My Conversation with Kwame Anthony Appiah

Here is the audio and transcript.  We covered Ghana, Africa more generally, cosmopolitanism and the resurgence of nationalism, philosophy and Karl Popper, Lee Kuan Yew, the repatriation of cultural objects, Paul Simon, the smarts of Jodie Foster, sheep farming in New Jersey, and the value of giving personal advice.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Take Pan-Africanism. Do you think, in the broader course of history, this will go down as merely a 20th-century idea? Or is Pan-Africanism alive and well today?

APPIAH: Pan-Africanism involves two different big strands. One is the diasporic strand. The word Pan-Africanism and the Pan-African Congresses were invented in the diaspora by people like Sylvester Williams in Jamaica and W. E. B. Du Bois from the United States and Padmore.

That idea of a diasporic African identity seems pretty lively in the world today, though it doesn’t produce much actual politics or policy, but the sense of solidarity of people of African descent, of the African diaspora seems pretty strong to me.

COWEN: But strongest outside of Africa in a way, right?

APPIAH: Yes, where it began. In Africa, I think, on the one hand, that most contemporary sub-Saharan Africans do have a sense of themselves as belonging to a kind of Black African world. But if you ask them to do something practical about it, like take down borders or do more political integration, I don’t know that that is going to go anywhere anytime soon, which I regret because I think, for lots of reasons, it would be . . .

My sister and her husband live in Lagos. If they want to go to Accra by road, they have to cross the border between Nigeria and Benin, the border between Benin and Togo, the border between Togo and Ghana. And at each of those borders, they probably have to interact with people who are going to try and extract an illegal tax on them.

COWEN: Easier to fly to London, right?

APPIAH: Much easier to fly to London and back to Accra. That’s crazy. And we’ve had these weird things. On the one hand, there’s probably a million Ghanaians in Nigeria, living Ghanaian citizens.


COWEN: Is cosmopolitanism not only compatible with nationalism, but in a way quite parasitic upon it? And in a sense, the parasite is being ejected a bit? Think back to your boyhood in Kumasi. You have all these different groups, and you’re trading with them. You see them every day, and that works great, but there’s some central coherence to Ghana underlying that.

You go to Lebanon today — that central coherence seems to have been gone for some time. You could call Lebanon a cosmopolitan place, but it’s not really an advertisement for Lebanon the way it’s worked out. Are we just moving to a new equilibrium, where the parasitism of cosmopolitanism is now being recognized for what it really is?

APPIAH: I don’t like the metaphor of the parasite.


APPIAH: But yes, I do want to insist that cosmopolitanism . . . Look, cosmopolitanism, as I said, does not only require, or the right kind of cosmopolitan requires a kind of rootedness, but its point, precisely, is that we are celebrating connections among different places, each of which is rooted in its own something, each of which has its distinctive virtues and interest, each of which has its own history. And we’re making connections with people for whom that place is their first place, just as I am in a place which is my first place.

So yes, cosmopolitanism requires, I think, a national sense of solidarities that are not global. That’s why, as I say, you can be a cosmopolitan patriot. Now, if the nationalist says, “Okay, but why do we need anything beyond national citizenship?” The answer is, we have a world to manage. The economy works better if we integrate.

There is much, much more at the link, self-recommending…


African intellectuals, undervalued or overvalued?

Overvalued, and overexposed on NPR.

"Things Fall Apart" is an excellent book. Undervalued. Highly recommended.

I'm not much of a reader, all I know is anyone who pays attention to what an African thinks is as dumb as a Demoncrat.

In what way are African intellectuals overvalued?

Watch NPR for awhile, if you can stomach it and then you will know.

Thank you! I'm sick of the liberal media pushing this multiculti narrative! Africans haven't contributed anything to the world outside of some good food and music.

Thank God Trump is turning back the tide!


A perfect example of Poe's Law.

'And in a sense, the parasite is being ejected a bit? ... where the parasitism of cosmopolitanism is now being recognized for what it really is?'

Prof. Cowen has to be aware of the well he is going to here.

Meaning that if this typical of the interview, it is only self-recommending for the sort of person that continues to use 'Zecke' as an insult.

I have ransacked my house for my USB-C to headphone adapter and come up empty. Now I have to charge and attempt to pair my Bluetooth set. So much for progress!

But yes, without listening yet, that does seem a loaded word. Loaded and fired. Keep your heads down, people.

I'd suggest that cosmopolitanism is a higher order, super-, organization. But that is a framing the new nationalists seek to avoid.

Appiah makes a good endorsement of cosmopolitanism overall.

A nice essay on this topic.

In some ways, nationalism is parasitic on cosmopolitanism. Small European countries and nationalist movements such as in Scotland and Catalonia are much more viable when they can be part of the European single market. In Asia, countries like Singapore and Taiwan that did not exist until the mid-20th century developed a national identity after decades of global trade brought them prosperity. National identity is primarily a consequence rather than cause of national success. Everyone wants to be part of a winner.

