Twitter and the collapse of coalitions.

Centrists / Futurism / Reconciliation / SOSc / Web/Tech

Walter Ong, a Jesuit who studied linguistics was fascinated by the difference between oral and literary cultures. Oral cultures value one sort of communication structure and literate ones another. (The difference is explained in The Atlantic article by Robinson Meyer linked below.)

Twitter (and to a similar degree Facebook, and I guess in a way even Instagram and Snapchat) represents an intersection between the oral and literary communication paradigms.

Meyer writes:

Before Ong died in 2003, he was asked about a special kind of writing that people do online, a genre of communication familiar to any Slack or AIM user or group-chat texter. It’s a mode that delivers words live and at the speed of speech—in which, as Ong put it, “textualized verbal exchange registers psychologically as having the temporal immediacy of oral exchange.” (This is apparently how a Jesuit talks about sliding into one’s DMs.) Ong called this new fusion “secondary literacy,” but today we just call it texting. Whatever its name, it reigned during Twitter’s early days. As I once wrote: “Twitter lets users read the same words at different times, which is a key aspect of literacy. Tweets are chatty, fusing word and action like orality; and also declarative, severable, preservable, and analyzable like literacy.”

Why Twitter May Be Ruinous for the Left – The Atlantic

The point is that the forms and structures that we’ve used to facilitate oral communication and the ones used in literary cultures aren’t working to structure and coral communications in this new melding of the two. That’s good in a lot of ways, especially for marginalized voices that have been frozen out of the mainstream conversation by the above referenced tools (editorial conventions, academic imprimatur, etc.)

But it’s a challenge too, and one that is presently pushing the spinning orb of our body politic off its traditional orbits. The way people used to speak in rallies and small gatherings of supporters is suddenly being treated in the same way that formal position statements and sworn testimony had been. And it’s not working. The “rules” didn’t anticipate this meta-state of oral/written language. I expect they (we) will catch up, but it may take a generation, and in the interim, the already stressed social structures are going to be under a sort of stress they haven’t experienced since we saw the rise of a broad literary cultural during the renaissance.

Meyer’s article takes this idea and applies it to the way that transient literary communication is undermining the way the political left has built its coalitions. But what he writes about is just as important for the life of the Church (particularly the broadly catholic expressions) which have tried to create a middle ground where all can meet. But in a cancel culture, is that sort of coalition building even possible? Every difference is magnified and coalitions rise and fall at an unanticipated rate.

Go read the article. As unhappy the future it implies is coming, it’s still better to consider why what we’re seeing happen is happening than it is to just sit and grumble about how frustrated we are with what is happening.

Living at Human Speed

Web/Tech

Monday is laundry day. It’s been laundry day almost as long as I can remember.

Back when I worked at a summer camp, Monday was my day off. It was the day I would ride my bike off the mountain peak and into town where there was a Laundromat. When I was in grad school, laundry was one of my regular chores, and Monday was usually the day. And when I began ordained ministry, I started taking Monday as my weekly day off, and thirty years later, it’s still my day off (and laundry day).

But today (Monday), when I was starting the laundry, while making my breakfast at the same time, I had a thought. I don’t know that anyone else would consider it a breakthrough, but for me it sort of was.

Here’s what happened. The bagel toasting in the toaster and the washing machine entering the final spin cycle put me into a race condition. They were both going to finish at nearly the same time and I started to get anxious about which event to respond to – and began to worry that I could choose wrongly. Like, for example, unloading the laundry and having soap scented hands when the toaster finished, and then having to manage to choose between scented bagels or cold bagels. (These are the sorts of major concerns I have on a Monday morning.)

But it occurred to me that I could decide the let the washing machine finish and wait to unload it until I had finished making and eating my bagel. Which likely seems obvious to you, but to me this represented a sort of breakthrough. I remembered that the machine was supposed to help me, I was not created to serve the machine and respond to it so that it wouldn’t have to wait on me.

