Saturday, November 11, 2006

"Progressive Judaism," Globalization and Our Over-Networked World

In my seminar with Prof. Manuels Catells this week on globalization, society and technology in Russia and China, he made a fascinating connection between Chinese and Jewish identities. These are the only two identities that have existed for two millennium and endured throughout the spread of a Judeo-Christian ethos/identity; resisted the implosion of "Classical Civilization" during the middle ages; survived the renewal of Western civilization, the rise of modernity, barely (esp. the Jews) and now are challenged in our 21st-Century, over-networked world.

Castells work highlights the dislocating impact of a network society; of how due to the radical changes in information communication technology, our very identities, the way we experience space and flow, that is, how our bodies form identity and meaning, is changing in fundamental ways. In our network globalized world, we are always "here" and "there", on call, checking in, present and preparing for the future. Castells argued in our seminar that the basic pieces we utilize to form our "selves" or identity - the language we use, the concepts and social analytical categories we use to understand the world - have to change. How we understand ourselves and our world needs to change at the most minute level, and then, be projected onto a global level.

At one level, Castells' point is a basic one: since our world has changed in radical ways, so must the categories we use to understand the world. Thus, we can't expect people to "rationally" respond to economic arguments based on their self-interests if at another level, they are feeling - consciously or unconsciously - the anxiety, fears, urges, dislocations, ruptures - as a result of these changes. While this may sound very theoretical, when the global world is viewed this way, things fall into place.

So we shouldn't be surprised that there are riots in Israel because gay Jews marched through the holy city and that the Vatican, Muslim clerics and Orthodox rabbis formed an alliance in opposition. Strange times of space and flow.

Choose your other examples of the dislocating effects and resulting violence in our lifetime: the War in Iraq, Afghanistan, 9/11, Yugoslavia, etc., destruction of the environment, use of copyright to prevent third world countries from pursuing medical patents, etc. Our over-networked world has never become more complex.

Thus, change must come, but we must first accept that change is always difficult. Patience and strategic thinking will be required.

What this means is that religious identity as we traditionally understand it will have to change. People like Josh Kun in their re-discovery of forgotten Jewish vinyl music is one wonderful, strange example.

So spiritual matters will reveal themselves in new ways, in re-discovering the past and re-mixing it. It will be global. So to end on a positive note: there is a world-wide creative class, ironically largest in US, Brazil AND Iran. Perhaps, we should combine humility with a desire to reach out and learn from those truly different. To see spirit in the act of reaching out, which for some is much more risky than others.

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