Our neverending civil war

Let’s look at the Donald Trump phenomenon through a slightly different lens, shall we?

I’ve often written in describing postmodernism that horizontal connectivity makes impossible many axioms of modernity, and one of the most disruptive is that “in war, the victor gets to write the history.” As long as leaders are able to control the narrative, this is a fairly easy proposition. The American narrative, for example, is THE history of Pearl Harbor, unless you find yourself on a Japanese tour boat at the Honolulu memorial. There are thousands of other examples. The postmodern point is that the ability of people to cross formerly limited boundaries today makes controlling the narrative harder and harder. I view this as a good thing for humanity.

leesurrender

Take a moment to read this leaflet.

So let’s have a wee bit of fun with the idea of horizontal connectivity in the wake of the Civil War. American History wasn’t very kind to the Confederacy, and that remains the conventional narrative today. When the Union won, the north simply turned the page. After all, their position was judged “correct,” because they controlled the narrative as victors. Over time, however, the assumption of rightness takes its toll on intellect, because there is no controversy associated with their story. Hence, nobody argues, and so it goes.

But what about the people of the Confederate states? To them, edicts that came down from the Union – even generations later – do not carry the same weight, and it’s easy to imagine Facebook exchanges among the varying perspectives. A great many of the “defriendings” that take place in our little adventure are over these fundamental disagreements. Meanwhile, the positions of each side are solidified, as each group validates itself through common beliefs. In the South, no amount of righteous indignation from northerners is going to alter a core belief that “the South shall rise again.” The people may go along with what’s foisted upon them legally, but they’ll always do so reluctantly and teach their progeny what’s actually “right.”

You can see this being played out globally today, and it’s only just begun.

It’s like the boy who’s being punished by his father. “Sit down,” the old man screams, but the boy just stands there. Again, he shouts, “I said sit down!” The boy still refuses, so the father grabs him by the shoulders and forces him into the chair, to which the boy responds, “I’m sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside.”

During all of this, the press assumes a position of recording history after the war, which includes the narrative of the victor. They fall into the trap of assumption that events that unfold in the wake of “victory” are natural and uncontroversial, and so opposite views become increasingly deviant and unnecessary points of view in reporting “the truth.” This is the case whether speaking of the Civil War or culture wars, which, by the way, are always started by the silk stockings, those who suffer from the deadly and relentless fear that they won’t get what they think they deserve or that someone is going to take away what they already have (See Stephen Prothero’s new book “Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections).”

Fast forward to today where we find a vast army of people who’ve been sitting down on the outside while watching the things they hold dear destroyed by the natural assumptions of those who’ve won the culture wars and controlled everything for too long. Their jobs and consequent lifestyles have disappeared. Their faith is ridiculed. They don’t like what their kids are being taught. They don’t feel safe in any real sense of the word. They hear the judgments of their ancestors from the teachings they were given long ago. They’re filled with rage against things outside their control and feel they’ve been enslaved by those with the power to dismiss them and diminish their humanity. They witness the unchallenged complaints of those who march along the assumptive narrative’s path and get all the news coverage. The tyranny of the minority opinion is given free reign – the war over “rights” no matter how far removed from their core beliefs – which produces even more rage over being taken for granted, because the enemy narrative continues to move farther and farther away from everything they know. Their suffering – and it is very real – is irrelevant, because it is judged deviant with regards to the developing history.

In the above light it’s easy to grasp the enormity of the gap between both sides and the intellectual void in those attempting to understand the support for the candidacy of Donald Trump. Over the past year, I’ve watched as he was dismissed by literally every professional observer and journalist, because they’ve lived for so long on the narrative’s path that they’re completely unaware of this other America. Moreover, they’ve been taught and trained that people follow candidates when, in Trump’s case, it’s the exact opposite. The people following Trump are actually leading him, and that’s what makes the whole thing so interesting. They hear in Mr. Trump their own voices, and that’s new for them. It’s not about political party; it’s about deviance standing up and saying, “You WILL listen to me!”

The chorus of groans from the “normal” world is growing louder, and threats by people to leave the country if Mr. Trump is elected have taken on an aura of seriousness since his nomination now seems likely. The press continues to grasp at straws in a vain attempt to get their arms around what they disparagingly view as the absurd. The most common press narrative the past few days has been that a Trump/Clinton campaign will be one of extremes, and that is likely quite fine with Mr. Trump.