Because I sometimes forget that, and let the machines I’m using – or programs I’m running – or websites I’m reading – or car I’m driving set the pace of the interactions between myself and it and then, rather than having it help me do something, I let its needs or inputs set the pace. And, since the machine pace is different than the human pace, I end up getting increasingly anxious about keeping up. Which is not what’s supposed to be happening before breakfast on your day off…

See the famous scene of Lucille Ball on the candy assembly line for another and funnier example. Or think about an email flame-fest, your twitter mentions blowing up, or late-night Facebook fights as more common ones too. This technology was supposed to free us to live more fully into our best selves. It hasn’t. We’ve become slaves to the pace of the technology in our lives.

My “epiphany” this first week of Epiphany was that I don’t have to let myself get caught up in the machine pace of daily life, especially when I’m on a break.

And that started me thinking about other ways that I let the world around me set the agenda rather than my being more thoughtful and intentional about setting it for myself. Now of course there are multiple counterexamples where it’s clear that we need to respond to circumstance as circumstances dictates. But a toasted bagel and a washing machine is not in that category. The laundry can wait a moment while I enjoy my warm bagel.

So, I’m thinking about what it would be like if this coming year, I was more intentional about when I get to set the speed at which I live, and slow down when ever I can.

2020 foresight

Religion

Some resolutions for the new year.

With the arrival of 2020, perhaps you’ve had a few moments to take stock of where you are now and where you’d like to be next year. Perhaps, you’ve been thinking about some resolutions to help get you there? Let me suggest a few for your consideration.

  1. Daily bible reading. With smartphones, tablets, or even a paper edition, it has become easier and easier to commit to reading Holy Scripture every day. I have a standing appointment on my calendar to read the lessons for the daily office each day at 9:30 AM. Sometimes I get to read them with others, sometimes it’s just me. But I read selections of the Bible each day in such a way that by the end of two years, I’ll have read the Old Testament once, the New Testament twice and the Psalms a number of times.

    Daily reading of the Bible has changed who I am. I believe it can change you too. Maybe this is the year for you to start. If you already have started, keep going! Let the Spirit of God reveal God’s truth to us through the reading of inspired writing, and let us be changed more and more into the likeness of Jesus as a result.
  2. Regular church attendance. The way our lives are evolving, it has become harder and harder to find time to make it to church each Sunday. We clergy types have noticed, and we really do understand. But the solution to being busy or feeling overwhelmed is not to cut out the one thing that will give you a sense of being centered or being at peace. If your preferred service can’t fit with your schedule, try an earlier one? Or a Saturday night one? Or a mid-week one? But try to make it to church weekly in some way or other. Study after study show how much it helps us to feel connected to a real physical community. Take the research seriously. (Church attendance even made it into the 10 commandments by the way. God didn’t do that by accident. Grin.)
  3. Read from different sources. We are in the beginning of an election year, in a moment in history when mass communications and social media can be used in ways that few anticipated. People can use money and technology to give voice to things and ideas that aren’t true – and aren’t helpful to you as an individual and to us as a community. If you just read people and media that you agree with, you have no chance of stopping that unhealthy and dangerous process.

    I’ve made it a practice to read people that thoughtfully annoy the heck out of me, because I want to make sure I’ve heard the other way of looking at events. I’m not encouraging what’s called “what-aboutism” which is merely responding to a concern with a counter concern. What I mean is to find the thoughtful balanced comments that disagree with what I think is true. And then to engage them as a corrective on the (rare? -grin) occasions when I have it wrong.

Whatever you have planned for the coming year, do remember to take care of yourself: spiritually, physically and emotionally. I don’t think this coming year is going to be any less fast paced than the past one has been, and if you and I are to be of service and support to our neighbors, we need to be healthy enough to help.

God bless you all in this new year!

Read this: Reformed Episcopalians and Anglo-Catholics Together in Witness I — Earth and Altar

SOSc

A number of folks I follow online have been teasing a new website of essays and thought pieces for last month or so. The site, Earth and Altar, has gone live today and one of the best thinkers in the Episcopal Church today has an inaugural article posted.