And Lebanon is actually doing impressively well for a country in its circumstances. It’s the most developed Middle Eastern country other than the Petrostates and Israel, despite being neighbored by a failed state and a hostile militarily superior one, and taking in the highest share of refugees in the world, with more Syrian refugees than all of Europe.

Lebanon, especially Beirut, is an awesome place - diversity is it's strength! Of course, it did have that little glitch called a civil war that lasted 15 years and resulted in 120,000 deaths and the occupation by Syria until 2005.

That diversity thingy is better than it looks.

More good news: London is no longer an English city! Yay! You can get any kind of food you want - Indian, Africa, Middle-Eastern, yada yada yada, but no bangers and mash nor sheppard's pie.

If the cosmos have their way, every city will look like Starbucks! No matter where you go every city will look the same, just the way the cosmos like it!

"Do you love it do you hate it here it is the way you made it ...brown shoes don't make it ..." Frank Zappa

So this dumb American thinks you can't get bangers and mash or sheppard's (sic) pie in London. Thank you for confirming the stereotype of American stupidity.

I make sh*t up.

Good news about bangers et al, but London ain't English.

Additional thanks for confirming the stereotype of American mendacity as well.

I heard this rumor from an Englishman. London is not English. I'm going to miss it. :(

Making sh*t up again I see. And how will you miss it, you've quite obviously never left your mobile home park.

See, it's in the NYT, so it must be true.

Btw, I love Shepherd's pie.

Also, what's a "banger"?

Cosmopolitanism is just the provincialism of the well to do in elite cities, as evidenced by the hostility of the elite towards the continued existence of other cultures (such as, in the US, Southern Black culture, Appalachian culture, rural Yankee culture, Norteno culture, etc.). One simply needs to look at how the Cosmopolitans deal with the homophobia that is present in many, many cultures throughout the world, which is to say that they demand that those cultures change.

Maybe it is a good thing, maybe it is not, but it does illustrate that Cosmopolitanism is just the belief system of the global elite, who are just as culturally imperialistic (if not more so) than the elites of bygone eras.

Pretty sure rural America on the other hates all of the above groups you mentioned and each other. On the other hand the Cosmopolitans made the Hillbilly Elegy guy from Appalachia a coastal multi-millionaire.

Actually, rural America is incredibly friendly and tolerant.

"Cosmopolitanism": provincialism or tunnel vision customized for so-called "cognitive elites" and addled academics.

("Cosmopolitan provincialism" can thus be distinguished from mere provincialism, which itself is not keen to prettify the depths of its profound ignorance or to idolize its epistemic pretensions.)

What wrong with an admixture of “cosmopolitan nationalism” that served us well until the floodgates opened?

It’s openminded, compassionate, cleaves to our history as a nation and people open to moderate amounts of immigration.

Oh I forgot. That position is now tantamount to fascism.

Now I see, Ghana, a basketcase, is special, but our ally Brazil, which is implementing the most important reforms manking has seen in the last 20 years, is not special.

Manking now recognises the machete is King and will wipe the enemy from our midst. Man will be king, and woman queen.

Exactly. Brazilians are a master people.

Is that why Brazilian women import so much American sperm?

What distinguishes Lebanon is its diversity, including religious diversity. Only about 58% of the population is Muslim, and that population is split almost evenly between Sunni and Shia, with Christianity the second largest religion at about 36% of the population (these are from the 2017 CIA World Factbook) . It is indeed a cosmopolitan country.

It doesn't strike me as very cosmopolitan. Tribes original from a common region that have to have a different sect/religion. Even refugees come from adjacent countries. It's cosmopolitan in the number of kingdoms that have left a cultural legacy, and in the fact that more lebanese live outside Lebanon, and bring back french, english, saudi or latin american footprint.

Go to the wrong province given your religion or tribal background, and air the wrong flag and you get in trouble. Middle East is in that sense the least foreign friendly region of the world.

You will be welcomed with a very cosmopolitan AK-47

Diversity is good, though, even if it occasionally leads to some catastrophic civil wars.

Not only that, but beheadings and fgm aren't as bad as those pesky deplorables think. A small price to pay for street vendor food diversity.

FGM is not practiced in the Lebanon or the Levant. Perhaps it is done by some backwards roaming Badawi tribes in the desert, but those aren’t considered Levantine proper.

Surely you're joking Mr. Raymond!

Well I’ve read Sir Roger Scruton’s lament for a lost Lebanon, now that was a cosmopolitan place, at least by ME standards. I doubt if rayward would lower himself to read what a thoughtful Tory has to say. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism put an end to Lebanon’s cosmopolitanism. How could it not? Pan Arabism and Baathism failed, and so did Marxism. It’s as if each time the racket went another turn towards greater totalitarianism qua control of the details of life.

