Sunday, July 4, 2010

What is the truth about Glenn Beck?

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Time saving truth from falsehood and envy
Francois Lemoyne, 1737

What is the truth? It seems to be a straight forward question, but a quick glance at an encyclopedia shows there to be a wide range of understandings of the answer to this question. However, none of established theories deal with our "post-truth" political environment; and this essay is an attempt to address this shortcoming. The conclusion will offer interpretations of the truths about Glenn Beck.

Before continuing, it's imperative to understand that the truth is not Truth, a spiritual principle, absolute rule or moral imperative. Uncapitalized truth regards epistemology, which tries to answer the question: How do we know what we know? That the Truth colors the truth is the main point of this essay about the political climate in the United States, but the more profound perspective on political truth is provided (below) by a mentor.

The puzzling idea that is at the root of this theory
Jurgen Habermas

Truth, for the purposes of explanation, has a color that represents, among other considerations, one's bias. Jurgen Habermas wrote that "fact and value are radically homogeneous." Habermas is a German philosopher and sociologist who wrote Communication and the Evolution of Society, The Theory of Communicative Action, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, Knowledge and Human Interests and Legitimation Crisis from where the quote may derive. Habermas is an advocate for the "consensus theory" of truth, and this essay points to the differing consensus among value-divergent groups in the United States. There is no consensus about political truth because there is no "ideal speech situation" to use Habermas' phrase.
Radically in this context means exceptionally so, and it also likely implies a radical political science - a paradigm shift - as well. (Whether "radically" suggests a paradigm shift would require a scholar of Habernas to comment on.) Homogeneous, like milk that doesn't separate, is one substance, and one understanding in Habermas' analysis of facts. That understanding is the truth, a blend of perceived fact and one's values.
Thus a primary aspect which makes a fact the truth is that someone is first internalizing the fact (input) through a tinted "filter" of one's bias (values) and attains some understanding which is also a function of that person's established knowledge and IQ. The person later articulates that fact (output) through the filter again, as truth. All facts pass through the filter of bias twice in route to becoming the truth. Everyone has values; everyone colors the facts when they understand and speak or write the truth. The Glenn Beck of comedy, Stephen Colbert, has coined the word truthiness to describe feelings. Something feels right or doesn't feel right. They both purposely distort the facts with feelings. Colbert admits it; Beck claims to always tell the truth.

The diagram below is a model of this phenomenon for the four basic political value orientations: radical, liberal, conservative and reactionary. It is a taxonomy of political truths.
Figure One

The concentric circles surrounding the mandala designate various degrees of distance from the truth. Moving away from the truth are white lies, to lies, to false accusations out to whoppers, the outer ring. The less often a speaker/writer departs from the mandala of truth and "floats" onto any of the concentric circles that surround it, the more that person loses theory. What happens in practice is described by Professor Stephen David Ross.

The voice that informs this argument 

This theory of truth was discussed with Ross, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Binghamton University and author of 29 books including The Gift of Truth: Gathering the Good. He teaches graduate students about Art and Aesthetics; Metaphysics and Ontology; Ethics and Politics; Contemporay Continental Philosophy; History of Philosophy; American Philosophy; Nature and Ecology; Feminist Writing and Thought; Cultural Critique. He is an invaluable mentor, and his insights are first offered here.

Lesson One: It's important to note that truth is not determined by values alone. The truth of a political matter, be it a Congressional hearing, comprehensive _______ (fill in the blank: health care insurance, financial, immigration) reform or a president's speech, is also shaped or filtered by the base of knowledge and understanding one has about the subject. Thus, one's ignorance/knowledge color facts on their way to becoming truth. 

Lesson Two: Ones feelings, history and the way we speak also shape how facts become truth.
Spin Doctors

When people are said to spin the truth, they are moving what was said and/or observed around the edge of the mandala to suit their and/or their listeners' political biases that were wrought by their values and likely their parent's values. This isn't necessarily conscious; their "filters" do this for them "automatically." With Glenn Beck's truth it is both consciously targeted and value laden spin. One consciously deceitful manipulation of the facts will be proven off the link below called "Glenn Beck is a wizard."
More Ross 
Following up on a discussion about truth, Professor Ross e-mailed. Lessons three through eight:

Ross: 3) One thing we didn't talk about explicitly is that truth demands endless vigilance in the form of self criticism and self questioning. This is the only answer I can imagine to competing claims: some insist they are right and true, some simply claim, others are open to criticism, evidence, reflection--especially directed toward themselves.

