Thursday, September 27, 2012

Core Citizenship
Chock, definition: …a little triangle-block of wood which can totally prevent a wagon, aircraft or truck from moving if, and only if, it is inserted at the wheels before any speed is built up.
Encyclopedia Galactica

Since I have the word “citizen” in my blog header, I’m disappointed we don’t hear the word much these days. We become forgetful. In this, I am reminded of how the United Nations is doing special fine work at preservation (World Heritage Sites) and feeding the children, (UNESCO) yet all the while we are forgetting the UN’s less glamorous core function: The prevention of another war. Lest we forget: The UN was born while my father was a soldier amidst the flames and falling ashes of the last world war.

As citizens, we are enjoying many special fine community initiatives, like in those sweet paintings by Norman Rockwell that used to adorn the front pages of the Saturday Evening Post. Rockwell showed us volunteering and helping and standing up to speak in a town hall meeting. How nice. Today I think we are forgetting: Our special roles such as voter, consumer and taxpayer are fine as far as they go, but they don’t go far enough. If we forget our core value, if we forget above all to be citizens, then we may become nothing more than dust in a radioactive wind. The core function of a healthy citizenry, it seems to me, is the avoidance of war.

If proud citizens are attuned to their responsibilities in a democracy, then they will make an effort to immediately put chocks in the social wheels if they see any movement towards war, civil war or tyranny... The usual order is tyranny, civil war, then war.

The world is a harsh schoolroom. In my younger days, in the ’seventies, the people of Iran were all excited to have their revolution; they had such high hopes. Too bad they didn’t accept their need to be constantly alert to instantly shove in the chocks. Too late they learned how swiftly tyranny mushrooms if unchecked, too late... (Later the common people found themselves in an eight year fruitless war with Iraq)

Back then tyranny had already come to Argentina. The people were under the rule of some military colonels. Only a few years after the sufferings of Iran, a quarter of the way around the globe, the people of Argentina “suffered”—in both the modern and biblical sense of the word—terrible government inflation. They reacted. They were within days of “throwing the rascals out” when the colonels offered a distraction: They proclaimed a war in the Falklands. Now what? Easy: The oppressed civilians, lacking the critical thinking of mature citizens, lunged for the bait: hook, line and sinker. The rascals were safe. (Later they lost power, but that was only because they lost the war) By this time, of course it was too late to expect the civilians to instantly achieve good citizenship. In the US, in contrast, under a Lincoln or a Roosevelt, elections and change of government have never been suspended, not even during a desperate war.

Citizenship is on the other side of the coin marked Democracy.

Last year, for the first time, there has been an “Arab spring.” Regretfully, I hold no hope for Arabs, if only because they don’t understand the chock needed to keep government wheels from grinding away, faster and faster, at free speech. As I see it, probably the Arabs realize that a bad tyranny is “bad,” but at the same time they don’t feel they have an alternative called democracy, therefore they can’t allow themselves to realize that every tyranny is “wrong.” Even though millions of illiterate adults and children believe in a benevolent tyrant, written history is irrefutable: Such dictators are as rare as a five-legged cow.

This year, for the umpteenth time, the male Arabs are into violence. I’m not a professional psychologist, but I do have an amateur hypothesis about their notorious, by world standards, temper. When thinking of the male Arab “short fuse” I remember the typical fuse of a US Marine drill instructor. Here is my theory: If you are a male, either an Arab or the Yankee just down the street being led away in handcuffs for beating his wife, if you are going to routinely oppress your wife and others in your household, then a short fuse is part of your nature. The consequence, then, would logically follow: Believing a short fuse is appropriate for your rulers too. Hence sudden violent assaults, inside little shops and on sidewalks, by government agents and Islamic priests, and the frenzied street murders too, without the calm balance of judge-and-jury, ignoring human rights, while life goes on in a land without citizenship… I pray for poor Iran.

I mentioned Argentina. I suppose another example of a difference in core values would be how in South America the children of the rich, with monotonous regularity, would rather become surplus lawyers than go off in the wild to be useful engineers. As well, they avoid “serving” in the armed forces, unless conscripted. Meanwhile in Britain the upper class, including the royalty, is proud to go off in uniform “in the service.” No conscription. Citizenship, in a healthy democracy, is for everyone.

Surely things are connected. For example, surely a state with a government vulnerable to a coup de’tat is also a state without human rights. Surely a state with secret police and torture is also a state without freedom of speech. Throughout history, surely, this has been a law of human nature. The only solution I can see for any Arab public, therefore, is for them to aim their survey stakes towards democracy, building a slow, hard road of citizenship. There will be huge road stones for crowds to manhandle into position: “human rights,” “freedom of speech,” and many more. Each stone will mean much opposition and discussion before it is tamped into place. It’s hard, I know, but I can say this: No state that has achieved democracy, Asian or Western, has ever regretted the effort, or wanted to travel back in time. Once an adult accepts mature citizenship, it feels so fitting. There’s no going back to childhood.

That is one thing I know for sure.
Written under a democratic sky as I try to be citizen, not civilian.

Sean Crawford
In this brave new century
September, 2012

A hopeful sign: Recently (December) Al-Jazerra quoted an Egyptian taxi driver as joining a protest, with a feeling of urgency, saying that this time things would be different, not like before, because Egyptians would know their rights.
Perhaps instead of "chock" he would say "camel's nose in the tent" but he has the right idea, he knows that rights have to be upheld immediately.

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