The Global Citizens' Dual Address
By Doug McGill
ROCHESTER, MN -- The Polish philosopher Leszek
Kolakowski, who last month amid much media fanfare won
the first $1 million John W. Kluge Prize for Lifetime
in the Human Sciences, once wrote: “When I am asked
where I would like to live, my standard answer is: deep in
the virgin mountain forest
on a lake shore at the corner of Madison Avenue in Manhattan
and the Champs-Elysees, in a small tidy town.”
I like this answer very much, but part of me distrusts it, too. If
this is a picture of global citizenship, the touchstone idea
of this column,
I don’t approve. Rootless cosmopolitanism is unserious and often
parasitic. It speaks of being lost and confused, as in a bad dream.
In a world like ours, already strange and surreal enough, I want
to know exactly where I stand and live. Where I come from. I
of those roots, and I want to get my mail. I want the security of
a simple address in a single town, a specific avenue at a specific
I don’t normally curl up with Polish philosophers. It’s just
that when I heard “Silent Night, Holy Night” playing at Barnes & Noble
downtown, I became meditative as befits the season. And I had a definite
problem to gnaw, which is that I’ve been feeling a little bit the
Global citizenship?” What is that? Don’t we need to know what
it truly means to be a “citizen” before we move to being a “global
citizen?” And do we really know what it means to be a citizen in
the United States today?
recently about a Korean grocer in Los Angeles, one Charles Kim,
who definitely knows what it means. He apprehended a black
teenager robbing his store and called the cops. When
the cops came, the kid
his life, and Kim, instead of pressing charges, had
him work off the
penalty in his store. Then he hired him. Then he organized
many other Korean grocers
to hire young black teenagers from the neighborhood.
When a reporter asked what payback he got from all this, Kim said “the
priceless taste of love.” What a citizen! But how uncommon!
When was the last time we as a society thought about citizenship,
as Charles Kim does, as a spiritual path? Not just as a dutiful
yearly slog to the
polling booth, but as a means of personal growth – a way to heal
the self by healing society? Or as a form of expression available to every
person that’s every bit as potent as writing a book or singing
an opera, and just as necessary?
The “Self-Improvement” section at B&N is piled high with
tomes on diets, meditation, massage, astrology, career counseling, divorce
guides, sex guides, and so on. Every one of these books is valuable and
useful, I’m sure. Yet in the aggregate they form a tower to the
Then there is the “Current Events” section, a tower to Society
you might say, with its own prescribed solutions in foreign affairs,
education policy, crime, and the horribly biased news media (liberal
take your pick).
I’d like to see a new section called “Society and Self” with
books on how to heal the individual self by
healing society. How to cure your headache by volunteering at a
shelter, for example (it really works).
This third section of books would take some
imagination, which, getting back to Leszek Kolakowski, is why I
also like his ideal-surreal address.
Because if there’s one thing we need these days, it’s imagination.
Not only to imagine how the U.S. is connected to China
and Somalia and Mexico and Iraq; but also how the Chinese
in southeast Minnesota are connected to each other and
how they are, in fact, us. Hopefully, we are all becoming
In the meantime, we are still many. The pasts and the
passions of these foreign lands are all now well planted
soil. It’s a good
idea to go to them and visit them before they come, possibly in conflict,
And to do that
kind of travel takes imagination – to peer behind
the strange languages, customs, and costumes, to
see the human beings beneath.
We all need two addresses. A specific address to
keep us rooted, to assure us who we are and where
from, and to point
us home. And
in the imagination to connect us to the far reaches
of humanity, to show us the possibilities for global
in our small
Copyright @ 2003
The McGill Report