Yet Another Visit to Prager Universe

Prager

As we have seen in the two previous discussions of the topic, PragerU is a festering cauldron of misinformation, misdirection and smugness — disguised as a benevolent, informative “university”. Its coterie of “credible thinkers” (also known as “course presenters”) pontificating in 5-minute videos reads like a partial Who’s Who of contemporary lunatic demagoguery. The roster includes Ben Shapiro, Steven Crowder (see below), Glenn Beck, Tucker Carlson, Dinesh D’Souza, Jonah Goldberg, Charlie Kirk, Michelle Malkin, James O’Keefe,  and Candace Owens, among many others.

PragerU very well might be thought of as the anti-TED. Whereas TED Talks is a symposium on the human potential for creativity, progress, expansive mindset, vision, constructiveness and love, PragerU is a symposium on the human potential for destructiveness, regression, reductionist mindset, purblindness, division and hate. And the Pragerists don’t even have the decency to be forthright in their aims; their mission is cloaked in pseudointellectual pretensions of patriotism, piety and moral high-mindedness.

Tune in and you’ll find videos rehashing the same inane talking points you’ve heard (and heard debunked) many times before — in support of a border wall, and the electoral college, and theocracy, and capital punishment, and other tireless bastions of right-wing bigotry and intellectual bankruptcy. A video on nationalism tries to make it sound benign by drastically shifting the semantic goal posts.  One video on the electoral college observes that:

In a pure democracy, bare majorities can easily tyrannize the rest of a country.

Never mind that merely electing a president by popular vote by no means would constitute a “pure majority”. The thing is that the present arrangement (as has become painfully evident) can help a distinct minority tyrannize the rest of the country.

All of this is blended with a (very) small amount of material that really is informative or at least harmless. We previously mentioned a video affirming that the Civil War really was about slavery (which is something there really shouldn’t even be any debate about). Another one purports to teach you (in 5 minutes) how to develop more resiliency to avoid being thrown for a loop by catastrophic events. It’s essentially fluff, but evidently well-meaning enough.

The many talks that Dennis Prager himself has delivered include a regular series of fireside chats (no, seriously) in which he expounds upon all manner of topics on which he considers himself the ultimate authority.  Looking like Santa Claus groomed for a job on Wall Street, he follows in Ronald Reagan’s footsteps in demonstrating that an avuncular persona can mask all manner of devious machinations.  And PragerU itself often demonstrates the banality of evil; while posing as a cheery self-help site, it subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) goads its viewers to loathe half of their fellow Americans.

One of these “courses” is a whole series of cutesy little “man on the street” videos by Will Witt, who is officially PragerU’s “social media influencer” (a title that speaks megabytes). You know the type of video: the intrepid sleuth sets out with a certain premise, interviews people he hopes will confirm that premise, selects the few who do and discards the others, sprinkles it all with a bit of selective editing, and voila! proves himself to be a great sage and visionary.

Witt’s customary narrative is that them librulz iz dumm; he’s particularly obsessed with trying to establish that college students are naive librulz being force-fed propaganda by sinister librul professors. He himself claims he dropped out of one such university because he was being indoctrinated with facts that didn’t fit his worldview. (Does the word snowflake mean anything to you, Will?) So now, by god, he works for a real university where he can learn, teach and manufacture his own facts.

In one video, he asks students whether they can name one good thing the forty-fifth White House Occupant has done in office, and they have a hard time coming up with one. Imagine that. (Give them a break, Will — this was before he helped the Democrats regain the House.) In another, he ridicules a “leftist” book that “brainwashes” little kids by telling them about the concept of… wait for it… activism. You know, such as he himself attempts to practice. Another of his videos is titled “Do College Students Support Abortion Or Life?” Yes, that’s the actual title. (If you don’t see anything wrong, please read our two discussions of abortion and the one on straw men.)

History, shmistory

But of all the PragerU videos I have watched so far, surely the most egregious is one that was posted for the occasion of Columbus Day. It was designed to ridicule the “politically correct” efforts to question the wisdom of celebrating such an occasion, and to defend the myth of Columbus as a noble, heroic figure. This talk was delivered by Steven Crowder, who has a website called Louder With Crowder — a name perfectly exemplifying the notion these people have that being louder and more obnoxious makes you more accurate and morally defensible. He’s labeled Christine Blasey Ford a “lying whore” — while acknowledging that her accusations could be true — and suggested that by denouncing her attacker, she was guilty of name calling that was equally vile. Credible thinkers, every one.

Here’s how he begins his little homily on the austere occasion of Columbus Day:

Thanksgiving. Independence Day. Memorial Day. Holidays are a great time to riddle Americans with needless, oppressive guilt.

Not a hint as to exactly how those holidays inflict “needless, oppressive guilt” on people.  It’s one of those things you’re supposed to just believe because you’re supposed to just believe.  And clearly a tribute to the popular straw man of “liberal guilt” we discussed previously. And here’s what he’s leading up to:

But the one that stands head and shoulders above the rest is Columbus Day—the day where progressives indoctrinate your children into believing Columbus to be Satan incarnate, the USA to be his evil spawn, and the Native Americans to be pacifists.

Wow. There’s almost too much horseshit packed into that one sentence to adequately dissect it all. But let’s whip through it briefly. First, notice the cute red herring/ straw man tacked onto the end. Who exactly is claiming that Native Americans were uniformly pacifist? And what exactly would that have to do with respecting Native heritage and culture and the Native peoples alive today? It’s very telling that Crowder and his like consider it “indoctrination” when progressives try to set the record straight. But for the record, progressives generally just want the truth to be known, whether about Columbus or anyone else. If someone concludes that he was “Satan incarnate”, that’s a conclusion they would be drawing from his actual record — and there is plenty in his record that might warrant such a characterization.

The most interesting thing about this sentence, however, is its bald illustration of the propaganda technique of flag waving, wherein the perpetrator presents himself as impeccably patriotic because of his ideology, and proclaims that anyone who does not concur with his beliefs is unpatriotic or even anti-American. In this silly extreme example, he is claiming that anyone who dares to expose the seamy side of Columbus is trying to paint America itself as the “spawn of Satan”. Indeed, he’s declaring that it’s even worse than that:

Feeling the urge to self-inflict grievous bodily harm yet? That’s only natural, because the whole charade has become an exercise in hating Western civilization, which is really just an exercise in hating yourself.

Got that? If you want the facts told, you hate not only America, not only all of Western civilization, but even yourself. Instead, you should deal yourself a huge dose of love by believing this:

First, as far as Columbus goes, the guy deserves some credit, right? Flawed, to be sure, but he was the greatest navigator of his age—the first person to cross the Atlantic from the continent of Europe. And he did so without any maps and only three small ships. If you can name them, by the way, comment below, as I’m sure your professor can’t.

Clever, huh? Simultaneously taking a dig at those sinister liberal professors teaching liberal facts to impressionable students, while also putting in a blatant plug to drum up viewer interaction by challenging them to respond to a simplistic trivia question. Don’t worry, Steve — if you and the other Pragerists can’t name the three ships, just about any fifth grader can bail you out.

But there are indeed some “liberal” facts that he can’t spin away.  To call Columbus the “greatest navigator of his age” is, to put it charitably, a wee bit of a stretch. Among other things, Columbus grossly miscalculated the dimensions of the globe. It would be more accurate to say that he was a ruthless, greedy egomaniac and a lucky bungler who stumbled his way into the history books (not unlike the forty-fifth White House occupant). We’ll discuss the myths about Columbus (who, by the way, never even set foot on the continent) in a future post; for now, let’s just remind the venerable Mr. Crowder that there’s actually a reason the Native peoples of America are now known as “Indians”.

He goes on to apply a very interesting and illuminating double standard. He acknowledges on the one hand that Columbus and crew were far from perfect, and suggests that we therefore should be willing to excuse them for knocking off a few indigenous people. And on the other hand, he insists that the Natives were not perfect either, and therefore, we should be willing to overlook the fact that many of them got knocked off by European immigrants. It’s a technique related to what is known formally as tu quoque, though it’s more commonly known as”bothsidesism” or  “whataboutism” or “it takes one to know one”, or “I’m rubber, you’re glue”, or “so’s your old man”. However you phrase it, the idea is that you can somehow exonerate someone from charges of wrongdoing by pointing out that someone else did something wrong too.

Nobody is suggesting that the Natives were perfect or that they were all benevolent, peaceful souls. They were human, and any large enough group of humans is going to have a few rotten eggs. So yes, some of them did commit their own atrocities. And guess what? Not a single one of them is even remembered today, much less exalted as a hero or honored by a major holiday.

As far as the genocide by violence, you can look at any historical account of even the most one-sided battles and find that they were still just that—battles. Take Wounded Knee (although hundreds of years later, I only bring it up because I know that if I don’t, you will). It’s become ubiquitous with the idea of Native Americans’ genocide. After all, there were 150-350 Aboriginals killed or wounded. That’s terrible, but there were also 25 American soldiers killed and 39 wounded. That’s not genocide; that’s a one-sided beatdown with Old Glory wielding the hammer.

Aside from the fact that his math is a little questionable (somehow he regards 128 years as “hundreds of years”), he illustrates how you can argue just about any kind of absurd premise if you’re willing to redefine your terms and cherry pick your facts drastically enough. If you’re going to transform a massacre into a “one-sided battle”, it helps if you forget to mention that the altercation began as an official visit; and that the army was trying to confiscate the tribe’s weapons, to go along with the confiscated lands; and that many of the 300 or so Native casualties were women and children.

And he offers an even more absurd deflection:

Not only did the Natives brutally take out PEOPLE, but they took out entire forests and hunted species to extinction.

So the Fifteenth Century Natives deserved to be slaughtered because they didn’t apply Twenty-First Century knowledge of proper environmental management? One must infer that what he’s implying here is that anyone who exercises a “politically correct” effort to respect Native Americans and their heritage is subscribing to the silly stereotype of the “noble savage”, which enjoyed a brief vogue a couple of centuries ago.  And just in case he hasn’t already convinced you how bigoted and clueless he is, he sums up thus:

Columbus is not the issue here, and never was. This whole “Indigenous Peoples Day” charade is about teaching your children to despise Western civilization and anybody who dare defend it.

And then he wraps up with an uncharacteristic touch of candor, intended to be ironic but actually much more accurate than he realizes.

But then again, that could just be my Western civ privilege talking.

No shit, Sherlock.

Reactionaries like Crowder often try to give you the impression that Columbus Day is a timeless, quintessentially American occasion ordained by the Founding Fathers themselves. In reality, it did not become a federal holiday until 1937, and the motivations for making it one were largely political, and based almost entirely on myth. This sums up very nicely what these people classify as “patriotism”.

Summing it up

Within three months of its being posted, this bigoted and brainless little video had been viewed in excess of three million times. It’s been shared, praised, tweeted and et cetera-ed countless times. PragerU videos overall have received more than 1.8 BILLION views.  What’s even more disturbing is that if the site’s stats are to be believed (and it’s clearly by no means a given that anything PragerU says can be taken at face value) 70 percent of viewers report that they’ve had their minds changed on some issue by one of the videos. In short, it’s an extremely successful propaganda machine.

And that includes, of course, being financially successful. It’s been reported that each video (there’s a new one spawned every week) costs in the range of $25,000 to $30,000 to produce. They wouldn’t be spending that kind of cheddar if they weren’t raking it in.  (Don’t be fooled by the smokescreen of nonprofit status — churches are nonprofits too, and some of them are filthy rich.) Indeed, PragerU’s faithful flock is constantly subjected to dire fundraising pleas, built on the absurd claim that “conservative” material is being censored and repressed by social media, search engines, mainstream media, and the chronosynclastic infundibulum. To emphasize the point, one of its panhandling ads features photos of some of those “credible thinkers” with their mouths taped. If only.

Such absurd claims have been debunked eight ways from Sunday — even though a great deal of right-wing Internet content inspires violence and other harmful actions, right-wingers actually have an advantage in the cyber world. (The reason you’re reading about PragerU right now is that it kept rearing its ugly head in my Facebook feed, quite uninvited, over and over and over.) But they want more than an advantage. They want absolute and total domination. And anything less than that will prompt them to wail about censorship and repression — and even conduct congressional hearings to look into such poppycock. And they will continue to play the censorship card as long as there are plenty of Kool-Aid guzzlers to fleece out of cash.

It’s often said that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. To this aphorism we should add the corollary that nobody ever went broke overestimating the gullibility of ideological fanatics.

White Guilt, White Pride and White Privilege

white pride

White guilt, white pride and white privilege are all terms that get thrown about quite a bit these days. What do they really mean? How do they all fit together? To answer that, we must look at the behavior and mindset of those who enjoy (if that is the correct word) white privilege.

What defines “white privilege”, anyway? In the past, it was an easier phenomenon to identify.  White privilege meant being able to vote. It meant being able to live in the neighborhood you wanted to live in, go to the school you wanted to attend, work at the career you wanted to work at. It meant being able to drink from the same water fountain and use the same toilet as everyone else. It meant not having to worry so much about being lynched.

Today, these blunt injustices have been (mostly) eliminated. But that doesn’t mean white privilege is extinct too.  It’s just a bit more subtle — at least usually.  Today, white privilege means not being stopped by police as often. It means not being reported as suspicious if you enter a white neighborhood.  It means having one person describe you to another person without referring to your ethnicity.  It means maybe a car dealership will offer you a lower price than they would offer an African-American. (Yes, this has been known to happen.) It means being able to speak your mind — even in an uninhibited fashion — without being perceived as violent, angry or thuggish. It’s absolutely unthinkable that a black president could ever get away with the kind of toddler tantrums the 45th White House occupant does.  Or that a black Supreme Court nominee would get away with the kind of unhinged self-indulgent hissy fit that Brett Kavanaugh threw. Or that a black senator would be able to play the childishly petulant game of threats that Lindsey Graham did because Democrats were trying to vet a Republican nominee. (It’s also unthinkable that a female of any race could get away with these behaviors — male privilege is closely allied with white privilege.) White privilege means being able to bask in “white pride” while rejecting “white guilt” (both of which are actually misnomers, as we’ll see shortly).

Those born into white privilege are often quick to ridicule what they refer to as “white guilt”. Conservative pundit George Will, in a typical right-wing combination of smugness and cluelessness, said:

[White guilt is] a form of self-congratulation, where whites initiate “compassionate policies” toward people of color, to showcase their innocence to racism.

The trouble is, “guilt” is being misused in this context, summoned forth because there isn’t a single word that adequately expresses the concept. It really isn’t about guilt as such, but about moral indignation and civic responsibility. It’s certainly true that we cannot be expected to bear the burden of culpability for actions committed by our forebears several generations ago. The very suggestion is preposterous. But that doesn’t mean we have no responsibility to clean up the messes they left — particularly while we’re living on land forcibly taken from Native Americans and enjoying the benefits of a society built on the backs of African slaves.  British journalist Sunny Hundal had an excellent response to people like Will:

Not much annoys me more than the stereotype that to be liberal is to be full of guilt. To be socially liberal, in my view, is to be more mindful of compassion and empathy for others … to label that simply as guilt is just… insulting.

But while liberals are not really advocating guilt per se, it’s fascinating and illuminating to see how reactionaries react to any such implication.  They often will say that they “refuse to apologize for being white” — as if anyone asked them to. When Chelsea Clinton was the nation’s First Child, her school teacher offered as a possible essay topic the question “Should white people feel guilty?” It apparently was one of those devil’s advocate type of topics meant to provoke debate and reflection — to encourage independent thinking, in short. I once had a teacher assign a discussion group the task of explaining, on short notice, the benefits and positive things about slavery; and I seriously doubt if anyone assumed he was promoting that institution. But if a professor instead assigned students the task of defending reparations for slavery and word got out, you can bet the right-wing media would go on a rampage.

Indeed, the right-wing media went bonkers — well, more bonkers than they were already — declaring Chelsea’s teacher’s assignment to be yet another instance of supposed “liberal indoctrination” at schools. And they emphasized their point by embellishing the tale in the retelling, even altering the proposed title to “Why White People Should Feel Guilty”. It was pretty clear that what was raising their hackles was not just the suggestion that white people might feel guilty, but the suggestion that white people had ever done anything wrong.

And there are a couple of glaring ironies here. First, those partakers in white privilege who so loudly protest that they want no truck with “white guilt” are quite often Christians. And one of the core principles of Christianity –if not THE core principle — is the tenet of original sin, which holds that we bear the burden of guilt for misdeeds not just through a few generations, but through all generations. According to this dogma, which a great many Christians adhere to in one way or another, we are all guilty just by being born human; and yet many folks who believe that also vociferously reject the notion that we might be “guilty” by being born white humans.

Second, these individuals generally also are embodiments, even if subtly and indirectly, of white pride. Some even openly declare this, and put white pride in the same league with “black pride” and “gay pride”. But there is of course a huge difference. The latter two categories are celebrating how demographic groups have persevered in the face of discrimination, persecution and oppression; the “white pride” folks are celebrating a demographic group that has been on the dishing-out end of discrimination, persecution and oppression.

