A point comes in everybody’s life when they are no longer able to accept new ideas. They arrive at “the Truth” and close themselves off to anything that doesn’t confirm it. Their inner lives become a closed chamber where the same broken record plays on an endless loop. For many people, this happens quite early in life.

A human mind, however, is much bigger than this locked chamber. If anybody manages to break through, disrupt the loop, and bring a new idea into the mind of such a person, he (which it normally is) becomes an object of an intense attachment to the close-looper. This can be a guru, a religious leader, an ideologue, a self-help peddler, an artist, or a political demagogue of any kind. The attachment is a product of the close-looper’s realization that their brain is capable of bigger things than the looper once thought possible and the resulting gratitude. But this process also produces a lot of fear because the looper is untrained in intellectual expansion. The disrupting guru becomes an object of fixation, which is the mind’s attempt to block off any further intellectual discoveries.

The whole purpose of my blog is to serve as a workout for my own brain to prevent it from closing off and going stale. I prod and poke my own certainties because, as somebody else said:

This kind of rigidity comes when critical thinking is abandoned. To close oneself off to the possibility of alternative opinions, and only to see the world through the lens of confirmation bias, is a form of intellectual death.

People who read this blog often find this process disturbing because it happens in real-time and is based on a constant prodding of certainties that is often hard to tolerate. It’s easier for me because I’m the driver of the process on my own blog. But I understand that it can be extraordinarily annoying to observe.

Those who have stuck with the blog for years are quite unique in their capacity to tolerate the disruption of their inner truths. This is a capacity that speaks to a great intellectual strength and curiosity. I don’t think I’d be able to let go of my own rigidity to such a degree. I only do it in an environment that’s completely controlled by me, and that’s a very different thing.

I don’t, however, blame those who fall off over the years. From the outside, the whole process looks quite schizophrenic. First, I say one thing, then something completely different, then it shifts again. Then I arrive at something new and get stuck on it and try to process it by endless repetition, which is even more obnoxious. I need this because it helps me think but I understand how it can be frustrating to watch.


29 thoughts on “Close-loopers”

  1. This is the best part of reading your blog, though – for one thing, you often talk about things I know very little about in the first place, and for another, it keeps me challenging my own assumptions too. 🙂 Thanks!


  2. Those who have stuck with the blog for years and quite unique in their capacity to tolerate the disruption of their inner truths.

    I do not understand this. The sentence seems to have no verb…should ‘and’ be ‘are’ perhaps?


        1. :-)))) That’s what I absolutely love about my readers. I do this intellectual growth thing publicly because I have an enormous tendency to intellectual and mental rigidity. It sounds funny when I tell stories about it but it’s hard to live with a mind as circumscribed as mine. I need people to push back at me and make me keep thinking. It will be sad when I’m pushed underground and can’t have any new voices appear here. But it will happen because it’s extremely hard to explain to people what it is that I’m doing here.


  3. So there’s hope you’ll eventually renounce nationalism and the pedagogical approaches to language teaching originating in it? 😉😀 (Emmagale, wordpress won’t let me login)


      1. “My life makes a mockery of nationalism”

        Or is it’s ultimate proof? Do you care more about what happens in Azerbaijan or Ukraine? Do you want your daughter to have American or German values? American nationalism made/makes your career possible in a way that no other nationalism could…


        1. It’s a pity it’s dying. It’s precisely because I have the experiences I have that I can warn about the high costs of fluidity. Look at Zygmunt Bauman who was completely fluid in his life. He was a lot more aware of the tragedy of fluidity than a typical US academic who sits on his ass in the same place forever. Or take Philip Bobbitt who is clearly a member of the transnational elites and who is warning about the costs of the erosion of the nation-state.

          All those simpletons who scream that opposition to fluidity is pure Nazism have no real experience with fluidity and would whine like hurt little bunnies if they actually came face to face with it.

          Even here on the blog, people who are wary of fluidity and want to shore up the nation-state are the ones who are immigrants, expats, etc.


