Virtual Reality: The Dangers of Escapism in our Culture

What is real?

In light of the Manti Te’o story, regardless of its final outcome, it is important to examine and reflect on what is real.

Are Facebook friendships real?

Are Twitter followers real?

The greatest threat to our rational discourse and to our relationships is the virtual nature of them. Think about how we interact with each other? Forget face to face. The old school phone call is quickly going the way of the telegraph.

Part of it is convenience. It is certainly easier to text, send an email, or like someone’s post.

But is it better?

Malcolm Gladwell and Chuck Klosterman had a very good exchange on Grantland. In it Malcolm shares this exchange:

Yes. I think you are absolutely right. Manti Te’o is not a real person in our minds. He’s a movie character, and that’s why we so happily substituted the rules of sports stories for the rules of real life. Just take the simple fact that Te’o did not attend Kekua’s funeral, because — he says — she didn’t want him to miss a game. To me, that remains the reddest of all the red flags here.

In real life, the dying sometimes say things like that. But in real life, we ignore that kind of advance directive once the dying person is actually dead. The reason we go to the funeral of someone who said “I don’t want you to miss a game for my funeral” is that we are so moved by that kind of selflessness that going to the funeral becomes even more important. It’s only in the fake world of sports that the heroic move is to take that kind of statement at face value.

In the real world, if a man says to his team that his 6-year-old son is desperately ill back at home, the response of the team would be: “Then what the hell are you doing here? Go home!” Only in the alternate reality of football is the response: “Oh. In that case, we’re going to try extra hard and go out and beat Georgia Tech.” In that epic Courier-Sampras match, when Sampras breaks down in tears, Courier says to him: “You all right, Peter? We can do this tomorrow, you know.” Here we have part of the reason why Sampras was a better tennis player than Courier: Sampras is the kind of person who could block out the real world (the impending death of his coach) in the service of winning another tennis match. Courier couldn’t. He saw someone suffering and wanted to set tennis aside. But if Courier wasn’t the better player, for his decency he is certainly the better human being, isn’t he? And isn’t that the lesson of this whole sorry mess? We have a set of expectations about what makes an athlete great or what motivates a team that run contrary to the rules we want the rest of us to live by.

I believe it goes even beyond that of athletics, sports figures, movie stars, and political “heroes.” It seeps into our relationships.

Escapism is very real in our culture. We find it in the church when we choose to stay inside and preach to the choir instead of reaching out to our communities. We find it in our houses when we would rather have a meaningful conversation with our Facebook friends or live vicariously through reality TV than talk to our spouse and enjoy the life God has given us in our home.

Our culture participates in mass hero worship at every turn. And we are constantly disappointed.

One of my neighbors always says “be the change you want to see.” Too often, our culture is fixated in finding heroes who are the change they want to see and then are amazed when placing supreme confidence in fallible human beings ends in disappointment.

That is why the steroids era in baseball hurts so much. That is why people were so willing to give President Obama four more years, because, they didn’t want to admit their hero was a disappointment. That is why Manti Te-o’s actions are bizarre but they aren’t unique.

For us Christians, we understand that the only “hero” in our life should be God. Placing any human being up on a pedestal is risky business and inevitably ends badly. We, as a society, often talk about good role models. What does that even mean? The only role model worth having is one who shows you the way to grow and this needs to happen in the home.  Sports figures. Not role models. Politicians? Admitting a politician is a role model (any politician) should get you locked up in the crazy bin. Even prominent church folk have disappointed us.

As a society we are so wrapped in fantasy that we have broken from reality too often. And we do so on every level.

So, instead of searching for a role model for your children. Be their role model.

Instead of the facade of Internet porn or romantic novels, embrace your spouse.

Understand that we all have fake things in our life that we so desperately try to believe are real. Herein lies the lesson that Manti Te’o is learning in public:

We need to stop escaping reality and start embracing it.

My Championship Round NFL Picks

football Alright, here is hoping that my picks go better this week than they did last week.

Aright, if one thing should be abundantly clear, my picks are the reason that I shouldn’t gamble. The other takeaway is, if you pick against me? You will be in the money.

I am entering this weekend 3-5 against the spread and 5-3 straight pickem.

In fantasy world, I am 20th out of 28 and the first week completely hosed me. I am hoping this week goes entirely better there as now the choices for who to play start shrinking.

I can only hope. So, without further ado…here are my picks:

San Francisco (-4) versus Atlanta

I don’t like Atlanta that much. But in an otherwise even matchup…coaching will matter.