Let me just post a taste of Kara’s essay:

This piece will not present a laundry list of complaints about the contemporary church. Instead, it will present two historical examples that might help to illumine our present. One is Charles Kingsley, the Victorian Darwinist clergyman who was one of the key figures in the “muscular Christianity” tendency of the 19th century that was a key opposing party to the Oxford Movement. The other is Karl Reiland, an Episcopal priest who found himself at the center of both the fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the early 20th century and the American eugenics movement.  

The cases of Kingsley and Reiland illustrate what happens when Christians, and Anglicans in particular, replace the particularity of Scripture and Christian theological grammar with something else.  Since the 19th century, that “something else”has often fallen under the category of scientifically-informed reason, and it has been portrayed as the necessary and inevitable next step in an inexorable trajectory of religious and social progress. That “something else” has often endorsed a utopian political agenda that aspires to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth through human effort. [emphasis added] Tragically, it has also baptized what historian Jenny Reardon names as a key feature of modernity: the “entanglement of rules that govern what can count as knowledge with rules that determine which human lives can be lived,” and which are treated as collateral damage on the way to a better world.

Lot’s more where that came from if you follow this link. There’s the promise of more to come tomorrow.

If what we say these days about about the Church participating in God’s Mission rather than the Church doing God’s Mission, then that italicized sentence above is the danger that I’ve watched lots of well meaning folks (myself included) fall into over the years. The Church exists for God – it is not a means to an end for some human utopian attainment.

Fair warning for those on the Canterbury Trail… you’re being attracted to an expression of the Church that has a …complicated… relationship with Empire and power. We have often struggled – and the renewal movements with Anglicanism have a mixed success rate with keeping Jesus as the main thing.

Support for the Governor’s ban today on flavored e-Cigarettes

SOSc

I speak as a faith leader, and as a scientist. I want to publicly thank Governor Raimondo for her decision to ban flavored E-Vaping products in this state. Better to stop and evaluate than to risk people’s lives. There are a few arguments to be made that this technology is less harmful than the known dangers of a cigarette, but there are many more concerns about the additives and their interactions. This was tragically demonstrated in the recent spate of deaths attributed to vaping products treated with crystallized vitamin E. There are more effective and much safer ways to quit smoking. Separately, the marketing of these nicotine laced and addictive products to younger consumers, at a time when we’re not sure of all the risks, seems particularly unwise.

The Right Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely
Episcopal Bishop of Rhode Island
Providence

Growing pains and the promise of a future for our church.

SOSc

I am writing this from the House of Bishops meeting in Minneapolis. We meet every spring and often in the fall. This particular meeting is characterized by the addition of many new bishops to our community. Most of the new bishops are younger, many are women and quite a few are people of color. It’s a sign that the Episcopal Church is undergoing a significant change in its demographics, a shift that mirrors the changes we are experiencing in our state and in our country.

Together, we bishops are talking about how to be Episcopalian in the world today, how to manage churches in rapidly changing contexts and what God might be up to next in our lives. And I think these are exciting possibilities. Yet change always brings many dimensions. Some things I’ve found meaningful and supportive are less prominent— and new music, new prayers and new voices are front and center. Part of me is sad that things that were so central to my own formation are less important to the next generation of church leadership. And part of me is challenged to learn new ways of praying to and thinking about God, as well as hearing voices speaking a truth to me that I sometimes find hard to hear, because it sounds like a critique of the past and sometimes is explicitly that.  

But a part of me, I hope the best part of me, finds this change hugely promising. A church that is not challenged to grow and stretch is a church that does not have a future. You might notice how much of the conflict in the Acts of the Apostles or in the writings of the Epistles grows out of the call of the followers of the Way of Jesus to engage the whole culture of their world, including men and women, Jew and Greek, slave and free. It’s the story of how the church changed because the horizons were changing. St. Paul talks about the struggles people experienced to remain in community with each other and to keep the main thing, Jesus, the center of their common life. The conflict was a sign back then that the community was actively growing and engaged. If you take a moment to think about it, you’ll probably notice the same seasons of conflict existing again and again in the history of the church. The church is constantly being reformed by the working of the Holy Spirit. And that work of reformation has conflict and change as its signature. 

