Episode 322: Keep Christianity Weird with Michael Frost

Much of the Evangelical Industrial Complex has been created to make Christianity relevant, acceptable, and attractive to our consumer culture. Author and missional expert, Michael Frost, says this is a mistake. Instead, we should be emphasizing our faith’s weirdness and call more Christians to be eccentric—literally “off center.” Also this week: Phil and Skye take on “The Good Place,” a TV show about heaven without God or religion, the UK’s Supreme Court rules in favor of a Christian baker, and (fake) butt news from a Hawaiian seal hospital.

Don’t Fix Facebook. Replace It.

what we most need now is a new generation of social media platforms that are fundamentally different in their incentives and dedication to protecting user data. Barring a total overhaul of leadership and business model, Facebook will never be that platform.

.. In Facebook’s case, we are not speaking of a few missteps here and there, the misbehavior of a few aberrant employees. The problems are central and structural, the predicted consequences of its business model. From the day it first sought revenue, Facebook prioritized growth over any other possible goal, maximizing the harvest of data and human attention. Its promises to investors have demanded an ever-improving ability to spy on and manipulate large populations of people. Facebook, at its core, is a surveillance machine, and to expect that to change is misplaced optimism.

.. If we have learned anything over the last decade, it is that advertising and data-collection models are incompatible with a trustworthy social media network. The conflicts are too formidable, the pressure to amass data and promise everything to advertisers is too strong for even the well-intentioned to resist.

.. the real challenge is gaining a critical mass of users.

.. Facebook, with its 2.2 billion users, will not disappear, and it has a track record of buying or diminishing its rivals (see Instagram and Foursquare).

.. Wikipedia is a nonprofit, and it manages nearly as much traffic as Facebook, on a much smaller budget. An “alt-Facebook” could be started by Wikimedia, or by former Facebook employees, many of whom have congregated at the Center for Humane Technology, a nonprofit for those looking to change Silicon Valley’s culture.

.. If today’s privacy scandals lead us merely to install Facebook as a regulated monopolist, insulated from competition, we will have failed completely. The world does not need an established church of social media.

Ask HN: What happened when Amazon moved into your business?

aspir 21 hours ago [-]

I work for an competitor to an AWS product. We’ve grown rapidly over the past ~7 years in a generally competitive (lots of startups, some really old tough incumbent companies). Without revealing too much on our end, here’s some lessons learned:

* AWS is bad at customer service, even for their large or premium customers. If you position yourself, and _seriously_ invest in making your company’s culture rooted in exceptional customer service, that’s a foothold.

* Don’t compete on price. This is hard for most tech startups, as pricing is a very difficult thing to do properly, but resist the urge to drop price to compete. You’ll never have the scale, the supply chain masterminds, or the financial modeling to compete with AWS on price, so position yourself as a premium or luxury offering and don’t be afraid to price accordingly. If you do the first step properly (a deeply rooted culture of service) you’ll be able to justify the price.

* AWS has great uptime, but often the actual operating performance of their service isn’t that great, especially when you push the products beyond the 80% use case. They know that for the majority of their customer base, best-in-class performance isn’t actually business critical (despite how flashy it sounds). However, there is absolutely a market for people who truly need best in class performance, or product flexibility, or some other best-in-class trait (latency, interaction design, etc.). Find who these people are, and optimize for that ruthlessly. This focus, in combination with the culture of exceptional service and positioning your brand as a premium provider, puts you into a completely different market space than AWS.

.. their API is far more consistent than Azure. Azure has the worst API of all. But their services are much faster than AWS.

.. A good host has a phone number, you ring it, somebody answers and then they fix your problem, without pinging you around a call centre. You’re in and out within 20 minutes.
For AWS (and their class) you submit a ticket and in 4-48 hours, you twiddle your thumbs while the cheapest labour available to Amazon wakes up on the other side of the planet to investigate your problem (also known as walking you through a script).
AWS-sized hosts have advantages but I put a lot of weight in scaling things back to the RackSpace, Linode and Hetzner size operations. They put so much more effort into their human interaction.

Big patriotism is poisoning America

Though I suggest Trump and his supporters on this issue are missing the protesters’ point — and, in some cases, doing so willfully — I have no doubt that, for Trump’s part, patriotism is indeed at stake. The trouble is the sort of patriotism that informs their ire, for patriotism is not of a single kind.

.. Frodo does not love the Shire because it is the best country in Middle-earth. It does not boast the striking scenery and deep knowledge of the elven kingdoms, or the security and wealth of the dwarves, or the cosmopolitanism and architecture of the cities of men. The Shire does not have to be the best, for it is already home and already good in its own way.

If the patriotism Tolkien depicts is small, the patriotism most prevalent in America today is a poisonous variety we might call “big patriotism,” or, less charitably, nationalism. Its contrast with more modest variants is vast.

.. Small patriotism is the love of home because it is home.

.. Big patriotism is all abstract ideals and national mythology, easily bent to fit any political agenda. It is centered on the state, not the people, and certainly not any concrete community in which we are thoroughly engaged.

.. Big patriotism is a top-down phenomenon, anchored in the self-declared glory of government and the idolatrous liturgies of civil religion.

  • When small patriotism thinks of America, it conjures an image of some local vista and the people who populate it.
  • Big patriotism pictures the hulking forms of federal monuments and the grim grandeur of war.

.. “Once you have realized that the Frenchmen like café complet just as we like bacon and eggs — why, good luck to them and let them have it,” C.S. Lewis wrote in The Four Loves.

.. “[h]ow can I love my home without coming to realize that other men, no less rightly, love theirs?” Their love in no way detracts from mine, for we are not in competition.

.. Big patriotism is always a matter of comparison. It is, as Lewis put it, “a firm, even prosaic belief that our own nation, in sober fact, has long been, and still is markedly superior to all others.” Big patriotism is incapable of appreciating our home’s good qualities except at the expense of other places. Foreign lands and people must be put down if we are to be held up.

.. It is the foundation of jingoistic American exceptionalism and a constant siren song to empire — for why shouldn’t the world be ruled by the best?

..

Small patriotism is humble and open to constructive critique. Just as we would welcome an exterminator telling us our house has termites, so in small patriotism we can give a hearing to those who see some problem with our home. Big patriotism cannot hear a word against country, however gentle or wise. The best, by definition, cannot be wrong.

.. It does not ask to be valued above more significant loyalties, like those to God or family or concrete community. Big patriotism demands pre-eminence.

.. Big patriotism is incessantly self-serious and therefore always on the brink of offense.

.. But however natural it can feel, big patriotism is poisonous, and it leads to the type of shallow outrage we now see over these athletes’ attempt to respectfully call attention to a grave concern.