMP 611).3)    Privilege—“Persons who benefit relatively from structural inequalities have special moral responsibilities to contribute to organized efforts to connect them, not because they are to blame, but because they are able to adapt to changed circumstances without suffering from serious deprivation” (RMP 611-612).4)    Interest—“To the extent that those with significant interests in transformation and those who are harmed by structural injustices have more insight and determination in such transformative projects, their voices should have particular influence in organizations and movements that aim to change the structures” (RMP 612).Overall, she aims to provide an alternative way of thinking about moral responsibility that is better equipped to address structural injustices. What do you make of her distinction between liability models of responsibility and political responsibility? Do you think she offers a helpful guide for prioritizing moral responsibilities? Why or why not?

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