I’m quietly sitting in the predawn, sipping the first of the day’s coffee, waiting to wake up, and wondering whether the values of the consumer have displaced the values of the citizen in America. I’ve no idea why, but for several mornings now, my mind has scrambled over that topic before I’ve fully woken. What does it mean to a republic if its people are better consumers than they are citizens?
It seems to me the “good consumer” is someone who is only in it for himself. Maybe that’s changing now as people become more aware of how their purchasing decisions affect other people and the environment, but traditionally consumers have sought little more than what they deem best for themselves.
On the other hand, it seems to me the “good citizen” seeks some kind of balance between what’s best for herself and what’s best for others in her body politic. In a way, it doesn’t matter whether she thinks of her body politic as her community, her state or province, her nation, or even the entire of humanity. The point is, she not only takes her own needs into account, but also the needs of people other than herself.
In a way, the consumer is disengaged from others, while the citizen is engaged with others.
So far as I can see, consumerism is spreading across the globe and most likely displacing citizenship as it goes. What I wonder is whether consumerism — as an alternative to citizenship — is compatible with freedom and liberty?
Somehow, I don’t think it is. Of course, I’m barely awake at the moment and sailing on hunches rather than on reasons. So I’m not sure why I think consumerism is much less compatible with freedom and liberty than is citizenship. But that’s what my gut is telling me as the sun begins its ascent today. So, what do you think? Have I drawn an adequate distinction between consumerism and citizenship? Is consumerism compatible with freedom and liberty? Or, should I drink more coffee and then rethink everything I’ve said?