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Ryan Holiday “sex sells” is dead, long live “outrage sells”

Ryan Holiday “sex sells” is dead, long live “outrage sells”

How does that old adage go, “Sex sells”? I always wondered what would take its place. Now, I think we know. The new adage appears to be: “Outrage sells”.

In this excellent article, Ryan Holiday talks about how he created a marketing campaign in 2009 on a shoestring budget about a fictional internet blogger Tucker Max in order to promote an independent film. They then proceeded to troll the public and our institutions on their way to huge sales. They reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, sold out college bus tours, and made millions in ticket, dvd, and book sales. Often using our public institutions and media against each other – all for publicity.

“But my favorite was the campaign in Chicago—the only major city where we could afford transit advertising. After placing a series of offensive ads on buses and the metro, from my office I alternated between calling in angry complaints to the Chicago CTA and sending angry emails to city officials with reporters cc’d, until ‘under pressure,’ they announced that they would be banning our advertisements and returning our money. Then we put out a press release denouncing this cowardly decision.

I’ve never seen so much publicity. It was madness.”

It all worked. Ryan Holiday published all the manipulation he did and how uncontrollably successful it was in his book, Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator. He’s been approached by numerous people saying that this book is now ‘their bible’.

He describes his book thusly:

You’ve seen it all before. A malicious online rumor costs a company millions. A political sideshow derails the national news cycle and destroys a candidate. Some product or celebrity zooms from total obscurity to viral sensation. What you don’t know is that someone is responsible for all this. Usually, someone like me.

I’m a media manipulator. In a world where blogs control and distort the news, my job is to control blogs-as much as any one person can. In today’s culture… Blogs like Gawker, Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post drive the media agenda. Bloggers are slaves to money, technology, and deadlines.Manipulators wield these levers to shape everything you read, see and watch-online and off. Why am I giving away these secrets? Because I’m tired of a world where blogs take indirect bribes, marketers help write the news, reckless journalists spread lies, and no one is accountable for any of it.

He talks about how outrage can be leveraged with ruthless exactness:

Niche players and polarizing personalities are only ever going to be interesting to a small subgroup. While this might seem like a disadvantage, it’s actually a huge opportunity: Because it allows them to leverage the dismissals, anger, mockery, and contempt of the population at large as proof of their credibility. Someone like Milo or Mike Cernovich doesn’t care that you hate them—they like it. It’s proof to their followers that they are doing something subversive and meaningful. It gives their followers something to talk about. It imbues the whole movement with a sense of urgency and action—it creates purpose and meaning.

While many worried about “normalizing” their behavior, that’s the one thing they don’t want to happen. The key tactic of alternative or provocative figures is to leverage the size and platform of their “not-audience” (i.e. their haters in the mainstream) to attract attention and build an actual audience.

Let’s say 9 out of 10 people who hear something Milo says will find it repulsive and juvenile. But let’s say he can acquire massive amounts of negative publicity by pissing off people in the media? Well now all of a sudden someone is absorbing the cost of this inefficient form of marketing for him. If a CNN story reaches 100,000 people, that’s 90,000 people all patting themselves on the back for how smart and decent they are. They’re just missing the fact that the 10,000 new people that just heard about Milo for the first time. The same goes for when you angrily share on Facebook some godawful thing one of these people has said. The vast majority of your friends rush to agree, but your younger cousin has a dark switch in his brain go on for the first time.

His solution is an observation:

I realize there is legitimate fear of normalizing repulsive behavior. I’m not suggesting anyone give credence to real Nazi doctrine. However, historically, it’s usually true that banning and blocking usually has the opposite of its intended effect. Effective counterinsurgency usually involves bargaining, partnering and the reestablishment of norms—not hardlines.

In this, I think he’s hit the nail on the head. We must admit these things are out there. But instead of trying to silence them, ban them, shut them up, and break their windows – we must engage and defuse them. We may not like it, but other tactics only pour gas on the fire.

Personally, I think this is where a person could take a few notes on how God engaged with our broken humanity. I hear a fellow went out teaching this and they wrote a lot of that down in a book somewhere… 🙂

A few points to consider on that front:

  • The Christian always separates the infinite worth and beauty of the individual human person who is “created in the image of God” from their sin. This can be brutally hard at times – especially when that person wishes you real harm. This is how evil is disarmed. It is hard to hate others when someone sees the infinite beauty and possibility in you that they often do not see themselves. Hate is disarmed by love.
  • The cross is the center of the Christian life. It means dying to yourself to do what is best for others. As Louis CK said: The only time you should look at another’s bowl is to see if they have enough, not if you got your ‘fair’ share. It may require you to turn the other cheek. It might even cost your life as in the case of Christ.
  • A steadfast peace in your heart that comes from deep and daily relationship with God. With this relationship, cultivated in daily prayer and silence, you find something that can endure any trial and bring peace to any situation.
  • Trust in Christ that when you follow him in this wisdom, you will be taken care of. I have seen this many times in my own life and the life of my friends who have become priests. It may not be what you expect, but those that follow Christ are never abandoned.
  • Speaking only the truth. Without hyperbole, exaggeration, or outright lies. Let your ‘Yes’ mean yes, and your ‘No’ mean no. Anything else is from the evil one.
A lost opportunity

A lost opportunity

I put this question to you when you are fearful of letting in the foreigner, immigrant, or refugee. Is it violence or the faith of one person or family you fear – or is it more that you are afraid your charity, compassion, or love are not up to the task of touching the heart of a stranger? Perhaps you lack faith that God is powerful enough to use your life and example to touch the hearts of even those that might wish you harm? Or perhaps you’re afraid of your own laziness or unwillingness to let Him use you at all – for fear of what it will cost you? Are you too prideful to turn the other cheek if you do find yourself struck for doing what is right for another?

These words accused me as I reflected on Pope Francis’ request every parish in Europe (but really is a call to all countries) to open their doors to shelter at least 1 refugee family. (http://wgntv.com/2015/09/06/pope-francis-encourages-catholics-to-shelter-refugees/) This call was picked up by some but was also ignored and even denounced by others.

I realize now how much of a lost opportunity this has been. Even if you are not of a faith background. Why? Several reasons.

In traveling the world,I have learned that our governments may be very opposed, but the daily people you meet rarely are. Even old enemies are best won over in 1 to 1 interactions. There are countless stories in which a simple act of kindness have created bonds of friendship during WW 2 that last to this day. I personally have made friends in countries that were once our enemies by simple, daily acts of respect and compassion. That has helped me realize the power each of us has in the smallest acts and that they are often more powerful than all the laws of governments.

Isolation affects the host countries too. Without contact to others of different backgrounds we become increasingly afraid of our ability to connect. Both sides become easy targets for those leaders that wish to scapegoat and blame others for problems.

The Pope’s call to host a family was also wise because it does not throw all these new arrivals into one large camp or neighborhood. On a practical level, even if those we bring over turn out to disagree with our culture, our 1 on 1 interactions can change hearts and minds.By having each member in a loving, supportive community – they can integrate faster and learn the truth of who we are. It also ‘breaks up’ groups that suffer from poverty, joblessness, and fear. Some of the Paris attackers appear to have been radicalized after they arrived as they were isolated in small districts without jobs, legal status, or much hope in a foreign land with strange customs. So instead of concentrating refugees into neighborhoods and camps that fester, in a holding pattern of government bureaucracy, they are introduced into a welcoming community that helps them do what we all want to do: be independent and feel proud of themselves and their work.

Instead, we have erected walls. Walls that separate these individual acts of kindness and relationship from reaching each other. Further, what is a person that is facing death every day to think of a people who live in extravagance and luxuriously – who do not lift a finger to help them? Perhaps they even claim to follow a loving God who helps the foreigner, the orphan, and widow? I do not think it would not make me think very highly of them. As a believer, it makes me a hypocrite.

Jim Rohn is famous for his quote, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”. Psychologists would clarify a bit and say our peer groups are some of the most powerful influences in our lives. If we surround those in these desperate straits, even those who feel on the verge of radicalizing,with love, compassion, and respect, we can change hearts and minds more than laws likely ever will.

So lets follow our call to action. Go and encounter the refugee and the foreigner. It is not enough to let them in and stuff them in a corner and ignore them under a burden of red tape that simply radicalize them. We must risk a relationship. We must trust that Christ is powerful enough to use us – and then through humility, struggles, and learning to adapt – we must be willing to let go and let Him guide us.

 

Who would others say you are?

Who would others say you are?

“It is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices.” –Dumbledore

If you were stripped of all your talents, who would others say you are based on your choices? Generous? Kind? Selfish?

Teddy Roosevelt on armchair critics

Teddy Roosevelt on armchair critics

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Teddy Roosevelt, from a speech delivered April 23rd, 1910 in Paris.

Self-deception as our greatest cultural danger

Self-deception as our greatest cultural danger

It has become apparent to me that there is a flaw in a great amount of Christianity that is sold to us today in the US and in the way people ‘believe’.  Namely, that simply ‘believing’ in God/the infinite love of God is enough. Many people ‘believe’ in God the same way I ‘believe’ in Morgan Freeman. I can know with 100% certainty that he exists and even seen all his works and read all his books. But as Christians, we are called to much, much more than that. This ‘belief’ alone is not enough. If I show up at his door, would Morgan Freeman, or Christ, know who I am?

