Rooted Cosmpolitanism: Bringing Together the Best of Urban and Rural Life
One of the biggest critiques of rural areas is that they are close-minded, parochial, unsophisticated, and insular. The wealthy, educated, progressives from the big cities are quick to remind us that it was mostly people in rural areas who elected Trump, who convene marches to “save” statues of racist leaders from our past, and who proudly hang the Confederate Flag where everyone can see. Cities, as the argument goes, are places where tolerance for diversity and inclusion are the norm. I am from the thickest of rural areas, and nothing makes my blood boil more than hearing these simple-minded, seemingly all-knowing analysis of rural places.
In places like where I live in rural El Salvador, there is obviously less diversity and perhaps more overt racism (I cringe every time I hear my neighbors talk mockingly about the “Indians” in neighboring Guatemala). However, the supposed “privileges” of modern society (mobility, technology, globalization), haven´t completely taken hold or displaced the more historical forms of making a community. There are no clubs or Facebook groups, and in order to make friendships, we are forced to make an effort to get to know our physical neighbors; to make community with them the best that we can, despite our differences.
When we´re forced to make community with those closest to us, there can also be a lot of parochialism, close-mindedness, senseless fighting and bickering, and discrimination against those that vary from the accepted norms. The idea of learning to co-exist with those around us and accept ourselves in our differences is just that…an idea.
As acceptance of diversity grew, we came to believe that the only way to allow diversity to flourish was to insert ourselves into a globalized, technological, mobile world that allowed us to escape the limits of small, claustrophobic places. We came to believe, I think, that the only way to allow our diversity to flourish was through escaping the places that put limits on that diversity.
Our society needs the best of both worlds. We need the cosmopolitan mindset that accepts diversity and uniqueness and celebrates that diversity. But we also need to have our lives tied to a specific, geographical place. When we live in geographical places and have our lives and livelihoods affected by the particularities of that place, then we´re forced into the uncomfortable but necessary tasks of learning to co-exist; learning to tweak our own uniqueness and individuality so that it fits into to specifics of a community. At the same time, by embracing our uniqueness, our community´s must also learn to learn to accept us as we are.
Over the past 200 years in our industrialized world, everything was done to try and break any sort of economic connection to place. Distancing became the rule of the day: distance between producer and consumer, between our physical communities and our “jobs”; between our homes and our friends. But now, towns and cities all across the United States are beginning to construct new ideas of community.
There is a stronger emphasis on local business development, community supported agriculture and ethical product lines for merchandise. People are starting to realize where their food, clothes, household goods are originating from and they want to support localization in that sense. While it may be different than purely agrarian economies where you actually knew the faces and names of the farmers and the seamstresses and the shoe cobblers, the fact that people are supporting those businesses and farms closer to their is a huge step in reducing the enigma of shopping as well as creating at least some sense of community pride.
This, then, is the task ahead of us: to create what Adela Cortina, a Colombian writer, calls “rooted cosmopolitanism.” Cosmopolitan in the sense of opening to the best that this world offers us; rooted in the sense of belonging to one, specific place. And in the process of doing so, I think we discover some sort of middle ground. We discover that our own uniqueness and individuality is important as is the uniqueness and individuality of others. But in order to co-exist together with those around us (physically and geographically), we need to modify or fine-tune our uniqueness so that it can co-exist with the uniqueness of others in our communities.
The question, then, isn´t whether we should choose to live in the city or the country. The real challenge is discovering ways to integrate rural and urban areas into a common struggle for sustainable living. We need to be working towards creating mutually beneficial relationships that are based on justice and a reciprocated understanding that both urban and rural areas are essential for our mutual survival.
The cosmopolitan life of urban areas truly does offer a unique opportunity for the explosion of human creativity and potential. It lacks, however any sense of rootedness to place and community where that creativity and potential can be unleashed to create a civilization that respects the natural limits and finds fullness and happiness in those limits. Rooted cosmopolitanism is a philosophical ideal to help us bridge the gap between these two formerly divorced lifestyles.