"It's not my fault!", redux

Phil Gengler
2007-01-07 22:24:00

I've written about the complete lack of personal responsibility evident in today's society before. It's a subject I feel very strongly about; I think it's crucial to the continued survival of a society that it is able to properly put responsibility and blame where it belongs. As a result, I get worked up when things like this happen:

The family of a New York teen hit by a train while spraying graffiti plans to sue the Metropolitan Transit Authority, claiming the accident was preventable.

"Boy killed on New York train tracks", United Press International (2007-01-07), accessed 2007-01-07

The story is this: the kid was trespassing along the busy LIRR mainline during the height of rush hour, apparently after vandalizing some other nearby tracks, and was killed when he was hit by a passing train. Yet, somehow the kid's parents are trying to blame the railroad for his death, since there was a hole in a fence along the tracks.

That's bullshit, to put it simply. The fence didn't get the kid killed. His choice to ignore the warning of the fence, regardless of whether or not it had a hole in it, is what got him killed. He chose to go through the fence; neither fence nor railroad made him do that. You could certainly argue that the hole in the fence made it possible for him to get through, but that doesn't make the railroad culpable for his death. You could just as easily blame the manufacturer of the spray paint for giving the kid a reason to be out, or the friends he was with for encouraging the behavior (and you'd still be wrong to blame them). The hole in the fence may have provided easy access, but it's hardly a guarantee that it would have prevented him from getting to the tracks; it's not that much harder to go over the fence.

In this case, the blame falls squarely on the kid, not on anyone else. The parents have apparently decided that this isn't the case, and that it must somehow be the fault of someone else (conveniently with deep pockets), and ultimately, they'll probably end up with a nice settlement from the MTA, which is only going to encourage more people to do the same thing in the future. While I don't mean to imply that the next step is the total collapse of civilization, it certainly isn't conducive to a well-organized society that a person can levy baseless accusations against another and be rewarded for it.

There's another thing in many of the news reports that's also been irrating: the kid is referring to as a "graffiti artist", and not the vandal that he was. The very term "graffiti artist" lends legitimacy to the illegal activity of vandalism, as though it's somehow completely forgivable that the kid was vandalizing in this case because he was creating "art". While you can certainly call graffiti "art" (the term is vague enough), doing it without permission on private property is vandalism, pure and simple.