I don’t view this as apocalyptic whatsoever, because the union has been fractured for a very long time. It’s simply that it’s dismissed, not discussed, and it has to be on the table before the light of examination can produce anything other than division. In the end, we will be stronger for it. Some think it’s all about education, and I agree. My view, however, is that everybody needs to be educated, not just those whose views are held as ignorant.

Nobody wins culture wars. Not really. It is the scent of victory that produces change, not victory itself, and even then, the subsequent narrative cannot be held as universal.

We aren’t nearly as advanced as we claim.

It’s not Donald Trump; it’s his followers!

GOD-REPUBLICANOne of the main themes of my new book, How Jesus Joined the GOP, is that the biggest threat in the current political debate is not those who lead but the angry mob that follows. Here’s an excerpt from chapter two, The Gospel of Self:

Of the many reasons given for the distrust and dislike for fundamentalism in religion, nothing makes a more compelling argument than the intolerance that such narrow thinking breeds. Ignorance and prejudice bred in the comforting broth of selfishness produce a form of narrow-minded bigotry so pure that it baffles observers outside its pot while self-validating the swirling vortex of falsity within. The trapped souls inside express a perplexing form of contentment that, despite evidence to the contrary, frames a contemptuous “knowing” reserved only for those who share their “inside” knowledge. Their defense against conflicting intellectual arguments is usually based on the self-righteous position of real or imagined persecution, which allows them to ignore reality in the name of faith…

…The obvious conclusion about these intolerant people to most observers is that leaders with selfish interests easily manipulate them, which results in attacks on those leaders by non-believers. Such a position, however, only strengthens the beliefs of the followers, for they are driven by their faith, each other, the personal and direct connection they share with the God of their understanding, an absolute conviction that they are Heaven-bound after death, and their own sense of manifest destiny in this life. Moreover, their support of leaders isn’t top-down, as most contemporary observers would contend; it is, rather, bottom-up, and this means that leadership is interchangeable. Let me repeat that intolerance comes not from the leaders of the movement but rather from those followers whose lack of perspective, study, knowledge, opportunities for study or knowledge, or intelligence produces remarkable and dangerous consequences. The leaders, especially early leaders, certainly share culpability for this mess, but an open-minded argument with such often reveals differences in the messages given and those received. The followers believe they “get it” and enter into conversations with family, friends, co-workers, church members, and others. This will not and can not be overcome by any top-down means. Intolerance, therefore, is the floor covering of the ground level – those who seek validation for their views and resonance with leaders who speak their language…

…As the twenty-first century moves along, this bottom-up conservative leadership paradigm has at its disposal a weapon so powerful that the hierarchical status quo is having great difficulty being heard above all the noise.

It’s the Internet, with its remarkable efficiency in allowing person-to-person communications, and a convenient conduit for the furtherance of the Gospel of Self. Human nature is on display for all in the world of the network.

It’s my belief that in the current circumstances involving the candidacy of Donald Trump, it accomplishes zero to wax on regarding his character, his history, or even his behavior, for the ears of the angry mob are closed to such. They support him, because they hear themselves in his candidacy and nothing else. Like sheep, they hear the voice of their master, but unlike sheep, that voice comes from within the flock. Max Lucado and other notable Christians have come out this week essentially labeling Mr. Trump “unChristian,” but it won’t make a difference, for, again, the ears of the angry mob can’t hear such reasoning.

Whether it’s the press or Evangelical leaders, modernist logic (and history) won’t work against what is essentially a postmodern problem. How does one manipulate those of the Great Horizontal in such a way as to GET them to see the danger of Donald Trump? One doesn’t, and that’s the real problem here. It’s too late, and besides, it must be accomplished horizontally, and that is not in the skill set of political players today and certainly not the press. The best these groups could do is ignore him, but that’s not going to happen. The louder they holler, the better they fit the beliefs that the mob has about them in the first place.

A great many people are in a panic mode, including some of my friends. “It’s the end of the Republican Party,” I’ve read. Well, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing right now. Maybe it’s so run off the rails that it needs reinvention. Let the right wing have their own party, so that we can differentiate. Who really knows? That’s what I’m trying to say. We just seem hell bent on keeping things as they are despite the proof before our eyes that the public is sick of it.

So here’s my advice for all the people who are squawking about Donald Trump. Create yourself some memorable memes that reflect understanding of “their” issues and seed them throughout social media. Let somebody besides Mr. Trump speak in their language about what’s troubling them. Take them seriously.

