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.

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?

Welcome to Prager Universe

Prager

There is certainly no shortage of right-wing propaganda machines out there these days. It seems like they keep cropping up like mushrooms on a dung heap. Why not– they’re highly profitable. One that has been in my face quite a bit lately, though it has been around since 2011, is the so-called Prager University (PragerU), which has nothing to do with any university or academic accreditation. It’s the brain fart — oops, brain child — of Dennis Prager, who many years ago seemed to be perhaps just maybe one of the few sane and rational members of the right-wing punditocracy, even bordering on being a genuine conservative. But clearly, those days are long gone, and he’s now gone full-fledged winger. Why not– it’s much more profitable. And hey, he’s a radio talk show host, so he’s here to save ya.

PragerU creates 5-minute videos purported to be educational and informative, an “effective counter to the Leftist indoctrination imposed by schools and universities”, as its website boasts. Have no fear, dittoheads; if you don’t like what they teach at real universities, you can always find alternative facts more to your liking at a fake university. And it only takes 5 minutes. The site also advocates “Americanism” (read: reactionary jingoism) as well as “the Judeo-Christian values on which America is founded” (I’m guessing Prager buys into the myth of a “Christian nation”) and “the rational case for God’s existence“. Lunch not included.

What the videos actually do is recycle the same inane right-wing myths, soundbites and talking points you hear in many, many other media outlets. With a heady mixture of straw men, red herrings, cherry picking, false equivalence, spin, framing, distortion and outright lies, PragerU weaves an alternate universe for its compliant fan base that, coincidentally, is pretty much identical to the alternate universe inhabited by Fox “News” et al.

It’s a Bizarro dimension in which there is a constitutional right to own guns, global warming is a hoax, politicians and pundits know more about science than scientists do, racial bias is an illusion and”liberal biasdominates the media.  And of course, there’s the occasional obligatory jab at socialism and communism, which many reactionaries think are the same as liberalism, being incapable of keeping their isms straight. PragerU, like other right-wing propaganda organs, spouts a lot of things that you’re supposed to believe because you’re just supposed to believe. It’s even regurgitated the silly and tired narrative that because the Democratic Party of yesteryear championed slavery and segregation, that must mean the Democratic Party of today (which bears little resemblance save the name) must be more racist than the GOP — which left Lincoln in the dust many decades ago.

Prager himself delivers some of the lectures; in one video he proclaims that the only real question about abortion is whether or not it’s moral — a red herring the size of Moby Dick that we’ve already examined. (Cliff’s Notes: the real question about abortion is how to prevent it. It ain’t by outlawing it.) In another, he asks whether the death penalty is moral, which is also not the right question, at least based on his limited criteria for morality; and even if it’s moral to kill someone that doesn’t make it automatically less moral not to. But he just defends the death penalty simply because he believes some people deserve to die, and that this should be the overriding consideration regardless of the ramifications and consequences of such a policy. In another, he weighs in on the idiotic contrived controversy known as the War On Christmas, and offers a simple solution: “just say Merry Christmas”, That keeps the arrogant Christians happy, which is all that matters.

In yet another clip, he bemoans how leftists are trying to impose “European values” on American society, and suggests that they are (by some arcane process he doesn’t get around to explaining) utterly incompatible with American values. In particular, he insists that the European value of equality is, somehow or other, incompatible with the American value of Liberty.

Whipping up white nationalism

PragerU’s “credible, and often well known thinkers” (as the site touts) include the unhinged Michelle Malkin, who seems obsessed with keeping foreigners (like her own parents) out of her precious country. Her PragerU video on immigration is so dishonest and inaccurate (not to mention tasteless) that it was panned even by the conservative “think tank” The Cato Institute. See Cato’s review for an accounting of her misinformation, in presenting which she says:

It’s not hateful to protect our borders. It’s not hateful to protect our citizens. It’s not hateful to protect our values.-

Well yeah, actually it sort of is hateful to suggest that immigrants are a threat to our citizens or our values. What exactly are we supposed to be protecting our citizens and values from, Michelle? Contamination by inferior races and cultures? And “protect our borders” is a meaningless bullshit soundbite that is being wielded constantly to whip up xenophobia and white nationalist sentiment.

