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Mel Brennan

VP - Programs and Initiatives,


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Is there a difference between being a citizen and being a consumer? Does it matter?

I was told by my son's teachers that his school couldn't emphasize the tools of a citizen life during the school day because rigorous national and state standards left little time for "extras." Then one day he came home with an extracurricular economics booklet that defined him, my wife and I, and his sister not as citizens, but as consumers. Not as human beings who in the course of their citizen day might have consumer interests and behaviors, but, definitively, as consumers, a way of seeing Self, Other and the Group from which everything else sprung. Of course, we experience this way of describing ourselves from lots of outlets, everyday.

Question: is there a difference between being a citizen and being a consumer? Does it matter?


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    Feb 18 2011: Its more than semantics, in my view. Citizenship is about being possessed of authentic and actionable information by which one can make the informed decisions to make America better and fit America into an interdependent world. Being a consumer is to participate and/or persist in a process of economic consumption. One way of seeing and being inthe world gives primacy to the act of consumption, another locates that act within all kinds of other considerations, in fact reduces it to one of a spectrum of things one might do in the course of making the nation and the world.

    Is that a distinction that makes a difference?
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      Feb 18 2011: Riiiiight.... and by that logic, if you're a "user", it means all you do is "use" stuff (all stuff) for your selfish interests, without caring about how it was created and you never create anything. Still following this logic, what do you call the "users" of development and design programs?

      Do you see the contradition in the last statement? The point I'm trying to make is similar to the one Jordan Miller makes, though I'm giving you a more closer analogy to the "consumer" bit (while Jordan gives good analogies to "citizen").

      The point is it's all relative. Relative to the context and perspective.

      Why should I, as a developer, care for "citizens" in general (them being able to make America better and everything else you said), where all that matters in my context is the people who'd use my program (regardless of what the term for them was)?

      In similar context, why should your son, as an economist, care for the qualities that define a "citizen" where all that matters in that context is their effect on the economy, which is split into people that consume - consumers, people that trade with people that consume - merchants, and people that provide the goods and services - producers, and perhaps a few other kinds of "citizens" I'm missing.

      In biology, why should you care if someone is a citizen or not, where all that matters in that context is their physical/biological characteristics that define all citizens and non-citizens as "humans"?

      In politics, why should American politicians consider all humans where all that really matters in their context is the will of the legal residents of their country, i.e. all of their citizens?
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        Feb 25 2011: i disagree wholeheartedly. What you are talking about is rhetoric. We cant compartmentalize society like that. We are integrated beings in an integrated world, complex. To separate these roles demonstrates a lack of empathy and a lack of concern for your neighbors , your community, and your humanity. its cold. And it is the problem with the world. As a manufacturer of weapons of mass destruction (or production), if I work at Lockheed Martin, why should i care if I'm murdering humans in the masses for private gain--its my job--to me, they are not consumers or citizens or humans--they are fodder, they are enemy, they are terrorists.

        Life, the economy, science, needs to be more holistic--we have common origins and needs and strong together, nothing, if apart.

        Social networking is a kind of demonstration for holistic development and the power it manifests.
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          Feb 25 2011: This may come as a surprise, but I actually agree with you. Our points aren't in conflict really.

          From now on, I shall have more empathy for every member of an organized society, regardless of my exchange with them. And as proof, I shall do below what every book should do (or at least what the topic appears to be about) - refer to every such member as a citizen, with all implications of that - while reaffirming your point:

          Citizens who make weapons of mass destruction need to realize what they're doing is likely to kill innocent citizens and non-citizens and just maybe along with non-innocent citizens and non-innocent non-citizens. We all know citizens who lead societies will just abuse those to threaten killing innocent citizens and innocent non-citizens lead by another citizen who leads another society.

          Citizens who among other things study economy need to know citizens and even non-citizens can do all sorts of stuff within society. The economic effects they're aware of - citizens who among other things study economy or citizens who make all kinds of stuff (including weapons of mass destruction/production) or citizens who among other things buy all sorts of things (including weapons of mass destruction/production) - is just part of the full picture.

          Citizens who among other things make programs for any citizen and non-citizen to use need to know every citizen and non-citizen can be much more valuable to society than simply being a citizen or non-citizen that uses their program, like for example being a citizen who also among other things makes programs for any citizen and non-citizen to use.

          Citizens who among other things study biology need to acknowledge the effect of citizens and non-citizens alike to society when studying citizens and non-citizens' organisms.

          I wish good luck to anyone trying to make citizens who among other things write books see this and have more empathy for all citizens and non-citizens alike.

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