Posts Tagged ‘Glenn Beck’

How to distinguishing between Is and Ought when arguing with irrational people

August 1, 2010

One of the awesome philosophical concepts David Hume articulated was the Is-Ought Distinction (or the Is-Ought Problem). It’s very similar to the naturalistic fallacy and it tries to deal with how we can derive how individuals and societies ought to act from objective, verifiable facts. Can we proceed directly from what is to what ought to be? Hume didn’t think so.

In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark’d, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when all of a sudden I am surpriz’d to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, ’tis necessary that it shou’d be observ’d and explain’d; and at the same time that a reason should be given; for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.
A Treatise of Human Nature (1739)

Now in this context, Hume is criticizing those who try to derive the ‘ought’ from what someone believes is the ‘is’ of God. So the position he’s taking down is something like this: “Since God is X, we ought to do things that comply with X-ness.” Let’s say that’s the position of moral philosopher A. Then moral philosopher B comes around and says that A is wrong about what God is. B has a different idea of God with different focuses on different aspects of a God. And the moral/ethical philosophical discussion is framed around the question of What God is.

So Hume sees this and sees a badly neglected gap. Even if A or B are right about what God is, neither of them have justified that that observation leads to anything morally good. Why should a quality of a deity be something we want to emulate? How do we even know if that is good or not? Nobody seemed to be discussing that. Put this way, it’s very similar to the Euthyphro Dilemma:

“Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?”
Euthyphro, Plato

Now you can extend the Is-Ought Problem beyond just the Is of God (which is kind of a waste of time for nonbelievers like me) when people try to derive policy from history or observations of nature. The problem becomes less of one in these instances because, unlike God, nature and history are about empirical facts which can be verified or falsified. You still have the gap between what Is and what Ought to be (a problem completely lost on some creationists), but at least the Is can be checked independently of subjective theistic assumptions about the supernatural.

Now you have someone like Glennifer Beck saying that because Congress printed official, government-approved Bibles in the early period of American history (that’s the Is part), we therefore ought to not worry so much about that silly old separation of church and state thing anymore.

A secularist who doesn’t know his history might be tempted to argue along similar lines as Hume above; i.e. that just because it was the case that the government approved official Bibles for use in schools, it does not follow that we ought to revive that practice. But someone who made that argument would be missing a much better point, which is that even the initial Is claim of Beck’s argument is just factually wrong.

That’s part of a video series by Chris Rodda, who’s a Senior Research Director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. She’s been going after the factual errors and misrepresentations made on the nature of secularism and America by people like David Barton and Beck. They’re very effective in how they just deal with the actual history without getting caught up in how to solve Hume’s Is-Ought Problem.

See, someone can say that we ought to have, say a public education system that hands out Bibles and whatnot, and then I can say why I think that’s a bad idea. But then we’re just arguing for subjective positions on an Ought issue. But when Beck claims that we ought to imitate history and then proceeds to misrepresent it, Rodda’s corrections of those misrepresentations cut the argument down to nothing. Here’s her unfortunately HuffPo-y RSS feed, and here’s some other of her great counterpoints to pseudohistory:

Our Constitution is not based on the book of Deuteronomy

And the newest one just out today about Barton’s claims of Founders who went to “seminaries.”


That rumor about Glenn Beck raping and murdering a young girl in 1990

November 9, 2009

In the least surprising update ever, Glenn Beck’s effort to go to the international courts to get rid of a web site for criticizing him has failed, pretty much for reasons I’ve explained earlier.

Even though this was very predictable, it’s still weird that Beck would have pursued this case at all. After all, he’s the one constantly screaming about how internationalism is evil and that “[o]nce we sign our rights over to international law, the Constitution is officially dead.”

Even that quote on its own doesn’t make sense since Article VI of the Constitution states in part:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

So according to the Constituion, its own authority is equal to that of all treaties made by the US, i.e. they are both “supreme Law of the Land.” If only Beck had actually read the Constitution, he would be able to rant about those evil Marxist internationalist liberal elite framers of the Constitution who gave away American sovereignty!

