Crucially, both authors understand the reasons that Rand’s popularity has endured, not only among college students dazzled (and thronged into packs) by her triumphant individualism but also by entrepreneurs. From the young Ted Turner, who rented billboards to promote the “Who is John Galt?” slogan from “Atlas Shrugged,” to the founders of Craigslist and Wikipedia, who have found self-contradictory new ways to mix populism with individual enterprise, it is clear that (in Ms. Burns’s words) “reports of Ayn Rand’s death are greatly exaggerated.”
Ms. Burns gives a lucid account of how Rand set herself at odds with religious conservatism, how Rand-inspired libertarianism has shape-shifted, and even how Rand disciples of the 1970s adopted a hippie aspect to rival that of Students for a Democratic Society, confounding everyone, Rand included. She referred to libertarian fans as “scum,” “intellectual cranks” and “plagiarists.” Rand also complained, “If such hippies hope to make me their Marcuse, it will not work.”
That era was one Rand moment. This seems to be another. Both of these books cast light on why Rand’s popularity can be rekindled by economic turmoil, and on how much her real life and reputation diverged. Both capture the temperament of a woman once described as “the Evel Knievel of leaping to conclusions.” But of these two authors, it is Ms. Heller who comes closer to conveying what is missing from most images of Rand: “a personal warmth and charm that Rand most assuredly possessed,” on the evidence of her hypnotic effect on those in her orbit. Rand might have expressed disdain for that charisma, but it was enough to stop DeMille in his tracks. She would have been nowhere without it.
To begin, let us move away from a discussion of We the Living to the much more familiar, Atlas Shrugged, about which Glenn Beck said on his radio show several months ago:
Ayn Rand understood and identified the deeper causes of the crisis we’re facing, and she offered in “Atlas Shrugged” the principled and practical solution consistent with American values.
The core idea of Atlas Shrugged is that, in the words of Whittaker Chambers, “the Children of Light win handily by declaring a general strike of brains, of which they have a monopoly, letting the world go, literally, to smash.“
I can’t imagine a more arrogant or elitist conception of life, and it is a weird irony that many of the contemporary proponents of such a view would also see themselves as populists, much like Glenn Beck does. The idea that without these “brains” (those who “get it”) the rest of us will make a mess of the world is a sentiment echoed (sometimes thunderously, sometimes faintly) throughout the world of right-wing talk radio and television.
But no matter the intensity, there exists the notion that those of us on the outside—who are “asleep”—cannot possibly survive without those insightful, productive, clear-eyed egoists leading the way, and it is incumbent upon us to subordinate ourselves, if we wish to have any kind of decent life. And the grand irony is that they present the necessary subordination of ourselves and our ideas to their views in the language of liberty.
Admittedly, this hybrid philosophy is believed only by a relatively small group of people, but many of its propagandists have a rather large megaphone, sometimes influencing professional politicians who call themselves Republicans. And I have often argued that they are doing irreparable harm to the Grand Old Party, like Darwin’s parasitic wasp feeding on its host.
[…] If you doubt the influence of Ayn Rand on some of those who are leading the New Right, here is a short video of Glenn Beck conversing with Yaron Brook, Executive Director, The Ayn Rand Center:
That first publication date of 1957, and the fact that Atlas Shrugged is more popular now than ever, might be a source of pride for the Ayn Rand Institute, but the fact that American conservatives are returning to this novel at all suggests to me a retreat from the 21st century—and a turning back towards the 20th century, and to an era in which white Baby Boomers have a lot of nostalgia. The antiquated gesture is akin to imagining liberals in large numbers, nostalgic for early 20th century progressivism, reading John dos Pasos during the Bush years. It wouldn’t have been a sign of liberal strength that such a novelist was being rediscovered, but a sign that liberals were oversimplifying, and withdrawing psychologically from the challenges and perplexities of their own era.
Hopefully, we will see in our lifetimes a realignment of the GOP in favor of reason and individual rights and away from faith and tradition. Religion is a private matter.
As the Tea Party movement takes hold- we’re seeing the ugly specter of religious intolerance gaining strength to rip apart the coalition of patriots we’ve assembled. Commentator Glenn Beck has openly declared that religion is the only basis on which the movement can proceed. At the same time, he depends on Objectivist commentators and secular pro-capitalists to make his economic and ideological case. You can’t use rational men and women’s ideas and simultaneously damn them for being rational.
When “The Colbert Report” took on the recent increase in the reported popularity of the late Ayn Rand’s philosophy in “The Word” segment last week, it reminded me of my own rejection of Rand’s “Virtue of Selfishness” back in my college days and made me think of how that value judgment affects our economic choices as epitomized by a remark from Pulitzer prize winning Washington Post economics reporter Steve Pearlstein on last week’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.”http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colb…
You can see the entire March 11, 2009, segment of “The Word” titled “Rand Illusion” from which I took the two short clips for my video on the Colbert Nation website at
And, although the March 13, 2009, broadcast is not available on the HBO website, you can find more information about HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” at http://www.hbo.com/billmaher/
In a study from Ohio State University, conservatives who watched the Colbert Report were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberal…
In a study from Ohio State University, conservatives who watched the Colbert Report were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements.
In other news, conservatives think world wrestling is real!
He was all right for a while
With his own senile style
But now most every night
As he shills for the right
He’s a weepy strange fellow
Right wing crap he sells
He’s not too well
Beck begins crying right on cue
Crying, sobbing too
It just feels so wrong
When Beck’s singing his sad song
Alone and crying, crying
It’s hard to understand
The thoughts of this sorry man
And why he’s crying
We thought that Glenn had quit the brew
It’s not true, not true
He’s drinking even more
Than he did before
That moron hasn’t a clue
And the G.O.P.
Cheers for him when he’s crying right on cue
Crying, sobbing too
Yes, now he’s gone
And from this moment on
He’ll be crying, crying
Yeah crying, crying
Right on cue
Join Gandalf Beck in his fight against the Robot Overlords!
In order to be clear, let me just say that Glenn Beck is a complete idiot, batshit loony to be precise!
I’ve lost any tiny miniscule of respect I had left for him. He should be ignored if at all possible, but if ignoring him doesn’t make him go away he should be ridiculed as the clown he admits that he is. He is a joke… but one of those jokes that is sad rather than funny.