I feel wistful about the things that are no longer as meaningful to a new generation. But I recognize the promise — and necessity — of the change and reforming of the church that is under way. My prayer for myself (and maybe you?) is that God will grant me eyes to see and welcome the birth pangs of the new church that is emerging in our midst.

+Nicholas

How many more? Ultimately we can’t end evil with violence.

SOSc

I woke up this morning to news of the third mass shooting in less than a week. Dozens of our neighbors, fellow American citizens, have died because of gun violence in less than 7 days.

This doesn’t feel random. Two (maybe all three) of the three shooters wanted to kill as many people as possible. They went in with military style weapons and pseudo military equipment and tactics. This was all premeditated. Two (likely three) all seem to have been motivated by hatred and rage over race and racial mixing. Likely all three will be discovered to have been radicalized by white supremacist rhetoric. All three have been caught up in the corporate work of evil that snaking through society today.

At some point, and I pray that moment happens now, we, the citizens of the United States of America, as a united nation, will have to decide that this isn’t acceptable. It took us nearly a century before we forced a stop to racial violence after the American Civil War. (Nearly 5000 people of African descent were lynched by mobs in America between the 1880’s and the 1960’s.) It’s terrifying to think how many more people will die if this current tidal wave of mass violence last as long.

Guns themselves are morally neutral, but so too are ropes. People are not morally neutral. In Christian teaching, people have a strong tendency to selfish actions and evil behavior. Calvinists call this depravity. I don’t think we pay enough attention to this old idea these days. Modern guns and other weapons give an individual the ability to kill on a scale the early theologians never imagined. If they had foreseen such weapons, they would, I imagine, have told us of our danger and warned us of the consequences these weapons would have.

To this point the loudest voices in our federal government have argued that the solution to the scourge of gun violence in modern society is to make sure that more people are armed and able to respond to violence with more violence. A police officer I spoke with argued that keeping weapons handy is the same as keeping a fire extinguisher handy. But a fire extinguisher cuts off a fires access to fuel. A weapon multiplies and escalates the violence that another weapon creates. Fighting fire with fire (when it happens) assumes that eventually the whole conflagration will grow and run out of fuel. But our Christian tradition teaches that evil begets evil and creates an unending sequence of pain and death.

What should we do? I think at this point, we have to be clear that the slaughter of our neighbors is not an acceptable price to pay in the 21st Century to chase a wrong headed idea that we can finally stop evil by using weapons.

Let’s start with that. A simple admission that more violence isn’t the answer. I get that we use violence and guns to stop shooters. But that’s a solution to the particularity of a violent act, it won’t bring an end to the scourge of the violence now being fueled by easy access to weapons and lit by the fire of racism and white supremacy. There is no simple solution to the epidemic of violence that doesn’t involve work of courageous transformation and a non-violent witness to the power of love to remake the world.

We are in the midst of battles fought in a spiritual war. Let’s use the tools of spiritual transformation – and a frank recognition of the power of the evil we face. This is a spiritual war we are facing. Use the right tools. What we’re presently doing isn’t working.

Toy Universe implies Entanglement creates Time and Space

SOSc

I’ve been reading various papers and reports on something that is being called the “Holographic Universe.” It’s an idea that the three dimensional (four with time a la Einstein) universe in which we live is actually the projection of a two-dimensional surface. Sometimes I’ve heard this mixed up with the idea of the “Simulation Universe” which is the idea that (a la the movie The Matrix) we are living in a computer simulation instead of a true reality. (Shades of George Berkeley huh?)

There’s a pretty darn good article on Astronomy.com that explains the underlying thinking behind the Holographic Universe and then goes on to explain that entanglement is the underlying foundation of Space-time, essentially connecting a 2-dimensional quantum physics with the 4-dimensional Riemannian physics of General Relativity. I take it to mean that the mathematical structures are isomorphic to each other – an idea with which particle physicists working on special unitary groups know intimately.

Here’s the interesting thing though –

[…]Space-time itself may be generated by quantum physics, specifically by the baffling phenomenon known as quantum entanglement.

