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“Active Citizenry is a third line of defense”
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“Active Citizenry is a third line of defense”

Bernard LimPolitics is an inescapable fact of society, writes Bernard Lim, 19, of Singapore, but when government provides education and freedom of speech, active citizens contribute constructively to the national debate.

Politics has been vilified for its ability to evoke imagery of sex scandals (cue Malaysian politician Chua Soi Lek and American politician Anthony Wiener’s sex-texts), hot-headed men and women throwing chairs in Taiwan’s Parliament, smoke bombs in Ukraine, glasses of water in the Israeli Knesset.

It is also reviled for ubiquitous television broadcasts of turgid congressional proceedings. Such is the spook that is “politics”. 

Still, politics is essential for the overall good of human societies, as it is the way society chooses leaders and makes decisions about national policy, allowing every citizen to be actively involved. Politics has been pilloried for its meaningless debate and conflict, but many do not realize that such conflict is the cornerstone of a functioning democracy. 

It is natural and obligatory that a democratic nation is divided along political or ideological lines, ripe for conflict, because that is how an active citizenry manifests. Active citizens are the students, teachers, road sweepers, and stock brokers who engage in popular discourse, keeping abreast of alternative views. When a nation is divided, an action by one political faction will elicit a reaction by another faction. Opinions are contested across the spectrum of individual perspectives. Like the Taoist symbol of yin and yang, there is equilibrium among potent and countervailing forces that regulate and balance each other. This equilibrium guarantees that every strata of society is represented in the national discourse on sensitive such as homosexual rights, healthcare, and welfare. Conflict ensures that every citizen plays his part in building the nation by fighting for his values and paying his dues – time and effort – towards the privilege of being a citizen of his nation. 

An Active Citizenry acts as the third line of defense against an unchecked ruling party, alongside opposition parties and civil society. It plays a huge and meaningful role in national discourse by analyzing national issues and controversial policies. 

To ensure that every citizen stays engaged, all world governments must ensure certain conditions are fulfilled: 

• Citizens must be sufficiently educated, preferably to university level. University students must be taught a subject that encourages critical thinking, like the International Baccalaureate’s Theory of Knowledge, to ensure they peruse news and opinions with a pinch of salt, searching for evidence to justify claims given by politicians and journalists alike. 

• Freedom of speech and inquiry for an Active Citizenry. Each view carries a unique perspective from an active citizen, and thus must be prized accordingly. Even if bigoted in content, a countervailing view would rebut logical and factual errors and defeat the harm factor of the offensive view. Censorship must be abolished, and eventually eliminated as an educated citizenry acquires critical thinking skills. 

• Free up resources spent enforcing punitive laws against free speech and the right to hold demonstrations, utilizing these peace dividends to foster the creation of a strong civil society. It is only constitutional that an Active Citizen in a democratic society be allowed to speak his views publicly. The fear of demonstrations and protests turning violent can be tempered by employing police protection, barriers separating the public from the protesters, and rules on marches. 

Critical thinking, augmented by an Active Society, is the key to unlocking every nation’s true potential. In the ideal society of the future, when an Active Citizen reads a fallacious article which does not cite adequate justification, he will be equipped to judge its veracity. He arms himself with the tools of critical thinking. Junior college students in Singapore already take courses in Knowledge and Inquiry, which helps develop critical thinking skills and the ability to detect bias and errors in an article. Argument and inquiry must be treated as a basis for interaction in the new dawn of the Active Citizenry. 

Civil society also plays a part in the discourse. With an Active Citizenry, civil society organizations receive more donations and volunteers for political and social action, manifesting a vibrant society of competing citizens who agree to disagree. This Activist Culture creates a new generation that will tie up loose ends – affairs the government has neglected or ignored, minorities disenfranchised and indigent, and national threats overlooked. This new breed of activists builds social capital – the norms, networks, and social trust that enhances collaboration and cooperation for the benefit of society, and unites society into a community of mutually dependent individuals that works towards the collective wellbeing. Effective social groups united by social capital, strong bonds of trust and friendship are more likely to have a scorecard of successful development and mutual assistance. However, to activate the new activist culture, it must be combined with the catalyst of an Active Citizenry that needs a vibrant and free political scene to set the transformation in motion. 

Politics is never a game of black snow and white shadows, but a medley of rainbow cake and Trix cereal – you may not like eating it, but it pleases the eye with its cornucopia of flashy colours. If citizens engage society and the government actively, national debates over politics and ideology would no longer be meaningless. Let power grow out of our mouths and tongues, not out of the barrel of a gun. 

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/alejandrogm/7189720614/”>agm92</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>

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About me:

I love the Arts – politics, history, humanity. They made me alive and beating. What is Man’s place in the world? To assert his dominance with aggression, or make his altruistic mark in the historical annals of Gaia? I believe altruism creates more happiness.
I am currently waiting for enlistment into the Singapore Armed Forces. I envision my life taking one of four distinctly possible paths: a social activist, a political science and history professor, a politician, or a happy-go-lucky globetrotter. Watch me soar.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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