June 26, 2012
It seems so old-fashioned that citizenship is primarily determined by the physical location of your mother at the moment of your birth. I suppose it’s a practical way to keep everyone sorted out, but in today’s modern world does it still make sense to favor birth location over all other factors when it comes to citizenship?
Thanks to technology, my body no longer defines where I “am.” At any given moment I can be Skyping with Australia, texting to Canada, browsing a British web site, and planning my next vacation in Mexico. A company recently offered to let me operate their telepresence robot and attend meetings in their building without leaving my house. As I type this, people in sixty countries are reading what I wrote in Dilbert. My existence is smeared across a lot of time zones. But I’m legally an American because my mother’s vagina was located in upstate New York at the time of my birth several decades ago. That feels oddly primitive.
In California I meet a lot of folks who aspire to be American citizens. Most of them are here legally, and I assume some are not. But they all seem to have a common spirit, if I can use that unscientific word. First and foremost, they want to be here. They work hard, respect the laws, pay taxes, and put great effort into speaking English. And they consider themselves Americans even if the law doesn’t. If American citizenship had a character test, they’d pass easily.
As a practical matter, you can’t let people become citizens just because they want to. That would be chaos. But I’m wondering if the future will bring a better concept of human organization than dirt-based citizenship. Personally, I don’t care if you live in Elbonia and plan to keep your physical body there forever; if you want to be on my team, just bring something to the party in terms of character, ideas, or marketable skills. I’m happy to have you. We’ll be like a club without borders.
Someday I can imagine social networks growing in size and power until citizenship becomes an unnecessary concept. When citizenship-by-dirt becomes a relic of the past, so too will wars over boundaries. My social network doesn’t need to conquer your social network because we already live in every country.
Over time, private entities can take over the historical functions of traditional governments. We won’t need armies, snail mail post offices, printed currency, or even physical schools. The Internet will make every current function of governments obsolete.
You might argue that people are people and we’ll find dumb-ass reasons to fight no matter how we define the groups to which we belong. But I’m not so sure. I think evolution has wired us to believe geography is something you kill over and everything else is something you argue about. Take citizenship-by-dirt out of the equation in a few hundred years and war will be obsolete.