08/19/2010 11:20 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Consumer Is a Subject, A Citizen Is a Verb


We found out on the eve of our nations birthday a few weeks back that Thomas Jefferson first referred to our forbearers as "subjects" in an early draft of the Declaration of Independence.

Upon reflection Jefferson made a monumental edit that deeded us with a revolutionary identity. It seems he sought quite methodically to expunge the word, to wipe it out of existence and write over it. Many words were crossed out and replaced in the draft, but only one was obliterated. Over the smudge, Jefferson then wrote the word "citizens."

I am loathe to say it, but we have reverted back to being Subjects.

The American corporate media culture challenges our freedom in a much more sophisticated and seductive fashion. We are saturated with images and rhetoric by which we willingly morph our identity.

Here is a brief history of the evolution and devolution of your public self. First you were a Subject ruled by a King. Then, by virtue of hard earned modern democracy you became a Citizen, one with mutual responsibility. Next, the fossil record indicates you were a Customer, signifying a relationship between a business and a buyer of goods and services.

Somewhere along the way a mutation was engineered. You are now a Consumer. You have deformed into a buying machine. A Consumer is a Subject. In the days of Kings the Subjects had no choice. They were ruled by a superior social order or military force. In our day we actively accept being Subjects.

Even in the darling progressive media outlets you are uniformly labeled a Consumer. In America it is manifestly clear that we have confounded democracy and capitalism. The Catholic monk and hermit Thomas Merton offered this spiritual diagnosis over 40 years ago.

"When we call ourselves the 'free world' we mean first of all the world in which business is free. If you have nothing to buy or sell freedom is, in your case, irrelevant. Profit first, people afterward."

Capitalism can be conducted with a social conscience. The unexamined, unquestioned monoculture of consuming is leading to the collapse of all of our ecosystems.

A Consumer is a Subject, a pawn to be manipulated.

A Citizen is a Verb with dignity and purpose.

The spiritually awakened person and culture will be keen to preserve their fundamental identity.
In his wondrous sermon "Spiritual Freedom" Rev. William Ellery Channing spoke with relevance eternal.

"I call that mind free which is not passively framed by outward circumstance, which is not the creature of accidental impulse, but which bends events to its own improvement, and acts from and inward spring, from immutable principles which it has deliberately espoused."

Seduction surrounds you. Will you be a Consumer or a Citizen?