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Appiah Paper 1

In: English and Literature

Submitted By rjones13lal
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Conversation

Kwame Anthony Appiah writes in his book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2006) about how people have imaginary boundaries that result in a lack of awareness. Many issues in the world are caused simply because at least one of the two sides in an issue are simply ignorant or unaware of the reality that the other side faces. Appiah explains that conversation is extremely important to the progression of the beliefs and ideals that human beings hold as individuals and as a society. In his book, Appiah speaks on the importance of conversation. Appiah defines conversation by stating, “So I’m using the word ‘conversation’ not only for literal talk but also as a metaphor for engagement with the experience and the ideas of others. And I stress the role of the imagination here because the encounters, properly conducted, are valuable in themselves. Conversation doesn’t have to load to consensus about anything, especially not values; it’s enough that it helps people get used to one another.” Appiah is correct in saying conversation amongst people with different beliefs and backgrounds can bring change to cultures and society, but nothing he points out should be regarded as anything other than attaching a name to a pattern that has repeated itself through human history.

The practice of foot-binding in China is one of the examples Appiah provides to demonstrate how conversation can bring change. For over a thousand years, it was a Chinese custom for women to bind their feet so that they would not continue to grow larger. Foot-binding resulted in

many horrible defects for women across China. According to Appiah, foot-binding was eradicated in the 1910’s and 1920’s when anti-foot-binding campaigns began to appear. As these campaigns grew and their message was continued to spread across China, natural-foot-societies were formed. Men began to pledge that they would not allow their sons to marry a woman with bound feet. The people of China quickly began to realize that foot-binding was extremely outdated and that the continuation of foot-binding was hard to support given that they were the only country still practicing it. The anti-foot-binding campaigns created conversation amongst the people of China, causing them as a society to become more socially aware and realize that the beliefs they once held on foot-binding were outdated. The results of conversation amongst the people of China allowed the Chinese to progress as a culture and as a society.

Appiah uses the increasing recognition of homosexuals in Europe and North America as another example of how conversation can bring change within societies. Appiah points out that only a generation ago, homosexuals were social outcasts and that homosexual acts were illegal. Now, due in part to the growing presence of homosexuality in western media, people in Europe and America now are much more accepting of homosexuals.

Conversation is more prevalent now than at any other time in humankind’s existence, thanks to technological advances such telephones, the Internet, and television. Humans can now communicate instantly with other humans across the world. Now more than ever, people from different regions, races, cultures, and religions have the ability to spread their beliefs and ideas with each other. With this dramatic increase of communication, comes a dramatic need for people to learn to listen and understand each other. Appiah’s point about conversation is that although the world will never be able to come to complete agreement, conversation allows people the opportunity to understand and learn from those who they don’t agree with. The ultimate potential of conversation isn’t to bringing the world to universal agreement, the potential of conversation is that it will enlighten humans enough about each other to a point where people with opposing views can agree to disagree simply because they understand the other person’s perspective. It’s arguable that the dramatically increased opportunities that humans now have to communicate and create conversation with each other across the world will play just as important of a role in the progression of the world’s issues as conversation will.

While there is evidence that conversation can assist with the progression of relations between groups with opposing views, any expectation that conversation could eventually solve all conflicts should stay relatively low. It is simply unrealistic to expect human conflict to disappear as long as issues such as race, religion, and poverty exist. In a world that revolves around money, there will continue to be people who are put at a disadvantage, and these people, rightfully so, should not be expected to let these disadvantages continue without letting their voices be heard.

“Depending on the circumstances, conversations across boundaries can be delightful, or just vexing: What they mainly are, though, is inevitable.” (Appiah, 73)
Appiah is correct; Conversation is inevitable. But isn’t that obvious? Besides violence, there aren’t many other ways of solving a conflict. Using the United States as an example, issues such women’s rights, race relations, and views on homosexuality have all progressed in the last 100 years. But it’s arguable that these progressions are the result of a relatively new country (in comparison to most of the world) growing and evolving. Yes, conversation was a key factor in each of these progressions, but is there any other non-violent way that these conflicts could have progressed towards a resolution? As legitimate as some of Appiah’s points about the concept of conversation is, nothing he is saying is truly new revolutionary, instead, what Appiah is recognizing is a pattern within the human species that has repeated itself for as long as history has been recorded.

Works Cited:

1. Appiah, Kwame. “Making Conversation” Emerging: Contemporary Readings for Writers 2nd Edition. Ed. Barclay Barrios. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2010. 106-119.
Join(RED). 20 Sept. 2010.…...

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