You may not recognize this phrase much anymore, but in the 1960s it was a common plea, heard up and down the line at any railroad station in Delhi, Bombay, Cape Town, Singapore, and thousands of smaller stations where clerks sold tickets, or ran small offices that had to deal with the teeming masses on a regular basis.
Having been to most of those places, I can say that Indians, South Africans, Malays, and Indonesians do not appear to be naturally self-defensive about their actions. But one needs to step back another few generations to Charles Dickens’ London to find the source of this “I am not responsible” cultural crutch, for the British colonial empire was the cement that glued all these low-level administrative factotums into one. As one of the themes woven into one of his later novels, Little Dorritt (1857) Dickens described the endless revolving door in dealing with the English bureaucracy. (This was at a time in history when the bureaucracy had almost no impact on American business and commerce, for the simple reason our people refused to be taxed in order to pay for one…a subject we talk about all the time here.)
The British Empire was built on the back of its civil service class who dealt with the (teeming and irate) public on a daily basis. They took all the heat at railroad stations or any point of contact for public services. I can’t count the number of times in southern Asia I had a clerk, usually as a sign of resignation and an abrupt goodbye, (and a “don’t let the door bump you in the arse on your way out” shrug) simply throw up his hands and say, “I am not responsible, I am not responsible.”
In their world it is always the passenger’s job to find the root of his problem. They are not responsible.
Having not traveled there for 25 years, I never gave this little cultural quirk much thought until MH370 fell off the map in 2014. I last flew Singapore Air in 1987, and had checked Malaysian Air out at the time, in both Hong Kong and Singapore. They were considered better that other Asian regional airlines, though not as chic as Singapore.
The missing MH370 was a Boeing 777.
But it only took 2-3 days after the plane went missing to note that various agencies in the Malaysian government were sometimes less than helpful in finding this aircraft. I tried to construct in my own mind how the Airline, the Malaysia air agency, and the Malaysian government in Kuala Lumpur, perhaps all the way down to ground crew supervisors, up through ministries, might already have been trying to immunize themselves from any kind of responsibility…because that’s what over 200 years of Mother England had taught them to do.
It is deeply imbedded in these cultures to want to prevent any public airing of whatever blame, known or unknown to them, that could be leveled at them. In all bureaucracies, that’s a natural law. (The Chinese have frightened their bureaucracies with a different method of accountability, but the same result. Americans are only now beginning to study the depths of this fear in our own deep state, although it has been slowly growing for at least 80 years.)
Now this cultural accountability-tic may have had nothing to do with the disappearance of MH 370 or the loss of The Lion Air Boeing 737 Max, or the recent Ethiopian Air crash which has now resulted in the grounding of all US Boeing 737 Max aircraft in the United state until a causation can be determined.
But already, Lion Air, an Indonesian company, has already decided to cancel orders from Boeing and switch to its EU competitor Air Bus. This is, among other things, Indonesia’s unofficial proclamation that no entity there will be found to have been responsible.
Future analysis may later determine whether this action is warranted, but in the meantime, Indonesia, its ground crews, its pilots, and their training regimen, “are not responsible”.
Now, since they are not a former British Empire state, only insiders can say whether, top-to-bottom, Ethiopian Air is similarly infected with the “I am not responsible” bug in its training programs, or whether Boeing’s corporate offices took a step too far in selling this new aircraft in the third world in the first place, or a step too little in training their pilots about this aircraft. (I’d look there first.)
Truth be told, politically and financially, everyone involved wants Boeing to be responsible for this crash for there are nearly 400 dead passengers and crew whose families must be subrogated for their loss, and Boeing has the deepest pockets.
Besides, President Trump likes Boeing.
We shall see,