Questions Involving a Cosmopolitan Utopia

Is a perfect society for “citizens of the cosmos” a juxtaposition? Can a Cosmopolitan Utopia exist? Will disagreements about ethics lead to the utopia’s dismal end? Is a cosmopolitan utopia, in fact, an oxymoron? Universalists (being counter-cosmopolitans) dream of their utopian society with a single moral fabric – therefore, is a utopia, to a cosmopolitan, a dystopia?

If we lived in a cosmos were utopian society was more then a hypothetical, would a Cosmopolitan version exist? To Kwame Anothony Appiah, a professor of philosophy at Princeton University, “cultural purity” which is necessary for a Utopia to exist “is an oxymoron” (Appiah 113) in itself. For a utopia to be a utopia, there must be uniformity and absolute societal morals in the community. Therefore, to a Cosmopolitan (along with all individuals, even including Sir Thomas More, because his perfect society was labeled as “no place” in Greek) a utopia (and subsequently “cultural purity”) can’t exist in the form of a Cosmopolitan Utopia.

Also, a Cosmopolitan Utopia can’t exist because for “the counter-cosmopolitans … universalism issues in uniformity” (Appiah 145). With uniformity in beliefs being essential to a utopia and to the bedrock of counter-cosmopolitan (or universalist) philosophy, the uniformity required for the existence of a utopian society entails that a cosmopolitan utopia is itself an “oxymoron.” According to Cosmopolitans, there are “some basic mental traits that are universal … [and] normal everywhere” (Appiah 96). Is there enough shared moral fabric, however, between all humans in the world to create a microcosm where a cosmopolitan utopia would flourish?

If we were to rewrite the definition of utopia, to were there is a limited uniformity among the beliefs of the citizens, this arises an interesting question. Are we currently living in a Cosmopolitan Utopia? Along with every society that values tolerance? If so, is a cosmopolitan utopia the only plausible “perfect society?”

If a cosmopolitan utopia was to exist, although it appears that the idea of a utopian society is in fact a dystopia to a cosmopolitan, how much strife between two or more belief opposing cosmopolitan utopian micro-societies would be present, and would opposition – or lack of agreement or consensus – between these groups create trouble for the long-term well-being of the utopia? Some would say that “conversations about values”, among the opposing beliefs systems in the cosmopolitan utopia, “are bound to end in disagreement rather than creating understanding” (Appiah 67). The answer is no, however, disagreement among values will not lead to strife. This is because if the utopia was composed solely of cosmopolitans, cosmopolitans understand that “conversation doesn’t have to lead to consensus about anything, especially not values” (Appiah 85), and therefore conflict will not result from a lack of reached consensus.

Citations taken from Kwame Anthony Appiah‘s Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers.  

Ears of Winos, Flesh of Man

In eighth grade, I didn’t have much of a social life.  While most kids were out with friends, I’d be found nose deep in 150 Classics for Romantic Guitar.  My best friends were Mauro Giuliani and Francisco Tárrega; classical guitar was my religion.

The guitar made family dinners a rare occasion in my household.  Most frequently I was fumbling a frozen dinner on my lap while I played.  The guitar: my dinner date (oh, sweet Jasmine!).

Despite hundreds of hours of running up and down scales, I wasn’t much of a performer.  I feared the thought of others assuming me as ostentatious.  Because of this, my only audience was a group of wine-tipsy patio-goers at a small Cuban restaurant.  Frequently, my loving audience would rather socialize about hairstylists and Maseratis than listen to me.  Still, my music found refuge in their ears, but not in their hearts.

Why would they want to listen to a thirteen year old play Tárrega?

They didn’t. They didn’t listen to me, I didn’t play for them.  We only sat close in proximity.   Listening and hearing are two different universes.

There was a mutual agreement among the two parties – the winos and I – I filled their night with music, and I gorged on their hesitant applause (is he finished yet? Are others clapping? I don’t want to clap early and interrupt the song.  I don’t want to embarrass myself like that).

So then, why did I play? I know I didn’t for accolades, or because my mother made me.  I didn’t for scholarships, or to become a professional.  One reason, I guess, is that it was a self acclaimed identity.  I was a guitarist, that’s what I knew myself as.  I had to play, because if I didn’t, I would seize to exist as myself (in my eyes).  If I had quit, I would have been only a B average student attending some second-rate junior high school in Phoenix.  There are ten million of  those lounging around already! So to be me, John Hunter Tromp Priniski, I had to play the guitar. But behind this burden rested a passion (which rooted itself in the flesh of a man).

I also loved proving my guitar teacher wrong.  He would often say to me (on scores of music I was aspiring to play), “This piece is too difficult, let’s go to one earlier in the book – it’s easier.” So, to prove him wrong, I would put in hours of practice (pushing my homework into the late hours of the night) to play that more (difficult) piece for him at my next lesson.

Like clockwork, after I finished playing the song for him, 91 year old Gabe would lean back in his old wicker chair and break out into raspy laughter and applause.  The only applause from my younger years that I cherish from my younger years.

Those are my fondest memories.  Let him rest in peace.

I have lost the spark of my passion, the heat of my flame.  I maintained an art that (for so many years) went unnoticed.  I, and my music, was elusive to nearly everybody.

My playing is more public than ever now.  People applaud me sober.  But the passion that pushed me forward in years past (“The Gabe Years”) is now dead.

It is no more.  It lived its life, and reached its end. It lived in the ears of a dozen winos, and died with the flesh of a single man.  I, like us all, should move forward.

How to Deal With Monsters (for we are all one)

What am I to do

about the monstrousness of man?

“Never forget” our victims?

