Monday, March 29, 2010

The Antidote to the FOX Toxin

Prescription: Colbert

In my last post I highlighted the transition from greed to fear in those who seek to retain the status quo. My point was that since greed has stopped working, fear has become the next stop; the status quo needs you to be afraid in order to sustain itself.

There are very active supporters of the status quo, and they are fear-mongering regularly. Are there things "out there" that might be worrysome? Of course. Are they the ones the fear-mongers are pointing to? Mostly not.

How do we know this? Well, the old fashioned way - by picking apart their arguments and examining their basis.

Fortunately, we don't have to work too hard to accomplish this task. We have folks who will do this for us. Pre-eminent among them is Stephen Colbert. In case you haven't discovered him, Colbert has a 30-minute television show on Comedy Central that is a frightfully funny parody of the "Right Wing Agenda". It's especially useful in scrutinizing the tactics of the Right because it unapologetically and enthusiastically reiterates the talking points of the Right, under the spotlight. What emerges is a (painfully, tragically) funny illumination of the role of fear in the storyline of the the Right. (And if you watch it long enough, you'll see the waning influence of greed in that canon as well.)

Colbert takes the talking points (at 10:00 or so for a simple example, and again at 13:00) and extends them into absurdity. Unfortunately, he doesn't have to work very hard to get there. Often times he just needs to say them verbatim, back-to-back, and with an undisguised "patriotic" arrogance. He exposes the talking points as the worst form of propaganda, and shows how ordinary, less-educated Americans are hoodwinked into accepting this foul wind as Truth. Fear is easier to instill in those who haven't lived among diversity, those who haven't experienced a big slice of the breadth of human experience. Arrogance is the insulator that enables us to avoid looking carefully at our own perspectives, prejudices, and foibles.

If you look honestly at the agenda of the Right, it's heavy on Arrogance, a champion of Ignorance, and funded by the wealthy. Suddenly, the source of "The Ugly American" becomes clear: Ignorance and Arrogance, combined with wealth.

Colbert exposes both Ignorance and Arrogance as tools of the Right, and while at times I feel sick to my stomach by the revelation, I laugh. Hopefully, laughter is the best medicine.


  1. Rosemary Carosella WhiteApril 3, 2010 at 3:34 PM

    Shame on you Humble Brother, your generalities about the Right are just a fountain of prejudice and ignorance, and you don't know what you are talking about. It made me sick to my stomach to read this from you of all people. First of all, independent polls show that Fox is the most watched network (over 50%). 50% of the population is not wealthy, so some of those watchers must be middle class or poor. I happen to watch Fox daily, as well as listening to NPR, BBC, and Pacifica. I am not ignorant, greedy, or arrogant (well maybe arrogant, but who isn't in our family?) I am extremely tolerant, and I have lived among diversity. I suspect you haven't actually watched much Fox, or you wouldn't be spouting this crap. I suggest that you watch some of the news programs for a week or two and then revisit your statements. As for other greedy Fox watching supporters of the Right, I know many: they are from a broad range of socioeconomic levels, many have college degrees, but not all have jobs that utilize them, some are less educated than that, but they are not ignorant. They have a real interest in the future of this country, not just their next purchase. They volunteer, build habitat houses, give to charities, buy dog food for homeless people with dogs, support food banks, adopt children, train for months to ride bicycles to Austin and back to raise money for MS, support the arts, support public television, I could go on and on. These are not people whose primary motivation is greed. We Fox watchers generally do believe that big government is not the best agent to address these issues, and resent being obliged to pay excessive taxes to a bloated corrupt government that continues to disregard the Constitution and our liberties, grab power for the executive branch (I saw a very scary show on this on PBS), and move our country toward financial collapse and world government. It is not fear mongering or addiction to the status quo to look at the realities of what is going on and where we are headed. Every big safety net socialist country in Europe has is on the brink of collapse. Riots in Greece, 20+% unemployment in Spain, the UK going bankrupt... We know people from Europe who work here who tell horror stories about their personal experiences with socialized medicine, and think that the US has the best health care system in the world, and that passing the health care bill was crazy. (And why did they sneak in the government takeover of school loans in that bill? And how do you feel about giving the IRS more power to control your life- remember their MO, guilty until proven innocent.)It does not take a rocket scientist to do the math, you can't tax the producers until there are fewer and fewer of them and use that to support a growing population of the entitled. Sheesh, wake up and smell the tea.
    ps. I am sending a copy of the Land of Giants CD to Glen Beck, because I appreciate his patriotism. Also going to a Tea Party on April 15th

