Sunday, August 29, 2010

One Country

"The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens."

We all know this quote, have it memorized and use it in our conversations quite often, I am sure. But I recently started thinking about it again, this time from an unusual perspective for me.  You see, I am an immigrant. I chose, at one point in my life, to move from the United States to Canada. Oh, and before you go there, I was not dodging a military draft, or doing it for any political reasons. No, I just was looking for a city in which I wanted to raise a family, and that city happened to be in Canada.

In recent days someone seemed to strongly disapprove of this choice and that got me thinking about this quote. "What is a country? How have we defined it in our own minds? How has Baha'u'llah redefined it for us? And what does it mean to be a citizen of this newly conceived 'country'?" Those were some of the thoughts that were going through my mind today as I was walking on the beach with my son.

Some people define a country by topography, or the distinctiveness of its population. Others define it by the boundaries marked by the political influence of a government, as in where the laws of a particular governing body are recognized. Probably the most common definitions would combine these into something like "a politically autonomous area distinguished by its people, culture, language, and geography".

But let's look at this. Is it really the case?

If we begin at the top of this list, then we must consider topography. Every mountain, valley, hill, dale, glen, forest, and rise would be deserving of the title country. Every individual island would have to have its own governing body, if not more than one. Every single place upon the planet that could be distinguished from any other would, by definition, need to be its own country. We would find ourselves continually reducing ourselves to smaller and smaller geographical units, dividing ourselves more and more, as we have seen in some parts of the world, to the great tragedy of those who live there.

In short, we would find this definition to be more than just useless; it would be destructive.

So, how about the second part of our working definition, distinctiveness of population? What does that actually mean? If we are referring to social norms, such as style of dress, or preferred music, than all you need to do is walk down any street and you will see the problem with that one. Do you look at the middle class white collar workers? Or the goth crowd? The upper elite? Or the homeless? In this day and age, with the increasing mass migration of humanity all over the face of the planet, this quickly becomes an unrealistic possiblity for a defining criteria. We are just too diverse a population for it to be a useful criterion. (And just in case you're wondering, I think this is a good thing.)

If we look at culture or language, we run into the same issues with migration, again. Today, you can walk down the street of any major city, and most minor ones, too, and see people with a such variety of features that it would have bewildered our grandparents.

So how about the politcal influence and the laws governing behaviour? Of which laws are we speaking? While every country has its own federal laws, the various states and provinces that exist under them each have their own laws. Does this make them their own nations?

In fact, we could go further down, to the level of the city, town, village or municipality. While they each exist within the province, they also have their own individual laws. Does this mean that they are their own nation?

The question on this definition based upon laws is that it, once again, breaks down at the level of application, forming smaller and smaller units.

No. It seems that any definition we try to use will, in the end, become more divisive than integrative.

I think the only way to look at it is in the reverse.

While we all quite easily agree that the laws of the city do not make it a nation, we are left trying to figure out why that is. One simple answer is that the city exists within the larger context of the state. Similarly, the province, or state, exists under the aegis of the federal laws.

While this would seem to be the end of it, we should also take a moment to recognize that there are now various international laws that are beginning to show the limits of federal or national sovereignty. It could very well be argued that these new international laws constitute a higher level of governement, thereby extending the definition of "nation" to what could be termed a "supra-nation" (if we use "super", it just gives me the willies of cold war egotism). In short, we could easily argue that the earth is, in literal fact, a single nation, with the smaller units previously called nations now acting like the provinces that are currently existing within them.

Baha'u'llah's call for a global currency, as well as global weights and mesures, would further assist the thinking along these lines.

So, getting back to my original thought, why would it matter if I moved to another country? If I had stayed within the United States, would anyone have cared if I moved from state to another? I think not, but then again, who knows?

To me, with my way of thinking, I see no tangible difference between the various countries. Or rather, to be more precise, I see no one country as being any better than any other, much like I would not see any one state or province as having any inherent superiority over another. The earth is, in reality, only a single country.

But there is still one other part of that quote that intrigues me: what does it mean to be a citizen?

According to the dictionary, it means "owing allegiance to, and being entitled to the protection of," the government.

In years gone by, this would have had a very different meaning than it does today. In the middle ages, for example, the "protection" might have only extended to the military meaning. The populace would have been entitled to the protection against invading armies. Their allegiance, however, would have meant giving over large amounts of taxes and food to the nobility, ostensibly in exchange for this protection.

Today I think this definition has a bit of an extending meaning. When we think of the role of the government, and the protections the people are entitled to, we often move into the realm of commerce and health. We insist on government standards in the market, ensuring the quality of our meat, vegetables, olive oil, cars, heaters and anything else we can think of. We insist that the companies providing various goods live up to their claims, and that they do not inadvertantly harm us (except in the case of cigarettes and alcohol, but that's another topic altogether). We also insist on laws that "prevent" us from harming ourselves, by requiring us to wear bicycle helmets or seatbelts, for example. This whole concept of "protection" has also brought such reforms as health care, social security, and similar measures. It also implies a conscious care for the environment, increased appreciation and education of the diverse peoples of the world, taking care not to allow minority cultures fade away, or various peoples be abused. It means a whole new system of education in which children are raised to be aware of the world in which they live, and not just their own neighbourhood or town. Not too bad, if you ask me, but there are still many questions left to be answered.

The main question that is being asked these days is, "Who is going to pay for all this?"

It is fine to pass a law ensuring the quality of our meat in the stores, but we have to pay the salaries of the people doing the inspection. Health care is a wonderful thing, but who covers the salaries of the physicians and nurses, as well as the medication? A change in education is obviously needed, but who will cover the costs of curriculum development and teacher training?