Have you ever heard of anyone actually attacking a border? And if someone actually did, would the border shatter like delicate crystal? A border is merely an imaginary and arbitrary line in the dirt. On one side you have Us and on the other you have Them. Sometimes, some of Them try to cross over and become Us — that’s how most of Us got here in the first place. And contrary to what the Protect Our Borders Brigade would have you believe, there is (and long has been) a rather strong and complex (if not Kafkaesque) web of regulation in place to determine who makes that red rover maneuver and how.

Of course, some people do slip through that web and become “illegals” — either by crossing the imaginary and arbitrary line without authorization from Us or by coming across by invite and then failing to return. But contrary to persistent spin, this is not a major problem; “illegal” immigration is not a crisis, and “illegal” immigrants are not a threat. In fact, they make a net positive contribution to the U.S.A., improving the quality of life for all of us by just about any metric.  They are generally hardworking, responsible family people who commit considerably less crime than U.S. citizens. (More on this topic in a future discussion of immigration myths.)

But suppose we choose not to believe such facts. Hey, we do have a universe of alternative facts at our fingertips after all. Suppose we choose to believe instead that “illegal” immigration is a major problem that must be dealt with as a top priority. Guess what? It’s entirely possible to handle it with honesty, integrity and responsibility — and without sinking millions into a goddamn wall.  There is no excuse for cruelly ripping apart families. There is no excuse for singling out those few immigrants who commit crimes and touting them as typical of the lot. There is absolutely no excuse for the kind of malicious and evil lies about the brown menace from south of the border being spread by the 45th White House occupant and his enablers. And note, by the way, that it is indeed Mexican immigrants that are supposedly causing the supposed crisis, even though their numbers have actually diminished during the past few years. You rarely if ever hear about the (mostly white) “illegals” from Europe.

Further extolling the right-wing mantra of “I got mine, so up yours”, the stunningly vacuous Fox “News” mouthpiece Candace Owens, who seems determined to advance the cause of racial equality by demonstrating that African-Americans can be as clueless and naive as anyone, presents herself as a “credible thinker” on matters of race, because after all, she has one. She’s previously declared that she believes blacks have been brainwashed to vote Democratic — isn’t it racist to suggest that an entire ethnic group is gullible? Further attesting to her bigotry, she has admitted that she “became a conservative overnight” because of online harassment that she blamed, without evidence, on a few progressives.

In a masturbatory video on the subject of race, she flaunts her achievements despite coming from a background of struggle (growing up in the jerkwater burg of Stamford, Connecticut) and insists that she never once played the “black card”, which she acknowledges is imaginary. (Really? Can she be certain that she wouldn’t be on Fox if it didn’t need a female black token? She certainly wasn’t hired for her intellect or expertise.) But this imaginary black card, she proclaims, is played by her fellow African-Americans all over the country, and nets them all kinds of special privileges. Damn, I wish I had a black card myself, so I too could be reported as suspicious by neighbors, shot at by vigilantes and beaten by police.

(In the same vein, another black presenter recommends treating blacks just like anyone else, which certainly sounds like a reasonable suggestion. But she also equates, like Owens, efforts to understand and eliminate the factors that lead to rioting with excusing violent and destructive behavior itself. And she insists we shouldn’t be too concerned about white supremacists because there aren’t that many of them, and they aren’t in positions of power. Yes, she actually said this.)

Just how exactly does one play this “black card”, anyway? Well, Owens, um… doesn’t exactly say. (Maybe you need the PragerU graduate level 10-minute video to get such niggling details.) But if the “black card” cancels out the “black tax”,  that sounds an awful lot like creating a level playing field rather than conferring black privilege. And who exactly is playing this card? Well, dang it, she’s not awfully clear about that, either. Except that she does single out Cornel West and Al Sharpton. Which doesn’t do a hell of a lot to buttress her implication that the “black card” is a device employed by slackers and moochers.

