Passive Versus Active Citizenship

woman smokingPerhaps it is time to re-institute the “civics” classes which were routinely mandated in high schools. With the endless stream of controversial issues barraging the average citizen, it is likely that most of us have retreated to the safety of an entrenched position; thereby eliminating the need for the continual process of data sorting and truth recognition skills.

With this shift in focus we can step back into the shadows of living and leave the thought work to others. We surrender our moral sense of responsibility and follow those who exert the loudest cries. We reduce our level of personal responsibility to comply with the imperatives and mandates issued under guise of laws made in OUR collective name. At some internal place we recognize that ignorance of a law’s existence is never a defense, but it seems to tax our abilities to think through social consequences in a system which is rife with impractical “short term” solutions.

Consider the lawmaker (unnamed) who introduced legislation this week to make it illegal to smoke in OUR OWN HOMES. How did this person manage to dupe the voters with such a myopic view on the sanctity of the home or the individual’s right to privacy? This is not an anomaly, but in fact a artifact of the thought processes which (post 911) have curbed our individual freedoms, instituted multiple levels of warrantless searches, justified wiretapping on private communications and have endorsed the use of drones flying over a “free” America.

The torch of personal responsibility has been given to those who would “protect” us and by law are authorized to second guess our own moral decisions. I choose to pay my taxes and obey the law of the land and God’s law because it is my decision to freely do so without legal intimidation. Those elected to govern have lost sight of the reality that they function under the consent of the governed. If my ability to freely choose right from wrong is negated by legislative efforts to look over my shoulder, it is no longer a participatory system of government.

We go through the drama of an election, but have no individual ability to actively participate in a government which is blind to the dictates of lives yielded to moral conscience. In the current climate of mistrust and suspicion the light of individual freedoms flicker and sputter under the demands of those who would use laws, regulations, policies and procedures to negate the domain of choice inherent at the core of citizenship rights and responsibilities.

What exists is a form of law, lacking the substance of wisdom or foresight. Currently I can be arrested in this country for “failure to follow a law order” made by a law enforcement official. In other words, they can pull out this stick and apply its twisted logic to any situation which questions the “lawfulness” of their order. The “wisdom” of law enforcement has been elevated over the right to be free from all government harassment and intimidation. Like the ban on smoking in our own homes, how could this bizarre interpretation be embodied in laws? Apparently some of us were sleeping when this one passed and was signed off as “law.”

It is not a giant leap from this pointing to having roving bands of cops waiting to swoop down on those deemed to be law breakers. Of course the logical extension of such thinking is the belief that it is okay to beat, falsely imprison, perjure themselves and perhaps even murder in the name of “protecting us.” By acting against others without restraint, they also skillfully deliver a not so subtle form of intimidation to those observing their actions.

kevin mccarthyThe great tragedy which flows from these events is the inferred belief that we need such “protection.” In the crucible where thoughts and emotions interact, it is a short distance between living the dream or watching it die. Put another way, a citizen who observes what is happening, (but then hunkers down,) versus a citizen with the rights and responsibilities that citizenship confers upon all individuals.

Maybe it is time for an updated dialogue about the concept of citizenship!

Kevin J. McCarthy
Dismas Project, Inc.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Image: Big Stock Photo.


  1. JoeWeinstein says

    In his concluding call for a dialogue about the meaning of citizenship, McCarthy refers to the real underlying problem: an obsolete system of whimsical oligarchic public decision-making and law-making which requires neither reason nor true participatory democracy.

    This problem’s impacts go well beyond McCarthy’s focus beef: t he fact that as a result some laws over-protect. Equally grave is the ‘opposite’ impact: laws which under-protect (Burgin’s comment). In fact, in US federal and state laws an irrational combination now prevails of both over- and under-protection. These laws now actually promote your ‘right’ to carry for ready use a weapon designed for mass killing of others, but they forbid your even passively owning any of an arbitrarily selected list of substances – based on the pseudo-excuse (which can apply to every substance ever created by nature or man) that you might conceivably use that substance to abuse yourself.

  2. Alyssa Burgin says

    There are certainly situations where “smoking in our own homes” is no longer a right. Namely, when that smoke intrudes into another’s home, or when a vulnerable child is harmed by cigarette smoke from the lips of adults in his or her home. I was forced to sell my “dream condominium” because the pipes, electrical outlets, floors and cabinets all leaked smoke from the downstairs and the next-door neighbors. There were times when I couldn’t even sleep in my own home at night because I couldn’t breathe–I have asthma induced by one thing and one thing only–smoke. Certainly, leaking smoke into another property is the result of poor construction–but how much of that do you think exists in this country; are we going to retrofit all of it? Again, someone else’s right to smoke ends at my nose. And it ends at my property, as well.

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