I was talking with someone today who is a part of that class of people we rarely see, but they play a big part in the lives of ordinary people. These are the folks who populate the global international class. They shuttle back and forth between NGO’s, international organizations like the World Bank and their home government. Some go the earthy route and work in various aid organizations that are sort of private and sort of government. Because of their work and travel, they lack the provincial attachments the rest of us find comforting.
I have an old friend who lives in this world. He has had various jobs that defy description, but always involve travel to exotic locales. He has a few degrees and knows how to write grant applications that result in living at an Ivy League campus or foreign outpost. He has a long list of friends and acquaintances spread all over the globe. Whenever I talk to him he is somewhere visiting friends, even in places where the white man is scarce.
This is a different thing from the defense class and global business class. A business guy is posted to assignments by others. His travel and adventure is not about self-actualization. He is sent to the UAE as a project manager for a logistics firm and it is only about doing a job for money. It is not a lot different than being sent to the Wichita office to work as a branch manager. He is just a cog in the machine doing his part for a salary. The guy taking a post for UNESCO in Gambia to teach English at a bush school is about his own thing. Money is not a consideration.
The funny thing I’ve noticed about these folks is they are not just rootless in the physical sense. Emotionally they have very little attachment to people and place. What makes them tick is the adventure and the spiritual high they get from experiencing weird stuff in faraway places. Part of that high is the moving on. They are like memory collectors. Once they got what they want from someone or somewhere, they move on. It’s not cold blooded or sociopathic. They are just not setting down roots so they squeeze everything out of every stop knowing they will be moving on soon.
Anyway, the guy I was chatting with had just returned from Alaska. He had a grant to do something and the grant had run out so he was now starting at a Federal agency. He was on contract from an NGO that I did not recognize. The funny thing about DC these days is the lines between government, NGO, consultancy and private business are close to non-existent. I know someone who has worked at a famous contractor for 15 years, but has been on contract to the same government agency the entire time. He even has an office with his name on it – at the government agency.
The small talk led to a strange question. I said something about the recent election and my new acquaintance asked me if I bothered voting. I said I did and explained why. He listened politely, but it was clear he thought I was being foolishly sentimental. My take away from the exchange was that whether we like it or not, all of us are going to be like my acquaintance. From the point of view of these people, loyalty to a country or government is nonsensical. There’s nothing they can get from pledging loyalty to a country so they have no interest in it. They are not joining the army or terribly worried about which side of the ruling class is currently ascendant, so they don’t bother about it.
This reality is settling on the rest of us, some more than others. For instance, the government types waving the flag around whipping up support for dealing with the provinces does nothing for me. If Obama wants to do something about ISIS, let him fly over there and deal with them. I suspect many Americans have thrown in the towel on the whole democracy project. It’s hard to find anyone enthusiastic for staying in Afghanistan or returning to Iraq.
Now that Obama plans to unilaterally extend citizenship to the world, it will dawn on ordinary Americans (as currently defined) that there’s really nothing of value in American citizenship. After all, if a goatherd on the Eurasian steppe can get all the benefits of citizenship, just by winning the visa lottery, what’s the point in being a citizen of America? More important, why would anyone sacrifice anything for a country that treats its citizens so shabbily?
Of course most people will respond that there’s a difference between the government and the country. Bob Novak used to say, “I love my country, but hate my government.” That sounds good, but there’s no reason to think we will be getting a new government anytime soon. Americans will never revolt and the ruling class will not be deterred. The only logical alternative is to adopt the attitude of my interlocutor. We are men without countries, citizens of nowhere, loyalty to only ourselves.