Thursday, October 21, 2010

Glenn Beck's Monkey Show: Overview

"A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again."
--Alexander Pope: Essay on Criticism. Part ii. Line 15

If a little learning is dangerous, then no knowlege at all can be positively deadly. Or at least, embarrassing.
Yesterday, Glenn Beck made a fool of himself on his radio program.

As with many bright people, he did so by assuming he understood something that he did not. He did what he tells his audience not to do by making a judgment about a scientific theory on the fly, and it was clear that he had no clue what the modern theory of evolution actually is and what it is not.

For the record, I listen to Beck several times a week, although I have been listening less and less this fall because it is getting harder and harder to actually hear Glenn make his point. This is because in the past year he has brought on a friend from Texas, Pat Gray, who generally distracts Glenn from his more serious points, causing a number of listeners, including me, to reach for the dial. Pat Gray appears to be far less thoughtful than Glenn, and is clearly not as well read. When the banter begins, it devolves quickly and the show becomes frustratingly difficult to follow, and downright silly. I don't have time for that, and clearly from discussions with other thoughtful patriots, neither do they.

That said, it is quite clear that Glenn Beck is not stupid, as many of the leftist blogs claim. The so-called discussions of this issue at places like the Huffington Post come across as equally ignorant and worse, devolve to ad hominen statements. There is a large difference between rational disagreement and the kind of mean-spirited, angry, profanity-driven drivel that the lefties regularly spew out against Beck. However, this does not excuse Glenn from the equally ignorant attack on the theory of evolution that he made during a clearly ADD hour on his show yesterday.

Most laymen do not understand the modern theory of evolution. It is not that it is not understandable or even all that complex, though wading through the plethora of evidence for it takes time and study. It is that it has either been taught badly or not taught at all. This is the fault of the generally poor science teaching that goes on in America's K-12 institutions, private and public. With very few exceptions K-12 science education has treated the discipline as a series of disconnected facts that must be committed to memory and regurgitated, rather than as a method for discovering how the physical universe works using observation through our senses and their extensions. It is also the fault of a political divide that has been handled badly by scientists, creating a hostility towards all science among those who are expected to pay for it all without having the faintest idea of what it actually is. (I will have more to say about this later).

Collectivists and progressives at the extremes of both political parties have seized on this divide, and have used it to their own political advantage. On the right, it has been used to promote a kind of populist know-nothingism that lets those pols manipulate the religious passion of their constituents for Christian dominionism and theocracy. On the left, it has been used to promote an agenda of thinly disguised eugenics in which a scientific theory has been hijacked to bolster a collectivist ideology and a socialist agenda. (I have already said a bit about this here). It is clear that neither left nor right has the intellectual high ground here, nor the moral decency to promote and appreciate thoughtful and intelligent ideation among their constituents. A pox on both their houses!

Glenn Beck's ignorant diatribe betrayed several problems. One is that his notion of the scientific theory of evolution betrays an ignorance not only of the theory itself, but of science in general, and how the work of science is done. It is clear that because he has heard twaddle from equally ignorant others, he believes he knows what it is without having actually studied it. He would not make such statements in regard to areas he actually knows something about. So he has made an error of knowlege compounded by a certain ignorant arrogance, in that he did not question his lack of education in the field of science. Clearly his motto to "question everything" was left behind as he thoughtlessly spewed forth, compounding his embarrassment of ignorance with every sentence.

Glenn also has a problem organizing his thoughts that was clearly evident here, and in other monologues. His reasoning starts out with a good series of propositions and then his thinking stops at a certain point, and he rarely gets to the logical conclusion of his thought. Often he makes connections that seem to be leading somewhere interesting, and then he veers off, unable to complete the line of reasoning. He stops short and leaves his listeners in confusion or yelling at radio, "finish it, man!" Part of the problem here is the aforementioned Pat Gray, who nit-picks unimportant diction rather than letting the reasoning come to the conclusion of thought before cleaning up the proposition. Another part of the problem is that ADD that I mentioned earlier. Glenn has made no secret of it, as indeed he can't. Glenn distracts himself, going down rabbit-holes, and on snipe-hunts of thought, chasing extraneous thoughts prior to making a conclusion. And being that distractable means that the conclusion is never made.

Finally, Glenn Beck has a philosophical problem, and this is the most important. Although he reasons well up to a point, he often cannot bring the conclusion home, because he cannot or will not take his ideas to the most logical conclusion. This is not limited to his attacks on science, but can also be heard in other topics he discusses. For example, if Beck really believes in the sovereignty of the individual, which is clearly stated in the 9 Principles of his 9-12 project, then he cannot continue to advocate for the social control that is part and parcel of conservative political thought. Although he says that he is libertarian in thought, and that he trusts the American people, he cannot quite match his thought to those words. Lately, as Glenn has become increasingly a preacher in the Great Awakening style of Jonathan Edwards or George Whitfield, I have begun to suspect that this inability to bring home the most logical conclusion to his chain of reasoning may lie in the contradiction between the idea that human beings are fit for liberty, and his religious notion that man is fatally flawed by original sin.

