Monthly Archives: February 2013

I love this post, because it describes why Winter has always been my favorite season. It is associated with so many things that make me feel whole–this is especially true when the winter is cold, snowy, and dark…but is that any excuse to let go of that wonderful feeling when the weather doesn’t cooperate? Of course not. I am the master of my perspective and I can have my spiritual winter despite climate change, dammit!

But I still love snow.


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Fight for the Future

Fight for the Future

This is worth a gander–make some of your Internet time well-spent, today!

On Human Divinity

Religion: an organized expression of ideas relating to matters of the human quest for peace and happiness, whether in this life or another one. Usually involves a literary canon considered holy/enlightened texts as well as some kind of hierarchical power structure based on nearness to God/enlightenment. Foremost in my experience is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-

Smith's later theology described Jesus and God...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Day Saints, my own religion until age 14.

God: a divine being, objectively better than humanity in some way. Often acts as a paternalist force, offering reward and punishment as teaching tools for proper human behavior.

Nearness to God: the quality of bringing oneself in line with the values and wishes of the divine. The ultimate state of happiness available to human creatures.

Faith: the belief in a being, a concept, or a structure of the universe even in the absence of evidence. Often considered an essential part of religion.

Enlightenment or Spirituality: the quality of bringing oneself in line with values determined to produce happiness, even in the absence of any divine power dictating those values. Often offered as a juxtaposition to the nearness to God of Judao-Christian religions.

Sin: the wrong; an act or a state of being in contravention of the articulated values of the religion.

Mercy: the capability of kindness, even toward people who do not and have not tried to deserve it.

Forgiveness: the act of setting aside pain and anger from being wronged in order to give the wrongdoer the gift of a new beginning; the quality of seeing an individual’s worth despite full knowledge of their faults and mistakes; the expression of unconditional love.

Redemption: the wrongdoer’s attempt to earn forgiveness; also, the achievement of forgiveness.

Sacrifice: conduct that is the expression of forgiveness. Sacrifice is putting a part of ones own desires aside because the value of the  person benefitting from the sacrifice outweighs the value of that desire. I think sacrifice is an integral part of both what the wrongdoer does on her quest for redemption and what the forgiver does when she offers that gift.

I have a complicated relationship with the concepts I’ve described above. I am sure that these ideas mean something else to other people–I’ve only transcribed what they mean to me. I was raised LDS (commonly known as Mormon), and though I’ve since left the Church I continue to believe that my upbringing had a positive effect on me. For years after I left, I eschewed every indication of spirituality, until two or three years ago I found myself increasingly attracted to stories and music about redemption and forgiveness. (Examples here, here, here, and here.)

I wondered if this attraction I felt suggested a need for religion in my life. I thought about it for a long time. I”ve worked hard to craft an ethical vocabulary that does not include divinity. I wholly believe it is possible to be a good person and to achieve harmony and peace in this life, if you work at it. In the end, I came to the conclusion that many of the concepts wrapped up in religion–redemption, sacrifice, mercy, forgiveness–do not need to be entangled with the concept of faith or divinity. You’ll notice that while some of the concepts I described above are interdependent on the essentially faith-based concepts of God and Religion, the concepts of Mercy, Sin, Forgiveness, and Redemption are not. I believe that as people we are capable of little and large sin. We are also capable of showing each other forgiveness and mercy. We are capable of earning and offering redemption.

Perhaps we identify so much with religion because it embodies these principles, which we must practice in order to survive as a human community. Perhaps I’m wrong about faith and my vocabulary is a pale comparison to true spirituality that is dependent on the divine. But isn’t it a beautiful dream, that we can create divinity in our own lives through choices we are eminently, humanly capable of making? I offer no judgment whatsoever on how people should internalize and practice the concepts of mercy, forgiveness, and redemption…just so long as you do practice them somehow.

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Big Data & the Future of Critical Thinking

It’s 3:58 on a Friday, I’m having a pretty bad week, and can’t muster the wherewithal to do more work right now. So I am going to sit here with my Joy tea (need some Joy in my life) and my shiny new blog and write about something that I find fascinating: data collection and targeted perspective in the information age. Inspired by the comment thread to this brilliant post.


parents (Photo credit: goto10)

There’s always a lot of talk about how important it is to guard your information online. There are so many people you’d want to keep it from–thieves, the government, retailers, your boss, your parents… Plus, I’m a technologically sophisticated, legally trained individual and I know full well the myriad dangers of putting too much out there. And yet, I opt in to almost every data collection scheme I come across.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t go looking for data grabbers that have nothing to do with me otherwise. But if I enjoy a service, I virtually always permit them to share my data anonymously to “make their service better.”  Think Hulu,  Amazon Kindle Store. Netflix. Google products. Phone apps. Et cetera and ad nauseam. I love that technology is advancing to the point where I am increasingly confronted with only the things I enjoy seeing. It’s beautiful! Fun! Interesting! Gratifying! Why shouldn’t I take advantage of what targeted services can do for me? This guy gets me.

Well, there are zillions of reasons why I shouldn’t.

For one thing, how can you guarantee your data is anonymous when it leaves your grasp (or that it will stay so?) You can’t. With enough data, and enough computer power, virtually any set can be traced back to its “anonymous” donor–recently scientists released a study showing they could personally identify anonymous DNA donors with the power of the net.

And another thing, do you know what your data even says about you? Trust me, you don’t. The level of information that a third party with swaths of your prior behaviors can predict about your future behaviors is staggering. We have many laws (and in the U.S. a handy Bill of Rights) to help protect you from the government extrapolating about you based on this information. But what is to keep a multinational corporation from determining your future based on your past? Nothing. Chances are, most of the online resources you use track every single click and keystroke you do–and sometimes they might release it.

In today's society, there's a price to pay for...

In today’s society, there’s a price to pay for critical thinking (Photo credit: cesarastudillo)

There’s also the more philosophical argument–that when you permit yourself to be confronted with only the things you already enjoy, you stunt your personal growth. You fail to encourage critical thinking or creative collaboration with differing perspectives. You splinter your universe into a tiny niche where you and all of your friends are the most important, most correct, most infallible possible patrons. Is this a word we want to live in? Not in the long term. This is why critical thinking is, to my mind, the most powerful skill you can learn. It requires affirmative practice and daily tuning, but once you have it, it won’t matter how “targeted” an argument anyone can throw at you. You’ll be able to evaluate it effectively and make an informed decision about its impact on your life.

I’m still going to opt-in to targeted data collection schemes for services I use. But I hope that I can continue to stretch my critical thinking muscles and not let them atrophy. It’s the best available weapon against the gorgeous and terrifying future.

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