So for one thing Beck’s a hypocrite for whining to the international courts about people making fun of him on the internet while pretending to think that the international courts are out to undermine the Constituion; but then he’s also wrong in even just claiming that the Constitution and the international courts are somehow at odds with each other.

And what’s even crazier is that a request by the counsel for the defense Marc Randazza was completely ignored. It asked that the proceedings against his client be carried out under US First Amendment law, which is something to which you might expect someone who actually preferred American law to international law to agree. Then again, this is a Mormon who believes that his savior Mohammed Jesus flew up into the sky after he died, visited America and then went to some other planet, so nothing should be too ridiculous coming from him.

Obama hates something I’m afraid to talk about

September 27, 2009
Katie Couric: Gots purdy teeth. Purdy mouth, too.

Katie Couric: Gots purdy teeth. Purdy mouth, too.

I have to admit I was pretty skeptical when Katie Couric took a top spot at CBS. She was taking the position once held by Walter Cronkite, and she had never even been in a war zone before. It looked exactly like CBS was just putting a purdy face on the evening news in order to get young’uns watching that there teevee again.

But she’s been pretty steadily proving my instincts wrong. Here is a great example:

The only way that would’ve been better would be if she had just pulled out a gun, asked him what country he was from, that What wasn’t no country she ever heard of, etc…

As someone who is supposed to know something about journalism, Beck should really know better than to pretend this was an unfair question. He wasn’t asking a question, as he tried to defend himself as doing. He said that he thought Obama hated “white culture.” So it’s fair to ask what exactly he meant by “white culture.” He could’ve said that he misspoke, or that he could’ve chosen better words, and then clarified, but he didn’t want to do that. When he says something like that, it’s in his interest to keep his meaning unclear so that his audience can fill in the blanks for him.

I also love how at the end he’s pretending to think that asking “tough questions” is so important for Americans. Yes, we should ask tough questions; just don’t ask Glenn Beck any tough questions. It might hurt his feelings.

I heard a rumor about how Glenn Beck raped and murdered a young girl in 1990

September 11, 2009

One of the things that makes America great is how difficult it is to sue for libel here. The prosecution in a libel case must prove several things in order to survive in court. So many times when a libel case would be effective in other countries, for example the UK has almost the exact opposite burden of proof, people claiming libel merely resort to threats from their lawyers. For example:

So the first thing the prosecution must prove in a libel case is that the alleged libel has been published. Usually, this is very easy. All it involves is waving around the actual newspaper or book in court. But this is talking only about a “defamatory domain.” Is an example of a published statement, or is it merely a code one can use to access published information? That’s not an easy question to answer, and I don’t think there is any precedent set.

Next the prosecution must prove that the prosecutor was named in the publication. Again, this is normally very easy, but the same problem arises. Is there such a person as glennbeck? Isn’t his name Glenn Beck? Remember, they’re just talking about the internet domain and are ignoring the actual content of the website.

And I’m pretty sure the reason that they are ignoring the content of the website has to do with the third thing they must prove, which is that the published statement caused provable harm. This is usually where most libel cases collapse, because it really is difficult. You can’t just prove that your profits or whatever went down after the libellous statement was published, you have to prove an actual causal relationship. And what makes that difficult in this instance is that content of the website, and even just the “defamatory domain,” is clearly meant to be satirical. Glenn Beck’s attorneys would have to stand up in court and with a straight face claim that some people took the claim that he raped and murdered a young girl in 1990 seriously, and therefore stopped watching his show, which in turn meant lower ratings, which in turn meant less ad revenue. And each of those things would need to be documented somehow.

Glenn Beck huffs paint.

Glenn Beck huffs paint.

Lastly, Beck’s attorneys would have to prove that whoever registered the domain was “at fault” in making the statement that Glenn Beck raped and murdered a young girl in 1990, which I heard he probably did. This is protection for journalists who were simply in error with reasonable cause and couldn’t be held responsible for someone else’s deception. This is also an area where the defendant in this case should emphasize the satirical nature of the statement (even though it’s TOTALLY TRUE) and that a reasonable audience couldn’t possibly take it at face value.

