Confessions of a Passionate World Citizen
By Jane Shevtsov

If you consider yourself a global citizen, you aren't crazy and you're not alone. While many people still argue against the concept, maintaining it is bloodless and, implicitly, that loyalties larger than national ones cannot touch the heart or give purpose to life, more and more of us identify with the whole of humanity and all of planet Earth. We know that the solidity of citizenship is far removed from the parades of patriotism. We've read the testimony of the astronauts who have had the great privilege of seeing Earth from space and some of us were changed by it. We see the famous Apollo picture of the Earth, which I've had on my bedroom wall since I was in eighth grade, and we feel something stir.

Cosmopolitanism may be less about transcending tribalism than about widening the tribe -- "your people" about whom you care deeply -- to include everyone. There are people I know and many more people I do not know. Being human, I care more about those I know. But beyond that, it makes no difference to me whether the person I don't know is in Sacramento or Sao Paulo, Tulsa or Timbuktu. Planetary patriotism can be at least as deeply felt as national patriotism. But what does it mean to live as a world citizen?

I wish I could tell you the answer. But the most I can do is offer some thoughts and hope they lead you to your own questions and conclusions. Please share them on our discussion board.

To live as a world citizen is to perpetually explore, to locate oneself at that place where imagination and perception intersect. For I live somewhere. Right now, I sit in a particular place in southwestern North America, Los Angeles between Hollywood and the Westside. Only part of the universal address I learned to write in the sixth grade can be perceived from here. Yet John Muir, no navel-gazer, wrote, "How infinitely superior to our physical senses are those of the mind! The spiritual eye sees not only rivers of water but of air... So also sounds. Imagination... enables us to hear, all around the world, the vibration of every needle, the waving of every bole and branch, the sound of stars in circulation like particles in the blood... Imagination is usually regarded as a synonym for the unreal. Yet is true imagination healthful and real, no more likely to mislead than the coarse senses. Indeed, the power of imagination makes us infinite." This kind of imagination makes possible the whole idea of human unity.

It would be wrong to conclude, however, that just because global links are imaginary, they are tenuous. National connections are imaginary, too, and we all know how powerful those can be. World citizenship, on the other hand, depends on the real links of air, water and life. It also depends on metaphor. In Robots and Empire, Isaac Asimov likens humanity to a tapestry in which every person is a thread. Images like this can fix what might otherwise be an abstract concept in the heart and mind.

"The basic unit of our ethical thinking must be the whole world," wrote ethicist Peter Singer in his recent book One World. Surely, few more difficult moral precepts have been articulated in recent times. Yet the people who go to jail to save the lives of kids halfway around the world or who boycott Nike for using sweatshop labor are passionate world citizens, whether they call themselves that or not. These people try to look out for the whole. They sacrifice their time, their money, their energy, even their lives for people who, the culture says, are alien to them.

They know better.

Right now, there are almost no opportunities for us to express our global citizenship at a global level. Creating them, along with building an ecologically sustainable society, is one of our main tasks for the decades to come. It is the purpose of World Beyond Borders.

Jane Shevtsov, is an Ecology, Behavior and Evolution major at UCLA and co-founder of World Beyond Borders.

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