Even many people who don’t march around displaying swastikas and Confederate flags, are often jingoists; they display their American flags (sometimes alongside their Confederate flags) and make an issue of standing for the National Anthem — and watch carefully for anyone who doesn’t do likewise so they can heap on the condemnation. They vigorously apply the technique of flag waving — which is to say they equate their own ideology with “patriotism”, and the ideology of anyone else with anti-Americanism.  Anyone who dares to criticize the government, they declare, is a traitor — if and only if the government is controlled by Republicans. But they are, of course, hasty to do a total about face the instant a Democrat and/or a black person is elected president. They shout “America first”, and try to come up with spurious justifications for keeping out (non-white) immigrants.

Jingoists loudly proclaim that they are “proud to be American”. But what does that really mean? Generally, pride is a word properly applied to a feeling of pleasure and satisfaction at one’s accomplishments and attributes. But being American is neither an accomplishment nor, really, an attribute. It’s merely the result of being fortunate enough to have been born in the United States.

One certainly can feel grateful or happy to be an American. But proud? That implies that you were somehow involved in the Constitutional Convention or the Battle of Concord. In other words, if you are “proud” to be American, but refuse to feel “guilty” for being white, you are implicitly taking credit for the good things done by your ancestors, while explicitly disavowing any blame for the bad things they did. “American pride” is very closely allied with “white pride”; the word nationalism is almost inextricably linked with the word whiteAnd in both cases, “pride” more properly should be called arrogance.

This tendency to embrace “white pride” while rejecting “white guilt” — and being able to get away with it — is white privilege in a nutshell. Today, white people whose most significant achievement is being born in America are in a position to determine the fate of hard-working immigrants who take great risks in an effort to become Americans themselves. They also are in a position to restrict the voting rights of ethnic minorities — including NATIVE AMERICANS. It doesn’t get much more white,  or more privileged, than that.

 

Ben Shapiro Vs. Facts

Ben Shapiro

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Ben Shapiro is a loudmouthed, obnoxious young aspirant to the hotly contested title of kingpin among right-wing demagogues. Like others in the thickly crowded and highly competitive field, his actions indicate that he is most concerned about boosting his ego and raking in the bucks. And he knows that a quick way to do that is to smear liberals/progressives/the left/whatever, because he’ll find a ready mob of bigots to applaud him.

He’s quickly built a loyal following of people who mistake swift-tongued glibness for accuracy and substance. And even the New York Times, which he has christened “the official outlet of the American left” (despite its stable of right-leaning columnists), published a bizarre fawning paean to him (unlike others in his tribe, he “reads books”!), dubbing him the “Cool Kid’s Philosopher”. If you actually pay attention to what he says, however, you quickly see that the philosopher has no toga.

For one thing, he doesn’t feel the need to be bothered with a piddling little thing like consistency. On the one hand, he avows concern over the big bad guvmint’s unwarranted intrusion into citizens’ private lives — he’s railed indignantly against “gun control” and even against government bans of phone use while driving; yet he also declares that pornography should be outlawed because… well, just because; and that it can’t be defended by the “silly” argument that something should not be criminalized if it does no harm.

He also doesn’t feel the need to draw distinctions between the grossly dissimilar things he lumps together. Continuing his peculiar and frankly rather disturbingly obsessive denunciation of pornography, he notes that if we’re going to legalize it, we might as well legalize murder. In other words, he’s a master of false equivalence.

And he doesn’t feel the need to offer any rational justification for his dogmatic pronouncements. Atheism, he proclaims, is not only “morally bankrupt” but totally incompatible with the concept of free will. (He also conflates belief in God with belief in the soul.) Free will, he says, comes from God — our will is free only if it’s under the total control of an outside force. Why? Because religious people believe so, and that’s good enough for him. It is because it just is.

The latter type of circular reasoning is a fallacy known in Philosophy 101 as begging the question (a term almost everyone misuses, by the way); and it would likely net you an F pronto. No matter; Shapiro is one of the high priests of the Cult Of Anti-Intellectualism, which casually dismisses college knowledge as “liberal indoctrination“. They can always obtain their alternative facts at PragerU, where Shapiro is one of the “lecturers”.

Left hooks

Real universities, however, are vital venues for his favored schtick for self-promotion: playing the provocateur game.  First, he makes idiotically bigoted utterances that he knows (or at least hopes) will arouse disgust in anyone with a shred of decency. (e.g., “Arabs like to bomb crap and live in sewage”), Then he gets booked to speak on campuses where he knows there are bound to be many folks who find him repulsive, and some will be foolish enough to play into his hands by raucously protesting his appearance. Then he tries to provoke the protesters even more with puerile taunts. (“Hard-left morons”; “uncivilized barbarians”; “pusillanimous cowards”; “You guys are so stupid”; “You pathetic, lying, stupid jackasses”; “You can all go to hell”.)

Ultimately, he achieves his goal by stirring up such a hornet’s nest that he is disinvited from campus appearances; then he can proclaim triumphantly that The Left is being intolerant, and squelching his First Amendment rights. Cute, huh? Like other right-wing demagogues, he works on the assumption that the First Amendment grants him — but not necessarily anyone else — the right to say whatever he wants, wherever he wants, without repercussions.

As if programmed by some malicious cosmic geek, Shapiro and his fellow right-wing polemicists all closely follow the same playbook, and often even recite the same soundbites. This includes marginalizing victims of various kinds, and ridiculing empathy for victims. They claim that The Left makes a “virtue of victimhood” — even as they try hard to paint themselves as virtuous victims of The Left’s supposed totalitarianism and that legendary chimerical “political correctness”.

Living in a smug bubble that they constantly strive to reinforce, Shapiro and his cohorts tend to have the attitude that if a particular problem does not affect them personally, directly and immediately, then it must not exist. And like schoolyard bullies, they try to make themselves feel stronger by spitting upon the downtrodden, the disadvantaged, or just The Others (immigrants are a favorite target). Most important of all, there is the fact that those on the left generally sympathize with, and try to help, the oppressed and abused; and for right-wing fanatics, the most urgent imperative in the whole universe is to oppose them librulz at every turn. Accordingly, they have made social justice warrior a term of ridicule and contempt.

There are essentially three overlapping tactics they use in smearing victims. Shapiro dutifully pursues all three.

First, they simply deny, no matter how overwhelming the evidence, that persecution and discrimination exist at all — except against themselves, of course. (It’s an article of faith among many privileged white males that nobody is really underprivileged except privileged white males.) Thus, while Shapiro believes that “white men are presumed guilty because they are white men” he also believes that LGBT Americans are rarely the targets of discrimination. In reality, not only is it legal to discriminate against them in many places, but they are more likely to be targets of hate crime than any other minority. He’s also declared that there is no evidence that the killer of Trayvon Martin was racist. In fact, there is a mountain of such evidence. He merely chose to ignore it — if he was even aware of it at all.

He wanted to cast doubt on the gunman’s presumed motives, of course, to suggest that Martin was responsible for his own death. And that’s the second tactic: blaming the victim. Perhaps his ugliest manifestation yet was his response to the vicious murder by terrorists of journalist Jamal Khashoggi after they chopped off his fingers. Let’s repeat that so it’s perfectly clear: terrorists murdered Khashoggi after they chopped his fingers off.  Perhaps because he was a Muslim, and/or because he was a genuine journalist as opposed to a demagogue, the right-wing punditocracy immediately began blaming him for his own vicious murder, claiming that he was a radical Islamist who was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. These smears had already been debunked by the time Shapiro decided to run with them, but he compliantly parroted them anyway. Which doesn’t speak well for his professed desire to unmask fake news. (We’ll get to that in a future discussion.)

The third tactic is just to try to change the subject, often by introducing red herrings. After Oprah Winfrey called out sexual abusers at the Golden Globes, he irrelevantly mused that she was speaking to “an entire town filled with sexual abusers and harassers” (What town isn’t?) and claimed that she’d never spoken up about it before — which presumably would render her comments on the subject invalid (hey, she must have brought it on herself when she was raped at age nine). In fact, as any survivor of sexual abuse will tell you, it’s a very difficult and painful topic to broach, and victims often remain quiet about it for years if not forever. Furthermore, Shapiro was dead wrong: Oprah has been an outspoken activist against sexual predators, citing her own experience, for literally decades

These facts were all readily available to anyone willing to do a modicum of research before mouthing off. But who need facts when you have an ideology and an enthusiastic fan base?

Facts, feelings and fantasies

Shapiro likes to proclaim that “the facts don’t care about your feelings”. He’s used it as the title of his public appearances. He’s uttered the phrase so much you’d think he trademarked it. But it’s an utterly ironic mantra for a guy who routinely pulls things out of his ass and brandishes them to whip up an irrational emotional response in his impressionable fans — e.g.;”Walk into virtually any emergency room in California and illegal immigrants are the bulk of the population”; socialism is tantamount to racism; homosexuality is a disease; “monitoring mosques is the simplest and most effective way of preventing terrorist attacks”; Obama is “philosophically fascist”; Obama is anti-Semitic; etc. etc. He even promoted a false rumor that Chuck Hagel accepted a donation from a group called Friends Of Hamas — when in fact there is no such group. The latter is another especially interesting lie to be spread by someone who presents himself as being concerned about weeding out fake news.

His slogan about facts and feelings is homage to a trendy right-wing straw man: that, because liberals/ progressives/ leftists are compassionate and humane, they are guided by feelings alone, without recourse to thought or information. This profoundly stupid myth gets smashed flat on a daily basis, and yet right-wing fanatics still gulp it down without chewing — thanks in no small part to having it dished out to them by unscrupulous manipulators like Ben Shapiro.

Not only do people like him ridicule “the left” for the unspeakable offense of caring about people, they preach that non-caring is The Way Things Are And Ought To Be:

Nobody, by and large, cares enough about you to stop you from achieving your dreams… No one cares about you; get over yourselves. I don’t care about you; no one cares about you.

Presumably, he’s even unaware that there is a growing mob of neo-Nazis who very much care that Jews (like Shapiro himself) are living in the U.S. and want them expelled if not killed.

Even when he gets his facts straight, Shapiro often cherry picks them to construct a false narrative. A few examples of his cranium-up-the-rectum syndrome appear over at Current Affairs in a piece by Nathan J. Robinson (who’s even younger than Shapiro, but has his shit together to an infinitely greater degree) thoroughly demolishing the idol Shapiro has constructed to himself:

First, [Shapiro says] Asian Americans are wealthier than white people, which would be impossible if racism determined economic outcomes. (Shapiro doesn’t mention that the vast majority of Asian American adults are immigrants, and they are disproportionately from the wealthier and more highly-educated segments of their own countries.) Second, he says, people of any race who work full time, are married, and have high school diplomas tend not to be poor, meaning that poverty is a function of one’s choice not to do these things. (In fact, this theory, widely cited by conservatives, turns out to be vacuous: of course people who have full-time jobs usually aren’t in poverty, the problem is that black people disproportionately can’t get jobs.) Next, Shapiro says that because black married couples have a lower poverty rate than white single mothers, “life decisions” are what creates poverty. (Actually, even when two black people pool their wealth in a marriage, “the median white single parent has 2.2 times more wealth than the median black two-parent household.”)  Finally, Shapiro says that the disproportionately black population in America’s prisons say nothing about racism, because black people simply commit more crimes, and “if you don’t commit a crime, you’re not going to be arrested for it” because “the police are not going around arresting black people for the fun of it.” (I have some black men in Louisiana I’d like Shapiro to meet so that he can explain his theory that people do not get arrested for crimes they haven’t committed. But I’d also like to hear him explain why black men receive 20% longer sentences for the same crime as white men with similar backgrounds.)

In short, Shapiro has demonstrated over and over that he has a very hard time distinguishing fact from feelings and fantasy. But he has plenty of company; the U.S. is currently engulfed in a reactionary plague. It has enabled the 45th White House Occupant to seize power. And it’s making people like Ben Shapiro filthy rich.

Hey, if you subscribe to the premium version of his website, he’ll even throw in a “free” cutesy souvenir tumbler labeled “Leftist Tears”. No doubt the proceeds go to a worthy cause. Like protecting the threatened Privileged White Male.

 

A Whole New Level of Silly in the “War On Christmas”

Prager

I surely don’t have to tell you that every year, beginning around the middle of September, two things start appearing like clockwork: Christmas decorations at your local Wal-Mart, and the media’s idiotic narrative about a supposed “war on Christmas” — evidently because the decorations didn’t come out in July. We’ve covered this topic before, but it seems that every year, somebody adds a whole new level of lunacy to it.  Shortly after the election of the Forty-Fifth White House Occupant, he did the one thing he does well — rouse the rabble — by vowing to force everyone to “start saying Merry Christmas again”. Whereupon Fox “News” gleefully declared that the war had been won. Now, they’re yammering about it as strongly as ever. Turns out he’s full of hot air and they’re full of crap. Who knew?

This year, the Bubblegum Crucifix Award for tackiest commentary in the name of religion goes to Dennis Prager, grand overlord of PragerU(niverse) for trying to provide an intellectual and factual justification for the whiny and petty reaction to this galactic nothing. (It’s an old video, but I’ve just now stumbled upon it.) His solution to the silly contrived “controversy” is simple: just say “Merry Christmas”. It will keep entitled white Christians happy, and that’s what really matters, isn’t it? If you just bow down to them on this one little thing, they surely won’t make any other demands, eh?

What his argument boils down to is that Christmas should be seated at the head of the holiday table because it has been in the past. But that’s never a valid justification for anything. In the past, we had slavery, smallpox and black-and-white vacuum tube televisions. He begins on a very ominous note:

The change from wishing fellow Americans “Merry Christmas” to wishing them “Happy Holidays” is a very significant development.

Significant? In what way? And what kind of “change” are you talking about? Many people have always said “Happy Holidays” instead of, or in addition to, “Merry Christmas”. And civilization hasn’t collapsed yet.

But the “Happy Holidays” advocates want it both ways. They dismiss opponents as hysterical; but at the same time, in addition to replacing “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays,” they have relentlessly pushed to replace “Christmas vacation” with “winter vacation” and “Christmas party” with “Holiday Party.”

So, then, which is it? Is all this elimination of the word “Christmas” important or not?

It’s hard to see how he could miss the point by a wider margin no matter how hard he tried. Somehow he sees a conflict (“wanting it both ways”) in being (a) gracious toward everyone, and at the same time (b) realizing that it will have no negative impact on anyone. Striving for a level of respect for all beliefs and traditions — and saying “Happy Holidays” — in no way “replaces” Christmas or Christmas traditions. Holiday cheer is not a zero sum game, in which using one expression diminishes another. And people who react as if it did are indeed being hysterical. And quite often manipulative.

He goes on to recount the apocalyptic horrors that have resulted from this drive to “replace” Christmas.

In place of the universal “Merry Christmas” of my youth, in recent decades I have been wished “Happy Holidays” by every waiter and waitress in every restaurant I have dined; by everyone who welcomes me at any business; by my flight attendants and pilots; and by just about everyone else.

We feel your pain, man. How dare they be so congenial to him in an idiom unauthorized by the Christmas gestapo? And these shameless tormentors aren’t done with him yet.

When I respond, “Thank you. Merry Christmas!” I often sense that I have actually created some tension. Many of those I wish “Merry Christmas” are probably relieved to hear someone who feels free to utter the “C” word, but all the sensitivity training they’ve had to undergo creates cognitive dissonance.

Not that he’s paranoid or anything, but he just knows that every ear in the house is trained on him so they can catch him using the dreaded “C word”, and report him to the PC police so he can be interned in a sensitivity training reeducation camp in a Berkeley warehouse.

The opponents of “Merry Christmas” and other uses of the word “Christmas” know exactly what they’re doing. They’re disingenuous when they dismiss defenders of “Merry Christmas” as fabricating some “War on Christmas.”

He’s determined to have a war, dammit, and he’s going to even if nobody’s fighting back. If you fail to say “Merry Christmas” on cue like a trained seal, then you’re obviously an “opponent” of the expression.

Of course it’s a war on Christmas, or, more precisely, a war on the religious nature of America. The left in America, like the left in Europe, wants to create a thoroughly secular society. Not a secular government – which is a desirable goal, and which, in any event, has always been the case in America – but a secular society.

Note that Prager has an obsession, which has surfaced at many other times, with trying to save America from becoming “Europeanized”, whatever the hell that means. (Does it mean caring about people more than money and electing halfway sane functional adults as leaders? Europeanize us, please.) And he doesn’t seem to realize that precisely because America has a secular government (which even he acknowledges is desirable), it cannot have a religious society by design — it has been, in the past, a Christian nation by default.

Most people do not realize that the left believes in secularism as fervently as religious Jews and Christians believe in the Bible.

This is a very common tactic among sanctimonious demagogues — declaring that secularism and skepticism require just as much fanatical faith as religious zealotry. Some of them even tried to have “secular humanism” officially declared a religion so it would be subjected to the principle of separation of church and state! But spin and revisionism notwithstanding, secularism does not have a dogma, and secularists do not try to force everyone else to live by some secularist creed.

Note also that he repeatedly identifies the effort to “replace” Christmas as a preoccupation of “the left” — like many others of his mindset, his motto is that, whatever happens that he doesn’t like, blame them librulz first. But while it’s certainly true that them librulz tend to be much more tolerant and inclusive than non-librulz (despite all the spin and revisionism to the contrary), they by no means have a corner on the market. Many advocates of more inclusive greetings like “Happy Holidays” are non-librulz; some are even conservative Christians.

That’s why “Merry Christmas” bothers secular activists.

Okay, let’s see a show of hands. How many people are bothered by someone saying “Merry Christmas”? We’ll wait.

It’s a blatant reminder of just how religious America is – and always has been.

By default, yes. But there are two other things it’s always been: an evolving society and a cultural melting pot. And like it or not, the U.S. is ever so gradually evolving into a society in which people of all cultures and backgrounds are respected equally.  Incidentally, stressing America’s religious heritage is really a red herring. Precisely because American society was dominated by Christians, Christmas was shunned for many generations and even banned by law. Many of our forebears regarded celebration of the occasion as downright vulgar. Puritans knew how to wage a real war on Christmas. By the way, if you want to keep the Christianity in Christmas, then ditch the tree, the mistletoe, the holly, Santa Claus, yule logs, caroling, candles, fruitcake, gift giving and decorations in general. All have pagan origins (yes, even Santa Claus, despite his conflation with a Christian saint) and thus are far more un-Christian than “Happy Holidays”.

So, here’s a prediction: Activists on the left will eventually seek to remove Christmas as a national holiday.

Don’t worry, there will be condom machines in the Vatican before that ever happens. For one thing, Christmas is not a national holiday, but a federal holiday (and only since 1870, so it wasn’t exactly part of the Founders’ plans). There is a slight difference, but that’s a very minor thing, all else considered. The real point is, what would happen if activists on “the left”, or whatever direction they come from, did indeed, by some real Christmas miracle, get the federal holiday status of Christmas revoked? Well, what would happen is that Americans would go on celebrating Christmas just as they do now. There would still be parties (whatever you call them), trees,  presents, big meals with the family and football games. The difference is that the bills for it all would get delivered.

By not wishing me a Merry Christmas, you are not being inclusive. You are excluding me from one of my nation’s national holidays.

Dennis, I don’t even know you. Do you believe that by not hiring a private detective to track down your phone number so I can call you and extend Christmas greetings in the manner you demand, I’m slighting you? Then why should it be any worse for the people who do encounter you? Suppose you’re jostling among millions of strangers in Times Square in December and none of them speaks to you? Would you take it personally and say that they are all “excluding” you? Now suppose that one of them does acknowledge you with a smile and a hearty “Happy Holidays”. Is that individual, by your reckoning, being more cruel and abrasive than all the others? Evidently so. Now suppose one of them comes up to you, grabs you by the throat and yells in your face, “Christmas sucks, asshole!” He’s using the “C word” just like you wanted. So is he being more inclusive, more in the holiday (oops, Christmas) spirit than the other person?

Prager just can’t seem to get his head around the simple fact that holiday is a general class of things that includes Christmas. Thus, when you wish someone “Happy Holidays”, you’re also wishing them “Merry (a synonym for happy) Christmas”, unless you specifically state otherwise. To argue that the former is not more inclusive than the latter is like arguing that fruit is not more inclusive than banana. But that’s exactly what he does.

It borders on the misanthropic, not to mention the mean-spirited, to want to deny nearly all of your fellow citizens the joy of having Christmas parties or being wished a “Merry Christmas.” The vast majority of Americans who celebrate Christmas, and who treat non-Christians so well, deserve better.

Seriously, how twisted and disgusting do you have to be to interpret a sincere and cordial expression of good will as an insult and a threat?

Dennis, read my lips: NOBODY. IS. TRYING.TO. STOP. YOU. FROM. SAYING. CHRISTMAS. If people have a “holiday party”, it’s because they’ve chosen it of their own free will. (This was supposed to be a free country, remember?) By the same token, you’re free to call it a Christmas party, and/or think of it as a Christmas party, or just stay away and throw your own damn party.

So, please say “Merry Christmas” and “Christmas party” and “Christmas vacation.” If you don’t, you’re not “inclusive.” You’re hurtful.

Hurtful??? Careful, Dennis — your fans may start calling you a snowflake. He doesn’t offer a clue, of course, about exactly how failing to say “Christmas” is hurtful. It just is because it just is.

Okay, I have a little question for Dennis Prager and others like him. I would really like an answer. Take your time and think it over — you can even wait and get back to me when the next War On Christmas starts right after Easter, if you’d like. Here’s the question: what exactly would you have me do? I’m one of those nefarious infidels who prefer “Happy Holidays”. It has a nice, alliterative ring to it. It sounds fresher and more sincere than “Merry Christmas”, which has been beaten into the ground. As a distinctly secular person, I’m not obsessed with the “true meaning” of the occasion. I respect Christmas, along with Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Bodhi Day, Lohri,  Makar Sankranti, Pancha Ganapati, Yalda, Krampusnacht, etc., etc. So should I just sweep aside my own preferences, my own values, my own identity, in order to please you?

Well, let me tell you something. I’m actually willing to accede, to an extent. I’ve been known to say “Merry Christmas” to people I know to be Christmas-crazed. (I’m more likely to say something a little less hackneyed like “Have a great Christmas”, but at least I get in the “C word”. ) So if that’s what blows up your skirt, I’ll be glad to wish you a Merry Christmas. I have just one little favor to ask in return. If I say “Merry Christmas” to you, will you say “Happy Holidays” to me? After all, the reason for the season is supposedly the birth of a Galilean guru who once said , “Love thy neighbor as thyself”. (He wouldn’t have used King James English, but that’s the gist of it.) And shouldn’t loving your neighbor include being willing to return a teensy little favor? And if you insist on framing holiday cheer as a gladiatorial undertaking, then our wishes will cancel each other out. But wait a minute. Hmmm…. couldn’t we achieve the same effect if we each just used the greeting of his or her own choice? Just a thought.

Here’s a modest proposal. Rather than constantly seeking out signs of warfare, why don’t we try walking in each other’s shoes, and see where that leads us. If someone says “Merry Christmas” to you, respond in kind. If someone says “Happy Holidays” to you, respond in kind. If you speak first, say what you feel is most appropriate. How difficult could that possibly be? How warlike? How hurtful?

When Debunkers Need Debunking (1): American Thinker

Capture

For the first in our series on media sources that pose as debunkers but desperately cry out for debunking themselves, we turn to the website American Thinker. With its respectable sounding name and its mascot of Uncle Sam emulating Rodin’s celebrated statue, American Thinker promises informed, thoughtful and insightful commentary. What it delivers is more of the same old same old. Here are, honest to Pete, some actual random titles of recent articles on the site:

California Wildfires and Environmental Radicalism

Election Slaughter for Climate Activism

Global Warming Snowed Under

Hollywood Erases Hope

Democrat(sic) Corruption Is a Clear and Present Danger to America

Florida Election Fraud’s Hidden Gun-Control Agenda

The Left Favors Global Warming

Green Energy is the Perfect Scam

Reminder: White Liberals Hate Living in Black Neighborhoods

As laughably awful as such titles are, you can be assured that the articles they accompany are only worse. (While you well might suspect that the two we’re about to examine were chosen because they represent the site at its most inane, they’re actually among the most intelligent posts appearing there!) It appears that American Thinker doesn’t do much thinking at all except about how to advance the right-wing narrative and attack “liberals” — which are really the same objective. Among other things, you’ll notice that Thinkering apparently involves an obsession with trying to discredit science. (A little hint, guys: if you want to maintain even a modicum of credibility, lay off parroting the kindergarten “skepticism” about climate change.) One article even exults that American Thinker’s beloved White House Occupant is not an “intellectual”, in quotation marks. And not surprisingly, it jumps on the right-wing’s oh-so-trendy “fake news” bandwagon, rebranding real news as fake, and vice versa.

“Fake news is whatever we say it is”

One such endeavor is authored by David Solway (one of those “former leftists” who transformed into a right-winger after having a revelation that smugness is more profitable than humanity) with a piece called A Brief History of the Fake News Media. Unfortunately, he gets so carried away with being brief that he neglects to include any actual instances of fake news. (The BBC offers a much more respectable compact history of fake news.) What he mentions instead are a couple of possible instances of spin and political distortion from decades ago. Those things happen constantly — sometimes inadvertently. And, to cite a current extremely popular right-wing defense, both sides do it.

