Yesterday’s Salad, Last Week’s Topic
June 14, 2008
Cosmopolitanism, not to be confused with what those hookers drink on that HBO show, is the idea that everyone in the world is part of a single unified moral community. The main idea behind cosmopolitanism is that everyone is entitled to the same moral treatment as everyone else. When everyone is viewed as part of a single moral community it means that no should be subjugated because of particular religious and cultural peculiarities because they live in a certain part of the world.
For example, according to cosmopolitanism, Hindus who practice the ritual of sati (where a wife throws herself on the burning funeral pyre of her husband when he dies to show her loyalty) are not to be exonerated because the ritual is part of their culture and religion. Similarly the subjugation of women in the vast majority of Muslim countries (e.g. Saudi Arabia where women are not allowed to drive) is not to be tolerated on the basis of cultural or religious difference. Cosmopolitanism also involves a more global attitude towards the world where people don’t view their particular nation as the most important one or the one with the best way of life, but rather where people view all nations and peoples as part of a single global community where everyone has something to contribute.
One clear example of how the idea of cosmopolitanism is affecting the present state of global political affairs is China. China has experienced unbelievable economic growth in the past 20 years. It is poised to become one of the major economic superpowers of the early 21st century. Its rise as an economic superpower is forcing it to become more responsible in terms of its political affairs. China can no longer afford to isolate itself and be unconcerned with international affairs or the way other countries and people view China’s own internal affairs. China’s treatment of Tibet and Tibetans, its business dealings with the Sudanese government, and its human rights violations have come more and more to the forefront of international news as it has become a more dominant economic force in the world. In order to continue to be a major economic and political player on the world stage it will increasingly need to bow to moral pressure from other countries to rectify certain situations like the ones mentioned above.
I happen to think cosmopolitanism is a great idea, and I think many nations are headed in the direction of being part of a genuine global community. One of the last vestiges of old ways has been this idea that if someone has a particular religious or cultural practice that discriminates against others then one could not question that practice because it was part of another person’s culture. Cosmopolitanism allows us to do away with the notion that we cannot criticize others discriminatory and harmful practices just because we are not part of that particular culture. Particularly it allows us to do away with outdated and harmful religious dogmas that have plagued humanity for the past couple thousand years.
Cosmopolitanism will require that people start to see themselves less as members of a particular nation-state and more as citizens of a global community. In this scenario the welfare of everyone is considered important not just the welfare of those who live close proximity. According to cosmopolitanism, human rights issues in the developing nations deserves as much of our attention as anything going on in our immediate vicinity.