Professor Stuart Rees believes an inclusive way forward for the
global community lies in the notion of cosmopolitanism.
Enthusiasm about cosmopolitanism is the most appropriate
response to Pauline Hanson’s recent speech forecasting that
Australia was in danger of being overrun by Muslims.
It’s not only Senator Hanson who likes to polarize. Politicians
and media commentators think it’s appropriate to foment fear, about
terrorism, about asylum seekers, about the growing economic and
military power of China and concerning the consequences of same sex
marriage. There are alternative perspectives.
Understanding or Divisiveness ?
Values and vision inherent in cosmopolitanism can provide an
antidote to divisiveness.
Being cosmopolitan presupposes a sense of identity and a shared
morality through belonging to the world, not to a particular
religion, race or political creed. The language of cosmopolitanism
shows struggles for understanding to be more constructive than
constantly asking who is our enemy, what side are you on ?
Cosmopolitanism refutes the authoritarianism of the classic
political assertion, ‘If you’re not with us, you’re against
A sense of status and identity may derive from fear and by
labelling citizens as worthy or unworthy, as lifters or leaners, as
contributors or non-contributors to project Australia. Treasurer
Scott Morrison summed up his economic wisdom by referring to the
taxed and the not taxed. His predecessor Joe Hockey disparaged
people who received welfare benefits. They were individuals, he
said, who assumed they were entitled, but he ignored wealthy
beneficiaries of governments’ subsidies and financial support.
Even the popular ABC television programme Q&A shows a
penchant for divisiveness, as though this is a priority media role,
the way to entertain. The five-person format that must have one on
the left and one on the right, appears to contribute to a search
for controversy rather than understanding. Chairperson Tony Jones’
adopted role as the controversial cross examiner needs divisiveness
and can leave some panel members stranded like shags on a rock,
unable to present their own views, perhaps wondering why they were
invited to appear.
To be fair, and to return to cosmopolitanism, subjects such as
the social determinants of health, as described by Boyer Lecturer
Professor Michael Marmot, or the relevance of Shakespeare to the
present day, have also been the focus of Q&A evenings. When
that happened, audiences seemed engrossed and joyful, grateful for
contributions to their understanding of inequalities in health, and
of the timeless value of the bard.
Cosmopolitanism can be fun, health promoting, culture building
and non-divisive, and it is far more constructive than the
Above the Nation State
French philosopher Derrida describes cosmopolitanism as being
above the nation state, beyond a preoccupation with borders, and at
least raising questions about the merits of sovereignty.
In a world faced with climate change, with the world-wide spread
of epidemics and with the massive movement of refugees, there’s a
chance to envision relationships which embrace inclusiveness, which
emphasize tolerance plus a determination to learn from and never
repeat the abuses of a violent colonial past. In this respect,
Indigenous Labor MP Linda Burney’s maiden speech in the House of
Representatives gave us hopeful, healing, light-on-the-hill
reminiscences which need to be embraced and repeated.
Centre pieces in cosmopolitanism include commitments to
hospitality coupled to visions of generosity which cut through the
mind set which speaks of the need for more weapons to defend
borders, more resources to build walls. Even the electronic
paraphernalia used to protect gated communities symbolizes a need
for people to...