This is where "allegiance" comes in. Like the middle ages, it is still called "taxes" in most places.

But surely there is more to allegiance than just a bit of cash. It means a loyalty to a recognized group or a cause, whether that cause is a government, a religion, an ideology or some other structure. It implies adherence, or obedience, to the laws or rules of that body.


Recognition? Obedience? Sounds familiar to me. It seems like we are faced, once again, with that first paragraph of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, that charter for a new world civilization.

They say that when you dive into the Ocean of His Writings, you will come up with priceless pearls. And I'll tell you, just a few minutes reflection upon that simple statement of Baha'u'llah's has made me think of it in a new light.

Given the current state of global politics, with the rapidly increasing influence of the United Nations, combined with the mass migration of humanity, gives light to the reality that Baha'u'llah stated well over a hundred years ago. The earth actually is one country, and we people who inhabit this planet truly are its citizens.


  1. Clearly you are no Political Scientist.

    First of all, Geography is to denote the boundaries of a Nation-State. Rivers, coast-lines, mountain ranges -- all act as boundaries which also have formed cultures of centuries as well. A secluded people for a cohesive culture, just like a well-fortified people in a mountain ranges are able to establish a culture as well. This is nothing new, and is just natural. When you have places where there are few geographical features, either you have intense disunity (such as that created by those who participated in the Colonial Era who just drew lines on a map with no regard to natural geography or cultural geography.

    Distinctiveness of a population regards the nation-state (which can have be composed of several groups of people) where you have a people with similar goals. Take America for example. People come here for freedom. People come and live here for the American Dream. Individuality and democracy are strong elements here, which can be seen amongst many of the groups that dwell here. You at nit-picking when it comes to this criterion. These characteristics are extremely helpful when it comes to understanding cultures. If we had paid attention to this factor, perhaps we would be having an easier time in the Middle East (or maybe never went there at all).

    Again, in regards to culture and language, you are nitpicking. Again, I will use the United States as an example. Language is trivial here in the United States since we truly do not have a national language. The language of America is that of many, and our culture is that of many cultures which freely change without hindrance.

    Concerning government, there is the sovereignty of a nation-state and the laws that are heeded as universal there. While the states of the US decide their own laws, they must answer to the power of the Federal Government if they over-step. However, the states are there to make sure that citizens are provided for and that the Federal Government does not exceed its power either. When there are multiple sets of laws within a nation-state, stability is threatened. Those who occupy the US should be thankful that this process wasn't complicated further, enabling easy travel between state to state. Cities have their own regulations because that is what their citizens desire in the democratic process, yet they are under the jurisdiction of the State and Federal Government. A Political Scientist takes these broad terms and examines them correctly, not jumping to broad conclusions like these. We have these definitions for a reason, and we know how to use them.

    Smaller units are not bad. They make things manageable for a larger entity.

    Away from the POLS lingo, the point is, nation-states have served humanity just as much as religion as. To show obedience to a government is just like showing obedience to a religion, or patronage to a product/business. Shockingly, the world will embrace global sovereignty someday, but that day is still very far away.

    Global currency would harm many countries and send them plummeting even more into poverty with their already inflated dollars. Many see there will be great loss and harm so many do not strive to do this.

  2. I do agree with a global language, set of measures, etc. Those are hard to enforce because there stand in the way many cultural and nation-state barriers. I don't know why the United States doesn't embrace the Metric System, but that's because within our culture we are stubborn and see that as some sort of foreign culture because we didn't make it. Americanization 101.

    Also, the United Nations, when it comes to actually doing things, is a joke. Another well-noted and well-agreed upon fact within the realm of Politics. The United Nations relies on the active support of many nations, and most often those who reside on the Security Council. These countries tend to make change hard. They tend to make action hard. Resolutions do nothing. A scolding does nothing. Sanctions do do something but they a while to take affect while many suffer under it (like the people of Iran). However, the smaller programs under the United Nations do much good for the world, but its a far-cry from a Global Government when every country has its own worries and own problems when it comes to doing what it thinks is best for its people, may that keeping them fed, keeping them under power, or keeping them safe. That is the role of a Government and that is why they are so important.

    Do Baha'is really think everyone will change and embrace the ways of Bahu'u'llah's World Order, when Secularism is on the rise? A Secular Government is the best government, because it does not put the needs of a religious majority over those of the minority. Theocracy has never worked. Look at Iran. Do you expect the whole of humanity to change all of a sudden and drop prejudice and the tendency towards persecution. I've already seen amongst fellow Baha'is who judge others who are different. I have seen Baha'is who judge those who participate in politics, or even dare to ask questions. While not all are like this, and these are a rare few, think of the effects of this amongst a population of millions in one area? What will happen? Democracy will be out the door and the minorities will be suffocated by supposed "unity".

    Going back to politics, the world is just simply too large to be ruled by a sovereign global government. Look at Alexander when he conquered lands from Macedonia to India. He neglected the prowess of the government system of the secular Persians under Darius I who separated the lands among governors who worked on protecting the people within those boundaries. The world itself works the same way. A global government will only work if the sovereignty of the nation-states is protected, for they know how to govern their land. The United Nations will improve over time, but the rest will remain the same.

    Globalization isn't so easy as one would think, especially since many Baha'is lack knowledge of actual politics. Many I've met seem rather... uninformed. Don't get me wrong, I would love a global government, but I'd also love for my paper to write itself and nanobots to be usable by tomorrow but those things clearly aren't happening. Not anytime soon.

    Sorry if I rambled and ranted but I'm bored and like to make people think. Sure, I left a few things vague and there are for sure a few loopholes, but that's the point of discussion.