Friday, May 23, 2014

Memory, the Right to be Forgotten, and Turkish Lentil Soup

The internet remembers everything.  Or so we have been told.

Until last week, when the European Court of Justice (ECJ) required Google to remove "inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant" content from its search results, at a user's request. The ruling, essentially, gives European Google users the "right to be forgotten," as long as that forgetting doesn't harm the public interest.

The "derecho al olvido" case originated in the Spanish court system, where a man who had been married and in debt had long since resolved his debts and gotten divorced; Google search was still coming up with the old data, which was located in the archives of a Spanish newspaper.  The Spanish court ordered Google (but not the newspaper) to remove the results: i.e., the content could remain online, but the link to it had to disappear.

I can't imagine that the ECJ didn't fully appreciate the larger, more complex ramifications of their ruling.  How do we decide what's "irrelevant"?  And who gets to make that decision?  Is Google responsible for the privacy of internet users?  And perhaps most worrisome, what does it mean that we can simply erase links to the past, even if the past is still out there?  These are big questions that get to the heart of the way we remember, the things we are accountable for, and how we treat offenders.

The complications of forgetting are particularly poignant in Spain, where the historical memory movement is still working to unearth bodies from the mass graves of the Spanish Civil War, but in my travels, I've seen struggles to conserve and curate public memory of some truly horrific events: The District Six Museum in South Africa, the JEATH War Museum and the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum in Thailand, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.  There are many other places like this, all over the world.  In the U.S., plans to expand the Civil Rights Museum Requiring Google to remove the results from the search is like removing the links to the painful past, which remind us not to go back there again.

Maybe this is connected, somehow, to our unwillingness to forgive.  If we don't want to forgive, and we don't want to remember, the easiest thing to do is erase the connections to those memories that will make us angry.

Someone is bound to tell me I'm overplaying this.  But here's the thing: we try to teach our children that they're responsible for their actions.  We tell them to say they're sorry, and to forgive other children who hurt them.  And we tell them to move on.  If we're sending another message--that we can simply erase memory from public record books--then somehow people no longer need to be accountable for their actions, and we no longer need to forgive them.  Perhaps that's why undergraduates are so concerned about statements on their transcripts about suspensions.  Or leaves of absence.  What if, some day during a job interview or on a graduate school application, someone asks them what happened?  Will they have to talk about it?  Yes, I say, and you explain what you learned from the experience.

We all make mistakes.  Some of the mistakes are bigger than others.  Sometimes people have no remorse for their actions.  But I think we need to remember both how to be accountable and how to forgive.  Everything I've learned about therapy suggests that we need to remember in order to heal.  And I'm not sure that removing the connections to the past, no matter how "irrelevant" it is to us today, will help us.

What was your reaction to the ECJ ruling?

Turkish Lentil Soup
Full of folic acid and manganese, which helps form the  antioxidant superoxide dismutase, lentils are brain superfoods that actually strengthen memory.

2 c. red lentils, rinsed and picked over
2 t. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 t. cumin
1 t. paprika
4 1/2 c. vegetable broth
2 t. tomato paste
2 t. mint
1 1/2 t. thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add onion and carrot and saute until soft, about 5 minutes.

Add  spices and stir to combine. Add in your red lentils and mix well.  Heat the lentils for a few minutes, and add the broth and tomato paste and mix through.  Allow the soup to come to the boil, then reduce to simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 30 mins or until your lentils have turned to a pulp.

Remove from heat, puree the soup with an immersion blender (or an old-fashioned blender) to your desired consistency, and add in the mint and thyme.

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2 comments:

Esperanza said...

Oh, this is so interesting. I just wrote a post about memory, and now you are too! Love the synchronicity.

I think this is a really interesting ruling and I think they'll find it impossible to determine what is relevant and what isn't. Surely google isn't going to employ people to determine what is irrelevant and pull links. I suppose it's only going to happen when someone requests it. But even in those situations I'm not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, I don't think it's necessary for everything we've ever done to not only exist, but be searchable on the internet. No other generation has had to deal with that kind of permanency before. And yet, the ability to erase links to the past might make people feel as though they can pretend that past didn't happen.

I made some stupid choices in college and I hated to be reminded of those choices later in life. I stopped hanging out with some people because they were always bringing up the dumb things I did. I knew it was their right, because they were there too and it was their memory as well, but I hated it so, so much. I just couldn't stand to relive it, to be reminded of my mistakes. Now I'm more able to sit with it, to be thankful that I outgrew that phase, and know that I'd never make those kinds of decisions now. It doesn't hurt so bad to be reminded of them, I think because I've grown so much from that time. And now I'm kind of thankful that I was reminded of it, because it helped me come to terms with that time in my life, who I was and what I did.

Esperanza said...

Also, that lentil soup looks amazing. I love lentils. I can't wait to try it.

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