Why Glenn Beck is dangerous

17 Jun

Thought processes are like mental pathways that become better established the more often we are exposed to and follow along with the same reasoning, and our actions are ultimately the result of our thought processes.

Spending time in an environment that emphasizes and rewards diplomatic relations, active acknowledgement of shortcomings when it comes to evidence and open and honest intellectual exchange with the goal of arriving together at a more complete understanding of the physical universe is likely to cause a person to seek and apply that type of discourse in other parts of their lives as well.

Spending time in an environment where the most common reflexive reaction to disagreements is ad hominem attacks, where the rules and evidence are long established, unchanging and indisputable and the power to wield influence is more strongly proportional to the passion of the presentation than the dispassionate, objective evaluation of evidence is likely to cause a person to seek and apply that type of discourse in other parts of their lives as well.

That is why it is important to be aware of what we pay attention to and the effects that exposure to different intellectual environments can have. It affects whether we see the world as black and white, as shades of gray, as the visible spectrum of color or as the entire electromagnetic spectrum.

Understanding this is a prerequisite to being able to understand why people like Glenn Beck are dangerous. Beck appeals to the sensibility of those who want the world to be a simpler place, those who prefer true/false questions and those who think statements such as “If you aren’t with us you are against us” are an admirable form of statesmanship. Public figures such as Beck, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann are the poster children for a form of lowest-common-denominator populism. A way of thinking that obviates any need for nuanced and objective examination of facts or comparison of alternatives. A mental landscape where belief, passion and populism trump understanding, dispassionate reasoning and compassion.

The intellectual path welcomes honest challenge as a way to improve understanding and processes. It is not afraid to re-examine beliefs in the light of new evidence. It seeks to create a better mousetrap and to find a better way to skin the cat. The idea is that a more complete understanding of the physical universe and the human condition can provide a stronger foundation upon which to base decisions of collective and individual importance. It can be aware of the demonstrated failures of socialism while freely acknowledging the demonstrated need for certain controls on capitalism. It recognizes the overwhelming drive of rational self-interest and searches for the best balance of governing principles that will allow all to create the best lives for themselves without doing so at the cost of the freedoms or potential for self-actualization of others.

That vision of the future recognizes that the collected wisdom of our past is a foundation upon which to build, not a final design specification that can never be improved upon. It recognizes the historically evolution of the roles of mysticism, organized religion and scientific inquiry and seeks to create a construct for cultural co-existence that can be respectful of what we believe while at the same time being realistic about what we know.

The mindset of the Modern Fundamentalist Constitutionalist seeks to simplify all political, social and economic questions in the extreme, actively rejecting the possibility of new solutions to new challenges. It would replace nuanced rational examination of the facts with ideologically reflexive action, no matter how ill-suited said action might be to the situation at hand or how much it might actually conflict with any higher purpose. The mindset can in some ways be likened with a reach back to authoritarian tribalism, where many derived comfort from the steady presence of a guiding hand, never being called upon to think on their own or to be responsible for their own actions in a wider context.

The safety of not needing to think on one’s own because all of the difficult decisions have already been made is the cradle of intolerance, not democracy. The same primitive fundamentalist urge that rejects the right for homosexuals to marry in California puts women in burqas and destroys historical treasures in Afghanistan.  It divides the human race into us and them rather than combining our intellects and resources to address our common challenges. It defines the decisions of the present exclusively in terms of the principals of the past rather than including a deep awareness of the past into discussions of the future.

The fundamentalist urge seeks to make the future more like the past, while the intellectual seeks to learn from the past to make the future better. The fundamentalist seeks to remove the intellectual from the scene altogether, while the intellectual recognizes the right of the fundamentalist to exist and seeks to achieve a more common understanding.

Enough ranting for now. I need to watch some Jon Stewart to restore my hope.


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