Don’t get me wrong: I love my 23-year-old daughter and her friends to bits, and admire them for how much street-smarter and better-educated than I was at their age. But I’m also extremely disappointed that, having long outgrown their childhoods and adolescences as trainee or apprentice citizens, or, if you prefer, as kiddizens and then zitizens, many of them have thus far failed to seize or even understand their rights, let alone their responsibilities as completely adult citizens.
Not that I’m really concerned that they’ll remain nit-witizens for very long, yet alone for life as so many apparently adult alleged citizens so doltishly do.
My daughter, for example, has started studying towards her ambition to become a civil-rights lawyer. So, like her half-brother, my elder son, who, following his early career as a barrister in Sydney, and his admission to the bar in both New York and London, now specialises in internet and corporate law, she will probably soon know more about citizenship than I could ever hope to.
Meanwhile, however, I can’t help seeing her sense of general outrage at what she sees as society’s countless unfairnesses and injustices as largely wasted. Because, while she resolutely exercises her right to vote, as a great many nit-witizens in Australia and other relatively democratic countries don’t bother doing, thus enabling the election of the dreadful Donald Trump as President of the US, for example, and the thus-far 60-year rule of the criminally corrupt and incompetent Umno/BN regime in Malaysia, she has very little idea of who or what she’s voting for or against, or why.
Because she, along with a great many of her friends and other contemporaries, apparently has very little idea of how the Australian or any other government works, or fails to work, and is also unaware of the fact that, as stated in Article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (see http://www.ohchr.org/EN/UDHR/Documents/UDHR_Translations/eng.pdf), citizenship comes not just with rights, but responsibilities.
For instance, every citizen’s right to be informed about government and other activities affecting his or her life by means of free and independent news media comes with the responsibility to keep him- or herself thus sufficiently informed as to vote intelligently.
But so far my daughter avoids the news like the plague for the reason that she finds it depressing to a literally pathological degree.
And I have to admit that I sympathise with her in this, as my virtually life-long addiction to the local and world news, plus 12 years of following the ever-more-depressing news about Malaysia’s kleptocracy sufficiently closely as to enable myself to write a column criticising it for one of the that country’s pitifully few sources of true and independent news and views, Malaysiakini, have proven major factors in my own periodic descents into depression.
But I also find that, besides the occasional resort to anti-depressants, as currently, the doing of my duty as a citizen that arises from my rights both to be informed by free media and to engage in free speech, not just orally and thus ineffectually in the pub, cafe or some other bull-session venue, but in writing for this blog or anywhere else I can get my rants published, engaging in criticism is a powerful antidote to despondency.
In other words (an expression that I’m conscious of using far too often, and therefore should probably employ for the title of the next column some publication offers me), I find active critizenship far more self-empowering and uplifting to my spirits than the practice of merely passive citizenship.
And I hope my lawyer-to-be daughter soon discovers this secret for herself, just as my veteran lawyer son long ago did, as evidenced by his book ‘lipstick on a Pig’ and his blog at http://www.sdj-pragmatist.blogspot.com
Similarly, my wife, formerly totally news-averse as a result of living the first 23 years of her life in Malaysia, and thus having only the ruling regime’s lying so-called ‘mainstream’ media to depend on for (mis)information, has finally had to confront much of the bad news head on in order to write her PhD thesis on aspects of Government and International Relations.
In summary, there’s no better remedy for feelings of ill-informed, impotent rage at the misdeeds of governments, bureaucracies, corporations and other potentially predatory and repressive organisations, and no more powerful protection against the ultimate penalty of nit-witizenship, namely being fleeced and otherwise flocked along with the rest of the citizensheep, than to practice citizenship to the point of critizenship.
And I hope for my darling daughter’s sake that she makes this discovery much earlier in life than I did.