23 Academic Groups Condemn Glenn Beck’s Attacks On Piven
We, the leadership of major scholarly associations, express our collective outrage at the recent, repeated attacks on Professor Frances Fox Piven. These attacks have been based on rhetoric, rather than substance, and have incited threats of violence, rather than encouraging open debate. Radio and television personality Glenn Beck has accused Professor Piven of creating a plan to “intentionally collapse our economic system,” as reported by The New York Times; and he has included her in a list of the nine “most dangerous people” in the world. While Mr. Beck has not directly called for violence against Professor Piven, his attacks have created a space for threats of violence to emerge. Over the past several months, Professor Piven has received a flood of hate mail and menacing internet postings, including death threats. The Center for Constitutional Rights has identified many violent posts by visitors to Mr. Beck’s website, including the following: “I am all for violence and change Frances: Where do your loved ones live?” The rhetoric has become
sufficiently overheated that the potential for physical violence is real.
We call on public officials, political commentators, and others in the media to help discourage the rhetoric of hate and violence that has escalated in recent months. We vigorously support serious, honest, and passionate public debate. We support serious engagement on the research of Professor Piven and of others who study controversial issues such as unemployment, the economic crisis, the rights of welfare recipients, and the place of government intervention. We also support the right of political commentators to participate in such debates. At the same time, we insist that all parties recognize the rights of academic researchers not only to gather and analyze evidence related to controversial questions, but also to arrive at their own conclusions and to expect those conclusions to be reported accurately in public debates.
Both scholars and commentators, regardless of political orientation, strive to serve the public good. We can only benefit from their work when all parties respect the rights of others to disagree without fear of violent reprisal. We call on all parties to condemn the recent escalation of violent rhetoric, which does nothing to serve democracy.
American Anthropological Association
American Association of Geographers
American Council of Learned Societies
American Educational Research Association
American Sociological Association
Association for Humanist Sociology
Board, American Society of Criminology
Board, Research Committee 19 (Poverty, Social Welfare, and Social Policy) of the International Sociological Association
Board, Society for the Study of Social Problems
Consortium of Social Science Associations
Eastern Sociological Society
Linguistic Society of America
Mid-South Sociological Association
Midwest Sociological Society
National Women’s Studies Association
Pacific Sociological Association
Planners of Color Interest Group, Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning
Rural Sociological Society
Social Science History Association
Social Science Research Council
Sociologists for Women in Society
Sociologists Without Borders
Southern Sociological Society
[Source: American Sociological Association, 2/15/11]
Why Glenn Beck's Paranoid Theories of Social Collapse Are a Real Threat to American Democracy
by Francis Fox Piven
Beck's paranoid theories are flourishing because of serious troubles in our democracy.
About two years ago, Glenn Beck, the Fox News personality, began a series of tirades against what he called the Cloward-Piven plan for orchestrated crisis to collapse the system. The plan, he explained to his audience, had been laid out in an article written by Richard Cloward and me, and published in the Nation magazine in May 1966. In the article, we proposed a mobilisation of poor people and their advocates to claim the welfare benefits to which poor families were legally entitled, but that they often did not receive. We thought that the ensuing problems of rising rolls and costs would create pressures for federal reform of the archaic welfare system.
Whatever you think of that article, and I still like it, it was written some 45 years ago in a magazine with a rather small readership. But, astonishingly, in Glenn Beck's world, it had led to most of America's ensuing troubles, including the rise of SDS, Acorn, George Soros and the Open Society Institute, the election of Barack Obama and the financial crisis. Beck depicts this on his chalkboard as the "tree of revolution", and he continued to feature this theory of American history on some 50 subsequent shows, as well as on the Blaze, his blog.
Beck's chalk board
Other rightwing blogs were quick to pick up the orchestrated crisis theory. Together with the Blaze, the news stories elicited many hundreds, if not thousands of rude and insulting postings directed at me, and many lurid death threats, as well. (My husband Richard Cloward, who would have enjoyed this more than I, has been dead for a decade.)
Beck's faux "news" site
In January of 2010, I wrote another article in the Nation, about the difficulties that had to be overcome if the rising numbers of unemployed were to be organised to have voice and influence in American politics. In response, the outrage of Beck and his fellow rightwing bloggers escalated, as did the insults, the curses and, especially, the death threats. I am not writing now to complain about the personal threats and what appears to be the aim of extorting silence from the speakers on the left. Rather, I want to offer an explanation of why this sort of rabid and crazy talk is gaining traction in our country.
When I first became aware of my location at the base of the trunk of Beck's tree of revolution, I thought it was funny, just because it was so fantastical. It is funny, I suppose, but it is also a reflection of a deep problem. I have come to think that paranoid theories are flourishing because of serious troubles in our democracy. After all, electoral-representative democracy is a set of arrangements that enable ordinary citizens to have influence on government. But for these arrangements to work, citizens have to be able to understand what government does.
The common people who participated in the American revolution were gripped by the democratic hope that once the shackles of British rule were broken, the people would have decisive influence over their government because they would be able to watch what their legislators did, and refuse to re-elect them if they did not abide by the people's will.
This elemental democratic idea assumes that people can assess the bearing of government action on their own circumstances and the larger society, and vote for or against a candidate or party in reflection of that assessment. But when people protest against a healthcare proposal because they don't want government to get its hands on their Medicare, this elemental assumption is put in grave doubt.
Partly, the problem is that our social and economic institutions are dense and complicated, and intricately entwined with other institutions with a global reach. In reflection, contemporary government policy is also extraordinarily complicated and difficult to decipher. Healthcare legislative proposals run to many hundreds of pages, and the texts of the regulations to implement them are even longer. And none of this can be understood without a great deal of information about existing healthcare arrangements
Add to this the fact that legislation and regulation is often deliberately obscure to shield politicians and bureaucrats from their publics. Even without deliberate concealment, complex and difficult to decipher policies may well be inevitable in a large, technologically advanced and complicated society.
When the process of governing is incomprehensible, manipulation and propaganda thrives. The strange stories that Glenn Beck creates with his chalkboard gain traction with Americans, who are made anxious by the large changes that have overtaken the United States, including the election of a black president and the increasing racial diversity of the population, deindustrialisation and the decline of American power abroad, as well as cultural changes in sexual and family norms.
By telling simple fairy tales that trace these big and complex changes to the machinations of particular people, Beck makes the changes comprehensible in a way, and also makes the people who are presumably responsible the targets of his listeners' frustration and outrage. Partly because it is utterly irrational, and partly because it is an effort to bully and intimidate his political opponents, this is dangerous for democratic politics. [Emphasis added]
Before more people start tuning into Beck'sCONvincing propaganda,
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