Echo Chambers REALLY?

After my previous post, it is apparent to me that echo chamber posts are not going viral. I’m not too surprised. Wrestling with the idea and implications of echo chambers requires more than a cute meme and a few pithy quotes. After all, who wants to consider that their comfortable social/ideological confines may be a threat to democracy.

I remain convinced that awareness and understanding of echo chambers is important to personal and societal well-being. It is too simplistic to assign echo chambers sole responsibility  for the deep division in our country. To do so is akin to assigning parents sole responsibility for the their children’s outcome. Echo chambers are incubators for our development as human beings, for good or ill.  Echo chambers greatest peril for ill is their appeal to and nurturing of  our natural inclinations toward tribalism, group think, confirmation bias and certainty.

There is equal opportunity for good. Echo chambers can function as a “deliberating enclave”.

…“enclave deliberation,” … defined as “that form of deliberation that occurs within more or less insulated groups, in which like-minded people speak mostly to one another.” … (Sunstein)

The main value of deliberating enclaves is not that they increase conversation across differences, but that they enable like-minded people to make progress in what they agree about.

The real problem with echo chambers therefore isn’t that they consist of people who believe the same things and whose discussions strengthen their beliefs. The real problem is that some of them are wrong — in their beliefs, their methodology, or, often, in both.  David Weinstein

The most significant human trait that sustains and encourages the proliferation of and participation in harmful echo chambers is our unwillingness to entertain the possibility that we may be wrong.

Don’t forget to “like” this post so our like-minded friends can agree.

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Echo Chambers

An echo chamber is a metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a defined system. Inside a figurative echo chamber, official sources often go unquestioned and different or competing views are censored, disallowed, or otherwise underrepresented. The echo chamber effect reinforces a person’s own present world view, making it seem more correct and more universally accepted than it really is.  Wikipedia

…an unfortunate and largely unintended consequence of the rise of social media is that instead of being better informed and exposed to ever-broadening viewpoints, research shows that Americans today are more polarized and draw from shrinking pools of news.R. Sunstein

In the last decade or more, our government and society in general has become more polarized. The ability (willingness) to communicate with those who do not share our views/beliefs has become an endanger species.  There seems to be general agreement that a prevalence of echo chambers is a significant factor contributing to the state our society.

Echo chambers are ubiquitous.   Social media, news outlets, blog feeds, churches, families, neighborhoods, communities. If there is a context where differences exists, a “safe room” (echo chamber) will emerge and like-minded people will seek refuge.

Echo chambers are not a new phenomenon. They are the consequence of human nature’s inclination to tribalism.

Tribalism is pervasive, and it controls a lot of our behavior, readily overriding reason. Think of the inhuman things we do in the name of tribal unity. Wars are essentially, and often quite specifically, tribalism. Genocides are tribalism – wipe out the other group to keep our group safe – taken to madness. Racism that lets us feel that our tribe is better than theirs, parents who end contact with their own children when they dare marry someone of a different faith or color, denial of evolution or climate change or other basic scientific truths when they challenge tribal beliefs. What stunning evidence of the power of tribalism!

How Tribalism Overrules Reason, and Makes Risky Times More Dangerous

Not unlike many facets of our society, echo chambers are benefactors (victim?) of the digital and technological revolution.

Since we’ve become so attached to social media, we are less and less required to interact with people who disagree with us. Technology allows us to reach across state lines (and even oceans) to find people who share our beliefs and values. Until social media designers can address the fact that these platforms allow the increasing polarization of users into small, tight-knit communities, stopping the proliferation of misinformation will continue to be a challenge.    The social media “echo chamber” is real

I would suggest that technology has unleashed the ever present malevolent potential of echo chambers in ways never imagined. Some would suggest that the existence of democracy is threatened.

The subject of echo chambers has become increasingly personally relevant. After recognizing my self imposed political/social echo chamber, I made a decision to dampen the echoes and open myself to different sources.

My efforts have met with mixed success. The peril of trading one echo chamber for another is real. The most significant result of my decision, thus far, is that it has become a catalyst for more serious thought and investigation into the character and nature of echo chambers. this blog post is the first, in what I hope to be a series of posts, addressing questions, ideas and issues that I have encountered related to echo chambers.

Remember to “like” this post so our like-minded friends can enjoy it.



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Spiritual Milestone – Love, Mercy, Forgiveness (a repost)

Jan. 21st, 2006 | 07:57 am

Being a nine year old in Waverly,Tennessee in the 1950’s was a great experience. The setting was perfect for an adventurous kid. Roaming the country side, exploring with few restrictions or fears, was a daily experience. The small town setting was idyllic in my memory.