Even one of the Fox reporters sees through Beck’s melodramatic bullshit.
Some smart people, of course, do like Beck because he is the clown that will say what no one else will say (and I’d add that there are often good reasons why others avoid making certain kinds of statements). Yes, in his rantings, he does occasionally speak a valid point. And, as Frank Rich concluded in his NYT article Even Glenn Beck Is Right Twice a Day, it’s still “a rage that is no less real for being shouted by a demagogue from Fox and a backbencher from South Carolina.” Yeah, yeah, yeah… he’s as mad as Hell, and he’s not going to take it anymore.
Whatever. Being angry doesn’t in any way justify idiocy. Anyways, the possibility that Beck’s tirades are authentic just scares me all the more. I hope that, considering his charismatic influence, it’s an act rather than genuine psychological instability… but I suspect it’s a bit of both.
My motivation for writing this post about Beck is his response to the incident where Anita Dunn briefly spoke about Mao.
Who gives a flying f*ck!?! She said she was being ironic and as someone who knows dry humor well I see no reason to disbelieve her explanation. She paired Mao together with Mother Theresa. To be honest, that is about as ironic as one can get. Maybe it’s not laugh out loud funny, but it’s still ironic. Even if you were to argue that she didn’t communicate her irony well, who cares?
I certainly don’t care about Beck’s attempt to pull yet another insane conspiracy theory out of his ass. I can’t see any reason why anyone should care. I don’t know about Anita Dunn or her positions on anything. It simply doesn’t matter. This is a complete non-issue.
The Commies aren’t going to take over America. If you wan’t to direct your fear towards something real, then fear the fear-mongerers. Glenn Beck is more likely to destroy America than is Anita Dunn.
I’m not defending Anita Dunn. I’m not a Democrat and I didn’t vote for Obama. I have no investment in defending Obama or anyone in his administration. I’m simply pointing out that Beck is a less than worthless cretin who knows no moral bounds. And the fact that those on the right have jumped on this issue because Beck pointed it out shows how pathetically far down the right has fallen. Fox news wastes it times on issues like this… give me a f*cking break!
Anita Dunn said, “We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent. As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.’’ Beck and Fox news simply prove that they’re not a legitimate news organization by their pathetic attempt to create news with their endless smear campaign.
If you appreciate calm fairminded analysis of Beck, then here you go.
(sung to the Monkees song “Last train to Clarksville”)
Take the last train to Nutsville
Beck will meet you at the station
You can be there by four-thirty
Cuz Fox made your reservation
The Beck Show, oh, no, no, no!
Oh, no, no, no!
Glenn lost his mind without warning
And it won’t be back again
Glenn Beck’s facing stormy weather
And it’s causing quite a strain
So, he must go, oh, no, no, no!
Oh, no, no, no
He might have a lobotomy on his dome.
Take the last train to Nutsville
Glenn Beck is their famous patient
If he’s not crying he’ll blow some kisses
But don’t attempt conversation
Oh… oh, no, no, no!
Oh, no, no, no!
Take the last train to Nutsville
That’s where Glenn Beck now calls home
We can’t hear him making noisy
Conversation all alone
He’s feelin’ low. Oh, no, no, no!
Oh, no, no, no!
And I don’t think that Glenn’s ever coming home.
Take the last train to Nutsville
Take the last train to Nutsville
(repeat and fade)
Desperado, you better come to your senses
Your racist offenses, so public now
Oh, you’re a hard one
But this will be your last season
The Fox boys are teasin’ you
Your show’s all done now
After your unseemly cryin’, boy
We knew you were unstable
We have all seen you fall apart on your set
Now it seems to me, you don’t bring
One sane sentence to the table
But what could one expect from crazy Glenn Beck
Desperado, you better fetch that old plunger
You’ll soon be flushed under that porcelain throne
Your kingdom, your kingdom fell and it’s not all that shocking
You just kept on talking till you were all alone
Will your deep dark soul hibernate in slime?
Your name, Glenn Beck, constitutes a crime
As does most everything that you say
Your sponsors all fleeing your show
Ain’t it funny as we watch them go away?
Desperado, You’ve shown us all what nonsense is
The prevailing sense is, you only hate
Your tears are rainin’, cuz you know nobody loves you
The Lord in Heaven up above you
(heaven up above you)
The Lord in Heaven up above you will decide your fate
Beck’s come undone
He didn’t know what he was headed for
And by the time that Fox shows him the door
It’s much too late
Beck’s come undone
He’s either drinking or he’s getting high
And now his sponsors have gone bye-bye
That is Glenn’s fate
It’s too late
Beck’s gone too far
He’s all but done
Beck’s come undone
Avoids the truth while he shouts out his lies
Now he has to realize
Redemption’s too late
Beck’s come undone
He’s like a little mouse that tries to roar
A TV host that most of us abhor
A victim of his fate
It’s too late
Beck’s no Bill Maher
He is no fun
Beck’s come undone
Too many branches, but not enough Christmas lights
Too many falsehoods and not enough truth
Too many people with too many eyes to see
Too many lies to tell, but not in prime-time
It’s too late
He’s over par
(that was a pun)
Beck’s come undone
(Doe-doe-doe-doe-doe-doe- un doe-doe-doe un doe-doe-doe)
(Doe-doe-doe-doe-doe un doe-doe-doe doe-doe-doe)
(Doe doe-doe-doe doe doe-doe-doe doe doe)
It’s too late
Feathered and tarred
He’s dazed and stunned
Beck’s come undone
He didn’t know what he was headed for
And now he’s much worse than the day before
It is too late
Beck’s come undone
He’s like a fountain spewing out just lies
And sometimes he just sits there and cries
Glenn Beck’s character traits
It’s too late
Beck’s gone too far
He’s a no-one
Beck’s come undone
(Doe doe doe-doe)
Help, Beck needs somebody
Help, not just anybody
Help, you know Glenn needs someone, help
When Beck was younger, so much younger than today
He would simply booze it up and toke his days away
But now those days are gone since Glenn Beck found the cure
Now it is the Racist Biz in which this small mouse roars
Help Beck if you can, for he may drown
And the President he hates for being brown
Help Glenn as his sponsorships go down
Won’t you please help Glenn B.
