JVP Speaks: What is Civic Duty?

Project Civility is in full swing at Rutgers, whether you noticed it or not. The initiative’s aim is to get people to ask questions about what it means to be part of a community, about how people should treat one another, and what can be done to improve the quality of people’s treatment of others. Of course, the whole initiative is voluntary rather than mandatory, which means that, chances are, one likely won’t be prompted to participate in Project Civility in one’s day to day. At the very least, I’ve yet to be prompted, so I figured that I’d prompt myself and my fellow JVPers to participate in Project Civility with this week’s question: Should America have a notion of civic duty if it doesn’t already? Why or why not? If so, what should it entail?

Alex Giannattasio: Civic duty is the moral imperative that members of society actively protect the rights of society as a whole. There are many ways to fulfill this duty, one of which, for instance, is voting. By collectively engaging in the democratic process, our society as a group agrees to work out its differences peacefully in exchange for giving everyone a voice. This in turn sets a baseline for the group’s peaceful coexistence to stand upon, thus preserving the basic rights of every individual.

But voting is not the only way to engage one’s civic duty. Voting takes such a small effort that the possible impact per person is diluted anywhere from hundreds to millions of times over. A more active way to meet one’s civic duty is to work in one’s local community to improve the quality of life of the most needy, and to just improve it in some valuable way. We as a nation are in fact living up to this now: community engagement in America is at very high levels, with 111 million Americans volunteering their time in the past 12 months and 60 million volunteering on a regular basis. The Future of American Power by Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Foreign Affairs, Vol. 89, No. 6, at 10. Community engagement bears a much bigger impact per person and improves the quality of the community in which you live. In the short term, this kind of civic participation can be much more valuable to a nation as a whole, because it translates into social improvement at an extremely efficient cost.

Michael Stuzynski: Americans have a sense of civic duty because after over 200 years people are still somewhat conscious of the concept of the Revolutionary War. The fact that people fought and died for your right to vote, among other things, is everywhere in culture, and is reiterated with every new war that our country fights. It’s less a sense of a duty and more a sense of a responsibility that is owed to the respectful remembrance of people from the past. But it’s also pretty cool that you can be responsible for firing the leader of the free world, and all of his oafish minions.

Jhoany Benitez: When I first read this question, I was immediately going to answer “Yes, definitely. It’s your right, so, why not? People in Cuba wish they could make a difference.” But then I opted to put some real thinking into my answer and ended up completely changing my mind. So my real answer is No. I think that the United States shouldn’t have a notion of civic duty. Why? Because people should not be forced to do something. Voting, to be exact. “It’s your right as a citizen!” Does this mean that I have to run out and vote—even if I don’t even know who I’m voting for? That’s why I changed my mind. Because I remembered hearing from friends who opted not to vote because they knew nothing about the people running.

Also, let’s say that you hate Republicans…but you don’t even know who’s running for either party. Does that mean that you’re going to vote for whoever’s representing the Democratic party even if you know nothing about them? This is where the notion of civic duty fails. I think it’s better to not vote than to shove down people’s throat the belief that it’s their “civic duty” to vote and have them vote blindly. So I say No to civic duty. Vote because you care, not because someone’s telling you to do so.

Dave Imbriaco: To me, civic duty is what is expected of a citizen in return for living within a system that allows them certain rights and freedoms – the RESPONSIBILITIES that come with those freedoms, if you will. There was a point in this country not too long ago when everyone who took high school social studies classes learn not only about how government works but how they must also actively participate in it. This seems to have all but died in our modern education, which is a tragedy of epic proportions. The mantra of a good social studies class went that it creates not only good students but good citizens. Also, it wouldn’t be called our “duty” if it was an easy thing to do. It sucks to choose between a giant douche and a turd sandwich, but you, as a citizen, still have the duty to make that choice because you live in a democracy. There are countless other ways you can get involved in a democracy but this is the most basic of all. /rambling.

Billal Ahmed: I find it interesting that while young people often have no problem condemning strict notions of what it means to be a good Muslim or Christian as a danger to global security, they hesitate to criticize civic duty for the same reasons. I have no problem with the idea of improving a nation through the idea of civic duty, whether through volunteering, teaching, building, etc. However, I blame civic duty for the prevalence of worrisome nationalism which inevitably begins to infringe on the rights of others. Civic duty easily leads to civic elitism, which reinforces the notion that a particular nation is special and requires extremely lamentable acts to be carried out in order to preserve that status. One could argue that civic duty is a fundamental motivation for the vigilante bands currently patrolling the United States border with Mexico. One could also argue that civic duty lead to the vengeance-fueled invasion of Afghanistan nine years ago with Operation Anaconda, which was blinded by passion and thus badly disorganized. Civic duty is excellent under the same conditions that religious zealotry can be considered excellent- when it is used to fuel the betterment of humanity rather than the suffering of others.

