Generation of Clowns in the Fourth Turning

Here are a few videos that I thought worth posting… along with some of my own commentary.

We need to have more public debate about generations. Demographics are destiny. We have lived through a time ruled by Boomers and part of the shift we’re experiencing is that of the younger generations gaining power.

By the way, not all or even most Boomers were hippies. The fundamentalist backlash and the culture wars were also products of Boomers. Bush is the perfect example of a Boomer.

I’ve heard that some Washington politicians were aware of the Fourth Turning theory back in the 90s when the book first came out. What if some of these politicians decided to use the theory for the purposes of social engineering. The author said that Obama hasn’t been very successful in using the crises to create change, but maybe that isn’t the agenda in Washington. There are definitely those who’d like to avoid change and re-establish the status quo.

I’d point out one factor not considered. The clowns (Glenn Beck, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert) are all GenXers. If you’re familiar with the generation theory expoused by Strauss and Howe, you wouldn’t be surprised that GenXers play the role of clowns. GenXers serve two purposes: 1) to push the system over the edge into the Fourth Turning; and 2) to act as leaders to the young generations as we shift into a new era. Whether or not they play their role well is a whole other issue.

Their viewers don’t get their news from Jon Stewart & Stephen Colbert. Their viewers are mostly young and mostly liberal, both demographics getting more news from alternative sources than any other demographics. On the other hand, older conservatives are more likely to trust mainstream media which is why they are so uninformed compared to young liberals. The difference might be that viewers of satire realize the entire mainstream media is comedy.

Beck vs Moore & other examples

I heard Michael Moore interviewed on NPR the other day. It was the best interview of him that I’ve come across. He spoke about his personal life which gave the background for what motivates him. He was raised in a politically active family, but fairly conservative. His grandfather was a Republican politician who taught him the values of conservatism such as conserving the environment. He grew up Catholic and still goes to church. He has been married to the same woman for something like 3 decades. He tries to be a good person and live by the principles that Jesus taught. Moore is one of those social justice Christians that Beck thinks are the worse of the worse.

I bring up Beck for a reason. Beck often uses violence as a theme in his show. One particular example was when he was talking about killing Michael Moore and he wondered if he should kill Moore himself or hire someone. I think that is an extreme statement to make on mainstream tv. Conservatives don’t seem offended by such hate-filled language, but if a liberal said something like that conservatives would go batshit crazy. Moore has never made a statement like that. Moore even said he wouldn’t even say he hated Bush even though he strongly disagreed with him. From Moore’s Christian perspective, hatred and violence aren’t Christian values. Also, he believes religion is a personal matter and shouldn’t be used as a talking point or a wedge issue. Moore chooses to live his values rather than righteously preach down at others.

Moore is considered by rightwingers as the most loony of the leftwingers. So, if Moore is the worst kind of liberal, that is a compliment to liberalism. Compared to the worst kind of conservative, Moore comes off as a moderate. Even if you disagree with Moore’s claims or arguments, at least he doesn’t threaten violence and spout hate speech.

This distinction isn’t limited to Moore and Beck.

There was an interview Buckley did with Chomsky. Buckley threatened to punch Chomsky in the face and it wasn’t the first guest he had threatened in this manner. It’s a rather odd response to have in a televised interview especially with someone like Chomsky who is as cool-headed of an intellectual as you can find. Chomsky is very easygoing and quite understanding of those different from himself. Chomsky even defended Tea Party protesters saying that they shouldn’t be criticized by liberals but instead that liberals should try to understand their perspective. Understand the perspective of someone you disagree with? Why does it take a liberal to point out that sympathetic understanding is better than righteous hatred?

Let me provide two other examples.

Compare Bill O’Reilly and Jon Stewart. Stewart is fairly easygoing although not the intellectual that Chomsky is. Like Chomsky, Stewart doesn’t come off as mean-spirited and always gives people the opportunity to speak and he actually listens to others. O’Reilly, on the other hand, often yells at people, tells them to shut up and talks over them. O’Reilly isn’t always that way, but my point is that he acts that way quite often and Stewart never acts that way. I truly doubt that Stewart has ever told a guest to shut up.