“Only about 58% of the population is Muslim” ... doesn’t that figure suggest itself as one of Lebanon’s problems? Is there a Muslim dominant nation that is truly tolerant? I suppose Turkey is as close as it gets?

"We have a world to manage" And you are all doing a fine job of it! Please International Elites, keep up the good work.

Honestly, I am a bit disappointed by the conversation. It seems to me it ignores much of the material from his latest book. It would have been fascinating to read a discussion on questions of identity (race, gender, sexual orientation or class background?) as they are currently discussed in US politics (reparations?) and on College campuses. A missed opportunity.

I thought it was good. Maybe short on "novel" ideas, but pretty rich on solid ones.

Interviewe: "COWEN: Easier to fly to London, right? APPIAH: Much easier to fly to London [from Lagos] and back to Accra. That’s crazy. And we’ve had these weird things. "

This might have more to do with airplane logistics than politics, since narrow body two engine planes are in short supply, perhaps easier to use jumbo jets. There's a sweet spot based on fuel costs, distance, and price per seat that justifies short-haul routes; Gary Leff is the expert here.

Yes, they are in short supply. Why is that? Boeing: the big business that built a defectively designed aircraft (now grounded) and thought they could get away with it. But there's hope: media have focused on the sensor that was installed to correct the defective design and may convince the flying public that a software upgrade for the sensor solves the problem of the defective design. Don't you just love big business.

It all makes sense. If progress is based on tech and software, then the software upgrade for the sensor not only solves the defective design problem, it's progress! Is there anything people won't believe?

People talk their book. Those liberal activists are trying to make money off the 1%, hence their stance. 1% me? I own VUG (big business index fund) and (heart) LOVE LOVE LOVE Big Business! Anything to make my stocks go up and make me even richer.

Bonus trivia: Fed cuts rates and market crashes? Happening now...

Extra bonus trivia: Dumb expat sponging off his family thinks a 0.67% drop in the S&P500 is a market crash. Anyone who takes investment advice from Ray Lopez deserves what they get.

Yeah the ridiculous gloating and boasting gets a little tiresome. Boast to insight ratio approaching 1:1. But he likes sucking up to the southern windbag.

@GOT - you sound envious dear. Don't you wish you could be me? Following the sun, not in some cold, dark, brooding clime... Who is the southern windbag?

Tyler asks, Overrated or underated - Mark Twain or Harriet Beecher Stowe?

I hope this doesn't mean that Harriet Beecher Stowe is now being considered a major writer. For all her interesting family, the stature she held among her contemporaries, and her historical significance, she's not a good writer, and "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is a slog for all but those whose studies have inured them to tedium of second and third rate 19th century prose stylings.

Twain, by contrast, is a clear, bright and amusing to today's readers as he was to those of his time.

The only reason to read "Uncle Tom's Cabin" today is to discover for oneself that Uncle Tom was not an "Uncle Tom", and that to "grow like Topsy" does not mean to grow prodigiously, but to come into being without an identifiable generative source - something like an emergent order.

“Parasitic”?? Really, Tyler?? You know all too well that words bear multiple meanings. Using “parasitic” instead of the less inflammatory “contingent on” or “dependent on” is deliberately demeaning the subject matter of “cosmopolitanism.” I’m surprised Appiah did not take you to task more for that word choice. While I generally applaud your willingness to take on sacred cows, using “parasitic” in this context is a scurrilous rhetorical gesture that signals you are dog-whistling to a nativist base.

I like the humor at the end of the post. Self recommending indeed.

+1! interview

Parasitic cosmopolitans? You're confirming people's suspicions about you, Prof. Cowen.

The utility or otherwise of a nationalist or cosmopolitan ideal is almost independent of the motives and attitudes of those who hold it.

Any number of studies, starting with small unit cohesion among soldiers, shows that people bond to the small number of other people that they interact with and not to an ideal or a larger organization. I would expect this to be especially true of cosmopolitanism, because to talk to someone it is necessary to share a common language. Those gathered in Davos are an example of one small group of cosmopolitans. Refugees attending English classes and those who volunteer to teach them form different groups with different characteristics.

To make decisions about cosmopolitanism or nationalism by examining those who support it is like assessing the ability of a sports team by timing its supporters over 1500m.

People in Davos are academic dreamers from ancient Greece totally divorced from reality. They live in the world of ideas looking for someone to execute those ideas because the have no idea how to.

The reason we have countries is because small nations are easier to manage and are more likely to have unifying traits. New England, the Mid-Atlantic states and the West Coast should leave the Union. They have nothing in common with the rest of the country.

That was excellent. Thanks Tyler.

Great interview! I would like you do another with him, covering identity, moral revolutions, literature, and his more formal work in philosophy.

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