Thursday, January 17, 2013

Glenn Beck and David Barton Channel Harry Dresden and Do Magic With History: Did You Know That Kids With Guns Can Stop School Shootings?

Glenn Beck's resident "historian" David Barton is a professional liar. I used to recoil at Beck and Barton's Right-wing perpetual motion alternate reality machine until I realize that they were speaking to the already converted--and thus lost. Those on the Right who live in Beck and Fox News' alternate reality echo chamber have already bought into their world system.

Moreover, because their audience already believes that faith trumps science, global warming is a fiction, tax cuts pay for themselves, and that people rode on the tops of dinosaurs several thousands years ago, the rule of diminishing returns applies: Beck and company are speaking to the converted, lost souls, possessed of anti-intellectualism and conspiranoid thinking, who cannot otherwise be saved.

Glenn Beck is piling intellectual feces on top of a preexisting pile of intellectual feces. Said pile of political scatology will go until said pile collapses. Scant few new folks are likely going coming to the party at that point...I hope.

However, this does not make Glenn Beck and the other Right-wing propagandists any less dangerous. Glenn Beck's dream machine would be admired by Goebbels, Stalin, or Mao. Orwell would also shake his head in frightened admiration.

Beck's ability to create an alternate reality for his followers, one that is internally consistent (in the loosest sense of the word), and where he gets paid to offer up his version of the "truth" is a religion.

It is lucrative; it is based on faith as said process is nothing if not a capacity to believe in that which cannot be proven by appeals to empiricism or rational thought. Faith cannot be disproven by ordinary means.

Thus, the truth is what Glenn Beck, and the High Archons of the Right--Limbaugh, O'Reilly, and Hannity--tell their mouth-breathing troglodytes it is. Epistemic closure is one hell of a drug.

As seen in the above clip with Glenn Beck, David Barton helps to turn the con.

Barton pretends to be a "historian." He offers up the certainty that comes with intellectual authority to an audience which both dismisses truth seeking and is suspicious of the academy and professional scholars. Yet, they believe Barton because he provides "proof" for their preconceived beliefs.

Barton's gimmick is to make grand claims, and then to explain how reasonable public policy can be generalized from his specious observations about the historical record. Even if Barton were telling the truth about a made for TV scenario where kids in 19th century America stare down a potential murderer with their sidearms in a schoolhouse that is a mix of Dirty Harry and Little House on the Prairie, said example is insufficient evidence for making informed arguments about what gun control policy in 21st century America should look like.

I am transparent. Whatever I may be, I am a ghetto nerd. Because of that core part of my personhood, I draw inspiration from a range of sources. As such, I am also a fan of the mystery-fantasy series The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. His stories about Chicago, and the magical world which exists parallel (and at times intersecting with our own), is just so very wonderful and creative: I would take Harry Dresden over Harry Potter any day of the week.

Ultimately, great fiction should tell us something about the "real" world. Butcher does not fail in that regard.

I was rereading his book Dead Beat when I came upon this passage about fairies (what Jim Butcher calls "The Fae") and immediately thought about Glenn Beck and his fellow Right-wing propagandists:
"You know, wizard, that I may speak no word that is untrue. Thus is my word given to you."
I eyed her wearily. It was true that the high Sidhe could not speak words that were untrue--but that wasn't the same thing as telling the truth. Most of the Sidhe I had met were past masters of the art of deception, speaking in allusions and riddles and inferences that would undermine the necessary honesty of their words so thoroughly that they might be much stronger lies than if they had simply spoken a direct falsehood. Trusting the word of one of the Sidhe was an enterprise best undertaken with extraordinary caution and exacting care. If I had any choice in the matter, I would avoid it.
Is this not an apt description of Glenn Beck's forked tongue and the power he holds over his listeners and viewers?

Thus, my worries and questions.

What can reasonable, sensible, reflective folks who care about the Common Good do when confronted by the power of willful liars like Glenn Beck and David Barton? Is the only option available to sensible and intelligent folks, when faced with such wickedness, to lie better than Glenn Beck and his lot? To construct our own alternative knowledge systems? How does one beat a master liar who believes his own deceptions?

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