And compare Ann Coulter and Bill Maher. Maher also lets anyone to state their opinion. He has strong opinions, but he doesn’t bludgeon people with them. He for some strange reason even considers Coulter a friend of sorts and has had her on his show. Coulter is very different. She is the most rude and bigoted person I’ve ever seen on mainstream tv. She either intentionally makes offensive statements or she is almost entirely oblivious, but she doesn’t seem stupid enough to be that oblivious.

Obviously, this isn’t limited to the behavior of people on tv. I’ve discussed this topic before and I mentioned the differences between conservative and liberal activists. A clear example are the two sides on the abortion issue. Pro-life activists have committed decades of a wide variety of violence, but I never hear of violence by pro-choice activists. I’m not saying that all conservatives are violent. What I am saying is that the conservative mindset seems to make one more prone to violence. As a contrasting example, I like to bring up the Weather Underground which is considered the most violent liberal activist group in US history. The difference is that the Weather Underground never killed anyone nor tried to kill anyone. In fact, they went out of their way to avoid killing anyone.

Another example is that of guns. Conservatives bring guns to rallies and protests. Liberals don’t. If asked, many liberals support the right to own guns or even carry guns. But, for whatever reason, the threat of violence bothers liberals more… maybe because the violence is typically turned towards liberals. And yet it’s conservatives who feel the most defensive when violence is used against the country.

There are many explanations for why this difference exists. I tend to favor psychological explanations based on personality research, but there are cultural reasons that could be considered as well. Anyways, the reason for this difference isn’t my concern in this post. I was partly just noting the difference as I just heard the interview with Michael Moore. But what ultimately concerns me or rather what makes me wonder is: Why do liberals notice this difference but conservatives don’t? When I’ve seen this brought up with conservatives they tend to explain it away. If a liberal used violence, even liberals would condemn it. But when conservatives use violence, conservatives often will defend it or try to find some kind of rationalized justification. For example, Palin said a conservative who killed some liberals wasn’t a terrorist even though the killing was politically motivated. Even a conservative politician can defend violence and not be held accountable.

As a liberal, I fear violence by American conservatives more than I fear violence by Islamic extremists. And my fear is reasonable. A large percentage of recent acts of violence have been committed by conservatives and often directed at liberals. It’s a fact of life in the US that conservatives are prone to violence. Maybe it’s a fact of life in all countries.

Politics and News, Media and Critics

I’ve been talking to my father recently about politics and about the various political personas to be found on tv.  He is a conservative Christian who leans towards (Randian) libertarianism and I’m a liberal agnostic who (sometimes and with great wariness) leans towards (Chomskian?) libertarianism.  He likes the Fox news pundits and I like the Comedy Central news satirists.  This leads to some disagreements as the former are often the targets of the latter.

Christianity is a very central issue that comes up in my thinking about this subject… partly because Christianity is very central to my father.  These first two videos portray very different views of American Christianity.

I’m not sure what to think.  There is plenty of fear-mongering on both sides of the debate.  Even though I’m severely mistrustful of the powers and believe the most insightful commentary often comes from those labeled as conspiracy theorists, I’m highly critical of fear-mongering.  Plus, as far as conspiracy theorists go, Glenn Beck seems like a Johnny-come-lately.  I’m appreciative of Beck at least bringing issues up that would otherwise remain outside of the mainstream, but I’d personally prefer the even-toned intellectual analysis of Noam Chomsky.

I’m drawn towards certain libertarian values and so I partially agree with Glenn Beck, but for whatever reason I feel mistrustful of his presentaion.  I don’t like when it feels someone is intentionally using emotional charisma and melodrama to try to influence me (especially when fear is being elicited).  Some feel that Beck’s tears demonstrate an authenticity, that he actually cares about you, about this country, about freedom… but for whatever reason it doesn’t convince me.  It’s not that I don’t think he means well and it’s not that I think he is lying.  It just doesn’t resonate with my own sense of authenticity.

I wonder why this emotional expressiveness appeals to many on the right?  Does it relate to the passionate charismatic style of evangelical preachers?  And what is the connection to anti-intellectualism?  Many conservative pundits and politicians presents themselves as being just average Americans.  The appeal of Bush and Palin largely came from this appeal.  I personally don’t understand it and agree with Jon Stewart that I want a leader who is smarter than me, who is better than me.

