I was talking with a friend last week about 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s proposed “freedom dividend,” which is a universal basic income (UBI) proposal that would give all Americans above eighteen years old $1,000 per month. When I said that this would help reduce poverty and raise the living standards of Americans, my friend promptly replied with “uh, no, J-dawg! (his nickname for me).” “If we gave Americans $12,000 annually,” he continued, “nobody would feel the need to work anymore or even participate in our democracy, thus ruining the freedoms and liberties in our country.” Our disagreement on this subject caused me to deeply ponder a bigger question surrounding the issue of UBI: what is the proper role of the individual in civil society? In this essay, I will examine why liberty does not equal laziness, why participation in one’s government is necessary even in free countries, and why staying responsible in respect with your plethora of freedoms is important to keep a society functional and civil. In my opinion, in order for an individual to serve their proper role in a society to maintain its functionality, they should be an active participant in the government of their society, be an upstanding citizen of good morals and character, and refrain from lazy behavior just because one’s country has programs in place to protect those who won’t work for themselves.
Firstly, a civil society cannot be civil without active participation by each individual in their society’s government. In other words if the individual, are unwilling to participate in the ruling authority’s policies and rules, then eventually they won’t even have the freedom to do so as a dictator will seize power and work to serve themselves instead of the people. It is an individual’s duty to maintain the civility and fairness of their society so that their children and grandchildren can live in a society where they have freedom and civil rights that allow them to pursue their dreams and live to their fullest. Therefore, a proper citizen would involve themself with their local government, write letters to their government officials expressing their grievances or concerns, and, of course, they should vote for their politicians who represent them. By doing this, their participation will not go unrewarded, as their labor will result in the continuation of the liberties and freedoms they might currently enjoy in their society, or it can mean the creation of new liberties that they should be able to have. Thus, the moment one surrenders their will to participate in politics, whether it be because of the tense atmosphere or uncomfort surrounding politics, they have surrendered their position as an upstanding citizen of a civil society.
Secondly, for a society to remain or become civil, each individual in said society must not become lazy or stop working; rather, they must work all the more diligently to ensure the society they live in can reach its highest potential for liberty and equality. Indeed, a civil society is not a society without rules and jobs-- people must sacrifice a degree of their time and liberty to ensure that their society can allow them to have the leisure that they currently enjoy. If nobody worked and everyone lived off of the state like mindless parasites, then the government would be left with no choice but to force all its citizens to work and provide for their country. Therefore, though it may be a right of the individual to sit in their basement eating ice cream and playing Minecraft all day and night, it is not in adherence to their duty as a participant in a civil society.
Thirdly, an individual must be responsible if they are to maintain the civility of their society and the liberties it offers, as to do the opposite would mean to disregard one’s duty as a citizen. By “responsible,” I am implying that being clean and hygienic, free of addictions to substances or pornography, and mentally stable to work a job and interact with others. If one is devoid of the opposites of the unbecoming marks of a civilly inactive individual that I listed, they are not fit to be members of their society as they lack the qualities that make them beneficial to promoting liberty in their government and being useful to their fellow citizens. If one is unwilling to simply brush their teeth in the morning and at night, how can you expect them to partake in the labor of grooming and keeping the liberties and freedoms of their society? You can’t; it is the duty of the individual to first care for themselves and their own well-being before they can care for the well-being of their society.
In conclusion, it is the individual’s role to involve themselves in their communities, government, and job within their society if they are to be an upstanding and proper citizen. Indeed, if they do not involve themselves with their local government, even on the town level, or do not care at all about different policies and legislation affecting communities within their society, they are not following their duty as a proper citizen. Furthermore, on a larger scale, it is the individual’s duty to educate themselves and what their policymakers and politicians are doing and how that affects people and communities in their society, and then use that information to take a stand and involve themselves with politics so they can help make a positive difference. For instance, if their government wanted to pass a law that would make it illegal to drive after 9:00 PM PST, it is the duty of the individual to learn how that will affect their fellow citizens and then take a stand for or against that law-- they need to be involved! However, in order to accomplish the former an individual must first accomplish the hardest and possibly most important thing to follow their proper role in their society: care for themselves. Yes, just care for yourself-- sounds simple right? Wrong. This is possibly the hardest one because it is so easy for us to indulge in what we know is bad for us, but because we do not care as to how it affects us we do it anyway: “oh, just one more muffin-- I’ve had a long day, I’ve earned it.” With a lazy mindset that perceives brushing one’s teeth as a laborious task, one is unfit to participate in the difficult and laborious task of involving themselves in their society. Thus, by participating in one’s government, involving themselves, and by refraining from lazy behavior, they are fulfilling their proper role as a citizen to maintain their society’s upkeep.