The results are in on the first question in the Forward Thinking project, launched by former FTBers Dan Fincke and Libby Anne. Libby has a roundup of some of the responses to their first question: What is civic responsibility? There’s a lot of really thoughtful answers to the question and they’re all very much worth reading. Ian Cromwell, as always, provokes much thought with his response:
As with most values-driven issues, my understanding of civic responsibility lies between two divergent value axioms. First, there is the recognition that our presence in a society confers a duty to take care of each other. No individual exists without some level of input from each other – a social infrastructure of laws and values and instrumental assistance exists. We are not in a position to remove ourselves from the implications of this social contract, and have a corresponding obligation to participate in it.
The second and competing value is that of individual autonomy – that it is unethical to compel someone to comply with a behaviour unless that person is interfering with the autonomy rights of another.
While he argues that civic responsibility is “a work-around for resolving the friction” between those two competing values, I tend to think of them as not being in conflict, at least in most cases (there are, of course, some questions that involve a genuine clash of rights). That’s what I meant when I said we have a civic responsibility to protect the rights of others even when their exercise of those rights bothers us (as opposed to harming us).