How does that suffice?

 

But to “never forget” must be enough,

because it is all I can do.

For I cannot undo the fabric of time,

and cherish a soul once in despair.

 

So, we shall push forward!

If we linger – even after death –

(although their souls embody the flesh of rabbis and humanitarians in this generation)

they’d be crowned victorious once more.

 

For it’s our obligation:

to the forgotten and deceased,

living and cherished,

to “never forget.”

 

Because if forgotten,

they’d be ash once more.

Silenced by us; murdered by them,

left floating in the night sky.

 

For it also becomes our burden:

to cope with the horrors inside;

and to live beside our brethren,

whose souls are where monsters hide.

Through the Shadow and Into the Light

Even at 14, I knew about the cliché of China taking over the world.  I took Mandarin in ninth grade, to prepare for the so-called inevitable takeover.  China also seemed intriguing, mystical and odd.  Leading up to my junior year, my education had not focused on the Orient, but recently I took the initiative to learn more, enrolling in a 20th century Chinese history course.  In the class we read Out of Mao’s Shadow by Philip Pan.  The book examined the lingering corruption of China’s government after the Chairman’s death; as a result, I started questioning Chinese policy, and most of all, I became even more curious.

Last year I visited China as part of my Mandarin III course.  In Shanghai, I spent many days living with a Chinese student named Ken and his family.  Influenced by Pan’s book, I became interested in hearing Ken’s views on American life, how he felt about realities like soldiers with automatic wapons on street corners, and what he thought about Chinese overall.  I was surprised that unlike older generations, his views and aspirations were similar to mine.  I concluded that much of Ken’s generation is inching towards the light, struggling to pry itself from the fetters of oppression and out of Mao’s waning shadow.

At the same time, it appeared there was a division between those who want Western freedoms and those who still follow the party.  I saw this schism vividly while waiting in line to enter Mao’s tomb, at the Gate of Heavenly Peace, known here as Tiananmen Square.  As we waited, two young girls stood celebrating a song of optimism and unity called 朋友, which literally translated means, “Friend.” Here I saw the strife between the past – those who continue to pay tribute to a man who slaughtered forty million of his own citizens – and the future, those who desperately desire liberation.

As the student leader of my school’s Amnesty International group, I am naturally concerned for the well-being of the Chinese people.  I constantly wonder where their country is headed.  Do the people realize that they’re at a crossroads?  Will the government continue to rule with an iron fist, or consider a path of non-contention? 老子, Lao Tzu, realized that “ruling a country is like cooking a small fish …”; society will fall apart if handled too roughly, but what will Hu Jintao do?  In the words of Philip Pan: “Too much has happened.  Too much has changed.  Too many refuse to forget.”  I, for one, will never forget.  Out of Mao’s Shadow has broadened my perspective regarding the challenges and responsibilities of being a global citizen, and inspire he to encourage others to help create a more balanced, humanistic world for those to come.

Breaking Badass: I Wanna be Cool Like a Laid-off Chemistry Teacher

I know he doesn’t exist.  And I am usually not one inspired by tales of fantasy or fiction; but Walter White, who’s both the protagonist and antagonist of the show “Breaking Bad”, is the most bad-ass man who has ever lived in the tubes of my television.  Previous exposure to White and the show is not necessary to empathically understand how he inspires me; therefore, I find it utterly captivating that behind the curtains of the most milk-toast chemistry genius, who lectures on ionic and covalent bonds to disrespectful, non-appreciative high schoolers, lives Heisenberg: the only chemist in the world capable of synthesizing 99% pure meth.  Heisenberg, of course, is Walter White’s street name; he penned it after the German quantum-physicist Werner Karl-Heisenberg. Walter White is a Walt Whitmanesque character – prevalent from the numerous allusions utilized in the show – who prides the little-man, which is subsequently himself; that has been diagnosed with lung cancer and has two more years to live.

I feel like an overweight, basement-dwelling, Yoda fascinated dweeb writing about a fictional character’s influences on me, but Walter White is a Jesus-like inspiration to me.  Most notably, he taught me how to cook meth without getting caught – just kidding; but in all seriousness, Heisenberg is able to juggle ten perplexingly complex situations at one time … while remaining calm and collected. Whether he’s receiving chemotherapy, dealing with a disrespectful, unloving wife, remaining elusive to the Mexican cartel (while they try to kill him), buying his son a car, raising a newborn daughter, laundering drug money, hiding his drug activity from his DEA agent brother-in-law, or coping with his dimwitted teenage drug cooking colleague, Walter White is capable of handling intense amounts of stressful situations without “breaking” a sweat.

Whether I am melting two Advil tablets under my tongue, dealing with rude, simple-minded peers, remaining elusive to teachers tracking me down for late homework, taking my car into three different auto-mechanic shops around Phoenix to avoid getting scammed from some grease-monkey named Tony, wiping tumorous puss from the lower lip of my sixteen year-old lab, spending my birthday money on Subway foot-longs and Coco Puffs, hiding my late-night activities from my mind-reading psychologist mother, or coping with my dumb and lethargic alter-(late night)-ego, I imagine myself as Walter, and try to mimic his ways of executing those mundane activities that make up my day.  Why? Because if I have to undertake the tedious activities of life, I might as well do it like a bad-ass.

I aspire to be as collected in tense situations, and as thoroughly awesome as Walter White.  As a Hindu seeks Nirvana I pursue the enlightenment of being a collected bad-ass like Walter White.   Seriously, who doesn’t want to be one?  Not an enlightened Hindu – although that would be cool too – but a thrill-attracting, meth producing – kidding yet again – bad-ass like Walter White.