Louis CK

A few days ago I went to the store with my wife, kids, and mother-in-law. We walked through the sliding glass doors, grabbed a cart, and started to look through the produce. My son made a joke, and we laughed — we were having a really good time together.

Then my phone let out a familiar ring letting me know I had received an email.

Out of habit (a nasty habit) I grabbed my phone and read the two messages in my inbox. The first was an email condemning Halcyon’s work, and letting me know that what we’re doing is horrible; it was signed “pro-choice.” The second email let me know that I was not, in fact, the owner of that person’s uterus or that person’s “choice.”

My initial reaction was to be discouraged. I thought to myself “these women don’t know me, and if they did they probably wouldn’t attack me personally.” This is the internet, I thought, where fake courage determines our actions.

Let me take a second to explain fake courage.

I was listening to a comedy station on the radio, and they played a Louis CK skit on road rage. Here is an excerpt (altered to remove the bad language):

I wasted a lot of time just being angry people I don't know. You know, it's amazing how nasty we can get as people depending on the situation. Most people are okay, but if you put people in certain contexts they just change, like when I'm in my car I have a different set of values.  I am the worst person I can be. When I'm behind the wheel, which is when I'm at my most dangerous that's when you need to be the most compassionate and responsible of any other time in your life because you are . . . driving a weapon amongst weapons, and yet it's the worst people get, and I'm, I'm the worst. 
One time I was driving, and there was a guy ahead of me . . . [and] he sort of drifted into my lane for a second and this came out of my mouth, I said, “worthless piece of crap!” What an indictment! What kind of way is that to feel about another human being? That's somebody's son! 
I was once driving a pickup truck and yelled out my window, “Hey, screw you!” Where outside of a car is that even nearly OK? If you are in an elevator and you're like right next to a person, and he leaned in to you a little bit would you ever turn right to their face and say, “Screw you! Worthless piece of crap!” Literally zero people would ever do that, but put a couple of pieces of glass and some road between and there's nothing you would not say to them.
“I hope you die,” I said that to a person! “I hope you die,” why because you made me [move my steering wheel] for half a second of my life; testing my reflexes and it worked out fine, so now I hope your kids grew up motherless.
I mean what am I capable of? I'd like to think that I'm a nice person, but I don't know, man.

This scenario, which we’ve all probably experienced or committed, is a perfect illustration of how some of us act on the internet. We don’t consider the fact that there is, to use Louis CK’s words, “another human being . . . somebody’s son [or daughter]” receiving your angry message. But our “fake courage,” a bravery that comes out when you don’t have to actually consider the humanity of the person you’re speaking to, dominates our social media conversations.

I think real courage is treating people on the internet like, well, real people. That doesn’t mean you can’t tell the truth or share your opinion — just do so in a way that considers the dignity of the other person.


To appeal to Millennials, there are some things that conservatives need to change. Conservative messaging tends to fall flat when it comes to engaging a younger audience. You can argue against me, I suppose, but the stats are there — and they are very clear. It used to be true that generations would tend to get more conservative as they got older, but Millennials seem to be bucking that trend. They are moving away from conservative ideals and religion as they get older.

In light of this trend towards the Left, I thought I would offer 6 things that conservatives need to change in order to engage Millennials.

1. Stop being angry and start offering hope

Conservative media is basically synonymous with angry WASP. All fire and brimstone when talking about the “opposition,” and the future of America. This is great if you only want to have a conversation with the red meat that already agrees with you, but that is not how you build the future. No one buys into a future based on how bad you make the people who disagree with you look. People buy into a future because it offers them hope. This concept really hit me in a recent conversation with a Millennial girl who stated, “I am just having a tough time reconciling the Gospel I have come to know and love to the way conservatives talk and act.” Frankly, so am I.

No one buys into a future based on how bad you make the people who disagree with you look. People buy into a future because it offers them hope.

2. Stop curating news and start having a personality

Conservatives are ruining Facebook and Twitter for me. All they ever do is curate conservative content. Every day. All the time. This flies in the face of the reason social media exists. Social media is intended as a place for people to make a connection, and connections require authenticity.

Conservatives on Facebook and Twitter all sound the same. Each post is a pithy, self-serving little “nugget of truth” comment that jabs at the opposition with such clarity that it will usher in a new age of conservatism, and a news link from a clearly biased source as support. It is as though all conservatives went to bed and woke up as Rush Limbaugh clones.

The problem is that it is all so one dimensional. People are really complex creatures with a diverse set of views, struggles, and triumphs. People want to hear about all of it. They want authenticity. They want to hear from YOU! All of you. Every bit. Don’t hide yourself behind a news aggregate facade or the concept of building your personal “brand.” Brands are fine, but human beings are better. So, please stop pretending to be a news commentator, and start acting like a person — flaws and all.

Brands are fine, but human beings are better.

3. Stop telling and start talking

The Internet was built to facilitate connection — that was always its purpose. It does not exist as a personal platform. Those who understand that do better. It is all too common, however, to find conservatives telling people what to do next with very little back and forth.

The back and forth conversation is necessary. The Cluetrain Manifesto described it best, “When you think of the Internet, don’t think of Mack trucks full of widgets destined for distributorship, whizzing by countless billboards. Think of a table for two.” If you are constantly telling people, then you are not listening. And when you fail to listen you are signaling right away that you have no intention of learning, so why should anyone else want to listen and learn from you?

If you are constantly telling people, then you are not listening.

4. Stop directing and start inspiring

This ties into a couple of points above, but takes the concept a bit further. Instead of telling, instead of directing, conservatives need to start inspiring. Modern day conservatism — at least from my subjective point-of-view — is, well, really boring. I really like most of the principles, but the messaging, leaders, etc. do not resonate with me. Even the principles seem to be hiding under conservative aggression (see Point #1).

