Would you like to be a Civilian?
What is a civilian? A common idea is that a civilian is non-military. Civilians get trapped in wars, but they are not warriors. That is a common idea of what they are not, but what are they, and would you like to become one?
I don’t think it is a full-time position. There are too many other things to do—to provide for one another, to protect one another, and to create and maintain a meaningful life with others. Still, being a civilian may fit quite well with these activities.
I imagine a civilian as someone who belongs to the civic; someone who does civic work. And what is the work of the civic? In brief, civic work emerges from conversations on how we should live together; conversations based on our common humanity and that seriously explore our social differences. These conversations could result in policy proposals for various forms and levels of governance.
Our common humanity is quite empirical. We can see that all of us are contemporaries. We all participate in the biosphere, and all our grandchildren will inherit the planet we bequeath to them. We all experience similar emotions—fear, anger, joy, disgust, surprise, and sadness—even though we may feel quite differently about them. Finally, we all seek security and freedom, but, of course, we have quite different ways of pursing them. There is a common humanity, but it has been violated and needs repair.
The violations are intertwined with our social differences. In the West, white male power has provided unacknowledged advantages to some at the tremendous expense of others. The multiple experiences of exploitation, oppression, and aggression have created a deep chasm between our social differences. The common humanity that could serve as a basis for bridging this chasm will only become available to us when we work together to repair its violations. This work, I would like to propose, is civilian work.
To be a civilian, in a positive sense, is to engage with others in working through our social differences from the civic space between our common humanity and our social differences—the space that holds us as we learn how to live together. Would you like to be a civilian? That is enough work for everyone.