There is no such thing as cheap citizenship

I am often struck by how connected some of us are to civic duty and how little some of us are. For years, I have tried to stay abreast of local, state, national, and international events. Like you, I have had to parent, work a job, volunteer for this or that thing, finish my Ph.D., and also just enjoy my talents and relax. Let’s face it, remaining sane in today’s world presents an incredible challenge. If you are anything like me, you probably find yourself lost from time to time in a rat maze where you don’t know which direction sanity lies and whether it’s in the same direction as must do or can do or could do. All of this is to say that these days, it seems nothing comes cheap.

Cheap. As both economists and ecologists will tell you, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” Everything has a cost. It’s so obvious that it seems trivial. But it’s not. It’s a profound truth because it is so simple. And too many of us ignore it until something strikes us. In our region, that thing that’s striking us seems to be citizenship.

When I think of citizenship, I think of conviviality, democracy, and deep sustainability. What do I mean? I mean, like the thinker Ivan Illich, that we need good lives together. We are free but interdependent. We must give to get in what John Dewey called “a mode of associated living.” And all of this needs to be understood in light of the rich connection between how we interact through business, policy and government, and how we conduct our affairs within the natural world. None of this is cheap. It can’t be. To do it well, we need to invest our time, energy, intelligence, and hearts. [For more on my vision of democracy, see my editorial on democracy in the Center Daily Times from a couple of weeks ago.]

I think David Orr summarizes my thoughts very well in Earth in Mind

“Cheap citizenship is, of course, an oxymoron. Real citizenship, political or ecological, is hard won and never more than temporarily on at that. Real citizens pay their bills, work hard at maintaining their communities, and are willing to sacrifice when necessary and consider doing so a privilege. All of this is to say that authentic citizenship – political or ecological – is not cheap, but it is, sooner or later, less costly by far than dereliction and counterfeit citizenship.”

So let’s not skimp our citizenship. Let’s be the good political and ecological citizens we can be and continue the hard winning work together.


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