le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fabians and Glenn Beck

As posted earlier, I'm doing some Glenn Beck research. I found a transcript of the program in which he discusses Fabian socialism; I've been reading it and struggling to understand Beck's point. [Note: I decided to do this as a break from reading freshman comp essays. I understand Beck is speaking, not writing, but his abuse of pronouns and his general incoherence on the structural level is far below what I would consider acceptable from my freshmen]

So he starts off by talking about "they" and "them," and shows clips from British television, neither of which are contextualized. I am thoroughly unclear about who "they" and "them" are. He uses a number of categories to describe potential "them"s [environmentalists, progressives, liberals] but is not specific about which he's referencing at what point.

Beck goes on to quote from a number of news sources (which, to his credit, he documents) which themselves quote a variety of persons (Robert Kennedy Jr, a NASA employee, etc) asking questions like "when do we jail global warning deniers?" and asserting that denying global warming is treasonous.
I don't have time - or, frankly, interest - fact-check every single one of these quotes. I'm willing to go along with Glenn on this one and say: "golly, these are overblown responses." Sometimes, I like moderation.
But then things get weird.

Beck says, and this comes from the foxnews transcript itself:
Where did these ideas come from? Well, you can find them all from the same place — progressivism here in America, Marxism overseas and Fabian socialism in Australia, New Zealand, England and Europe. They are all the same thing. They are all the same stock of people.
I've talked to you a lot about progressives and Marxists, but Fabian socialists — look them up. You will be astounded what you find. It's all the same pool of people."
Never mind that political or ideological positions aren't really a "place." I'm creeped out by Beck's use of phrases like "stock of people" and "pool of people" - it just feels a little (a LITTLE) like the language of early eugenics-movement proponents. I guess it's "stock of people," which makes my mind immediately leap to racial stock, or genetic stock. This is very likely my own personal bias; I doubt very much that Glenn Beck is a eugenicist, unconsciously or otherwise.
Now we get some history about the Fabians, a topic about which I know more than the average schmuck because of my decade-long scholarly interest in Edith Nesbit. Just this summer I checked out a gazillion library books on Fabianism for my dissertation.

But Fabian Socialists was a society that was founded in January of 1884. The members sought to influence public opinion on socialism. But what they — what made them unique was, at the time, if you wanted to be a socialist, you needed a mass revolution. Well, they preferred the selective education — selective education. You've seen it here beginning under the Woodrow Wilson administration. It was the education of the powerful few, especially those in government and the media who could lead reforms in government.
It is why our media is so screwed up. And they all think alike.
Their strategy is called doctrine of inevitability of gradualism. What does that mean? The doctrine of inevitability of gradualism.
 Oh Glenn. I'm going to treat this like a student paper.
First we get the assertion that you need a mass revolution if you want to be a socialist. I don't deny revolution and socialist reformers go together (reformers want change, after all), but Beck's got it backwards: it's your socialist beliefs that lead you to want mass revolution, not the other way round. You don't start with revolution. It's where you end up.
Now, onto selective education (which I think is how Beck ends up with his anti-media line, which lacks transitional phrases surrounding it, and thus is simply tossed into the mix here almost at random).
Here's the thing: late 19th century social reformers (ie, the Fabians) were intensely interested in helping the poor and lower classes. They believed the best way to do this was through education. Socialists of all stripes, including Fabians, were founders and proponents of educational centers, often referred to as workingmen's institutes, where workers (and others) could go hear lectures, see performances, read periodicals and newspapers, read books. Yes, there was political content to some of this, but not all of it.
I don't know about you, but Victorian laborers have never struck ME as belonging to the "powerful few." The powerful few, who have existed in every culture across every nation and every age, are almost always already well educated. And since we know that, even late in the 19th century, there were more workers/lower-class folks than wealthy, any drive to educate the poor is by definition not selective, nor does it target the few.

Now onto the "inevitability of gradualism."
Beck later describes this as "baby steps," and to an extent he's correct. My reading notes from a biography of Nesbit references either Beatrice or Sidney Webb (founders-in-chief of Fabian Society) as believing that "dawning conscience and increased social intelligence" would convince people of the rightness of the Fabian cause - not revolution. My copy of part of an article on the history of fabianism leads with a quote that states that their aim was "to help in the reconstruction of society in accordance with the highest moral possibilities." It was a slow campaign of rational persuasion. So, Beck is wrong again: to be the Fabian kind of socialist, you needed to eschew revolution, not embrace it.

