AQ&A Topic 4 Date: 17 September 2017 : A citizen of the world? .. of a country, a town? So what is a citizen anyway?

Focus questions

(feel free to add more of these) . Clearly not all of these questions can be covered in a meetup, but they give us a conscious choice about what to talk about while making the background context clearer.

1. Multiple members of the Federal Parliament are possibly in parliament illegally. The high court will decide in October. The Australian constitution forbids any member of the parliament from holding dual citizenship, even if they didn't seek dual citizenship. Some people get dual citizenship automatically because of their parents' country of origin. It seems that more than half the people of Australia cannot sit in the federal parliament unless they renounce their dual citizenship. Is this crazy? Should we change the constitution? Note- changing the constitution is very hard, and can have unintended consequences.

 2. Some countries forbid dual citizenship for anyone, while others make it very easy. Which is the best option for Australia?

 3. Many people expect immigrants to erase their entire previous lives - their memories, their old friends and loyalties, their previous language ... How realistic is this? [e.g. USA official culture puts a big emphasis on this kind of erasure. How well has it worked for them?]

 4. More than a million Australians are expatriates, living and working in other countries, sometimes for many years (e.g. I spent about 24 years studying and working overseas). What kind of privileges and obligations should they retain in Australia while they are absent? Note: I made a submission to an Australian parliamentary inquiry on this subject.

 5. Australia has reciprocal pension arrangements with 30 other countries, many but not all being countries of emigration to Australia ( ). This usually means that if you can obtain residence in these countries you can both collect an Australian pension and access their social services. In other countries, while you live there you can collect an Australian pension, wholly or in part, but lose medicare and concession cards after a certain time. What is the fairest arrangement for Australian retirees who want to live overseas (e.g. perhaps for a lower cost of living) and immigrants who want to retire in their birth country?

6. As a country of immigration, Australia has many "partial citizens", from working holiday makers,to students, to temporary workers on 457 visas (just replaced by a different 400 category), to a new TSS (temporary skills shortage) visa, to 'permanent residents'. What rights and obligations should these partial citizens have, and how should these categories be managed?

 7. Companies are 'legal persons' but obviously not 'human persons'. As merely 'legal persons' they cannot be constrained in the same ways as citizens, and (from past evidence) have few national loyalties.35% of Australia's largest companies pay no tax. Some companies are larger than many countries. How can the buccaneering tendencies of many companies be controlled? How can company employees manage conflicts of loyalty between company and country?

8. Thousands of millions of people have migrated, and are migrating from rural areas to cities. For many, this is an even larger cultural wrench than changing countries. When we talk of an Australian citizen, or a Chinese citizen, or a Nigerian citizen, do we mean a rural person or a city person? From 1788, convicts sent to Australia were often victims of rural to urban migration failure. In many cases, rural and city people have their heads in entirely different spaces. Their very notions of 'citizen' are quite different. How do we socially and politically manage such huge differences of understanding?

9. Both within and between countries there is a desperate competition for real talent, and also competition for domicile for holders of wealth (which is not the same thing as talent). At the same time, there is a desperate search for ways, both legal and sometimes brutal, to exclude ordinary people, ranging down to handicapped people, from crossing borders. The world's 60+ million refugees are at the bottom of this heap. What is the fairest way to manage the vastly contrasting mobility open to talented and very ordinary citizens?

10. The modern idea of 'country' is pretty new (really beginning in Europe with the Treaty of Wesphalia, 1648). Historically people belonged to a region, a tribe, a warlord, a king etc. Travel rights were rather informal and individual. Passports are even newer. Australia didn't have it's own passport until 1948. Now from birth we are electronically labeled, numbered and stamped 'in' or 'out' in ways beyond our control. How much does this bureaucratic management really have to do with being a citizen anyway? How consistent and how important are our personal attachments to the abstract idea of being a member of some country?


A couple of starter articles:

May, Thor (2014) "How can we treat refugees humanely? – an Australian perspective" at

May, Thor (2004) “Inquiry into the status of Australian Expatriates” – a submission to the Senate of the Australian Federal Parliament.@ 


More comments and links:


Thor May

As individuals become better educated and more prosperous, at least a proportion of them might become less loyal to the idea of forever being citizens of just one country, particularly if a government seems less loyal to their interests (e.g. weak laws) and they can see better alternatives (e.g. emigration). Here is a piece describing just this mindset for certain citizens of China: “What It’s Like to be a Member of the Middle Class in China” at (note: The Epoch Times is set in opposition to the present PRC government, so has to be treated with caution. Nevertheless, some of its content does show insight).


Thor May

People have always been bound together in families, by personal acquaintance, and with shared values of daily activity, as for example you find in villages. As societies become too big and complex to be personal, new kinds of glue to hold people together have been needed. This glue has often taken the form of artificial constructs like religions, ideologies and laws. The hold of such constructs on individual minds can be absolute, or weak, or missing altogether, yet all are called “citizens”. Here are three articles in which I look at these questions (each of the articles contains links to related material):


May, Thor (2010) “Cultural Operating Systems”. online @ ­

oMay, Thor (2014) “What will be the dominant ideologies of the 21st Century?” online @ ­

oMay, Thor (2012 ) “The contest for competence”. online @    


Thor May

When I was in primary school (1950s) the touch-stone of being an Australian citizen was a little poem which every child had to learn. Since Australia is one of the worlds' most urbanized countries, even as a kid I felt a twinge of irony: My Country by Dorothea Mackeller: (


I love a sunburnt country,

A land of sweeping plains,

Of ragged mountain ranges,

Of droughts and flooding rains.

I love her far horizons,

I love her jewel-sea,

Her beauty and her terror

The wide brown land for me!


Thor May

"Citizenship" is a chameleon idea with many shapes and meanings. In political practice, one of those ideas make it a close relative of in-group / out-group clusters like tribalism, nationalism etc. In that sense, the majority will always be parochial and see wider views with enmity (e.g. Trump's 'America first' slogan). "Parochialism can be found around the world and has sometimes been acknowledged by local institutions. For example, in a change of curriculum on February 7, 2007, Harvard University said that one of the main purposes of the major curriculum overhaul (the first in three decades) was to overcome American "parochialisms", referring in this case to a national point of view rather than one concerned with any particular small community." [Wikipedia - parochialism] Where are you on this sliding scale?



 >> Note: mailouts by (such as changing a topic etc) are often sent to the spam/trash bin by email programs like Yahoo, Gmail etc. Always check your email trash or spam bins before deleting the contents. [If you are clever, you can also change the filter on these email programs to allow emails from certain sources]


1. All past topic questions are now listed at

 2. From another meetup I run for English learners, twenty-four sets of 10x questions (from Thor) designed for students of  English as a Second Language are online at


Citizen of the World  Discussion Questions ©Thor May 2018

return to homepage