Some societies are changing fast, and others are trying not to change so fast.
One of the interesting features of our present age is the way in which the ubiquitousness of strangeness permeates our lives. We turn on our phones and we are hit by an arsenal of media that confront us with newness, difference, the Other.
In this environment hybridity seems to be the norm. We seem to be moving from cultures that expect a normative order (a ‘right’ way), to societies in which multiple thematic lines or normative combinations occur.
To discuss this, I would like to propose the idea of ‘states’, which are conditions present in society that hold particular patterns. In particular five possible states are here articulated in hypothetical form: sectarian (purist), orthodox, liberal, hybrid, post hybrid, post liberal (commoning).
The sectarian state (purist, aggressive and enforced mono culture)
The sectarian state is most obviously a regressive and anachronistic one in todays context, but all so important – it is the antithesis of where many of our societies are heading and therefore act as both a clarification for what we are not (identity through negation) and also they tell us what is reacting to the present.
The sectarian state is one in which a minority with a strong ideology comes to power and aggressively shapes and bend all around it to its will. Examples of this include the NAZI party of Germany, and today ISIS and North Korea. In general, they tolerate no difference, and killing and violence is a primary mode of enforcing the order.
The Orthodox state
Somewhere in between the sectarian state and the liberal state is the Orthodox state. An Orthodox state does not require micro managed adherence to a particular ideology, but rather seems to be a conservative stance in relation to difference. China does not officially accept LGBT identities / people, nor does it accept the legitimacy non-state sanctioned religions. But it is not actively going after these people (except in some rare cases). One can do and be these things if one doesn’t advertise it too much. Iran may be seen as another possible example in this scheme. The Orthodox state makes difference invisible, that is how it accommodates it.
The Liberal state
The liberal state is one in which western liberalism provides a context for difference. The political liberalist formulation is absolute equality under the law (e.g. supreme court decisions). In reality the liberal state seems to be one of political conflict – culturally people go nuts when they see difference and divergence, and they attempt to use the law to enforce their version of the right way to live. In the liberal state you really dislike the other and use the state as a way of making your culture dominant. This I would argue is what the USA has experienced over the past 30 or so years, and is coming out of. There, Taliban-esch Christians attempt to change abortion laws, ban LGBT marriage, and keep Mosques from being built. But this seems to me to be a negative peace. Disgruntled sectarian purists will never cease to try and capture the state – whether Taliban or bible thumpers. But within the constitutional framework of the USA and other similar states, they are relegated to but actors on a grander stage of play.
F-you if you are offended
The hybrid state
This then brings us to the hybrid state. I believe an emerging hybrid state to be one in which identities and forms are decoupled from their bases. For example traditionally pro-gay was left. Pro-gun was right. In the hybrid state we have pro-gun gays. We have vegan Christian fundamentalists. We have pro-choice vegan Christian fundamentalists. We have right to life atheists. We have pro-choice vegan Christian fundamentalists who live in eco villages. We have punks, we have corporate punks. We have social enterprise groups for corporate punks, etc. As mentioned before, globalisation, movement, media, instigate new de-territorial identities, while some process of individuation works its logic such that people begin to choose and identify across this myriad of possible forms. I think this is what societies like Australia, USA and other places are moving into. But it is a scary place for many people, who are both confused and have no map for this territory (there is no map), and who want the settledness of identities one can rely on. Obama is the most potent symbol for the hybrid age, and an indication that it has reached maturity.
Obama as hybrid
The post hybrid state
Here is where things get more hypothetical. I don’t think we’ll all become hybrids either. People like to cluster with their kind and don’t want to be a muddled everything. I think cultural reproduction tends to favour differentiation even in conditions of global culture and hybridity. One of my pet theses is that out of this age of hybridity will come cults of purity. Perhaps Donald Trump is one example. The post hybrid state is one in which people accept their right to be different and for others to be different, without the compulsion to use the apparatus of state or the lunacy of violence to enforce sameness and cultural conformity. The massacre in Orlando and Trumps response is a clear indication we are not there. In the post hybrid state there is an emotional acceptance of difference – whether grudging or embracing. It is live and let live in the face of radical difference.
Trump as vanguard for the cult of purity?
The logic in cults of purity is interesting here. In the liberal state, people can still remain in their enclosed and homogenous communities and feel safe, safe from the Other and safe to be bigots. It is Archie Bunker territory. The sectarian state IS a cult of purity imposed on everyone else, violently. The orthodox state is rather pragmatic, but there is still an ideology to guide rightness. So the cult of purity is given its place in these states. It is in the hybrid state where purists go bonkers. Where everyone is miscegenat-ing identities, losing the core essence of who they are, become algorithmically being re-patterned by silicon valley, experimenting with and adapting mutant grafting, there is no where to hide for the purists, there is no way out. Thus cults of purity, ISIS, North Korea, become the USA’s antithesis.
Interestingly, having grown up with a ‘Mexican-American’ identity was significant for me. I knew I was a hybrid from day one. But I noticed that many from the dominant culture (“white” though I hate this term) were openly uncomfortable with the very notion of Mexican-American. You’re either with us or against us!
The post liberal state
Finally, the post liberal state is then a mature expression of the post hybrid state. In the post liberal state people use difference as a resource. Purists not only can accept hybrids, and hybrids can not only accept purists, but each see the strengths and weaknesses of their own kind, or the other, and uses this dynamic difference as an “engine”. For purism is for the self, not a prescription for the other. Hybridity is for the self, not a prescription for the other. This can also be understood as the state of commoning.
I’m not saying that every society has to aspire to a post liberal state. Societies choose their own paths, what they deem appropriate, and negotiate this for themselves. However, for societies like the USA and Australia, that have opened the pandoras box of radical diversity, a post liberal state of commoning would seem to be one potential pathway. These are only preliminary thoughts after all. But even if a society cannot go the whole hog, we live in a globalised word of movement and media and even traditional societies need to find ways of incorporating diversities and difference – let our cults of purity be peaceful ones that demand more of themselves than the Other.