Delight Springs

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Human Journey to Cosmopolitanism

Back from Honors Day with Older Daughter at her school in Illinois, where she was ceremonially celebrated as the Outstanding Senior in cinema production. The prof who conferred her award said she won because she brings such intelligence, leadership, kindness, and fun to the classroom. What made Dad proudest was her request for the microphone (none of the other awardees did that) to say she wanted to take advantage of what might be her last award, and to thank her teachers. So, add to her resume the winning qualities of humility and gratitude. It won't be her last award.

But today I must put pride aside and think hard about the fifth class I'll be teaching tomorrow, beginning at 6 pm - just when I'd normally be hitting the highway after an already-exhaustingly long day.

What was I thinking, when I agreed to teach two Tuesday night April sessions of a course on Human Migration? I wasn't thinking about how ridiculously-many hours I'd be in the classroom those days, this being a semester when all my classes meet on TTh. I do recall rehearsing the old Nietzschean canard about what doesn't kill you etc., so I'll try to remember to draw strength from the experience and not fall into the abyss.

Part of what I must have been thinking was that, while I'd never taught "migration" per se, I had thought quite a lot about human mobility and its impact on life. A peripatetic philosopher eagerly begins each day with an enthusiastic first step. For an infant that's the first real act of self-possession and self-reliance. For an infant species it's the first move towards expansion and growth. Spreading out on terra firm lays claim to a broader sense of home.

Carl Sagan's Cosmos, and then Neil Tyson's, paid great attention to this subject. "We have walked far," from the plains of Africa to Tranquility Base. "We came for all mankind." We're not there yet, we still have a journey before us.

Our two-class journey begins with Spencer Wells' Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey. Next week we'll conclude with Kwame Anthony Appiah's  Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers.

We'll reflect (says my formal block description) on human migration's "contributions to the interweaving of culture, thought, and the creation of world citizenship. The practical and ethical upshot of global migration and immigration is that we live in an increasingly cosmopolitan world. Old patterns of nationalism, chauvinism, and mutual mistrust are challenged by this most promising form of globalism." It's a journey to cosmopolitanism, to citizenship in the cosmos.

Listening to Krista Tippett talk to "bridge-builders" while driving home from Illinois yesterday, it occurred to me that the journey in question requires more than just the stamina of a peripatetic. It also takes patience, attention to detail, and an openness to difference. It takes bridges instead of walls, and a willingess to work at repairing what's broken. "The greatest antidote to reducing everything, absurdly, to two sides, is actually engaging another human being because each of us contains multitudes."

So, stamina for sure. And intelligence, leadership, kindness, fun, humility, and gratitude. And plenty of caffeine.
Happy birthday Ann Lamott, whose thoughts on connecting convey a definite cosmopolitan message (I quoted her at the end of my book Springs offering a stark choice between withdrawing in the fashion of Nixon in the White House OR reaching out like a sea anemone)...  and Paul Theroux, whose travel writing (like all good travel writing) shows us the world is full of strangers just like us.

6 am/6:21, 59/80, 7:14

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