  2. First, Rosemay, I want to thank you for taking the time to respond, even though my commentary clearly upset you. Better that we share than that we remain silent to the things that disturb us. I appreciate your time and forthrightness. And your earnestness.

    Second, my response is (perhaps not surprisingly) a bit long. Blogger insists that only 4000 characters per comment is acceptable, so there are two comments here, in sequence, that represent my response.

    Third, I would like you to respond to one thing in my original post:

    What do you think is the source of "The Ugly American"?

    If you would take some time to think about where that stereotype comes from, and share it, I would be grateful.

    Now, to respond to your comment:

    I have watched FOX in short bursts; less in recent years. I used to watch it quite a bit in the late 1990s. Starting early in the Bush administration, and ever since, I have found it increasingly shrill and biased. Biased towards a form of American Exceptionalism that is unequivocally, in my opinion, warped by fear, greed, and arrogance. It is one thing to be an American apologist. It is quite another to view America as always right, force as always appropriate, and cooperation with the rest of the world as cowardly. It is appalling to me to hear, over and over again, that American Exceptionalism means we should be excepted from the very principles of civil society that our founding fathers embraced.

    FOX purports to loathe big government, but during the Bush administration, it was quite content with raging budget deficits, deceitful accounting of the war budget, violations of civil rights and intrusion of the government into the private lives of citizens. I'm guessing that you would not disagree. It is only now that there is a progressive administration (as compared to, in my opinion, an Orwellian Bush administration) that "intrusive goverment" is a problem.

    Ben Franklin: "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

    Perhaps it's about money? Taxes? I note that when the Clinton administration left office, the country was fiscally sound, the government was running a surplus, and the gargantuan deficit (inherited largely from the Reagan administration) was on track to be reduced (and potentially eliminated). FOX found the Clinton administration incompetent, if I recall. On the other hand, the Bush administration cut taxes and spent like drunken sailors on war. What did FOX say about that? Do you recall? Did we reap any national, "American Exceptional" benefit from this extravaganza? Did the TRILLION dollars of additional debt re-make our infrastructure or result in any other common good?

    Perhaps it's about regulation? I note that the most devastating financial calamities in our recent history resulted from the deregulation of our financial markets. The Great Depression. The Savings & Loan crisis of the late 1980s. The housing bubble (note the loosing restrictions on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) and our current mess. Unbridled, unrestricted, unregulated capitalism is a horror. (See also The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, the New York Swill Milk Scandal of the 1850s, and, of course, modern-day China). Does FOX talk sensibly about regulation? Do they provide a fair and balanced assessment of what is healthy for our economy and our common wealth, or do they argue for the dismantling of government scrutiny of our private enterprises?

    Mostly, lately, I hear FOX harping on how Obama is a socialist (or according to Glenn Beck, a communist), and how his administration is destroying our economy, wrecking American culture, and abandoning American Exceptionalism. I don't think the facts bear this out.


  3. But I also think you have missed my point on a broader level. American culture as we currently live it is not sustainable. FOX does not want to talk about that. The greed I referenced is endemic to this non-sustainable culture. It's not about greedy individuals who watch FOX. That was not my point. It's about a culture of consumption.