And now Glenn’s life has changed in oh so many ways
His advertisers have just vanished in the haze
First it was Geico and Men’s Wearhouse out the door
Now CVS has joined the rest, they’re pulling out for sure
Help Glenn if you can, his smile’s a frown
With all of his advertisers leaving town
How long will Fox News keep him around?
Won’t you please help Glenn B.
When Beck was stronger, way back when in his heyday
He never needed anybody’s help in any way
But now those days are gone and Glenn Beck is abhorred
Fox will find it’s in a bind if he’s not out the door
Help Beck if you can, he’ll make the rounds
His resumé will circulate from town to town
He might find employment as a clown
Won’t you please help Glenn B., Glenn B., Glenn B., oh…
This is my understanding of American politics. I don’t know if it’s absolutely true in every detail, but as far as I know it’s true in the broad trends I’m pointing out.
To begin, early Republicans were libertarians who believed in separation of government and capitalism. The Founding Fathers believed in an educated elite that controlled government and weren’t motivated by economic concerns. They thought selfishness was a danger to democracy. The early country was almost entirely agrarian. The Federal government was weak as much for reasons of disagreement as for any libertarian idealism, but there were already those favoring a strong Federal government supported by a thriving economy. Industrialism was already emerging and so along with an increasing tax base there was an ever-growing Federal government. It wasn’t long before there was a standing army and it was all downhill from there.
The US had slavery longer than other major nations. The US was slow on abolishing slavery. The early economy of the US was largely dependent on slavery and even politicians who were ideologically against slavery were only against it very weakly. The hope was that it would peacefully die out on its own, but this hope would prove to be unfounded. A similar argument is made today in the belief that racism will end on its own if we just don’t talk about it.
Lincoln was more concerned with maintaining Federal power than he was in ending slavery. He said he would have accepted slavery if the Southern states stopped trying to secede. With Lincoln and the Civil War, the Republican party had become the party for the federal power and the Democratic party had become libertarian in defending state’s rights. The Civil War was mostly about conservative Democrats from the Southern agrarian states (i.e. Dixiecrats) who opposed the liberally progressive Conservatives from the Northern industrial states. Of course, Industrialism and Federalism won and along with it progressive liberalism.
In the early 20th century, politics in general along with both parties was slanted towards progressive liberalism. Socialist programs were popular and fascism (the combination of state and capitalism) was the national enemy. At this time, Ayn Rand for the first time made popular a form of libertarianism that was pro-capitalism (i.e. big business to replace big government which if taken to an extreme would manifest as fascism). I don’t know which ideas were originated by Rand, but certainly she popularized a new ideal of enlightened selfishness which in time became the ideal adopted by many politicians.
In the mid 20th century, the Democratic and Republican parties switched places. Democrats turned towards civil rights and turned away from their support of state rights Dixiecrats. Republicans attempted a balancing act of maintaining their growing support of Federal power all the while wooing the Southern states. So, Democrats became the party of multiculturalism and minorities, and Republicans became the party of “white culture” and the religious right. At this time, Communists replaced the Fascists as the new national enemy and Federal power grew in leaps and bounds. Distracted by Communism, the ties between state and capitalism grew closer (i.e. military-industrial complex).
Several decades of the Cold War changed even further the definitions of the political parties. The fear-mongering of patriotic rallying led both parties to be proponents of a strong central government. The Republicans had a nifty trick that helped them to dominate politics for much of the last few decades. They managed to hold on to the Southern states by opposing the civil rights movement, and they held on to the Northern states by their support of Federal Power (and their support of “white culture” as the nation was still majority white).
This would seem to have left Libertarians outside of influence, but Republicans and Libertarians made a deal. The Rand devotees took over the Libertarian party and made it the party of big business and the Reaganite Neocons took over the Republican party and made it the party of the military-industrial complex. Thus the Rand Institute became a major player as a think tank for the Neocons. The odd thing is that the Neocons were disillusioned Democrats who stripped progressivism of any consideration of the idealism about human rights. Under Reagan, the Cold War military-industrial complex had led to an economic boom. The rich grew richer and the poor got trickle-down economics, but this also began the movement towards a massive cultural divide that would take a while to become disruptive to Republican power.
The Democratic party lost it’s inspiring vision with the death of Martin Luther King jr and the Kennedy brothers. It became a time of materialism and selfishness. There was simultaneously a cynicism about human nature and an idealism of the American spirit. Social Darwinism was the model of politics and of society in general. Even protesters against the war had turned violent as the police also turned violent. The soldiers were returning home and the travesty of the Vietnam war could no longer be ignored. These veterans weren’t welcomed home by anybody. Some of them joined the protesters (adding to the violence of the protests) and others entirely dropped out of civic participation. A generation of traumatized veterans became a major component of the growing homeless population.
This was also a time of an oppressive and invasive government. Besides the many assassinations, the government was heavy in to COINTELPRO programs which had the specific purpose of destroying the civil rights movement. Politics became dirty and Nixon became the symbol of how far the country had fallen in its depravity. The Cold War in general was a time of constant conflict inside and outside of the country. Besides Vietnam, the government was involved in covert wars, overthrowing of democratic governments, and illegal assassinations. As such, we helped support and build the power for people such as Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.
Politics and morality had almost been completely severed. This was a time of Republican power but it was a Republican party that had become entirely opposite of the ideals of the earliest Republicans. The Democratic party wasn’t much better as idealism in general was no longer strongly valued or rather the idealism had become nationalistic. Even the Democrats had become fairly Neocon. Neither party supported states rights. Neither party protected the poor from the rich.
However, a new young generation of realistic-minded GenXers were beginning to have a subtle influence in the background. It seems this new generation was not only more socially liberal but also more fiscally conservative which is closer to early American political values. GenXers believed in doing things for themselves because the large Boomer generation wouldn’t allow them into the reigns of power. GenX made the web into what we know it now and GenX embedded their liberal/libertarian values into how the internet functioned. The internet was first developed by the military and intellectual elites, but GenX made it in to a platform for democratic empowerment for the common person.
Meanwhile, Neoconservatism manifested in it’s most extreme form with Bush jr which finally made the American public realize the faults of this ideology that had dominated for a half century. Also, recent policies had led to a decade or so of increased immigration. A generation of kids were growing up in a multicultural America like no generation had seen before which in turn led to increasing socially liberal values. This was GenY which was larger than the Boomers and turned out in great numbers for the election when the Republican party finally lost its grip on political power. Obama was the first GenX president and he came to power by using the internet that GenX had developed.
