Cosmopolitanism and Business

Cosmopolitan Bias

It is common news that President Trump’s senior advisor, Stephen Miller, accused CNN’s Senior White House Correspondent Jim Acosta of showing cosmopolitan bias in questioning an administration immigration plan.

“Cosmopolitan” is a term that has become embroiled in the nationalist vs. globalist debate.  Doing the international job that I do, I always looked at “being cosmopolitan” as something of a complement.  It suggested that I had a worldwide rather than a provincial viewpoint.  Now that view makes me part of the “liberal elite”, an enemy in the eyes of some; someone who undermines national, religious, and cultural allegiances.

“Cosmopolitan” has been used as a deadly insult in the past; it was a useful way to brand people who were seen to have extra-national allegiances – Mussolini’s 1938 racial laws targeted Italian Jews who were referred in the state press as agents of cosmopolitanism.  Hitler and Stalin were also deadly anti-cosmopolitan figures.  Stephen Miller’s insult cannot but echo those poisonous voices from the past, even if Miller is Jewish (as he his).  Being “Muslim” is now the dangerous foreigner, and those of us who take delight in understanding all other cultures – not political ideologies – must look suspicious.

Globalization

The problem with extremist language is that it lacks nuance.  Who is to say that you cannot have a global and a national outlook?

I have great sympathy for those who feel bitter that the benefits of globalization seem to have passed them by.  Distributing these benefits more widely is the political challenge of our time, and it won’t be solved by nations and businesses looking inward, or individuals closing their minds to the rest of the world.  The forces of economic globalization are strong, and our political will in managing those forces for the benefit of all must be stronger.

Part of the problem is globalization’s history.  For a time, some commentators argued that the world was flat, and the ideal corporation would be global/stateless.  That was a myth.  Pankaj Ghemawat argued convincingly that the reality of what he calls World 3.0 is neither a set of distinct nation-states (World 1.0) nor the stateless ideal (World 2.0) that seems implicit in the strategies of so many companies.  Ghemawat argues that:

“Home matters in such a world, but so do countries abroad . . . it’s certainly possible to have a global strategy and a global organization in such a world . . . But they must be based not on the elimination of differences and distances among people, cultures, and places, but on an understanding of them.  The mind-set, strategy, organization, and employees of these firms will not be oriented toward the global citizenship model implicit in corporate rhetoric.  Instead they’ll start with a strong grasp of one’s root’s and what’s distinctive about them, recognize relative similarities and differences, and flag the differences particularly worth watching out for.  Because denying the existence of differences doesn’t make them any easier to deal with.”

Following Kwame Anthony Appiah in his book The Ethics of Identity, Ghemawat calls this “rooted cosmopolitanism.”

Watching a senior political aide attacking a journalist for having a “cosmopolitan bias”, should sound alarms in the business community.  Businesses will not flourish by retreating from the complexities of the world and into a simple, superior-minded ethnocentrism.  That doesn’t attract overseas customers, nor the global talent necessary for keeping the growth engine fueled.

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About the Author

Terence Brake

Terence Brake is an author in the global learning & development field and has over 20 years experience helping executives to work better across cultures.

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