On cosmopolitanism and license plates

In my final course at Drake University, entitled “Constructing Americans,” we discussed what it means to be an American, and how we arrive at the policies and procedures that “create” Americans. Toward the end of the class, we focused our attention on cosmopolitanism, the idea that we should exist in one global group, outside of territorial or perceived borders, rather than as individual states and nations. Martha Nussbaum, a scholar we studied, believed that existing in these nation-states was irresponsible and limiting, and I can’t help but to agree with her. Our world is become increasingly globalized, from the products we import and export on a daily basis to the increase in global employment. Why define ourselves by a state, or even by a country? We are part of something much bigger.

The idea of cosmopolitanism is something that sticks with me as I attempt (once more) to register my vehicle in Iowa. The vehicle currently has Minnesota license plates, as it was purchased from a dealer in Minnesota. However, because I now live in Iowa, the law dictates that I should instead register my vehicle in this state. I understand on a basic level the reasoning behind this, but it also seems remarkably silly. I love my life in Des Moines, but it’s unrealistic to assume that I will reside in this state for the lifetime of my vehicle. In two, three, five, eight years, those license plates will have little to do with where I live and what my life is like, and I will again have to go through the process to register the vehicle in my next state.

Why can’t I just have plates that say my vehicle is registered in the United States? Why must I register with one state? I know that this matter is trivial, but I can’t help but feel like it’s tying me down to this state, and I crave a much more transient existence than that implies.


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