Last week, France lit up the Eiffel Tower in the colors of the German flag. A nice gesture, don’t you think. NOT SO FAST!!!!!

This tweet was retweeted a couple thousand times. There were actually several variations. You can also read a lot of self-congratulation in response to it.

Not only is this a load of crap, but it’s a load of crap based on a very fictitious pretension. We are one world. A life in Afghanistan ought to mean just as much as a life nearer by. Or, I guess, in this case, it’s a 10:1 ratio, but actually the point will still sort of stand. There is the implicit assumption that we should feel lives equally, whether near from afar or whether eastern or western.

That’s a lofty ideal, but has nothing to do with the real world. In practice, it’s more of a pretension than an ideal.

If a close friend dies, and I express grief that my friend died and you point out that a lot of other people also died with the suggestion that I should care equally, I would want to smack you. Nobody but the autistic reporter from The Onion does that. I feel it more directly because it’s somebody I know. Broaden the scope more widely, of course Americans are going to feel a greater sense of tragedy when other Americans die. This is true whether we’re talking about a 1:1 ratio or not. Americans are connected to Americans. We’re a part of the same social compact, whether we like one another or not. Trump’s “America First” may be a bad slogan due to its historical connotations, but if we’re saying that we think the idea is bad, we’re mostly fooling ourselves.

It’s implicit in almost everything we do. It’s why no country on the planet has completely open borders. Argentina comes to closest, but even they have screening mechanisms. But why, oh why, should someone born here have rights and privileges that someone born in Chile? Because that’s how nations work. We offer government benefits to people who are within our borders, and deny them to people outside of our borders, out of an at least theoretical sense that we are in it together. And that their loss is our loss. Restricted trade may be a good idea or a bad one, but the primary (albeit not sole) concern is going to involve the well-being of Americans.

This goes beyond our direct borders to other things. Due to history and geography, we’re going to feel Canada more than Guyana. Despite the lack of geography, we’re going to feel Britain more than we’re going to feel Belize. We might even feel Belize and Guyana more than Morocco. And on and on.

Now, in the case of Afghanistan, there is an argument to be made that France is connected Afghanistan by virtue of their participation in the Afghan War. As Americans, we ought to feel a connection on that basis that may justify more of a response than it got from us. But… I just don’t think that’s what’s going on, really. I think what’s going on is a sense that we care more about what happens to the French than what happens in the Middle East. Which, we do. France is a colleague. There is more common culture and so there is going to be more empathy. Consider that racist or occidentalist or whatever you like, but it’s a fundamental truth. Good for you if you transcend such trivial humanity, but most of us don’t and never will and it’s stupid to expect otherwise.

And beyond that, France might actually care more about Germany due to their both being members in the EU together. This is actually the sort of relationship that fans of the EU (which I would guess this guy is) should want to foster. If you’re going to demand that the French view German lives and Afghan lives with parity, not only are you fooling yourself, you’re actually destroying the European project, which depends on closer relationships between some nations (member states) and others (everybody else).

If the world is your home, you have no home. If the people of the world are your people, you have no people. And if you claim to view all citizens of the world in similar light, you’re either a phony or a robot.

Category: Coffeehouse

About the Author

13 Responses to Citizens of the Oblivion

  1. Oscar Gordon says:

    Well, at least until we start colonizing other places in space…

  2. fillyjonk says:

    I dunno; I looked at the photo and thought, “Whoa, given France and Germany’s past histories, that’s something there.” (Though I don’t know how much animosity still exists; I just know that a few older Brits I knew – alive during WWII – had very strong aversions to Germany, German culture, German foods, and even the German language)

    there’s also the fact that Germany is virtually next door to France. I am going to feel more upset about a case of child abuse in my own town than I would about one in, say, Florida. Proximity reminds you “it COULD happen here.”

    • trumwill says:

      Yes! I meant to mention that. This is team building between teammates with a troublesome history.

      • fillyjonk says:

        yeah. Though it kinda sucks that it takes a lot of people dying in order for people to bury a hatchet from 70 (and more) years ago.

        Reminds me a bit of after 9/11/2001 here, how lots of people who had expressed low-level anti-American sentiment before became much more sympathetic to the nation.

  3. Jaybird says:

    “Why do you love Maribou more than all other women? Shouldn’t you love *ALL* of humanity?”

  4. RTod says:

    Is there a price missing here, or am I just not getting it?

    Is one country saying they stand with the people of another after a terrible tragedy really a declaration that some one dying in Afgahnastan is os emotionally the same as someone you know dying?

    I’m just not getting what the beef is here.

    • trumwill says:

      Not sure if you’re talking about my beef with him or his with France

      His beef: They’re mourning Germany and not Afghanistan. They care more about German lives than Afghan lives. That’s wrong. (Implication: more than just wrong.)

      My beef: Of course they do. That’s how people work and how societies work and don’t be stupid.

  5. Murali says:

    Not so fast.

    1. French mourning french makes sense with reference to the notion of nation states and real communities. But people in france and people in germany hardly belong to the same community. They just happen to belong to this thing called the Eurozone which is kind of newish and loose as communities go. The relation between german citizens and french citizens is a lot more like the relation between afghan citizens and french citizens than french citizen and french citizen.

    2. Valuing one’s friends and family more than you do complete strangers is a different matter than valuing one set of strangers more than another set of strangers. The first can be explained, if not justified by reference to the repeated interactions with those persons, the actual emotional connection, our emotional dependence on them etc. That is to say, there is a real socio psychological story to tell here that makes sensible such attachments. Even stories about nation states can be told which generate some similar but weaker connections. For everything else, all that exists is our common humanity. We don’t need to be some “weird liberal cosmopolitan” to make this distinction. We just need to note that there comes a point where the personal connection peters out. And there is something dark and unpleasant about the priorities shown here. It may not be nice or politically correct to say so, but that doesn’t mean that there is nothing to see here.

    • trumwill says:

      This is a fair critique, though I nonetheless disagree. They have a tumultuous history with one another, but a history all the same and one that they both seek to move beyond. France and Germany may not be a people together, but I think their both belonging to the European Union is a pretty big link. It entails a lot more working together than a basic treaty. More to the point, the nations seem to be trying to forge a “European identity” of sorts, and this seems to me like a team-building exercise towards that end.

      • Michael Drew says:

        It’s more than just common EU membership: you were on the right track, it’s the history, the shared/blurred border, and the significantly shared culture (much more than, say, France and, uh… Macedonia.)

        • trumwill says:

          I agree. It comes from multiple things. I think the EU is important because (a) it’s formal and (b) it signifies a lot of the other things (the geography, the history, etc).

    • Michael Drew says:

      I’m with Will on your #1 as you see.

      I’m historically with Will on the overall point as well, but your #2 is a strong critique. But in my view there are valid bonds beyond actual personal or familial familiarity. Contary tobyjise who think we are anywhere near the point of global fraternity, the world would be very small indeed if there weren’t such super-familial but sub-global bonds. The “strangers are strangers” critique would otherwise apply even to loyalty bonds within large cities.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

If you are interested in subscribing to new post notifications,
please enter your email address on this page.