When I was a boy, the story of The Tower of Babel in Genesis caused me tremendous anxiety, confusion, and perhaps thrilled me a little too. The idea of one language turning into many seemed both terrifying and exciting. God loomed over this story as a force of mystery and power. He was inscrutable.
Recently I have felt more and more that we are living in a world of limitless languages — not on the level of language itself, but on the level of belief. Everyone seems to believe something different, and even the smallest of these differences are blown up into something hugely significant. We lack a mature common culture — at most there are communities, clusters of overlapping beliefs, but these often feel cultish to me, not places where true development of thought can occur.
I would rather be “scattered” than be a member of a group whose hubris and narcissism are what gives its members a sense of community. As someone who admires René Girard, I am suspicious of unity, which Girard showed is usually built on the demonization of some other. I think it was a kind of gift from God when He turned a single language into many; in this, He opened up the possibility of genuine community — not one built on totalitarian unity, but one where true intersubjective communication, an encounter across distances, is achievable.
I used to believe social media might support that kind of community — be a place for a diversity of voices, from which we can learn, and to whom we can offer new ways of thinking. But it is pretty clear to me now that this is not what is happening. Social media’s content may be diverse, but its form is monolithic: a place people try to “make a name” for themselves.
So I am retreating, for now at least, from the rough and tumble of Twitter to this Medium. I am interested neither in cultish unities nor online battling. I still believe, however, that people can use the internet to listen to and learn from one another. So I plan to offer occasional thoughts here, as I work to understand more about our shared reality — truths that live mostly outside of ideology, groupthink, and partisanship.
Along the way, anyone who has thoughts to offer may do so in comments or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Let’s see what we can build…