Forward Thinking: Civic Responsibility

Libby Anne and Daniel Fincke have started a project they’re calling Forward Thinking, hoping to get us atheists to stop carping about religious people all the time and discuss positive issues on occasion. The Finckster is putting the focus on values, and Libby Anne kicks things off:

Our first prompt involves an issue that is, I think, too often left undiscussed. It is my suspicion that differing ideas about the nature of civic responsibility and what all it includes often underlie political differences in ways we do not always recognize. I believe that we as forward thinkers would benefit from bringing this issue out of the shadows and discussing it directly and enthusiastically. And so, without further ado, I give you this month’s Forward Thinking discussion question:

What does civic responsibility mean to you?

Civic responsibility is the duty for an individual to put aside their immediate self interest and work towards the good of their community. I usually hear it referring to our responsibilities to government institutions (voting, jury duty, etc.), but since I see these institutions as creations of the community I think these definitions are compatible.

I tend to view this practically: our communities support and sustain us, so it is in our best interests to sustain them as best we can. I’m an individualist, and I tend to view a community as an emergent property out of a collection of individuals. There are others who take a more top-down approach and see individuals as fragments of the community. Such people usually stress the duty aspect and see expressions of self interest as a type of selfishness.

It’s a very fraught concept in America. The fact that our society is governed from the bottom up, with government legitimacy being based on the will of the people, means that the responsibility for holding the society together rests on the individuals who make up the society.

So when we go to try and answer questions like, “How much does the individual owe the society,” or “Who gets to define what the good of the community is,” the discussion gets heated.

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