At a concert by a friend’s band in Hanoi a few years ago, the lead singer mentioned something about Canada, and someone in the crowd shouted out, “So are you Canadian?”
“Sometimes,” she answered.
I love that. Having lived overseas for six years, my I find that my relationship with the United States, where I was born, is complicated. We’re all asked to identify with our nationality first and foremost, but I’m finding that increasingly I don’t. Primarily I think of myself as an Earthling, one creature among the 8.7 million different species on earth. Secondly, as a human being. After that, probably a Seattleitte, based on the city where I’ve lived most of my life. Then as someone from Cascadia, that region in the northwest corner of North America known for big trees and strong coffee. Being a citizen of The United States of America probably comes in fifth.
So I was intrigued when I heard the news that Yasiin Bey, the hip-hop artist know as Mos Def, was recently arrested in South Africa for allegedly using a World Passport. Born in the US, Mos Def has lived in South Africa since 2013. In addition to using the World Passport, which South Africa considers a forged document, he and his family have been charged with overstaying their visas. In an audio statement released by Kanye West, Mos Def claims he’s done nothing wrong. “Where I live is my choice,” he says in the statement, claiming he’s from “a country called Earth Everywhere.”
Not exactly a popular sentiment in the rich North these days, when fear and exclusion are the new response to refugees and migrants.
The World Passport has a fascinating history. It was conceived by Garry Davis, an eccentric World War 2 veteran, actor, and peace activist who created the World Service Authority in the 1950s as a way to issue passports based not on nationality but one’s status as a human being. The passports have been issued to stateless refugees as well as those who believe people should have a right to travel without regard to national origin. Only
five six states officially recognize the validity of the World Passport (Burkina Faso, Ecuador, Mauritania, Tanzania, Togo, and Zambia).
Open borders is a radical concept, but one I believe is the future. If national governments continue to argue that corporate capital can cross borders freely (see: NAFTA, TPP, TTIP, etc.) then ethically so should labor (that is, people). Mos Def is on the cutting edge of that movement.
It’s a movement in which you identify less as a citizen of a nation-state and more upon your locality (city, county, or township)–and as a human citizen in a world in which everyone possesses the right to move freely anywhere in the world.
The map above, created by Léopold Lambert for the magazine Funambulist, illustrates this concept further, something he calls an Alternative Cartography. What if the world wasn’t organized according to nation-states, but rather by regions with a population of around five million or so? It’s printed “upside-down” to challenge the old paradigm, to see the earth in a different light. (You can download a high-res version of the map here.)
Is it overly idealistic? Maybe so, but anyway here’s Mos Def to school you in mathematics while you’re here: