January 15, 2016

I’m a citizen of at least three countries. I was born in Philadelphia, PA, USA thus am a US citizen by birthright. I naturalised as a UK citizen a few years back. I’m very happy with both these citizenships and have no desire to give up either. I’m also an Iranian national in virtue of my father having been an Iranian national when I was born. This citizenship doesn’t mean much to me as I’ve only been to Iran once, when I was 5. I have a reasonable cultural identification with Iran, but I’ve never felt any political allegiance. It’s not that I’m renouncing it (I don’t know if they even recognize renunciation), but I’m not particularly interested in it. As a political system, I’m not in charity with theocracy (that the UK has an official religion irks me).

My mother’s mother’s parents were immigrants from Germany. I have lots of cousins wherein some were born in the US and others not (so slightly wacky citizenship patterns!).

One thing I strongly believe is that countries should be generous about citizenship and should be generous about political participation. I identify this most with my Americanism. That is where I learned it. Countries should open their arms to citizens by choice. They should be generous to people who come to live and work there. They should hold in esteem their citizens living elsewhere.

For their citizens and others living in them, don’t just let them vote, encourage them to vote! Make voting as universal as you can! Voting is one of the wonders of humanity — a shining, glorious achievement that shines all the brighter the more it is shared. Other forms of political participation are better for being more open and accessible to people. So don’t restrict who we can chose to be in our government. Let anyone who can get the votes be President. If you want to restrict it to citizens, well, ok, but don’t fuss about them being naturally born. This Cruz nonsense is both nonsense and against our best ways of being.

Citizens in a free society form a community of mutual and group regard and responsibility. The more regard and shared responsibility the better. There must be limits to that circle for the functioning of the political system in our current, fractured world. We have our sibling citizens and we have the wide circle of humanity. Our regard should be for all, though our responsibilities to each differ slightly. But we should be joyously enthusiastic about bringing people closer, and sad when practicalities prevent us from doing so.

The spirit I seek is well expressed by the inimitable Patricia Williams in The Alchemy of Race and Rights (get it! read it! hat tip to Lynne Tirrell for assigning it when I was a grad student:

The task for CLS, therefor, is not to discard rights, but to see through or past them so that they reflect a larger definition of privacy, and of property: so that privacy is turned from exclusion based on <i>self</i>-regard into regard for another’s fragile, mysterious autonomy; and so that property regains its ancient connotation of being a reflection of that part of the self which by virtue of its ancient connotation of being a reflection of that part of the self which by virtue of its very externalisation is universal. The task is to expand private property rights into a conception of civil rights, into the right to expect civility from others.[]

In discarding rights altogether, one discards a symbol too deeply enmeshed in the psyche of the oppressed to lose without trauma and much resistance. Instead, society must give them away. Unlock them from reification by giving them to slaves. Give them to trees. Give them to cows. Give them to history. Give them to rivers and rocks. Give to all of society’s object and untouchables the rights of privacy, integrity, self-assertion; give them distance and respect. Flood them with the animating spirit which rights-mythology fires in this country’s most oppressed psyches, and wash away the shrouds of inanimate object status, so that we may say not that we own gold, but that a luminous golden spirit owns us.

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