One of his supposed milestones in the history of “fake news” is that the media in 1964 ran with the contrived Democratic narrative that Barry Goldwater was trigger-happy. That characterization was based on Goldwater’s own words, such as this pronouncement:

There is real need for the supreme commander to be able to use judgment on the use of these weapons, tactical nuclear weapons, more expeditiously than he could by telephoning the White House, and I would say that in these cases the supreme commander should be given great leeway in the decision to use them or not to use them.

Maybe it really was unfair to conclude from such remarks that he was an antsy nukehead. (Solway limits his own consideration of Goldwater’s words to a different statement that sounds even less sinister.) But that hardly qualifies as fake news. And if Solway really wants to highlight such cases of media irresponsibility, one must wonder why he makes no mention of a very similar but far worse case 36 years later: the media’s relentless complicity in the GOP’s dishonest characterization of Al Gore as a liar. That involved not only misinterpreting but willfully misquoting and mangling Gore’s utterances — many, many, many of his utterances. The only problem is, the Gore disaster does not (to make a titanic understatement) do much to support the all-important narrative of “librul bias” in the mainstream media.

He also brings up another incident from ages ago, British politician Enoch Powell’s so-called “rivers of blood speech” in 1968,  citing the supposed dangers of allowing too many immigrants into his country.  Indeed, Powell recommended allowing virtually no immigration at all, and warned of the resentment and anger among (white) citizens if the Race Relations Bill were passed into law. Some in the media expressed outrage over the apparent racist connotations of his remarks; and in Solway’s universe, that’s just another example of the librulmedia making up things out of whole cloth. (He previously defended Powell in an article called The Scourge of Multiculturalism. No, really. That’s the actual title.)

What he fails to mention is that several conservative politicians were also outraged by the speech — the Conservative leader Edward Heath even dismissed Powell from his post because of it. Furthermore, there were instances of violent racist attacks by Powell’s supporters who were egged on by the comments. Yet, by Solway’s reckoning, the less than glowing reception of that oration by the Fifth Estate illustrates that

The media are especially adept at creating villains out of whole cloth for public consumption to advance a particular and often dubious purpose. How else explain the transformation of significant political figures into synonyms for perfidy and opprobrium.

If he really believes this — and if he’s truly concerned about it — then one really, really, really must wonder why he makes no mention of a far more recent, far more protracted, far more intensive, far more dishonest, far more malicious, far more lopsided and far more catastrophic occurrence: the media’s relentless demonization of Hillary Clinton, whom they turned into… well, a synonym for perfidy and opprobrium. And guess what? That undertaking included several instances of real, actual, genuine, bona fide fake news — e.g., “Pizzagate”, Russian uranium deal, and “Hillary caused the deaths in Benghazi”. No saga in modern history illustrates more clearly the disastrous impact of fake news than the tragedy of Hillary Clinton. It would have been the perfect textbook case study for Solway’s dissertation. Except for, um, one pesky little detail: it goes strongly against the grain of the librulmedia motif. Accordingly, he makes nary a peep about it.

But his most cringeworthy moment is in asserting that Joe McCarthy got a bum rap. It’s a stark testimony to the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of many wingers (like the Thinkerers, evidently) that they try not only to rehabilitate but to canonize this execrable waste of carbon. (More about this in a future post.) Particularly since the release of the Venona papers in 1995, the McCarthyites have been crowing that Their Boy has been exonerated, vindicated and exalted. Maybe the guy went a “little overboard”, they say, but he was right about the existence of Soviet spies in the U.S.

Yes, there were indeed such spies in the Thirties and Forties (when the Soviet Union was a U.S. ally, for what it’s worth), but they’d mostly come and gone before McCarthy ever decided to exploit paranoia for his megalomaniac pastime of destroying lives and careers. McCarthy knew zilch about communists and even less about spies, yet he was obsessed with conflating the two, and trying to implicate anyone who so much as wore red socks. He was just an unprincipled opportunist hugging the spotlight and firing into the dark. Perennial Communism scholar Harvey Klehr sums it up best:

But if McCarthy was right about some of the large issues, he was wildly wrong on virtually all of the details. There is no indication that he had even a hint of the Venona decryptions, so he did not base his accusations on the information in them. Indeed, virtually none of the people that McCarthy claimed or alleged were Soviet agents turn up in Venona. He did identify a few small fry who we now know were spies but only a few. And there is little evidence that those he fingered were among the unidentified spies of Venona. Many of his claims were wildly inaccurate; his charges filled with errors of fact, misjudgments of organizations and innuendos disguised as evidence. He failed to recognize or understand the differences among genuine liberals, fellow-traveling liberals, Communist dupes, Communists and spies — distinctions that were important to make. The new information from Russian and American archives does not vindicate McCarthy. He remains a demagogue, whose wild charges actually made the fight against Communist subversion more difficult. Like Gresham’s Law, McCarthy’s allegations marginalized the accurate claims. Because his facts were so often wrong, real spies were able to hide behind the cover of being one of his victims and even persuade well-meaning but naïve people that the whole anti-communist cause was based on inaccuracies and hysteria.

These words are from a speech that was even reprinted on the rabidly right-wing site  Frontpage Mag, founded by frothy-mouthed right-winger David Horowitz, whose schizo creed is that “the political left has declared war on America and its constitutional system, and is willing to collaborate with America’s enemies abroad and criminals at home to bring America down”. And steal our precious fluids, no doubt. I repeat, even this pitiful soul has signed off on Klehr’s assessment. Note also that it was a Republican who finally stood up to McCarthy on the Senate floor. And when the Senate voted to condemn him, half of his GOP pals broke ranks to vote against him. (Do you realize what a feat it is to get even one GOPer to break ranks on anything?) And yet, we’re supposed to believe that McCarthyism is a wholesale fiction created by The Left in collaboration with their accomplices, the lamestream media.

Had them librulz really exercised such a stranglehold on the media, McCarthy would have been brought to account for his recklessness and cruelty years earlier. Yet in Solway’s universe, the media’s reporting, at long last, the truth about McCarthy is not only a specimen of fake news, but proof positive of librulbias in the media. His allegiance to the McCarthy cult probably tells you all you need to know about him. And, for that matter, all you need to know about American Thinker. Not to mention the fact that the site also defends the forty-fifth White House Occupant — it even labels as “snowflakes” those who oppose this putative president whose fragile ego and infantile whinings are the daily fodder of news and social media.

The color of welfare

Meanwhile, another frequent contributor, Sierra Rayne (a supporter of the 45th W.H.O., which is probably all  you need to know about him) tries his hand at debunking the “myth of red state welfare”.  As you may have heard, the meme has been going around (a “key liberal talking point”, as he pegs it) that “red states” — i.e., those who vote for Republican presidential candidates — are bigger welfare leeches than “blue” states — i.e., those who vote for Democratic presidential candidates. Rayne takes aim at this “myth”, but unfortunately for him, he seems to have a clumsy habit of serving up facts that debunk his own debunking efforts.

It’s really not fair, he says, to judge a state’s redness or blueness merely by how it voted in the most recent presidential election; we should look at a more long-term trend. Sounds reasonable enough. So then he posts the following table, covering percentages of votes for Democratic candidates in elections from 1980 to 2012.

Red state welfare.PNG

Trouble is, even over this three-decade span, the figures strongly corroborate the “red state welfare myth”. Of the top 10 welfare states, only two were not clearly red (New Mexico and West Virginia, which were evenly split). And of the bottom 10 welfare states, only three were not clearly blue (Nevada and Colorado were distinctly red — though they’ve been trending blue of late — while New Hampshire was evenly split).

Ah, but it’s really the numbers in those columns on the right that he wants you to focus on. Because the central point of his thesis is that the hue of a state should actually be determined by how it votes for governors and congresspersons, because… well, just because. And here, he claims, is where the red state welfare “myth” completely “falls apart”. By his reckoning, North Dakota and South Dakota should be considered blue states, even though both have gone Democratic in NONE of these presidential elections.

It isn’t terribly difficult to see that something doesn’t add up about his claims. For one thing, it results in some serious mixed messages. Mississippi (which also scored zero in favoring Democratic presidents) voted 13 percent for Democratic senators and 62 percent for Democratic representatives. So which is it? There are similar problems with Louisiana (87 percent and 45 percent) and Minnesota (35 and 62).

