These men were able to give the counsel they gave because they were operating at an enormous psychological distance from the people who would be maimed and killed by the weapons systems that would result from the ideas they communicated to their sponsors. The lesson, therefore, is that the scientist and technologist must, by acts of will and of the imagination, actively strive to reduce such psychological distances, to counter the forces that tend to remove him from the consequences of his actions. He must -- it is as simple as this -- think of what he is actually doing. He must learn to listen to his own inner voice. He must learn to say "No!"

Finally, it is the act itself that matters. When instrumental reason is the sole guide to action, the acts it justifies are robbed of their inherent meanings and thus exist in an ethical vacuum. I recently heard an officer of a great university publicly defend an important policy decision he had made, one that many of the university's students and faculty opposed on moral grounds, with the words: "We could have taken a moral stand, but what good would that have done?" But the moral good of a moral act inheres in the act itself. That is why an act can itself ennoble or corrupt the person who performs it. The victory of instrumental reason in our time has brought about the virtual disappearance of this insight and thus perforce the delegitimation of the very idea of nobility.
"Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment To Calculation" (1976)
I cannot tell why the spokesmen I have cited want the developments I forecast to become true. Some of them have told me that they work on them for the morally bankrupt reason that "If we don't do it, someone else will." They fear that evil people will develop superintelligent machines and use them to oppress mankind, and that the only defense against these enemy machines will be superintelligent machines controlled by us, that is, by well-intentioned people. Others reveal that they have abdicated their autonomy by appealing to the "principle" of technological inevitability. But, finally, all I can say with assurance is that these people are not stupid. All the rest is mystery.
Tagsresponsibility
I have spoken here of what ought and ought not to be done, of what is morally repugnant, and of what is dangerous. I am, of course, aware of the fact that these judgements of mine have themselves no moral force except on myself. Nor, as I have already said, do I have any intention of telling other people what tasks they should and should not undertake. I urge them only to consider the consequences of what they do do. And here I mean not only, not even primarily, the direct consequences of their actions on the world about them. I mean rather the consequences on themselves, as they construct their rationalizations, as they repress the truths that urge them to different courses, and as they chip away at their own autonomy. That so many people ask what they must do is a sign that the order of being and doing has become inverted. Those who know who and what they are do not need to ask what they should do. And those who must ask will not be able to stop asking until they begin to look inside themselves. It it is everyone's task to show by example what questions one can ask of oneself, and to show that one can live with the few answers there are.
"Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment to Calculation"
The salvation of the world depends only on the individual whose world it is. At least, every individual must act as if the whole future of the world, of humanity itself, depends on him. Anything less is a shirking of responsibility and is itself a dehumanizing force, for anything less encourages the individual to look upon himself as a mere actor in a drama written by anonymous agents, as less than a whole person, and that is the beginning of passivity and aimlessness.
When it’s Tunisians and Egyptians using FB and Twitter, everyone is quick to take credit and talk about the “transformative” power of social media. When it’s genocide, suddenly everyone is mumbling and looking at the ground. You can’t have every job listing include “changing the world” and then duck responsibility when you actually do change the world, just for the worse.
My own concern is primarily the terror and violence carried out by my own state, for two reasons. For one thing, because it happens to be the larger component of international violence. But also for a much more important reason than that; namely, I can do something about it. So even if the U.S. was responsible for 2 percent of the violence in the world instead of the majority of it, it would be that 2 percent I would be primarily responsible for. And that is a simple ethical judgment. That is, the ethical value of one's actions depends on their anticipated and predictable consequences. It is very easy to denounce the atrocities of someone else. That has about as much ethical value as denouncing atrocities that took place in the 18th century.
If the ability to tell right from wrong should have anything to do with the ability to think, then we must be able to "demand" its exercise in every sane person no matter how erudite or ignorant.
"The Life of the Mind: The Groundbreaking Investigation on How We Think"
These definitions coincide with the terms which, since Greek antiquity, have been used to define the forms of government as the rule of man over man—of one or the few in monarchy and oligarchy, of the best or the many in aristocracy and democracy, to which today we ought to add the latest and perhaps most formidable form of such dominion, bureaucracy, or the rule by an intricate system of bureaux in which no men, neither one nor the best, neither the few nor the many, can be held responsible, and which could be properly called the rule by Nobody. Indeed, if we identify tyranny as the government that is not held to give account of itself, rule by Nobody is clearly the most tyrannical of all, since there is no one left who could even be asked to answer for what is being done. It is this state of affairs which is among the most potent causes for the current world-wide rebellious unrest.
"On Violence"
The greatest evil perpetrated is the evil committed by nobodies, that is, by human beings who refuse to be persons.
"On Evil"
As citizens, we must prevent wrongdoing because the world in which we all live, wrong-doer, wrong sufferer and spectator, is at stake.
"The Life of the Mind"
Caution in handling generally accepted opinions that claim to explain whole trends of history is especially important for the historian of modern times, because the last century has produced an abundance of ideologies that pretend to be keys to history but are actually nothing but desperate efforts to escape responsibility.
"The Origins of Totalitarianism"
When all are guilty, no one is; confessions of collective guilt are the best possible safeguard against the discovery of culprits, and the very magnitude of the crime the best excuse for doing nothing.
Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it, and by the same token save it from that ruin which except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and the young, would be inevitable. And education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world.
For the idea of humanity, when purged of all sentimentality, has the very serious consequence that in one form or another men must assume responsibility for all crimes committed by men and that all nations share the onus of evil committed by all others. Shame at being a human being is the purely individual and still non-political expression of this insight.
"Organized Guilt and Universal Responsibility"
Tagshuman responsibility
Guilt is what you feel for what you've done. Responsibility is what you take because of the kinda person that you are.
Tagsguilt responsibility
He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.
At some point we all have to stop saying "well I'm a {baker, hacker, librarian, truck driver,...}, why should I worry about these problems?" and realize that this is world-altering stuff happening, and if you want your little corner of the world to survive, you have to mobilize to protect it, even if that means doing a little less of the things you normally do.
[Q: do you believe that a nation should suffer a detrimental cost in order to compensate for wrongs committed by the governors of that nations, or by segments of that nation in the past?]