After a dissatisfying 8 yrs of extreme Neoconservatism (along with a loss of American pride and an economic downturn), the ideal of the government taking the moral highground and of politics serving the people has became popular again. Obama has brought a focus on social programs and in reaction conservatives have retreated to a populist stance which they hadn’t used since the last time true liberal progressivism had been in power earlier in the previous century. However, this far right populism is grounded in both religious fundamentalism and “white culture”. The problem is that the US demographics have changed. The rural and Southern white Christian fundamentalists are now becoming less influential and will soon be the minority. This “populism” of “white culture” no longer correlates to popular opinion in the real world. Sadly, this the reason the white supremacists will become very vocal in the immediate future. There is going to be a cultural war and “white culture” as it’s been defined in the past is going to lose, but white supremacists won’t give up their power easily and there will be violence.
In conclusion, my main point is that only a loose connection exists between Republican and conservatism and between Democrat and liberalism. And Libertarianism has been particularly effective in redefining itself in order to create a niche. No unchanging definition of these parties exists.
So, what will the parties become in the next few decades?
The Democratic party is remembering it’s liberal idealism but without entirely giving up on the Neocon vision, and the Republican party is being forced to reassess its role in society and at least temporarily paying populist lip service to Libertarianism. The Libertarians were aligned with the Republicans in recent history, but now even many conservatives are critical of the Republicans. Now that Democrats are ascending in power and liberalism in general is increasing, where will that leave Libertarians in the long-term? The white supremacists are grasping for an alliance with the Libertarians, but if the Libertarians aren’t careful they will be pulled down. Libertarians have no loyalty to the white-dominated religious right. It’s more likely that Libertarians will eventually either seek commonality with Neoconservative Democrats and Blue Dogs or else lessen their advocacy of uncontrolled capitalism. What would the two parties look like if Libertarians switched loyalties to the new ruling party? I wouldn’t mind seeing a Libertarianism with a social conscience no matter which party it aligned itself with.
Blacks and hispanics will soon be the new majority. Will these previous minorities turn their backs on the Republican party that turned it’s back on them? Or will the new majority ethnicities take control of the Republican party? Will the political fight of the future be over whether America will be defined by either “black culture” or “hispanic culture”? Will white supremacists align themselves with hispanic caucasians in defense against the rising tide of blacks seeking compensation for centuries of oppression? Or are these culture wars of ethnicity a thing of the past as interracial marriage becomes ever more common?
Why are proud racists like Buchanan even allowed to speak on tv? If someone wants to be racist in this supposedly post-racist era, shouldn’t they at least have to hide their racism or else be humiliated into obscurity?
And why does the Republican party overtly support racism as a political strategy?
Most importantly, why are Republicans so ignorant and bigoted? Is it because they get most of their info from Fox news?
Why is it that the most vocal on the right are the social conservatives who rail against atheism all the while spewing such hate speach? So, what exactly is the connection between Christianity and morality?
What is so wrong about pointing out the racism that still exists? What is wrong about pointing out the brutality from before desegregation that still survives in the memory of many minority Americans? Are people actually so deluded to believe that racism is an issue of the distant past?
Anyways, is it unfair to blame all of this ignorant bigotry on the GOP and Fox news? Are religious conservatives just born stupid?
I’ve been thinking about the Fox pundits lately, but today I was thinking about the relationship (or lack thereof) between mainstream news and intellectuality.
I’m surprised when people try to defend Glenn Beck as an intellectual. Even though he isn’t utterly stupid, he is far from being an intellectual. His tendencies towards emotional melodrama and conspiracy theorizing show a lack of critical thinking skills. And, as far as I can tell, his education is limited mostly to the research he does on the web… which is fine as far as it goes (I’m not dissing the web).
Bill O’Reilly is more of a genuine intellectual. He has higher education in political analysis. O’Reilly may not be the most profoundly insightful commentator and he may lack intellectual humility, but still he is an intellectual of sorts. He is at least sometimes capable of calm reasoned analysis… when he isn’t shouting down opponents and righteously declaring his opinions.
Ultimately, O’Reilly is an ideologue just like Beck. Whether one uses reason or paranoia to support one’s presupposed ideology, it’s not that big of a difference. Intellectually respectable or not, O’Reilly and Beck seem to agree on a similar worldview which isn’t essentially intellectual in nature.
Anyways, that is just preamble. The real reason for this post is my consideration of what defines intellectuality.
Real intellectuality isn’t just intelligence and it’s not even just critical thinking skills. Both of those are part of it, but they mean little if they are simply motivated by non-rational impulses and used to rationalize non-rational beliefs. A real intellectual looks at the facts before coming to a conclusion. A real intellectual is reserved in their opinions and wary of biases. A real intellectual is humble in their opinion, is willing to admit they’re wrong, and is willing to change their view to fit the facts. A real intellectual not only looks at the facts but specifically looks for facts that might disprove their assumptions, seeks out reasons for why the may be wrong, considers all criticisms and all alternative viewpoints.
At this point, Beck has been left in the dust. Pseudo-intellectual conspiracy theorizing does require a certain amount of intelligence and creates a facade of rationality, but it’s so far from being intellectually respectable that it deserves mockery. O’Reilly, on the other hand, comes closer and yet still falls short. He may sometimes play the role of an intellectual and may make some intelligent comments, but first and foremost he is an opinionator.
A real intellectual may be a hard thing to find. Aren’t we all motivated by unconscious assumptions and impulses that bias our thinking? Yes. However, there are those who seek to look beyond their biases and there are those who embrace their biases. A real intellectual may not be a genius and may not have any grand insights, but what is important is that they’re humble in accepting their limitations. They know what they know and they know what they don’t know, and they don’t pretend to know more than they do.
More important than anything, a real intellectual has to either be fairly self-aware or else committed to a methodology that forces objectivity. In science, peer review forces an approximation of objectivity in that personal biases tend to get filtered out over time. In news reporting, fact-checking teams working behind the scenes to keep the reporting honest. However, news reporting will never be as objective as science. The fact-checkers are only as unbiased as the company that hires them. Thusly, a news network such as Fox with a clear agenda will, even when using fact-checkers, promote biased reporting. Furthermore, fact-checking has become less of a priority as news agencies have lost money and pundits have become more popular.
