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Posts Tagged ‘citizen

“You are a citizen, and citizenship carries responsibilities”*…

Back in the mid-90s, your correspondent was interviewed for an article in Wired in which I was asked for an opinion on the future of nationalism. My answer (TLDR: “citizens” were becoming “consumers”) was rooted in observations of a dynamic afoot across several domains– that as the logic of the market colonized more and more civic and social spaces, more relationships were becoming “consumer-vendor”- like: students becoming consumers of (especially higher) education, patients becoming consumers of healthcare, even “worshippers” becoming consumers (of some) religions… but especially citizens becoming consumers of their governments.

Though I was only pointing out what I saw (and certainly not suggesting nor endorsing the shifts), I got a deluge of responses, pretty evenly divided between assertions that I couldn’t be more wrong and accusations that I was preaching dangerous, even seditious, change.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and here we are. As Kai Brach reports in his wonderful newsletter, Dense Discovery

We are living deep inside the ‘Consumer Story’, a foundational story of humans as inherently self-interested and competitive. It’s a story that has shaped not just individual behaviour but organisational design, economic theory, the role of government, morality – all of culture and society.

This is according to author and citizen advocate Jon Alexander. As he outlines in his book Citizens and his talks, he believes it’s time to change the Consumer Story into a ‘Citizen Story’ to take control of our collective agency and transform our communities, our institutions and our politics.

In two articles for the BBC and Psyche, Alexander and co-author Ariane Conrad argue that in today’s prevalent Consumer Story, self-reliance has become an extreme sport, leading us to pursue only our own self-interest.

We define ourselves through competition. Along the way, our choices represent our power, our creativity, our identity – they make us who we are. Every organisation and institution, from businesses to charities to government, exists to offer these choices. All are reduced to providers of products and services…

We have such pervasive inequality that it threatens the safety of everyone (even the wealthiest), while the story says that our primary responsibility is to compete to hoard more. We have ecological breakdown, while the story insists that our identity and status rely upon ever-increasing consumption. We have an epidemic of loneliness and mental health challenges, yet the story tells us we stand alone.

Every single day, we’re bombarded with messages that condition us to think of ourselves as consumers: independent and self-contained individuals rather than interdependent social beings. … When a local council has a ‘customer service hotline’, or a political campaign is interested only in harvesting clicks, it’s pushing us deeper into the Consumer Story.

The BBC article lists a range of examples of communities and organisations that move the Citizen Story forward, while the Psyche piece offers a list of practical steps/considerations that help us “step up and step in.”…

Are you a “subject,” a “consumer”… or a “citizen”? Becoming the citizens we need to be, from @kaib@mastodin.au.

Paul Collier


As we rethink our relationships, we might note that it was on this date in 1955 that a leading advocate for policies that greased the shift from citizen to consumer, The National Review, published its first issue. Founded by William F. Buckley Jr., the magazine has played a significant role in the development of conservatism in the United States, helping to define its boundaries and promoting fusionism; it remains a leading voice on (and of) the American right. 


Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 19, 2023 at 1:00 am

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