February 5, 2013

The Role of Politics and Active Citizenry in the World

 “In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.” – George Orwell

The activity of politics has been vilified by many for its ability to evoke imagery of sex scandals (cue Malaysian politician Chua Soi Lek and American politician Anthony Wiener’s sex-texts), hot-headed men and women throwing chairs in Parliament in Taiwan, smoke bombs in Ukraine, glasses of water in the Israeli Knesset, and the ubiquitous television broadcasts of turgid congressional proceedings. Such is the spook that is “politics”.

Politics is essential for the overall good of human societies, as it is the manner in which a society chooses its leaders and makes decisions about national policy, allowing every citizen to be actively involved. Politics has been pilloried for its evocative imagery of meaningless debate and conflict. However, many do not realize that such conflict is the cornerstone of a functioning democracy.

It is natural and obligatory that a democratic nation is divided along political or ideological lines, ripe for conflict, because this is the manner in which an active citizenry manifests itself. Active citizens are persons from diverse walks of life, like students, teachers, road sweepers, and stock brokers who engage in popular discourse, keeping abreast of alternative views. When a nation is divided, an action by a political faction will elicit a reaction by another faction. A contestation of opinions across the spectrum of individual perspectives results. Like the Taoist symbol of yin and yang, there is an equilibrium of potent and countervailing forces which regulate and balance each other. This equilibrium guarantees that every strata of society is represented in the national discourse on issues of sensitive character, such as homosexual rights, healthcare, and welfare. Conflict ensures that every citizen plays his part in building the nation by fighting for his beliefs and values and paying his dues – time and effort – towards the privilege of being a citizen of his nation.

An Active Citizenry has many functions. An Active Citizenry acts as the third line of defense against an unchecked ruling party, alongside opposition parties and civil society, if it abuses its powers. It plays a huge and meaningful role in national discourse by analyzing national issues and controversial policies.

To ensure that every citizen stay engaged, all world governments must ensure that a set of conditions is fulfilled. These are:

• Citizens must be sufficiently educated to create a society of active citizens. Preferably, university-educated citizens should make up the bulk of our Active Citizenry. University students must be taught a subject that encourages critical thinking, like the International Baccalaureate’s Theory of Knowledge to ensure that they peruse all news articles and opinions with a pinch of salt, searching for evidence to justify claims given by politicians and journalists alike.

• There has to be the freedom of speech and inquiry for an Active Citizenry to stretch its roots and take hold in the soil. All views, whether of equal value, should be treated equally. Each view carries a unique perspective from an active citizen, and thus must be prized accordingly. Even if bigoted in content, a countervailing view would rebut logical and factual errors and defeat the harm factor of the offensive view. Censorship must be abolished, and eventually eliminated as an educated citizenry acquires critical thinking skills.

• All world governments must free up resources spent on enforcing punitive laws against free speech and the right to hold demonstrations and protests, utilizing these peace dividends to foster the creation of a strong civil society. ” Demonstrations and protests are not inherently wrong, as it is only constitutional that an Active Citizen in a democratic society be allowed to speak publicly of his point of view. The fear of demonstrations and protests turning violent can be tempered by enforcing police protection, barriers separating the public from the protesters, and rules on marches.

Critical thinking, activated through the augmentation of an Active Society, is the key to unlocking every nation’s true potential. In the ideal society of the future, when an Active Citizen reads a fallacious article which does not cite adequate justification, he has enough sense to judge its veracity. He arms himself with the tools of critical thinking. For example, Knowledge and Inquiry, a GCE “A” Level subject similar to the International Baccalaureate’s Theory of Knowledge and studied by many junior college students in Singapore, imparts critical thinking skills and assesses a student based on his ability to detect fallacies and factual errors in an article. Argument and inquiry must be treated as a basis for interaction in the new dawn of the Active Citizenry.

Civil society also plays a part in the discourse. With an Active Citizenry, civil society organizations receive more donations and volunteers for political and social action, manifesting a vibrant society of competing citizens who agree to disagree. This new Activist Culture sets forth a new generation of activists who tie up loose ends – affairs the government has neglected or ignored, minorities disenfranchised and indigent, and national threats overlooked through oversight. This new breed of activists builds social capital – the norms, networks, and social trust that enhances collaboration and cooperation for the benefit of society, and unites society into a community of mutually dependent individuals that works towards the collective wellbeing. Effective social groups which are united by social capital, strong bonds of trust and friendship, are more likely to have a scorecard of successful development and mutual assistance. However, to activate the new activist culture, it must be combined with the catalyst of an Active Citizenry that must surely need a vibrant and free political scene to set the transformation in motion.

Politics is never a game of black snow and white shadows, but a medley of rainbow cake and Trix cereal – you may not like eating it, but it pleases the eye with its cornucopia of flashy colours. If citizens engage society and the government actively, national debates over politics and ideology would no longer be meaningless. Let power grow out of our mouths and tongues, not out of the barrel of a gun.

About the Author

Bernard Lim
Would Bernard consider himself idealistic? Yes, if the world could and will be better with the existence of grand ideals anchored in his mind. Change the world, was what the tea leaves said when he first drank tea. A heart for the less fortunate got him to where he is now, a man eager to change his surroundings, agitates for social justice, and never content till his reason hollers "Aye!" He envisions his life heading towards one of 4 distinct paths: a social activist, a political science and history professor, a politician, or a happy-go-lucky globetrotter. Watch him soar.


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