glenn beck does have a maniacal or is-he-insane edge. today he's really ranting the apocalypse. get that ass behind the shield of god! the time is nigh, bitch! etc. so that's definitely part of the entertainment value, and if he has nervous breakdown or goes to rehab one of these days (like maybe a week from tomorrow), that will itself be a reality show. let's say that appearing on television all day every day making pronouncements about recovery and what god is saying to us is probably not what his 12-step sponsor is recommending.
on individual/collective salvation i give you below a quote from kierkegaard's concluding unscientific postscript, if nothing else to show that glenn beck didn't invent this problem.
For example, what does it mean to be immortal? Socially the question cannot be answered at all, because socially it cannot even be formulated, since only the subject who wills to become subjective can grasp the question and rightly ask, Am I immortal? You know, people join up with each other in various matters. For example, several families can join together for a box at the theater, and three single gentlemen can join together for a riding horse, so that each one rides every third day. But I cannot become immortal taking turns with two other gentlemen. People who have dabbled in this and that, who have been every different thing, one day ask the pastor whether they will actually remain the same in eternity, after in this life they have not been able to stay the same for a fortnight. Immortality would admittedly be a peculiar metamorphosis if it could transform this human centipede into something with an eternal identity.
[you could find this in the hongs's translation on pp 175-176, vol. 1; i have messed about with it a bit, partly to reflect my preference for the lowrie/swenson translation, which i don't have at hand for some reason. also i've omitted some ellipses. the postscript is my usual answer to the question: what's your favorite book, asshole?]
Beck made the remarks in answer to a question about his previous accusation that Obama was a "racist" who has "a deep-seated hatred for white people." He contended that that statement "was not accurate" and that he had "miscast" Obama's religious beliefs as racism.
i swear i am not obsessed with glenn beck, and i will soon leave this zone entirely. but i would think perhaps some of the people who have pulled that quote out every three columns for a year would acknowledge this retraction. according to morning edition this am, beck has asserted that obama's theology is neither christian nor muslim. steve innskeep's remark: he provided no evidence for that. it's like beck was putting forth some birther-type theory. well, his argument is that christianity (and i guess islam, according to beck) preaches individual not collective salvation. he holds that the latter is an innovation and is incompatible with the main thrust of christian teachings.
now this is a remarkable critique that engages the whole history of individualism and collectivism, reaching to the heart of many political debates over the last 250 years. i imagine that proponents of collective salvation within christianity have a whole theological framework; i bet the debate is incredibly rich and complicated. but you know beck has actually been trying to do the history too, and he appeals to a certain vision of protestantism, one that among others we ought to associate with kierkegaard and emerson, figures to whose philosophy, putting it mildly, i am attracted.
but really we have quite a rich, fundamental, historically-oriented critique of obama's politics by way of his spirituality. just dismissing it as wacky birther paranoia is...not an adequate or honest actual response. it would be bizarre and amazing to see actual individualism (as opposed merely to self-seeking etc) arise again as a viable option, theologically or politically.
washpost, on the struggles of environmental groups:
Now the groups are wondering how they can keep this loss from becoming a rout as their opponents press their advantage and try to undo the Obama administration's climate efforts. At two events last week in Wisconsin, environmental groups seemed to be trying two strategies: defiance and pleading for sympathy.
pleading for sympathy is noble, but i would suggest extreme continual repetition of the message in all media all the time, from cereal boxes to elementary school textbooks to new york times editorials to advertisements for the coal industry. oh wait y'all did that already? well, try jacking up the rhetoric to excruciating levels, making this the greatest crisis our species has ever faced, or suggesting that we are in the middle of an apocalypse caused by our distance from god, oops i mean nature. tried that too? well consider increasing the hyperbole after that: perhaps we are all already dead, having destroyed our planet with carbon dioxide in 2003, and are now living in the afterlife, just as bill mckibben predicted in 1990. well, maybe not. i would suggest that the only possible strategy is to eliminate as far as possible every other message, meaning, idea. there should be exactly one sentence or phrase remaining in the language. you need to plead for sympathy and repress dissent. it's not enough to have the administration, the educational system, cnn, bill gates, etc., yapping continuously or rehearsing our lines infinitely many times until it becomes white noise. somewhere, there is a child doing something other than chanting our slogans in unison with all other children. obviously the powers that be want to repress us. how can we get our message out there?
