Archive for the ‘Accountability’ Category

Caring for Words, VI: The Internet

Saturday, December 30th, 2017

I’m hardly the first to write an internet post to warn about the downside of the internet. For the record, the irony is duly noted. The internet is not intrinsically bad. Developers of any newly available technology understandably emphasize its benefits. “This,” we are told, “is a tool to do something desirable,” even if we hadn’t previously noticed that particular desire. When, with use, downsides are discovered, we are often reminded that tools are morally neutral – it all depends on how and to what end they are used. Such reassurances, however, obscure the moral complexity of any technology that makes some actions easier – and more likely – than others. When obstetricians started using ultrasound technology in the 1960s, no one predicted the effect it would have on male:female birth ratios in Asia.

With all the benefits digital connectivity brings, I know from experience what a time drain the internet can be, with some attractive new diversion always a click away. The parallels to other addictions are manifest. I know the ways my use of search engines and social media makes me an unpaid worker for Facebook and Google. I know that otherwise courteous people post or text personal attacks they wouldn’t dream of saying face-to-face. I know internet comment boxes are where reason and civility go to die. I know how text abbreviations and emojis make it easier to write unimaginative or just plain bad sentences. I know frequent internet use makes me a poorer reader. I know all of this, but I have yet to learn how to use this technology without falling into its traps. I have reason to believe I’m not alone. (more…)

A Poem by Malcolm Guite

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

 

My friend (and master of the sonnet form), Malcolm Guite, published the collection in which this poem appears in 2012. Inhospitality to strangers is nothing new. It may help to remember that “xenos,” the Greek word from which English derives “xenophobia,” and “hospes,” the Latin word from which it derives “hospitality,””hospital, and “hospitable,” can mean, in their respective languages, “stranger,””guest,” and “host.” They derive, in turn, from the Indo-European root, “ghos-ti,” “someone with whom one has reciprocal duties of hospitality.” Whether the United States welcomes strangers or not is a matter of policy that has varied wildly over its history. Jews and Christians (and Muslims, though I speak of Islam with far less knowledge) have a religious duty to welcome the stranger. I am frequently reminded by others that “religious”” reasoning has no place in “secular” decision-making. Given the currently accepted constructs of “the religious” and “the secular,” that’s likely to be true. Reinhold Niebuhr, Barack Obama’s “favorite philosopher” and “favorite theologian,” came to see society as so tainted with sin that the nation-state could not and should not live by Christian ethics. Again, that may very well be true. Christians, however, must reckon with Matthew 5 through 7 and Matthew 25:31-46. “Xenophobia,” it turns out, is not so much fear of the stranger as it is fear of being the host. I trust we shall be judged accordingly.

Christ the King

Mathew 25: 31-46

Our King is calling from the hungry furrows
Whilst we are cruising through the aisles of plenty,
Our hoardings screen us from the man of sorrows,
Our soundtracks drown his murmur: ‘I am thirsty’.
He stands in line to sign in as a stranger
And seek a welcome from the world he made,
We see him only as a threat, a danger,
He asks for clothes, we strip-search him instead.
And if he should fall sick then we take care
That he does not infect our private health,
We lock him in the prisons of our fear
Lest he unlock the prison of our wealth.
But still on Sunday we shall stand and sing
The praises of our hidden Lord and King.

An experiment in accountability

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Consider this website an experiment. If it keeps me accountable to the work, it will have been successful. If it merely calls attention to me, it’s an exercise in vanity. It’s the work that counts.

The work is writing. It’s bracing to tell people, “I’m a writer,” not merely someone who wants to have written. It makes public a practice done largely in private. It’s a commitment to let go of one’s babies before they’re perfect, which they were never going to be anyway. Like exchanging marriage vows before witnesses, it entrusts friends with the task of holding you to your word through dry spells and trying times. It surrenders the narcotizing reassurance that, if you fail to write, no one but you will notice.

I make writing harder than it needs to be, another way in which writing is like marriage. But like marriage, its makes no sense without love.

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