On Bill McKibben and Citizenship

The following are notes I made for a short essay that I never wrote.

At a talk that Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, gave at the University of Hawai‘i in April, he said two things that I hope to use as guiding principles in 2014:

  1. It's in our role as citizens that we have fallen down.
  2. We should not spend time perfecting our own lives.

These acts are entwined, of course: if we attempt to be good citizens, we will spend less time "perfecting" our individual lives; and if we spend our time in ways that are beneficial to society, we will realize the good citizenship on which societies rest.

The fact that citizenship comes not only with rights and privileges but also with duties and responsibilities can easily escape those of us who live in a consumer-driven place like the United States. The U.S. economy depends on us "perfecting" our lives by acquiring nice cars, assuming mortgages to buy homes, wearing the latest fashions in shoes and clothes, going on vacation trips, amassing credit-card debt, and so forth.

Rather than use the currency of money, McKibben suggests we develop a new kind: that of social movements based on the exercise of good citizenship.