This week I had an insight about accountability arguments: Accountability has 2 different definitions.
Some of us go by the definition of a "willingness" to take responsibility. This is the definition I tend to use. From this definition we argue that it’s coercive to demand, manipulate, or force unwilling accountability. We argue for an individual's autonomy, which is the ability to make an uncoerced decision.
"Obligation" to take responsibility appears to be the definition of those who champion public and collective accountability. The idea is that we're obligated to be responsible to the collective in certain ways (i.e. all White people are responsible for all White supremacy, or all social media posters are responsible for complying with certain values, ethics, & beliefs).
Here's the issue with holding us all to the obligation definition: obligations can be agreed to and enforced when people take public roles and jobs, as well in interpersonal or community relationships, but we don’t have shared societal agreements about the obligation of individuals to the collective beyond the law. So who gets to decide our obligations?
What we do have are conflicting values, ethics, & beliefs about obligation based on family, religion, lived experience, etc. Do we have the right to hold others publicly responsible for our personal values, ethics, & beliefs? Isn't that coercion based on the superiority stance that ours are the right/correct/good ones for everyone? Does having the "right & good" ethic mean we get to hold everyone else to it (as Christianity believes)?
Forced accountability is inauthentic and doesn't lead to repair or transformation, as we’ve seen many times. So what is the goal of coercing people into public accountability? Is acknowledging harm done enough if it doesn't lead to transformation? Is it to punish and exclude all those perceived as harm doers (I say perceive because accusations are not facts)? Is it to scare others out of disagreement & dissent? If proponents of this kind of accountability are working for liberation, does obligating everyone without consent achieve it?