Plato quotes Socrates as saying, “I am a citizen of Athens but also of the world.” That statement occurred 2500 years ago. Now, all these centuries later, we are in the midst of a hyper-nationalist revival. One need but think of Hungary and Turkey, not to mention Russia, China, and the MAGA-fied USA. Even liberal Sweden in its last national election made a smart turn to the right. Consider also that the old-fashioned liberal arts, with their goal of humanizing and universalizing students, have lost major ground in the past few decades to skills training and professional education. Learning about and from Aristotle, Shakespeare, and Caravaggio may be fun and in some sense enriching, but true enrichment of the green, folding kind comes from I.T., Finance, and Marketing majors. Everyone now knows that, with most acting accordingly...
At nearly 83, I am clearly of a different cut. Maybe because money was topic number one in our house when I was growing up coupled with my love of languages and school, I unconsciously considered all possible professions and settled early on teaching as something I would be good at and, not incidentally, as the least well-paid of the bunch. My heroes, both at prep school and Yale College, happened to be my English teachers, two in particular. They had what I wanted, to be an updated Mr. Chips with an American accent. Later, Robin Williams portrayed just such an individual in the film The Dead Poets Society. As a teenaged boarding-school student, moreover, I made a point of living with students of radically different backgrounds in terms of nationality, religion, and interest. My parents, who lived in their mainly Jewish middle-class world, could never figure out my choice of roommates and friends. My rationale was why live with kids like you when you could learn so much more from those who weren’t. I kept that value into college, grad school, and beyond. In fact, I extended it to include age and profession as well. I didn’t want to trap myself in any particular social ghetto.
Some 50 or more years ago, a guy in New York City would, for only $25, send you a Global Passport, with room to get stamps from the various cities and countries one visited. One of my life regrets is that I never sent him a check for my passport. I’ll have to check Google to see if there is still something similar around. Maybe I can make up for that early failure yet. Come to think of it, the U.N. could create something similar as a fundraiser by offering Honorary World Citizenship at prices commensurate with various standards of living so that people from even the poorest countries could join. As the numbers increased, it would double as a consciousness-raiser for the need for true global citizenship. My dream would be that future nationality would be equivalent to state or provincial residency today, with world citizenship having primacy of place, both legally and emotionally. I only wish my long-time friend and mentor, the late Dr. Varindra Tarzie Vittachi, a U.N. Assistant Secretary-General, were still with us. He might even be able to make it so.