A news item that appeared on American newswires today has led me to think in a new way about identity, both digital and otherwise. The first few paragraphs:
BLANCHARD, Mich. — Some Amish farmers say a state requirement that they tag cattle with electronic chips is a violation of their religious beliefs.
Last year, the state Department of Agriculture announced that Michigan cattle leaving farms must be tagged in the ear with electronic identification as part of an effort to combat bovine tuberculosis.
That has drawn some resistance from the Amish, who typically shun technology, The Grand Rapids Press reported Sunday. In April, Glen Mast and other Amish farmers appeared before the state Senate Appropriations Committee, urging it to block the program.
“We’re never happier than when we’re just left alone,” said Mast, whose farm in Isabella County operates without electricity. “That’s all we’re asking.”
State officials say the ability to trace food sources is increasingly important in the global economy.
But more important to the smooth functioning of the “global economy”, I would argue, is the ancient legal doctrine known to the eminently practical Romans as res extra commercium, closely related to that of res sacrae: the idea that some things in life are not for sale, and that these things thus “set apart” are the substance of the sacred itself.
Recent discoveries concerning the neuroscience of identity, described by John Henry Clippinger in his recent book A Crowd of One: The Future of Individual Identity, indicate that science is beginning to understand why any form of global governance that elides cultural identity in the name of commerce will know no peace.
The Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa bases his entire philosophy of global governance, which he calls “symbiosis”, on a concept of “sacred zones” comprised of small areas of the economy that are spared from globalization in order to preserve cultural identity:
What I mean by “symbiosis” is a relationship of mutual need — while competition, opposition, and struggle continue. How can mutually opposing, different qualities and aims exist in symbiosis? A concept of sacred zones is, I believe, the key.
Protecting the diversity of life means protecting the diversity of culture, and actively underwriting such diversity. A symbiotic order is an order in which we recognize others’ differences — and their sacred zones — and compete on that basis. Economic activity can be objectively measured, but the same standards cannot be applied to culture, religion, or lifestyle.
Communities so attuned to the sacred that they can honestly say “We’re never happier than when we’re just left alone” will never be more than a tiny minority like the Amish, nor will the “sacred zones” claimed by Kurokawa, such as the Japanese rice industry and sumo, ever amount to more than a tiny fraction of the “global economy”. The “global economy” will surely survive if it spares these few things from the “laws of the market”, but not if it tramples them.
I wish the Amish of Michigan well in their struggle to be left alone.