Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Walter Mignolo, "The Myth of Global Citizenship," a section from an essay titled "Citizenship, Knowledge, and the Limits of Humanity"

The Myth of Global Citizenship

Those of you who have the tendency to trace the history to its initial moment and to the origin of human time would find out that people have always moved across lands and seas and across continents. However, people moving around the globe before the sixteenth century did not have a "global view" of the globe as we have today, thanks to the world map drawn by Gerardus Mercator and Abrahm Ortelius.5 Furthermore, there are no traces in the long and hazy past of wandering human beings (and wandering living organisms); that they had to show passports at the frontiers; or that there were clear delineated frontiers. Frontiers that demand passports do not have the same long history of getting lost in the hazy times of the human species. Citizens, foreigners, and passports are part of a short history of the same package that constructed an imperial idea of the "human" and traced the frontiers with "the less humans" and the "non-humans." The paradigm of the "human" defined by Christian men of letters during the Renaissance became the paradigm of the "citizen" defined by secular philosophers during the European enlightenment. "Citizens" is the frame that allowed for the definition of the "foreigner," which was the translation, in secular terms, of Christianity's "Pagans" and "Gentiles." Members of the community of faith did not need passports or the administrative identity that was required of citizens (name, birthday, town of residence, and—as technology and urbanization developed—street name and number, driver's license, and telephone number). 
If one is stubborn and persists in finding antecedents of citizens as social entities or citizens as a concept, as the origin of humanity proves to be difficult, one could take a short cut back to Roman history and to the ideas of civitas and most likely develop from there an argument showing how the idea of the city and its dwellers, the citizens, evolved. And, most likely, a large percentage of historians looking at the history of humanity from that "uni-versal" point of origin would jump from Roman civitas and the birth of citizenship to post-French Revolution, and find that the citizens are fully grown up and ready to go. The Kantian cosmopolitan citizen was ready to march all over the world—starting from France, England, and Germany (Kant's paradigmatic example of civitas, reason, and sensibility) and to move at his will (because the idea of the citizen was modeled first at the image of Man), through the globe.6
But let me try another route, neither that of the hazy past of humanity nor that of the partial and provincial Roman origins. Miguel León-Portilla, a well-known scholar of Anahuac (Eurocentered scholarship refers to it as pre-Columbian Mexico) and the transformations of Aztec civilization during the Spanish colonial period, explored the meaning of the word Toltecáyotl and defined it as the consciousness of a cultural heritage.7 He pointed out that in ancient Náhuatl (the equivalent of ancient Greece), the word tlapializtli means "the action of preserving something" (León-Portilla 17). It is not something in general that is being preserved, but "what belongs to us" (17). Tlapializtli is connected in Nahuatl vocabulary with yuhcatiliztli which, according to León-Portilla, literally means "the action that drives us to live in a given way" (18). This is, understandably, the basic knowledge human beings have for building communities. Hegel and then Heidegger, for instance, used the term dwelling to name a similar kind of experience. We can say now that dwelling means a certain way of living in the experience of European history, whereas yuhcatiliztli means a certain way of living in the experience of the communities of Anahuac.8 More recently, Afro-Caribbean intellectuals have brought to light the sense of dwelling for African communities that descend from the experience of the massive slave trade by imperial Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. An equivalent to Hegel's and Heidegger's dwelling is, at the same time, just the opposite in the hierarchy of the human in the modern colonial world. Thus, what is universal is the human drive to build communities grounded on memories and experiences that constitute the house, the dwelling place of different people, and not the way that that experience was defined on the bases of European imperial histories and memories (by which I mean, since the Renaissance, because before then the very idea of "European history" is problematic). Let's go back to León-Portilla. A third concept is toltecáyotl or toltequidad (equivalent to anglicidad or hispanidad; i.e., the word that names the identity of a given community; that defines a sense of belonging and a logic of exclusion). Now, toltécatl has been derived from the word Tollan, a word describing the place where the Toltecas (a community from where the Aztecs emerged) lived; tollan, in Nahuatl, could be translated as "city" in the Latin tradition. Thus, toltécatl came to refer to a certain type of dwellers in Tollan that, in translation again, would be the people of wisdom, artists—briefly, the elite of Tollan. Consequently, toltécayotl was the expression describing a certain style of life of all those who lived in a Tollan, i.e., in a city. León-Portilla makes the educated guess that toltecáyotl describes a certain set of habits that, in the west, were described as civilization. Now, if Tollan is equivalent to city and toltecáyotl to civilization, then all the inhabitants of a Tollan who follow the rules of toltecáyotl are citizens (from civitas, in the west, from where "citizens" and "civilization" were derived). But alas, for Christians, Tollan was a place inhabited by barbarians and pagans; and when the very idea of citizen emerged in the west (in the eighteenth century), the memories of Tollan had been already significantly (if not totally) erased from the memory of Mexican indigenous memory. And, of course, there was no particular interest on the part of Western scholars to investigate a history that could jeopardize their own roles and disciplinary ground. It is not by chance that a Mexican scholar, León-Portilla, revamped a history buried under the noise of five centuries of imperial–colonial "histories": that is, not a history of Europe grounded in Greece, but histories Europeans wrote about a past that did not belong to them; a past to which they did not belong; a past that did not belong to the knowledge, memories, and being of the historian telling the story.
