Living in a foreign country for the first time in my life has, within less than a month, destroyed my conceptualization of what exactly a “home” country is and my fundamental understanding of what qualities definitively qualify someone as an immigrant. I have always thought that I was “better” than mainstream conservatives (who frequently denounce the idea of immigration into the US) by believing, at first, that a mastery of the English language and an American accent was what determined how “American” any given immigrant was. Obviously, the older I became, the more I came to realize that this was a completely arbitrary aspect of any given person in terms of quantifying their right to “American-ness”. Soon after, I came to accept the (retrospectively) equally arbitrary denotative nature of a common set of values being the glue that holds states together, and sets outsiders apart. It was not until now, after having spent three weeks in a foreign city spending copious amounts of time learning about supranational, international, and transnational institutionalism and having to survive in a new, non-contorting culture, have I come to accept that that notion was misguided as well.
The ability of any given population to hold a wide-ranging variety of often fundamentally contradictory beliefs and still function as a relatively stable society is a unique characteristic of states. Being ideologically congruous to the fellow citizen next to you makes you no more or less entitled to your shared state’s protections and identity, as is explicitly denoted by the concept of state citizenship (which guarantees rights or protections to humans, not ideas). Thus, after having been exposed to so many European perspectives on identity and values (many of which I find myself identifying with in place of widely-held American beliefs concerning conceptualizations of identity and sovereignty), I have come to realize that ideological parallelism is not the arbiter of collective identity either. That assertion, however, questions the very “stickiness” of societies themselves. What truly mobilizes populations into distinctive, proud societies if neither commonly held accents nor a widely recognized set of pseudo-static beliefs offers an explanation?
I now believe this question itself to simply be a remnant of a one-day by-gone era. The question should no longer be, “What arbitrary characteristics can we utilize to continue segregating ourselves from other nations?” but rather, “Why are we using increasingly inane state borders to define our identities in the first place?” I think the European Union’s creation in and of itself is helping to guide the world from asking the first question to asking the latter. It challenges the seemingly principle belief that states define people, and seeks to encourage citizens to embrace the realization that they are in fact the ones defining the states. To continue recognizing the borders of states as the ultimate arbiters of identity in light of the knowledge that these historically harmful, nationalistic lines crisscrossing the Earth would only prove to grant these arbitrary divides more legitimacy. This recognition would be a travesty when the EU’s very existence is actively proving to mankind that there is another way to preserve identity without having to preserve the classical, nonsensical notion of sovereignty. Sovereignty of the people is not synonymous to sovereignty of the state, and it never was.
The EU is frequently criticized for being “undemocratic” (claims made in a fashion blatantly disregarding any acknowledgment of how exactly the “undemocratically-elected” leaders of the EU are given positions of power in the first place…). However, I do not believe that any institution has made strides as far as the EU has in providing an alternative power structure more favorable to the people, and less so to the ruling elites of states. The EU’s collective nature allows it to better handle non-traditional security threats and economic irrationalities in a globalized world, thereby giving even more strength to an otherwise increasingly vulnerable public. The EU also serves to synthesize mass popular, consensus-based opinion and transform it into continent-wide policy (a power that small, unilaterally-acting states could never hope to possess). Critics may claim that this feature of the EU in and of itself infringes on the rights of the people, but do states not operate in the same fashion on a smaller scale?
Identity is a fundamental aspect of human nature and will not be erased from our society anytime soon. I believe that, because of the efforts of the EU project, humanity is slowly being presented a choice between notions of how that identity is defined. The first choice would be a continuation of the notion that the progressively irrational power of territorial borders should dictate who we view as the ‘Self’ and the ‘Other’. The second choice, however, would be a new way of conceptualizing the ‘Self’ and ‘Other.’ It would be a choice that would intuitively lead to a more peaceful, rational future for humanity. These last three weeks have led me to the realization that the EU’s clever, subtle circumvention over the last 60 years of the state monopoly on identity is giving mankind a choice between the two paths, and I believe humanity will choose the right one.
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