Brian Connolly: We pay taxes…so, we already all do have a notion of civic duty. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great outlet for people who have the time, energy, and willingness to help their fellow countrymen (and countrywomen, out). But, quite frankly, people have live’s to live. If you want to run a YMCA program for underprivileged youth–knock yourself out, you’ll probably feel great doing it. But in no way should America institute a mandatory system of community building exercises. That encroaches on the freedoms that we have. And, as an interesting reminder, historical precedents that include an overwhelmingly strong concept of national duty include Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Just a thought.

Rebecca Zandstein: Civic duty, being the responsibilities of a citizen are demanded by America to some extent. Citizen’s are required to pay taxes and obey all laws of the state in which they live or are traveling to and the federal laws. Aside from the latter give or take a few citizens are expected to follow other rules that are not necessarily obligatory or concrete: like voting and being morally just to one another. While America does provide citizens with a code that they must follow I believe that the “unspoken law” should be followed as well due to the positive effects it can have on society and the individual(s). Civic duty allows individuals to participate in activities that many would literally die for the opportunity to do. Civic duty can assist others, whether below or above you in the hierarchy, in a manner that no one else might necessarily have the capability of. Regardless of the latter, America can only enforce a limited amount of written code/rules on its citizens despite that it might be tempted to enact the “unwritten code” onto its citizens as well. Unwritten civic duties are optional and those who view them as mandated have the benefit of, at a minimum, being viewed in a brighter light than other citizens.

Marlana Moore: There are certain attributes that make a person a good, admirable human being, regardless of nationality. When I think of civic duty, I think of those things I can do to be a good and responsible person in context to my identity as an American. Civic duty includes voting, obviously, but voting entails some other duties as well. In order to vote responsibly, you have to be aware of the candidates and know what they stand for. Similarly, being a responsible American involves knowing what your government is doing, and telling them what you think about it. I think if more Americans really took this attitude of their civic duty seriously, our government would not feel so removed from us, and we might instead feel that they are helping us.

Ben Kharakh: I think that America lacks both a cohesive and shared vision of what it means to be a good citizen and the means by which the virtues of good citizenry are to be cultivated. Rather than wait, however, for the government to improve or for people to start discussing what it means to be a “good American”, it’s up to those people who desire reform and deliberation to be the change they wish to see. That means asking one’s self, “What can I do to be a good citizen?”, which is the same as asking one’s self, “What can I do to be a good person?”

It’s important to be a good person for a number of reasons, one of which is that the way we treat others teaches them how to treat us, something that’s easier to discern on a micro scale with a family than on the macro scale with a nation. A nation, however, is just a family with a lot of people, which means that it simply takes longer for the treatment that we’ve taught others to come back around and affect us. But it will, it does, and we are seeing the affects of now more than ever. Not that this is anything new; we just didn’t have TV and Internet 2,000 years ago.

Who’s to blame for this? No one or everyone; take your pick. Personally, I find the question of, “Who’s responsible?” less useful than, “What do I do?” It’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately.

Brendan Kaplan: By “sense” I think what you mean is cohesive whole, picture, or gestalt.

Any position on the matter, even one devoid of commitment to civic duty is nonetheless a sense. We HAVE a sense… is it the right one?

I think the question really is then, what type of sense of civic duty should individual Americans have? How does this sense impact the greater country as a whole?

Things tend to function fractally, and that means the the number one thing you can do to change the country is to change yourself. To determine what type of country we should have, is to contemplate what type of people we should be. In short, by asking if there is a proper type of civic orientation, we are asking ourselves if we think that there is a proper way to act or not.

I am of the mindset that there is. I guess then, that I believe that we as individuals, and therefore collectively as a country, should maintain a set of behavioral standards. Our question further suggests that those personal standards that I think we should maintain are relevant to the way the nation functions as a whole.

OK, so what standards should these be?

I think it is very difficult to predict how any process will manifest in any specific situation. The content may be different for different people. For example, to become more well rounded, a really rich arrogant kid might be well served by working in a field for a week and being treated with little importance, while an illegal day-worker might truly benefit from being prodded to act arrogant and demand Pellegrino sent to his table. The content of the process of balance is different depending on the direction any particular actor is coming from.

