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This is our evolving thinking on the core ‘purpose’ of what we’re doing.  Comments/challenges/builds hugely appreciated!

We live in a time of widespread apathy, deep uncertainty, and mass political disengagement.  The many different roles that we as individuals play in our society – parents, voters, employees, shareholders, and many more besides – have become dominated by one: the Consumer.

But despite the story we tell ourselves in the media every day, we are people, not just Consumers.

We still care just as deeply as anyone ever has, perhaps more so.  We have the same desire to shape the context of our own lives as human beings have always had, and the same will to work together to do so.  As a society, we are reclaiming the agency of the Citizen, refusing to limit our impact merely to what we buy.  It’s bubbling everywhere.

The New Citizenship Project exists to catalyse this cultural shift.  We are creative strategists, making visible the opportunities in the system to which the Consumer mindset makes us blind.  We seek the points where the energy for change already exists, and we give it a boost.  These points can be anywhere – from corporate giants to charities, from government to community organisations.  Our work might be with Tesco and their marketing agencies, seizing the moment they have created around food waste to talk to their customers as Citizens; supporting shareholder activist organisations to push people to think of their shares as ownership not just a financial transaction; or originating a hub for creative projects to reinvigorate democracy around the next election.

Is being a ‘Citizen’ such a good thing?

Yes.  The concept of the Citizen carries within it three key ideas.  The Citizen is located, having an affiliation to place and community that goes beyond the financial transaction; she is empowered, shaping the context of her own life, choosing how to run the restaurant not just picking between items on the menu; and most importantly, she is a moral agent, comfortable with the fact that her actions have consequences, and that she can shape those consequences.  We need these three ideas to be fully free and fully human, and right now we are missing them deeply.

But is being a ‘Consumer’ such a bad thing?

Yes, when it dominates the other roles we have as individuals in society.  An increasing body of evidence from social psychology, philosophy, and political science indicates that to the extent that people are addressed as Consumers, they are not just unhappier as individuals but also less motivated to deal with collective issues, whether social or ecological, local or global.  This is a root problem.  That is not to say people shouldn’t consume.  But consume is a verb, not a noun, and that matters.  People can consume.  But they must not be Consumers.

This is the future.

Only fear of change and the inferiority complex bred into us by years of telling ourselves we are Consumers hold back this shift.  Big businesses can benefit in the short term from deeper relationships with their customers, and in the long term embrace a new future as more integrated members of society; and all players on the political spectrum can find common cause in a more genuinely participatory democracy.

All that remains is to make it happen.

 

3 thoughts on “Our working manifesto: calling out a problem – and an opportunity

  1. I very much appreciate this manifesto. Consumerism seems to divide the people, wherein “a consumer” is only concerned with their own consumption. I do believe, however, that consumers would be motivated to deal with collective issues, when such issues affect their own consumption. The same goes for voters, politicians, and employees. They all deal with collective issues when the issue affects them directly. However, like you mentioned “consumer” is a root problem and I do believe that it affects all aspects of life. It is when we view each other as moralized citizens that we may begin to act on collective issues for the wellbeing of our neighbor rather than purely the self.

  2. I saw Jon’s excellent talk at Compass’s ChangeHow event on Sunday (8th Feb) and felt that his critique of social change: Subject – Consumer – Citizen paralleled the model of human development: Dependant – Independent – Interdependent. Society, like individuals, has to grow up. . .

    • Thanks Tobias, very interesting thought. A couple of things spring to mind. First another reference – this piece from the Institute of Chartered Accounts of England and Wales explores the idea of qualitative growth, the notion that every organism goes through a phase of quantitative growth (increase in size) then qualitative (increase in ‘quality’) – with the implication that human society needs to make this shift now. Second a challenge that your thought raises, which is one I’ve thought about a lot: do you have to go through Consumerism to get to Citizenship? If so, what does that mean for India, China, etc? Answers on a postcard…!

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