Nearly 2400 years ago, when someone asked Diogenes of Sinope where he came from, he said, “I am a citizen of the world.” The implications of that idea have reverberated for centuries. What does it mean if our loyalties are owed not just to our countrymen and those that share our skin color and religion, but towards humanity as a whole? How do we find common ground with people who are so fundamentally different from ourselves? What do we owe the human race?
The alternative is nationalism. 2017 was a big year for nationalism around the world, but it was also a stark reminder of how mindless and silly nationalism is — perhaps the most striking example was when the leaders of two nuclear powers started trading pointless, childish insults, risking an unnecessary war that could lead to nuclear winter and global catastrophe. It was an absurd moment, with two grown men risking the lives of billions simply so they could service their fragile egos, and it showed us all what nationalism really has to offer: division, destruction, and death.
2018, if there’s to be any hope for the human race, has to be the year that grassroots internationalism makes a comeback. We have to start fighting with each other rather than against each other, and we have to identify real common enemies, like climate change, nuclear war, and poverty, rather than fake or exaggerated ones, like immigration, multiculturalism, and terrorism. There’s a lot of work to do, but here are some suggestions for 2018.
1. Consider traveling less.
I know — this is a weird thing for a writer on a travel site to say. But while travel has a near-infinite number of demonstrated benefits to the individual, it can do a bit of a number on the collective. As I wrote last week, the greenhouse gas emissions associated with travel are kind of huge, and many tourists sites are straining at the recent rise in visitors. You alone, of course, don’t do a whole lot of damage when you travel, but when millions of people descend on a single spot in a National Park, it can have unintended negative consequences.
Everyone should travel, it’s true. But maybe, if you’ve already done a lot of traveling yourself, take some time off and focus on your community. One of the easiest ways to decrease your carbon footprint is to take fewer flights. And it’s always worthwhile to try out a “staycation,” where you stay at home and treat your own town, city, or state like you would any tourist destination.
2. If you do travel, travel mindfully.
If you simply can’t talk yourself into staying home for a full year, try and travel more sustainably, and think more carefully about where you’re spending your money. The Union of Concerned Scientists did an excellent report on the most environmentally friendly ways to travel, and they created a cool little chart to help you figure out what your most sustainable bet is:
If you’re going to a city, look into the lodging options. Airbnbs are great, sure, but a lot of cities (like Barcelona and New Orleans) have had problems with “sharing economy” sites like Airbnb and Uber. So it might be better to spend a few extra bucks and go to an actual small hotel, bed and breakfast, or hostel. Likewise, try and keep your money local: don’t go to big chains, and seek out small businesses.
Sustainable tourism is huge these days, and if you do your research ahead of time, you can find some really awesome, really green trips to take. Responsible Travel and Ethical Traveler are both great resources.
3. Invest in your community.
The old global citizen cliche is “think global, act local.” But it’s a cliche for a reason — usually, the best thing you can do for the world as a whole is take care of your tiny corner of it. It is, after all, the place that you have the most power to change. So: what can you do to make your corner of the world a better place?
One easy step is to find a nearby farm offering a CSA, which stands for “Community Supported Agriculture.” Basically, you buy a share in the farm, and then once a week throughout the growing season, they send you a box full of whatever fruits and veggies they happen to be harvesting. It’s really sustainable, it’s really healthy, and it’s very affordable. This site has a tool to help you find one near you.
Next is to consider reinvesting your money locally. Sites like Community-Wealth.org can help give you an idea of how to do so, but you can start by moving your money from the big banks to smaller institutions like Credit Unions, which are more democratically run.
4. Get altruistic.
Many of our problems are structural and are going to take a long time to fix. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still do the most we possibly can in the short-term to alleviate as much suffering as humanly possible.
Effective altruism is a movement that is focused on helping people determine how to get the biggest bang for their donated buck. In short — how can I save as many lives for as little money as possible? They emphasize transparency and evidence in their selection of charities and try to maximize their impact globally. So, even though you may be an American, if you have a choice between saving one American life for $100, or ten African lives for the same $100, you would choose to save the Africans, simply because you’d be making a bigger global impact.
5. Start thinking of democracy as something that goes beyond voting.
One of the more frustrating parts of 2017 came when people who I may have agreed with politically started griping about how voting never changed anything, and that a candidate could win the popular vote and still lose elections, or that rich people could basically buy candidates and elections, and so on.
That’s only true because, in America, we have this warped idea that democracy ends at the ballot box. This is totally wrong. Democracy starts at the ballot box. If you vote, and the election doesn’t turn out the way you’d hoped, then don’t give up till the next election — keep fighting anyway. There are all sorts of things you can do to participate in a democracy beyond voting. You can go to town council meetings, you can write letters, you can call representatives, you can protest, you can publish articles, you can teach classes, you can organize with other like-minded people, you can go outside and pick up trash off of the streets.
Democracy is a full-time job, and it’s a really fulfilling full-time job if you dedicate yourself to it. If you look at the news and get depressed, don’t just wallow in that feeling — get outside. Do something.
For the longest time, I didn’t volunteer for anything. I thought volunteering meant working at a soup kitchen, which wasn’t really my thing. Nothing against soup kitchens, it just never felt like a fit to me. So I did nothing. And I always felt a little bit like I was failing my community. Last year, after spending maybe the third weekday in a row at my local library, I realized that the library was something I cared deeply about and that it may be the perfect volunteer opportunity for me.
I’ve since gotten deeply involved in our town library, and it’s like a whole new world has opened up to me — I’d never realized all that libraries do beyond just lending books. They’re a community center, a place for people to rest when they have nowhere else to go during the day, a place of learning, a place of historical preservation, and a place of research.
The point is — don’t just volunteer for the sake of volunteering. Find something that fits, and it’ll become a fulfilling part of your life.