Monday, March 16, 2009

Beckiples. Part I.

Glenn Beck (the famously rabid conservative media pundit) has listed Nine Principles on his website. These are supposed to be the principles a conservative holds, and if you, the reader, agree with at least seven of them, well, then you are a Beckian conservative! And you memorize the Nine Beckiples. Aren't I cute today?

I'm going to discuss those nine statements in some detail. But before I do that, it's important to distinguish between positive and normative statements/value judgments. A positive statement expresses something which supposedly is. For example, "Echidne is a blogger" is a positive statement and it happens to be a true one. "Echidne is a three-pronged fork" is also a positive statement, but it happens to be a false one.

A normative statement is an evaluative one or one which argues that something should be. "Echidne is an asshole" is a normative statement, assuming that we use 'asshole' in the non-concrete sense. Whether this statement is true or not is something that depends on the value judgments of the person making it or responding to it.

The distinction between positive and normative statements is sometimes a slippery one. But it's never a great idea to mix the two types in all sorts of odd combinations and that's what Beck does in his Nine Beckiples.

Let's look at the first four principles in greater detail. The first one goes like this:

1. America is good

I bet you immediately noticed that this is a normative sentence, in the sense that the reader is supposed to agree to the basic idea that America is good. At the same time, it would be possible to write a long book about the goodness of America in all sorts of different political, social and economic fields, to see if America indeed comes out smelling of roses in all of them. That's not what Beck intends, naturally. What he means is that only the dirty-fucking-hippies 'hate' America.

Yet any thinking person can easily swallow the contradictory concepts that America might be absolutely fantastic in one area of life and not-so-great in some other area of life. Such a thinking person could even accept the idea of patriotism and love of one's country while acknowledging its flaws and problems. But Beck doesn't like shades of gray.

The second Beckiple:

2. I believe in God and He is the Center of my Life

This is clearly a positive statement by our Glenn. He's telling us that he believes in a god and that his god is the center of his life. He invites you to join the Beckians if you also believe in a god and have him as the center of your life.

But nowhere is it specified which god this might be. I suspect it's a Christian god, of the male sex. What if the reader is a very religious Wiccan or Buddhist? Are those types of people welcome among the Beckians or not? Atheists certainly aren't. Then there's the whole question of what Beck's god's beliefs are. There are people who believe in gods who want them to do stuff which to outsiders looks pretty awful and wrong, and before I'd commit myself to having a permanent god lodger in my house I'd like to know a little more about His dogma.

We learn even more about Beck in the third principle:

3. I must always try to be a more honest person than I was yesterday

A great principle! But what does 'honesty' mean in this context? Honesty to yourself or towards others or both? Does it mean opening your mouth ever wider and stuffing in a bigger wingtip every day? Or does it mean self-examination, meditation and humility? And why is this particular quality listed so early in the principles? What about loving your neighbor like thyself, for instance? Still, I might be on the way towards becoming a Beckian, because I certainly think Glenn Beck should become more honest every day.

The fourth Beckiple is where the dog of anti-feminism lies buried:

4. The family is sacred. My spouse and I are the ultimate authority, not the government

These are normative statements. The first one takes a religious concept, 'sacredness', and applies it to the nuclear family. What does it mean to say that the family is sacred? And based on which religion? Fundamentalist Christians argue that men are the heads of the family. Islam argues the same, with the addition that the male head of the family may have multiple female spouses. Is Beck telling us that these particular family arrangements should never be changed?

Or perhaps he uses the term 'sacred' to imply that the government should keep its paws off family matters? This becomes a real problem when a member of the family is abused or killed by other family members, doesn't it?

The second statement, also normative, tells us that families are not democracies but tiny dictatorships where the dictators are the parents. Funny that he wrote 'my spouse and I are the ultimate authority', given what I stated about the patriarchal family above.

So much for the first four principles. The other five principles will take a post of their own.