You cannot change the bottom from the top anymore. Best to wake up to that truth today instead of tomorrow with President Trump.

The Emergent Movement’s big failure

dragonfly1Let us forever remember the words of Henry Adams, Chaos is the way of nature, but order is the dream of man.

As I’ve written over the last fifteen years, another word for chaos is change. Change is the norm for the twenty-first century, where equilibrium is a constantly moving target. Hence, we all must change, personally and professionally, in order to adapt, for the rules in a world of change are different from those in an ordered universe. The Internet is the backbone of postmodernity, the single most misunderstood and misapplied term of this century, and something about which I’ve been writing since the beginning. When Kevin Kelly wrote his seminal essay “We are the Web” in 2003, he wasn’t speaking metaphorically. We – the people – ARE the Web.

I used to write about media and proclaimed that the original sin of newspapers – the one that led to the downfall of the whole bloody institution – was reinventing themselves for the Web in their own image. This was a dreadful and costly mistake, for the Internet is not an infrastructure for mass marketing. All the terms associated with the newspaper industry come from processes and systems created for the printing and selling of newspapers to a mass, including the advertising that sustained the whole thing. It is both understandable and reasonable to assume this was the mission when forced to face the disruptive nature of the Web, but it missed what’s really been taking place: a dramatic retooling of the levers of commerce that vastly outperform the two fundamentals of mass marketing: reach and frequency. This is a message that newspapers rejected without serious consideration.

As I shift my focus from media to religion, I’m finding this same dynamic – identically – occurring within the institution of religion – Christianity in particular.

The last fifteen years have seen a ton of books by authors representing a movement that’s called the emerging church. “Emergers” are those changelings – such as dragonflies and butterflies – that live half their lives in one world and then “emerge,” transform to creatures who live in another. The movement is a response by a group of people to what they identify as the failings of “the church” in a postmodern world. The view that the church has failed extends far beyond this group, but Emergents (a subset of the emerging church), led by Brian McLaren, are the most popular and organized.

Their view, however, of postmodernism as a cultural era is badly limited, and this opens the door for the same error that newspapers made: you cannot reinvent church for the postmodern era by doing so in the modern era format. The Emergent Movement has planted church buildings and created new hierarchies, neither of which belong in the same sentence with “postmodern.” Despite attempts at adjusting theology and rules that better fit diverse interests in the twenty-first century, they lock themselves into a top-down paradigm designed to serve an archaic model of western culture. This will be its downfall. In fact, a well-known New York literary expert told me a few weeks ago that publishers are already backing away from these books, because they aren’t selling as well as they once did.

Does a nymph emerge from the water as a new nymph? No, it’s a different creature. Does a caterpillar emerge from its chrysalis as a new caterpillar? No, it’s a butterfly. Both of these emergers can actually fly! There’s nothing even remotely similar to their former state. “No one pours new wine into old wineskins.”

Many Christian writers will view the decline of the Emergent Movement simply as God “rejecting” heresy, but that is shallow and self-serving. There will be postmodern Christianity, but modernist Christianity – based on tradition – will continue also. One doesn’t “replace” the other; it simply modifies the old to better fit the culture. We’ll let culture figure out which one better fits.

So how does one reinvent church for postmodernity? It’s an important question that will take many years to better understand and adapt. It will likely happen long after I’m gone, but here are ten thoughts to begin the conversation:

  1. It will be horizontal, and God, the Holy Spirit will be our focus. This is, after all, the third branch of the Trinity and what Jesus departed to give us. It is a constant here, and a constant now, and it is spread out across the limitations of time and distance. The net facilitates this, just as it has disrupted or already transformed all of life in the twenty-first century.
  2. Community will be redefined. From the very beginning of the Christian church, assembling together has been geography-driven (“the church at Corinth,” etc.). The net overcomes geography, and communities of interest are springing up everywhere. In internet parlance, these are called “niche verticals,” and they are rewriting how and where we consume information. Facebook, for example, redefines community in many ways.
  3. Its mission will be “here and now” focused. The Holy Spirit isn’t confined to Sunday morning, and neither will be postmodern Christianity. This will require, for example, rethinking worship, for the chill bumps of Sunday morning contemporary worship are confined only to those in attendance. We’ll also have to rethink the Eucharist and how that can be administered to those gathered in a networked world.
  4. It will be participatory and self-governing. There can be no FORMAL hierarchical organizational structure, for it is the doorway to mischief and THE principle objection of modernity. It is sloppy thinking to believe that any postmodern “institution” can be top-down. God the Father still exists, but not as the be-all model for the church. This is why I always point to AA when people ask what a postmodern institution looks like. It shouldn’t function, according to traditional management theory, but it does.
  5. There will be no “rules;” a common need will drive us. Absent an enforcement authority, there can be no rules, but as noted above, that doesn’t necessarily mean chaos. The word chaos, as defined by modernist thinking, is abhorrent and cannot be permitted, but postmodernity sees past that and embraces the idea that common purpose and accompanying manifestos can keep us together.
  6. It will be collaborative and inclusive. No one can be dismissed based solely on those attributes that influence people coming together in the natural. It’s a lot harder for me to dismiss or dehumanize another person when I’m not sitting next to them, where they might “rub off” on me.
  7. It will be connected. It’s unlikely this connectivity will be universal, for there’s still that “birds of a feather” thing, even though the flocking together is no longer governed by vicinity. Obvious differences will still appear and have to be considered, but although people, like snowflakes, are all different, we’re still all human beings, and the ability to independently deal with our humanity will be our core motivator.
  8. Blogs will be more important than books. Think about it. If connectivity is our form, then the need for daily bread is part and parcel of that connection. Blogs were created by the network’s originators as the principal tool by which connected people (the Great Horizontal) pass along information. This innovation did away with the role of gatekeeper by displaying such information in reverse chronological order, putting new entries at the top of the distribution flow. The whole thing was designed for aggregation across a constantly moving timeline. Online information displays this way, including social media outlets. The postmodern church will be the same way.
  9. The task of members will be to be more human. This differs from the illusionary task of modernity’s church, which is to help people be more spiritual in order to gain a future goal. This, it turns out, is not the real challenge of Life, for the presence of the Holy Spirit assumes we are already spiritual, otherwise the connection would be impossible. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, not down the road somewhere. This alters the command and control mechanism of the modernist church’s hierarchy, because it no longer solely possesses the ability to determine and grant one’s eternity. The Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of that in the here and now.
  10. It will be culturally disruptive. Christianity’s ability to impact culture has always been through forcibly herding citizens into the pen of its laws and order. What we see in our world today is all the evidence we need to question the morality of such, and this, too, is one of the energies empowering postmodernism. The lasting way to influence culture is from the inside-out, and that will be the righteous consequence of postmodern Christianity. Joining our connected community will be based on the attraction it represents, not the mass marketing of some special lifestyle, guarantee of prosperity, or entryway into the gates of heaven. It will be knowledge that we are able to thrive physically, emotionally, and intellectually within the chaos of constant change.

We cannot overlook the development of new technologies, such as virtual reality and holograms, tools which will naturally advance the network and demand our continued willingness to adapt to postmodernity. Moreover, we must always consider the Evolving User Paradigm, because sophistication in the use of the Web grows with every day that a person uses it.

Please look at the above and think about what you might be able to add to it. Don’t be like the newspapers that rejected change, because they were so enamored with their existing model that they couldn’t imagine it would ever fall apart.

The Referral-Driven Web

referral

The vast majority of online consumers of news and information connect with content through what Google calls “referrals,” and in my experience and study, second place isn’t even close.

This phenomenon has been growing for years, but the rise of social media has accelerated it to the point where it cannot be ignored. In fact, we’re at the place where it’s safe to say – with a great deal of certainty – that for traditional media companies, online distribution is referral-driven. Our online strategies and tactics, therefore, need to be centered around this reality, and that includes making money.

I like to use Google Analytics, because it provides an apples-to-apples comparison with most of the Web, including local businesses. If you’re going to use data to sell your services, you might as well use a reference that your customers understand. There are many other analytics systems available to media companies, but understanding your web usage through Google’s eyes provides standards accepted by our real online competition – the pureplays. We can only gain.

Session Acquisition is a key component of website understanding: how and where do our “eyeballs” come from? Google identifies people who visit a site by rules-based groupings known as “Channels,” which is their way of quantifying sessions. These involve several types of referrals, including social, search, email, and others.

Of the limited sites I’ve studied, around 3/4 of traffic comes via referrals. They tend to view one page and leave via that same page. Contemporary media websites have become mostly mobile, as shown by shrinking numbers of sessions recorded as originating from desktops. This is important, because the vast majority of those sessions are acquired via referrals.

The top referrer I’ve seen is Facebook, and its dominance is enormous. A recent site I studied revealed over half of all traffic (52%) came via Facebook, and most of those (68%) came via mobile.