There were opportunities of all kinds. In particular, I remember the small general store next to the post office, separated by an alley. It was a great place to browse. Reading the comic books and occasionally buying one. Soft drinks, especially NuGrape, were a special treat. The owner was tolerant of kids and the store was a warm and inviting place.

The lure of comic books and the scarcity of money were a toxic combination. I had, on numerous occasions, supported my addiction with money from the return of soft drink bottles for the five cent deposit. Unfortunately, the supply of bottles at my disposal was limited. The overwhelming desire for comic books generated, with the help of a friend, an elegant solution. The store owner, being a trusting type and short on storage space, stacked empty soft drink bottles in their wooden cases along the outside wall of the store in the alley next to the post office. To a comic book addicted nine year old, the opportunity was obvious. Thus began the regular and profitable process of retrieving bottles from the alley and selling them back to their owner. Because we were careful not be seen and judicious in the quantities of bottles returned at any one time, the operation continued without any complications.

My memory is not clear as to how long this enterprise continued. What I do remember is the day that I was sitting in the living room of our small house. Mother was there with me. She was quietly sewing. I recall thinking about her and what I had been doing. The sense of guilt was overwhelming; not so much out of fear but out the realization of how wrong I was and the disappointment it would bring to her and my father, not to mention God. I began to cry uncontrollably. I poured out my confession to my mother.

What happened in the moments and days that that followed would stay with me for the rest of my life. My mother, without sign of anger, embraced me and comforted me. I knew how disappointed she was but she did not condemn me, she only loved me. She did not offer to rationalize or minimize my wrong. Only when the affirmation of her love was assured did we talk about consequences. Later my father heard the story, accepted my confession (I am not sure that he didn’t whip me, but if he did it was a relief) and took me to the store owner. When confession and restitution had been made we went home. I have no remembrance of those events ever being discussed again by either my mother or father. There was mercy. Forgiveness was real. Love was unconditional. They cared more about me than the fact that I had wounded and embarrassed them. In that brief experience I gained a glimpse of God; for children are introduced to God, for good or ill, through their parents. That experience prepared me for the journey ahead.

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Spiritual Milestones – 2 (a repost)

Jan. 15th, 2006 | 10:39 pm

A number of years ago I found myself drafted on short notice to teach a bible class. Not having a prepared lesson, I was struck by the thought that perhaps it would be a good to ask the class participants to share some spiritual milestones in their lives; hoping I and others would gain some helpful insights. This seemed to be a good idea because I had recently been contemplating my spiritual journey and was in the process of identifying what I considered to be spiritual milestones in my life. Spiritual milestones being those events or circumstances which reveal God’s working in one’s life. At the very least, it seemed to be an easy way to get through the class period without being prepared and would be encouraging to all of us.

What happened was very different than what I had expected. I introduced the question, with some brief explanation of spiritual milestones, and then opened the floor for responses. As I looked into the eyes of the class members there was nothing but blank stares. There were no responses. This was astounding to me. This group consisted of what could be described as the “core” of the church family. If there was a list of the “faithful”, most of the class members would be on it.

Finally, most likely out of embarrassment for me, one of the most faithful spoke up. He spent several minutes sharing the occasion of his baptism as a young man. There was no other comment. Somehow I managed to struggle though the rest of the class.

I have thought a lot about that class. There are several possible explanations for an absence of responses. It may have been that I did not clearly define my request and they were confused and therefore unwilling to speak. There could have been any number of reasons related to the circumstances of the class or personalities etc. But I have concluded there was something much deeper and fundamental to our faith. At one level I believe there were some who simply believe God would not, cannot or does not need to work in their lives. He has given us what we need and it is up to us to use what he has given and then he will judge us on how we did when we meet him in eternity. This is not a belief that they would admit if asked directly, but their lives betray them. Spiritual milestones, God working in their life, are not a part of their experience and therefore they had no basis for responding to my question. For them, what is most important are the rituals of religion and their compliance to God’s rules.

On another level, I think there were many who, like myself, believe that God works in their lives, but they have not really stopped to think about their lives and identify those events and circumstances where God worked in wonderful and mysterious ways to guide us in our journey. I believe it is important that we take the time and energy to recount our lives and identify those milestones. Spiritual milestones are essential to our God story and our testimony to our families and to the world. Our faith will be strengthened as we see how wonderful and faithful God has been.

It is my intention to record in this journal my spiritual milestones so I will be reminded of God’s faithfulness and they can become a testimony to others so God may be glorified.