right. again let me say this: recounting one quote from a dude from a year ago, and then smearing on the verbal abuse like strawberry jam on bread is lazy, self-congratulatory, and counter-productive. you had a half million people on the mall, and perhaps you had better ask why. mere abuse - know-nothings manipulated by demagogues = isn't helping you yourself understand what's happening. it is obvious to you that only an ignorant fool could possibly disagree with you, for example, on levels of federal power and spending. i congratulate you on your self-esteem, which is precisely proportional to your capacity for self-delusion, but i think you're going to get bludgeoned politically. now when you are bludgeoned, it will be unaccountable. or it will be because people are being manipulated and deceived. or it will be because people are horrendous racists and sexists. now ask yourself: why am i committed to the idea that no one could possibly genuinely or reasonably disagree with me? why would i require my beliefs to be strictly speaking rationally unassailable, not merely true?
what actually undergirds the incredible arrogance and elitism is not real commitment to truth or rational argumentation or something. that's is entirely obvious from the rhetorical moves. what drives american liberalism is extreme commitment to cultural affiliation, unanimity. everyone spends all day telling everyone else how smart they are for agreeing with one another. now really you shouldn't bother arguing with people who are that unable to think, who are that unable to stand on their own, whose entire epistemology is peer pressure and self-subordination to authority (e.g. "science"). tell you what. display some rudimentary capacity for independent thought and i will try to address you with arguments.
one thing about beck: he can talk for hours on end and say almost nothing. really it remains in the vaguest terms: follow god's will and do what we know is right. course i'd quibble even with that, but really you can see him shying away from controversy in an almost insidious way: i actually wonder what the audience thought of the parade of minority spokespersons.
of course the theological stuff is potentially pretty disturbing. but on the third hand, there really is a social justice component too as when one of the speakers decried the destruction of the "first nations" and made it a "call to repentence."
so i've defended the grassrootness etc of the tea party, but obviously this beck thing isn't that. it's interesting to think about how political leadership is shifting, think about it as a problem, for one thing. so here's a radio-television host, with really newscorp machinery behind him among other resources. go to his site and there he is shilling for goldline and other corporations, as well as marketing his own products. he is a for-profit outfit. i don't think we could say the same of king. is it possible to be in this stance and be a leader? well, if not, exactly why not? but it's a bit hard to think about a for-profit political movement. on the other hand say there are 100,000 on the mall today...
i'm surprised there isn't a pay wall to access the live stream.
i will say this though: there is no point framing this glenn beck thing as a civil rights rally. nothing there but mere provocation or, really, mere yapyap. nor do i find the phrase "restoring honor" all that redolent or resonant myself, but it's hard to say how people are reading it. anyway, if i get a chance between starting classes and editing "the practical anarchist" i'll blog the rally or whatever.
the part of beck that i don't like is the red-baiting and the paranoid style, where he's mapping the vast conspiracy etc. on the other hand, the american polity, which emerged in a pointedly individualist tradition, has moved steadily toward collectivism and squishy totalitarianism (one name for that might be 'socialism'): a move that often appears to be unquestionable, the inevitable direction of history, etc. anything that interrupts that narrative is in my opinion a good idea. the specter of anti-communist witch hunts etc makes me shiver too. but though mccarthy was wrong about just about everything - especially freedom - he was right about one thing: the actual nature of communism, which is the actual nature of the left in a continuum from genocidal tyranny to well-meaning merger of economy and polity into one infinitely huge bureaucracy, caring for you like you're in daycare or an assisted living facility for your whole life.
you know, this beck phenomenon is pretty interesting. the left condemns him in every column and soundbite using one or two quotes, presumably because they can't bear actually to watch him, which i can understand. (robinson, yesterday: "Beck has called President Obama a "racist" and accused him of having a "deep-seated hatred for white people": how many times have columnists written that precise sentence? christ find a new quote or something. )and it's easy to look at him emoting, shaking his head, throwing down the hyperbole etc and just think this is ridiculous. well, it's highly eccentric, that's for sure.
