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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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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