31 August 2010

An Interpretation of Beck's Reclamation

The rally organized by Glenn Beck on 28 August 2010 is bound to be a political football for some time regardless of the lack of politics involved in the rally itself. And while the political impact of the rally may be contested, I think the roots of Beck's appeal has two major components.

First is the assertion that American social life - that is, life outside of the private realm of the individual or the family - is a subject which is within the intellectual grasp of everyday Americans. As it stands, "experts" would have us (the American public at large) believe that society is immeasurably complex, with so many subpopulations and comprised of innumerable racial, sexual, religious, and other identities, that the everyday person cannot navigate properly through everyday life without their "expert" direction. But this purposeful atomization of society can be defeated through individual application of Martin Luther King Junior's theme statement that we should judge people based on "the content of their character." Governmental agencies and "experts" need not inform the populace what this means; it is accessible to everyone.

Second is the declaration (or re-declaration) that Judeo-Christian ethics represent the core values of the country and, moreover, that Judeo-Christian ethics can be embraced in civil society by all citizens. This point informs the previous point. If we are to judge others on "the content of their character," then there must be some basis of good and bad, of right and wrong. Some "experts" would have us believe that culture, race, economic situation, sex, or any of a litany of other "factors" influences right and wrong. In their view, acceptable behavior - and even excellence of character - depends on one or more of these factors. What is more, assuming that there is an objective interpretation of right and wrong is a violation of multiculturalism. On the other hand, basing a society's concept of what is right and what is wrong, what should and should not be done, on Judeo-Christian ethics is far more egalitarian than the "expert's" way. It is so because it is not a moving bar; it judges all equally based on one set of ethics. Furthermore, it emancipates individuals from the box of whatever "factor" group he has been funneled into. He is his own man - a dangerous idea indeed for those "experts" who wish to fragment people into easily definable groups.

Every January, I have taught MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech; my students and I have analyzed the ideas that he put forward in that speech. The idea that men should, indeed must, be judged "by the content of their character" is, in my opinion, the most dangerous idea in the speech. It is dangerous because it requires us to judge others based not on any preconceived ideas about the person but rather on their words and deeds. In doing so, we must develop within ourselves a strong understanding of what is right and wrong, what should and what should not be done - along with a recognition that each one of us will always remain imperfect, will always be deepening our understanding. This is a real-world understanding and application of social interaction. The world of the "expert" would reduce man to a machine-level predictability under their guidance and tutelage - a very unreal world.

No comments: