Jeff Lilly's most recent article raises a lot of questions about the assumptions we make when it comes to the relationship between knowing the facts and actually understanding what those facts can tell us. It turns out that huge stockpiles of consumers' personal information, known as "Big Data," might not be the Holy Grail that the tech industry would like it to be. Persistent cultural biases can blind us to unexpected interpretations, or even lead us to see patterns where none exist at all. But what does that mean for the rest of us? For those of us more likely to be on the receiving end of Big Data-driven marketing strategies and social media algorithms, the limits of Big Data are both a blessing and a warning. How will these new insights change the way we think about our online lives?
I don't want to live in a world where we are no longer allowed to ask each other for kindness and respect. I don't want to live in a world where one person's anger is more important than another person's pain. I don't want to live in a world where our only recourse if we want to be heard is to raise our voices more and more loudly and force our anger onto others. I would rather learn how to turn my anger into something beautiful and powerful that cannot be ignored, than to waste it in ways that can be dismissed because of my "tone." I would rather turn my rage into an agent of compassion, than use it as a weapon against those who have hurt me.
I'm working hard to make Hipster Paganism a thing. Now that Pagan means Wiccan, and polytheist means Pagan, it's only a matter of time before the People We're Embarrassed By start calling themselves polytheists and recons. (It's already starting.) I for one am embracing this endless cycle by bringing "Pagan" back... but in, like, an ironic way. Read... Things Hipster Pagans Say
Embarrassment has been a hot topic in the Pagan blogosphere this week, and it has me thinking about my own relationship with the Pagan community. But it also has me pondering my relationship with embarrassment itself. I learned early on that when others perceived my embarrassment, they almost always assumed that it was because I was ashamed of myself, and I was encouraged — in all the subtle ways that culture shapes the individual psyche — to turn a critical eye on my embarrassment and question how it might reflect my various flaws. Maybe this is because, in our culture, male embarrassment is more often perceived as a value judgment about others, while female embarrassment is interpreted as a response to personal failing.
We have a rare chance to shape the future of Pagan/polytheist culture with an awareness of the mistakes made in the past. We have seen how seemingly innocuous influences in the early stages of the development and evolution of a New Religious Movement can quickly grow to become entrenched prejudices and twisted justifications for violence against those who are different. We have the chance to recognize those same potentials in ourselves, and to do our best to avoid them. Instead, I worry that we are too eager to make those same mistakes again, to invite a mythology of victimization and perpetuate a story that subscribes to the same tired "us versus them" duality that many of us were trying to escape when we left Christianity behind.
Are you a good ol' fashioned, All-American Pepsi kind of girl? Are you a fitness nut, chugging down Aquafina by the gallon, sipping your Ocean Spray grapefruit juice at breakfast, maybe indulging in a Lipton Diet Green Tea for lunch? Do you like the caffeine rush of Mountain Dew or AMP Energy to wake you up in the morning? Or maybe you're a bit of a hippie, chilling out with a SoBe or a Tazo? And how much does it matter to you that all these drinks are made by the same company? That's also the problem with branding. It's shallow. It's ephemeral. It's easy. It obscures not only the deep connections that we actually share with one another, but also the very real and more intricate diversity that is a part of any community no matter how apparently homogenous on the surface.
What has changed in my spiritual life has little to do with the labels I give it. Today I am a Pagan Druid, but that may change in the future as the words evolve in meaning and the community that embraces them shifts and turns about itself in an on-going conversation of creative group-identity formation. What has changed for me, most importantly, is not the name for my spiritual practice, but its depth. I've never really had to "come out" as Pagan to anyone, because my spiritual life is not really about fitting into boxes, or broom closets — it's about deepening. I deepen into my self and my work, through prayer and meditation, through poetry and story, through my time in the woods and my attention to the landscape.
More to the point for me is this question: why is the ancient "wheel" better than the modern one? For me, there are obvious flaws in the modern "wheel," the approach that most contemporary religions take in answering the basic questions about life, the universe and everything. The most important and obvious flaw being their denigration of the earth and the natural world, or in many cases the mere fact that they haven't much to say on the matter. They feel like "square wheels," so to speak, that at best make for a bumpy, uncomfortable ride, and at worst get us stuck in ruts, our hard edges jammed firmly into the yielding earth and unable to move. And so I turn to ancient religions to learn how to soften those edges, refining the square into a smoother circle ...