Thus, by realizing that individuals can attain balance by acting in seemingly divergent ways, and considering that a cohesive national “feeling of duty” would necessarily account for these diverse methods of balance, a true and proper sense of civic duty would have to connect and encompass all of these facets.

Our duty must be then to translate the experiences of individuals within the country into content that others can understand as of the same process as their own. Civic duty isn’t about symmetrization, as in what I call ‘the new diversity’ whose maxim reads “Nobody can be discriminated against, therefore everyone has to be exactly the same [when measured against pre-approved factors such as income, education, wealth, aptitude]” Instead, civic duty is about recognizing the differences in the individual stories that become aggregated into cultures and nations, and elevating those differences as the welcome product of a highly specialized humanity that has evolved traditions and customs that allow it to live in a variety of situations.

Interaction between these different cultures must be facilitated in such a way as to not allow the willful destruction of a culture simply for the sake of its destruction.

Civic duty, then, is about communication, accountability, and rights. These days, accountability is so often lost as people are reluctant to suggest that an individual’s perspective might be flawed for fear of offending a cultural perspective. To compensate, these same people often become overly concerned with communication or rights, and end up as misguided activists, protesting anyone and anything in their paths.

A further revision then: Civic duty is about a mediation of communication, accountability (consequences/ resolutions), and rights. Those concerned about their civic duty engage in processes that further these three ideals.

Way to go JVP!!

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JVP Speaks: Are you going to vote?

