What is it about the ascription of such a word, that there can be a direct correlation or, if taken in a different context, some mere connection but no causality? We can say of a person, “He is responsible for X”, and yet never have directly encountered X or (if a person) never even have met X.
Thus of monsters and thugs throughout history, for instance, we might say that “Stalin was responsible for 20 million deaths, at least,” or that Mao was “responsible” for a 100 million peasants dying during the late 50s; or, of course, of ascribing to Hitler the countless millions; and, so that we don’t leave out other “responsible” monsters of history, of Pol Pot, Idi Amin and many others besides, though we cannot link a causality that would pass Hume’s skeptical test of anything more than events following one upon another, we nevertheless accept that all such political figures were “responsible” for the deaths of millions.
What is the criteria in coming to such a conclusion? Is it a negative proposition — that if X had the power or position to prevent such events from occurring, then Responsibility-Y can be ascribed? Or must it be a positive declaration: If X engaged in Acts A, B and C, then Responsibility-Y can be attributable to Individual-W; and further, if only Acts A & B, but not C, then less so; and if only Act A, but not B & C, even less so?
“Responsibility”, of course, is a malleable and transitive concept; it can change with the contextual winds of opinion, historical perspective and a cultural shift of viewpoints. Look at how we approach our Founding Fathers — of responsibility for the slave issue in the United States, but somehow excusing each if (A) any one of them willed that they would be freed upon their deaths, (B) that one was “personally” against the issue but for economic, practical reasons were “forced” to go along or (C) they treated them “kindly” and “responsibly” (here, we have a double-meaning of the term, for such an individual was both “responsible” as well as being ascribed the “responsibility” of being a slave owner).
Or, look at the manner in which America treated Native Americans — of a genocidal history no less cruel than Mao’s starvation of the peasantry; and yet, because of such grand concepts as “manifest destiny” and the depiction of an entire populace as “uncivilized”, we can avert “responsibility” by distancing the causal agents; and the greater distance between the agents, the less we ascribe responsibility.
On a lesser scale, what about work? If work suffers and there is no reason for it but laziness and lack of attention, we ascribe “responsibility”. But what if a medical condition prevents the Federal or Postal employee from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s positional duties — is that Federal or Postal employee “responsible”?
The short answer is a “no” — and that is recognized by “the Law”, in statutes, regulations and case-laws cumulatively aggregated under the conceptual aegis of “Federal Disability Retirement Law”. It is precisely because society recognizes that a medical condition itself — and not the individual — is directly responsible for one’s inability to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s positional duties, that Federal disability retirement exists as a benefit to pursue.
But it cannot be accessed until and unless there is an affirmative step taken by the Federal or Postal employee, by preparing, formulating and filing an effective Federal Disability Retirement application, filed with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset. That is where “responsibility” comes into play as a direct causal link — of initiating the steps and actually filing.
Robert R. McGill, Esquire