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Saturday, August 19, 2017


There's a lot to think about here, and my following comments aren't going to do your post justice. But I have some misgivings about what you write.

1. I'm not convinced that provincialism will "inevitably" give way to "cosmopolitanism." I say that in part because I find cosmopolitanism and provincialism to be foils for each other. Each seems to define itself as not the other (assuming we can really say an "ism" can "define itself").

2. I also say it's not inevitable because I see the inter-ethnic, inter-racial, inter-religious (and so on) intermixing to be more a reconstituting of identities. New(er) identities may form, but the fact of identities--and fears of "erasure"--will persist. Localism and particularism will persist. That's partly a hypothesis on my part (it may or may not turn out that way) and partly an (I admit, almost question-begging) assertion about the nature of "cosmopolitanism/provincialism."

3. You seem to assume that provincialism on balance is bad and that cosmopolitanism on balance is good, or that the first is worse than the second and the second is better than the first. (If not, please correct me...it's possible I'm just interjecting my own priors into what you're writing.) I'm not prepared to say that or assume that. There will still be people in the cosmopolitan world who are marginalized for characteristics they have no control over. At the same time, as your point about "erasure" implies, some of what is considered "provincial" is valuable, and cosmopolitanizing it all can mean that something good is lost as well as gained.

4. Much of what is considered as "cosmopolitan" turns out, on closer inspection, to be just a revivified provincialism, or (less pejoratively) localism. A "cosmopolitan" city like Chicago still has its ethnic enclaves and neighborhoods. Maybe all sorts of people intermingle in the Loop or in ethnic restaurants. But they go back to where they live at the end of the day, and where they live is coded with race, ethnic, and class markers.

5. Where cosmopolitanism seems to have taken hold--where new identities are truly being formed and older ones are less trenchant--is in an increasingly mobile wealthy class that inhabits certain supposedly "diverse" or "neutral" areas (take, for example, Printers' Row, parts of Lincoln Park, parts of Wicker Park) while others who are not so fortunate are more grounded and sometimes looked down on or accepted only with certain conditions (think of the socially conservative people in our city who reliably vote Democratic. I suspect most Democratic-leaning cosmopolitans accept these people for their votes, but expect these same people to keep their social conservatism to themselves.)

5. I differ with you a little on your definition of "privilege." When you suggest that "Privilege is never having to feel threatened by erasure, whether symbolic or literal," you seem to suggest that once someone starts to feel less secure from erasure, then they are no longer privileged. I don't think you mean to suggest these white supremacists don't therefore enjoy white privilege even though they now feel less secure. I know you add on to that by saying it's not just lack of security, but a sense of entitlement (and the supremacists certainly have that). But it seems to me that not fearing erasure should be something we all entitled to and that the idea of "privilege" as something to be called out or checked is an expression of that entitlement. I admit I'm equivocating on the word "entitled." You use it to mean something different from how I'm using it. And in that difference is how your point is valid. I'm suggesting, though, that we have to decide when privilege ends and when it begins and what privilege-checking does and does not do.

6. Whether the neo-Nazis gained credibility by their pro-CSA marching or besmirched the pro-CSA cause by association seems to me murkier than your posts suggests. It's probably both. I know there have been sad periods earlier, such as the 1970s and 1980s, when neo-Nazi's did some horrible things here, but now is the first time in my lifetime (and I suspect the first time since the pre-WWII Bund was active) that this country has seen neo-Nazi's with such a large megaphone and audience. Maybe that's because Trump gives them a whiff of legitimacy (by his hesitating two days before condemning them). I'm not convinced that pro-CSA apologetics will suffer considerably by the association, but that's just speculation on my part and you may be right.

7. With this, I agree wholeheartedly: "There are powerful reactionary forces within all of us that react against shifts in identity,...." I think it would be foolish for anyone to think themselves immune to that. Where we might differ is in whether "cosmopolitanism" will actually whittle any of that reactionary potential down. I think it won't, but it will only change the rules along which the reactionary forces can be realized. I can, however, be wrong. I do believe some things are better than others, I do believe it's better to be accepting of racial, ethnic, cultural, etc., differences than not. And perhaps some trends that can reliably be called "cosmopolitan" can lead us closer to that ideal than not.

I realize my comments are critical. But I just want to part by saying I do appreciate the thought and time you're putting into these issues. If I am critical, it's mainly because your post gives me a lot to think about.

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