Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Citizenship and Aeroplanes

Hello Citizen,
got aircraft?

Unfortunately for my health, I am not a frequent flyer. This year, I’ve only flown to Arizona once. (Mainly for a music festival) Last year, only once to Arizona and London. (Mainly for the British Museum) 
Just now I am very tired, all day everyday, wearing extra layers, while my throat is sore: side glands tender, hard to swallow. I’ve been like this for ten days, and I expect another ten or twenty more days.

What happened? you ask. Easy: I was sitting in my seat, by the window, (because flying is still new and exciting for me) feeling cold for over half an hour before I noticed I just wasn’t warming up, and finally asked myself what was wrong. I looked up. That stupid nozzle that delivers air to my individual seat had been left on, full blast. Blasting cold molecules from the other passengers straight at my eyes and nose. 

You might hope an aircraft could carry enough air, compressed into tanks, to supply air for the entire flight. No. Some aircraft of the 1930’s did, but it’s not practical on a large scale. You might think a modern jet’s turbo fans could bring in complete fresh air during the entire flight. Yes, indeed some aircraft do. In fact, I read a news article where a man had memorized the few remaining passenger planes that did so, in order to avoid all the other planes: He wasn’t going to take any chances with his health. But most of us can’t do that, because most aircraft, although “pressurized” are also using a big percentage of recycled air. It saves money. Hence the airborne pathogens.

Now, I don’t expect most passengers to remember before they disembark to turn off their individual seat overhead reading light. But please-please-please turn off that stupid air nozzle! Sure, you might claim you expect frequent flyers to check their nozzle when they first sit down, as a matter of course. My response: There are new babies being born every day that are not yet frequent flyers. Me neither.

How has air travel changed citizenship?

To answer, I must first look to the classical ideals of citizenship, even if we no longer live by such ideals. It’s like what Peter Drucker advised a business board: First know what’s Right, before you start to compromise. You may think of this essay as being a continuation of Citizenship and Belonging, from April of 2018, complete with references to writer Robert Heinlein. 

Classical citizenship used to be taught on our continent; for example, each of the 1930’s high school textbooks I grew up with made a point of saying the apostle Paul had to travel slowly, by sea, all the way to Rome, for his trial for the crime of being a Christian. That was his right as a Roman citizen. A nation of less-than-Romans could not try him.  “Less than?” I’m no anthropologist, but I guess a certain sense of city-state superiority was very useful in an age when people might go to war against innocent humans, or go imperialize, or march off to a nearby city-state for a quick slave raid. 

(Note: Becoming enslaved, in classical times, was a sign of bad luck, not racial inferiority. No one, for example, said the Trojans were racially inferior, while every Greek was pleased to have them as slaves after the fall of Troy)

Back when the Europeans were competing with each other, up until the mid-century world war, “race” could mean which side of a European river you grew up on. (According to old books in the university library) Now that they have a European Union, I guess they don’t need to divide into races. Since the end of the war, and the ending of the European colonies (India became free in the late 1940’s) and the ever increasing aircraft and international trade, racism has dwindled alongside the decline of imperialism… Wow, imagine the things my father must have seen in his lifetime: After the ten year winter of the Great Depression, he came back from the war and watched a marvellously growing world! 

I grew up in a postwar suburb. One of our old school textbooks was Lands of Europe and Asia, where we learned that Australia had a “whites only” immigration policy. But once trade with Asia boomed…er, well… Today the visible make up of Australia is like the Pacific coast city of Vancouver, Canada, or so I was told back in the 1970’s by a traveler. I had asked him after a young pretty Chinese lady named Pien had called me “Shone” with her pretty Australian accent. (Or was it a New Zealand accent? The world is so close together now)

If the Greek city-states each so highly valued their citizenship then it was not for trade, imperialism or, say, to stiffen their backbone as they stood in fearful line of battle for national defence, however super-critical such defence might be. No. “Citizenship” was for the bedrock purpose of democracy and freedom. By valuing their citizenship, people valued participating in a government of the people. 

There is a scene in a 1950’s novel where a teacher in a high school civics class pins a First Place blue ribbon, for a track race, on a boy. In Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers the student responds angrily, forgetting to respect his teacher: “You know darn well I came in third!” The scene is to illustrate, I think, that in Greco-Roman times citizenship was valued not because it was a label pasted on by accident of birth, but earned through actions “of the people and by the people,” on an ongoing basis, throughout each person’s lifetime, for the goal of maintaining democracy. Earned like a blue ribbon. Like the military title of private, the proud title of citizen was earned and re-earned on a daily basis.

Unless maybe your parents grew up during the Great Depression, or you’ve seen those old closet-less tiny houses in Boston, it may be hard to remember how non-affluent the colonists were. Some one told me a rich and famous founding father’s entire wardrobe could fit on a single row of pegs. Despite their lack of affluence, all the colonists, even dirt poor frontier tree line farmers, would have known a little about classical democracy. 

It was part of their cultural heritage: Farmers had their New Testament, of course. Poems back then had classical references and symbolism. The constellations were Greek, the very planets had Greco-Roman names. 

The lack of affluence was stark: People, in those non-affluent days, arrived in the colonies on a one-way ticket. Benjamin Franklin later left America to become ambassador to France, but I don’t know of any founding father who could afford to cross the Ocean Blue just for fun. 

People from Scotland sang once a year, to remember their left-behind, “Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind…” Truly a ticket was only one-way, across a vast sea of time…

—Forgive me, dear reader, but I feel I must stop here. For reasons of length. Not to insult your attention span, but because, despite my writerly enthusiasm, I don’t want to bore myself if I chance upon this piece a year from now. That, and go, “Oh dear, did I inflict all this at once on my poor readers?”

So Part Two can wait, wherein I will carry these old concepts on into the modern day, and see how they fit.

Sean Crawford,
lately out of Sky Harbor,

Footnote: In her book Starting From Scratch, Rita Mae Brown points out that until the horrors of the First World War, our western heritage drew from three great streams: Christian, Hebrew and Greco-Roman. Then we foolishly dropped the latter, and now we have only two streams. Such a dreadful pity. A lot of cultural shorthand symbols have been lost.

1 comment:

  1. have a great day.