Ross: 4) The problem with this is of course that such a view is itself ethical and political. Some people's politics (not to mention religion, faith, epistemology, and style) are resistant to any such self criticism.

Ross: 5) If post truth means anything, it means endless questions about any truth, therefore about every truth it claims. It's the opposite of no truth.

Ross: 6) 
It is sometimes said (in philosophy especially) that we need a standard in order to judge. I've never accepted this. Lyotard and I think that we judge without criteria in politics and ethics. We judge with reason, thoughtfulness, values, evidence, everything we can get our hands on, all of which is controversial, and none of which is decisive. If people judge differently from me, based on ignorance or stupidity, that's my opinion and may not be theirs. The important thing is that we do give our reasons, and others can be persuaded or not. When people base their case on false evidence, whether intentionally or unintentionally, we offer counter evidence.
Ross: 7)  Others may still prefer to listen to them, for good and bad reasons. 

Ross: 8)  ...I think we can tell errors where we cannot tell what is true (too complex, too subtle, too controversial).

Ross' conclusion: 

Ross: Where the public space is occupied by people who have entirely different ways of judging, there is nothing left but chaos and war. Judging without criteria is something that demands ongoing negotiation. The crucial agreement is to avoid violent conflict over differences. [Emphasis added]

Who has that kind of time?
At issue is the idea of how anyone can get to really know the truth unless they're rigorous and self questioning. Rigor takes time and the truth for people who already have enough on their plates will be what they can quickly understand about the world that day. This used to be attained from the local newspapers. The newspapers in Ayn Rand's fictional NYC were divided in roughly the way Fox and MSNBC are today.

Back to the political taxonomy of truth, examine the mandala. Ross of all people can understand how nobody wants to give up on truth in politics, but his conceptualization is the thinking of someone rare: self critical, disciplined and self questioning. Truth, what all people hear other people say about political facts and events, has passed through the tinting (by values) at least twice, interpreting (input) and expressing (output). If the reporter is passing on a story from another journalist, then it has four passes through the tinting by values before the truth is conveyed. That story is four tints removed from the actual event or fact. Even apparent, direct quotes must be scrutinized, as even these can be altered to completely change the meaning of the words.

At this, Glenn Beck is a wizard.

Ross' point above regarding the problem with the need for self criticism means that people, generally, are going to believe what they believe. Methodologically, the comment section of this blog is open for all; and they are read by at least one seeker of truth. Information from opposing perspectives is invited on The Glenn Beck Review. Ross' point is well taken, but short on consequences or more important, ideas about getting to the truth quickly for busy people. They need a daily update on the news and independently minded Americans do not want bias. However the truth is always colored; it's part of the human condition. That's why it needs modeling. This is an undertaking of political science; Ross may not understand.
Figure 3

Taking issue with Ross' fifth lesson

If post-truth means anything, it's not endless questioning about the daily news coverage of political events. Who's got time for that? Even editors have busy days and deadlines. Post-truth means that we can't get that close to what the actual facts were except directly, i.e., unless individuals experience the fact or political event first hand! That's why a President's speech, since the era of mass media and C-SPAN, are improvements over all reporting. We all get to see and hear the exact same thing. We get one layer of tinting on the event, our own. We immediately witness the event until the pundits start talking about it. That is when people need to turn their TVs off. This is why the book, Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance, was not a research tool for the Review for the first year of examination and analysis. Beck invites independent research on his claims by his use of yellow propaganda and obvious deceptions. The Glenn Beck Review uses outside sources such as PolitiFact and Media Matters, as they are both, now, fact driven. New Hounds and Crooks and Liars, on the other hand, are in the blue to green range of the truth mandala when the authors describe the truth about Glenn Beck.

The post-truth political order also means that people need to find out what other people, who disagree with their opinions, are saying. Again, this is the problem Ross discusses above. No one wants to watch Fox and MSNBC, watch Beck and Olbermann or O'reilly and Maddow; but that's exactly what the post-truth politics demands of us. People who want the truth need to experience the reporting of events from opposite directions. The opposite coloring of truth more or less cancels the tints out, more or less depending on how interested one is in truth as opposed to opinions and the spin of a particular tint, i.e., partisans.