The logical conclusion is that looking for an ontology of a Western and post-Enlightenment concept of the citizen won't do. It would be more advantageous to look for the conditions that, today, make the idea of global citizenship a myth and an illusion, an illusion of the modern or postmodern idea of globalization that even a Marxist like Masao Miyoshi described with certain enthusiasm in the early 1990s as a borderless world. Today, global citizens have to cross colonial and imperial differences; and those two frontiers, apparently invisible and most of the time unconscious, are very much ingrained (like a blue chip) in the brain of gatekeepers in the frontiers of southern and eastern Europe, in the consulate and embassies of western European countries and the US around the world, and in the US south, as well as in the so-called civil society. If you have a Brazilian passport in Japan and you are not an employee of the Brazilian Embassy in that country or a CEO of a Brazilian branch of transnational corporations, your citizenship status is far from flexible. It would be closer to black citizenship in the south of the US before the civil rights movement. All is relative, as the dictum goes, and global citizenship only applies to a very small percentage of the world population, those belonging to the political and economic elite. The rest, the civil and political society in France and Germany as in Bolivia or Tanzania, Russia, and Uzbekistan, are subjected to the rules of the imperial and colonial differences.
Before describing the noninstitutional frontiers created by the imperial and colonial differences, let me make a disclaimer. I am not assuming that global citizenship shall be defined by the desire of the entire population of the world to be citizens of the European Union or of the US. Neither the western European population nor the US population are knocking the doors of 190 or so countries to move over there. Beyond that double directionality, global migrations (to which the very idea of global and flexible citizenship is wedded) are going on everywhere. However, whatever particular case you look at, you will see that the rules of the colonial and imperial differences are at work. What is important for my argument is the directionality of migrations for which the very idea of citizenship is today at stake. It is obvious that there are more Nigerians, Bolivians, Indians, Ukrainians, or Caribbeans who want to migrate to Europe or the US than people in the US desiring to migrate to any of those places. We do not know of any stories of Anglo Americans dying in the Arizona desert when marching to cross the Mexican border.9 Similar examples could be found outside the US and Europe. For example, there are more Bolivians crossing the border and migrating to Argentina and Chile than there are Chileans migrating in mass to Bolivia. Argentineans and Chileans who move to Bolivia are not people but capital. And, as we know, global capital is much more flexible than global citizenship. The directionality is parallel to the US and Latin America or Europe and North Africa: people move from the south to the north and capital moves from the north to the south. In the case of Chile and Argentina, the geographical parameters do not apply, because capital moves to the north and people to the south—the racialization of the Bolivian population and colonial difference are equally at work.10
Well, you may say, that is natural: people move to find better living conditions and, right now, better living conditions are in the US and Argentina and not in Nigeria or Bolivia. And better living conditions mean more money. Fair enough. However, better living conditions are also a myth and an illusion for immigrants from a lesser country in the global distribution of wealth, who largely would have difficulties enjoying the privileges of the nationals of the better country. I would ask, then, what are the relationships  among capitalism (in its current, global form), citizenship, and racism? Why does capital move freely while people do not? I say people and not citizen because not every person is a citizen—and that space (the space between the person and the citizen) is divided by racism, upon which the colonial and imperial differences have been built in the social and political imaginary of the modern colonial world. You are not stopped at the gates (of frontiers or embassies) because you are poor, but because of your religion, your language, your nationality, your skin: whatever is taken as indicator of the colonial and imperial differences. Being poor and white is not the same as being poor and of color. In a country like Bolivia, the connection between race and poverty is more evident than in the US where, today, poverty is reaching a vast sector of the white population. Racism is the condition under which the agents of the state and of capital decide who shall be poor, because in the capitalistic economic system, poverty cannot be avoided: it is ingrained in the very structure of the system.

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