Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Cosmopolitanism May Solve Group Bias, But at the Risk of Meaninglessness

We all live in groups and take part of our identity from them.  We tend to identify with our groups.  And, as a result, we tend to be biased toward our group, and against out-groups.

Being biased against other groups is a problem of alienation. The Other stands over-against us.  Marxism is centrally concerned with problems of alienation.

Liberalism is centrally concerned with overcoming bias against other groups by treating others (and oneself) as individuals. The liberal solution to the problem of parochial attachment only to my group is to become a cosmopolitan, a citizen of the world, not bound by any group.

However, if we are not tied to any group, we face another problem: anomie. Anomie is the sense that there is no law (nomos), no order, no meaning, no "there" there.  We look into the abyss of meaninglessness.  Durkheimianism is centrally concerned with anomie.


Barry said...

Humans seem to be hardwired to practice "us against them" It extends from my county sports team against yours( even to intra country teams) to our county against yours, to my state against yours, to south versus north( or quoting comments on this blog: the heartland against the coasts and the northeast) to USA versus others to religious competition. A certain of this is healthy and leads to improvement overall, however we might benefit from practicing the bumper sticker "Coexist"

Gruntled said...

I agree that we are hardwired to start with an in-group/out-group distinction. Likewise, the wisdom of "coexist" as a command, of tolerance and mutual respect, is a huge gain and civilizational achievement.

However, this does not solve the problem at the other end of the trajectory of tolerance - how do I justify my attachment to any group, identity, or way of being? What is my confidence in the meaningfulness of any identity?

I raise this issue not to question the meaningfulness of identity, but rather to show that the liberal solution to the one problem is not stable, as it creates another, symmetrical problem.

Mac said...

Generally, I agree with your post, especially after reading your reply. Just because I had never heard of anomie, what, if anything, is the difference between "anomie" and "anarchy"?

dennistheeremite said...

It seems to me that "cosmopolitanism" results in another form of "us/them". It becomes the standard of evaluation of others. Conservatives tend to evaluate in terms of good/bad. Liberal/progressive people tend to evaluate in terms of "advanced/retrograde". I think that cosmopolitanism plays into that. I think one sees this in the United Methodist Church with their division into Western vs third world bishops. One finds western liberals chafing under the restraints of their own church's mission field and being ruled by the African, Latin, and Asian part of their church. (I'm Presbyterian and we were "wise" enough to let all the reformed churches be self-governing by nation, and not held back by our sister churches.) But I see the term cosmopolitan playing into a new variety of cultural imperialism on the part of those who have thought that they had transcended such vices. It's ironic.

CJ said...

Usually when I see the "world citizen" ideology it doesn't say anything about abandoning or downplaying all other affiliations. I've actually heard the popular theory (from liberals) that individuals inevitably find themselves living in multiple groups, identities, cultures, and such at the same time - and that they're all important.

Considering that, perhaps the "world citizen" identity is meant to be a broad umbrella to more specific group identities, which ideally creates a sense of common ground and unity between them.

Gruntled said...

To Mac: Anarchy is a claim that our lives would be better ordered with no government, but if each person governed him- or herself (the logical limit of libertarianism). Anomie, by contrast, is the fear that there is no good order of living, because there is no meaning in any order.