Busy independents need to seek a political truth that cancels out liberal or conservative bias. Staunch conservative Senator Tom Colburn told a town hall meeting three months ago "Don't just watch Fox News or CNN, watch them both." He said he read both The Washington Post and The New York Times -- plus The Wall Street Journal -- and urged his audience to do likewise. "Listen to the other side, because what it does, it makes you a better person." This post-truth theory holds that it would be even better to watch Fox News and MSNBC. For people short on time, CNN is the most neutral in their bias because they have been working to improve upon the endless quest for objectivity. It is the news network for people with the least about of time to spend watching television for the truth about political news. Unlike Fox News, CNN actually tries to be fair and balanced.

The truth in public education

A new approach to social studies in high school is needed.  Schools need to deal with the post-truth political world by assigning students to watch different shows on the big three news networks and do reports. Then they need to have students rotate networks and do another assignment.  There is a civics problem today, the post-truth politics that democratic institutions, especially public schools are not addressing.
The truths about Glenn Beck

Before addressing three colors of truth about Glenn Beck, it's important to examine his positions on the model.
Figure 4
Beck moves around from having neo-conservative opinions, shown red-orange above, to Libertarian opinions where truth is orange and beyond toward yellow. Beck is a yellow propagandist who blends fact and fiction to create an anti-big government, anti-Obama, anti-progressive narrative. Why Beck moves around the edge of the truth mandala is a mystery; but given his intent for fame and wealth, it could be an unprincipled effort to appeal to the Tea Party, 9-12er and Oath Keeper members of his audience. Beck understands that red conservatives and orange reactionaries both fear change that is not regressive.

Beck could be changing his mind about the Iraq war, but he started out a strong supporter of George Bush's unprovoked invasion of a sovereign state. People are tiring of seemingly endless war although that sentiment is lead by Libertarians (
orange) on the far right and the Green (anti-war, environmentalist, radical feminist) activists on the far left. For a mandala that explains this language, see "What is Glenn Beck politically?" Beck understands that conservatives and reactionaries generally fear both reformer's change(blue), and especially progressive's change (sea green to turquoise). He does his level best to scare the bejesus out of his viewers about progressives who Beck calls "radicals" and "revolutionaries" (Communists). Van Jones, the green jobs advisor. whom Beck successfully purged from the Obama Administration, is clearly on the far end of the progressive spectrum.
Beck on factions

Beck also moves off of the mandala of truth to various degrees for fictional accounts of events. He actually tried to make up a new word, faction, to describe fact-based "fiction novel writers," his phrase. Factions, of course, are something else altogether. Beck's boss, Rupert Murdoch and George Soros are both factions of one. Murdoch supports powerful Communists; Soros has a long record of helping undermine Communist governments. Murdoch owns a conservative media empire; Soros is a wealthy benefactor for anti-conservative groups, both liberal and progressive. That's why Beck calls him evil, although again, Soros does not support Communists; Murdoch does. That is a  truth initially conveyed by a reporter with the New York Times, and cross checked for verification. It is reported on The Glenn Beck Review off the Murdoch link above. If Beck wants to "make up" a word that's already in use, it's his right to be wrong.

One Truth 

One Truth about Glenn Beck is that he's a hypocrite. Beck apologized for the hypocrisy of being opposed to addressing any politician's family members and then attacking the President's family; but that was only one of six examples of hypocrisy found in the month of May this year alone. Hypocrisy is a moral disorder which is why this is the Truth about Beck that is supported by the directly observed facts, i.e., his words.

The truths about Glenn Beck

Conclusion: The truth about Glenn Beck depends upon one's values. Therefore, there are different truths, different perspectives, about Beck. The following is an attempt to offer various perspectives, through red/orange, purple/pink and blue/green filters on 1) his honesty, 2) his patriotism, 3) his courage, 4) his faith, 5) his intelligence, 6) his humor, 7) his motives and 8) his sincerity.