          1. “the high costs of fluidity”

            Fluidity is a storm, nationalism is a port in the storm. Those leading the cheers for the end of the nation state have no fucking idea what is in store for them….


              1. There are high costs to both nationalism and fluidity. I just happen to think that we would be better off working towards a kinder fluidity rather than accepting a cruel nationalism as the only thing that can save us from ugly fluidity.


              2. If there is no force stronger than capital and no institution able to control it, how can it be kinder? What is going to be the source of the kindness if not state institutions? All I can think of is corporate charity.

                These are not rhetorical questions. If anybody has heard of a theorist who discusses the post-nation state optimistically, I’d love to hear it. The only optimistic view I’ve seen is from Philip Bobbitt who says that a minority of highly fluid individuals will be able to maximize their opportunities thanks to fluidity. And that’s not even all that optimistic.


              3. I can recommend some readings, but you’d have to be willing to read in the fields of Linguistics and Education :-). Also, it’s worth noting that this third possibility is my interpretation of these readings, so you may not come to the same one.


    1. I’d be interested in these readings. I never really got used to being in a national language department as opposed to Comp. Lit., and I still feel strange calling myself a Hispanist although I have kind of become one, of necessity. But in terms of language pedagogy, how is it that one is nationalist and can become not so nationalist?


      1. Z we’re nationalistic in our focus on language borders (is this English or Arabic) and valorization of standard varieties and monolingual classroom policies. We become less nationalist by realizing that language borders are just as imagined as national ones (and for the same reasons), critiquing the nationalism that denigrates certain varieties as “broken” and realizing the potential of multilingual and multidialectal learning environments (which is not the same as a return to explaining target language grammar in English or saying “anything goes”). I have a professional blog now where I sometimes blogs about things like this, you’ll probably like it though it’s not super well organized:

        In terms of actual readings, my perspective comes on this from applying readings critiquing monolingual ideologies of language based in the nation-state to my research on study abroad where I critique uncritical perspectives on this fluidity. If you wait a few months/years (yay fast academia) my under review works on this topic will be out but for now here’s some good ones to check out:

        Anya, U. (2017). Racialized identities in second language learning: Speaking blackness in Brazil. New York: Routledge.
        Cenoz, J., & Gorter, D. (2015). Multilingual Education: Between Language Learning and Translanguaging. Cambridge University Press.
        Conteh, J., & Meier, G. (2014). The multilingual turn in languages education: Opportunities and challenges (40). Multilingual Matters.
        May, S. (2014). The Multilingual Turn: Implications for SLA, TESOL, and Bilingual Education. Routledge.
        Rosa, J., & Flores, N. (2017). Unsettling race and language: Toward a raciolinguistic perspective. Language in Society, 46(05), 621-647.
        Trentman, E., & Diao, W. (2017). The American gaze east: Discourses and destinations of US study abroad. Study Abroad Research in Second Language and International Education, 2, 175-205.


        1. Oh, and I forgot this one:
          Kramsch, C., & Huffmaster, M. (2015). Multilingual practices in foreign language study. In J. Cenoz & D. Gorter (Eds.), Multilingual education: Between language learning and translanguaging (pp. 114-136). Cambridge University Press Cambridge.


        2. That’s fascinating. People hate the way I teach here because they consider it both too demanding (I require actual communication) and too permissive (I allow errors and so on). I’m not from SLA or from a national language department so I just do what was done in California when I was young, which feels a lot more modern to me than the fill in the blank and matching and so on that rules now, and/or the kinds of things that work for me. But I keep being told it’s heresy to ask for whole phrases and sentences, and to allow errors. Now perhaps I can defend this … 😀


  4. \ There are high costs to both nationalism and fluidity. I just happen to think that we would be better off working towards a kinder fluidity rather than accepting a cruel nationalism as the only thing that can save us from ugly fluidity.

    I do not believe a cruel nationalism has a long term chance today since nationalism is under a huge attack of fluid modernity. That’s why its worst excesses are in the past, not future or even present, unless I am very mistaken.

    Also, judging by the past, I do not see any real way to work towards a kinder fluidity unless fluidity is credibly threatened and forced to reign in its worst excesses.

