The Lenses That Filter Our Facts

Like many Americans who lament the divide that separates our public into to blacker-and-whiter camps, I struggle to understand how we got here.

In particular, as a Christian, I have been shocked and saddened by the “conservative southern white evangelicals” who, decades ago, began to mistrust academia, the media, science and other “secular” ways of viewing the world. What we see of conservative intolerance in these areas started decades ago.

We all are subject to some degree of “confirmation bias” by which we are more prone to believe “facts” that conform to what we already believe. But the “right” has taken that filter into their thought-and-belief world seemingly on equal footing with their theological understanding—even when the two are very much at odds. Internal contradictions seem to create no uneasiness here.

There have been countless attempts to parse out the roots of conservative evangelicalism’s retreat within its own stockade of faith-based colleges, books, television stations and think-tanks, and now its political leaders.

I’m not sure this article below is the best at that attempt, but it has some good points that help me to understand the roots of the lost conversation and the lamented disappearance of yesterday’s GRAY realm of discourse and debate. You might give it a look if you suffer the same bewilderment that seems to only get worse as current events unfold.

THE RELIGIOUS ORIGINS OF FAKE NEWS AND “ALTERNATIVE FACTS”

It’s interesting to note that the quote in the image came from a Christian mathematician and savant making observations about TRUTH in his own times–in the mid 1600s. So truthiness has been around the block a time or two.

It’s a Wonder-Full Life

I am happy to be often stopped in my tracks by wonder, but I wonder what exactly that is.

I know it when I feel it (or mostly when I have felt it, too immersed in the object of that state to be conscious of it or to care beyond the minor rapture of the moment.)

Attention-awareness is part of it; and curiosity; and a tacit sense of once-ness in the passing of the object or idea or scent or gestalt of the moment of wonder. Moments of wonder are benchmarks of real-ization out of a life of rote routine, habit,  and sensory numbness.

Wonder is a kind of deep-sight into ordinary reality around us.

  Are you prone to wonder? What draws your attention and curiosity and won’t let you go?  

 

I like the way Caspar Henderson has put it:

…wonder is, among other things, an act of deep attention. As I try so show in the book, it’s a radical openness in which we think clearly and feel good, and connect to phenomena or people beyond ourselves.

When one has these moments, it makes one think what more is going on here? What’s the context in which this is happening? Why, as a briefly-alive, historically-situated being, why am I wondering at this rather than something else?

What role does this experience play in my own sense of what makes the world meaningful? Where does that come from? Where is it going? In moments of wonder—this is my experience—you’re aware of your own ignorance, your own limits, your smallness, your mortality, and, also, I feel okay with that.

The best books on Science and Wonder — a Five Books interview https://fivebooks.com/best-books/science-wonder/

Big-Data Big-Brother NewSpeak

There are, of course, those who say that this big-data psychometric neurosociological element had nothing to do with the Trump win. What do you think? Twig from this quote from Cambridge Analytica’s own boast on their website on November 9 and go from there:

“We are thrilled that our revolutionary approach to data-driven communications played such an integral part in President-elect Donald Trump’s extraordinary win,” said Alexander Nix, CEO of Cambridge Analytica. “It demonstrates the huge impact that the right blend of cutting-edge data science, new technologies, and sophisticated communication strategies can have.”

The Rise of the Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine – Scout: Science Fiction + Journalism – Medium https://medium.com/join-scout/the-rise-of-the-weaponized-ai-propaganda-machine-86dac61668b#.7r0en8xp7

Cambridge Analytica Congratulates President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence
https://cambridgeanalytica.org/news/pressrelease/1293

““We have a massive database of 4-5,000 data points on every adult in America,” Alexander Nix, CA’s chief executive, cheerily told me. This sounds weird, if not creepy. Indeed, when I first encountered CA a year ago, I initially wondered if they were cranks. But CA has built a business serving commercial and political clients.”

NOTE: Much of this comes from Facebook polls and such. Caveat emptor.

The Data That Turned the World Upside Down – Motherboard https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/how-our-likes-helped-trump-win

Cambridge Analytica | Political revolution: How big data won the US presidency for Donald Trump https://cambridgeanalytica.org/news/press/1465

How Donald Trump utilized big data to win the US presidential elections http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/political-revolution-how-big-data-won-us-presidency-donald-trump-1602269

Who’s Your Data? ( on Fragments From Floyd)  from January 2014 contains this astounding quote, now much less far-fetched that a mere three years ago:

The big data revolution, as it matures from data collection to data interpretation to data-driven implementation across all aspects of human existence, will wield an impact on humanity’s future course that is no less revolutionary than the coming of the spoken and then the written word.

