Friday, July 31, 2009

Random Google Image Search Result for Cosmopolitanism

Passport of the future? This image lead to an interesting Global Citizenship Wiki. From my initial skimming, it looks like the page is run by Canadians. Canadians are awesome...and I don't say this because my two managers at work are Canadian, nor because I love those cool uniforms Mounties wear. It's mostly because of their charming accents and plaid lumberjack shirts.

I Had No Idea Einstein was a Socialist

If Einstein were alive today, I could guarantee two things: 1. He would use a fancy smelling, expensive hair pomade that could only be purchased at salons (either to tame that crazy mop or to accentuate his bed head look that is so popular). 2. He would call himself a Cosmopolitan (because calling yourself a socialist never seems to be in style).

My former professor Fred Dubee sent me this article, written by Albert Einstein for the inaugural issue of The Monthly Review in 1949. Einstein acknowledges that, even sixty years ago, people were not content with their relationship to society as a whole. He asserted that "human society is passing through a crisis, that its stability has been gravely shattered. It is characteristic of such a situation that individuals feel indifferent or even hostile toward the group, small or large, to which they belong." He admits that the reasons for this are varied, complex, and sometimes conflicting. The primary culprit, he argues, is capitalism and its celebrated paradigm of competition and profit. The relatively few owners of the means of production not only amass disproportionate amounts of capital in relation to their workers, but also rob individuals of the satisfaction that comes with serving their immediate community. In the not so distant past, small communities thrived by themselves, without relying too much, if at all, on external entities. In 1949, Einstein felt it was only a "slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption." I wonder if he would be surprised to see the planetary community we have now. No exaggeration.

The world's capitalistic environment, which encourages people to focus on acquiring individual power and success, perpetuates the disconnect between people and their relationship with society that Einstein identified in the middle of the last century. Repairing this relationship so that people can look more positively on their dependence and involvement with the collective, rather than despising the competitive, profit-driven imbalance that is the core of our society would, according to Einstein, take two things: 1. A planned, socialist economy and 2. An overhauling of the educational system so that children were raised with a sense of social responsibility instead of competition and individualistic goals that do not take the well being of others into account. For most, a planned, socialist economy sounds like a scary, bureaucratic nightmare. I have no idea what a planned, socialist economy would look like. It makes me feel better that Einstein wasn't sure, either. However, the prospect of revamping the educational system so that children learn to take care of themselves, as well as each other, doesn't seem so far fetched. Can learning to "share" be synonymous with "success?"

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Enforced Proximity

Watch this video before you read what I have written. If you don't mind, post your immediate response(s) as a comment to this blog.

Ok. My friend Emily sent this video to me a couple of days ago. Although it contains numbers and information from 2008, it is still relevant. The clip has a unique tone that reflects how much of the world is reacting to, or anticipating, the increased interdependencies and changes from globalization. I'd consider myself an open-minded cosmopolitan (not in the snooty, jetsetting sort of way, but in the "I know what's going on beyond the border of my country" sort of way), but this video scared me. Maybe it was the intense music or the intermittent "did you know?" text beaming at me every few seconds, skeptically questioning my knowledge. It could be that it started off by giving facts about China - we all know it's going to eat us alive. I'm not sure. I am sure that the information is pretty intense and probably doesn't need an orchestra behind it to give the average viewer a chill. A week's worth of information in the New York Times was more info than the average person would come across in a lifetime in the 18th Century?!? This blew my mind and it surprises me that more of our minds haven't completely blown up with the constant influx of information we receive. My question is, have our minds and bodies adapted quickly enough to handle all of this? Do you think it would make a difference if instead of presenting globalization as something that will take us over, we made a conscious effort to embrace it and steer it for good?

Most of us look to live in safe, peaceful neighborhoods that make us feel comfortable and relaxed. The internet and its virtual communities, television, sms, and personal cell phones are making the world our neighborhood. In the 18th century, one might have had to worry about their neighbor's horse shitting in their front yard. Now, we've got "neighbors" doing horrific things (genocide, environmental destruction, etc.) that we can't ignore. "When the neighborhood is the planet, moving to get away from bad neighbors is not an option" (Commission on Global Governance, 1995: 44). How do we create a neighborhood that will take us all into account? This is the question that came into my mind when at the end of video, the question is asked "So what does it mean?"

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Thirty Days of Cosmopolitanism

I entered my graduate program abroad in Global Peace and Conflict Studies with an unrealistic belief that world peace was a final destination...that we would gradually and collectively arrive there and let out a huge sigh of relief. Through the course of my studies and afterward, I realized that this utopia I envisioned at the end of the jarring ride on the peace bus was kind of bullshit. Students at the University were from myriad countries and brought divergent worldviews and fierce loyalties to nation, religion, tradition...these all seemed to get in the way of creating a single definition of peace. I discovered that even I, the less-than patriotic United States citizen who denounced everything President Bush-related, was defensive about my way of life and the values I held as an American. If I let go completely of my American identity, I felt like I was floating in a cultural void. Shedding this identity was tempting, however, because being an American abroad carries a certain shame. Without the American context though, what was my context?

My anchor came in the form of Cosmopolitanism. A concept introduced by one of my professors, it was the frame of reference I was looking for to provide an identity that encompassed many layers. As an idea, it embraced the conflicts that I was feeling and allowed for ambiguities. Cosmopolitanism recognizes that humanity shares a single, world community. So, for those (like myself) who get stuck in nationalistic thinking, it's like looking at the globe as a state. If we need a flag for this state, we could perhaps use the photo of earth from space taken from the Apollo 8 mission.

Cosmopolitanism recognizes that achieving peace is a constant challenge. Within the idea, there is the recognition of our common humanity and that we have obligations to each other as human beings. At the same time, Cosmopolitanism knows that people are different and can learn from each other. The concept embraces the awkward balance of universal concern for people while encouraging difference and diversity.

Over the next thirty days (or so...depending on thee ol' work schedule), I will highlight cosmopolitanism in the world news and see how the idea is used. Is it being used to promote a global project of peace? Is it seen as threatening to those who wish to retain a separateness of identity? I welcome your comments and your ideas.