Subjects are defined by their relationship with the people who are ‘over’ them. The word ‘subject’ literally means ‘thrown under’.
Much of what we call history is about groups of ‘superiors’ fighting for control of subjects. For the subjects, it didn’t matter who you were ‘thrown under’, your life was much the same – nasty, brutish and short.
Consumers, on the other hand, are defined by a repetitive act that embodies their relationship with producers. Producers make, consumers ‘use up’. Consumers can come into being once subjects are able to get beyond the basics of subsistence and think about choice. Consumers make mass production possible.
Citizens are defined by the fact that they share their space with many other people, and by the fact that doing so requires shared values, constant negotiation and active participation to be effective. Even more so now, when we’re no longer tied to a specific location, but are like Diogenes, ‘a citizen of the world’, whether we like it or not.
It seems to me that being a subject or consumer is perhaps an easier role to play, but rather passive and ulitmately unsatisfying, when you consider that we only have one life.
Citizenship on the other hand, is hard work, but work that is fulfilling both in the short run (because through it we can grow), and in the long run (because done well we make it easier for people in the future to grow).
I know which I’d rather be, and I’m clearly not alone. It seems we are all heading that way, if we’re allowed to.
This model works at many levels, from a single family to the entire world.
We could make a start with all the companies we’re in.
Many thanks to Anwen Cooper for pointing this out to me: