There is very little of interest in the modern sophisticate, for he is himself interested in very little. The aesthetic sensibility of cosmopolitanism is something akin to five colors of paint mingled aimlessly on a canvas (in fact, that is quite literally his artistic sensibility, to judge by much modern art)–difference is eventually subsumed into a vague and dreary sameness. Under the reign of cosmopolitanism, the fruits of culture become merely interchangeable units of pleasure: “What shall we have for dinner tonight?” asks the sophisticate. “What game shall we play? In what dance shall we dabble? What factory-made relic of which sacred icon shall we purchase to place on our mantle?”
As a critique of urban hipsters obsessed with the latest in Ethiopian cuisine, I think this is spot-on. But cultural dilettantism is emphatically not the same as cosmopolitanism, which implies an appreciation of foreign culture that goes beyond naming a few Belgian craft beers off the top of your head. Think “sand-mad Englishmen” or the Foreign Service’s Arabists – these are people who sought to understand themselves through understanding the Other.
I admit I’m rather biased, having benefited greatly from growing up overseas. But there’s something deeply unattractive about the sort of self-satisfied parochialism that holds any knowledge of the outside world inevitably demeans our appreciation of hearth and home: “To love the deep emptiness of a blue winter sky, or a gnarled oak dangling a tire swing from its twisted fingers; to prefer bacon and eggs really and truly to a croissant: these are the first stirrings of a truly human existence.” I confess a certain weakness for croissants, but that hasn’t compromised my ability to appreciate a hearty Southern breakfast. If anything, exposure to a world outside the United States has done wonders for my understanding of our storied national inheritance. How does one celebrate one’s home without understanding its unique place in the world? How many jaded expatriates have gone abroad and then come back, exclaiming “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone!” Obnoxious hipsters raise everyone’s hackles, but real cosmopolitanism sharpens rather than dulls our appreciation of where we come from.