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Earthly Experience

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Social Media: Help or Harm?

The way that social media adjusts its algorithms can have a tremendous impact on the public debate.

The term “echo chamber” is already in common usage, describing how we self select into groups or channels of media consumption that reflect our own beliefs, reinforcing them, whether right or wrong, and filtering out any opposing views.

So to increase “engagement,” does that “outrage factory” Twitter only feed us more of what it thinks we already believe?

Does Youtube only show us more videos like the one we just watched and “liked?”

Does Facebook show Antifa more Antifa, and Proud Boys more Proud Boys?

The danger of social media, as well as 24 hour 700 channel cable is that it distorts our perception that our often niche, sometimes kook view of the world is some objective reality. An MSNBC junkie thinks “all reasonable people are democratic socialists” or a OneAmerica addict thinks that “our party and our politicians are ordained by God, thus we must ‘walk by faith’ and support them unconditionally.”

Or

Do humanists see religious viewpoints (and vice versa)?

Do capitalists see socialist viewpoints?
Do Democrats see Republican viewpoints?

Remember, open-mindedness isn’t agreeing with the opposing viewpoint, but rather an openness to understanding it. This is an intellectual version of the emotional trait called empathy.

My fear is that net empathy, along with intelligence is decreasing, as we are fed artificial-intelligence driven iterations of ever narrower versions of what we want to hear: these new media organs, computer controlled (while the computers are programmed and controlled by flawed, biased, clueless humans) algorithms say “he likes that politician, give him more just like that! He likes that preacher, give him more just like that!

After all, it drives “engagement.” 

Yeah. But what about critical thinking? Empathy? Compassion? The notion that you and your tribe just might not hold a monopoly on “truth?”

For all practical purposes, social media didn’t exist ten years ago. Only people in the future will be able to tell if this is as impactful to history as the Gutenberg press, or like CB Radio (A good portion of readers will have no idea what this even was!) something whose time had come–and gone.

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Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay 
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According to Accounts Earthly Experience

A brief history of Easter

"Pagan Antiquities, New Grange, Co. Meath" copper engraved print published in Francis Grose's Antiquities of England and Wales, 1786.

According to Biblical lore, the rabbi Yeshua (Jesus) traveled to the great Jewish Temple at Jerusalem with his entourage to celebrate Pesach (Passover). This is where the Christian Passion narrative then takes place. The word in Spanish for Easter is Pascua, also similar to the word in many Romance languages based on Latin. The word comes from Greek & Latin Pashca which is from the Hebrew Pesach – Passover.

The English word Easter comes from the pagan goddess Eostre – a manifestation of the Goddess of the Dawn.  The date of Easter was established by decree of the Roman Emperor after convening the First Council of Nicea in 325 AD. The decree mandates that Easter is on the first Sunday after the full moon following the March Equinox. Eastern Christianity (the Orthodox churches of Greece, Russia, Serbia, Ethiopia, etc.) bases its Easter on the Gregorian calendar.

The consumption of ham comes from the Spanish Inquisition. During this time, the Catholic church along with the Spanish Government under Queen Isabella and King Fernando would torture or expel Jewish or Muslim subjects from the Iberian Peninsula. Many of the muslims were expelled to North Africa, many of the Jews resettled in Poland.  The way that one would prove one’s Christianity to the inquisitors was to eat ham; since pork is neither Kosher or Halal, Jews and Muslims would be religiously proscribed from consuming it. The eating of ham was considered a declaration of one’s Christianity.

Image: “Pagan Antiquities, New Grange, Co. Meath” copper engraved print published in Francis Grose’s Antiquities of England and Wales, 1786.

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According to Accounts Earthly Experience

Three (plus) Great Reads / Listens While You’re Contemplating The Pandemic (including a freebie)

Image by Marisa Sias from Pixabay

No doubt, we live in interesting times, and 2020 isn’t shaping up like anyone predicted. Around the world, we have been ordered, cajoled, or beseeched to isolate ourselves in our homes, or whatever spaces we might find ourselves occupying.

If you are like me, you don’t like being unproductive. For me, a good day is one where I feel I have made progress, accomplished something, helped someone…and learned something.

Here are three of my favorites, available in traditional, Kindle e-Book, or my favorite, Audiobook.

The End is Always Near—podcasting deity Dan Carlin released his first book late last year, almost prophetically. In the book, he talks us through so many case studies in history when civilizations have collapsed, completely in the case of Nineveh, for example, or partially such as during so many earlier pandemics: The Black Death, Bubonic Plague, Smallpox.