It’s hard to find real intellectuals on tv these days. Even when they manage to sneak on for a few minutes, all that tv news allows for are soundbites. To the average viewer, a real intellectual is boring. People want to be entertained. If people wanted to think, they’d read a book rather than watch the news.
An example of a real intellectual would be someone like Noam Chomsky. He has some useful insight about why real intellectuals don’t make good tv talking heads. I’ve never come across any other intellectual than sounds as calmly reasonable as Chomsky. I actually get the sense that he has some genuine insight, that he actually knows what he is talking about. He isn’t loud and bombastic. Even in his strong opinions, he states everything with cited facts and clear logic. He doesn’t slander those he disagrees with but simply analyzes why they are wrong.
Nonetheless, even Chomsky has an agenda. His focus is politics and he wants to influence the world. So, he isn’t simply stating facts. He has biases, but he is open about his biases and he carefully explains the reasons for his beliefs. He is what I would consider a real intellectual. That is what he is and it isn’t just a role he is playing. It’s just his way of viewing the world. Chomsky’s intellectuality serves the purposes of intellectuality. He doesn’t simply pay lip-service to it but rather genuinely believes in the value of the intellect.
Okay, that is my definition of intellectuality. An intellectual can be an atheist or a theist, a scientist or a philosopher. But, whatever he is, he combines rigorous critical thinking with humble open-mindedness. As I already said, real intellectuality serves the purpose of intellectuality.
That said, I want to push this one step further. Intellectuality itself is a bias. It’s a way of viewing the world, a way of filtering out what one deems unuseful in order to focus on what one deems useful.
I consider myself an intellectual in that I often involve myself in intellectual activities and I try to be intellectually humble. However, my intellectuality serves a profound sense of truth that includes but isn’t limited to intellectuality. Intellectuality is just one of many perspectives which doesn’t mean I don’t respect intellectuality. It may have its limitations, but it’s irreplaceable in the fight against pseudo-intellectuality. If one isn’t capable of real intellectuality, then there is little hope for one having the clarity of mind to grasp even deeper truths.
It is intellect that helps one to clear away the mud, but it won’t necessarily help one to see the gold and tell it apart from fool’s gold. Intellectuality is just a tool, but as it’s a way of viewing the world it’s easy to get lost in this one perspective. To probe the foundations of mind and thought, to question intellectuality itself demands a wider set of tools. As such, I’m a truth-seeker and I use whatever helps me to ascertain the truth. This necessitates the intellect because even non-intellectual truths require some intellectual ability to give them form and to communicate them to others.
The relationship between intellect and truth is hard to clarify. An intellectual may or may not be a truth-seeker, and a truth-seeker may or may not be an intellectual… but more often than not the two go hand in hand.
Let me use an example to differentiate an intellectual from a truth-seeker. In some recent articles, Karen Armstrong and Richard Dawkins each wrote an essay about religion and science. Karen Armstrong argued for non-literal religious truth as separate from the scientific endeavor. Richard Dawkins argued for a dismissal of religion by interpreting it literally and showing that it fails scientific literalism. Dawkins is an intellectual, but not a truth-seeker. Armstrong is an intellectual and a truth-seeker. As for the literalist religious type, they are definitely not intellectuals even when they use intellectual-sounding arguments to rationalize their apologetics and for this reason they’re not likely to be truth-seekers either. The materialistic atheist and the anti-intellectual theist both believe they have found truth and so have little motivation to seek it.
To be both a real intellectual and a truth-seeker is a difficult but worthy aspiration. The two jostle against each other and create an unresolvable tension. And this tension is what motivates all great thinkers.
I don’t know if any other WordPress.com bloggers have noticed this. Every now and then, I get weird formatting issues.
In one blog, a large number of my hyperlinks somehow became unlinked. That is quite annoying. I’ll have to go back and find all of the links again.
I’m working on a blog now where two separate incidents happened. First, a large part of my text for no reason switched from ‘Paragraph’ format to ‘Heading 3’ format, but I was able to switch it back. The second issue is extremely annoying. I’d saved my post and when I came back to it, the top line had one of the dot’s next to it as would normally show when using the list formatting. However, it doesn’t allow me to remove that dot. Every time I try to remove it by deleting or shifting the text, the dot just moves somewhere else in the text.
Nation, I’m sorry but I got to take a minute here to defend the mainstream media’s favorite punching bag, Glenn Beck. They are attacking the silver gopher just because he dominates the coveted demographic of 18 to 49 yr old voices in his head. Now, It’s perfectly fair to attack Glenn for what he believes afterall he is a public figure like President Obama or Kermit the Frog.
He is a fear-mongerer of a thousand voices. Well, two. But now they’re coming after Glenn for something much more important than his beliefs. What Glenn believes is irrelevant. He has said himself that he is not a journalist…
“I’m not a journalist” (New York Times, June 16, 2009)
…he is just a rodeo clown…
“I’m a rodeo clown.” (New York Times, March 9, 2009)
…and that if you believe what he says you’re an idiot…
“…you’re an idiot.” (New York Times, March 29, 2009)
…which itself proves that Glenn Beck believes what he says.
But Glenn does more than just say things. Tell them what you do Glenn.
“I just love my country *whimper* and I fear for it.”
He just loves and fears. And sometimes he just fears love.
I every so often check out the blog by the apologist Stephen J. Bedard. I noticed some new comments and one particular comment was quite nice. I’ll quote this comment in full because it’s such a perfect summary of the Jesus Myth position. I’d been meaning to fully respond to this post of Bedard’s for a while, but just had only answered Bedard’s first criticism and so it has remained unposted until now. I’ll first give my limited response, then share the other commenters response, and after that I’ll respond to Bedard’s response to the commenter. Clear?
1) The rejection of the Gospels as historical sources. They are seen as faith documents and not modern biographies. That is true but we do not have any unbiased ancient texts that meet the criteria of modern biography. If we reject the Gospels, we would also have to reject most of what we know about ancient history.
Some mythicists may reject the Gospels as historical sources, but this has nothing directly to do with the mythicist theory. The parallels are relevant whether or not there is any relevant historical references in the Gospels. Besides, I doubt any mythicist claims that the Gospels entirely lack history. In fact, all the mythicists I know of agree that the writers (and interpolators) were purposely adding history to make the Christ myth more convincingly real. The difference from literalists is that mythicists either see the historical additions as coming later in the development of Christianity or they see a historical figure that was evemerized and whose biographical details now are (mostly or entirely) lost.
