Jul 9, 2020Liked by L. M. Sacasas

It is interesting to read this in light of the recent Alito opinion citing Dreher and Christian Schools International. In that case, a special right to discriminate — violating civil rights laws in favour of religious communities' right to "buffer" themselves from the values enshrined in federal law — is discovered. Tweetstorms precede and follow it, but the legal opinion is laid out with the footnotes of a classically annotated scholastic text citing case law back to Puritan New England, Catholic canon law, etc. The ideas and movements arguing for these rights of religious enclaves far predate the internet and have cyclically shifted over the decades and centuries from quietistic separatism to zealous missionary crusades, as the composition and sentiment of religious minorities swing from insecurity to confident hegemony and back again.

So. You might be describing a cyclical reaction to new media technology iterating on the invention of cheap print amid the perennial western kulturkampf. The factional and fractious, polemical uses of mass media have been breaking down consensus and claims to universality for five centuries, and yet there are still strong networks of consensus and dialogue amid the more and less resilient communities that cohere around a certain ethno-national-religious buffer.

I would say the Westphalian state that "solved" the chaos of Europe's religious wars by cementing a legal fiction of national identity (one of Taylor's "social imaginaries") is now coming to the end of its useful life under multiple pressures and its own contradictions even as subcultural insurgent groups seek to recharge the project. Digital media is one of those pressures but also maybe a pressure valve — a place people run to avoid having to deal with the old fundamentals which are still law, paper, print, precedent, footnotes, and long-form typographic literacy.

Scientists, humanists, lawyers, and other bureaucrats tend to ride above the reactions of ordinary people to the storms of new media because their professions are a buffered but effectively global enclave. Success at growth and stability ironically requires an openness to the world and others, which means openness to change. The more you buffer up, the more you need to be porous and vulnerable.

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Thanks for this. Especially the second and third paragraphs. Had just been thinking of digital media precisely as, among other things, a pressure valve. I may end up having more to say about that. Also, I concur with the preceding point about the dissolving of national identity.

Regarding a cyclical reaction, yes. In fact, I may be writing about this in the next newsletter. But not strictly cyclical, spiraling perhaps. Which is to say that the cycles aren't identical and eternal.

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That sounds right. No arrow or immutable pattern to even one particular peoples' history but patterns and familiarities that suggest lessons? In thinking about history, I am influenced by Voegelin and more recently Barth's anti-Hegelian position of radical openness, and now I am discovering "de/coloniality" which naturally embraces a rejection of linear "progressivism" and egoistic teleologies. Boaventura de Sousa Santos talks about this drawing of sharp dividing lines as part of western "abyssal thinking" the state is built on — the civilized and the savage or the colonized, etc. So one might also say that from the standpoint of the colonizer/settler culture, the need for a "buffered" self in a complex world of clashing pluralities necessitates the "cancelling" of others who cannot be assimilated within one's national cutlure constructed for this purpose.

Since I was here last, I have been trying to discover whether "deschooling" has intersected with "decolonizing" projects. Even in the commonwealth countries and Latin America where "indigeneity" and "coloniality" aren't new or weird concepts, there seems to be a tendency still (especially among academics) to recommend forms of schooling in their decolonizing efforts. Both deschooling and decolonizing can be conceived as largely cognitive projects (like a lot of recent interest in addressing race/racism as a thought problem about "whiteness" in the USA), but if one confronts, as Illich did, the intrinsically extractivist, colonialist, theocratic-evangelistic, and ultimately disabling nature of "education" as schooling, it is hard to see how decolonizing could possibly avoid engaging in some form of deschooling.

In the process of beginning this inquiry, I also stumbled across more Massachusetts colonial history where the Puritan government pressed for compulsory schooling quite early, motivated by a very high suspicion of families and remote farming communities. The farther one gets from the cities, the more the devil and the wilderness loom, and education is the potentially salvific tonic. Centuries later, the founder of the Canadian education system, Edgerton Ryerson, took a similar view, describing rural farm family life as a kind of snakepit. So within the historical and legal record, North America has always a Protestant (and later "secular") state theocratic system of colonizing and saving people through schools, which has been successively resisted by Catholics and various Protestants on the grounds of not having their identities and traditions assimilated, and yet all of them have also inflicted their own schools on indigenous people and other people of colour. Now we are in a moment when people from nearly every conceivable group demand a right to free speech and freedom from others' offending speech as if they all need their own buffered selves and enclaves. What has been settled previously by hegemonic might now seems unresolvable by reference to rights, which adds to the legitimacy crisis of the supposedly plural state and calls into question whether this form of political organization has ever been or can be serviceable to its majorities while being even-handed with its minorities.

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I've been thinking about the blurred lines of selfhood and agency as we become more porous due to digital technologies. It seems that our relationship to language is less in our control in a digital context. We are trained to compulsively check email, tweets, updates, feeds, notifications, and so on, and in pours an often algorithmic generated list of content that shapes our language and in turn shapes our thoughts.

So to govern the self, we try to govern the broader language we are bombarded with, shouting down language that threatens to diminish how we think of our value, identity, place in society, potential. I wasn't sure why the shouting down was the management strategy, but your writing on mystification and digital texts and events or pseudoevents is helping to the think about this.

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