Friday, February 10, 2012

How to Lie with Facts: Christian "Historian" David Barton's Tour of the U.S. Capitol

Why are these people crying? Can you help me understand?

These Internets are great fun.

[Speaking of which, I have a piece up at Alternet where I break down the role of white victimology in the Republican Party, please do check it out. The white racialist crowd have already given me some shine so it should be fun.]

While watching the exegesis for Jon McNaughton's painting "The Forgotten Man," I toured around some of the other videos that Youtube suggested I may find of interest.

In doing so I stumbled upon snake oil Christian approved "historian" David Barton's tour of the U.S. Capital Building. As I pointed out earlier, one of the primary challenges facing the United States in the Age of Obama is the alternative knowledge system created by the propagandists on the Right. When you cannot even agree on the terms of reality, it is increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to advance policy goals which serve the common good.

"The Forgotten Man" and David Barton are part of a larger system of "knowledge" that finds strength precisely to the degree that its critics marshal empirical reality to critique it. Of course, this is largely a function of confirmation bias, mixed with a sense of persecution, and the paranoid style all mixed up in the Fox News Right-wing echo chamber.

Yet, I remain befuddled by the emotion, the tears, the crying, and the pathos on display in this video (as well as in the excellent documentary Right America Feeling Wronged). Politics is about emotion; but the devotion of many conservative populists to these fictions is ecstatic, bordering religious ecstasy. The Tea Party GOP's folding of evangelicals and the solid south into the Republican Party involved legitimizing faith and the revelatory experience as a type of evidence on par with empirical reality. This bargain brought with it electoral gains, it was also a type of Faustian bargain that drove out the more moderate, reasonable, and grounded voices from the party.

Watching Barton's carnival show, and the interviews with those who paid money to attend a tour led by a professional charlatan and liar (of course they have to have a few obligatory black folks in the crowd) reminded me of an article I read in one of my religious studies classes years ago. An anthropologist had gone to a series of Christian evangelical tent revivals throughout the South and the Midwest. He was particularly interested in the gender dynamics at these events, how they related to the broader public sphere, and the phenomena of speaking in tongues and people "getting the spirit."

After watching women fall out and writhe about on the ground (apparently possessed by a godly presence), he interviewed them. The researcher later realized that their behavior, movements, and answers to his questions suggested that they were in an orgasmic state of bliss. It would seem that there were some solid reasons for why these women--often in sexually unsatisfying relationships with their husbands--would attend these church revivals every evening.

Perhaps, this is part of the allure for the Right-wing faithful who would follow a Barton, Beck, Limbaugh, or attend an event like CPAC? By definition, they are outliers (most folks are not that "plugged into" politics, nor would they attend a rally or meeting) seeking a sense of community, identity, validation, and meaning. Participating in politics with like minded people also gives one a sense of belonging. But, could the allure of the this type of fire-eating, populist conservatism also be the visceral thrill that runs up the participants' legs as they are given access to secret knowledge, and are "saved," made one of "the elect," and find "salvation?"

Ultimately, the opinion leaders in the popular conservative media are (with few exceptions) professional liars. But, I have a special appreciation for faux intellectuals like David Barton. I admire a good con artist; I find mastery of craft impressive. More specifically, he reminds me of my favorite villain, Senator Palpatine from the Star Wars trilogies. The genius of that character is how he never lies. Everything Palpatine tells young Anakin is a fact. However, those "facts" are not necessarily "true."

Those who cater to the petit authoritarians and conservative populists are running the same game. They offer "facts" without context. This is seductive for the Tea Party Conservative Christian Dominionist faithful. It makes them feel "smart." These narratives facilitate their post hoc reasoning, where as I am so fond of referencing, the George Costanza rule for politics is in full effect: remember, it's not a lie if you believe it...especially if you have some "facts" from someone like David Barton or Glenn Beck to back up your self-delusional and willful lie.


Anonymous said...

To each his/her own..I am not drinking the kool-aide there is ample space on the planet for everything...

chaunceydevega said...

@Anon. The problem is that they are not keeping to themselves; they are imposing this on the rest of us. And no, there is not enough room on the planet--or resources--for everything ;)

Don't be so kind with folks who want to impose their vision, a faulty one and a lie, on the rest of normal society.

CBid said...

''And no, there is not enough room on the planet -- or resources -- for everything ;)

Don't be so kind with folks who want to impose their vision, a faulty one and a lie, on the rest of normal society."

Thank you.

Over the last thirty years alone in this country there has been an increasingly troublesome tendency by the media to allow (or in many cases aid and abet) dangerous right-wing ideologues and zealots to bend reality and mold history by cherrypicking data and facts from within a historical or research framework and presenting them without the context in an all too successful presentation of support for their agenda.

These days it's not uncommon for the mouthpieces of many right-wing interests or institutions to dispense with the formality of even making such an effort; they simply choose to outright lie to those within their realm of influence because, like the woman in the FRC video said: [they] already 'know' it, or as another man put it: [they've] been lied to... These willing disciples of deception are only receiving validation and confirmation that all their fears are founded. Indeed, they have been, are being, and will be victimized for the special knowledge of 'the truth' that they have always had. But at what point do such people aqcuire this 'truth', and at what point did they choose to insulate themselves from anything that contradicts it? It would seem that even the laws of physics could be open to debate if it didn't please their worldview. Or maybe 'debate' isn't the right word to use since they often refuse to actually admit when they are wrong even when it's obvious, so let's just say it might be more applicable to say that even the laws of physics could be open to interpretation if it didn't fit their agenda or worldview...

And that's fine if they want to keep such insanity to themselves, but they don't. They want to dominate public and domestic policy and ultimately influence international affairs. And they have a good shot on these things if nobody calls them out on it or we continue to allow our media to perform the way Paul Krugman described it, and I'm paraphrasing here: if Democrats say 2+2=4, and Republicans claim that 2+2=5, then the media almost invariably will present this as 'Democrats and Republicans Disagree on Product of 2+2' without any effort at clarifying for the public which side is presenting a flawed argument and evidence. The NYT article you linked to under 'charlatan and liar' provides an excellent example of this.

This is an extremely serious and fundamental problem we have to deal with, especially when major news media like The New York Times presents polls which ask whether or not its reporters should factcheck the news items and people they are covering! How fucking ridiculous can you get?

chaunceydevega said...

@Cbid. I am going to have to use that Krugman example. Good catch. The Times basically admitted that they are not journalists, nor are they interested in truth telling. I wonder what Cronkite or Murrow would have said about this matter>

Brotha Wolf said...


Anonymous said...

Just a thought.
Are you not spreading your own agenda by posting this?
Does not the Constitution give American Citizens the right of Free Speech?
Where is your proof of everything you just said?
Barton can most certainly back up 99.999% of the things he says. In fact, he asks people to double-check him if they find something that they do not agree with.
I doubt anyone read anymore than the first question, but this is stuff people need to think about. Do not take stuff for granted-ever.