To his credit, Rayne himself seems to acknowledge that it’s not always easy to determine that a state is either red or blue. But again, he swats down his own argument by bringing up California. Surely just about everyone in the galaxy recognizes that the Golden State is the quintessence of azure. You know, granola crunching, war protesting, pot smoking, free love and all that groovy stuff, man. Not to mention the “Hollywood elitists”.  Yet, as he points out, California has a nasty habit of electing Republican governors, going back decades — those kooky Californians even elected a couple of those Hollywood elitists, for heaven’s sake.

Rayne’s mention of California should have clued him in that he was overlooking a very important point: voting habits are a reflection of the values that actually determine redness or blueness. And the evidence indicates that presidential choice usually reflects those values more accurately than voting patterns in other elections. The probable reasons are simple and obvious (except perhaps to Thinkerists). First, more voters participate in presidential elections. A lot more. Average voter turnout for presidential election years is about 50 percent higher than for midterm years; for other elections, it can be 200 to 300 percent higher! Furthermore, whatever the number of participants, most voters simply regard the presidential vote as the most important; thus, it’s more likely to show the true colors of the electorate. And voters probably are more likely to cross the aisle when they feel there’s less at stake.

In trying to pull a gotcha on them librulz for cherry picking, Rayne does some major cherry picking himself. Just another day in the life of a Thinkererer. For all its pseudointellectual posturing, American Thinker clearly exists for the same purpose as other right-wing propaganda outlets: to promote anti-intellectualism and bigotry.

Another Visit to Prager Universe

SPLC

America is absolutely dumbing itself to death. And the fact that many people take seriously these videos that offer predigested ideological snake oil is both a symptom and a cause of that demise. 

So concluded my initial commentary on PragerU. But in fairness, we should add that its videos aren’t all bad. By the “broken clock” principle, they do occasionally get things right, out of sheer dumb luck if nothing else. One video, for instance, asks the question, “Was the Civil War About Slavery?”. And it’s a pleasant surprise to see that the presenter actually presents the right answer — particularly since it’s an answer that is at loggerheads with the mythology of much of the neo-Confederate movement that forms a large chunk of the right-wing constituency. But then, this presenter is an individual apparently having a bit of actual expertise on the topic, as opposed to the usual round of instant “experts” by virtue of ideological conviction.

But this appears to be an anomaly. I have watched at least two dozen more of these videos, and all of them have problems large and/or small. Most are quite repugnant, and a few are downright odoriferous. All are designed to advance the right-wing worldview that up is down, black is white, ignorance is knowledge, war is peace, freedom is slavery, hate is love, and it’s turtles all the way down.  And above all, of course that “liberalism” is evil, and them librulz are the real enemy. In one video, Prager attempts to draw a distinction between “liberals” and “leftists”, and to insist that it’s really the latter who are the threat. He is unconvincing on all counts.

Intolerance of intolerance of intolerance

He isn’t the only one to resort to such shenanigans. One video asks who is really tolerant, and you don’t have to be a Nostradamus to predict where this train is headed: them librulz love to preach about tolerance but don’t know how to practice it.  The usual narrative you hear, over and over, is that “the left” is hostile toward anyone who “disagrees” with them. What you don’t hear so often is that these “disagreements” frequently concern such things as neo-Nazism, homophobia, police killing African-Americans without cause, and dishonest propaganda demeaning refugees from “shithole countries”.

To make this particular presentation more convincing, its mouthpiece is himself a supposed liberal: Dave Rubin, who though calling himself a liberal, denounces progressives and “the left”.  He seems to be rather murky about labels and indeed about his own convictions. (He even calls Ben Shapiro a “mainstream conservative”.) In fact, he seems rather confused about a lot of things. But one thing he has a very good handle on is how to invoke straw men:

If you believe we should judge people on the content of their character and not the color of their skin, the left calls you “racist.” If you believe that America is a nation of immigrants, but that our country should also protect its borders, the left calls you a “xenophobe.” If you believe that men and women are equal but fundamentally different, the left calls you “sexist.”

See the previous post on Prager Universe for more about racism, sexism and “protecting our borders”. Rubin is also quite adept at false equivalence.

Your dad might have voted for [the Forty-Fifth White House Occupant], your mom might have voted for Clinton, and your brother may not have voted at all.

Including, of course, the biggest false equivalence of all: that calling out bigotry is itself bigotry. In fact, the narrative constantly pursued by Rubin, Prager, Shapiro and their ilk is that intolerance of intolerance/ bigotry is even more intolerant and bigoted than intolerance and bigotry themselves. Right-wing logic is its own unique species.

After citing a few cases of what he considers intolerance by the left, Rubin insists that “these are not isolated examples”.  Well yes, by definition, that’s exactly what they are. Even if you assume that all of the anecdotes are perfectly accurate and valid, they’re still just a few examples, out of gazillions of times “the left” interacts with others toward whom they’re supposedly totally intolerant.  This is a very common tactic among polemicists: citing a few specific incidents and (often after tweaking and distorting them) claiming that they prove a general observation. Extrapolation and generalization.

If you want to make a solid argument that one group is more intolerant than another, you’ll need to do more than pile on anecdotes. You’ll need some kind of comprehensive study or, at the very least, a compendium of actions committed or sanctioned by an entire movement.  A liberal may express disapproval toward someone who wants to outlaw gay marriage; but a conservative often wants to outlaw gay marriage. Even if you believe that the former is more intolerant than the latter, the fact is you’re still just talking about individuals, no matter how many of them you may be able to dredge up. But conservatives, collectively and officially, have actually tried to pass laws that discriminate against gays. If you think that protesting against such efforts is more intolerant than passing those laws, you have a problem I can’t cure.

Yet it’s really conservatives, not liberals, Rubin insists, who are the tolerant ones. Scroll down to the comments section below his video, and you’ll see just how “tolerant” they’re capable of being. For that matter, Prager Universe itself exists for the purpose of smearing, attacking and belittling “the left” by any devious means necessary. Just how tolerant is that?

Hate against hate of hate

In the same vein, another video from one of PragerU’s “credible thinkers”, Karl Zinsmeister, attacks the Southern Poverty Law Center, which keeps tabs on hate groups, and he declares that by doing so, SPLC is itself a hate group. Right-wing logic lives on its own planet.

One of this presenter’s criticisms is that SPLC just does its job too dang thoroughly. Its website lists — gasp — 917 separate hate groups in the U.S. Most of these, he complains, are tiny little factions nobody has heard of — which evidently is supposed to make them less hateful. It doesn’t seem to occur to him that there could be a great deal of overlap among these tiny groups and larger, more powerful groups; or that the very presence of so many groups, even if tiny, is an indicator of an alarmingly widespread culture of hate.

Zinsmeister mentions two individuals that SPLC has exposed as hatemongers, and tries to paint them as respectable, constructive activists — without mentioning the (well documented) reasons SPLC has for singling them out as dangerous extremists. He also glosses over the Tea Party’s delusional and toxic rhetoric, particularly toward President Obama, and retools the group as a benevolent coalition of folks who are just “wary of centralized government”.  And he gives a drastically flattering makeover to Alliance Defending Freedom, which he characterizes as a benign “charity”, though it in fact exists largely to advance discrimination against gays, both at home and abroad.  All he’d need to do to get a concept of ADF’s dishonest smears would be to check its website, which scurrilously declares that gay activists are “opponents of marriage” who

will not stop at removing the foundation of civilization. They will redesign society at the cost of your religious freedom.

So apparently, intolerance and bigotry don’t qualify as hate. But calling them out does. At least in the Prager Universe.

He also points to an incident at a college in Vermont in which right-wing radical Charles Murray

was violently attacked by protesters inflamed by the SPLC’s labeling of him as a racist. A professor escorting Murray ended up in the hospital.

To say that he was “violently attacked” is just a wee bit of an exaggeration. Though many students gave him a hearty unwelcome, only a handful of “protesters” got out of hand; many of them were masked, and it’s not even clear that they were students or why they were there. The professor who “ended up in the hospital” — i.e., went to get examined after a minor injury — was one of those nefarious “liberal professors” who supposedly are stirring up troublemakers like the protesters. In any case, to pin their actions on SPLC is dumb and inexcusable; Murray’s racist history has been reported by many people for years.

Likewise irresponsible is Zinsmeister’s evocation of a 2012 incident in which a gunman tried to shoot up the headquarters of the hate group called Family Research Council. Yes, the gunman specifically claimed that he was motivated by Southern Poverty Law Center’s exposure of FRC. But then the deranged gunman who shot Ronald Reagan claimed that he was motivated by Jodie Foster. Is she a hate group too?