As Jesus himself warns us many, many times:

“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” -Matthew 7

Again, we hear about the wise and foolish virgins:

“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.

“And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. 11 “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ 12 But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’” – Matthew 25

It is not enough to walk around believing we are followers or preaching just the infinite love of God while ignoring his commandment to complete conversion, abandonment of self, and to accompany him on the way each day. Instead, many of us follow our own ways: feeling smug and secure with that idea of infinite love in our ‘back pocket’ as it were and going through the motions of Church/etc each week. Instead, we must fully embrace that infinite love. We fall in love and embrace a relationship with our living God by daily prayer in which we spend time with our beloved. We share our deepest self and deepest desires. We then let ourselves be shown our true selves, have our desires purified as needed, and embrace the commandment to die utterly to ourselves, pick up our cross, embrace God’s will in our life as Christ did, and be utterly converted. To preach one without the other leaves people unprepared as the foolish bridegrooms or the workers of great deeds with no love of God.

Instead, if we seek always complete abandonment and conversion as God has asked, we find ourselves at that moment on our knees as Jesus says:

So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say,
‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ – Luke 17

Do not sleepwalk through your life and relationship with God. Be awakened today – for conversion is a lifelong process. Asking at the end will be too late – as Christ himself tells us. One we can only ask for the grace to see through to the end. THIS is the day in which to be embraced by his infinite love. Turn now and pray with all your sins and failings for forgiveness AND conversion of heart. The infinitely loving God is ready to embrace the prodigal son with all the infinite love and open arms that we hear about, but then entrench yourself anew in the work of your conversion without delay. For the key to salvation is to remain in that love.

The end of the Christmas season – Epiphany

The end of the Christmas season – Epiphany

Epiphany – N. a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (2) : an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking (3) : an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure

The arrival of the wise astrologers from the east in many countries is more traditionally the time to exchange gifts (instead of Christmas day). Many places around the world dress 3 children as the astrologers and they proceed through a town blessing houses as they go. (I’ll be blessing my door later today).

But these non-believer wise astrologers/astronomers are also something else. They are a reminder that at the heart of every person is a profound and unquenchable desire to find Truth. Not platitudes or passing cultural fads – but real truth that lasts eternally and fills the heart with endless and complete joy. It aligns our actions for peaceful existence with each other. The truth about ourselves, all of creation, and how much we are loved. How someone is ready to pick them up and lovingly bring them back today – no matter what life has dragged them through. Truth about how we should live and treat each other. Truth that heals relationships and causes enemies to become friends. Truth that also is a profound call to constant and complete conversion of heart and action.

As a child, I loved watching shows on science. Quantum mechanics, the planets, and the universe. I became an engineer because I loved every new thing I learned about our world and how it worked. Each new thing brought joy to me. In the same way, I believe these non-believers followed the study of the stars towards truth. But there is always more. All the study of everything in the world, while great and wonderful, is simply never enough to fill our hearts.

Epiphany reminds us that no matter what course we take – we will end up at the same destination: the mystery and ‘scandal’ of divinity in a child born in a barn. Born to humble, Jewish, blue-collar parents in a country defeated and under the rule of another nation. The reality of a God that casts off all his privilege and wealth – sheds every royal garment to become a helpless child in the midst of this mess. One that call us to complete conversion of desire and heart. To reframe ourselves to value, as he does, every human being and all of creation.

May this be a blessed Epiphany for each of you.

Mercy and Advent

Mercy and Advent

Mark Shriver, an advocate for poor kids and families, wrote a great reflection in the NY Times on this last Year of Mercy.

“At the beginning of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, I felt that Pope Francis was on “my side” — that he saw the church, as I did, as a social justice entity. I had considered mercy from an intellectual perspective and believed the pope was essentially calling me to be nicer to people. But as the Year of Mercy progressed, I realized that what Pope Francis meant by mercy had almost nothing to do with what I thought it meant.

Francis’ call for mercy is much deeper. When he says that “life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort” and goes on to ask us to “leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others,”

He is telling us to get out of our comfort zones. He is saying to me, a supposedly progressive Catholic who works on behalf of poor kids and families: Don’t be isolated and content, enter the chaos and the pain and the joy of others’ lives.

Then you will be truly merciful, and truly alive.”

This is exactly what we are about to celebrate – what Christmas is. That God, perfect and needing nothing, so loved us that he became human to live among us – as one of us – in all our human frailty. So that he could be in relationship with each of our broken, messy, and joyful lives and to open boundless healing for each.

