We’ve changed the way we think of ourselves as citizens. We don’t think of ourselves as citizens in the old sense of being small parts of something larger and infinitely more important to which we have serious responsibilities. We do still think of ourselves as citizens in the sense of being beneficiaries – we’re actually conscious of our rights as American citizens and the nation’s responsibilities to us and ensuring we get our share of the American pie. We think of ourselves now as eaters of the pie instead of makers of the pie. So who makes the pie?…Something has happened where we’ve decided on a personal level that it’s all right to abdicate our individual responsibility to the common good and let government worry about the common good while we all go about our individual self-interested business and struggle to gratify our various appetites.
David Foster Wallace, The Pale King
The more individuals behave like businesses, focusing on the needs and wants of the bottom line, the more competitive and consumerist we become. Citizens get lazy and feel entitled to governance but no longer choose to be responsible for it’s daily actions. No one is willing to make the pie (let alone share it) but everyone wants to assert their claim on a bigger, and bigger slice.
What happens when we want the benefits of democracy without the risks of citizenship? Citizens stop helping out and start complaining, focusing on problems instead of solutions while becoming ever more disenchanted, waiting for ‘someone to DO something’ already. We start seeking a target to blame for the way things are without wanting to look in the mirror and face the truth: that someone is us.
How can we save ourselves, our governments, and systems from narcissism and self-indulgence? We could start making the pie. Let’s turn the leftovers of our lives and the messes we’ve inherited in stone soup and jumbleberry pies. Civic engagement is served as well (or better!) by a community pie party as anything else. Maybe it is a silly oversimplification to think that we would all be bettered for gathering up after a day of braving thorns and harvesting berries so we can offer up a slice of goodness to each other with work stained hands – but this small sweet token of home and comfort could be the thing we’ve been truly hungry for all along.
Why beg for crumbs when we can make a bigger pie?