Hello and welcome to JVP Speaks! In this soon-to-be-a-recurring-feature, contributors will kick-off a discussion on a particular topic by writing on a single prompt. This week the JVP asked itself: are you voting? Why or why not? Feel free to answer the question yourself, comment on any of our answers, and to generally get the ball rolling on this important topic! Here’s what we had to say: Jhoany Benetiz: I believe that this upcoming election is crucial. People are losing trust in our president and the Democratic Party, which I find very upsetting. I think that people need to learn to be patient and not expect drastic changes overnight. My family and I have been affected by the recession, so I totally understand why people are growing desperate and need things to improve. But, still, people should not lose hope like that. Obama’s doing what he can. I know that not everyone agrees with this. I constantly hear my professors urge us to vote on Tuesday and make a difference. But, unfortunately, I will not be voting. Why? Because I’m a permanent resident and only American citizens can vote. Isn’t that something? But I would vote if I could. Believe me! Brendan Kaplan: Yes, I will be voting. I’m more concerned with keeping my pulse on the local state of things rather than any of the other races. Also, I’m going to be voting in Princeton, my hometown community. I’ve heard a lot over the past few years about students needing to make a bigger difference in the political landscape of New Brunswick. I think that that is great, as long as one plans on staying in (or owning property in) this city. Aside from that, I think a more genuine way to give back to the community that more or less graciously provides us a place to study is through local community action rather that local community politics. True service can’t be put on a resume and should be undertaken as a means to an end, in this case hopefully a healthier community. Additionally, there are a number of issues that are important to me in good old P-town. My parents still live and own property there. There are also a number of changes happening downtown there, especially with the construction of the new hospital getting closer and closer to completion. I’m going to follow the progress there with a watchful eye, and hope everyone takes the time to lend their own personal expertise to their hometown races. We grew up there, we know the issues. Bilal Ahmed: This question does not entirely pertain to me because I am a Canadian citizen. However, I would advise people to register their dissent. I understand that voting sometimes appears to be a means of enabling a broken system, but I have watched enough news programs in the United States to know that most statistics are based on registered voters rather than eligible ones. The only way for your decision not to vote to have any effect on how party politics are conducted is to register before staying home on Election Day. I realize that some will argue that both parties are fundamentally flawed, but I have noticed that most objections to the American political process in this area of the country come from frustrations with the Democrat Party. They are labeled as spineless, cowardly, and unable to take a firm stance on issues such as Afghanistan. If I were able to vote in the 2010 election, I would register as a Democrat and remain at home in protest because of President Obama’s decision to escalate the war. I’d register in protest of the Afghan troop surge, as I believe it to be a political compromise that relegates bloodshed to an international theater rather than risking it in Congress. President Obama has decided to place life and human morality below American party politics, and in response I would register my disapproval. Matia Guardabascio: Yes. I will be voting in the election. I am voting because it is my civic duty to do so. I am voting because I want to make sure I did my part to help the country avoid the wrath of incompetent politicians. Voting in a state—Massachusetts— that is historically Democratic (except for Scott Brown), my voting day is less of a hot spot than most. Still, the gubernatorial race up here has been heated and I am anxious to cast my vote for a man who has done a good job as governor for the last four years. I am also anxious to remind Barney Frank that he will always win his district back home, in spite of the lies and propaganda spewing from the other side. And given the issues on the ballot this year (particularly the lowering of taxes), I feel obligated to go out and vote to make sure that the reasonable and responsible decision is made. Mike Stuzynski: I’m voting because, even though I have honestly lost faith in politics, a right un-exercised is a right lost. And my faith in politics will be restored only when everyone who voted for the bailout is no longer in office. Ask Alex G if he remembers how exciting it was last year when we found out that the House of Reps rejected it the first time. We had quite the celebration, and that was honestly the last time I really thought that the government was paying attention to my interests and wishes. The current health care law is a joke, but you’d only find that out if you read the entire thing (hint: it’s long). Listen to the media and they either criticize it for the wrong reasons (the asinine–but possibly true–notion that it’s an unconstitutional use of the commerce clause) or emphasize one or two talking points again and again. The bill failed to establish the goal of government run health care, but also did little to change the already highly structured and monopolistic private health insurance industry. Instead of using the natural force of private competition to drive costs of care down, the law allows insurance providers to divide up the market and keep prices artificially high. Because of all this, the law just does more harm than good. It’s like you sent your buddies out for beer, and they come back with a keg of O’Douls, and you still have to pay for it! Alex Draine: It was my intention to vote, but I will not be voting because the great state of New Jersey has failed to send me my absentee ballot in a timely fashion. Either that or the US postal service lost my application for an absentee ballot in its journey to Trenton. Dave Imbriaco: I plan on voting today and in every future election. Why? Because it’s the LEAST that a responsible citizen can do in a democracy. I know it’s a trite expression, but democracy is not a spectator sport. You can’t expect to have your interests represented in government if you don’t take the time one day a year to cast a ballot, and that is really the barest minimum that someone who considers themselves a responsible citizen can do. I would never expect for people to get as involved in politics as I do (doing what I do requires a bit of insanity), but I truly don’t understand why people don’t vote (well I do, I just tend to think their reasons for not doing so are stupid). It doesn’t matter if your choice is between a giant douche and a turd sandwich (credit: South Park), you still have a choice to make. If voting was always an easy thing to do, it wouldn’t be called a civic DUTY. You are lucky enough to be born in a country where you have the fucking chance to shape your own government, anyone who puts that down is an unappreciative asshole in my book. Moreso, it’s ESPECIALLY important that us young people get out to the polls. Do you all really expect our parents’ and grandparents’ to solve all the problems that they created? If the American youth doesn’t step up and assert themselves and demand their place in American politics, no one will give it to them and we’re fucked as a generation and a county. The day that I’m convinced that my vote doesn’t mean anything, you’ll find me on the front lines of the second revolution. Marlana Moore: I am going home to vote on Tuesday. My dad is running for council in my very small town, and he needs every vote he can get. I should have just voted by mail, but I forgot to get the ballot. I am not sure if my vote will matter all too much. In fact, I haven’t yet looked up the other candidates. The last two elections have been pretty big ones, and I guess I have seen the most aggressive campaigning in other states that are voting on senators. As a culture, we stress the gubernatorial and senatorial candidates so much more than local county positions even though that is the sphere where your vote has the most direct impact. But does anyone know who is on the Board of Freeholders, or even what they do? How about the County Sheriff? I don’t, and I think that I should. In Merchantville, I know that my vote will count, at least personally. I will probably continue to vote, just because I can. Rebecca Zandstein: I will be voting in the elections on November 2nd. I do not think I can complain about certain local legislation and actions being taken by our House representative if I did not at least vote. Voting is the minimum that is asked of us to do as out civic duty [as citizens]; voting is an easy way to go out and show that I care about what happens within my district. I do not approve of those who complain about budgets and taxes (cuts and increases) and free markets versus extensive restrictions on businesses when they did not even vote for a candidate who abides by their ideology. Furthermore, voting encourages education: one needs to know the core values behind each candidate and many times research is required for values that are not understood in depth. Educating oneself within society for the benefit of self and others is, in my opinion, a primary benefit to voting. Ben Kharakh: While I’m currently of the opinion that voting is less than the least that one can do, I also recognize that the government exists. A lot of times people get caught up in criticizing and theorizing without admitting that, hey, the world is a particular way right now. If you’re going to try to change anything in anyway, you’re better off taking the current state-of-affairs into consideration. So, I will vote. At first I was going to pick the candidates who seemed like they’d come closest to voting in the manner that I would vote, but they all fell short of that standard. And that’s based on websites designed with the purpose of making the candidates look good! So, rather than voting based on who I think will do the most good, I will vote based on who I think will do the least damage.