From the red, Fox News and his orange supporters perspective:
  1. Beck is honest
  2. Beck is a loyal patriot
  3. Beck is courageous
  4. Beck is a devoted Christian
  5. Beck is real smart
  6. Beck is funny
  7. Beck wants to save the save the country and promote freedom
  8. Beck is passionately sincere.
From the purple, CNN and conservative/mainstream perspective:
  1. Beck combines truth and lies
  2. Beck's patriotism seems genuine, but may be suspect
  3. Beck is courageous and fearful
  4. Beck is Mormon and therefore suspect
  5. Beck has an average IQ and is exceptionally clever
  6. Beck is sometimes funny and sometimes annoying
  7. Beck seems motivated by his fear that freedom in America is at risk
  8. Beck appears sincere, but he is the antithesis of Ronald Reagan
The purple/pink truths about Beck describe something interesting about him: in many ways Glenn Beck is a paradox.

From the blue, MSNBC and his critics perspective:
  1. Beck is a practiced and highly motivated liar
  2. Beck has incited sedition and still comes close to the yellow, chaotic side of patriotism
  3. Beck is a coward
  4. Beck has no chance of getting to heaven, according to the words of Jesus Christ
  5. Beck is a highly talented moron.
  6. Beck is not funny, he's dangerous.
  7. Beck is out primarily to influence conservatives or for money and fame
  8. Beck is a charlatan and an extraordinarily gifted con man
It is clear what color The Glenn Beck Review is, and the tint comes from reading, higher education, research and critical analysis. There are orange blogs that support Beck and orange blogs that oppose Beck. The point is to challenge the "[o]thers [who] may still prefer to listen to [Beck], for good and bad reasons" and to do so without "violent conflict over differences."

Update Dec 10, 2016: This year's election has made "fake news" a post-election covered news story. These are straight forward, off the model electioneering propaganda targeting audiences that believe and forward what they want to, based upon their values. I posted a story that turned out to be fake on Facebook, and deleted it as soon as that was pointed out. Damage done. We are the media, so double check the fact as you understand it. Then consider the other side's perspective before posting, publishing, etc. We are the media; (re-)publish responsibly.

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Anonymous said...

I thought a Progressive radical Marxist at City University of New York was a far left radical. Victor, the Professor can't hold you a candle ;)

The Glenn Beck Review said...

Anonymous: "can't hold you a candle"? Did you even read this? The truth mandala may not have shown up again, but for you to make your accusation is pure Beck: false and unfounded. You learn well grass hopper.

robdashu said...

You've summed it up quite nicely. When I first heard the Beckster on TV, in the Beginning, I thought he sounded amusing and just enough out of the mainstream that I might like him. The next time I heard him [maybe six months later] I thought he sounded like some wing nut from one of the sparsely populated states (no offense intended to anyone).

He is so apparently manipulative, it is disgusting. He takes his viewers by the hand, asks them to suspend disbelief, than draws a fantastic (e.g. hallucinatory) picture of the world for them. Then, it's "who you gonna believe, me or them?"

The whole discussion of perception is right on. Unless the individual experiences certain things directly, he has very little sense of the reality of poverty, violence, and many other contentious issues. Changing minds, however is a bitch. I've been collecting material for some time on the subject of belief systems and how they can be cemented or changed in various circumstances.

My basic conclusion is that it takes a severe shock to one's current belief system in order to open up the process of building a new, altered set of understandings of natural processes.

Belief systems can be quite resilient and can allow the bearer to ignore plain facts if they do not align with what he/she "knows"

robdashu said...

Nice analysis. Moving people from one perspective to another is usually not possible with the means available. Brainwashing of the public born since 1970 has resulted in a generation inspired by Reagan - let's say that enough Reagan influence has taken root to give us the nineties and the 00s! There are still some rational people around. I happen to think they are those that are quite to the left of center...

The Glenn Beck Review said...

Rob, you're not kidding about the rigidity of beliefs. I thought that it was going to be easy to simply show that Beck does not just spin facts to his reactionary perspective (a version of the truth), but he operates on the concentric circles off the truth (lies of one degree or another). Just show the facts, but it doesn't work that way. What you pointed out combined with the need to avoid cognitive dissonance, i.e., it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong, along with his supporters selective perception of reality (Fox "News" and other right-wing sources of "news" like The Blaze makes it impossible to convince his loyal followers the extent to which he lies. I still post comments on his site though.

My main thrust, because of the difficulty of getting through to the programmed followers is to reach others before his minions do. This Review is a warning flag.

Unknown said...

Very well done. (And the color chart/references are much appreciated). “Truth” is whatever a person’s perception is, based on their own individual ideals/background/mind-conditioning etc and very rarely supported by the actual facts that their filtration process has diluted.