The Most Uplifting Form of Human Allegiance

A position long held by Steve Sailer is that citizenism is ” the least destructive and most uplifting form of allegiance humanly possible on an effective scale.” Long term readers of this blog might guess that many of the bloggers here would tend to disagree. But here Sailer argues that of our options, we aren’t going to get better than citizenism.

My starting point in analyzing policies is: “What is in the best overall interests of the current citizens of the United States?”

In contrast, so many others think in terms of: “What is in the best interest of my: identity group / race / ethnicity / religion / bank account / class / ideology / clique / gender / sexual orientation / party / and/or personal feelings of moral superiority?”

Given the options he presents, I might be hard pressed to say that citizenism is any worse than those options and it is clearly superior to many of them. “Personal feelings of moral superiority” for instance seems to devolve simply into straight egoism. Meanwhile the other options have problems of either arbitrariness or stifling of diverse ideas. But is universalism, namely the idea that all humans should carry equal moral weight to each other, truly not possible on “an effective scale”?

There is perhaps some evidence in support of this from history. Most humans have used various forms of smaller group moralities through history. Wars and revolutions have been fought on issues of class, race, religion, ideology, and even arguably feelings of moral superiority. A large-scale respect for universalism may have prevented, or at least destroyed the initial rationales (ex. slavery), for many and perhaps all of these wars. Humanity’s failure to broadly adopt universalism may be taken as a bad sign for that philosophy’s viability. Even modern psychological experiments show it is easy to divide humans into competing groups. However, just because something has not yet happened does not mean it cannot happen in the future.

Take democracy for instance. Slightly over a century ago almost no countries could be called democracies by modern standards of universal suffrage. Meanwhile a century later, by some measures a majority of the countries in the world can be considered democracies (also in the previous link). This is clearly a massive change. There is even change on human morals. For millennia the practice of human slavery was common and (at least in historical written records) almost entirely unchallenged. But starting in the 19th century, major countries began banning the practice of slavery. This trend has continued until the last country on Earth officially (though perhaps not in practice) banned slavery in 1981. Human moral evolution is not only possible, we’ve seen it happen in remarkably short time frames (for more examples of changing moral evolution see Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature).

Citizenism itself is an example of this trend. Sailer himself sees this as a selling point in the above article. Not that long ago, the idea of loyalty to as broad a group as a nation was almost unheard of. Peasants in Early Modern Europe tended to care more about their village and maybe their religious group (which most often manifested itself in attacks on or demonization of those outside their faith). Basic ideas of nationalism only began taking hold in the 18th century. Citizenism, in this regard is already a break from “natural” ways humans tend to group themselves. Indeed, the best guess of the maximum number of meaningful relations we can have is limited to 150 people. Any moral consideration outside of that group must be considered arbitrary or a social construct given how human brains work. Even historical means of dividing people are clearly social constructs with little basis in natural or necessary grouping. Racism for instance has often been a poor proxy for any kind of actual genetic divides. Hispanics for instance are not a separate racial category on any kind of genetic level, yet have often been lumped together in American discourses (such as the Sailer article I initially linked). Furthermore, geneticists have argued that there is more variation between humans of the same race than between racial groupings.

The same construct problems hold for religions and ideologies (do we consider Sunnis and Shiites one group because they are both fundamentally Islamic or different because of the interpretations? Are Trotskyists and Stalinists both Marxists or importantly different groups? The answers depend on the context). And finally couldn’t we get around the citizenism block on weighing all humans equally on moral concerns by simply declaring everyone on the planet a citizen of country X?

Sailer both admits and in fact praises that the definitions of citizenship are just as arbitrary as those of race, religion, and ideology (if not more so). Prior to the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution large numbers of African-Americans didn’t count as citizens of the country they were born in. Citizenship is a quality that had been expanded and shrunk innumerable times. And if a theoretical situation where the legal definition of citizenship for a given country becomes “every human on Earth” could happen, why not skip the formality?

Perhaps if everyone acted like citizenists though then through the magic of an invisible hand-like force the result would be ideal to universalists. Even if this is true however, an even more sure way to achieve universalist outcomes should be to have everyone hold universalist morals. If citizenism and universalism are both unnatural moral systems for humans, then why should one be harder to embrace than the other? Even if an external enemy is needed for unity, plenty of options abound. Perhaps a struggle against a natural world trying to kill us, the potential for space aliens, or maybe even just making up some fictional group through a type of “noble lie.” Uniting around a common enemy is an often ugly phenomena though and is usually best avoided (a process I would think would be made easier with universalist ethics).

I can’t claim everyone, or perhaps even a majority of people are truly universalist in their moral philosophies. Not even at the level of putting that 150 person strong group of friends and family first and then all other humans equally. But that is no excuse. Humans have invented innumerable different ways to give moral consideration to large groups. And if some humans can find solidarity in abstract and arbitrary groupings such as nations or states, then I hold out hope that we can in fact do so for the abstract idea of humanity. This belief doesn’t have to be linked to a belief in the expanding circle of morality, but if the circle can expand would expanding in the direction of including all of humanity be so bad? The limited number of people willing to extend moral considerations beyond the people of their own states have done some amazing work already. If it is possible for groups such as that to draw on universalist morality then I count that as both humanly possible and on an effective scale. And if universalism is possible, then why would anyone want to settle for citizenism?

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Chris Hendrix is a Masters student in history in Atlanta, Georgia with an interest in the history of borders. See also:

Chris Hendrix’s personal statement
blog post introducing Chris Hendrix
all blog posts by Chris Hendrix

4 thoughts on “The Most Uplifting Form of Human Allegiance”

  1. As Ronald Reagan pointed out in a speech to the United Nations in 1987, human beings would be universalists if Earth was being invaded by space aliens: “I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.”

    Of course, then, humans wouldn’t be true universalists because the invading space aliens are part of the Universe, too, aren’t they? What right do we have to this lovely little planet where we happened to be born, when a technologically superior culture can cross the vast depths of interstellar space and suck our oceans dry and enslave us to work in their underground sugar caves? No, in that situation, Earthlings would be lamentably Earthist.

    1. I do believe I addressed this very point in my post, specifically in the second to last paragraph (which I’ll go ahead and quote):

      “If citizenism and universalism are both unnatural moral systems for humans, then why should one be harder to embrace than the other? Even if an external enemy is needed for unity, plenty of options abound. Perhaps a struggle against a natural world trying to kill us, the potential for space aliens, or maybe even just making up some fictional group through a type of “noble lie.” Uniting around a common enemy is an often ugly phenomena though and is usually best avoided (a process I would think would be made easier with universalist ethics).”

  2. Beautiful thoughts my friend… The “natural” order however seems to be to divide on the basis of culture, language, religion, ethnicity and borders. The entire planet has been divided so from the beginning.

    Given the opportunity to blend with then surrounding culture, a displaced culture seems to create it own replacements for the above when missing (borders, most often) Chinatown, Muslim Quarter, Hassidic quarter. Notalbe is that in the Muslim sections in the UK Sharia law is enforced although it is not the law of THAT land. And hassidic jews will taunt and urge you to leave their section. Given even the same ethnicity, groups will divide based
    on one of the above tenets.

    Tell me you have no feeling even as a pacifist when “our” soldiers tell their stories. We are so hard-wired it would take a genetic change to make your utopia realizable.

    It is true that there are a few groups which have broken from the fold and practiced life in a manner similar to your description; and a few that did not. But in a sense they created their own language, culture, religion, and borders and so fit my dire and depressive view.

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