Saturday, September 17, 2005

To network or not to network

Steve Borgatti calls it "connecting to heterogeneous others." My Unitarian Universalist friends call it "celebrating diversity." Either way, we are talking about the benefits of learning from different kinds of people. Certainly that's an unmitigated good thing, right?

Not exactly. Sometimes we prefer to have social closure, which brings with it some reassurance of well-defined security. From the outside, however, social closure can easily appear outright close-minded.

These are the issues raised by the cover article from the latest issue of UU World: "Who's Afraid of Freedom and Tolerance?" Author Doug Muder discusses the different worldviews of the Christian Right and liberal Left by contrasting their attitudes towards closure and bridging.

As a relative lefty myself, I can easily sympathize with Muder's fondness for religious bridging. Perhaps you can too, dear reader. So let's take this question a couple steps farther and see if we approach the limits of our networking comfort zones.

Step one: consider Jeffrey Toobin's recent profile of US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in the September 12, 2005 New Yorker magazine. Toobin explains, "Kennedy has a passion for foreign cultures and ideas, and, as a justice, he has turned it into a principle of jurisprudence. Over the past two years, he has become a leading proponent of one of the most cosmopolitan, and controversial, trends in constitutional law: using foreign and international law as an aid to interpreting the United States Constitution. Kennedy's embrace of foreign law may be among the most significant developments on the Court in recent years-the single biggest factor behind his evolution from a reliable conservative into the likely successor to Sandra Day O'Connor as the Court's swing vote." For the polar opposite point of view, see Antonin Scalia.

Are you still well within your networking comfort zone? Then come with Drake Bennett on step two, his story "Robo Justice" in last Sunday's Boston Globe. Computer scientists have already created an artificial intelligence system to estimate divorve settlements, and that is only the beginning of the rapidly emerging field of computing justice.

How would you feel standing before a judge as he fed your parameters into his laptop and awaited the results?

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