Global Citizen? I Think Not

At the recent “Global Citizenship Conference,” held here at Laurier a few weeks ago, there were hundreds of motivated people, countless great ideas, and endless discussions. It was phenomenal. One common theme, though, was how the wrongs of the world could be righted if only we re-arranged our identities and began to think of ourselves as citizens not of Canada, but of the world. Very nice, very warm, and very misguided.

The appeal of this idea is obvious; the problems of the world quite obviously transcend national borders. How dare we maintain our parochial attachments to Queen and country, blood and belonging, in the face of the 50,000 people that die unnecessarily each day? If caring a bit more for them is what global citizenship implies, then count me in.

What worries me, though, is the concept of placing global citizenship first, ahead of whatever nation is on your passport. The brute fact is, as a citizen of the world, I cannot vote. I am one anonymous voice amongst many. No one has unlimited time or resources to devote to a cause, which makes it critical to make efficient use of your time, voice, and political power.

Here in Canada, the government has to listen to me. They don’t have a choice, cynicism of our political process be damned. The same is not true in the fuzzily defined space of “global citizenship.” There are a vast amount of things that our government does in our name that offend every principle of justice I have. Not only do I have more of a chance of changing Canadian policy, I have more of an obligation to – I help pay for it. I am complicit in a way much more direct and accountable than my broader role in the injustices of the global system.

This is the problem with global citizenship. It replaces a relationship that I have a chance to change, at a scale of understanding small enough not to dwarf me. I will be globally aware. I will use this awareness in every action I take at home, but until my own country lives up to the values it should, I cannot and will not be a citizen of the world.