Suppose you're living under a dictatorship, and the dictators carry out some horrendous acts. So you're living in Stalinist Russia, let's say, and Stalin carries out horrible crimes. Are the people of Russia responsible for those crimes? Well, to only a very limited extent, because living under a brutal, harsh, terrorist regime, there isn't very much they can do about it. There's something they can do, and to the extent that you can do something, you're responsible for what happens. Suppose you're living in a free, democratic society, with lots of privilege, enormous, incomparable freedoms, and the government carries out violent, brutal acts. Are you responsible for it? Yeah, a lot more responsible, because there's a lot that you can do about it. If you share responsibility in criminal acts, you are liable for the consequences.
Interview by Brian Lamb on C-SPAN (June 1, 2003)
Eventually, I realized that I had two choices. I could struggle for stupid stuff - for some trinkets and creature comforts - or I could make a choice to struggle for something that would make a better life for myself, my children and their children. You either work for yourself and your people or you work for the oppressor. Those are the two things that all young people in the United States have to decide, basically, and that they’re not going to participate in their own self-destruction.
It is not a man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the most enormous, wrong; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it, and, if he gives it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support. If I devote myself to other pursuits and contemplations, I must first see, at least, that I do not pursue them sitting upon another man’s shoulders. I must get off him first, that he may pursue his contemplations too. See what gross inconsistency is tolerated. I have heard some of my townsmen say, “I should like to have them order me out to help put down an insurrection of the slaves, or to march to Mexico;—see if I would go”; and yet these very men have each, directly by their allegiance, and so indirectly, at least, by their money, furnished a substitute. The soldier is applauded who refuses to serve in an unjust war by those who do not refuse to sustain the unjust government which makes the war; is applauded by those whose own act and authority he disregards and sets at naught; as if the state were penitent to that degree that it differed one to scourge it while it sinned, but not to that degree that it left off sinning for a moment. Thus, under the name of Order and Civil Government, we are all made at last to pay homage to and support our own meanness. After the first blush of sin comes its indifference; and from immoral it becomes, as it were, unmoral, and not quite unnecessary to that life which we have made.
Rio de Janeiro, incidently, is not the poor part of the country, that sort of the rich part of the country. It's not the northeast, where 35 million people or so, nobody knows what happens to them, or cares. But Rio de Janeiro, that's where people are looking, the rich parts. And this journal is a science journal, kinda like Science in the United States. It was studying malnutrition. And here's the figures it had for Rio de Janeiro: infants from 0 to 5 months, severe malnutrition, meaning medically severe, 67%; 5 months to a year, 41%; a year to 5 years, 11%. Now the reason of course for the decline, from 67 to 41 to 11, is that they will die. So that's what happens under the conditions of the economic miracle, like in Guatemala.

Now, it's a little wrong to say that the people die. The fact is, they don't die. We kill them, that's what happens. We kill them by carrying out policies, supporting the regimes of the kind that I've described. And by intervening with force and violence to suppress and destroy any attempt, however minimal, even on a speck like Grenada, we've got to stop any attempt to bring some change into this. That's the history of our hemisphere.
My feeling then, and now, is that IF there is to be an army, then the burden of service should be shared, not assigned to the disadvantaged by one or another means, as in the case of all onerous tasks. That does not imply that those called upon to share the burden should necessarily agree. There are always cases where refusal is justified, and refusal to serve in Vietnam was, in my opinion, one such case. Same always. Garbage collection should be shared, not assigned to the disadvantaged, but if someone is ordered to dump toxic wastes in a schoolyard, he or she should refuse.
ZNet forum reply, February 3, 2005
Tagsresponsibility
We don't have to argue with anybody. We don't have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don't need any bricks and bottles, we don't need any Molotov cocktails, we just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, God sent us by here, to say to you that you're not treating his children right. And we've come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda – fair treatment, where God's children are concerned. Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.
Tagsresponsibility
I think we can be reasonably confident that if the American population had the slightest idea of what is being done in their name, they would be utterly appalled.
Criminals do not die by the hands of the law. They die by the hands of other men.
Tagslaw responsibility