Next up, the origin of the Fabians' name:
Beck says:
"OK. Now why the name "Fabian" — the Fabian society? Well, this is after General Quintus Fabius Maximus. He had a brilliant strategy. He advanced in his battles not through front-on battles, but instead through harassment and attrition.
The early Fabian Society adopted as its motto "when I strike, I strike hard." Their logo, their mascot, was the tortoise. The tortoise.
Quintus Fabius was known, initially derisively, then with approbation, as "Cunctator," which means "delayer." Fabius's military strategy of delay was deployed during the attempted invasion of Rome by Hannibal, when Hannibal's forces far outnumbered the Romans.
And Beck is right: the strategy of Fabius depended on indirect actions, harassment, preventing the opponent from obtaining supplies; essentially, on everything BUT direct engagement.
Beck makes a weird and kind of pointless analogy to rebuilding a carburetor in the living room, and then says "Gosh, is it becoming inevitable that we just can't get out of this debt bubble? A little step at a time?"

This one is inexplicable. I have NO idea what he's trying to say here. Again, if this was a student paper, I'd write "Transitions needed? What is the connection between this and your previous statements?"

And finally, Beck gets on to running down old George Bernard Shaw. He plays a clip of Shaw espousing some of his eugenicist beliefs. He mentions that Shaw received an Oscar and the "Nobel Peace Prize." [at which, after the world's shortest google search, one can see clearly that Shaw - primarily a playwright - was in fact awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Big difference, Mr Beck, especially when you're going to toss around the eugenics accusations].

Fact: In the early 20th century, eugenics was part of medical science. It was not a creepy racist fringe belief, practiced by evil maniacs. G. Stanley Hall, the man who practically invented the category of adolescence, a man who pioneered both psychology and education in the United States, was a eugenicist. Francis Galton, who coined the term "eugenics," was a British eccentric and polymath whose work gave us the techniques and uses of fingerprinting as a method of identification. 
It really isn't until the 1930s - right around the time the Nazis get their hands on it - that eugenics begins to decline and experience a backlash. This after forced sterilization programs in countries like Belgium and the United States - primarily targeted were mentally ill patients, criminals and persons of undesirable nature (prostitutes, alcoholics, the undeserving poor). 

Beck's discussion of Shaw just gets weird, and he wanders way off course - again, frankly, I don't know what he's saying. He calls out George Soros, he rants against secular humanists, he invokes God God God repeatedly. He tells us that George Bernard Shaw invented the gas chambers (this seems to be untrue. I think Shaw was probably busy having affairs and writing plays, not inventing death devices).

And on and on. And then winds up railing against the environmentalists again.  And perpetuating some of the most revolting abuse to pronouns that I have seen in a long time. Beck winds down with this:
When you think the way they do, you tend to dehumanize individual situations. Suddenly, you're convinced that it's OK to kill one person or two in order to save thousands or end suffering for either thousands or for one.
Erm, good sir, this is precisely the reasoning that led to the dropping of the bombs are Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I wonder if Beck argues against that?
And it's also, if I'm not mistaken, part of the reasoning behind the "doctrine" of preemptive strikes created by that wacky Marxist socialist liberal madman, George W. Bush. 
It's a thorny moral decision, really: if you knew that killing ten people could save 10,000, what would you do?
But this is a complex question and Beck doesn't deal in complexities.

After this delightful exercise, I will never again attempt to read and analyze anything said by Glenn Beck. It's more exhausting and infuriating than grading terrible student papers.

But I could not let slurs against the Fabians go unchecked, even weird, vague, inaccurate slurs. E. Nesbit is one of my absolute favorite writers, and she's one-third of my dissertation. People - Glenn Beck or anyone else - can't just throw around anti-Fabian remarks. The sloppy misuse of "history," too, is a big problem. My students do this too - they give "evidence" in the form of huge generalizations with NO context and NO supporting documentation. I mark off for that.

So, Glenn Beck, your grade for this assignment is an: Unsatisfactory, with the additional comment of "see me." At which point I will recommend you go to the writing center for some intensive remediation, because you're unfit to go forward with your speaking/writing career.


Library Diva said...

Glenn Beck seems dreadful. I know that in fairness, I should watch more of his show than they present on Colbert and Stewart to be ridiculed...but I can't fucking do it. It's not just what he says, but the way he says it, his entire manner, that's just so freaking annoying. Snooki is less annoying. Carrot Top is less annoying. I can't understand why he has so many viewers. There are people on public access who come across better than him.

Unknown said...

But--- see---- that would be as if he cared for research, cared for what's actually true--- cared to make a cogent argument.

He's the carnival barker of scary buzz-phrases and character assassination. "Making a cogent point" has never--- ever entered the arena of that which is important to him.

Or to his "media empire" at The Blaze, et al.