Yearly Database Self-Examination

27b Stroke 6 has a useful list of sites that can help you track and manage your profile in all the databases marketers are collecting on you. I like their idea of a yearly self-examination. It’s easy to moan about the loss of privacy. But it is actually possible to learn about and correct some of the data that people are keeping about us, and perhaps even to reduce the amount. But it takes persistence and regular attention, just like exercise and diet.

Aristotle defined virtue as “the control of the appetites by right reason.” My brother James, publisher of Travelers Tales, neatly reframed this in modern language as “virtue is knowing what you really want” (and making the right choices to act on that knowledge.) Many of us complain about things, but don’t act. Virtue as defined by Aristotle is not an obsolete concept. It’s a practical tool for a better life, and it applies in areas from personal good habits to social good habits.

(Aside: some people might be confused by James’ formulation, which could be interpreted as a call to hedonism rather than a call to virtue. But in fact, Epicurus, the original father of hedonistic philosophy (who is so often mischaracterized and misunderstood) understood that what people want is what makes them happy, and what makes people happy is not the pursuit of pleasure but the pursuit of what is right and good. In fact, the pursuit of the good, and understanding the relationship between “the good” and human happiness was the whole aim of ancient Greek philosophy.)

But I digress. Part of daily virtue is deciding whether issues like privacy matter to you, and if they do, not just fulminating about them, but taking constant small steps to bring the world into accord with the good that your “right reason” helps you to see.

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