Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Citizen of the world

For all his wisdom, Master Socrates lost an occasion to shut it when he said 2400 years ago: "I am not an Athenian, I am not a Greek. I am a citizen of the world." Don't get me wrong: that was, back in its context, a wonderful statement; a well-thought provocation towards his judges and a daring dig at the Greek's bigotry and self-centeredness.

But the problem of brillant quotes is that they raise the attention of not so brillant quote recyclers who never miss a chance to use them in every social context, where reputations are made and laurel wreathes are given. At the weekly Grammy Awards of self-righteous yuppies, one can always be sure of finding, standing between the gay-friendly of the month and the feminist of the year, the new self-processed "Citizen of the world".

I met one last week, and I tried to understand what she (since it was a she-citizen of the world) meant by that. First, she meant that she was not a woman, but an individual. She was a woman all right, but she didn't want people to look at her that way. "Feminity", according to her, was a male invention meant to confine women to an ascribed role. She developped this idea and I thought "All right, she may be right on certain points."

Then, she said that she didn't feel like a French or a European person, but as a member of humanity. It was pure chance that she was born in France and that she learnt the language, and she didn't feel any different from an Eskimo or a Papuan. I thought again: "Well, why not?"

Religion came into consideration and she of course denied the impact of being a Christian, a Muslim or a polytheistic bloke from New Guinea. These were all personal beliefs and everyone was free to express one's belief. It didn't interract with the rest.

We said eachother goodbye and on the way back home, I told myself how lucky I was to have met a person whose extraordinary power of transcendence made her at the same time a man and a woman, a French and a Libyan, a Christian and a Muslim.
I wondered why I spent so much time and money learning about interculturality, languages and religions, since a simple chat in a Parisian café was enough to get a complete overlook on humanity. We just have to deny them and stay what we are, and where we are. Peacefully, effortlessly, with a medal around our neck saying: "Citizen of the world".

I thought Socrates meant we had to open ourselves to other cultures and share our views on things. I was maybe off-target. He more certainly meant that he considered himself beyond the Athenian law and its army of narrow-minded law-makers. By proclaming himself a citizen of the world, he was pleading for an universal justice which would not hide behind a wall of silly traditions.
But 2400 years later, nobody gives a shit about the real meaning of that. The packaging is cool enough not to care too much about the actual content.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You don't get it, don't you ?
Look around... Go ahead!