Rote Citizenship Sullied: Take it or Leave it. Or Buy it.
What if one over-riding conundrum — namely, the personal-national identity called citizenship — stands between global breakthroughs and gridlocked status quo? What systemic threats (not just climate but overpopulation, militarism, terrorism, pandemics and non-sustainability) are confronted without greater consensus that declares we must become full-fledged planetary citizens? Like it or not. What greater stumbling block impedes both bottom-up and topdown world alliances than knee-jerk nationalism?
Beyond digging out passports, how often do most of us think about personal citizenship? Certainly few here endorse the inane Trumpian cousin, the patriotic tribalism of “my country, right or wrong.” Oddly enough, while globalism discredits all such delusions, that doesn’t stop demagogues like Trump from wielding bludgeons of bravado. Further, the sanctity of citizenship is further discounted as a fistful of countries large and small hawk citizenship, passports and travel entitlements for cash.
This is arguably a good thing, stripping away fictions that God or fate or geography anoint one’s “chosen” place with moral superiority on race or class or religion. That tunnel vision informs what no US president has yet renounced: the glory of “manifest destiny,” the quasi-religious belief a higher power approves our every conquest. How else, after all, does the Almighty deliver free trade and democracy, if not redemption?
Thus bartered citizenship, per this BBC report, ain’t what it used to be: “For an investment of $100,000 plus various fees . . . on the island [of Dominica], citizenship can be bought.” Billionaires, start your “passport portfolio” engine, delivering safety from all varieties of insurrection. “Since Dominica is a Commonwealth nation, citizens get special privileges in the UK, . . . travel to 50 countries, including Switzerland, without a visa.”
Think the US is above come-ons, if not bribery? Nah, our EB-5 “Investor Immigrant” visa program charges $500K+ (and ten new jobs) to welcome 10K foreigners per year to join the land of the free and the home of the brave. What ninny says rule-bound government isn’t a job creator? What good business won’t sell value-packed goods to the highest bidder?
Porous Borders, Porous Thinking
Consider moreover how permeable borders (marked less by crossings than millions overstaying visas) shred the purity of citizenship. Add in renunciation by expats exiled by economic/retirement/tax pressures, or facing criminal indictments, or repulsed by Yankee brutality, at home and abroad. Don’t leave out secessionist hordes who defy federalism, spearheaded by armed militants who betray their own legacy, homeland, and Constitution.
Soiled citizenship illuminates an incredible range of world dilemmas, especially war, violence and economic inequality. Whether Syrian refugees fleeing horror, over 11 million of our undocumented neighbors, or the dislocated seeking political asylum, what stateless people lack beyond a resident state is enough cash to offset customs harassment, even deportation. No surprise, folks with socio-economic pull (and/or valuable career skills) don’t drown while escaping in small boats — or wash ashore bereft, persona non grata.
What happens when citizenship morphs into another commodity for sale — or for the taking, that is, beyond the dictates of customs, courts, fate or God’s will? What billionaire (with fiery pitchforks looming at his window) won’t resist optional refugees, if not lush coastal villas? Safety, just like real estate, comes down to location, location, location.
Vice-Grip of Gridlock
Yet, if a committed, reality-based citizenry withers, what shared glue fosters enough consensus to keep decent nations from stagnation or worse? What populace saves itself when this morass is its sole consensus: the ship of state is sinking — and fast? What long term damage accrues when high numbers either cheer Trumpian buffoonery, scheme at secession, endorse theocracy, or hunt up escape routes? Talk about widening gyres where “the centre cannot hold.” The blessings of “diversity” vanish when irreconcilable discord arises, with coastal millions aghast at middle and Southern red states hypnotized by demagoguery.
Mercifully, still over half of America frames reality in terms of testable knowledge, our collective brainpower buoyed by progressive, scientific mindsets. Scarily, 40% or so worship the regressive calf of Creationism (and assorted Biblical fables), awarding legitimacy to scriptural “facts” that trump nothing less than the basis of western advancement. With fundamentalists en masse allergic to thinking, no wonder anti-federalism, anti-facts and anti-solutions stalk the land.
All the while fierce rightwing confirmation bias crushes more knowledge into more fixated, resistant denial. Yes, truth now amplifies the fictions of magic thinking. Thus, rational citizens have no choice but to foster alliances overseas, with like-minded adults open to a rendezvous with reality. “Act locally, think globally” fits not just activism, but the only earth-preserving option on the horizon.
Citizens of the World, Unite
Thus, twists in the nature of ideological “citizenship” inform campaign xenophobia, undocumented immigration, the nasty trio of rightwing nationalism, tribalism, and religious mania, Islamic extremism and imperious western over-reach? Every thread here incorporates (or radically redefines) citizenship, even nationality, especially by crony capitalists, fanatic jihadists, or smug “manifest destiny” fans. For them, some Infallible Map-maker has elected them lords of His universe.
On point, my secular humanist stance endorses the spiritual and political expansion to global citizenship. Thus arises a crushing conundrum for all. On the one hand, every coherent nation must share common values. And yet strident exceptionalism divides the major powers who must pool resources against universal threats. If most serious problems have global footprints, then only the widest consensus stands a chance. Citizens of tomorrow (if not next week) must transcend where we were born, battling glorified licenses to abuse granted by fate, family, circumstance or military hardware.
Whether overtly racist (white supremacists), or religious (fundamentalist sects galore), or economic (predatory capitalism), the arrogance of ideological superiority undermines world equilibrium. Republicans campaign on little else, certainly not real-world problem-solving. Paradox: politicians installed by tainted democratic elections (the west) or insular, autocratic ones (like Russia or Iran) play on local biases, then often over-react globally when that model fails (from invasion, terrorism, plunging commodity prices, economic booms and busts).
Revival Text for Survival
What must change are notions of statehood and nationalism, refiguring citizenship? Otherwise, what Ben Franklin quipped about revolution applies to human survival, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Does not collective self-interest, if not general welfare, press us to distribute enough food, basics and employment for those just surviving? Desperate populations, armed with guns and outrage, will inevitably find warlords who speak their language, ready to orchestrate mayhem against perceived infidels and affluent outsiders.
Reviving the synergistic “One for all and all for one” offers a good revival text for survival. If a global majority fails to read the increasingly blatant handwriting on the wall, then our allegedly superior brainpower will end in fire and ice for too many already sharing this earth. That way lies the doomsday vision all too common nowadays, folks making a fearful noise that more often than not impedes forward motion.