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Spiritual Milestones (a repost)

Jan. 17th, 2006 | 03:29 pm

It has occurred to me that spiritual milestones are like historical markers. Historical markers are everywhere. Many are on roadsides to alert the traveler that a historical site is nearby or something of historical significance occurred near there. One source says there are more than 50,000 markers in the US. In many, if not most, cases the historical markers are in mundane or unremarkable places. I suppose that is one reason for the markers. In their absence there would be no indication of anything significant. In a similar way, our marking of milestones along our spiritual journey establishes the significance of events and places that otherwise would be ordinary. Without our testimony to the work of God in our lives, others may only see the ordinary and say “That’s just life” or “That’s the luck of the draw”.

A question that has challenged me is, how do I know what is a spiritual milestone and what is not? At this point most of my milestones have been identified in retrospect. As I have come to a deeper understanding of God and my relationship with him, I am able to look back and see with clarity His hand in my life. I did not recognize it at the time but because of the Holy Spirit’s transforming power I am coming to see things less from a human perspective and more from a spiritual perspective. When life is viewed from a human perspective we cannot see nor do we expect to see the hand of God in our lives.

No matter how we see life, the reality is that God is sovereign. He is in control. God is at work in his creation.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father” (Matt 10:29).

Seeing life through the Spirit, I am not just aware of what God has done before. But, now knowing that God works in my life, I live with an expectation of His working; anxious and joyful about the exciting possibilities in store for me on this adventurous journey. As a result, I am more alert to God’s working as go about each day. I seek to find God’s presence in every circumstance. As I allow God’s Spirit to guide my life, my ability to discern God’s presence and working increases. The ability to discern God’s working in my life and in the world is not just retrospective it becomes contemporary. My witness is not just about the past, it is becoming a daily testimony to the glory of God.

I plan to write about past milestones. I will also attempt to write about current experiences in which I believe I see God’s hand. I am sure that I will never be able to see all of God’s work in my life clearly in the present. The infinite mystery of God will never allow me to see or understand completely. My humanness will limit the work of the Spirit. I will not know fully until all things are made known in eternity.

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It is time to re-commit to regular blog posting. It is a bit like New Year’s resolutions, there is a sincere desire but most often it is short lived. The problem is not an absence of subjects to write about, it is more about willfulness. There is an additional issue that comes to mind whenever I start to write… Why?  Why take the time and energy to write? Is what I’m thinking about really relevant to anyone else?

The question of why and relevancy is, I believe, related to aging. As I grow older, what I am noticing more and more is my irrelevance. As people age they become increasingly invisible to those around them. There is no malice in those to whom the elderly are invisible, just apathy. Ironically, at least malice would generate some attention. I’d rather have a good fight than be ignored.

Maybe blog posting is just one way of resisting irrelevance.  My blog feed has 70+ blog sites that have accumulated over the years, currently there are less than a dozen sites that remain active. Social media (Facebook) has become the medium of choice. Perhaps my choice to continue blogging is prima facia evidence of my irrelevance???

At any rate, I will trudge on.

I found this post from my initial effort at journaling (blogging )

A Personal Journal

Jan. 14th, 2006 | 09:11 pm

This is a personal journal of George Ezell. It has been created to be a repository of writings about my life and experiences. The information, although personal, is intended to be shared. Perhaps it will be of interest to family and/or friends, if not in the present, in the years to come. It is my belief this journal will be a useful tool in coming to a better self-understanding. It is also my hope that I will be able to provide a window into my life through which others may better understand just who I am.




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When things fall apart – Richard Rohr

The word change normally refers to new beginnings. But transformation more often happens not when something new begins but when something old falls apart. The pain of something old falling apart—disruption and chaos—invites the soul to listen at a deeper level. It invites and sometimes forces the soul to go to a new place because the old place is not working anymore. The mystics use many words to describe this chaos: fire, darkness, death, emptiness, abandonment, trial, the Evil One. Whatever it is, it does not feel good and it does not feel like God. We will do anything to keep the old thing from falling apart.

This is when we need patience, guidance, and the freedom to let go instead of tightening our controls and certitudes. Perhaps Jesus is describing this phenomenon when he says, “It is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14). Not accidentally, he mentions this narrow road right after teaching the Golden Rule. Jesus knows how much letting go it takes to “treat others as you would like them to treat you” (7:12).

Transformation usually includes a disconcerting reorientation. Change can either help people to find a new meaning, or it can cause people to close down and turn bitter. The difference is determined by the quality of our inner life, or what we call “spirituality.” Change of itself just happens; spiritual transformation is an active process of letting go, living in the confusing dark space for a while, and allowing yourself to be spit up on a new and unexpected shore. You can see why Jonah in the belly of the whale is such an important symbol for many Jews and Christians.

In the moments of insecurity and crisis, “shoulds” and “oughts” don’t really help; they just increase the shame, guilt, pressure, and likelihood of backsliding. It’s the deep “yeses” that carry you through. Focusing on something you absolutely believe in, that you’re committed to, will help you wait it out.

