An Introduction: Why I’m here and why I love the EUEuropean Union, Fall 2010
en route from Berlin to Nürnberg, 9 August 2010—Wind turbines tower above the undulating pastures and small hamlets of the former East Germany out of the window of this ICE express train as I roll south from Berlin. Berlin—a city with so much vibrancy and openness that its hard to believe a wall split it in two until a few months before I was born. The airy central station from which thousands of trains leave each day to every corner of a united Europe; the glass dome of the stately Bundestag, a symbol of a leading liberal society emerged out of the darkest ashes of fascism; the diverse faces and cultures of residents of the capital; everything seems to indicate a country and a continent that is looking forward to the future with excitement and an earnest desire to draw individuals and cultures together in peace.
Many of my friends and acquaintances have asked me why I’ve chosen to study here. I lived in Japan for a year as an AFS exchange student when I was 16, so Germany is my second study abroad destination. Although I considered studying again in Japan, four years after I first stepped out of my home county the urge was building inside of me to learn a new language, broaden my intellectual horizons, and explore new subjectivities and points of view.
Other countries attracted my attention—Brazil and China come to mind, primarily due to their economic dynamism and the allure of rising superpowers—but at this moment in my education as an International Relations major, and at this turning point in global politics, there is nowhere else I would rather be studying than here in Germany. One must only glance out the window of this high speed train at the windmills and solar panels sprouting from the once-poisoned soil of the Eastern Bloc, or at the Portuguese, Polish, and French passengers in my compartment to recognize that the “old world” is leading the way forward in constructing something incredibly new: a political, economic, cultural, and social paradigm for the 21st century. Domestically, European states have forged a comfortable third way in between unbridled belief in free markets and heavy-handed socialism, while across the continent the “European Project” embodied by the E.U. has blurred national borders and made war unthinkable in what was the bloodiest corner of the Earth in the 20st century.
The E.U. is the world’s greatest supranational political body and the greatest political experiment of the last half century. Its potential to lead the way in building a global society based on tolerance, openness, quality of life, and respect for the earth should not be underestimated. In a fantastic Op-Ed during the World Cup in South Africa, Roger Cohen wrote that he believes Germany, with its multicultural team, is leading the way to a future in which global society is transformed by international networks.
Could it be that we’re just stuck covering the world in conventional ways, gazing at formal frameworks (like states) that are as obsolete as my old Olivetti? Networks outstrip nations that are left playing catch-up, like those long-haired Argentines chasing trim German shadows. Networks are hopeful. They’re where the coming generations live and love.
Americans are the most creative inventors of those networks and the most stubborn in resisting their nation-dissolving impact. Therein lies a good measure of the world’s tensions.
The second paragraph is perhaps the most enticing for me as an American student. In 21st century Europe one finds individual security and identity through embeddedness and connection in networks, while in 20th century America such goals were obtained through autonomy and personal accumulation of wealth. As Jeremy Rifkin argues so brilliantly in his books The European Dream and The Empathic Civilization, the ideas behind the European Union represent the evolution of human consciousness towards something that might truly be called a global consciousness, where people think of themselves more as part of the community and the human race than any sub-group of people. The emergence of such a consciousness may be the only hope for solving the most pressing problems of the 21st century. Nation-states alone cannot solve global warming, extreme poverty, or nuclear proliferation. Today, cultural diasporas, social networks, multinational corporations, and popular media span across borders around the world. The E.U. is where the same trend towards networks over groups is playing out in the political arena.
Of course, the E.U.’s potential as the gateway to an emerging global consciousness remains only a possibility. There are many other possible outcomes, and the global economic crisis has led Europeans to look less favorably on the project of continental integration. In ten years time, we might see a European superpower exerting its influence with a single voice in international diplomacy, or we could witness the disintegration of the project and the marginalization of european ideas in the geopolitical marketplace. Likewise, we might see the international community come together to solve global issues, or we may see the reemergence of nationalism and conflict as more people fight over fewer resources on an overtaxed planet. Moreover, those potentialities may be intimately related to each other: so goes Europe, so goes the Earth.
As I’ve studied International Relations and developed meaningful relationships with friends in dozens of countries on six continents, I’ve come to believe that the emergence of a global consciousness is the best hope for humankind in the 21st century. The world needs the European Project to succeed as a model for the messy business of international integration. More importantly, at a time when the United States seems stuck in the past and China appears ominously illiberal, the world needs Europe to find its voice on the international stage and lead the way towards a sustainable, equitable, and peaceful future. I’ve come to study here because I believe I want to be involved in my career in spreading the ideals of the E.U. around the globe, including back to my own country. I embrace Europe’s vision of the future. The the race to global consciousness and a post-carbon economy in on!
OK! Kind of a long and involved introduction to why I came to study here and my blog, but it just wrote itself once I started. I hope to occupy this space over the next five months with insights from my life and studies in Freiburg as well as my trips throughout the EU. There will be day-to-day stuff about life here as well as posts like this one about more political themes. I’ll be posting at least one video per month and several photo and written posts each month. To see some of my past video work, visit my YouTube channel. I hope you’ll keep visiting this space! Ciao!
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