By Robert C. Koehler
Let’s bomb Iowa! Or maybe Texas or Michigan or Nebraska...
Oh wait, I got confused for a second. Those places are part of America and we love them. We would never bomb them. These are places we would bomb: Guatemala, Indonesia, Cuba, Congo, Vietnam, Cambodia, Grenada, Libya, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Iran, Panama, Iraq, Kuwait, Somalia, Bosnia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Yemen, Pakistan, Syria, etc.
Think how our bombs have kept the country safe over the last half century or so. Indeed, think about “national safety” as a concept: protecting only what’s within our borders, because that’s all that matters. Indeed, think about the sanctity of those borders. People born on one side of them are citizens; people born on the other side — like Delmer Joel Ramirez Palma — are illegals, plain and simple.
Ramirez Palma, a construction worker, had lived in the U.S. for twenty years. In October, he was nearly killed (and three of his co-workers were killed) when an 18-story hotel under construction in New Orleans started to collapse. He later became a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the developers, who were accused of using substandard building materials and inadequately shoring up the concrete flooring.
But guess what? He wasn’t a citizen! He was here without bureaucratic bona fides; and while the investigation was in progress, he was arrested by ICE and quickly deported to Honduras. No matter he’s married and has a 10-year-old son in the U.S. The rights of building developers not to have to endure the negative testimony of illegals remains intact.
This is one tiny example of a global absurdity — indeed, a global insanity: the alleged sovereignty of nation states to decide who matters and who doesn’t, what matters and what doesn’t. And what doesn’t matter is that the whole planet is in danger. If its infrastructure, both political and ecological, collapses, every country loses.
As Danny Sjursen wrote recently at Truthdig: “As the U.S. government, as well as far too many Americans, remain fixated on the decidedly minor threat of Islamist ‘terrorism,’ two actual global existential perils persist and are hardly addressed. I’m speaking, of course, of nuclear war and man-made, climate-based catastrophe.”
Can we not look at matters from a planetary, as opposed to an us-vs.-them, perspective? Sjursen’s point is that humanity is trembling on the brink of extinction and the global political structure we’ve built is incapable of addressing or even acknowledging this. Borders are obsolete. Nationalism is obsolete; it’s been obsolete, Sjursen maintains, since World War I, which, following the deaths of millions of soldiers, begot the even bloodier World War II, which begot the Cold War, the nuclear arms race and ultimately the endless wars of the 21st Century. Yet “world government,” whatever that might mean, and one-world political consciousness seem beyond our collective imagination. But such an evolution is necessary.
Can we envision a world in which bombing Libya or Iraq is as unimaginable as bombing Iowa? Can we envision a world that is organized around the requirements of planetary survival and values the transcultural connectedness of every human occupant?
Rana Dasgupta, writing last year in The Guardian, put it this way: “The most momentous development of our era, precisely, is the waning of the nation state: its inability to withstand countervailing 21st-century forces, and its calamitous loss of influence over human circumstance. National political authority is in decline, and, since we do not know any other sort, it feels like the end of the world.”
The xenophobia and global obsession with secure borders — protection from the millions of war and climate refugees at loose on this troubled planet — are “symptoms,” he writes, “of what is slowly revealing itself to all: nation states everywhere are in an advanced state of political and moral decay from which they cannot individually extricate themselves.”
So what happens next? The time has come, Dasgupta says, to envision what seems impossible: a global order that doesn’t currently exist. He takes it upon himself to begin the process and defines three elements as crucial. These are:
Global financial regulation: “We must build systems to track transnational money flows, and to transfer a portion of them into public channels. Without this, our political infrastructure will continue to become more and more superfluous to actual material life. In the process we must also think more seriously about global redistribution: . . . the systematic transfer of wealth from rich to poor for the improved security of all.”
Transnational democracy: “National governments themselves need to be subjected to a superior tier of authority: they have proved to be the most dangerous forces in the nation-state era, waging endless wars against other nations while oppressing, killing and otherwise failing their own populations.” He cites the European Union as an imperfect example, which at least has democratized movement and economic opportunity within its confines.
New conceptions of citizenship: Citizenship should be de-linked from territory and global movement should be deregulated. Also, people profoundly affected by decisions made on the other side of the planet ought to have a say in those decisions. For instance: “Should a U.S. election not involve most people on earth? What would American political discourse look like, if it had to satisfy voters in Iraq or Afghanistan?”
We’re all imperiled by climate change and the possibility of nuclear (or any) war. The time has come to face these real dangers by becoming global citizens. Embracing transnational connectedness does not mean surrendering to homogenization or devaluing diversity but, rather, just the opposite. It means deciding not to fear differences of language, culture or ethnicity. It means realizing that all of us are equal at a global level and what we have to learn from one another is endless.
Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.