Mike Smith versus Jim Harbaugh?

Not. Even. Close. San Francisco will take the spoils on a fast track in perfect conditions. 45-30.

Baltimore (+8.5) versus New England

Do I think that Baltimore will win? No. But 8.5 is a ridiculously high number. The number should be at about 6.5 or 7 before I would take New England.

The truth is that Baltimore believes they can beat the mighty Patriots. They did so in a fantastic week 3 matchup this year and last year’s AFC Championship game was incredible.

In the end, their aging defense won’t be able to do enough to win. But they come close. 30-23 New England

My Fantasy Lineup:

QB: Matt Ryan

RB: Frank Gore, Jacquizz Rodgers

WR: Anquan Boldin, Julio Jones

TE: Tony Gonzales

PK: David Akers

Def: San Francisco 49ers

Alright, so, what do you think. Who do you have? Sound off!

Rational Discourse and the Future of Conservatism

Over at the Daily Caller, Matt Lewis posted about Jonah Goldberg’s new column.

Jonah’s column is an extremely well written critique by one of the movement’s better modern intellects:

For starters, the movement has an unhealthy share of hucksters eager to make money from stirring rage, paranoia, and an ill-defined sense of betrayal with little concern for the real political success that can come only with persuading the unconverted.

A conservative journalist or activist can now make a decent living while never once bothering to persuade a liberal. Telling people only what they want to hear has become a vocation. Worse, it’s possible to be a rank-and-file conservative without once being exposed to a good liberal argument. Many liberals lived in such an ideological cocoon for decades, which is one reason conservatives won so many arguments early on. Having the right emulate that echo chamber helps no one.

I despise people who don’t think through their ideology. Unfortunately, we have a whole movement that has memorized talking points without thinking about the deeper nuances.

It is why I have ripped Sarah Palin for her love of identity politics.

It is why I have argued for rational discourse HERE & HERE

Fought for civility amongst tragedy.

Sought serious reflection.

The problem is that the echo chamber is so warm. It feeds our narcissistic tendencies. We all want to be loved and right. So, to have a parade of people tell you that you are both just feeds the psyche.

And of course, there are also hundreds of thousands of sheep who will tune in at a certain time to listen to the echo chamber masters.

This, of course, isn’t meant to lump every host into this. There are hosts that, indeed, are intellectually astute. Who wrestle through their ideology and welcome the opposing viewpoints of others.

I try (emphasis on try) to spur rational discourse at every turn. As a medium, the internet is just not a place of rational discourse. For humans, over 80% of our communication is non-verbal. How is it then that new media can properly create and foster informative and thoughtful dialogue?

Unpopular Opinion Alert!

I always believe that we have a duty to self regulate our side of the movement. So, I say this in all love.

Tea Party meetings/rallies aren’t an adequate place to foster this dialogue either. In fairness, some groups are MUCH better at this than others. My question. Why aren’t they all? Too often, going back to Jonah’s point, these meetings devolve into non-stop GOP bashing and whining sessions.

I was at one such meeting which was of a more religious bent. They had discussed an anti-drinking proposal earlier (FTR I don’t drink and have no problems with this), but the meeting had devolved into a giant hem and haw chirping. When I was to give my presentation on grassroots organizing, I told them, “For a group that doesn’t like alcohol, there sure is a lot of whine in here. We have to get things done. We have to talk to our neighbors and persuade them. Whining won’t cut it.”

Forget trying to have a decent argument or disagreement with a liberal. IF you are so adamant that Obama is a muslim. Born in Kenya. Sandyhook didn’t happen. Or any of these other stupid theories and conspiracies. Don’t be shocked when your Facebook friends don’t take you seriously when you try to convince them that there are, in deed, members of the left that want to abolish weapons. They will just put you in the crazy bin.

Conservatism has roots in intellectualism. Education is vital. I get that. But a part of our education has to be…how will this sound to your neighbors?

Granted. Sometimes what we are selling is tough to sell. But what we need is better salesmen not new values. The problem comes when we have dingbats who are mere parrots and not thinkers. We need more Medveds and fewer Hannitys. We need more Ryans and fewer Bachmanns.

Unpopular Opinion Alert #2

We need more conservatives and fewer libertarians.