Whatever one may think of the work done by Dr. West or Rev. Sharpton, it’s hard for even a Candace Owens to deny that they have indeed worked, long and hard, to get where they are. So just how are they trying to “game the system”? (And is anyone, especially a person with dark skin, so sheltered as to be unaware that the system is gamed already?) By addressing racial bias and injustice? Does Owens believe that all black folks who address racial bias and injustice are just looking for a handout? What about us white folks who do it? What about the civil rights workers, white and black, who risked and even lost their lives so her smug ass could vote? Yes, things have changed since then. But if you believe racial inequity is a thing of the past, you’re living in cloud cuckoo land. Otherwise known as Prager Universe.

Pumping up the Patriarchy

Not only does PragerU champion white nationalism (sometimes with the aid of non-white shills) and Christian theocracy (sometimes with the aid of non-Christian shills, like Prager himself), it also champions patriarchalism  (sometimes with the aid of non-male shills). Accordingly, one video by  one Andrew Klavan “explains how feminism is a mean-spirited, small-minded and oppressive philosophy”. Hey feminists, were you aware that you’re philosophers? And that your philosophy is oppressing… well, someone. To make this point, the video has a cutesy cartoon of a presumed feminist wearing a pussy hat (Don’t all of us feminists do that?) and playing a game of “whack-a-man” (seriously) and then whack-a-mother-holding-a-baby. Isn’t that what feminism is all about? Smacking down men, and smacking down women who are content with staying barefoot and pregnant? And sporting pudenda on your head, of course.

Dissecting this utter waste of pixels exhaustively would require devoting far more space to it than it deserves. Virtually everything in it is either wrong, irrelevant, or just plain WTF. (Did you know that Rosie the Riveter would lose an arm-wrestling match to a man of comparable physique? Don’t tell me you don’t learn anything from these videos.) But one thing we might mention (and then forget about) is that he cherry picks a single verse in the Bible to make the claim that Christianity has been responsible for the progress that women in the Western World have made toward equality. All together now, scratch heads and roll eyes.

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that Klavan doesn’t really define his conception of feminism at all; he just tells you that he hates it and that it’s bad. He just tells you that it

can poison relations between the sexes—relations which, for most of us, provide some of life’s deepest pleasures and consolations.

Which I suppose must mean, guys, that if you let your woman fill her pretty little head with all that equality and liberation garbage, she might not put out on demand. The closest he comes to a (Prager Universe) definition, which he calls “feminist mythology”, is this:

…that men have oppressed women, and now must be suppressed in their turn, to even things out.

The first component of this “mythology” is intractably true. The second part is a straw man big enough for a bonfire. And the mere fact that some people regard the elimination of male dominance as emasculation is in itself very telling.  Sorry, Andrew, but real men do not feel threatened by strong women. In fact, encountering rock-hard women often makes men rock-hard themselves, if you know what I mean.

It’s also telling that Klavan regards feminism as a call to “abandon femininity” — as if the (male-created) archetype of femininity (dainty, helpless and dependent on men) should be the gold standard to which all females aspire. There’s no problem with women wearing pearls and high heels to the opera if they wish. There’d be a problem with men expecting them to wear them while doing housework. In fact, it’s a problem automatically expecting them to do housework at all. And here we have the two biggest actual myths about feminism: that it entails “attacking men” and that it entails women trying to become like men. It’s an interesting double contradiction: girl power is supposedly hating men, yet wanting to be like them and less like girls.

Klavan seems blissfully unaware that many feminists are in fact…ahem… men. And that without feminism, women wouldn’t be able to vote. (Even worse, he probably realizes the latter fully well, yet still condemns it.) He also seems not to realize that there are many different varieties of feminism. So many, in fact, that it’s just possible an occasional feminist or two might actually lean slightly toward the kind of behavior he excoriates. But to paint all feminism and all feminists with such a mile-wide brush is dishonest, irresponsible and inexcusable.

