Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Weak Tea, part one

My recent - now, mercifully, terminated - email exchange with my brother did serve the function of piquing my curiosity about the September 12 rally in Washington and the intentions of its organizers. Most especially, I'm interested in Glenn Beck's so-called "912 Project."

Built on 9 Principles and 12 Values, it seems intended to provide a common platform for the protesters, talking points, a rallying cry, a unifying vision . . . whatever.

Oh, please. 9 Principles and 12 Values? It sounds like a hastily written self-help book. What's next, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Wingnuts? (With profound apologies to Steven R. Covey.)

Still, I will suppress my rising gorge long enough to take a look at these principles, one by one, over the next couple of posts.  As presented on the website of the 912 Project, each principle is followed by a quotation, cherry-picked from the writings and speeches of the Founding Fathers.

Let's take a look.

1. America Is Good.
Well, who could argue with that? I mean, here's a claim with almost no determinate content. It can mean anything!

Hooray for America!

I can dig it. Just saying the word, "America," gives me a strong positive affect!

This is the one principle that stands on its own. Apparently, it requires no explanation or defense, not even that provided by a cherry-picked quotation.

But which aspects of America? The whole thing? The people? The Constitution? The federal government? (Oops, I guess not that one.) What Sarah Palin so endearingly, winkingly called "The Rill [i.e., Real] America"? Us, as opposed to Them? A particular, sepia-tinted image of the Time Before Everything Went Wrong?

And "good" in what sense, by what standard? That's what we philosophers might call a vexed question. But I digress . . .
2. I believe in God and He is the Center of my Life.
God “The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.” from George Washington’s first Inaugural address.
Okay, they lost me there. I guess there's a religious test for being a tea partier. I wonder, is there also a religious test for being a Real American? I guess we can begin to piece together some of that sepia-tinted image of America That Was. I'm not there.

Anyway, as for the cherry-picked quotation, that's just typical deist talk, really. Any of the founders could have used such language in referring to the general idea of rules for conduct derived from nature by reason. Even all-but-atheists like Jefferson used such language.

The idea that obvious standards of right and wrong can be read directly from the book of nature has fallen on hard times of late, though, and for good reason. In many, many ways our understanding of the universe and our place in it has changed since the eighteenth century, expanded, turned upside-down, come unhinged, or whatever metaphor you like. I guess America That Was can only be found in the Universe That Was.

My question about the Universe That Was, to paraphrase Douglas Adams, is this: How did we ever manage to live in anything so small? I much prefer what John Dewey called "a universe with the lid off."

In such a universe, ethical inquiry has become more subtle, more complex, and more difficult. Or maybe it's always been so difficult, and people have just been denying it? It's just one vexed question after another. But I digress . . .

Since the tea partiers are so terribly fond of quoting Jefferson, how about this one?
Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burned, tortured, fined, and imprisoned, yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half of the world fools and the other half hypocrites. (Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia)
Or this one?
Where the preamble [of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom] declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting the words “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read, “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination. (Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography).
Let's hear it for infidels! (I'm a Reformed Infidel, myself.)

Is Jefferson alone not enough of an authority for the tea-bag atavists? Here's one written into a treaty signed by John Adams:
As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion ... (Treaty of Tripoli)
Then, of course, there's that pesky little clause in the First Amendment.

Haven't had enough? See here for more!

Moving on . . .
3. I must always try to be a more honest person than I was yesterday.
Honesty “I hope that I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider to be the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.” George Washington
Okay, I can go along with this. No problem.

But, then, what the heck is this kind of pablum doing in what is supposed to be the agenda of a political movement with radical, perhaps even revolutionary intent?

Is this just filler? Did Beck throw this in so he could round out his nine principles, since the rally was planned for September?

Or maybe there's something more insidious here. Maybe it's meant to imply that only Real Americans are Honest. Maybe it's meant to imply a monopoly on Virtue as such.

Maybe Beck hopes that, if the tea partiers can convince us of their dedication to Honesty, we won't notice that the rally on September 12 was awash in distortions and lies.

That there would be what we philosophers call a performative self-contradiction, lying about being honest. But I digress . . .

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