Though Dan is a great storyteller, he is also a good teacher, and a mental provocateur. As a bonus, audiobook listeners get to hear the book read by Dan in his inimitable voice.

21 Lessons For The 21st Century—Historian, philosopher and social critic Yuval Noah Hariri published this forward looking book several years ago, but it is still absolutely timely. As we are already well into the 21st Century, living in a world inconceivable only halfway through the last, how must we adapt as a species, a civilization; how do we build on lessons learned from the past rather than repeat the same bloody mistakes?

If you are not familiar with Yuval Noah Hariri, here is an article he wrote regarding how we might think about, and react to this Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. There is also an audio option to listen. If you like this, you’ll love his book. His other books are also worth your time.

Man’s Search For Meaning—It was Friedrich Nietzsche who said “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how,” but it took Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl to demonstrate it through his own life experience and then apply his observations to create his own discipline of psychotherapy called “Logotherapy.”

But this book is no dry psychobabble. The first half of the book is Frankl’s autobiographical recount of his time in concentration camps. Not in the way of “this happened to me, then that happened,” but rather his observations into human nature. What extreme conditions bring out in people, both good and bad. Then he attempts to understand “why? Why do we behave the way we do? What are the predictors and triggers?”

The book is not long. The audio version is less than 5 hours. In the latter part he then describes, for a non-specialist, what his “Logotherapy” is. Different from most psychological therapies, it is not necessarily for neurotic or mentally ill people. Unlike other forms of psychotherapy such as psychoanalysis, Frankl explains how it is useful for many people, perfectly mentally healthy, but who may be facing challenges coping or adjusting to life’s events…perhaps such as a viral pandemic and simultaneous economic recession.

 

Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Luis Borges

If you want an escape into the world of fiction, try “The Lottery in Babylon” by Jorge Luis Borges. The short, provocative story, only a few minutes in length, will challenge your notions of fortune and luck. While right now, you may be worried whether your number will be called when it comes to a viral infection. Maybe you have been infected. This book is not about viruses or sickness, but it is very much about “your number being called,” literally. Read it. You will never forget it. The short story is now in the public domain and you can download it right here.

 

A bonus recommendation:

Do the current times have you down? Steven Pinker makes the case for optimism in his seminal work “The Better Angels of Our Nature.” One of today’s greatest living psychological researchers deviates from the subject matter of his previous works such as “How The Mind Works” and “The Stuff of Thought” to state the case that human civilization overall is getting better, that we are becoming less violent, less warlike, and more enlightened; even though news and social media seems like it is trying to convince us otherwise.

 

What are your recommendations? What did you think of these? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Headline image by Marisa Sias from Pixabay

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Aural Medication Earthly Experience

The End Is Always Near!

Dan Carlin’s eagerly anticipated first book “The End is Always Near” doesn’t disappoint. In his freshman treatise, the journalist offers us a loosely threaded anthology of essays on past and potential existential shocks to our human civilization. For those who aren’t familiar with Carlin, he has a professional background as a journalist, and he insists he is no historian, though his undergraduate education was in history and he may have done more to popularize history than anyone else in English-language media today.

New media czar Dan Carlin is as important to podcasting as Rush Limbaugh is to AM Radio, Edward R Murrow was to news, or Johnny Carson was to nighttime TV.

Carlin takes us back in history to cases when regional civilizations were wiped out, such as the Assyrians, the Medes; he talks about the fall of Rome, the plagues, and asks us along the way “could it happen again? Could it happen here? Could it happen to all of us?”

The book, an anthology of loosely threaded essays tied to an apocalyptic theme, is very different than his podcasts, so the fan should be prepared for that. It’s by necessity, the podcast format wouldn’t be so ideal in book form. It is also odd for the longtime fan to hear Carlin read from a script. He does a great job at it with his gravely voice and expressive dynamic range, but it is odd for those who are used to his voice dissecting a topic freeform.

My only criticism is that Carlin didn’t dive into one of the most persistent patterns of civilization destruction: Whenever a more sophisticated or powerful civilization or even species encounters a less sophisticated or powerful one, the more sophisticated or powerful one either eats the weaker one, or exploits it. He gets around this but doesn’t address it directly.

Overall Dan Carlin does what he does best. He teaches, he tells us compelling stories, and he asks us to think.

I highly recommend this book in either its print or audiobook format, read by Dan Carlin himself.

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