Editor’s Letter

Joshua Neuman discusses the idea of a ‘global citizenship’ that’s rooted in values and transcends geographic borders

The past year all but put to rest the cliché that the millennial generation will only commit to taking action in the form of 140 characters or less. From Ukraine, to Ferguson, to Hong Kong, we saw examples of people—perhaps too young to see a cut-and-dry distinction between our online and real world selves—taking to the streets, taking back public spaces, demanding accountability from their leaders, and justice for crimes unpunished. I am by no means the first to suggest that social media and other contemporary communications amplified these efforts, but there has been little discussion about the ways that those forms of communication have connected us as global citizens with a shared sense of values.

The idea of the ‘global citizen’ goes back to ancient Greece in the 4th century B.C., when the philosopher Diogenes struck a blow against petty provincialism and small-minded sectarianism by proclaiming, “I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.”

As the bloody mess that is human civilization can attest, Diogenes’s saber-rattling declaration about the global nature of his identity hasn’t been easy for human beings to embody. But our increased sense of connectedness is now enabling the global citizen to flourish. There is a growing sense that our individual lives resonate with a global dimension and that our interests extend beyond those of our immediate borders. In this issue, we set out to explore that sense.

We started in Argentina where Kurt Shaw sought to better understand a man who we believe is the pinnacle of global citizenship, Pope Francis (“Walking the Maze”). How are we to reconcile the narrow-minded parochialism of the Catholic Church in recent years with the tolerance, cosmopolitanism, and commitment to justice that has defined Francis’s brief papacy? Shaw walks the streets of Buenos Aires and Córdoba to unlock the mystery behind Pope Francis’s distinct blend of faith.

Next, we head to the Yukon, where Tom Clynes paddles down the Snake River and chronicles a legal victory that brought together stakeholders from diverse coalitions, who came together to protect one of the world’s last great wildernesses (“Champagne in the Peel”). The rich hues of the Canadian landscape seem to capture an unusual feeling for those struggling to protect wild places against relentless development: optimism.

Half a century ago, Timothy Leary described a global perspective that was “turned on and tuned in.” In her exploration of the mindfulness movement, Taffy Brodesser-Akner shows how being “turned on and tuned in” has come to be seen as a symptom of an affliction known as “distraction” (“Turbulent Calm”). Brodesser-Akner asks provocative questions about whether mindfulness projects a solitary ideal that isolates us from others instead of connecting us with them.

Speaking of isolation, in new fiction by Darin Strauss, we head to the Emirates for the story of Chuck, (“Chuck Knows Nothing”) an erstwhile web entrepreneur who somehow manages to have a ton of ideas about connectivity without really having a clue about how to achieve it in his own life. The lessons he learns through his failed relationship with Azeeza point to an important distinction between being a global citizen versus merely well-traveled.

And that raises a big point that I’d like to end with: Though this issue takes you to a crack den in Buenos Aires, through the mouth of the Snake River in the Yukon, and to the sun-drenched streets of Abu Dhabi, we don’t want to leave you with the impression that being a global citizen means jet setting around the world and simply learning about other cultures. On the contrary, what makes this time in human history so sacred is our ability to now be connected to people based on shared values and not on mere geography. Today, creativity gets you much further than a passport ever could.

Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

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