The Scissors Algorithm

If you would like to read an interesting online short story, consider Scott Alexander’s “Sort by Controversial.” The author imagines a west coast marketing company that accidentally creates  an algorithm to generate what comes to be called the “Scissor.” The name scissor seems appropriate as the algorithm is used to create a statement, an idea or a scenario that will create a perfect fissure in and among people. It goes well beyond generating discussion and disagreement. It seeks a nuclear wasteland, take no prisoners kind of fissure. The kind that can leave you absolutely flummoxed that your best friend could possibly disagree with your interpretation of the controversy, followed by escalating fury and paranoia and polarization, until the debate creates the intended goal: nuclear wasteland.

The short story’s protagonist explains the nuclear acceleration: “at first you just think they’re an imbecile. Then they call you an imbecile, and you want to defend yourself. … You notice all the little ways they’re lying to you and themselves and their audience every time they open their mouth to defend their imbecilic opinion. Then you notice how all the lies are connected, that in order to keep getting the little things like the Scissor statement wrong, they have to drag in everything else. Eventually even that doesn’t work; they’ve just got to make everybody hate you so that nobody will even listen to your argument no matter how obviously true it is.”

Sound familiar? The work is fiction, but it makes one wonder.

(p.s. – there is some profanity)

Problems of the human condition

Next Sunday is the 26th Sunday in Year B of the lectionary cycle with the Gospel reading be taken from Mark 9:38-48. As in the gospel of last Sunday, this gospel also continues the teaching and preparation of the disciples. In this passage it seems clear that Jesus is pointing out some of the problems that the community will face – and many of them can be understood as problems of the human condition. The concerns of this coming Sunday’s passage are: (1) ambition among themselves (vv. 33–37); (2) envy and intolerance of others (vv. 38–41); and (3) scandalizing others (vv. 42–48).

It is good to remember that Jesus has just said to the Twelve: “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the one who sent me.” In this Sunday’s gospel it would seem the children are still present in the scene, as Jesus says, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin….” (Mt 9:42) Continue reading