Monday, July 26, 2010

So Long, Citizen of the World

In July, 2008 candidate Obama traveled to Germany to proclaim himself a citizen of the world. No one really knew what that meant. Many Americans were queasy at the notion that they were being called upon to trade their patriotism for a nebulous non-identity-- citizen of the world.

Unfortunately, come November, 2008, not enough Americans were queasy enough.

Even if global citizenship is gussied up and said to be another way to be cosmopolitan, still and all, a truly cosmopolitan New Yorker is still, locally, a New Yorker. He or she is not a citizen of the globe.

What did Obama mean? Some of his defenders have suggested that he was trying to say that some problems are global in nature and thus can only be solved by global citizens.

Perhaps that is true, but why would nation states not be able to form alliances to deal with global problems.

Obama's detractors have suggested that his real goal, a goal he shares with left thinking people the world over, is to deconstruct patriotism and national pride. So argues Roger Kimball in a column today. Link here.

If we are all citizens of the world, wouldn't it be retrograde to defend your country? And why should we still be talking about competing against the Chinese or Japanese if we are all citizens of the same world?

However we understand what it means to be a citizen of the world, surely it is time, as Joel Kotkin suggests, to rid ourselves of the cosmopolitan illusion that has invaded and occupied so many of our best minds. Link here.

In Kotkin's words: "Time to chuck into the dustbin the cosmopolitan notions so celebrated at global conferences: a world run by wise men of the United Nations, science-driven socialists or their ostensibly more pragmatic twins, global free marketers. We are leaving the age of abstractions and entering one dominated by deep-seated ethnic, religious and cultural loyalties, some with roots form centuries and millennia ago."

Seen this way, being a citizen of the world means submitting yourself to the rule of an international coterie of philosopher kings, people who have overcome outmoded concepts like patriotism and national pride and who can lead us to a brave new world that feels strikingly similar to the New Jerusalem.

When you define yourself as citizen of the world or as a member of the human species, you are joining a group where you do not have to do anything to be a member.

Why would you want to join a group that has no criteria for membership and where there is nothing you can do or not do that would change your status within the group?

Loyalty does not mean anything when there is no price for disloyalty.

The cosmopolitan illusion is a rank denial of human society. It seeks to detach people from their families, communities, and nations... in order to ensure that they feel at one with a group of true believers.

Paradoxically, Kotkin explains, the more the cognoscenti rail on about being citizens of the world, the more the peoples of the world become committed to their tribes.

In his words: "Yet the more we struggle to be true cosmopolitans, the more humanity expresses our fundamentally tribal nature."

On this topic I recommend Kotkin's fine book, Tribes.

Call it pushback if you like, but the more our leaders deny their pride in our nation, the more our nation's people insist on the importance of their national identity.

If world citizenship does not require any duties or responsibilities, then it does not offer a human identity either.

Worse yet, if you do not belong to any constituted group, any group that can include or exclude, then you are effectively suffering the status of the ultimate outsider, the pariah, the man without a country.

In passing, Kotkin points out that tribal loyalty does not just involve Chinese and Indians and Arabs and Jews. It can also occur in groups of people who work in the same industry: like computer geeks, IT professionals, journalists, criminal defense attorneys, and pathologists.

As he says: "Smaller tribes like investment bankers, techno-geeks or gays each share their own iconography, rites of passage, tastes in politics and culture. They cluster not only in cyberspace, but in the same neighborhoods, conferences and resorts, and increasingly intermarry."

But aren't these groups more noble for not being joined by ethnic and blood ties, or even by shared civic virtues? Kotkin replies: "These secular tribes often insist they, unlike ethnic groups, are motivated by a more enlightened spirit of science, global consciousness or individual self-awareness. But don't be taken in by such protestations. Nothing could be more tribal."

A group of lawyers or dermatologists may feel tribal loyalty, but they function as something like a guild.

Other tribes are more like cults, because they involve ideological commitments. One such group would be today's feminists. Another would be environmentalists.

In Kotkin's words: "Green activists are united by a passionate
'group feeling' as powerful as that which mobilized Mohammed's followers: just substitute 'sustainable' for holy."

The only question remaining is how different tribal loyalties effect one's loyalty to country. Is your loyalty to the trial lawyer's bar consonant or dissonant with your loyalty to your nation? We would all agree that the two kinds of loyalty are thoroughly consonant.

But what of loyalty to a cause, like environmentalism? Is that tribal loyalty consonant or dissonant with your loyalty to your nation? Here the question becomes less clear.

Finally, if there is such a thing as global citizenship, is your citizenship in America consonant or dissonant with your being a good global citizen? Or do you have to downgrade your national pride in favor of a cosmopolitan illusion?


3rd Culture Kids/Adults said...

Obama's a third culture kid, as am I. We really ARE global citizens and "belong" nowhere, and everywhere at the same time.

3rd Culture Religionist said...

And religious loyalty is most often NOT compatible with national loyalty unless the religion you practice had been invented in the country you were born or naturalized into.

Religions are "trans-patriotic".

Religions teach us to not put value or hope in nation states of this world.