Two of these problems are weighty enough to deserve blog entries of their own, and so I shall go into much more detail about Glenn's fundamental misunderstanding and ignorance with respect to the modern theory of evolution in my second part. In the third, I shall address the philosophical knots he mananged to contort himself into with his claim that those who accept the evidence for evolution by natural selection must deny the inherent nature of the rights of man. The ignorance of the first leads directly to the ignorance of the second. That is, the misunderstanding and misapprehensions that Glenn speaks with regard to what Dennett calls "Darwin's dangerous idea", lead directly to his ignorance of the history of the idea, and the wicked stepchildren it has been distorted to create: Social Darwinism and Lysenkoism. The first, in the hands of the American Progressives, gave us eugenics and forced sterilization, and the second, in the hands of Soviet Communists, gave us the planned famine that killed millions of Kulaks.

These discussions are worth taking a bit of time and blog-space to have, because the issues that Darwinian evolution bring up, and the ignorance of what the theory actually means, is widespread, and not limited to one political pole. If the religious right has used such ignorance to advance their cause of social control, the left has turned a scientific theory into a dogma and ideology to be decided not by the evidence, and not by hypothesis testing, but through the ideology of consensus science, something that never was and never can be. This has grave implications for new and unfounded pseudo-scientific theory that is more akin to religion than it is to science: global warming. The secular, collectivist left is using this idea to advance their own agenda of social control. And the implications are just as totalitarian as anything your hot-farting fundamentalist dominionist can dream up.


Donna Harris said...

I am so glad you pointed this out. While I generally enjoy Beck, I was frustrated reading one of his books when he recommended social controls in the middle of his "libertarianims."

I kept hoping he was tongue in cheek, but I could find no evidence of such.

He starts out so well, and then ...

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Donna, did you ever want to coach him telepathically? "Come on, Glenn! That's right! Take it home. Damn! Didn't. Quite. Get. There." said...

Your last sentence would look like this as an acronym:

yh-ffdcdu. Just doesn't come across though. Not even as a dead language or sans the hyphen.

I'll wait for your, have to be interesting, additional installments.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Chuck you lost me in your comment on the acronym. I am not sure what you mean.

As for the last sentence, here is the background: in the midwest where I grew up, there was this one church down the street from my in-laws and the minister of that church was an annoyance to the neighbors, so much so that my father-in-law called him a hot-farting fundamentalist. My father-in-law was no longer Christian, though he was raised in a fundamentalist sect, he had a miserable experience and left. I like the adjective because it seems to describe a certain brand of busybodies who try to impose their religious views quite well.

I added the word dominionist because I can ignore fundamentalist so long as they leave me alone, but dominionists want to make this country into a Christian theocracy, which would be very bad for my health, wealth and well- being. Not to mention that it is mighty unconstitutional of them.

So there you have it.

Narada said...

yes yes.... I've too tried to telepathically coach...........But!

Is it any surprise, really, that blathering continues without serious study, on many topics by media personalities on subjects which miss-truth and disinformation breed hearsay, and scare tactics? The propagation of certain ideas and issues seem to, by design, focus media on emotional (and other types of) sensationalism thereby attracting attention and viewers/readers/listeners, which translate to money in the media business.

I shudder at the possible implications on science and politic from those individuals who take as gospel some of the interesting twists of fact and fantasy I've heard and read in the media........

So has anybody really studied "On Origin of Species by Natural Selection" besides me and my daughter? I already know the vague remembrance of what is taught as "the scientific method" in school is long gone to most......
Geezzzz I don't want to beat a dead draft animal but - what happened to learning from study, and to actually prepare from study our own ideas, defensible by some understanding?

Narada said...

Oops! I think I may have butchered Mr. Darwin's book title.

Chuck said...

I understood your last sentence. In addition to being an official metaphor and simile interpretor (especially country or Southern metaphor & similes) I am also able to match them with just about anyone. (;0)

The acronym thing was just a detour to the road of silliness.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Chuck--well this has become the Southern/Country Metaphor Master meets the Aspie Geek. I still don't get the acronymn! :) You are 2-0.

By the way, my father-in-law (z"l) was born in Iowa and raised in Texas. He was educated at SMU, then Harvard and then Oxford. He also qualified as a Southern/Country Metaphor Master, and such was the origin of his wonderfully dry sense of humor and his hatred of anyone with any pretensions. (You can imagine Texas working class meets New England).

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Narada: In all of my biology studies we just called it The Origin of Species. And yes, I have read it and studied it. It was sometimes slow going, what with Darwin's Victorian penchant for paragraph-long sentences. It was and is an important work because all of the ideas that are central to the modern synthesis of the theory of evolution by natural selection are present in the Origin. At the same time, the evidence that Darwin presented did not include the physical mechanism for the descent of traits, nor for their modification. Further the massive evidence we have now from all branches of the physical and life sciences (Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Earth and Space Sciences, Biochemistry) was not available to Darwin. He is the genius that launched the idea. He saw it, almost whole and complete. But it took quite some time to fill in all of the details.