As popularly explained, entanglement is a spooky connection linking particles separated even by great distances. If emitted from a common source, such particles remain entangled no matter how far they fly away from each other. If you measure a property (such as spin or polarization) for one of them, you then know what the result of the same measurement would be for the other. But before the measurement, those properties are not already determined, a counterintuitive fact verified by many experiments. It seems like the measurement at one place determines what the measurement will be at another distant location.

That sounds like entangled particles must be able to communicate faster than light. Otherwise it’s impossible to imagine how one of them could know what was happening to the other across a vast space-time expanse. But they actually don’t send any message at all. So how do entangled particles transcend the space-time gulf separating them? Perhaps the answer is they don’t have to — because entanglement doesn’t happen in space-time. Entanglement creates space-time. (emphasis added)

That last bit is the huge insight into the model. It solves the problem of faster than light information flow in a novel way. You don’t have to invoke a sort of cosmic censorship mechanism based on special relativity, you get to have both, but they do different things.

There’s so much that we don’t understand about the Universe. It’s quite breathtaking. Dark matter (which we don’t understand at all, but the effects of which we can observe) accounts for 90% of everything. Space-time (and regular matter) is an emergent, holographic property of “spooky action at a distance” – the very thing that Einstein and his collaborators tried to disprove in the seminal EPR paper, and we don’t fully understand how.

When people tell me that Science disproves the existence of the divine or of other realms, I’m just sort of amused now. Science is wonderfully rejiggering itself (the scientific method is designed to be self-corrective after all) to return to ideas that were discarded and to reexamine them. This process doesn’t mean that God’s existence is somehow proven, but it means that it’s premature to say that there’s no room for a separate realm or divine presence to inhabit.

The best part of the article above, by the way, is the description of the cosmological simulations that are being used to investigate these ideas as “toy universes.” I love that phrase. We are creating toy universes to try to understand the Universe in which we exist…

Do go read that article. It’s very accessible and quite well done.

Fresh water from salt water. This is likely a big deal.

SOSc

Sometimes you see something posted in the news, and you think, wow. This morning is one of the moments as far as I’m concerned. A team at Columbia has come up with a strikingly new way to desalinate water. It appears to be easily manageable and requires less energy than existing methods. From Columbia’s website:

TSSE utilizes a low-polarity solvent with temperature-dependent water solubility for the selective extraction of water over salt from saline feeds. Because it is membrane-less and not based on evaporation of water, it can sidestep the technical constraints that limit the more traditional methods. Importantly, TSSE is powered by low-grade heat (< 70 C) that is inexpensive and sometimes even free. In the study, TSSE removed up to 98.4% of the salt, which is comparable to reverse osmosis, the gold standard for seawater desalination. The findings also demonstrated high water recovery (>50%) for the hypersaline brines, also comparable to current seawater desalination operations. But, unlike TSSE, reverse osmosis cannot handle hypersaline brines.

“We think TSSE will be transformational for the water industry. It can displace the prevailing practice of costly distillation for desalination of high-salinity brines and tackle higher salinities that RO cannot handle,” Yip adds. “This will radically improve the sustainability in the treatment of produced water, inland desalination concentrate, landfill leachate, and other hypersaline streams of emerging importance. We can eliminate the pollution problems from these brines and create cleaner, more useable water for our planet.”

Yip’s TSSE approach has a clear path to commercialization. The heat input can be sustainably supplied by low-grade thermal sources such as industrial waste heat, shallow-well geothermal, and low-concentration solar collectors. He is now working on further refining how TSSE works as a desalination method so that he can engineer further improvements in performance and test it with real-world samples in the field.

The most exciting part for me is the “clear path to commercialization”. For coastal cities, or for places where the water supply is threatened, the ability to purify water that has been polluted through industrial use is a huge deal. Having lived in Arizona desert and seen how urban growth and agricultural were limited, to get clean, pure water from waste would total recast the issues. This would be a big deal in the developing world as well – especially in coastal mega-cities.

Watch this space as they say!