    I believe that American society is starting to realize that consumption doesn't satisfy. I also believe that such a realization is terribly frightening to the Establishment (and that that Establishment is more conservative than progressive, more Republican than Democratic, and more FOX than PBS). I think the Establishment is conveying (through the mouthpiece of FOX) its "fear of imminent collapse" whenever the status quo is threatened, not realizing (or not wanting to believe) that the imminent collapse they see is actually a direct function of the way the status quo is operating.

    An end is indeed coming, and it is up to us whether we are active participants in remaking our economy and culture around something more sustainable, or drive headlong into disaster with the accelerator pedal jammed to the floor, then hunker down with a siege mentality, guns and grenades at the ready to fight off the unwashed, starving hordes...

    REM: "It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine."

    Our country is changing. The demographics are changing. It won't be about white males (or the corporations that have replaced them) who control vast resources; the concentration of power cannot be sustained. The tone and timbre of our national song is changing. It won't be (indeed, can't be) about arrogance and power and domination; the world is too small. Our national character is changing. It won't be about the unrestricted right of the individual or group to do whatever is expedient; we're too interconnected. If we are to survive, it will be about common good, commonwealth, and community, because we live together on a small planet. where any individual can have access to enormously powerful tools, technologies and weapons that can affect all of us.

    Community principles are not bad principles. But we actually have to choose to live in community with one another for them to work.

    Fear works against inclusion. Fear works against broadening a community. Fear works really, really well if you want to divide. (And conquer.) Fear works really, really well on the impressionable and the less-educated. Fear works really well on everybody, frankly, and it takes great courage and discipline to see past an assault based on fear. One of the tools to overcome fear is thoughtful, rational discourse.

    Our founding fathers had grave flaws - chief among them their myopia regarding the civil rights of non-white, non-male humans. But among their gifts was an understanding that human progress depended on rational thought and educated discourse.

    Do you believe that FOX is promoting rational thought and educated discourse? Perhaps I'm missing something, but I don't think so, myself. I see nothing "fair and balanced" (or even rational or accurate) about their coverage.

    PS: Do you think Glenn Beck appreciates my patriotism? Funny thing - one man's patriot is another man's ignorant fool.

  4. John,

    I work with Gary and I am perplexed by some opinions I see from wealthy individuals that are liberal. Warren Buffet, George Soros and many in Hollywood for example. I have heard Mr. Buffet say we need to tax individuals at a higher rate. I believe he said 55%. I have 3 children, two of which are in college. I live in a 2500 square foot house and live an upper middle class lifestyle. I pay about 45 percent in taxes. Additional taxes will be a burden for us. My question is are the rich liberals willing to live the same proletariat lifestyle they propose for me? Are Matt Damon and Warren Buffet willing to give away all their money for your causes and live next door to me and my new lifestyle? If not, I consider them hypocritical. They seem very willing to spend my money. I wonder if the reverse is true? I find it amusing that intelligence and openmindedness seem only to be a characteristic of the left. Who are you to judge what is fair and balanced. Ask Ann Colter if she found the enlightened group in Canada willing to listen to her ideas. I am a conservative and well educated. I do not agree with your ridged, close minded, stereotypical views. One of my favorite quotes: "I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man's reasoning powers are not above the monkey's".
    Mark Twain

    Mark Podell

  5. Hi Mark,
    Thank you for commenting. Your question about tax rate and standard of living is an interesting one. There is always, of course, the matter of one's perspective or reference point. I, too, live in a 2500 square foot house, have three kids, one in college, one about to be. I have paid hefty income taxes, too, living in California where the state income tax rate is quite high. Would I begrudge additional taxes? No, not really. In fact, I vote in favor of tax increases wherever and whenever I feel like they will serve the common good, and where The Market is unlikely to provide a healthy, functional alternative.

    I'm not rich like George Soros. My standard of living is probably a lot like yours. I don't know what Warren Buffet and Matt Damon are thinking, of course. But I do believe (if it matters) that they would be willing to pay a higher, more progressive tax rate, if the taxes went to serve a healthier, more sustainable culture and community. I don't think anyone is asking you to give away all your money and live a "proletariat" lifestyle. I don't think suggesting that the extremely wealthy have to "give away all of their money" is an appropriate comparison. It seems a disingenuous challenge.

