Prime Minister May, I Am a Citizen of the World
“If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word citizenship means.”
Teresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Prime Minister May, I am a citizen of the world. My name is Brett Hudson Matthews, and I know what the world ‘citizen’ means.
I don’t carry a certificate of world citizenship, or a passport issued by the Ministry of World Home Affairs. These entities don’t exist. Don’t worry Prime Minister, I do not believe in a nation called ‘the world’, with borders, elections, government ministries, or external relations. I do not believe in Santa Claus, either. I struggle to see how even the partisan who is most determined to impute stupid ideas to political opponents could infer such a meaning.
In the world of nation-states and their laws — which is a very important part of my world — I am a proud citizen of both Canada (by naturalization) and the United Kingdom (by birth). From these nations I have received almost all the assets I value most in the world, including
· one of the most useful educations the world can offer;
· some of the world’s best public infrastructure;
· freedom from political, religious or social persecution;
· access to economic markets that enable a very good living;
· access to political and social institutions that are broadly even-handed and far less corrupt than most; and
· a very nice house for my family.
If I lived in many — quite possibly most — of the world’s nation-states, my rights would be less, my opportunities would be less, and the threats to my livelihood and that of my family would be greater. (And true to conservative ideals, I would pay less taxes, and accordingly be less of a citizen.)
When I call myself a ‘citizen of the world’ I am proclaiming that my loyalties do not stop at the borders of my nation. My highest loyalty is to humanity — all of humanity — because I am human first, and a citizen of a nation-state second. No nation-state has the right to demand that I compromise my humanity in its name, and no nation-state worth pledging allegiance to will ever do so. The humanity of my fellow citizens is also irreducible. Rejection or trivialization of any human, living anywhere on this beautiful planet, is a learned behavior that undermines our shared humanity. Have you forgotten that we fought World War II over this? It was not the citizens of the world who had to be stopped at any cost — it was those who ranked loyalty to nations with fascist governments above their own humanity and that of others.
When I call myself a ‘citizen of the world’ I am proclaiming that my nation will not be safer if I keep out non-whites; it will be safer if I invest in building a world that is open to all. My nation will not be safer if I stop trading with other nations; it will be safer when my economic circle is open to all. My nation will not be safer if I bring all opportunities to earn money, teach, learn or invent back home; it will be safer when the economic, social and technological growth of my nation represents progress for all.
And if my nation is safer, my family is safer, and so am I.
My nation will not be safer if it acts as a free-rider in the community of nations, contributing the least it can to building global infrastructure while grabbing the most it can in exchange. No human or nation can isolate itself from humanity except at great cost to all of us. It will be safer if it too, embraces its role as citizen of the world, and accepts a share of responsibility for stewardship of humanity’s future.
If you believe I should use a word other than ‘citizen’ to explain this (perhaps I should say that I am a world ‘digit’?) I must register a respectful dissent. I use the word ‘citizenship’ because it reflects a conviction that we are capable of structuring our world society so that a black infant girl, born to poor parents in a poor village in a remotest part of our earth, is as fully equal to myself — in terms of rights and opportunities to realize her full human potential — as possible.
Must the ‘world’ then be a single nation?
Possibly. But there are other solutions. Monopoly governance has its flaws, in nations and globally. One of humanity’s greatest world citizens — Edward Snowden — has more than adequately illustrated this.
Whether through a world nation, a federation of nations (a better version of the EU?), or the dissolution of nations and re-emergence of a different social order (the blockchain and AI?) — much greater equality of opportunity for everyone is both possible and necessary.
We humans know how to solve problems. Our evolutionary progress and rise to civilization has been achieved through strategic sharing of assets and information, powered by expanding brains that supported an ever-widening network of cooperation. Britain is a master of just this type of progress. When we close ourselves against others we literally limit not just our own growth, but our own intelligence.
I am a global citizen. I am a citizen of Canada, and I am a citizen of the United Kingdom. And I understand exactly what citizenship means.
One day, perhaps you will, too.