Friday, September 03, 2010

Others' Shoes, Continued

Perhaps I’m taking on too much at once. I’m listening to Tchaikovsky’s symphonies and reading some Russian history to get a feeling for before the Revolution. I’m re-reading Daniel Martin to get a better feeling for what La Vida Es Sueño is about. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum today sent me an invitation to visualize O’Keeffe’s creative process.

And I’d really, really like to understand what is going on with the admirers of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, the Tea Partiers.

I think I’m making some progress on the first two, and I certainly will go to what the O’Keeffe Museum has to offer. But I have been quite stumped on that last. So I was pleased to see that one of my Facebook friends, who goes by the pseudonym of Lexington Green, wrote a post that was endorsed by The Beck himself.

I have to say that I begin the process of understanding the followers of Beck and Palin with some prejudice. But I have some pre-thoughts about Tchaikovsky and John Fowles, too. And all that may distort what I come up with, but that’s true of anyone thinking anything. And what I am doing, trying to get into people’s heads, is double subjective: theirs and mine. But one of our distinctively human activities seems to be getting into other people’s heads. So I’m struggling with it.

Tchaikovsky spent time in both Haapsalu and Sillamäe. So have I, probably not as much as he did. I have an etching of Sillamäe in about 1860, Tchaikovsky’s time, with little Russian girls in long crinoline-lined skirts enjoying a vacation, a lodge where Soviet-era apartments now stand backgrounded by the site where the uranium plant and tailings pond later would be built. I think that his first three symphonies have a more Estonian feel to them, the last three more the Petersburg court. More reading and listening necessary.

Fowles and Pedro Calderón de la Barca were both writing about men’s maturing and how they learn to handle power. My filter there is the differential with women, and the way both authors recognize that the relationship between the sexes demonstrates and feeds into the uses of power. There’s a lot more, too. I could probably spend the rest of my life and this blog teasing it all out. I probably won’t do that, but there will be many re-readings.

Lexington Green is politically conservative, but he and others at Chicago Boyz have been willing to put up with me; I respect them, too, because they think out what they’re about. I think they actually listen to me, too, even as we disagree.

So when Green’s post was endorsed by Glenn Beck, I realized that this might be a way to get into his admirers’ minds. Green begins with a John Boyd hierarchy that I haven’t spent much time with; this is another of my departures from my friends at Chicago Boyz. But I suspect that that part can be skipped with little loss. He’s saying that Beck is taking a broad view, going up a couple of levels.

But I don’t feel like I get the rest of it. I can do a sentence-by-sentence exegesis, but that wouldn’t be quite right. I’m trying to get into Green’s and Beck’s heads, not dispute them. But there are barriers. Since I wrote that, Green has added another update, which makes some things clearer. I’ll get to the update later.

One is that so much of what Beck offers is factually flawed. Green is an intelligent person; how can he miss that? Perhaps because the bigger things he talks about in the post are more important to him. But those factual flaws are a barrier to me. A lack of fact is a poor foundation for anything to come after.

What Green likes is Beck’s creation of a large narrative.
Beck is building solidarity and cultural confidence in America, its Constitution, its military heritage, its freedom…

Beck is creating positive themes of unity and patriotism and freedom and independence which are above mere political or policy choices, but not irrelevant to them.
This sort of narrative is indeed attractive; I have wished for a vision that can unite Americans, that would provide a solidarity that we can rest on, a positive vision.

But there is a double-mindedness to Green’s analysis that is another barrier to me. I agree that we need unifying themes for us as Americans. Period. Unfortunately, it’s easy to unify around an enemy, and, while talking about solidarity and unity, Green develops an enemy, “the Overlords”, and a sense of aggrievedness. Since “the Overlords” are Americans too, that sense cannot be the basis for unity. But that duality is in Beck’s words too: he condemns President Obama for a cult of victimization, and then tells his followers how victimized they’ve been. And for him and for Palin, there are very definitely an “us” and a “them.” Apparently I am one of “them.” From Green:
This is a vision that is despised by the people who have long held the commanding heights of the culture. But is obviously alive and kicking.


Beck is attacking the enemy at the foundations of their power, their claim to race as a permanent trump card, their claim to the Civil Rights movement as a permanent model to constantly be transforming a perpetually unjust society.


Beck is prepping the battlefield for a generation-long battle.
I wish Green had given more specifics; Christianity is one of his uniting themes, but even his commenters point out that insisting on it is precisely one of the disuniting themes of the right. Green (and other commenters) respond that of course non-Christians are welcome in their America, but it’s hard for me not to feel that those non-Christians would be second-class citizens. So that specific doesn’t work as a uniter.

In fact, what Beck and Green are offering is a bargain, one I’ve been offered many times: give up large chunks of yourself in exchange for becoming a part of our togetherness. Every time I have accepted this bargain, I have regretted it. No mas.

Green gets more explicit in his update (now a separate post), which seems to confirm that I’m one of “them,” although I can barely recognize myself in his description of “The Opposition” (as opposed to us, “The Insurgency.”) He’s got that dreamy-eyed wish for “self-organization” that works in agent modeling and that has some validity in human affairs. The problem is that we don’t start each day anew, at least not if we want some continuity in the economy and such, and so once we’ve self-organized, it helps to institutionalize some of that.

He says his model works and The Opposition’s doesn’t, but provides no evidence. America is some kind of failure? Please.

