Reading another blog this week, I was reminded of a form of argument ubiquitous in contemporary America. I hear it on television, from students, from friends, read it in the newspaper, see it all over the place.
It goes something like this: I chose to do X. You ought to respect my choices. Therefore, you cannot criticize me for X. For instance, I chose to get facial tattoos. You ought to respect my choices. So, I am immune from criticism.
Strangely, this is an argument that appeals to many people. It seems so appealing and compelling, in fact, that it often stops further discussion. Of course, it should be obvious that this argument can't work. For instance, I chose to murder the old woman (says Raskolnikov). You ought to respect my choices. So, don't criticize me.
But the problem with the argument points to something important. Part of respecting a choice, it seems to me, is holding one responsible for the choice and its effects. If I respect you for your choice to hole up in a cave with your three spouses and wait for the apocalypse, then I will hold you responsible for that decision and I am free to criticize your choice. Part of it being your decision, rather than just something that happened to you, is that it is yours, and you have to answer for it and to it. If I treat you as if you are not responsible, then I am failing to respect you. And only when you aren't responsible are you immune from criticism.