It’s a rather complex issue since the limited info allows for endless speculation. There might’ve been a historical Jesus who was lost beneath mythology and then the later historicizing of the gospel writers may have attempted to reconstruct the hypothetical evemerized Jesus. Or there might’ve been many historical figures that became amalgamated by which they were given a unified and coherent story through mythological motifs. We conveniently don’t even have the unmodified writings (or even the first commentaries) of the earliest Christians/Gnostics to determine how they perceived their own process of storytelling.
All of this shows a difference in thinking styles. To the degree that someone is a literalist, they think in black and white terms. A literalist historical Jesus can’t be mythical (even if one allows for superficial mythical accretions). The mythicist position, on the other hand, can allow for a historical Jesus. As such, mythicists (unlike apologists) are in a better position to adapt to the evidence as it arises for they have no singular fixed position, no belief system held above doubt and question. A difference here is that a historical Jesus is unimportant to a mythicist because history doesn’t prove theology nor does it disprove the mythicist theory. Even if the litealist can prove a historical Jesus, it is utterly meaningless because what they’re really trying to prove is that he is the Son of God who died for our sins… which is outside of the proof of history.
Oddly enough, a number of Christians have supported mythicism even while they affirmed historicism, but these aren’t your typical literalists. One of the greatest New Testament scholars was Rudolf Bultmann. He believed in mythological parallels, but the apologist prefers to ignore Christians like him. Another example is C.S. Lewis who is a favorite of apologists, and yet he accepted that Pagan parallels existed before Christianity. Actually, the earliest apologists didn’t try to deny any of this, but some just said the Devil foresaw the coming of Christ and taught the Pagans false doctrines ahead of time in order to deceive. Lewis followed a different tradition of interpretation (Justin Martyr speaks of “seeds of truth among all men” within 1 Apology 44. See: preparatio evangelica). He argued that the pre-Christian parallels strengthened Christianity. If the pre-Christian parallels were false, then Christianity would be false as well. However, maybe Christianity took the truth of Paganism and added further truth to it. What had been just mythological was now historically real… or so the argument goes. But this ignores the fact that many Pagans believed their myths were also historical. Anyways, it is insightful how apologists overlook this part of Lewis’ writings.
To be fair, I should point out that Bedard isn’t a simpleminded apologist (see: Reading the Bible Literally). Bedard seems to be more in the latter camp as he was influenced by C.S. Lewis (see: Mere Christianity). He accepts that Christian holidays are Pagan in origin (see: The Bible and Pagan Holidays), that the earliest Christian iconography copied Pagan images (see: Christ as Orpheus), and that the Judeo-Christian tradition was contributed to by Pagan ideas (see: Hellenistic Influence and the Resurrection). To me, this seems to be as literalist as a Christian can be while maintaining some basic rational dignity, and Bedard claims his beliefs are based on rationality.
But if one were to take all of those Pagan elements away, what would be left? A historical figure? Well, Pagans had historical claims about their godmen. A savior who is the Son of God? Well, this motif can also be found outside of Christianity. Bedard, obviously, feels there is something unique here… but exactly what?
Bedard at times does show his literalist tendencies in a black and white thinking. No mythicist is using modern standards of biography to judge the Gospels. It is absurd to argue we’d have to reject most of ancient history if we reject the Gospels. That almost doesn’t even deserve a rational response. For one, secular historians aren’t trying to prove anything theologically and so they always start from a position of questioning and doubt. There is no reason to accept any text as true until other sources of info validate it. In the case of the Gospels, they lack confirming sources. No ancient historian spoke about Jesus while he was alive even though there were numerous historians (including Jewish historians) in the area Jesus supposedly lived. Also, Romans were meticulous record keepers and the records of the time survived for us to inspect, and yet we discover no Jesus in them. This lack of evidence may not be remarkable for an average person of the time, but Christians claimed Jesus had great impact on the Roman World.
Let me add one last point on this issue. I was listening to Richard Carrier on the proper defense and improper defense of the Jesus Myth(scroll down). Carrier makes an interesting point. People aren’t idiots for believing in Jesus’ historicity. They’re just looking at different data. Just a few pieces of data not assimilated or countered by historical arguments won’t disprove it, but a few hundred pieces of data that promotes doubt causes one to consider alternative theories. However, most people never get to that point. This is particularly true for many (most?) New Testament scholars who are Christians (which is a large percentage) and hence who don’t have much motivation to seek out and seriously consider all of the contradictory data. According to Carrier, it’s a bad argument to try to support mythicism by claiming silence on Jesus’ historicity. The evidence that has survived could be interpreted as proof of a historical Jesus, but it could also be interpreted in other ways when placed in context of other evidence. If one doesn’t take into account the plethora of Pagan parallels (either out of ignorance or dismissal), it isn’t irrational per se if one were to claim Jesus’ historicity. However, as an apologetic argument, it’s just an empty claim that one can say little about… not that apologetics is meant to have substance beyond the belief motivating it.
Michael’s response to Bedard:
“As I sit here watching the documentary on Tom Harpur’s Pagan Christ, I find myself reminded of all the problems that I see in the Jesus myth theory. I will share my top ten problems with this theory. This is not a detailed analysis but rather my opportunity to vent on the glaring problems with this theory.
1) The rejection of the Gospels as historical sources. They are seen as faith documents and not modern biographies. That is true but we do not have any unbiased ancient texts that meet the criteria of modern biography. If we reject the Gospels, we would also have to reject most of what we know about ancient history.”
For the most part, proponents of the Jesus Myth (JM) regard the gospels as allegorical first and faith documents second. Also, proponents of the JM do highlight the fact that the early catholic church used purely theological arguments for the existence of Jesus and did not defer to historical sources. Barnabbas and Clement are very curious because when they refer to the passion of Christ they simply quote Isaiah 53… which is an odd thing to do if the exploits of Christ had been a matter of recent history and were purported to be world reknown.
And there does exist a good selection of actual historical documents from the 1st century, such as Pliny’s Natural History and Josephus’ Testimonium… the four gospels do not mirror the style and format of any known works of historical record from the time period they are alleged to have been composed in.