There is so much good in the conservative philosophy, and that goodness needs to inspire people. People will only take in so much direction without inspiration, and I think conservatism has run its course on direction. If it doesn’t start inspiring soon, it is going to sound more and more redundant, tired, and overly aggressive.
Inspire people with good.

5. Care about people more than politics

This one is sort of weird, since politics and people shouldn’t be one or the other. The concept of politics — properly understood — only exists to care about people. The rules, the guidance, the policies, all of it is created to ensure that, generally, people are cared for. This doesn’t mean that conservatives should start jumping into “entitlement” policies, but it might mean changing how the conservative message is perceived.

I’ll offer one example: immigration. I have heard immigration solutions from a lot of conservatives — some local and others national. I don’t disagree with most of what is said. Build a wall? Good. Figure out some way to deal with those who are here illegally? Incredibly complex, but I get it. Create a clarified system for future immigrants to come into the country? Sure. There is nothing wrong with these solutions on their face, but the way conservatives talk about these solutions comes across as angry and without an understanding that we are talking about actual people.

On all issues, frankly, it is easy to talk about policy instead of people, but America has always been great because it understands the importance of “We, the people.” This is what makes conservative beliefs so valuable, because they are rooted in caring for people. And not just for short term gain, but policies that enable real growth for all. Conservatives need to start communicating how their beliefs build, not just a better concept of America, but a better life for the American people without which America doesn’t exist.

The concept of politics — properly understood — only exists to care about people.

6. Stop looking back and start looking forward

Conservatism is built on affirming, defending, and preserving. It is an historical philosophy. As Kengor (2105) states “the task of the conservative is to fight that rebellion, to affirm and defend and preserve and conserve the natural-traditional-biblical family.” Affirm . . . defend . . . preserve. I get it. Conservative = conserve. The problem is that conservation needn’t be stale. The principles and values can remain, but we can look to new approaches, new messages, and new ways to apply these time-tested principles and values.

Conservatism needs to stop thinking that the way it has always been done is the best way, and start looking forward to a new future. Reagan isn’t running for president in 2016. Let the past go. The past informs the future, but the future can never be the past. The future of conservatism, if it wants a future, is change.

Reagan isn’t running for president in 2016. Let the past go.

Although there’s room for improvement, conservatives get a lot of things right. First, conservatives generally oppose the murdering of innocent children. I mean, if we can’t at least benchmark our social and political philosophies there then . . . well, I suppose for some people that is not so clear. It should be. Period. Conservatives really do support the marketplace of ideas concept through a free market, and they tend to support the historical concept of the natural family, which is quintessential to building a good and just society. Finally, conservatives generally understand the importance religious freedom plays in the overall concept of personal freedom. When religious freedom is removed all other freedom goes with it, and conservatives seem to get that.

The breakdown in engaging Millennials happens in communicating of those ideas. Using old talking points, old marketing, and old strategies isn’t going to work with Millennials. Millennials want a future built on hope, authenticity, conversation, charity, and innovation. These are all concepts rooted in the conservative ideology, but Millennials wouldn’t know it.

Conservative principles are foundational, but conservative communication has to evolve.

The Internet

Last week Microsoft launched a Twitter Chatbot called TayTweets, that was meant to be a “teen girl” that learns how to engage online via other Twitter users. In less than a day TayTweets became a racist, hateful, Nazi-sympathizer. Microsoft is getting a lot of bad press for their lack of poorly executed code. Microsoft apologized, of course, and TayTweets was taken down. While a lot have commented on how Microsoft failed, I think there is a bigger problem TayTweets illuminated: our culture.

TayTweets gives our online communication a look in the mirror, and it is a little bit scary to see a true reflection of who we are.

TayTweets was built to communicate by learning who we are, and it is our society, not Microsoft, who should be ashamed. Microsoft’s stated that “AI (Artificial Intelligence) systems feed off of both positive and negative interactions with people. In that sense, the challenges are just as much social as they are technical.” They are exactly right. This problem is not just a technical failure by Microsoft. Microsoft did not make the TayTweets AI to be racist or sexist; we did that.

This isn’t a new issue. At SXSW this year, the issue of online bullying was a controversial element of the convention. Twitter, especially, has become an environment where abuse is the norm. There seems to be this idea that somehow who we are online is not who we are in real life, but this is a grave misunderstanding of morality. Morality is not something that is present only when acting in the open; rather a person’s morality is defined by how they think and act in all circumstance — public, alone, or hiding behind an avatar.

Genius, a startup tech company whose product allows users to annotate the Internet — with or without permission, has the right outlook. The onus for a moral and dignified conversation is on the users, not the company that builds the products. Genius states that they built the Genius Web Annotator to allow any user to contribute to the conversation on any web page, and like any platform “it has the potential to be misused,” but, and this is a key point, the Genius platform “does not enable abuse.” No major platform, not Twitter, Genius, nor TayTweets enables abuse; we do that.

As Genius points out, the concept of abuse ownership on platform creators is “a false narrative.” To continue to blame platform creators for online abuse is nothing less than blame-shifting, and will result in more restrictions, more government intervention, and whole lot less innovation — none of these things are good for society.

This is a moment where, no matter your worldview, we must all come together and act decently. We cannot force users to do so, but we can control our individual behavior. And this is an important point: social morality is developed by the choices that all of us make as individuals while thinking about the community. We cannot hide our hate behind false profiles; our discourse must exercise moral decision-making rooted in human dignity.

We need to finally accept that what we say, whether in person or online, represents our humanity … and we can be a lot better.

Want to make a difference? Join us by signing up for our newsletter.