This strongly suggests that people themselves are showing media companies how they want their content served, and our response is crucial.

Will we force them into an infrastructure built upon our wants and needs, or will we create an experience for users that will encourage them to come back? Remember, this is a world of abundance, not scarcity, and that means it’s entirely a pull medium.

Attraction works better than promotion. People don’t have to tolerate our interruptions anymore, because they can find what they need elsewhere. Oh, there are occasionally “must see” pieces of video, for example, but exclusivity is an advantage only where distribution can be controlled.

People can find them almost anywhere today, even down to just the core scene or scenes. Trying to protect this offline advantage online forces us into relentlessly playing defense at a time when we’d be better off adhering to the new rules being written by the people formerly known as the audience.

For ideas about how to create a favorable pull experience for users, we need to look to new media companies, those who aren’t bound by the concept of competing online as an offline company.

Click on any link from ESPN or Digiday, for example, and you’ll find the piece you’re seeking is at the top of an infinite scroll. I mean, how smart is this? If users are going to view only one page via referrals, why not make that page into something that allows (not forces) them to scroll on beyond a single story? We’re the ones who believe the one-page equals one-story model is what we need. despite the evidence that people don’t like to click, especially via mobile.

The question hounding media companies since the dawn of the Internet and its World Wide Web has been “how can we use this invention to further our business model?” Newspapers created a response that was identical to its offline products and even carried the same language with words like “pages” and the “fold.” TV stations responded initially with the newspaper model, but when we finally got around to video, we brought with us the 30-second spot. Brand extension has always been our goal, for it’s the power of those brands that fueled the business of mass media, a scarcity that only those with a license or a printing press could provide. We had the levers that those with money could pull to grease the wheels of commerce, and it was a heady thing.

As we’ve learned by now, however, the Web is nothing like what we imagined, and evidence is now coming forth that offers a very clear understanding of how users connect with media content. We owe it to ourselves to look at this with a clean whiteboard. Our future depends on it.

Thou shalt not bear false witness!

People wonder why I come off as angry, especially a certain crowd on Facebook. Well, let me be blunt. The world is so swimming in the muck of lies and distortion that we’re all drowning in our own bullshit. If you dare, take a look at this. It was posted on Facebook by a prominent Christian author, speaker and radio show host, Dr. Michael Brown. As of this writing, it’s been shared by over 2,100 fans. The comments are a long stream of attaboys, backslapping, and “thank you for the truth” accolades. The problem is it’s all crap.

fakemuslimwomen

The problem here is that this isn’t a photo of some random gathering of Muslim women! Who knew, right? I mean, it fits the message so beautifully that I’m surprised Bill Maher hasn’t used it already. I did a Tineye search of that image and discovered that the copyright is owned by a photographer named Scott Nelson, who writes this in his description:

BAGHDAD,IRAQ-APRIL 03: Female members of the al-Mehdi Army march in Military formation during an April 03, 2004 military parade through the streets of the Sadr City neighborhood in east Baghdad, Iraq. The Al-Mehdi Army is a Shia militia aligned with controversial Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, and the parade was meant to be a show of force in tandem with Sadr supporters’ continued protest against the occupation of Iraq by the U.S. lead coalition forces.

Wait, what? Their faces are covered for good reason? This was a Shi’a (Iranian roots) militia marching in a public parade in Baghdad after we took over their country. In his keywords, Nelson used military and war terms and was careful not to use the word “burka,” Muslim women, oppression,or anything else inflammatory. It is in no way representative of women without political rights. It’s a con job and one that is designed to inspire fear.

Yet the picture has been used in the Dr. Michael Brown context 80 times since. His clever poster is just the latest.

And so I ask, where is journalism in any of this? Why is Snopes the only website dedicated to sniffing out these frauds? Culture is being torn apart by lies, and our only worry is who’s going to pay for “journalism” in the future.

Shame on us!

Free Range Content Consumption

flytvsmHere is the latest in my ongoing series of essays, Local Media in a Postmodern World.

Free Range Content

Facebook’s wish to put media content inside its own application is potentially self-destructive to those providing the content. Moreover, for Facebook, it smacks of the days of AOL. All of this would be irrelevant, if media could bring itself to release its content into the wild of the Net, but that appears more and more to be an impossible task.

To media companies, their competition is and always has been other media, which is an absurd proposition online. When a TV station, for example, behaves online only as it does in the linear world, it has already lost in the battle for relevance.