I think that the best way a person can advance the cosmopolitan idea that “every human being has obligations to every other” is by promoting and explaining the idea as well as illustrating how to fulfill the obligation. I think it is important to explain the idea of fulfilling obligations as many people may not understand what it means or why it important. I also think that it is important to point out the consequences of not fulfilling these obligations to help people fully understand the responsibility they have. It may also be helpful to show how in fulfilling these obligations, you are helping every human, not just some.
For example, of Martin Niemoller’s famous World War II poem ‘First They Came’, coupled with the historical events taking place at the time, illustrate why it is important to speak up against racial injustice and shows what happens what this is not done. Recent events have also reflected this.
In addition to explaining the obligations, I also believe that in order to increase the extent that people fulfill these obligations is to make an effort to fulfill these obligations yourself and lead by example. Depending on the obligation that is being addressed, this may be done by devoting time and/or resources to a cause, raising awareness, speaking out or participating in a protest against a practice, as many people are currently doing.
I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to try to help people understand the idea of having obligations to other humans and the opportunity to lead by example and I often chose to do this by devoting my time to causes that help fulfill these obligations and raising awareness said obligations. Additionally, I, like many others, do my best to fulfill these obligations and help others by speaking out.
What opportunities do you have, everyday, to increase or advance the extent to which our communities, countries, and world actually embrace the cosmopolitan ideal that “every human being has obligations to every other”?
Especially in today’s political climate, I believe the protests and uproar in regards to George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter movement have created unprecedented opportunities for not just me, but American society as a collective to further pursue a cosmopolitanism view of racial equity. I believe the collective protests across all 50 states and a number of foreign countries over the past few days have created a unified message that people are tired and past frustrated of the systemic racism in Amerikkka and other societies. However, as a white-passing Latino, it has also made me reflect as to why I haven’t done more for the movement at times when it doesn’t make national headlines.
Reflecting on this thought has made me uncomfortable. Why haven’t I called out the anti-blackness of networks like Univision and Telemundo and talked about it with my family? Part of me wants to believe that its because I don’t really watch these networks so I can’t call it out, part of me knows its because having that conversation would be an uncomfortable one. As many a part of the current movement have reiterated, it’s not enough to be against racism, you must be antiracist. While I believe I am the ladder, I know that I can do more to express it. This is all to say that I don’t think it’s just about the opportunities we do take to push cosmopolitanism, but also the opportunities we have that aren’t used— in my case, the uncomfortable conversations with family. Sitting in this feeling of uncomfortableness and understanding that it is wrong of me to not do more has motivated me to change that reality and begin to better utilize my everyday opportunities in favor of a cosmopolitan future.
There are endless ways in which we can extend cosmopolitanism every day. I perceive the sharing of information and empathizing as the best way to remind extend the idea that “every human has obligations to every other”. It is easy to view communities or cultures to which we do not belong in as “them”. Separating “them” from “us” makes it all too easy to be apathetic or even critical of others. When we are reminded of the humanity of ourselves and others it is much easier to empathize and seek to understand differences.
I have worked on various photography projects which centered around social issues. Through these projects, my goal was to share people’s stories with a powerful image in order to get the viewer to tap into their empathy and feel for a stranger. I believe photography has a unique power in that an image can bring so much emotion while also sharing information. When photographing in Kennsington, Philadelphia, the goal was to celebrate a community that is known for the opioid epidemic. Because of the association with heroin, many’s instincts are to feel pity, fear, or disdain toward the community- even though it’s apart of the city we love. By sharing images and learning the stories of individuals I was able to change the perspectives of my friends and family on Kennsington, challenging them to empathize with the residents there, rather than turning away.
Every day there are ways we can remind one another that we are all human. Sharing stories or accounts on social media, or with friends and family is a powerful method to remind one another of our obligation to help one another. I believe empathy opens the door to taking action.
One important philosopher within the field of cosmopolitanism is Peter Singer, an egalitarian thinker. Singer argues that every individual has a duty towards other human beings to prevent suffering. As Singer explains,
“If it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything else morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it.”
By calling upon people to take their responsibility, Singer strives to minimize inequality globally. Singer calls upon everyone to take responsibility, given that individuals have obligations towards other individuals. These obligations are at the core of cosmopolitanism. In order to truly embrace the cosmopolitan ideal, I believe it is crucial, on a personal level, to first start by educating yourself on issues within your community, and how such issues also exist on a global scale. Moreover, it is crucial to evaluate your own position within the wider systems that are causing such issues. Lastly, one needs to take action to address such issues, given that we have obligations towards others.
The current protests that started following the death of George Floyd are an example of the obligations individuals have towards other individuals. Within the system of institutional racism, black people have been disadvantaged since 1619, while white people have continuously benefitted from their skin color. The global protests are showing that not only a negative duty exists of not being racist, but more importantly a positive duty of actively being anti-racist. Being anti-racist means actively fighting for systems change, in order to set up structures that treat people with dignity, thus leading to more equality. I believe that perhaps by fighting for structural changes within the local community, whatever the issue at hand, individuals are fulfilling (part of) their obligations towards others, thus moving towards the cosmopolitan ideal.
This is a question I am having a difficult time answering in a way that I am happy with. The first thing that came to mind was having open and patient, yet firm conversations with others when talking about global human rights issues. It circles back to the point from earlier in the week that being a helpful global citizen requires humility. However, to engage with someone in order to advance the ideal “that every human being has obligations to every other,” that person has to want to have those conversations.
At a base level, it starts with leading by example. Maybe this takes the form of sharing a news story from another country or a video from a content creator talking about their experience with a certain issue. Bringing these issues up casually can be a way to open the conversation. Another approach is to speak honestly about your own experience in developing a perspective that values global justice. This can possibly resonate with others and help them get started on their own journey. Nevertheless, you cannot force someone to care if they don’t want to. This is especially obvious now with the deep divide between those fighting for systemic change and those wishing that protestors would just stand down. However, that is not reason enough to stop trying. Which brings me to my second point. Persistence.
We need to be persistent with our form of advocacy to shed light on little known issues or amplify the ignored ones. This includes making sure to further educate yourself on any given issue. It can be uncomfortable to be the only one talking about an issue in your circle of relationships. However, there might come a time when it reaches someone and that small chance is worth it. Not only that, staying persistent solidifies our own personal journeys with cosmopolitanism, which is important to keep in mind. Using your own platform and available resources, no matter how big or small, to spread awareness is needed to cultivate global relationships.