Public spirited for what?

At my age I could just fade out quietly with my pension and health benefit, while hoping there’s still enough funding for my future survival as a member of the aging population. Yet somehow I carry on imagining I have something to offer. Why? It’s partly personal – with no children I don’t want my mother’s efforts for me wasted. But then observing the world suggests some questions to raise.

Admiration for public-spirited and patriotic people is as old as humanity’s first gathering into clans and tribes, with the dream of converting us from self-indulgent consumers into active citizens being only the latest variation on the theme. Unfortunately, there are as many ways of being public-spirited and a citizen as there are of moving around. No doubt supporters of the current wave of nationalist populisms believe themselves to be the very model of patriotic, active citizens. Their liberal or left antagonists are just as sure of their concern for the public welfare. So the question arises: What should we be citizens of? Or, what welfare should we take care of?

Closely related is the current fashion for everyone from Corbyn to Erdogan to be challenging the ‘establishment’ on behalf of the people. I can’t help wondering who are the establishment? Maybe Wall Street denizens are beginning to feel just a little lonely?

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