    American capitalism was previously threatened by communism and by reliance of capital on workers who had power to demand a normal standard of living. Once all limitations on capital are gone, how can we work toward anything?

    People say we can influence the accepted standards of the future workplace by shaming business owners and capitalists who adopt practices increasing exploitation in the present. For instance, I remember one commentor sharing on this blog his plan to force all his future workers to volunteer X hours per month. However, after reading posts like the recent “Job Wars,” I cannot believe moral condemnations will change anything without something more substantial to back them up. That “something” has to be economic, not moral. Otherwise, the logic of global capitalism will swipe our condemnations and wishes away as cobwebs, and we will resemble the modern Occupy Wall Street-ers protesting against greed.


  5. \ There are high costs to both nationalism and fluidity. I just happen to think that we would be better off working towards a kinder fluidity rather than accepting a cruel nationalism as the only thing that can save us from ugly fluidity.

    There is also an implied assumption here that the cruelties of nationalism will not be preserved, even if in a somewhat transformed fashion, in the age of fluidity.

    I’ve been reading “Liquid Modernity” at last, and Bauman talks about the possibility of blooming of explosive communities with considerable genocidal potential. Precisely because of their foundational instability in the age of fluidity, those communities may turn to extreme violence to create the illusion of stability and promote bonding among their members.

    According to Bauman, the total violence may be deregulated rather than diminished, “descending from the state to the community (neo-tribal) level” (193).


  6. The cruelty of nationalism is not behind us. Racism, religious discrimination, linguistic discrimination and other types of cruelty are part of nationalism. I don’t think these can be fixed through nationalism, because nationalism relies on strong, permanent borders (physical and otherwise), and will always be cruel to those who can’t perfectly conform to these borders. For sure fluidity is not an automatic fix and can also be very cruel, especially for those whose fluidity is not valued (and this is where I agree with the critique of it) but I think it has more potential to be kind if we engage with it in a critical way.


  7. // I just happen to think that we would be better off working towards a kinder fluidity

    The problem with the word “we” is that in post-national world many people may revert to seeing most strangers as potential enemies when the social trust and cohesion decrease. Can “we” work towards something in an atomised fashion?

    For instance:

    We’re all toxic now
    That ‘toxic’ is the word of 2018 speaks to a growing mistrust of one another.

    The use of the word ‘toxic’, then, is not a spur to action, but a warning to us to withdraw, disengage, and put our own safety and security first. This reinforces a view of people as extremely vulnerable and fragile, in need of Safe Spaces and protection just to make it through the day.

    This new tendency to call every aspect of life ‘toxic’ suggests many people are deeply alienated from the world around them and from other people. We meet each other not as potential friends, colleagues, or allies, but as poisonous strangers. The workplace is not a site of potential friendship and collaboration, but of abuse. The university campus is not an opportunity for confronting new and challenging ideas, but a place full of dangerous unknowns.


    1. Seeing strangers as potential enemies sounds a lot like nationalism to me . . . the question is can we have critically fluid institutions?


  8. Over the weekend I met a poet who lost contact with his native language because they moved away when he was 8. His country speaks English too and of the two languages of origin he speaks only English. Then he became a diplomat so has lived around the world and speaks several other languages well. But he says he still feels the lack of the language and cultural rootedness that might have been there, and of a past that is gone.


  9. A horrible thing (including no police reaction) :

    Woman attacked during ultra-Orthodox demonstration
    27 year old says she underwent a ‘lynch’ after being caught in a Haredi protest near Bnei Brak last week, as demonstrators began surrounding and hitting her vehicle before she was taken to safety by two other Haredi bypassers.,7340,L-5357888,00.html?utm_source=Taboola_internal&utm_medium=organic

    I do not see how fluidity will prevent such things from happening.


    1. “how fluidity will prevent such things from happening”

      Fluidity increases the odds of such thinks happening as it eliminates (ultimately) all cross group loyalties, so that conforming to one’s closest environment is many people’s best bet for survival.


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