“2) The claim that Paul never mentions the historical Jesus. This is simply not true. Paul quotes Jesus, mentions aspects of his life and in 1 Corinthians 15 he challenges his readers to check out the surviving witnesses.”
That Paul “quotes” Jesus is not problematic for proponents of the JM. There’s nothing that prohibits the idea that the cosmic divine messiah taught his apostles. That Paul is aware of a sacred meal is not problematic either. Sacred meals are virtually universal. And in 1st Corinthians 15 Paul never differentiates between the nature of his experience with Jesus (revelatory vision) and the experience of the other apostles. Doesn’t Paul say at some point in the epistles, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen the Lord?” Paul wrote that there was no difference between his experience with Jesus and the other apostles experience. And in verse 45 Paul actually says that Jesus was not a human and draws a stark contrast between Adam and Jesus to illustrate the point.
You seem to be basing your 10 points off of a very faulty understanding of the JM, which is regrettable but predictable.
“3) The rejection of Josephus as a testimony of Jesus. Some authors reject Josephus as evidence for Jesus because it is clear that there is Christian tampering. Most scholars see an original core testimony that has been augmented by Christians not created. Plus we have what Josephus says about John the Baptist and James, the brother of Jesus.”
I am always very doubtful of anyone who says anything along the lines of “most scholars”. This kind of appeal to authority and reliance upon an alleged consensus is the heighth of intellectual laziness.
“4) The claim that gnosticism was an equally original valid of Christianity along side what became orthodox Christianity. The fact is that there is a clear continuity with our first century Christian documents as found in the New Testament and what became orthodox Christianity. Gnosticism with its rejection of the Jewish God, Jewish Scriptures, material world, and its focus on gnosis rather than sin were a later (mid to late second century) break away from Christianity.
5) The misuse of pagan myths. Many claims are made about the pagan myths by these authors but when you look at the myths themselves, these claims are often not accurate. You are expected to rely on their secondary sources and not to look at the primary sources.
6) Pagan myths are described in Christian language to strengthen their connection to Jesus. Mithras is said to be born of a virgin even though he was born of a rock. Horus is said to be born of virgin even though he was conceived in the post-death intercourse of his married parents.”
It is not a fact that there is clear continuity between canonical texts and what became orthodox Christianity. There is a record of development from the 1st century to the 2nd of an evolving human Jesus doctrine. This can be seen in primitive “gospel” references throughout Barnabbas, Polycarp, Clement, Paul, Ignatius, etc. and it leads all the way to the end of the 2nd century with the crystallization of the four gospels as referred to by Irenaeus in Against Heresies.
Please note that, unlike your baseless assertion this is an argument that is logical and supported by the documentary evidence.
Also, you over-state the case for pagan influences. You’re building one heck of a strawman. Certainly there was pagan influence, but any proponent of the JM worth his/her salt will tell you that the biographical data that came to be expressed in the gospels was drawn almost entirely from the Old Testament.
Again, your understanding the JM seems to be incredibly flawed.
“7) No respect for the dates of texts. Authors use pagan texts to establish connections to Jesus but sometimes (as in the case of Mithras) the texts post-date the New Testament. How do we know that the pagans did not borrow from the Christians?
8 ) Use of post-biblical traditions. Authors demonstrate pagan influence on the three wide men, the ox and ass, December 25 and a number of other traditions. The problem is that those are not biblical traditions. These things were added to the tradition later and any pagan influence says nothing about the origins of the Jesus story.
9) Misunderstanding of pagan influence on art. There are valid examples of pagan influence on Christian art such as Isis holding baby Horus being used as a model for Mary holding baby Jesus. It make sense that the new movement of Christianity would look beyond itself as it was developing its artistic side. This says nothing about pagan origins for the story.
10) The patchwork use of pagan myths. It is difficult to find large chunks of pagan myth that look like the Gospels. Jesus myth theorists take a word here and a phrase here, from dozens of myths from many cultures and say “Here is the Gospel!” If you start with enough stories, you can reconstruct almost any historical figure, ancient or minor.”
Strawman strawman strawman.
“These are just a few of the problems that I have with the Jesus myth theory. Unfortunately, it is not likely to go away any time soon.”
No, it won’t go away any time soon, in fact it is gaining traction.
– – –
I generally agree with this assessment of the Jesus Myth theory. Bedard responded to this comment, but the commenter didn’t return. So, let me have a crack at Bedard’s comment.
Regarding the Gospels, even the great allegorist Origen did not take them as strictly allegorical. While not exactly the same as Josephus, the Gospels do have much in common with ancient histories. They are closer to ancient biographies with Luke-Acts having stronger historical leanings. And as for the early church, they did not just rely on allegory or OT interpretation. They also stated these events as being historical events.
Yes, there was a great variety in early Christianity. It was common practice for Christians to take some of the Bible allegorically, but there was disagreement about which parts were allegorical and exactly how they should be interpreted. Some Christians even believed that Jesus was entirely allegorical or at least entirely spiritual (non-physical/non-historical)… allegorical and spiritual being related in the ancient mind.
I personally wouldn’t argue that the Gospels entirely lack commonality in certain aspects of style with some ancient histories. It wasn’t uncommon in the ancient world for history to be mixed with allegory (whether allegory as spiritual truth or as moral storytelling), and it’s not easy to tell how literally ancients took any given text as the common understanding would likely never have been written down. The claims of emperors as godmen, for example, can be found in supposedly historical accounts. Did the Romans actually believe their emperor was a godman? I’m sure some did… just consider how gullible some modern people are even though modern education is far superior.
The Gospels show commonalities with many types of writing and storytelling and that is part of the point of the Jesus Myth theory. There are a few comparisons that can be made. Alan Dundes wrote the book Holy Writ as Oral Lit in which he shows the similarities of the Bible with folklore texts. Other scholars have pointed out the similarity of the Gospels to the genre of Spiritual Romances which were a type of fiction popular at the time. As an example of a novel of that time period, read The Life of Aesop which supposedly tells the biographical story of Aesop’s life and the style of it is reminiscent of the Gospels. I’m not implying that there is any causal connection between the Gospels and The Life of Aesop, but I’m merely pointing out that this genre of storytelling was extremely popular in the early centuries of the Roman Empire.
Regarding Paul and the historical Jesus, in the first verses of 1 Cor 15 where Paul speaks of the resurrection historically and tags his experience to the witness of others. As for verse 45, Paul is contrasting Jesus with Adam but he is not denying that he is human. Read the passage from Genesis that he is quoting and you will see that the whole verse is about Adam. Paul is saying Jesus is a complete Adam.
I have no particular opinion about this. Jesus and Adam are equally mythological and both were taken as historical figures by some believers. On the other hand, there were also believers who interpreted the Bible as spiritual allegory which isn’t exactly fiction but which is far from historical fact. The purpose of spiritual allegory is to point to a more profound truth. The question is which belief was closest to the original Christians. Well, I don’t know if there was any singular group of Christians that was orginal. What I do know is that the Gnostics were the earliest Christians to organize the Gospels into a single book, were the earliest Christians to comment on the Gospels, and were among the earliest prominent Christian leaders both within and outside of the Catholic Church.
I hear what you are saying about “most scholars” but I have trouble when there is a strong consensus among a wide variety of scholars (not just Christian) and just a few scholars, usually those with a theory like the Jesus myth to promote, who deny the passage.
My opinion is that the concensus in Biblical studies isn’t the same thing as a concensus in science. Most Biblical scholars have been and still are Christians or at least were raised in Christianity. Most of the Biblical scholarship in the past was done as overt apologetics, and many scholars still act as apologists and see no contradiction in their ability to think objectively and critically. Bedard himself is an apologist who has beliefs such as the virgin birth that contradict the concensus of scientists. Shouldn’t the concensus of scientists supercede the concensus of apologists when it comes to a subject such as the biological possibility of virgin births in homo sapiens?
As examples of the importance of distinguishing apologetics from scholarship, read the following blogs and articles. I also threw in some other responses to specific apologetic arguments just for good measure.
I disagree with your statement about the continuity. Orthodox Christians agreed that Jesus’ Father was the God of the OT and that Jesus was human and divine. All of this found in the NT but denied by gnostics.
The Gnostics were the first to collect scriptures into a single book we now call the Gospels. The Gnostics intentionally left out Jewish scriptures because the purpose of their creating the Gospels was because they specifically believed the OT God and the NT God were separate Gods (enemies even). The Gospels were created for the purpose of demonstrating the distinct uniqueness of the Christian God. Yes, there were some Jewish or Jewish-influenced Christians early on, but there is no proof that they were the first Christians. Obviously, Judaism was a part of the milieu of early Christianity and so were a number of other religions. As the earliest commenters on the Gospels were Gnostics who were also the creators of the Gospels as a singular canon, I think it’s fair to give them precedence on it’s interpretation… or at least it’s fair not to dismiss them out of hand.
Regarding the pagan influence. I agree that there is a stronger case that the Gospels are based on the OT than on pagan sources but the Jesus myth people I have encountered (Tom Harpur, Peter Gandy, Timothy Freke) have focused mostly on the pagan sources.
As I see it, it isn’t either/or. Yes, many biographical details were lifted at some point from the OT. But, some argue, that this was simply a matter of Hellenistic Jews and other related groups reading the OT through the lense of Greco-Roman philosophy, theology and mythology. In the ancient world, a new religion was deemed unworthy if it didn’t have precedent in an already existing religious tradition. So, a new religion had to prove itself by interpreting older texts in a new light. But this was just a matter of convenience and they weren’t trying to stay true to the original intent and purpose of those texts. The Jesus story that they created was in contradiction to the traditional Jewish expectation of a Messiah, but all that mattered is that Jesus was portrayed as Jewish which gave him the appearance of respectability. They had to detail his Jewish lineage in order to substantiate their claims. However, from a strictly traditional Jewish perspective, such superficial reinterpretations were meaningless and outright blasphemous.
Let me make one last point about Bedard’s scholarship. It’s obvious he lacks any full understanding of mythicism. The three Jesus myth people he mentions (Harpur, Gandy, and Freke) are just popular writers. He admits to having never read any serious scholarship about mythicism. I appreciate popularizers for they communicate ideas to the general public, but there are several scholars I can think of offhand who are way more respectable than those three. I linked some of these scholars above, but there are a few more besides. I should mention Karen Armstrong. She is a respectable scholar who, although doesn’t identify as a mythicist, seems to support the connections between pagan mythology, classical thought, allegorical thinking and early Christianity. If you want to know more about the Christ myth theory and the scholars who have supported this position, then check out the Wikipedia article which gives a good overview.
As an apologist, it doesn’t matter that Bedard’s knowledge of mythicism is limited. However, as a scholar, it’s very important. Bedard is not only a published scholar but has specifically written a book about mythicism. He presents himself as an expert and he is an expert in other areas of Biblical studies but not in mythicism. I first commented on Bedard’s blog around the beginning of this year (2009) and the year is almost ended. One of the comments I made to Bedard at that time was specifically that he claimed to have only read the popularizers of mythicism and that if he was serious about his scholarship then he should read some serious scholarship on the subject. I was just perusing his blog and saw no evidence that he has since read any high quality scholarship on mythicism.
As far as I can tell by my brief interactions, I respect Bedard as a person. He is one of the most easygoing apologists I’ve ever met. Also, I read one of his articles published in a journal and I was impressed. But none of that changes the fact that he isn’t an expert nor has read any experts in the field of mythicism. His opinions about mythicism are no more worthy than the mythicist popularizers he has criticized. As such, his writings on mythicism mostly serve the purpose of apologetics rather than scholarship.
That is fine if that is all he wants to do, but he seems to have a mind that is capable of so much more. I’d love to see him (or some other apologist) do an in-depth analysis of the full range of mythicist scholarship. I’m waiting…
To truly stand for nothing means a person of no belief at all. Then you say fall; a too hard word with that premise. Once you fall, you have given self wholly. You fall and with that you stand. Paradox. Unless my understanding of the maxim is skewed. No belief means you cannot fall, you cannot attach, you cannot align strongly. You are especially undecided even on the sanctity of life.
Heartless is easily the description for the person.
Standing for something, anything at all costs isn’t a noble ideal. Falling may be judged a weakness by society, but it’s the fear of falling that is the true weakness.
If you’ve never hit rockbottom, then you’ve never seen the ground. How can you have anything worth standing for if you’ve never seen the ground you stand upon?
Clinging to something in hope that it will keep you from falling isn’t in actuality standing for anything at all. You can’t stand until you let go.
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