Monday, July 4, 2016

Cosmopolitans are the *real* bigots

Borgo Cassati, portrait of Captain Sir Richard Burton in his disguise as "Mirza Abdullah of Bushire, a vendor of fine linen, calicoes and muslins", which enabled him to enter the no-go zone of Mecca in 1851-53. Image via somebody's abandoned Pinterest.
Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, offers his own take ("The Myth of Cosmopolitanism") on the Great Realignment theme introduced this week by James Traub and David Brooks:

NOW that populist rebellions are taking Britain out of the European Union and the Republican Party out of contention for the presidency, perhaps we should speak no more of left and right, liberals and conservatives. From now on the great political battles will be fought between nationalists and internationalists, nativists and globalists. From now on the loyalties that matter will be narrowly tribal — Make America Great Again, this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England — or multicultural and cosmopolitan.
If you think there's something going on there where Shakespeare's John of Gaunt (Richard II, act 2 scene 1) is getting presented as Trump with a classy English accent, you're right.

Brooks got a little tongue-tied as he started imagining a mortal contest between those who are "self disciplined, respectable, and, often, bigoted" on the one hand, and their "more disordered, less industrious" but "also more tolerant" opposite numbers, startled to realize what an unappetizing choice he'd boxed himself into.

Douthat shows no such hesitation. Not that he's going to go back on his #NeverTrumpery, at least not just yet, but he's been pretty open about his admiration for other tribalist positions, as we recall, reactionary and bigoted, in recent months.

This time, rather than defending the bigots, he'll content himself with denouncing the anti-bigotry forces, those ill-considered young cosmopolitans, with their disgusting self-esteem, sexy music, and love for foreign stuff, their ears
       stopp'd with other flattering sounds,
As praises, of whose taste the wise are fond,
Lascivious metres, to whose venom sound
The open ear of youth doth always listen;
Report of fashions in proud Italy,
Whose manners still our tardy apish nation
Limps after in base imitation.
Get off my lawn! said the old Duke of York.

But he's going to do it with a Jonah Goldberg tu-quoque switcheroo, to wit, "Cosmopolitans are the real tribalists", on the basis not of a garden-variety straw man, but an entire straw culture,

The elite side of the debate (the side that does most of the describing)... the people who consider themselves 'cosmopolitan' in today's West... part of a meritocratic order that transforms difference into similarity, by plucking the best and brightest from everywhere and homogenizing them into the peculiar species that we call “global citizens.”
(I love how affirmative action skeptics, believing in some kind of natural or unbiased selection process for the elite and fearful that racial preferences interfere with it, continue to sneer at the idea of an unbiased selection process when it's advertised as "meritocratic".)

That's hiving off quite a bit from Traub's notion of a "reformed center" that "would include the beneficiaries of globalization and the poor and non-white and marginal citizens who recognize that the celebration of national identity excludes them." In particular, it's cutting out all the people, young and/or minority members, who could make such a grouping into a political force by providing, you know, enough voters to make a majority. And then, having created this fictional population, he's free to make up things about them through the method of stereotyping perfected back in the day by George Wallace and Spiro Agnew:

This species is racially diverse (within limits)* and eager to assimilate the fun-seeming bits of foreign cultures — food, a touch of exotic spirituality. But no less than Brexit-voting Cornish villagers, our global citizens think and act as members of a tribe.
They have their own distinctive worldview (basically liberal Christianity without Christ**), their own common educational experience, their own shared values and assumptions (social psychologists call these WEIRD*** — for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic), and of course their own outgroups (evangelicals, Little Englanders) to fear, pity and despise. And like any tribal cohort they seek comfort and familiarity: From London to Paris to New York, each Western “global city” (like each “global university”) is increasingly interchangeable, so that wherever the citizen of the world travels he already feels at home.
* The limits the Monsignor just created by defining most of the non-white people out of the picture.
** But made funky with that touch of exotic spirituality? [Update: Or is "liberal Christianity without Christ" some kind of secret code reference to Reform Judaism, aka "rootless cosmopolitans"? H/t Peter J in the comments.]
*** Even though he links it himself, Ross has no idea that "WEIRD" has a specific and important meaning here; it's from the discussion of a problematic factor in social psychology experiments, which is that all the experimental subjects tend to be the same kind of people, namely college students in the US getting course credit for being in the experiment. They're not necessarily personally industrialized, rich, or members of the Democratic party, but come overwhelmingly from countries that are industrialized, rich, and democratically governed. Thus they are literally weird from a global perspective, with many characteristics that most people in the world don't have, and it's not clear whether generalizations made from observing them have any validity to the wider world. They don't constitute a community in and of themselves, though, as Ross seems to think, merely a collection of research-disabling biases. And then Ross appropriates this language to describe a class of people who are weirder still, in that they've finished college and are now personally wealthy and apparently Democrats, and putatively ruling the world, jetting from capital to capital, and who almost certainly don't exist at all.

Nineteenth-century British imperialists were the real cosmopolitans—

Distance and separation force encounter and immersion, which is why the age of empire made cosmopolitans as well as chauvinists — sometimes out of the same people. (There is more genuine cosmopolitanism in Rudyard Kipling and T. E. Lawrence and Richard Francis Burton than in a hundred Davos sessions.)
—and WEIRD people are those who go to Davos.

It sounds in the end as if he's really talking mainly about neoliberal opinion journalists—Tom Friedman, Richard Cohen, and James Traub, with David Brooks pressing his nose longingly against the window from out in the conservative cold—in the sense that those are the persons carrying on the debate he began with, and I don't think that's an authentic community of any sort. And I don't really care, obviously, whether he thinks they are "really" cosmopolitan or not.

But I don't think Ross Douthat is in a position to judge them, and I'm pretty massively offended by the idea he seems to be trying to sell, that everybody in Britain who voted to Remain, or everybody in the US who's voting for Hillary Clinton, is in some way represented by this stupid picture.

In fact, fuck off, Ross Douthat.

And to everybody else, happy Independence Day, when we commemorate the work of that most cosmopolitan of committees, consisting of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Dr. Benjamin Franklin, in declaring the independence of the thirteen North American colonies from Tory parochialism and bigotry, forever and ever!

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