On this day exactly 52 years ago, radio personality Glenn Beck was born. That just happens to be the exact day that I was born. In most ways, I am not pleased about this. As I have discussed before, his attempt to co-opt the legacy of Thomas Paine was vile. He thinks he’s a libertarian! Of course, he’s done the same thing with Martin Luther King Jr. He thinks he’s not a bigot! Like a lot of modern conservatives, Beck thinks that he is the real radical. In a sense, he’s right. But the radicals of the past who he looks up to were working to help the weak. Beck is a radical in the name of helping the powerful.
I am impressed with Beck in that he is a searcher. Unfortunately, some time ago, he discovered The Truth™. And so all his searching goes into the service of discovering what he thinks is the truth. And it has sent him down the rabbit hole that is the world of conspiracy theories. The basis of everything for Beck is Cleon Skousen’s The 5,000 Year Leap.
But you have to give the man credit for combining his own bizarre collection of beliefs with a messianic sense. While my father’s girlfriend laid dying, she was glued to Beck’s television show. She had to be there every day — the same way as people in cults. She felt that Beck was transmitting secret truths to her. She died before seeing his downfall. But he’s still hugely successful on the internet. There are a lot of people like my dad’s girlfriend. They never tire of the oracle. I, of course, see him more like this:
A Quick Libertarian History of Frank
As for me, well my life went something like the following. I was raised by a very conservative father and what I would call a swing voting mother. In the fifth grade, I began to see that many of the things that my father had told me weren’t exactly true. It was kind of like conservative radio before there was such a thing. So there was always a kernel of truth, but I didn’t have the context. This created in me a desire to find, as best as possible, the full truth.
This caused me to bounce around a bit ideologically over the years. The problem with ideology is that it tends to create the kind of shortcuts to truth that got me screwed up with my father when I was a kid. That’s because you have this theory about the way the world works and then you simply filter the facts in the pursuit of proving the theory right. Of course, everyone has an ideology. But when it is something ossified like free market fundamentalism or Stalinism, you aren’t as nimble intellectually.
When I was first in college, I thought of myself as more or less a liberal. I worked for the nuclear freeze movement and for Michael Dukakis’ campaign. And then I met my first wife who turned me onto libertarianism. And if that sounds like she was offering me heroin, good. Because libertarianism is a kind of opioid. It’s highly addictive in its facile simplicity and completeness. And as long as you only talk to other libertarians, you will never get over your addiction because you will never want to.
I did, however, talk to a lot of non-libertarians. This was partly the result of my not liking most libertarians. I found them to be mostly conservatives who were unhappy with the purity of the Republican Party. Indeed, that’s how the Libertarian Party got started. And by the end of graduate school, my libertarianism was starting to crack. For one thing, it was so theoretical and went so much against my natural inclinations that it was hard to maintain. As I’ve discussed before, while being a libertarian at that time, I hated it and felt trapped by it.
But then I found an actual physical addiction that was much less dangerous: drugs. But unfortunately, they extended the run of my libertarian habit because I wanted my drugs to be legal. And in varying states of clarity I stayed at that point. But even there, cracks continued to appear. It became clear to me that any libertarian politician was far more interested in cutting my taxes than allowing me my drugs. And even on an economic level, that was a terrible deal for me.
The real turning point for me was George W Bush and the Iraq War. Obviously, as a libertarian, I was fanatically anti-war. Truthfully, as a libertarian, I was far more of a radical than I am now. But I remember that I was working at home during the six months leading up to the Iraq War and I listened to a lot of NPR. And despite what conservatives claim, NPR is about as milquetoast and center of the road as you can get in media. Yet even still, it was clear as day that we were going to war and the Bush administration was just laying out the propaganda in support of it.
I felt I needed to be involved in the fight against that kind of thing. A vote for a libertarian is a vote for a conservative. And there was another part of it: on the drug front, it was the liberals who were actually doing things to help users’ lives. They were the ones supporting syringe exchanges; the conservatives largely continue to this day to claim that syringe exchanges promote drug use. But there was a final thing, which is that I was always on the far left of libertarianism anyway.
Once the dam breaks, things rearrange themselves in a more natural way. Maybe my thinking now is too natural — too comfortable. But I probably will die this way. I only have a few working principles. Mostly, I believe we are all interdependent. Our capitalist system distorts reality, benefiting some and harming others far out of proportion to individual worth. And as a result, yes, we who benefit from the system can pay more in taxes. It’s either that, or we get a whole new system. And I ask my rich friends: which would you rather it be?
And with that menacing thought, I wish myself and Glenn Beck (who I feel sorry for) a happy birthday.
Update (9 February 2016 9:28 pm)
I really don’t appreciate this!
I know Google knows all. But I find it kind of creepy.