Friday, November 4, 2011

Global Citizenship: 'The Other Echoes that Inhabit the Garden'

The Woman by the Lake (Reilly, 10.31.11)
There's lots of talk about global citizenship, but I wonder who we mean when we think 'global'.  Who do you conjure when you utter the phrase, global citizenship? Is there a face or place that serves as a placeholder for you? Who or what influences the image(s) you conjure? How do these impressions (in)form the way you think about and perhaps, teach, the concepts related to citizenship and global citizenship?

Earlier in the week I had the opportunity to engage in a sustained talk with UNESCO literacy advisors from Kabul, Afghanistan via Skype and the discussion with them has me rethinking the idea of global citizenship. Specifically I am wondering,  Who owns the phrase?  Whereas technology afforded me who was ensconced in a hotel room 20 minutes west of Manhattan to talk with four advisors stationed in Kabul--there remained a specific distance between us as well as some important connections.

That distance is as important as the connections.

I want to suggest here that we are all local to personal geographies regardless of connectivity and carry with us the values inherent in such living and against such locally defined selves, we are human.  To think personal geography is global is to tread on some well worn paths that more times than not, lead to oppression.  Is global thinking even possible? Wendell Berry would tells us, no.  He writes:
Properly speaking global thinking is not possible. Those who have thought globally have done so by means of simplifications too extreme and oppressive to merit the name of thought (1991).
I wonder about the practice of oversimplification, especially in response to culturally different ways of being in the world.  Being connected cannot mean homogenous knowing or being in which our identities are replaced by simplified race, gender, or ethnic labels.  People with power historically have sought to impose that power on others, reducing them to a definition that often situated the oppressed as less than human.

This is an old, old story and one we unfortunately continue to replay.

Understanding Other and self in relationship to Other is of paramount importance and this concern is always a complex matter, never a simple one.  To mistake this is to potentially cause harm.

In Berry's The Citizenship Papers: Essays, he notes:
The industrial economy thus is inherently violent. It impoverishes one place in order to be extravagant in another, true to its colonialist ambition. A part of the "externalized" cost of this is war after war (p. 146).
I hope as we are thinking about citizenship, both global and local, we are less dazzled by the technology that can and will connect us and more cognizant that past history suggests that citizenship is rarely the outcome when power meets Other.

Edward Said in a speech he gave at York University in 1993 (Culture and Imperialism) concluded:
Imperialism consolidated the mixture of cultures and identities on a world scale. But its worst and most paradoxical gift was to allow people to believe that they were only, mainly, exclusively white or black or Western or Oriental. Just as human beings make their own history, they also make their cultures and ethnic identities. No one can deny the persisting continuities of long traditions, sustained habitations, national languages and cultural geographies. But there seems no reason except fear and prejudice to keep insisting on their separation and distinctiveness, as if that was all human life was about. Survival, in fact, is about the connections between things. In Eliot's phrase, reality cannot be deprived of the "other echoes that inhabit the garden." It is more rewarding and more difficult to think concretely and sympathetically about others than only about "us." But this also means not trying to rule others, not trying to classify them or put them in hierarchies, above all, not constantly to reiterate how our culture or country is number one, or not number one, for that matter. For the intellectual there's quite enough of value to do without that.
How will you help learners hear the 'other echoes that inhabit the garden'?

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