He is aided and abetted by a non-male shill named Allie Stuckey, who addresses, however fleetingly, the problem of “toxic masculinity”. That’s a concept that’s been batted around quite a bit lately because of all the mass shootings. Virtually all mass shooters (only one exception comes to mind) have been men. Nearly all terrorists are men.  At least 75 percent of violent crimes are committed by males — even though they don’t get PMS. Coincidentally, many of these killers and attackers have a history of domestic abuse or other manifestations of misogyny. Thus the coining of the term “toxic masculinity” to describe a form of obsessive male dominance that is linked to violence. Good thing Stuckey is discussing it, eh?

Except that she really isn’t. Very near the beginning, she pulls a big switcheroo, declaring that those who complain about toxic masculinity are suggesting that the solution is to

make men less toxic. Make men less masculine. Make men more like women.

She doesn’t seem to realize that toxic and masculinity are two separate words expressing two different concepts. Indeed, perhaps the real problem is that so many people just assume the two must be irrevocably linked. As Stuckey herself says

Aggression, violence, and unbridled ambition can’t be eliminated from the male psyche

Or, as some people say whenever a sexual predator is exposed, boys will be boys. They don’t seem to be aware that it’s perfectly possible for boys to be boys without being Kavanaugh-holes about it.

Stuckey conflates many things here that shouldn’t be conflated: toxic with masculine, masculine with aggressive and violent, masculinity with responsible behavior among men,  masculinity with leadership, non-aggressiveness with weakness, and an effort (however misguided at times) to reduce schoolyard aggression with emasculation. And on and on. She even laments that this supposed sissification of America is a major crisis. Almost as big as immigration, no doubt.

The growing problem in today’s society isn’t that men are too masculine; it’s that they’re not masculine enough.

So pop open another brewski, guys, and settle back to watch the Super Bowl. While your woman cleans house in her pearls and high heels. Like the other speakers mentioned here –and indeed like all too many right-wingers — Stuckey is “thinking” in silly and useless stereotypes. She even attributes the number of broken homes in America to men not being manly enough, and even quotes, I kid you not, Barack Obama stating how important it is for kids to have a father figure.

Even when she gets something right (women want “strong, responsible men”), it’s not particularly relevant to her supposed thesis – nobody’s trying to deprive either women or men of that attraction. And sometimes she says things that constitute (unwittingly) an affirmation of the narrative about toxic masculinity that she is trying to discredit (we need better men rather than less masculine men).

Listen up, Ally: masculine is not the same as toxic. Strong and decisive are not the same as aggressive. Masculinity is not the same as male dominance. The architects of civilization have been strong, decisive, and often very masculine men. But they’ve also tended to be the kind of men that many would regard as wusses because they weren’t absolute dicks. They have included artists, scientists, philosophers, scholars and even sometimes clergymen. Meanwhile, the aggressive, male dominant Kavanaugh-holes have worked hard to destroy the civilization the others have built, by raping, pillaging, burning, bombing and genocide.

Some of the architects of civilization, by the way, have been (secretly) gay. What does that do for your premise? Additionally, women have made their contributions too, even though they were held down by male-dominated culture. (And all too often, men have taken credit for their achievements.) What might civilization have accomplished by now, had it not been under the influence of one long testosterone orgy?

We’ve come a long way, baby — and it has not involved “feminizing” men or “devaluing” masculinity. But the fact that whenever a woman speaks up about sexual abuse, she is invariably treated like the criminal, is a good indication that toxic masculinity is very much a problem. And the fact that the most powerful office in the world is currently occupied by a misogynistic pussy grabber who is enthusiastically cheered on by millions of people, is a good indication that feminism still has a long way to go. It does not help matters any to brush aside problems like these with glib straw men.

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.