Any deranged gunman can claim that he draws his inspiration from anywhere. But in determining whether an organization is a hate group we have to apply certain criteria: (a) Does the group actively incite violence or harassment? (b) Does the group lie or twist facts to smear its targets? (c) Does the group target entire demographic groups based on who they are rather than what they do?  Zinsmeister hasn’t presented a shred of evidence that Southern Poverty Law Center does any of these things. But the organizations and individuals called out by SPLC all do at least one, and many do all — as does the puerile putative president whose posterior Prager persists in puckering up to.

Incidentally, Southern Poverty Law Center decries PragerU itself as a hate group. And its argument is much more convincing.

Zinsmeister professes to be a champion of “(r)igorous debate, honest discussion, open exchange of ideas”. But PragerU itself is more candid (albeit unwittingly so) about playing its true hand, at least in its marketing campaign. One ad asks prospective cult members if they are tired of the “fake news” provided by the “leftist mainstream media”. Wow, that’s a double whammy if not a triple or quadruple whammy. Not only is Prager Universe advancing and exploiting the myth of “liberal bias” in the media, it’s tapping into the cult meme that any information you don’t want to hear is “fake news”.

No website governed by sanity and decency would ever think of resorting to parroting the reckless and delusional soundbites of a deranged megalomaniac dictator. But PragerU knows its audience. They are people who live to disparage liberals/leftists/ progressives — anyone who doesn’t concur with their ideology. And they don’t care what kind of dog shit they wallow in while doing so.

The Curse Of Reductionism

Whole

Chances are you’re not particularly interested in reading a book that might tell you your diet is killing you. After all, we tend to pick our foods based on what we like rather than what likes us; moreover, we form a strong emotional bond to what we eat — that’s one reason it’s so hard for some people to lose weight. But while the primary purpose of the book Whole by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. is to advocate for a whole foods plant-based diet (based on half a century of cutting-edge research), you might find it worth reading even if you have no intention of ever altering your grazing habits one crumb. Because more broadly, the book is also a searing indictment of reductionism, which long has plagued civilization in many different ways.

Not that it’s consistently a bad thing. Loosely defined, reductionism means substituting a simpler system for a more complex system. That can sometimes be rather useful. Pidgin English, for instance, can facilitate communication with individuals of limited English comprehension. There are also philosophical concepts of reductionism that may have merit, though they are the subject of debate.

But this book addresses a particular kind of reductionism, one that long has been the bane of progress and of civilization itself: the use of a limited set of facts, perceptions and concepts to dominate a worldview. Or, in other words, the use of a part to replace the whole.

A simple example mentioned in the book from the field of nutrition involves the popularity of vitamin-mineral supplements. Scientists have identified certain elements in certain foods, and certain benefits they provide the body. But those ingredients work in perfectly calibrated conjunction with all the other elements in those foods; if we isolate them, we cannot expect them to provide the full benefit. Taking a vitamin C capsule may be better than nothing, but it’s just not the same as eating an orange.

And it’s not just nutrition; healthcare as a whole is hobbled by reductionism, at least in the United States. As Dr. Campbell comments, American healthcare would be more properly called American disease care, because it’s geared to treating specific symptoms of specific ailments rather than considering all of the body’s systems in conjunction with each other, and focusing on how they should function rather than on how they shouldn’t. In recent years, holistic medicine has made some inroads into the American medical establishment, but it still has a way to go before it moves out of the shadow of stereotypical New Age perceptions.

And it isn’t just nutrition and medicine. Science in general, Dr. Campbell points out, has its neck stuck under the iron boot of reductionism. And the primary reason is that in the U.S., science is driven by the same force that drives everything else: the profit motive. Scientific research in America tends to get funded by corporations that stand to benefit from a particular result. Dr. Campbell’s findings met with a great deal of resistance because myths about nutrition have become deeply ingrained in the American psyche; most people still believe, for instance, that drinking milk is essential to develop strong bones — a notion heavily promoted by the powerful dairy lobby through that pervasive and persuasive propaganda channel known as advertising.

This does not mean that scientists are dishonest or that scientific research is totally unreliable or that the cult of anti-science is correct to discard findings about climate science, evolution or any other topic. (More about this in a future discussion of the ideological assault on science.) Scientists, Dr. Campbell hastens to add, generally do the best they can under the circumstances; it’s just that they have to work within the confines of the American reductionist paradigm.

(Another recent book on nutrition and health, Eat Dirt by Dr. Josh Axe, details how Americans’ reductionist obsession with over-sanitization has weakened our body’s defenses and actually left us more susceptible to disease.)

And it isn’t just in matters of nutrition, medicine or science. Reductionism saturates, and often dominates, virtually every aspect of our lives. Religion, particularly of the fundamentalist flavor, is distinctly reductionist. People often zero in on particular passages from the Bible (or whatever their manual is) without putting them in context. Moreover, they often take such passages very literally, even if they were not intended literally.

And what is most likely to draw the public into the cinema to see a particular film? Almost everyone knows the answer to that: it’s the stars. Not the premise. Not the script or story. Not the directing. Not the cinematography. Not the scenery. And most certainly not the film as a comprehensive unit. Just the stars.

Government policy has been reduced to short-sighted measures to satisfy ideological beliefs and emotional responses to issues, without regard to the actual results and consequences of those policies. Excellent examples are abortion, capital punishment and immigration. Politics long ago was reduced to a matter of hyperpartisan one-upmanship, particularly on the right. Liberals generally realize that a healthily functioning society can benefit from both liberalism and conservatism; conservatives have become convinced that the eagle can fly with only one wing, and so the other one should be lopped off.  And conservatism, indeed political discourse in general, has been reduced even further to slogans and soundbites. “Make America Great Again”. “America First”. “Protect Our Borders”.

Imagine a hypothetical scenario (and it really isn’t that hypothetical, being a situation I actually encountered years ago) in which a major city has, say, 40 branches of its public library; but then because of budget cuts, yada yada yada, it decides that 2 or 3 of these must be closed. When you hear the announcement of which branches have drawn the short straw, it becomes clear how the decision probably was made: bureaucrats sitting in a comfortable office somewhere just looked at a map and picked out which branches are closest to other branches, and figured these could be sacrificed at no great loss. No consideration of what unique services and features those branches offered, or what unique populations they serviced. A drastic decision reduced to a matter of pure geography. In this scenario, reductionism determines not only the implementation but the evaluation of policy.

Media reporting on such matters is, I surely don’t have to tell you, drastically reductionist. News events are reduced to headlines, which are almost always woefully inadequate, quite often misleading, and sometimes even deliberately manipulated. Look at these two different versions of the same issue of Wall Street Journal.

WSJ

This appears to be a deliberate attempt at manipulation, and there’s even a claim on social media that these headlines were chosen to appeal to different markets in different parts of the country. In fact, they were printed at different times of the day, and supposedly reflect changing developments. What’s true in any case is that much more is needed than the headline; yet that tends to be the only thing people remember.

And social media? Lordy lordy, what a slavering orgy of reductionism. Of course, the rumors and allegations circulated on social media have many, many problems — quite often, they’re just made up out of whole cloth. But even when they get their facts straight, those facts are quite often very incomplete and present a totally distorted picture. A classic example is one of the rumors about the Clinton Foundation. I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating because it’s such a textbook example and it’s STILL being circulated.

The story goes like this: the Clinton Foundation gives out only 5 percent of its proceeds in grants. Therefore, the other 95 percent obviously goes to line the pockets of the crooked Clintons.  The central fact of this rumor is almost accurate: the organization gives out 6 percent of its proceeds in grants, which is close enough to 5 to give a pass to the rumormongers on that point. The problem is this is not the whole story. The Clinton Foundation (which despite its name is not really a foundation at all, but a 501c3 charity) is not in business to give grants to other organizations. It’s in business to perform charitable services directly, which it does quite efficiently — earning the highest ratings from charity watchdogs year after year. The 6 percent for grants is in addition to this. And all of the Clintons volunteer their time to the organization without receiving a cent.

Albert Einstein is credited with saying that “everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler”. Or words to that effect. Buckminster Fuller went even further, suggesting that overspecialization leads to extinction. He apparently was not referring to ordinary specialization; as Dr. Campbell emphasizes in Whole, specialization in its proper place is vital; we need heart surgeons and dermatologists just as surely as we need general practitioners. The problem occurs when specialization is not put in proper perspective. It may not always be true that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but it’s certainly true that the whole is greater than any one part.

It’s hyperbolic to declare the imminent collapse of civilization — a warming that’s been issued for millennia — but civilization does take occasional backward steps. And nations do indeed collapse. It’s hard not to imagine that such an eventuality is quite possible when vital parts of the social construct are being removed or ignored.