Featured image found in media archives. I confess I put the Nook in the hands of the damsel in the dark-peach dress.

Sense of Presence: Earth Places

I am one of those former young adult dreamers about far-away places that feels like a dream has come true. It is called Google Maps/Google Earth. It can take me any where, any time.

And when (increasingly often) I need a diversion from what passes these days as reality, I fire up the engine and head off: to Glacier National Park; the Smokies; my old stomping grounds in Birmingham or back to survey the Carolina Bays that continue to fascinate me.

If you lack the driving force to drive it yourself, hang on to this 2.5 minute spin around the planet to visit mostly human-made landscapes, but also a few natural places.

Earth: we just couldn’t stay here without you.

Be sure and turn on your speakers (or use headphones as the producers suggest.)

Matter of Scale

Do aggregates of humans  in business suits lose their soul beyond a certain number under the same corporate roof? 

Does the myopic quest for efficiency and profit to the exclusion of all other common good turn proper intention toward the dark side?

Can we survive in the era of BIG? 

Those were the questions rising in the steam from my first cup of coffee this morning. And so my morning pages took the shape of the following screed (also posted to Medium.com for a potentially wider audience than you, mom. TLDR. But that’s okay. I feel better now.)

BIG IS KILLING US

John Muir famously said that “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

I have new concerns about a near-by deforesting project and have started digging into it. And what I find is that logging Lick Ridge down to the dirt brings me squarely back into the currents that have been sweeping the western world to the brink now since the Great Acceleration.

It’s all about efficiency of the process and profit for the shareholders, and in the end, money drives the machinery of the age. This is our purpose, our raison d’etre, what America, at a certain aggregate level, is and for too long has been all about. And the rest of the world — at least until recently — wanted to walk in our boots and follow our way forward. That way does not lead forward but a few more steps, so it’s urgent that we go another direction.

Big Ag, Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Fiber, Big Finance, Big Risk: What all of these giants have in common is that, in the end, and in spite of slick ads and creative greenwashing, people and planet do not matter. The future does not matter other than that the graphs of share prices trend upward. The vitality and well-being of particular living creatures and Earth systems play no part in the business equation. Those messy abstractions limit power and profit and make shareholders unhappy and tend to shave a few million from CEO portfolios.

Through all the BIGS runs the thread of self, of haughty and callous indifference, of arrogance, of denial and of greed. To hell with your soil, your drinking water and air, your pitiful little investments, and your health. Those effects are simply collateral damage of good business. The worse these things become, the higher goes the GDP. If things are not broken, if there is not the perpetuated fear of insufficiency, then we don’t need more natural gas, more pesticides, more Happy Meals, more health/life/property insurance. Well-being is steady-state talk, and the board won’t like it.

There is a divide here, somewhere near the bottom line, of people on the one side who are champions for the living, for the sustainability of place, for the dignity of differently-colored people on the other side of the globe and for the health and well-being of far-future generations. And those on the other side who are champions for the cold dead figures on a balance sheet.

There is a gulf fixed between those who think them-there-then and those who think me-here-now; those who don’t get Mr. Muir’s ecology of all things.

The former understand the frail marvel that is a cell, a coral reef, an intact forest, or a unimaginably-complex spoonful of topsoil and they feel some sense of duty to honor that creature, that living system that was here long before us, whose ongoing integrity sustains our own.

The latter see nothing alive, only resources to transform into commodity, and suckers who must pay The Man from their puny wages for toxic drugs and toxic policies and toxic food and old-growth wood pellets to keep their families alive but unwell.

This cabal has always been immensely powerful, so that the Old Story, business as usual, has driven the ship towards the brink during the Modern Era — during the entirety of my boomer lifetime. BIG has trammeled small for a century, but never like we will see in the coming years when Goliath reigns.

A single writer stands perplexed in the middle of his field looking at a strip-mined once-forested ridge one valley over. What is he to do with the round pebble in a leather sling? Is there a vulnerable place on that thick beetling skull where enough humans with good aim and with enough centrifugal force can fell the giant, can write the script of the New Story where people and planet matter more than profit?

I once thought so. Today, I am not so sure. But we should all keep that small hard river rock in our pockets, turn it in our hands often over the coming months and years, and remain vigilant for vulnerable targets to bring BIG down to human scale. BIG is at war with nature. And so we wage peace. Small is beautiful.