    You say they seem to be willing to spend your money, and that bothers you. Here's a thought-provoking question: Would YOU be willing to spend THEIR money? And if so, on what? What would be a good use of their financial resources? I wonder if that's really the discussion. What is the appropriate use of wealth and abundance?

    I sense in your language an anger based in the gut reaction that someone is threatening to take something away from you that is yours. That's a huge underlying theme in my original post, and I see it frequently from folks on the Right. I'd like to explore that more, perhaps in another post.

    You ask who am I to judge what is fair and balanced? Well, I'm me, of course, and I judge based on my perspective. I don't claim to speak for anyone else. I wonder, though, sincerely, if you think Ann Coulter is fair and balanced. Everything I've seen from her is filled with invective. So I don't think "ideas" or "rational discourse" when I think of Ann Coulter. Do you?

    I think you will find that my ideas are not rigid or closed-minded. I'm actually pretty willing to listen to a variety of positions, and poke and prod to get to the root of differences in opinion. I find it strange and fascinating how even very intelligent, insightful people can look at the same set of facts and draw completely different conclusions. I find that usually it's because the axiomatic perspectives they bring to the table are quite different, and it is in exploring those axioms that the greatest progress in mutual understanding is made. When we see the world differently, the facts point to very different results. It's seldom about the facts themselves.

    I think Mark Twain was close to the target. but it's not our reasoning powers that fail us, it's our inability to see clearly where we're starting from.

  6. Interesting fact: Rupert Murdock, the owner of Fox Network and Fox News, calls his news "entertainment" and is laughing all the way to the bank! He himself does not believe what Fox "News" is "reporting". I find it disheartening that the news reports people rely on for information most often comes with a bias and often with more interest in bringing in viewers than with responsible, fact checked, rational reporting. I see that the 24 hour news cycle is filled with speculation, repetition of that speculation and as John has said filled with fear mongering not just on Fox but on other channels as well!

    So my question is why do 50% of the population or more watch Fox news? Is it because of the entertainment "value"? Is it because the people who gravitate toward that news over others are in agreement with the social values that Fox promotes? Could it be that it is because Fox offers a more simplistic approach or "answer" to complex and difficult situations? Maybe it's the very clear black/white (cowboy hats not people) approach to situations rather than the murky gray in which we all live.

    Is it that we prefer to have that right/wrong approach to seeing the world and a right/wrong set of answers? But when we get into the thick of real living, is this really where we are? Although our world is growing smaller it is becoming more complex and we increasingly live in the gray areas so black/white doesn't really solve our problems.

    It used to be that we considered everyone who was different from us to be "other" even though our country is filled with immigrants who are all different. The English/German immigrants rejected the Irish, who in their turn rejected the Italians and the Poles. Now the Hispanic and Asians are the other along with African Americans. And let's not forget our prejudice against religious minorities! But this is who we are as a nation and because of our differences and our freedom to be different we are (have been) one of the most innovative and successful nations on earth!

    Like John I believe in the common good and community and in studying both my faith and moral development, I find it very difficult to keep the same rightness of boundaries between people that I once accepted as valid. I find it difficult to do the same with ideologies. I agree with John that we need to work hard to come to understand one another and to find the common ground we need to create a bright future together. A strict black/white view of the world might make it difficult to be creative. Not allowing the other to participate or not recognizing the other as having a valid perspective is certainly making it difficult to get along and to solve our current problems.

    So when John suggests that fear is a motivator, I believe he has a point. I think if we examine ALL the places where fear is present in our lives we might begin to put it in its proper place. I think that fear has been promoted ever since 9/11 both by the Bush administration and by the news media - some more than others. Perhaps we could take a lesson from Anne Frank by doing our best to live in HOPE instead!