Is there some ‘comfortable’ area of my life that it’s time I invited God into? Is there a lack of real relationship with those in my life or those I interact with – family, a coworker, or even the poor? Now is the time for us to open ourselves and have an advent arrival into the stony parts of our own hearts.

Hawking joins voices saying automation and AI are going to decimate the middle class

Hawking joins voices saying automation and AI are going to decimate the middle class

Steven Hawking added his voice to a growing chorus of experts concerned that AI and automation are going to decimate middle class jobs, worsen inequality, and increase the risk of significant political upheaval.

Article here

A report put out in February 2016 by Citibank with the University of Oxford predicted that 47% of US jobs are at risk of automation. In the UK, 35% are. In China, it’s a whopping 77%. Hawking writes that automation will, ” accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world. The internet and the platforms that it makes possible allow very small groups of individuals to make enormous profits while employing very few people. This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive.”

This is what I’ve said for some time. AI allows you to replace whole swaths of employees. We can see how this is playing out by looking at the economies AirBnB and Uber are setting up. Instead of these nationwide chains of workers facilitating this new industry, the work is largely done by servers and AI on commoditized server farms. Instead of that money coming into a company of thousands, machine learning and automation can do it with only hundreds. Those hundreds are in narrow job titles with many traditional disciplines no longer needed. Further, it’s not hard to see how this concentrates money from a nation-wide chain into an incredibly small number of pockets instead of a host of employees they might have hired in years past.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not for putting our heads in the sand and ignoring these new economies or saying we should stop them. That’s impossible. However, as Hawking and economists note,  “We are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality, in which many people can see not just their standard of living, but their ability to earn a living at all, disappearing. It is no wonder then that they are searching for a new deal, which Trump and Brexit might have appeared to represent.”

So what will be lost and what will be left? Just like the industrial revolution – certain kinds of jobs will be affected, but others will not. Creative, supervisory, and health care roles are likely safe. Skilled workers that know how to build and maintain AI server systems as well. But jobs like cashiers, tellers, secretaries, logistics, quantitative marketing/planning/strategy, financial planning, truck drivers, possibly even train conductors or airline pilots could all see major parts of their job functions replaced with machine learning algorithms. We’re already seeing this with automated checkouts, automated driving vehicles, and logistics AI’s are already out-performing replacing live counterparts. Even if one’s job is not replaced, there might only need to be one or two persons in the cockpit instead of 3 to 5.

This is going to come to a head in our lifetimes, and it’s very important we start talking and thinking about it now.

Advent Thought

Advent Thought

We all have deserts in our life. Deserts of loneliness, relationships that have grown cold or died, anger, fear, being stuck in a chronic sin, illness or physical pain, ignoring our relationship with God, selfishness, bad work situations – the deserts can be endless.

Advent is the time to open the doors of our desert to Christ so they can bloom. Not just for us, but for others around us that might be in their own deserts.

How can I open my deserts for Christ and bloom today?

Charity Giving at the End of the Year

Charity Giving at the End of the Year

As we enter the home stretch of the year and enter the Advent season, it’s a great time to volunteer, adopt a family, serve food or eat and visit with the homeless, and make some end of the year donations to charities as part of our preparation for Christmas.

If you want to support women, especially young, vulnerable women, during pregnancy, I would suggest a donation to the Fr. Taaffe Foundation. I’ve met Fr Taaffe and heard about the lives of many young women his group has helped over its 40 years and believe this is exactly the kind of support that really helps communities and stops unhealthy social cycles.

Reverend Monsignor Charles Taaffe began the Father Taaffe Foundation by opening the St. Brigid Home in 1975 in Keizer, Oregon. By 1990, Father realized that many more teenage mothers were keeping their babies and that there was a need for a home where young mothers could learn skills to help them succeed as single mothers.

Today, Catholic Community Services sustains Father’s vision as a nondenominational, nonprofit, charitable program, where homes and community-based supports provide structure, security, unconditional love and encouragement for single, pregnant and parenting teens.

Father Taaffe Homes are welcoming, comforting homes, inspiring hope for the future, self-confidence and independence. Certified by the State of Oregon and operated by Catholic Community Services, the homes provide young women, ages 12 to 20, a safe and nurturing environment from which to build their futures.

Through both residential and community-based services, expecting and young, single mothers gain knowledge and skills from prenatal care, to parenting, to running a household and creating healthy social connections for themselves and their babies. Those who come to live in a Father Taaffe Home are provided with basic amenities, including food, laundry facilities, access to local transportation, and computers to help with school work and job search.

Link for donations:
https://www.ccswv.org/home-page/childrenfamilies/father-taaffe-homes-and-pregnancy-support-services/