Friday, July 04, 2008

Citizens Of Blank

One of my college professors used to give short soliloquies on how we should not identify ourselves as citizens of any particular nation. He said we should be "citizens of the world." I remember thinking, "What does that even mean?" every time he said that. My student evaluations reflected my confusion on the subject. As I ruminate, I remember that the idea of being a "citizen of the world" and not of any one particular country has become old hat. At least, since I was a kid. The term itself is so vague that I do not think I can actually define it in a blog post. I can, however, diss it to my heart's content.

I am not here to point out why any particular country is better than any other country. I like my country best because it's where I was born. I am a part of my nation. I am invested in its political process, its laws, and its people. I speak the language primarily spoken here. I discuss and debate values based upon a common upbringing with those around me. In some senses, my childhood was not very common. I do not understand the desire to go out and make another country's culture into my own culture. This has become a popular practice of late. I am not sure why; although, Allen Bloom had a lot to say about that. I am interested in learning about other cultures. Sometimes other cultures annoy me -- I notice only the children of Mexican descent trying to sit on my parked car when I look out the window, for example. Sometimes my own culture annoys me -- hugs are practically illegal here. At the same time, I respect other cultures for what they are and only make value judgments based on obvious moral wrongs (e.g. human sacrifice). I also appreciate many of the distinctly American notions that we bat around on an everyday basis.

One of the things I love about my nation is private property laws. In the U.S. we get a lot of crap thrown at us for being "materialistic." But that is part of what we are. Frankly, we started this country because we got fed up with paying taxes. We like our stuff and we don't like other people trying to take it away from us. That's not really a problem. I mean, buying a house is a right of passage to adulthood. I'm fine with that. I just bought a home and will move into it within the next two months. I'm stoked. I plan to make sure it's secure and well maintained. You know why? Because it's my house. My own property. It's important to me.

That's really the bottom line of why I care about the country where I was born and the place I have made for myself in my own community. It is mine. I have moved from place to place a lot. I have finally found a good place to call my home. I like it because it belongs to me. I want to make my community a better place because it's a part of my life. I appreciate many things about my country including the rule of law and the right to vote.

Today was chosen to be a day of remembrance and celebration. It's not a day to remember all the things I hate about my country or all the horrible things my government has done. It's a day to remember what I value about my country and why I will continue to work for its betterment. It's a day to remember that I am a citizen of the United States of America and that does have meaning. It gives me a sense of identity that being a "world citizen" never could. I know who I am based partly on the fact that I live in this place and I comply with its rules. I try to change the rules I disagree with, yes. And I appreciate the fact that I am free to work against the laws that disrupt my moral code. I appreciate the fact that I can go out and suggest everybody vote for a guy just because I agree with his principles -- and even though I always knew he would never win. I really love my country.

I am not a citizen of meaninglessness. I am a citizen of the US. Now, for some fireworks . . .


Arellanova said...

I tried to explain the importance of property rights to Kenny once. It was frusturating because I knew I was explaining it with zeal, but he couldn't understand why I viewed this right almost as sacred as some religious issues.

For me, its up there with abortion.

tully said...

Here's a clarification of what "citizen of the world" could mean:

Citizenship is about taking responsibility for your countrymen and having them take responsibility for you. It's a contract among a group of people to ensure the happiness of all, through policy, protection and friendship.

The problem is, there is no way to isolate yourself from the badness and unhappiness of non-citizens. You have to benefit them too, if you yourself are to be happy. The love of humanity is universal- we want all people to be happy, whether they're in Africa or down the street. We're often confused about that desire, but since that is what ensures our happiness, that is truly what we want.

As citizenship is all about desiring the happiness of your fellow citizens, as long as it's impossible to isolate your happiness from the misery of others, we have no choice but to be citizens of the world.

Of course, the difference between your candy-a## professor and me is...I make this look good.

Esther said...

Tully: Your idea makes a lot of sense. I think, however, that we can only make a difference in the world when we focus on a particular community and care for people on an individual basis. I reflect on Dosteovsky's "The Brothers Karamazov" because it has some great passages about loving people universally versus loving them individually. You can't make things better for people if you simply love the masses (e.g. Ivan Karamazov said he loved all people, but he hated people when he had to deal with them one at a time, he never did anything to benefit anyone). If you go out and meet specific people and offer them help then you can improve somebody's life (e.g. Alyosha and the children he helped). You gotta start small.

tully said...

I claim absolute ignorance on the logistics consequential of this theory, just so we're clear on that. I would accept fully the maxim "benefit others one at a time" and the exploitation of cultural groupings can be instrumental to such improvements, but that doesn't mean cultural groupings such as "cities" are at all good for their own sakes. Indeed these patriotic gravitations can be harmful.

"You gotta start small" If this is your maxim, why in the world would you at this stage in your life have read Dostoyevski?

Esther said...

I do not think the disadvantages of "patriotic groupings" outweigh the benefits. If you take no pride in your community then your community will probably look like crap. I did not say that cities or "cultural groupings" were good in and of themselves. Rather, I said because we accept them as our own place in the world we can make them better. It is about caring for what is one's own and I believe Aristotle talks about that.

As far as "starting small," well, that has nothing to do with the number of pages I can read in a month or so. It has everything to do with helping people one at a time instead of merely talking about how much I care for "the masses," and thereby remaining inactive and unconnected to my community. Starting small is more about action than words, I believe.

tully said...

"Starting small" Comment: I meant to use an emoticon to signal jokularity- I'm such a slow reader that the idea of reading Dostoyevski seems to me an insurmountable task.

As the logistics go, you may be right that the element of pride in human nature can be of definite use. I look at the bad neigborhood my church is in- it seemed to have deteriorated because the community-pride was sucked out of it. But what caused that sucking-out? The world outside the community. The gravitational pull of ignorance is so strong that it is irresistable so long as we neglect it.

Germany in the 1930s was reacting to the convincing illusion of economic strife and they strove for the illusion that military might would empower them. They were ignorant- as were we in imposing economic punishments at Versailles. It was too late to educate the Reichstag, it seemed, supposing we had more knowledge of reality than they (I would suppose we had a better grip than Hitler did). We had to play their game, with their illusions as the game pieces, only superficially grasping for our moral high-ground. Because we could not show them that their goals were phantoms, they loomed attack over our heads- their threat so frightened us that we plunged further into the world of pain and pleasure- the age of tragedy- the sensual fantasy that led the Germans astray.

You know how the cave allegory goes. The enlightened ex-con of the cave wall doesn't reenter the cave on a whim- he is compelled by fear of death- philosophical death, to lead others out of the cave. This is a realistic understanding that when your cloister of philosophers is surrounded by insidious sophists and tyrants- they will seep into you and destroy you, because you have the same tendencies toward pleasures and pains as they do. Enlightened or not, we're only mortals!

Sorry for ranting (again). Practically speaking, you may have some good points here. Those practical nuts and bolts of pedagogy are difficult to master, but I suppose they are clearer if you deduce them from more general metaphysics and ethics as I am wont to do.