Love wins over guilt any day. It is sad that we settle for the short-run effectiveness of shaming people instead of the long-term life benefits of grace-filled transformation. But we are a culture of progress and efficiency, impatient with gradual growth. God’s way of restoring things interiorly is much more patient—and finally more effective. God lets Jonah run in the wrong direction, until this reluctant prophet finds a long, painful, circuitous path to get back where he needs to be—in spite of himself! Looking in your own “rear-view mirror” can fill you with gratitude for God’s work in your life.


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The Proliferation of Bullshit (via Brene Brown)

The Proliferation of Bullshit

Someone who lies and someone who tells the truth are playing on opposite sides, so to speak, in the same game. Each responds to the facts as he understands them, although the response of the one is guided by the authority of the truth, while the response of the other defies that authority and refuses to meet its demands.
The bullshitter ignores these demands altogether. He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.
Harry G. Frankfurt, Professor Emeritus, Yale University
(From his book, On Bullshit)
One of the biggest sources of bullshit today is the proliferation of “If you’re this then you’re automatically that” and “You’re either with us or you’re against us” politics. These are emotional lines that we hear invoked by everyone from elected officials and lobbyists to movie heroes and villains on a regular basis. They’re effective political moves; however, 95 percent of the time it’s an emotional and passionate rendering of bullshit.
Normally, we used forced choice and false dichotomies during times of significant emotional stress. Our intentions may not be to manipulate, but to force the point that we’re in a situation where neutrality is dangerous. I actually agree with this point. One of my live-by quotes is from Elie Wiesel. “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
The problem is that these emotional pleas are often not based in facts, and they prey on our fears of not belonging or being seen as wrong or part of the problem. We need to question how the sides are defined. Are these really the only options? Is this the accurate framing for this debate or is this bullshit?
If alternatives exist outside of these forced choices (and they almost always do), then the statements are factually wrong. It’s turning an emotion-driven approach into weaponized belonging. And it always benefits the person throwing down the gauntlet and brandishing those forced, false choices.
The ability to think past either/or situations is the foundation of critical thinking, but still, it requires courage. Getting curious and asking questions happens outside our ideological bunkers. It feels easier and safer to pick a side. The argument is set up in a way that there’s only one real option. If we stay quiet we’re automatically demonized as “the other.”
The only true option is to refuse to accept the terms of the argument by challenging the framing of the debate. But make no mistake; this is opting for the wilderness. Why? Because the argument is set up to silence dissent and draw lines in the sand that squelch debate, discussion, and questions—the very processes that we know lead to effective problem solving.
Our silence, however, comes at a very high individual and collective cost. Individually, we pay with our integrity. Collectively, we pay with divisiveness, and even worse, we bypass effective problem solving. Answers that have the force of emotion behind them but are not based in fact rarely provide strategic and effective solutions to nuanced problems.
We normally don’t set up false dilemmas because we’re intentionally bullshitting; we often rely on this device when we’re working from a place of fear, acute emotion, and lack of knowledge. Unfortunately, fear, acute emotion, and lack of knowledge also provide the perfect set-up for uncivil behavior. This is why the bullshit/incivility cycle can become endless.


It’s also easier to stay civil when we’re combating lying than it is when we’re speaking truth to bullshit. When we’re bullshitting, we aren’t interested in the truth as a shared starting point. This makes arguing slippery, and it makes us more susceptible to mirroring the BS behavior, which is: The truth doesn’t matter, what I think matters.
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Boring Christianity

No one tells you that Christianity is a 70 to 80 year grind in becoming more kind, more gentle, more giving, more joyful, more patient, more loving. You learn that God isn’t in the rocking praise band or the amped up worship experience. What you learn after college is that Holy Ground is standing patiently in a line. You learn that Holy Ground is learning to listen well to your child, wife or co-worker. Holy Ground is being a reliable and unselfish friend or family member and being a good nurse when someone is sick. Holy Ground is awkward and unlikely friendships. Holy Ground is often just showing up.

Richard Beck

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The Fortunate

I have accepted the challenge of reading William Manchester’s tome “The Last Lion”, a 1000 page, three volume biography of Winston Churchill. I have found it to be fascinating and I am enjoying it very much. The first volume contains considerable information on the Victorian era and the British aristocracy in particular. As a member of the British aristocracy, Churchill’s worldview was deeply influence by the Victorian ethos.

Victorian British society was characterized by the fortunate (aristocracy) and the unfortunate (everyone else). I was struck by one particular quote describing those times.

It was, James Laver writes, “probably the last period in history when the fortunate thought they could give pleasure to others by displaying their good fortune before them.”

I would suggest that Laver was short-sighted. It seems to me that such a description may be properly applied to the fortunate of our day and age.

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