Google’s Tracing My Movements From Point A To Point B?

In regards to the title, the answer is probably not — well, not completely.

I thought of it though when I saw a big fancy word in the academic article I had to read this morning and I searched to web for its definition. In her 1994 Legislative Studies Quarterly article (gated) on special rules in the House and institutional design, Barbara Sinclair suggests “three desiderata for an adequate theory” explaining what the core problem members of Congress are seeking to solve in their institutional design and the mechanisms for tackling the problem.

What the hell are desiderata? I asked. A quick Google search led me to the Wikipedia page for an old poem called Desiderata. Since it’s such an obscure (to me at least) term and I encountered it as jargon, I was expecting a dictionary page or even Wikipedia’s disambiguation page for the term. But no, I got a poem. This surprised me and my immediate thought was that I had been led their by personalization since I’d done some searching for poets recently. “This must be the Filter Bubble at work,” I thought.

But I soon thought differently. It seems this Desiderata is a somewhat famous poetic mystery. It’s even got a Snopes page. Written by Indiana lawyer Max Ehrman in 1927, it was largely unknown to the wider world until a pastor in Maryland included it in a mimeograph around 1960 that bore the date of the church’s founding, 1692. That date led to confusion about its provenance.  A copy of the poem was found near Adlai Stevenson’s bedside when he died and it is thought he had planned to use it in his Christmas Cards. With that kind of history, it’s not surprising that it tops jargon in algorithmic hunts. Here’s the poem, which I assume is in the public domain since it is displayed in full on Wikipedia:

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

If I had to guess, I’d say that Stevenson was considering the closing stanza for his Xmas cards.

By the way, according to wiki-parentheses, the term means “desired things” in Latin. Sinclair thought her data suggested that any theory of institutional design must include party as a key mechanism, must be dynamic, and must posit multiple goals.

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