  7. I think John is talking about the far right and the very wealthy who are beyond any party affiliation. Weren't you? The old-time Republicans are really those who are Democrats now. We have no true Progressive or Liberal party, aside from the Green Party. I'm sorry Rosemary is so upset. I understand. Those of us who are watching the planet melt and who watched our constitution shredded during the Bush administration are very upset too. We need anger to wake us all up--and then we need to work together. And I actually did watch Faux News. I would turn to it every once in a while to see what they had to say. The last time I watched it was on 9/11. When Britt Hume said, "We all know who the real culprit is. Satan is responsible for this," I turned the channel and have NEVER looked at it again. I want real journalism from a news channel. "Satan did it," is not journalism.

  8. Rosemary Carosella WhiteApril 14, 2010 at 8:52 PM

    Regarding "the Ugly American". I don't find this reference in any of your other posts but I can sense your implication. My thoughts on this are that it is a stereotype which originated as a result of American tourists visiting Europe in the 1960s and 70s, and displaying cultural insensitivity, like asking for ice in their drinks in Paris, or ignorance, like only speaking English and expecting to be understood, or simply by looking different from the residents, like wearing double knit leisure suits. These would have been people who had some disposable income, so perhaps they were resented by the residents of places they were visiting, although I expect the businesses they patronized appreciated the tourist dollars. I would think there would have been some understandable cultural vanity on the part of the visited as well, in those days of no globalization, when the world was still round. Why would these Americans be so culturally insensitive, I wonder. Perhaps because they thought they lived in the greatest country in the world. How could they think that? Gee, their ancestors (parents and grandparents in our case) willingly left their homes on this very continent to escape poverty, persecution, war, famine, and oppression in search of opportunity, religious freedom, and freedom in general. They left their cultures behind them and embraced a new culture, the melting pot of America. Of course it was far from perfect, with bigotry toward each new wave, a pecking order, and plenty of challenges all around. But they seemed to think it was better here, and they raised us to think so too. Why don't we speak Italian? because our parents wanted us to be Americans, and that is what we are. Our parents had way more opportunity as first generation immigrants in the US than they would have had in Italy (e.g. college education). And our generation has also had an abundance of opportunity and liberty. Another reason that they might have thought it was great to be an American is the fact that without the US, Europe, including our ancestral homeland, would have been overrun by fascism, not to mention the huge role the US played in the rebuilding of Europe after the war. So I think a little cultural smugness on the part of those tourists was understandable under the circumstances. continued next post.

  9. Rosemary Carosella WhiteApril 14, 2010 at 8:54 PM

    If there are people who hold on to that stereotype and use it as a guide for their views of Americans, I think they are ignorant of the bigger picture. (Actually, I think that using stereotypes as a way of looking at people and their place in the world is pretty unenlightened.) What is the bigger picture? Americans donate millions of dollars every year to fund disaster relief, AIDS relief, famine relief, you name it. In our local community, there is a church on every corner, and they all have youth groups. On spring break and every summer, those teenagers go on trips to Mexico and Central America to help the poorest communities build or repair schools, orphanages, and other infrastructure, and do stuff like install wheelchair ramps at retirement homes, and construct playgrounds. I really doubt that the beneficiaries of their efforts think of these kids as Ugly Americans. American college graduates do service work in Africa, teaching for nothing, supporting local farmers, doing hospice work, etc. These are not Ugly Americans, they are real people who make a real difference in the lives of individuals around the world. And how about the American entrepenurs who invent household and village water purifiers, and then go and teach the villagers how to install and repair them. I doubt the Bangladeshis think of them as Ugly Americans. I think it is safe to say that the good that Americans do, either through service or donations, far outweighs the bad. It seems to me that the "Ugly American" stereotype is an idea whose time has passed.
    I do not equate "Americans" with US policy, which both in past and present has had some very terrible consequences, nor do I equate "Americans" with corporations which may have originated in the US, but have global activity.