Cosmopolitanism in a Time of Petty Nationalism 

Cosmopolitanism in a Time of Petty Nationalism  July 28, 2016

To be Humanist is to say, with the philosopher Diogenes of Sinope, “My city is the world.” (In Greek the English word “world” is “kosmos.”)

Humanists are necessarily cosmopolites, not because we are always leaping on jets touring the planet, but because we have realized that all perceived differences in humanity (homo sapiens sapiens) are superficial. The academic philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah usefully calls cosmopolitanism “universality plus difference.” This phrase expresses the realization that perceived human difference is at once tiny and all-encompassing.

This is the idea that Humanist Gene Roddenberry attempted to express on the bridge of his fictional starship Enterprise.

Humanist cosmopolitanism is not a statement of power or egotism or conquest, but one of humble acceptance of humanity’s true (multifaceted) place in our shared reality. Borders are artificial. Wholeness is the truth. Difference is at once an illusion and a potentially deadly reality.

As various Star Trek plots have expressed, we will either learn to respect both universality and difference or we will perish.

Many of our species sell us short. When primates began to look at the stars in wonder, Humanism was born. Far from the cliche of superstitious creatures huddled in caves, we beings who now call ourselves homo sapiens sapiens have from the beginning been engineers and artists, philosophers and scientists discovering how to adapt to our environment and make the most of our brief time on the planet. We have both murdered each other and discovered the cosmos.

Among animals, human beings have so far been the most adept at developing methods to conceptualize time and ways to preserve and communicate knowledge and culture across generations. Humanity has been good at evolving and passing on complex social relationships and unique solutions to complex challenges, yet we also have been prone to superstitions and hatreds—aspects of ourselves that must be transcended in order to achieve what has been called “the good life.”

Humanist ideas are universal in scope and continuous through time, anywhere an inquiring mind has met an intractable problem or mystery. Rather than accepting the easy answers, Humanists never stop asking “why?” and “how?” Humanists are the empiricists, the questioners, the artists who push knowledge to the edge, then press on.

You will know Humanists when you see us because we do not worship, nor do we pray, nor do we bow before the ideas, idols, or ideologies of our fellow homo sapiens sapiens. We are at home in the cosmos, living in awe, gratitude, and hope, knowing we dwell in difference yet are one with all. We dedicate our lives to healing the planet and freeing humanity.

The fearful have throughout our human story hidden behind petty nationalism and worshiped the tribal gods. Through whatever mass panics and witch hunts the fearful fall prey to, Humanists remain cosmopolites. HH

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