[digg-reddit-me]For me, Glenn Beck is clearly making the world a worse place. He rants, raves, weeps, goes into hysterics, and spouts lies. He undermines our civil discourse and makes it harder for our society to tackle any serious issues. He polarizes. He provides a platform for such outlandish notions as concentration camps for conservatives to health care as a scam to institute reparations for slavery to the nuclear decimation of an American city as the only means to “save” America from terrorism. He is a fundamentally ridiculous figure – but he is riding some zeitgeist and tapping into and encouraging something real: the worst fears of the far right wing.
I am not exceptional in my desire to try to make the world a better place – and in seeking to stop those people I feel are making the world worse. As stated in such generic terms, that is what most of us do. Yet we are not willing to do so “by any means necessary” – instead seeing a value in the freedom of speech, for example. We see a value in permitting even lies and hysterical attempts to polarize as a matter of right, while at the same time opposing the substance or style of the communication.
The distinction here is crucial to keep in mind as we talk about stopping Glenn Beck from making the world a worse place.
I oppose government intervention to stop Glenn Beck from misleading his viewers; I oppose government regulations that would require Beck to air opposing views (as in reinstating the Fairness Doctrine); though even unrelated to this, I even oppose certain forms of campaign finance reform election-related material. I would oppose any attempt by any government agency to intimidate Glenn Beck or otherwise silence him.
But I do believe it is the responsibility of our society to impose some constraints to allow for civil discourse, and of each of us as individuals to take personal responsibility for even the indirect consequences of our actions. The problem with the right wing backlash against the boycott of Glenn Beck by major corporate sponsors is that it is often so uninformed – confusing the freedom of speech and the sponsorship of speech. Right wingers have every right to defend Glenn Beck, no matter the excrement he flings about, simian-like.
But our society suffers from an apathetic failure to take responsibility for systems on which we do not have direct control. As citizens and as consumers, we should take responsibility – and actions such as the boycott of Glenn Beck highlight how effective such action can be.
The debate over health care has highlighted how fundamentally broken our national conversation is – how citizens are less knowledgeable about the health care bills being considered now than they were before the smearing campaign – at how our debate is unhinged from the issues at stake. One goal that conservatives and liberals, progressives and libertarians, right and left wingers should be able to unite around is encouraging a more fair national conversation, less diluted by hype, scandal, and lies. We should encourage – rather than a government-imposed Fairness Doctrine, a citizen-consumer-driven “Fair Shake.”
[Image by The Rocketeer licensed under Creative Commons.]