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I am not one. While I love to travel, and love music and food from around the world (well, some of it), and of course I’m engaged in world events, political and otherwise, I never want to consider myself one, nor a member of the “world community”. I’m an American citizen; and my community is my home town: Lyons, Illinois, and in some sense, Chicagoland. Of course, I don’t think anyone actually can be a citizen of the world (because the term is contradictory) or a card-carrying world community member (because everyone’s a member, hence no one), but inarguably the attitude behind this sort of thinking certainly exists, and to some extent is pervasive in the American political left. And I happen to think that everyone, no exceptions, who takes this kind of world citizen/community attitude is deeply confused on this issue.
Etymology, as always, sheds light. The world citizen has roots in “city”; thus citizen is “someone of a city”. So while we allow for several orders of ambiguity in contemporary language relative to its roots, we see even here that “world citizen” is nonsensical. “Someone of a city of the world” is perhaps the most charitable way to frame it; and, well, there is literally not one person who that does not apply to. A good general rule for me is to basically dismiss (or at least use very rarely) any term or phrase intended to be a category that, if used properly, applies in all cases, in fact, no matter the category.
Now, “American citizen” would also fail if we only followed etymology. But, here we take account of laws, and how they are written. “Citizen” in America carries a particular, significant, and unique legal meaning. When one is an American citizen (of course, I refer to legal citizens), one is enjoys rights and responsibilities that non-American citizens do not. Of course, the same goes for any country with laws. These determine who does and who does not count as a citizen. And, as a practical matter, this is where the term “citizen” ends. You are a citizen of a city or town, and you are a citizen of a country, and that’s it. In no other way larger than a particular city and country does “citizen” make any sense. There is no jurisdiction — no “world federation” or some such sci-fi drivel — to confer rights and responsibilities at the level of the world.
Something similar applies to “world community”. Giving a modicum of thought to what it means shows that it applies to everyone, no matter the category. So as a term of category, it means nothing. That’s one reason I loathe that phrase. Another is that, in fact, I don’t really think it holds any practical import. How, exactly, does anyone who lives in Chicago share “community” with someone living in Paris, Sydney, or for that matter, Peoria? This is why this phrase is entirely impractical, and useless — what is actually shared (that is a requirement of “community” one can’t ignore) by people who don’t share a timezone? And, for that matter, what actually unifies (in a day-to-day sense) a bloke in Peoria and a bloke in Chicago? Obviously, there might be a time and place for political bonds by representatives of Peoria and Chicago, in the Illinois capital city of Springfield, as the machinations of political policy unfold. But you see my point. Community means nothing if it doesn’t mean local. Community is a matter of geography. Community requires regular meat space, so to speak. It is not an abstract, but only a concrete, term.
Here’s the rub: both phrases — citizen of the world, and member of the world community — do much more harm than good. In fact, one would actually be hard-pressed to find any “good” either term is responsible for. The bad; let us count the ways: a homogenized society, a real loss of genuine, healthy patriotism (which binds a country), a loss of interest in the particular and funky and the local, diminished liberty and shared values, lack of actual neighborliness, increased “hunkered down-edness”, and … well, that’s plenty.
One might say that the good would be the increased sense of “humanity” or “awareness” that other people inhabit this world, and ought be respected. A more pluralistic world is a better world, the argument goes. And this more pluralistic world, to achieve that, requires diminished attention to national borders, national traditions, and anything that attempts to put obstacle between the peoples of this earth. But I don’t buy it; because to believe all that requires demonstration and proof that people historically have never travelled the world, explored it, been fascinated by the “exotic” and “foreign”. Obviously all that has happened, as far back as the historical record shows. Probably people always will, and that’s fine. Someone can be a world traveler and still deeply love and revere their native country, and every ideal that country stands for. Lacking love of country, one is a nomad. And if one thinks that is the ideal that all inhabitants of Earth ought shoot for, then you haven’t read history, and should, immediately. Here’s the short story: nomads don’t last long, and eventually seek to build what become (wait for it) … countries.
Until we find other life forms on some other planet in the universe, or other life forms find us, all that is intellectually coherent is to refer to myself, and every one else, as “inhabitants” of planet Earth. Saying anything else — world citizen, member of the world community, or something else — makes no sense, and probably signals some “post-nationalistic”, “trans-patriotistic, “cosmopolitanistic” political agenda ya-ya echoing communism that ultimately can be summed up by John Lennon’s song “Imagine” — a childish, utopia song that, as philosophy, exemplifies the worst form of muddle-headed thinking. Admittedly, it has a nice melody, though. I used to love that song. Then, as it went, I grew up. This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 26th, 2007 at 1:29 pm and is filed under America, World, Citizen.