Our country’s motto is E pluribus unum, From many, one. That was necessary for the founding fathers. The colonists had formed colonies to escape various sorts of discrimination in the home countries, but each group stayed together. Maryland was primarily Catholic, Pennsylvania primarily Quaker, and Massachusetts primarily Puritan. It would have been easy to revert to Europe’s religious wars and repression. The resolution was a broad tolerance, not an insistence that all share in one faith. Of course, the British obliged by providing an enemy to unify against. Maybe that is the only way it can be done, although I would prefer a more positive route, particularly one where I am not the enemy!

Green says some things that seem to imply he shares that broad tolerance. But Beck’s and Palin’s worlds are for believers only.

So sorry, Lex, I don’t buy it. I agree we need to fix some things in the country, to, let’s say, open up opportunity to those whose incomes have stagnated because allowing finance to run unregulated has stomped manufacturing into the ground. Or free us up to create rather than worry about whether the food from factory farms is going to poison us. Those are things that we need government to do. And the, er, “freedom” of deregulation and trying to drown government in the bathtub over the last thirty years are what have brought us those distortions. So I’ve got some evidence for my contentions.

Now what I have to figure out is why someone as intelligent as Green sees this division into Insurgents and Opposition. That might help get me into his head.

[Now posted at Chicago Boyz, at Lexington Green's invitation.]


J.Scott Shipman said...

I would suggest watching the 18 minute Beck explanation. I've never seen him on television, either. What I saw in Beck's explanation was part schtick (I believe his regular viewers expect this) and part genuine entreaty; an entreaty that was not exclusive to "believers"---he even goes so far as to say that very thing.

deichmans said...

C'mon, Cheryl! You claim " much of what Beck offers is factually flawed," but the best you can do is cite one cherry-picked analysis from the St Petersburg Times? I would have expected a bit more depth of analysis from you.

BTW: I consider myself a Constitutional Libertarian (despite my collegiate affiliation with the Berkeley College Republicans :-) and think that Beck's approach is to use a mix of evangelism and bombast to make his points. I've done the same in many of my presentations, without notes or teleprompter, and have been known to mix my metaphors or spout partially-true facts. But the underlying message is the key, and that is Lex's key point: tactical battles (e.g., the realm of "fact checkers" who will nail Beck for suggesting Jefferson created the Marines to fight Muslim pirates, when in fact Adams signed to legislation to create naval infantry for a flare-up with France) are far less important than the strategic realm of culture.

Cheryl Rofer said...

Hi Shane -

That one link is not my only basis for that statement, just something to give it a bit of heft. As you well know, there's a limit to what you can put into one blog post, and you have to focus. A thorough debunking of Beck was not my focus in this post.

I've watched video clips of some of Beck's blackboarding, and his grasp of history is truly horrifying. I can't recall the specifics - when someone does as bad a job as Beck did in those clips, I just consider him worthless and go on from there.

iago18335 said...

Beck feeds the narrative that Leo Strauss (as I understand him) said the U.S. needed and so the support of the Chicago Boyz really comes as no surprise.

So, it's irrelevant if Beck lies through his teeth. It's the 'noble lie' to keep the proles in line and further one particular image of the role of the state.

May I suggest that you're never going to understand Beck (or Lex) if you assume they value facts the same as you. While I don't know either of them personally, I think
it can be safely assumed that they're willing to embrace lies in order to further what they see as a higher goal. If you've convinced yourself that America is chosen by God, has some sort of destiny to fulfill or just requires some sort of grand narrative to prosper then you'll make all sorts of Faustian bargains to make it happen.

In that regard you are one of 'them'. Either you're one of the people controlling the message or consuming it. Those who stand outside that dynamic are a threat and must be painted as an enemy.

Unfortunately, I just don't think it's more complicated than that.

Dr. Psycho said...

What Beck is offering to non-Protestants is essentially what the Taliban are offering to anyone not a fundamentalist Muslim: tolerance, within limits, provided you don't make any trouble.

It's what people of that sort have always offered to those who don't fit into their in-group. The only reason Beck thinks of himself as a populist is that he genuinely believes that most of the population secretly see things his way, or will pretend to under his regime.

-- Dr. Psycho (formerlyu misterniceguy1960)

troutsky said...

I think you have to focus on Lex's emphasis on "economic values". He knows his deeply held theoretical models concerning capitalism have been exposed as fatally flawed and so grasps at a cultural war ( notice his military metaphor) to restore hegemony.

Unlike your colleague I watch Beck and his third grade-level lessons on free market fundamentalism and they are identical to 700 Club lessons on Christian fundamentalism. A re-reading of Max Weber's The protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is helpful as is a check into the Koch brothers funding.

This is still about left and right in the Reagan economic sense, the rest ( freedom, liberty,blah blah) is smoke and mirrors.

Kosmo said...

Beck is a fantastic entertainer. Entertainers are under no obligation to be factually accurate in anything they do. Their goal is to create material that interests consumers to buy movie tickets, download songs, or buy advertisers' products. Beck has proved he is one of the best in the business that includes not just political entertainment, but religious as well.

Every move he makes is based on his (and Murdoch's) business objectives. Beck probably doesn't believe or think through most of the material he puts out for public consumption. Sarah Palin is following a similar model. Neither Beck or Pailn have enough drive or focus to take on any of the jobs and positions held by those they target. Why should they? They profit heavily over criticizing those who are willing to take a political position in this day and age.

MM said...

Ever listen to Howard Stern? He endorsed politicians, held large events, wrote books, talks common man themes all the time on his show, attacks people who disagree with him, attackes politics that interfere with his show and employment, ran for office, etc., etc.

Is Glen Beck just Howard Stern with shorter hair? No Way!

MT said...

Maybe the metaphor to make sense of this is cancer. As in the Union is sick and we constituents have a choice: "Are we with the tumor or the patient?" Make up your mind before we roll into surgery.