My aim in CITIZENS is to open up a new way of understanding ourselves and the intensely challenging time in which we live. I want to equip us to see and step into the possibility in this moment, not just the threat. I truly believe we can find a way for all of us to thrive - and seeing one another as the Citizens we are is the starting point.
Today, we are living deep inside the Consumer Story, a foundational story of humans as inherently self-interested and competitive. This story has shaped not just individual behaviour but organisational design, economic theory, the role of government, morality — all of culture and society. But this is not as inevitable and inescapable as it feels, for stories do change. Indeed, the Consumer Story has been in place for less than a century. Before this, we lived inside the Subject Story — as in “subjects of the king” — which lasted centuries, casting the majority of us as infant-like and dependent, with just a superior few capable of deciding and leading.
And now? Now the Consumer Story is failing. The Subject Story is resurgent. But at the same time, a new story — the Citizen Story — is taking shape across the world, and in every aspect of society. In the Citizen Story, we see ourselves as the creative, capable, caring creatures we are. We realise that all of us are smarter than any of us. We get involved.
Reclaiming the future
Seeing and stepping into the Citizen Story will reshape the way politics is practised. It will revitalise our communities. It will transform the way organisations across sectors are structured, and the way they engage on all sides—with employees, customers, suppliers, communities. When our institutions see people as citizens rather than consumers, and treat us as such, everything changes.
By embracing, enacting, and fortifying the Citizen Story, we will be able to face the challenges of economic insecurity, climate crisis, public health threats, and political polarisation, together. We will be able to build a future together.
And we might just be able to have a lot of fun doing it.
This is my interview with New York Times journalist Max Strasser at the Athens Democracy Forum, the world’s most influential conference on the future of democracy, in 2021.
Killing the Consumer
In this Four Thought, I put forward the argument that the Consumer Story has, from parenting to politics, come to dominate and now destroy our society.
Three Post-Covid Futures
In this piece, I and the New Citizenship Project team use our Subject-Consumer-Citizen framework to set out three possible futures for humanity.