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Feminism is Not a Dirty Word ~ Marlana Moore

“I’m not a feminist, but…”

I hear this phrase a lot, and I suppose that at one point in time I was guilty of using it too. However, just as I grew out of my Hot Topic shopping habits and eventually realized that my seventh grade obsession with wearing cat ears to school was embarrassing, I have outgrown my previously immature attitudes. What my aversion was, and what others’ continue to be, is a misconstrued vision of what a feminist is. If the thought that a feminist is a dirty hippie who burns her bras and never washes her hair, who scorns men every chance she can, and devotes her free time demonstrating at pro-choice rallies, then believe me, I am no feminist. However, if these strange social conventions are stripped from the word, and for example, the world sees feminism as the Oxford English Dictionary defines it, “advocacy of the rights of women (based on the theory of equality of the sexes),” then maybe more people would understand that they are in fact feminists.

Think of it this way: if I were to say, “I am not a Rutgers student, but I take all of my classes at Rutgers,” something would sound off. By taking Rutgers classes at any of the three campuses, I am a Rutgers student. Because I fulfill the only criteria necessary to be a student at Rutgers, not identifying as one makes me sound ridiculous. The same goes for those who say, “I am not a feminist, but I believe women should have the same rights as men,” or something analogous. The criteria for being a feminist is fulfilled, yet the person chooses not to identify as one. For some reason, this is an overwhelmingly acceptable attitude. The whole idea strikes me as absurd.

The problem lies in the general attitude toward feminists, and in turn how feminism is perceived. For example, instead of defining a Rutgers student as one who attends Rutgers classes, I have defined the term as a person who attends Rutgers football games. Therefore, I am not a Rutgers student because I do not attend Rutgers football games. It is true that many Rutgers students attend the football games at the brand new stadium on Busch campus, and many Rutgers students also wear Rutgers attire. Though these characteristics describe Rutgers students, they are not conditions of being a Rutgers student. In the same way, certain characteristics that are ascribed to feminists do not make a person a feminist.

Case in point, on a Friday night in my apartment before going out, my female friend interjects that she would like to put on some make up before we left. A certain male friend gives her a funny look and says, “Why are you putting on make up? I thought you were a feminist.” And in the next thirty seconds he got schooled in how taking pride in your appearance as a woman does not contradict feminist values. In fact, feminists can take any number of shapes from women’s studies majors to housewives to even men. Because the “feminazi” stereotype first perpetuated by Rush Limbaugh has run rampant through the American vernacular, feminism is something to fear, like a militant state run by Hitler or “woman power” in the same way as the Neo-Nazi “White Power.” These associations retard the social progress necessary for women to finally achieve equal rights as men.

Though since the Woman’s Suffrage movement of the 1920s, America has come a far way in extending equal rights to women. However, if we concede this to be a victory and render feminism no longer necessary, we will lose far more in the long run. If women were equal to men in American society today, then women would be paid the same as men, women would not have to worry about sexual harassment, abuse or assault. Just readBen’s article from two weeks ago to see how these issues are handled at Rutgers. If we look around the world at these issues, we will see that of the 2.5 million people forced into labor, 43% are forced into commercial sexual exploitation. 98% of these people are women and girls.

We need to be feminists for these women. We need to stand up for women’s rights for all those who do not have the same fundamental rights as men. When we deny feminism and we are scared to identify as feminists, then we turn a blind eye to the women who are treated profoundly unequal to their male counterparts. Feminism is absolutely necessary in our culture today, if not to recognize that inequality both exists and abounds in our world. When we allow for the “Feminazi” stereotype to persist, we give a victory to those who want to oppress women or make us believe that these issues do not exist anymore. They clearly do. And for this reason, feminism should not be a dirty word. You are a feminist, and so am I.

___________________

Photo courtesy of novaseeker.wordpress.com

(http://novaseeker.wordpress.com/category/feminism/page/2/)

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