Thursday, May 12, 2005

On A Friend's Conception of Citizenship

Yesterday, I talked on the phone with a friend from college for an hour and so and we moved here to there on a variety of topics. He's currently at a crossroads-of-sorts, deciding where his next ten years or so will be. He's interested in both law school and the Marines, and decided to yoke the two together by going to law school and heading off to the Corps after he's through with reading the law.

When I mentioned this to a few of my graduate student friends, I detected something of curiousness in their reaction, as they were surprised that a smart guy like my friend would want to sign-up for the military. Left in their outlook--like many--it probably seemed an incongruous thing for him to do. Coming from a home with a father who served in the Marines, and being more to the right of my graduate-student friends, I didn't experience the same sort of cognitive dissonance, though I recognized it and understood where they were coming from.

In my own feeble way, I attempted to explain to them that my future-Marine friend had a conception of civic obligation that led him to this decision. He explained it much better than me, of course, and said that apart from a small sense of adventure that might come from joining, he thought the military a just and honorable path to take. Now, my friend is not right-leaning; he's a liberal-sort with seemingly libertarian leanings, but, he has a conception of citizenship that finds it an unsettling and bad thing that US culture has developed to a point where the idea that a smart and competent person would willingly choose the military is sufficient to elicit shock and surprise out of many folks. The way he figures, it's not a bad thing for smart and liberal people to join the military and if some folks think that the service is more vice than sir, more diverse perspectives and outlooks in the ranks can help. It doesn't seem to make much sense to him that the left would uniformly abandon the armed forces.

I thought this was all very reasonable and asked him more about his conception of citizenship, since he seemed a person who reflected on his role as a member of society. Plus, I'm sort of interested in how folks think about themselves before and after they engage in the public. Here is what he said, in a paraphrased kind of way:
When you look at individual people, by and large, you get a sense that folks are insular and self-absorbed—not worth too much commitment and sacrifice. But, when you conceptualize community and society as a whole, it becomes easier to pledge your allegiance to people once you remember the more active-types who take time to develop, debate, and vote on the issues, who do good works for society, and seem all-in-all dedicated to others. These model-citizens, in a way, redeem society, and make it easier to establish and maintain commitment to the citizenry.
In order to become and stay committed to society, my friend relies on a fairly active visualization of good citizenship and good citizens. It seemed like something out of Habits of the Heart and went a long in way in explaining his decision to go into the law and the military.

4 Comments:

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I can`t make that rally (Jean)....I don`t need any information on the HST, perhaps I can attend a future rally, I did partake in last night`s phone town hall meeting with Adrian..

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