The Existential Citizenship Project

Basic Tenets

[1] The realities of political systems must be confronted as they are

[2] The political system is not only irreducibly complex, but also Absurd 

[3] We are thrust into political systems we did not choose 

[4] There is no escape from making political choices 

[5] We are ultimately responsible to ourselves for our own political choices

Details

[1]

The realities of political systems must be confronted as they are: The ECP is premised upon as accurate an understanding of the political system as possible—not how it is hoped to be, or how it ought to be, but how it actually is.

Students and people in general are harmed by misleading or untrue descriptions of politics and of government. The reality may often be ugly, or boring, or pointless, or absurd (in addition to sometimes exciting, inspiring, and meaningful), but an accurate perception of politics and government is crucial for meaningful and enduring political engagement. Anything else, even with the best of intentions, is deception.

When this deception is programmatic, as in the sanitized versions of government and politics presented in most textbooks and taught in most civics classes, political scientists and other educators are not only complicit in the systematic deception of the citizenry, but also circumscribing the capacities, abilities, and potential of students and of people in general.

[2]

The political system is not only irreducibly complex, but also Absurd: One of these fundamental realities of political systems that must be confronted is that they are not only complex, but Absurd.

Absurdity and complexity are intrinsic characteristics of real world political systems. A good technical definition of complexity is the increasing abstraction of effects from their causes (i.e., the more complex a system, the more steps between the initiation of a cause and its eventual effects). The accurate identification of effects with their actual causes and the definitive assignation of responsibility for outcomes are fundamental functions of political systems. The increasing abstraction of causes and their effects fundamentally impedes both of these basic functions of political systems in the real world. In this technical sense, contemporary political systems are irreducibly complex.

Underlying this mechanical and logistical complexity, though, is the inherent Absurdity of contemporary political systems. In existentialism writ large, the Absurd is the conflict between our innate human need to find meaning and the ultimate lack of inherent meaning in the universe. The Absurdity of politics is not only that causes are so often dissociated from their effects, but that even the identifiable events and outcomes of the political system do not have inherent meaning of their own. The only the meaning or the value that caused or ‘uncaused’ political occurrences have are the meaning or value that we give to them.

[3]

We are thrust into political systems we did not choose: Our existence as citizens precedes our essence as citizens. We are saddled with all kinds of political expectations, responsibilities, and obligations long before we are aware of them or even capable of assenting to them.

For example, immigrants who have chosen to emigrate to a particular country are thrust into a political system they did not choose. Even if they chose their destination for specific political features, there are still many aspects of the political system they are now in that they did not choose, and would prefer to change, but over which they have no control.

Even natural-born citizens are born into political systems they did not choose. Even if they eventually come to feel they were born into the best possible political system, these feelings only come after the fact of their birth into a system they did not choose, and only after their formation and conditioning within that system. In addition, there are going to be many aspects of the political system they are born into—whether they are aware of them or not—that they did not and would not choose, but over which they have no control.

In a very real sense, we are all political immigrants.

[4]

There is no escape from making political choices: Every moment we remain in a political system is a choice. Even if our political systems are irreducibly complex and Absurd, and even if we did not choose important aspects of the political systems we are in, and even if we do not have control over many aspects of our political systems that directly or indirectly affect us or others, by remaining within that political system, we are continuously making the choice to remain in that situation.

Within the political system, we are also constantly making the choice to engage or disengage. Apathy and withdrawal are as much of a choice as active engagement (i.e., the failure to choose is itself a default choice). One way or another, we are always being confronted with choices, and we are always making choices.

[5]

We are ultimately responsible to ourselves for our own political choices: Given the irreducible complexity of political systems, and the resulting lack of ultimate control, even the choice for active engagement is no guarantee of success. However, just as the lack of control of outcomes does not remove us from making choices, it also does not absolve us from the consequences of the choices we make.

We may choose to defer or abdicate responsibility for our choices to others—such as to a charismatic personality, a political party platform, a pre-packaged ideology, a mass movement, etc.—but this does not protect us from the intentional or unintentional consequences of those choices. As we are the only ones who will ultimately confront these consequences of our choices, we are responsible to ourselves for the choices we have made, including for deferring that responsibility to others.