The best part about how the burden of proof is on those claiming libel in the US is that it almost always makes them look like the whiny little bitches they really are. Instead of the chilling effect UK libel laws generate in the press where reporters and management have to do a cost/benefit analysis of running a certain story even if it’s true, we get celebrities who are the subject of such stories calculating the cost of pursuing a lawsuit with the purpose of shutting up a media outlet which will almost always only get more attention as a result of such a lawsuit. And it’s not surprising that Beck and his attorneys would make such a gross miscalculation. I heard that ever since Beck started huffing paint in 1985, his math skills haven’t been so sharp.

Glenn Beck is an ignorant fool

September 1, 2009

Yeah, obvious, I know. But there’s a great facepalming moment in this video at 50 seconds in:

Then I got to wondering what the hell this “9/12 Project” is, so I googled it. And I found this website. And on that website, I found this picture:

And in that picture, you’ll notice two references to Thomas Paine.

If Glenn Beck has read Thomas Paine, he’s being intentionally dishonest. And if he hasn’t read Thomas Paine, then I’m not surprised. His hordes of moronic supporters have no excuse either, since anyone can check out his works in a public (Ooooooooooh! Scary!) library if they like.

The reason I feel confident in saying that is because only a few seconds before hilariously misspelling “oligarchy” and somehow not realizing that “oligarch” is, in fact, a word, he rants about internationalism. This is one of Beck’s boogeymen – the scary internationalist idea of tearing down arbitrary borders and uniting people in common interests. It apparently sells well for people who hate foreigners but are at least conscious enough to know that they shouldn’t just come out and say that. They need some pseudo-rational justification for their xenophobia, which is where fear of internationalism enters into the discourse (not all opposition to certain kinds of internationalism are based on that fear, but it would be foolish to deny that it exists, and that people like Beck capitalize on it).

Thomas Paine had some things to say about nationalism and internationalism. Let’s take a look:

“In stating these matters, I speak an open and disinterested language, dictated by no passion but that of humanity. To me, who have not only refused offers, because I thought them improper, but have declined rewards I might with reputation have accepted, it is no wonder that meanness and imposition appear disgustful. Independence is my happiness, and I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world, and my religion is to do good.”

Rights of Man, Chapter 5

In other words, Paine is saying that there is nothing special about his position as an American, and his independence includes independence from duties for a specific country and against another. For someone to have the world as their country is about as explicit of an endorsement of internationalism as one can get.

And not only that, but has Beck ever read The Age of Reason? Jesus. If his audience thinks that the “new atheists” are hostile to religion, they really should maybe bother to read this major work by someone they claim to admire. Here are some quotes from what Paine had to say about the Bible and religion in that book:

“In many things, however, the writings of the Jewish poets deserve a better fate than that of being bound up, as they now are, with the trash that accompanies them, under the abused name of the Word of God.”

“But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person alone. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and, consequently, they are not obliged to believe it.”

“[T]he theory or doctrine of redemption has for its basis an idea of pecuniary justice, and not that of moral justice. If I owe a person money, and cannot pay him, … another person can take the debt upon himself, and pay it for me. But if I have committed a crime, every circumstance of the case is changed. Moral justice cannot take the innocent for the guilty even if the innocent would offer itself. To suppose justice to do this, is to destroy the principle of its existence, which is the thing itself. It is then no longer justice. It is indiscriminate revenge.”

“All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”

“Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon, than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.”

I wonder how well that would sell to Beck’s audience. Maybe he should run some of that by the suits at FOX and see how that sticks. Forget FOX, I think even someone like Richard Dawkins would find these excerpts a bit too over-the-top in its hostility to the kinds of values which so many of Beck’s audience hold to so fanatically. After all, Dawkins seems to get along well with more liberal believers, but Paine went one step further in just flatly saying that he detested Christianity and the Bible as a whole.

Actually, you know what? Someone really should call up Glenn Beck’s radio show and read that last quote to him and see how he handles that situation.