“Citizenship is an attitude, a state of mind, an emotional conviction that the whole is greater than the part…and that the part should be humbly proud to sacrifice itself that the whole may live.” -Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers
I find myself having difficulty writing this post, if for no other reason than the definition of the topic has proven to be more vexing than I anticipated. Years ago the meaning was quite clear, and if asked, I would have been able to rattle off a litany of examples on the subject. There was no doubt in my mind and no hesitation in my thought process when explaining exactly what being a ‘good citizen’ meant back then.
On a civics level it could be defined as a label one receives by adhering to the rules and abstaining from prohibited actions within ones community. It was understood that each individual was an essential part of society and had a role in preserving the well being of their country, towns and neighborhoods. The definition was also an acknowledgment that during times of great hardship more was to be expected of the good citizen.
Whether it was food rationing during the Depression, the war effort at home in supporting World War II, to the increased security protections put in place after the attacks on September 11th, there had been a clear delineation of sacrifice and responsibility for the good of the country and what was asked of her citizenry.
However, even during those periods of turmoil and uncertainty, one constant remained ever vigilant and never wavered. It was the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness above all else, that was the stronghold for freedom and proudly bound the good citizen to this nation. Nothing could shake the foundations that this country was created upon and the strength of the individual was a shining example to that fact until now. Everything has changed.
It is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen.
This year was going to be tumultuous enough for the nation due to politics. However, a couple months into 2020, COVID-19 effectively shut down the country, and just a few short months after that, an unarmed black man would be killed by police. These three events; The pandemic, the protests that followed the death of George Floyd and the Presidential election have converged to become accelerants, and metaphorically sparked a fire that has ravaged the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals.
To complicate matters further, the traditional definition of the good citizen has become arbitrary in nature depending on social construct. Its meaning defined through mandate, intimidation and the fear that one’s ideology is lesser or more acceptable than the other. The words of our Declaration of Independence, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” were replaced with abstract social contracts, the forced acceptance of what would be deemed as necessary societal justice, and the shunning of any political ideology that threatened the common good. We are told compliance is key.
“The idea that ‘the public interest’ supersedes private interests and rights can have but one meaning: that the interests and rights of some individuals take precedence over the interests and rights of others.”
The pandemic has forced us and our economy down to its knees. With over 200,000 dead and 60% of businesses lost, the number of individual livelihoods destroyed, is way beyond the hundreds of thousands.
In the beginning, we understood and accepted the 14-day quarantines were a necessary sacrifice to ensure that the spread of the virus could be contained. We were told that we were good citizens if we socially distanced, stayed at home, and self-isolated, so we complied.
As days turned into weeks, the virus continued to spread. National travel restrictions, school closures, the shuttering of non-essential business and the limiting of how many individuals may congregate and where, began slowly chipping away at our freedoms and yet all the while we complied.
However, some began to question exactly how much the good citizen should endure for the common good of the collective. So they stood in protest, seeking redress for the infringement on such simple liberties as going to church, attending a wedding, keeping a non-essential business open, visiting loved ones, or not being able to be by their side when they died or were buried.
Though such a fundamental cornerstone of our rights, the protestors were shamed and ridiculed by celebrities and athletes, elected officials and all the talking heads. Their concerns were muted and derided as “fringe.” Their voices went unheard over the louder screams that gatherings in such a manner violated the social contract put in place for the common good. We are told compliance is absolute.
“One byproduct of individualism is benevolence — a general attitude of good will towards one’s neighbors and fellow human beings. Benevolence is impossible in a society where people violate each others’ rights.”
In late May of 2020, the country was already a tinder box just waiting to be ignited. The shutdowns had all but destroyed our way of life and then a video of an unarmed black man being slowly killed by a Minneapolis police officer was shown to the world.
We had seen cases of confirmed and alleged police brutality, however, the death of George Floyd was so blatant, that no rational person could place it under the category of justified. Though the nation came together and united in condemning the horrific actions of the officers involved, it would not be enough to keep the peace, and the match was lit.
The fires that burned within our cities from the East coast to the West were not metaphorical. Businesses already shutdown from the pandemic, were now destroyed and it wasn’t just the virus killing our country. The protests and subsequent riots that arose in the wake of Floyd’s death would further test the already strained dichotomy between what was for the common good and who is to be considered a good citizen.
The same elected officials, celebrities, athletes, talking heads who condemned those who protested the lock-downs and COVID mandates, were now praising these mass gatherings. Their defense of the anger and rage was described as necessary for the pursuit of social justice and a right that shall not be infringed upon. The hypocrisy was palpable.
So we watched every night as hundreds took to the streets in every major city to seek their redress. They were not shamed or ridiculed as they destroyed property. They were not condemned for endangering the common good or held to any social contract as they threatened and intimidated anyone who did not embrace their cause. Their status as good citizens was not called into question as they set fires, and to make assumptions to the contrary, was deemed by the masses to be against the grain. How dare people question the intent of these individuals. We are told compliance is different for them.
“I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party. ”
-George Orwell, 1984
The only constant over the last 11 months has been the election. Never has a Presidency played such a pivotal part in our lives, and yet it is the epitome of what a good citizen can do for one’s country. Whether running for office, leading a nation or simply casting a vote, the ability to choose whom we want to sit in that chair has always been a cherished duty, until now.
Ever looming, the question of whom is a good citizen has cast an even darker shadow than COVID or the riots combined. The fear of vocally supporting one candidate over the other has become a tangible anxiety, and for some, that vote will be only quietly written on a ballot, and not openly touted.
Many have been accused of selfishness by those who believe what is best for the nation is sacrosanct over what is best for the individual. After all, the good citizen must not dare vote for what is against the common good. Many have been attacked for their ideology simply because it is in opposition to the social construct created by others. All the while, the collective dictates who is the good citizen, and if one is not in their eyes, then the conclusion will be you must not be a good person. We are told we are evil and complying with that fact is non-negotiable.
“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”
Between the fear of the pandemic, the flames of the protests and the election, a path of destruction has scorched many aspects of this country and her citizenry.
However, for most individuals, none of this casts a bigger shadow than the responsibility one has to their families and their livelihoods. They go about their business adhering to the rules, contributing to their communities when able, and helping their neighbors. They move through society, not as a micro-organism within a collective, but as a collection of individuals and the majority try to just be good human beings. These are the people who make the difference and surprise us if we pay attention. They are not swayed by intimidation and forced compliance of any kind, frankly, it’s against their nature.
2020 need not be a harbinger of what fate may fall upon us in the future. However, the continual fanning of the flames by those who see this nation as a dystopia, and the intentional suppression of individuality will only cause our nation to burn.
We must not be afraid to speak above a whisper, to go against the grain or to question those who decide what the common good is. If we choose not to do this, then our ability to extinguish any fires will diminish, and they will have collectively burned the idea of the ‘good citizen” down to nothing but cinders and ash.
Thank you to Doug Ross for linking “Never Underestimate The Resolve of the American Patriot”