but take last night's show. he spent the whole hour with a panel of clerical historians discussing american christianity of the eighteenth century. i mean the discussion was far more cerebral and far longer than anything you will ever see on the news hour, e.g. really i think that if you believe that tea party types or whomever are mere illiterate idiots led by buffoons you ought to really watch a few of these shows.
now of course the panelists all agreed, more or less, with beck, and they told sort of one side of the story. well: it's a polemic. but i think after awhile you're going to have to admit that it's an interesting polemic, and an informed polemic.
not only that, but it framed the issue in fundamental terms with regard to individualist and collectivist traditions within christianity and within the american polity. i think asking the very most general and fundamental questions is something that basically does not happen in our political discourse. essentially, beck does that every night.
or when was the last time you heard someone on television trying to state the essence of the sermons of jonathan edwards? beck himself sort of pretends not to be an intellectual, but in some ways the closest parallel to his show on a good day would be something like the documentaries of ken burns: let's take enough time and actually come to grips with our own history. and if you don't think ken burns's documentaries are themselves polemical, try to see them from a point of view that is not your own.
you may not be surprised by this, but i hate glenn beck less than my friends do. he's quite the spectacle at times, and i was just listening to a rant about the radical protestant beliefs at the heart of the american conception of liberty. well, he was right about that anyway. it's a mixed bag of course.
then he unfolds it with the concept of collective salvation (as opposed to the individual salvation offered in 18th century protestantism) in obama's speeches and jeremiah wright's church. well you know this is kind of a complex set of of historical moves for the merest demagogue.
ok and then he and the panel are going further into the origins of american abolitionism. well, this is right.
as we move toward "social" or government-run medicine - and very decisively in the requirement to buy health insurance - we socialize or collectivize the costs of healthcare. now i am not going to deny that there are good features of this, but of course it is also riddled with difficulties. but here is the really problematic bit: it justifies extremely wide-ranging state power over the bodies of each person.
so, the basic principle by which a scope of individual liberties or rights is delineated still in our imagination is the principle of classical liberalism: i should have a right (or i do - naturally, inherently, or as a child of god - have the right) to do whatever i want, compatible with equal liberty for all, or right up to the point where i harm someone else. so the government can step in to prevent you harming someone else, for the sake precisely of equality of freedom.
now "social cost" is a great problem for this point of view, one that john stuart mill, for example, had to deal with very elaborately. so if your bad habits lead you to disease or death, your actions do harm various other people: your family, for example, or your employer, and whoever generated whatever resources you draw on that weren't yours to begin with.
a "collective" health provision scheme very directly makes everyone's contributions seem to depend on individual decisions. what i actually pay in healthcare, for example, might (in a simpler or more rational system than we'll ever see) vary to some extent with the rate of obesity or seatbelt use in the population. the scope of your decision stops at me: my body and my resources and my rights. you are harming me by being obese. so together we can require you to observe a certain dietary regimen, etc. there is virtually no dimension of your behavior that does not potentially or statistically impose costs on others. so there is virtually no dimension of behavior that the state cannot regulate.
mill argued that we absolutely had to distinguish between direct and indirect harms, between cases where i harm you intentionally and cases where i harm myself, and in doing so harm you, as it were, accidentally. otherwise, he says, we face tyranny. but that sort of distinction - hard enough to make stick at any time - is compromised more and more by programs such as collective healthcare.
really though this is a pretty idealized sketch, and on the other side the costs to me of the obesity of one woman in arkansas, even in the worst result, is infinitesimal, and i'd do better to think about the costs of medical technologies, drug monopolies, administrative costs, and so on. but the move then is to demographics, statistics: we weigh your actions not as your actions but in terms of the statistical frequency and effects of many people making similar decisions. we're imagining 300 million people as though they were five people who have decided to share a house or something; the actual mutual dependency has ascended into the realm of pure abstraction: any one person's relation to any other one person is, we might say, notional.
but the point is that "public" healthcare will actually be the lever for many specific abrogations of the autonomy of many actual people, because the argument in terms of social costs can be squared with classical liberalism, with a basic respect for individual rights as we understand them. this vision of rights can drive a complete breakdown of anyone's actual autonomy in the face of state power: another reason to go to a tea party.