There is a definitive difference between limited government and no government. Here is a hint. Americans don’t like no government. That is a losing argument. I don’t care if you believe that somehow, with no rules, magically peace and happiness are going to exist like some sort of Ayn Rand wet dream. Thousands of years of human history have taught us that human beings will become tyrannical over other human beings (government or not). Beside the political theory…you just aren’t going to sell it. IF you do feel that government is not the answer, as I do, the way to persuade the addict is to not starve them of their substance. We need a methadone clinic approach. Slowly preaching self dependence and self appreciation. Policy by policy showing suitable options to a government first approach, understanding that we will often have to meet in the middle to see true policy realized.

The question then becomes. How? How do we spark the rational discourse necessary to champion our values? The answer is simple. Talk to your neighbors. Learn from your neighbors. And not just about politics. Everything. Same with your Facebook neighborhood. Can you name ten Facebook friends who will challenge you to think differently on certain things? Or do you just block whomever you don’t agree with?

I have a group of friends whom I thank, privately, for bursting the echo chamber. And they call me out when I disobey my rational discourse principles. (Social media brings out the worst in us sometimes) They are more valuable than the thousands of encouragers. Why? Because they cause me to think through my own beliefs. And we know that if we can persuade the other…then we can persuade our neighbor.

One last aside. When I ran for congress, I was having a heated discussion with two individuals. One was more conservative and the other more liberal. At the end, the conservative had to go somewhere else and the more liberal guy looked at me and said, “I don’t agree with a lot that you said. But I will vote for you because I know you are thinking through it and willing to listen.” That is what middle America cares about. And that is why we keep losing…because we haven’t shown we are willing to think through it and willing to listen.


The Other McCain takes umbrage with Jonah


John Hawkins brings another vantage point and names names!


The twitter links

Business Ethics

Many of you know that I am a HUGE fan of Dave Ramsey and, in turn, his entreleadership book and podcast.

I just finished Chris LoCurto’s interview with Rabbi Daniel Lapin.

It is an extremely powerful podcast that speaks to wealth and how Jews view money and wealth.

It also encapsulates a lot about conservative thought on finances but it comes from the wisdom of the Jewish tradition. 

Rabbi Lapin is fantastic and I encourage everyone to listen to this episode. It is transformational.

Among the goodness:

– Receiving money shows that you served one of God’s children. We shouldn’t be ashamed of it.

– Tithing is the gateway to being successful.

– Public service is merely a euphemism for politics which leads to less money and not really serving the public.

– It is unethical to tithe or give charitably from a corporation or business.

Great lesson. Please listen and enjoy.

UPDATE: Extended Interview on Chris LoCurto

Divisional Round Recap


Today, here is a recap of my picks for the  Divisional round weekend AND how my fantasy picks went…

I improved my record to an embarassing 3-5 against the spread for the playoffs (2-2) and 5-3 pickem (2-2) So, basically you would be in the money if you just picked against my picks.

So, the key to your prosperity is picking against me…


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My Divisional Round Picks

football Alright, here is hoping that my picks go better this week than they did last week.

Here is hoping that my fantasy weekend goes better as well.

This weekend features 2 heavy favorites in the AFC  (New England and Denver) and two close games in the NFC (Falcons and 49ers). So, according to the spreads only the NFC games are going to be watchable…I don’t know.

On Tuesday night I surprised my wife, got a sitter, and took her to go see Les Mis. As musicals go, it is extremely well done. Anne Hathaway’s rendition of I Dreamed a Dream is worth the price of admission. I am liking the musical to big screen trend in Hollywood. It beats most the smut they call art that comes out of the hills.

 In honor of that, here are my divisional round picks, Les Mis style:

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Legislating Morality: Treating the Symptom or the Disease?

It is often said that we cannot legislate morality. These things are often said by those who don’t believe in being moral or following law.

But, in the purest since, if as a society we have to legislate morality, society is already lost.

I often go back and forth on this because I think it is a topic that we should consider thoughtfully. As a conservative, I am naturally adverse to the government legislating many things (not because I hate legislating but because I believe the individual is better able to self-regulate). However, all law is moral law. Law’s singular purpose is to set the rules for a moral society.

Let me speak to the hypocrisy of the left when it comes to legislating morality. In this context, the left typically speaks about this when it comes to social issues. Or more importantly social issues they disagree with. The left goes into near shock anytime a conservative pastor speaks about banning abortion or marriage being between a man and a woman. But, if a liberal pastor speaks about social justice or evils of big business, the left is more than willing to subsidize these endeavors with taxpayer money. We can’t “legislate morality” but we can legislate away poverty and make companies be responsible? Both are equally false in their truest forms.

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