Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Cosmopolitanism; or, can't we all just get along?
"Everybody matters: that is our central idea," says the author of this book, Kwame Anthony Appiah, philosopher and champion of an ethical worldview called "Cosmopolitanism." This isn't new of course; when your mother said "eat your food...there's kids starving in Somalia" she was thinking like a cosmopolitan, greek for "citizen of the cosmos."
Cosmopolitanism is more of a challenge than anything else, a personal challenge to get past our hate, ignorance, and lack of imagination; and a national challenge to get past our pride, exceptionalism, and our differences. It's not an easy task to love someone across the globe; in fact, due to our evolutionary wiring, some would say it's impossible. Luckily, we don't have to. All we have to do is tolerate, or "get used to" other people that aren't like us. That's all. We don't have to agree. That's the beauty of it. If we learn about people who are different, we will tolerate them. That's the whole point of this book.
Cosmopolitanism also means realizing that people have basic needs that need to be met: health, food, shelter, education, consenting sex, to move, to express themselves (politically or otherwise). People deserve these things. This is a good place to start. But there are millions of details here, all of which even cosmopolitans could disagree on. For example, Appiah believes the "nation-state" is the best government to get things done, but others think a world government is. This is where the book falls short. There is no detail, no fleshing out of the theory, no meat so to speak. It's a primer, at best. I am disappointed.
He also has a bone to pick with the so called "cultural relativists," who think that values are subjective, that morals aren't real, that all cultures have their own ethical code which are neither right nor wrong and that talking about universal ethics makes no sense. Appiah wants to distance himself, and he knows that he's tiptoeing the line, so he spends some time on it with a nice philosophical discussion. It's a lot like "religious pluralism" (which I've blogged about before)--all religions can be equally valid paths to a single truth, or set of truths. That's the line he wants to take.
For those who want an introduction and light philosophical discussion and fast read, I recommend this book.