Editor’s Note: As part of our efforts to improve the Yesterday’s Salad experience, we’ve decided to introduce guest columns. This week’s guest columnist for last week’s topic (we’ve never been too pedantic when it comes to time) is a PhD student in Philosophy at one of America’s top philosophy programs where he focuses on Kant, Free Will, the History of Western Philosophy, and Hatin’ on Continental Philosophy. Since he didn’t tell me if he wanted to be introduced by his real name, I’m not going to post it. Also, for now, all of the guest posts will be authored by “designedlateral” until such a day as “designedlateral,” our erstwhile Football columnist, decides to make his triumphant return. Enjoy.

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.

Editor’s Note: Today is the first day of a new format here at Yesterday’s Salad. From now on, each week will have a theme, with 3-4 posts addressing the topic at hand. This should make YS slightly more coherent–but only slightly. After all, we’re all going to continue reading the topic at hand with our own unique biases with our interests intact. So expect my posts to keep talking about language, theory, transit, and movies while Notwithabang continues the AGS pursuits, the Ciceronian declaims, and so forth. That brings me to this weeks topic: Cosmopolitanism.

Lo, the inconsistency that is Cosmopolitanism! Just look at these conflicting definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary:

1) Cosmopolitan character; adherence to cosmopolitan principles (Belonging to all parts of the world; not restricted to any one country or its inhabitants)

2) Disparagement of Russian traditions and culture (equated with disloyalty)

What should we make of this antagonym? (More a feature of Semitic languages as in Hebrew where the same root means both “heresy” and “atone” or in Arabic than it is of English). Is it possible to construct an actual philosophy, humanistic or political, that belongs to all parts of the world equally, yet regularly disparages Russian traditions and culture? Or could it be that Cosmopolitanism, one of the great hopes for moving the world into a post-War, post-National era is simply a repackaged, hidden form of the Reagan Revolution? Maybe the only thing the world, even educated liberals, can agree on is “Russia bad, us good.”

Of course its unfair, even in a post-Deconstruction world to burden a word with contradictory meanings simultaneously. Though Deconstruction teaches that a word always bears all of its meanings, some meanings are, in great Soviet style, more equal than others. So even though “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” disparages Soviets, its orientalist faux archeology (naturally the best kind) disqualifies it from being Cosmopolitan. So too one does not confuse the legendary blogtrix Rootless Cosmopolitan with the cosmopolitan (oed draft entry 12/07: A cocktail made with vodka, orange-flavoured liqueur, cranberry juice, and lime juice.), even if that beverage can be variously spelled with a capital C, nor does one suspect that Cosmopolitanism is a philosophy of drunkhead (though it would, no doubt, rally more people to the cause).

Indeed, the greatest problem with Cosmopolitanism as a political philosophy is that it makes no sense as an electoral strategy. Martha Nussbaum Harvard may be a bastion of multiculturalism, but that doesn\'t do anything to help the poor drainage in the squarehas called for allegiance to humanity as a whole, while Bruce Robbins opens one of his many pieces on the topic with this terrific quote: “‘In the course of my life, I have seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians; I even know, thanks to Montesquieu, that one can be a Persian; but man I have never met.‘” (source) And therein lies the rub: politics is local, and appealing to internationalism rarely fixes your drainage problems.

Harvard may be a bastion of multiculturalism, but that doesn’t seem to help in a downpour.

But if there is one place where multiculturalism might work as a political philosophy, its the Cosmopolis (either the (capital) city of the world or a cosmopolitan city or community). Indeed, in such a city, politics could be both local and cosmopolitan, both inclusive and unique. Walter Benjamin famously declared Paris the capital of the 19th century, but today another city best represents global trends, better serves as an example of the cosmopolitan society. That’s right, the Elm City, New Haven, Connecticut.

Why New Haven and not its predecessor, the Atlantis/El Dorado-like lost city of Old Haven? Here are but three reasons:

1) Food. For this we turn back to that eminent scholar of Cosmopolitanism, Bruce Robbins and his sometime alter ego Mark Bittman. We live in a global world marked by flows and misflows (Yid: vegn und umvegn) of resources and culture, and nowhere is this more felt than the realm of cuisine. New Haven was not only an early adopter of fusion cuisines [citation needed], it was also the site of one of America’s first great experiments in taking something that clearly doesn’t belong to you and claiming it as your own. Such was the case with the legendary New Haven Pizza, the choice of all effete Cosmopolitans as they wrest themselves from New York or Chicago provincialism. But few know the true origins of New Haven Pizza. Read the rest of this entry »