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Citizenship Envy

August 17, 2016


When I look at all those people waving flags and cheering, no matter which people and which flags, I can’t help but feel a bit of envy for all those people who are citizens of somewhere, who can unambiguously get behind what they know to be “their” team.

As someone for whom “citizenship” is aspirational rather than assumed, you experience an aching fascination and curiosity for the meaning of the term.

This does not mean that I don’t have any relationship with any of the flags on display.  I have an incomplete relationship with several of them and indeed the truncated quality of these relationships confers a kind of self-conscious urgency upon them.  Even the flag of a nation that won’t last much longer, and doesn’t deserve to, stirs a strange sense of commitment in me.  Just because I don’t have political rights, doesn’t mean I don’t have political commitments.  In the same way that those people who are in a troubled relationship think long and hard about that relationship.

I’m working hard on the whole citizenship thing.  Feeling stateless is achingly interesting and I’m intellectually obligated to exploit the oddities of my position, even if this position is the result of a fairly reprehensibly irresponsible back story.  I have no right to whinge.  I made certain choices.  But as a semi-permanent foreigner, I probably think (achingly) more about citizenship and nationalism than I ever would if I enjoyed (or assumed) full voting citizenship rights of anywhere at all.

But this ache still needs to be treated.  I have a responsibility to stop being a foreigner and exercise a different kind of civic skills set.   And again and again I return to Edmund Burke on “tolerance”, the sublime notion that you have a bond with people who are passionately different from you not because of some bland over-arching communalities but because the very passion of their difference echoes the passion of your difference.  The more you love your flag, the more you should be able to understand how others love theirs.

This hasn’t always worked in practice but it’s clearly the way to go.


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