The Ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes is reported to have said, “Give me a place to stand, and I shall move the world.” He was talking about leverage and how a small force can have maximum effect if applied from the right position in the right way. By that he meant a stable, fixed position. If you have that, you can move much greater weights. But having a fixed position has implications beyond weights and simple machines. It is sound advice that can be applied to just about anything in life. I am going to apply it to citizenship; namely, why I am not a global citizen but an American one.
Before I explain, let me say that I don’t exactly lead a parochial life. I have traveled to two dozen countries on four continents, continue to teach or do business in Europe, India, and South America, can get around in a few languages, and have extended family around the world. I am also sympathetic to causes like sustainability, the alleviation of poverty, human rights, the plight of migrant workers, alternative sources of energy, and the gift economy. I am telling you this only to show that it would be easy for me or someone like me to claim global citizenship, but I do not make that claim. Here are my reasons.
First, following Archimedes’, an effective way to be truly objective, to understand the world around you without imposing your own values, standards, and cultural worldviews on others, is to do so from the inside out. By that I mean from a fixed position. The best way to understand where someone is coming from is to know where you stand, who you are, and where you are coming from. And not just where you come from, but where your people come from.
This reminds me of T.S. Eliot’s observation that we are all walking graveyards, carrying the stories of our past within us. Postmodern philosophers and theologians have been telling us for a while that “subjectivity is the way to objectivity.” Go within yourself to find out about others, thus learning about and appreciating both. A related dictum might be, “Think Globally, Act Locally.”
Second, I like Alexis de Tocqueville and his early 19th century observations about the new republic. The experiment in democracy that he wrote about was distinctly different from anything that had appeared before for three reasons: (1) it divided power among legislative, executive, and judicial branches, with pride of place going to the legislative branch; (2) it rejected the idea of a king, emperor, or divinely-appointed sovereign with the power to tax the people and commit them to war arbitrarily, (3) it began to create a system of property rights whereby citizens could hold legal title to land and thereby create capital. This started slowly and did not apply universally, but the seeds of ownership were there and helped develop a culture of entrepreneurship and individual rights unrivaled at the time.
Regarding (2) above, I find the abdication of authority by Congress to the President very troubling. If you believe Secretary of State John Kerry, the President not only doesn’t need congressional approval to go to war in Syria but is informing them as a courtesy. While this is a complicated legal issue involving the Authorization of the Use of Military Force (AUMF) Act passed just three days after 9-11 and John Yoo’s unconscionable memos regarding torture, surveillance, and presidential power, you have to have a pretty active imagination to view Article II of the Constitution as justification for giving the President carte blanche when it comes to war. Actually, you have to not care about the Constitution at all.
Third, there is a reason baseball continues to be the national pastime even though a couple of billion dollars in television rights go to the NFL. Not only is baseball, like jazz, quintessentially American, it reflects the rich and varied relationship between natives and immigrants, the States and the Federal government, subjectivity and objectivity. What I mean by this is that, although professional baseball is played primarily in North America, its players come from just about everywhere on earth: the Caribbean, South America, Japan, Korea, Australia, even Europe.
After soccer, baseball is arguably the most diverse sport, yet all players come together for a game that combines grace, strength, cleverness, and humor in a way that you won’t find anywhere else. And the grass smells pretty good, too. In its best moments, the United States is the same way, attracting the world so that they, too, can live and compete with grace, strength, cleverness, and humor.
Fourth, America is home. It has made its mark on me in indelible ways such that whether I am in São Paulo, Mumbai, or Istanbul, I am an American. I can no more shed my Yankee ways than I can my personality, even when I am in a place where I am mistaken for another nationality, which happens once in a while.
This reminds me of immersion trips I have taken to Central America with undergraduates, who are anxious to take on indigenous cultures and leave off their privileged ways. Are they privileged? Certainly. But I tell them that the best way to honor the cultures and people they meet is not to try to be like them but to take back home all that they have learned and integrate it into the American context. That’s when true change and transformation can happen.
Finally, my celebration of being American does not blind me to things like gun violence, consumerism, corporate greed, urban plight, the militarization of the police, or any of the other demons we struggle with on a daily basis. But it gives me hope and a sense of belonging to something incredibly human and, for that reason, beautiful.
And speaking of humor, as I write this I just received an email from the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board proclaiming today as “National Cheeseburger Day.” What a country!
Image credits: feature, “Archimedes” Flickr photo by Gerhard Thieme shared under a Creative Commons license. Bust by Blaz Erzetic on Unsplash. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance.
Thank you for this article. As you I have traveled, lived in other countries but I am not a global citizen.
I have lived in the USA, I have lived 25 years with an American citizen, I did not apply for American citizenship while married to an American man because I have never felt American. I am French. My children are both French and American citizens, yet they are first French citizen because they grew up in France, French is their native language, French food is their taste. It is difficult to be real active citizen of one country, It is more difficult to be citizen of two countries, therefore to be a “global citizen” is impossible.
Bill Clinton makes me sick. He is one of the many men responsible for much suffering and poverty around the world and now he claims to fight against poverty.
Bill Clinton should take care of the poverty in America. He should take care of American people poor and working poor instead of this dangerous Global Citizen lie.
Of course the Global Citizen needs useful idiots to promote its agenda. All the useful idiots are rich and famous people (actors, singers, etc) which are easy to convinced because their huge ego makes then blind to regular folk’s harsh reality,
If Bill Clinton wants to fight against poverty, he must work on having the Federal Bank shut down and having a huge reform of the financial market which has created so much poverty.
To have a national bank regulated by the State would help much to get ride of national debts payed to some private Bankster.
Since France has lost its national bank and depends on private banks, the national debts is increasing and poverty is growing.
Bill Clinton makes me sick. This year Sheikha Lubna received Clinton Global Citizen Award. This Emirati woman is the Minister of International Cooperation and Development of a rich country which received ZERO Muslim “refugees”. This award shows the fraud of the whole Global organization. By the way, in the Qu’ran the Surat 48 (The Victory) describes the same “global” agenda… the whole world must become Muslim.
Who wants Global citizenship ?
– Private banks and multinationals in order to gain more power over people and make more money.
– The Muslim community in order to impose Sharia law on the whole world as the Qu’ran orders it.
– Far leftists because the old communist totalitarian agenda is not dead yet.
The Global Citizen real purpose is to work on brainwashing young generation in order to destroy nation and to impose a world wide totalitarian way of life. When people lose their roots, they get lost and become vulnerable to all sorts of manipulations.
This is even more important now. Merci.