Saturday, October 28, 2006

Citizens and Individuals

Even as words evolve over the course of centuries or even over the course of thousands of years they often retain within some part of their original meanings. It is that way with the words "politics" and "idiots." One who is politic is a citizen of a polis, a city. One who is outside the community, who is private, who has no mind that extends beyond himself, is idiote.

When we as citizens give up our right to inform our community members of our wishes and our insights into the nature of life in our communities, then we abandon politics and become, in that classic sense, idiots. When we defer to managers and experts, then we are idiots. When we flee into our private pursuits of hedonism or even simple privacies, then we are idiotic. To be politic we do not have to involve ourselves in the minutea of each and all issues concerning our civic lives; but when we do nothing at all about our lives as citizens, then we are idiotic.

Eric Hoffer writes in The True Believer that if one has no business of ones own, one is very likely to mind your business instead. That too is idiotic, that minder mindedness. A responsible citizen, I think, is one who manages a personal balance between privacy and publicity. We all have not just the right to express ourselves in public regarding public policies, we have some responsibility to do so. Even if we don't care to, we must have some responsibility to inform our fellows of our stupid ideas so they have more to work with than if we remain silent. We have a duty to contribute to the intellectual commonwealth of our communities. I think.

Public participation probably doesn't have to be very much. It might be a matter of sitting at a town hall meeting and nodding and smiling. It might be a matter of expressing an opinion on the bus. I think it must be public to be meaningful. I think that involving oneself in another's personal affairs misses the point. That's mostly offensive. But to involve oneself in the affairs of ones greater community seems to be the voice of genius. I don't think it matters much how intelligent ones contribution to the debate is.

We meet each Thursday evening at the Vancouver Public Library in the atrium from 7-9:pm to discuss our public affairs. Join us, citizen.

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