Thursday, June 11, 2009

Glenn Beck, history, and political science

As I've said earlier, I've always been interested in the science of propaganda. Whether subtle or overt, a little hobby of mine has been to spot and deconstruct it. But what is alarming to me is the trend over the past ten to fifteen years of the mixing of news and entertainment. It is now common for purported "news" organizations to not only pick and choose what they report, but to mix in a generous amount of editorializing along with it. This is usually done so insidiously that it is difficult for a viewer who is not paying attention to tell where the facts end and the opinion begins. I think most people, deep down, realize this, but still end up aligning themselves with the news source that offers them the most ideological reinforcement. The end result is that they don't really learn anything new, they just feel better about what they already believed to begin with.

I was a bit surprised when the only American television station available on the ship's satellite during my recent trip to Northern Europe was Fox News. Thanks to the time zone shift, I had a lot of exposure to shows otherwise outside of my normal tv-watching schedule, most notably Glenn Beck's. On one show (and again recently in the wake of the Neo-Nazi shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington) he managed to depict Hitler as a Leftist(!) on par with Lenin and Stalin through a rather disingenuous illustration of the political spectrum. His was one consisting of just one axis: governmental control over society. And while I'm sure his basic intent was to convince his audience that the contemporary Democratic Party finds its ideological brethren in history's worst dictators, the graph is prima facie correct. But those in his audience with a basic understanding of political science no doubt recognized that his graph was midleading thanks to its use of only one axis, that of governmental control.

So were Nazis leftists? The short answer is kind of yes, kind of no. They really don't fall into any clear categorization within the left/right political system as we presently define it, having elements of both.

But I submit that it would be foolhearty to categorize a group known for its vehement opposition to Communism, homosexuality, labor unions, and "decadent modern art", along with its support for "pure and ancient Aryan culture" as socially liberal.

A more accurate assessment would split Beck's authoritarian / anarchist axis into two perpindicular ones -- one for social authority and the other for economic authority. Doing so illustrates the major gap in ideology that actually existed between Stalin and Hitler, mortal enemies during World War II. Yes, they were both dictators, so they match up closely on the social authoritarian end of the spectrum. But where they differed was in economic ideas: Hitler was much more of a capitalist (and thus much further to the right) than Stalin, a communist.

It's interesting to see where current US and world political figures rank on the expanded scale...and, despite popular conceptions, how similar they actually are, tending to cluster in the "authoritarian right" quadrant. For the whole story, see the political compass.

For those interested, I personally fall into the left libertarian-leaning quadrant, most closely aligning with Gandhi, and completely opposite most of the aforementioned contemporary politicians. I would say that's pretty accurate.



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