Beyond the emotion issue, I mistrust fundamentalist Christianity and that seems to be Beck’s central guiding paradigm.  I’m not an atheist, but fundamentalism rarely seems to connect with my understanding of what Jesus actually taught (and research shows that American Christians are relatively lacking in knowledge of the Bible).

On the other hand, I don’t wish to dismiss Glenn Beck.  He is touching upon some important issues (and some raw nerves in the American psyche).  Some consider this new breed of fundamentalist conservative as a loony fringe.  It is true that the numbers of viewers Beck has are a minority of the entire US population (which is probably true of about any news show), but still his viewers represent a deeper trend.  Many people attracted to Beck aren’t what would traditionally be considered extremists, and yet Beck at times appears to be drawn towards some kind of extremism and that worries me. 

BECK: Yada yada yada. And every time they do speak out, they’re shut down by political correctness. How do you not have those people turn into that guy?

O’REILLY: Well, look, nobody, even if they’re frustrated, is going to hurt another human being unless they’re mentally ill. I think.

BECK: I think pushed to the wall, you don’t think people get pushed to the wall?

O’REILLY: Nah, I don’t believe in this snap thing. I think that that kind of violence is inside you and it’s a personality disorder.


I feel wary of where this kind of fear-mongering might lead… not that I would necessarily be against a revolution if it came to that (this country has revolution as its founding story afterall).


I think that Frank Schaeffer has a good understanding of the extreme far right.

What I’m unsure about is the number of conservatives that are that far to the extreme and I’m not sure how much longterm influence this group will have on the Republican party.  There are many moderate Christians and moderate conservatives, and I think moderates should be as wary of extremists as the rest of us.  Of course, there are extremists on the left but conservative Christian extremists seem more inclined towards violence.  More importantly, does Glenn Beck appeal more to the conservative mainstrem or the fringe extreme?

 – – –

See these previous posts for more comments/analysis on the relationship between conservativism, Christianity, and violence:

Morality: Christians vs. Jesus

Religiosity, Morality, Society, Dysfunction

Violence, Dark Thoughts, Righteousness, Collective Mood, Contingent Love, Public Opinion

 – – –

I wish the more moderate-sounding libertarians received more air-time, but moderate voices of reason don’t make for good soundbytes.

As for Chomsky, he is far from being moderate in terms of mainstream politics.  He has a very different view of libertarianism for one thing.

I think Chomsky’s criticisms of mainstream media is right on target, but even within mainstream media not all sources are equal.  I’ve watched Outfoxed and I just don’t trust Fox news.  I am liberal which is part of it, but I like listening to views I disagree with.  The problem I have with Fox news is that I feel like I have to be very aware of bias.  Even so simple of a thing as the phrase “Fair and Balanced” bothers me.  I was watching Glenn Beck with my father and this phrase kept popping up on the screen.  I told my father that it makes me feel suspicious when someone has to continually tell me that they’re not lying.  He thought I was nitpicking and missing the main point of what Beck was saying.  I explained that it had nothing to do with whether I agreed or disagreed with his message for I’d have to research it for myself to determine its merit.

Part of the problem is that it feels like to me that Beck and the other Fox pundits take themselves too seriously.  Beck does have a lighter side and pokes a little bit of fun at himself (calling himself a rodeo clown). However, despite Beck’s warnings of not taking him too seriously, it seems to me that he earnestly wants to be taken seriously.  I prefer the inane antics of Steve Colbert when he tells the emperor that he as no clothes on.

Some might consider this disrespectful and mean-spirited, but sometimes it’s the only way to speak the truth.  I personally have great respect for Steve Colbert and Jon Stewart.  I suppose they serve a similar purpose on the left as Glenn Beck does on the right, but they’re much funnier (even though Beck also supposedly has worked as a comedian).  In particular, Stewart is a critic of mainstream media, but using his role as a comedian is able to get his voice heard (unlike Chomsky who doesn’t have a comedy show).

Maybe it’s personal bias, but I find these responses to the mainstream to be much harder hitting than anything Beck or O’Reilly puts forth.  I do have more respect for Beck than I did in the past.  I think he potentially could serve a purpose of good as long as he doesn’t fall off the edge of extremism.