Teaching leeway

Jim Bass misses the point in The Unbearable Paradox of Glenn Beck. He notes that the author of The Bell Curve experiences some dissonance. It shows in his conclusion:

What Beck does is propaganda. Maybe propaganda has its place, but let’s not kid ourselves. Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann are brothers.

What he misses is that of a fundamental truth. It is one thing to err on a quote that still expresses a fundamental agreement of viewpoint with its purported author and another thing to engage in willful distortion of another’s views. That’s the difference between Beck and Olbermann.

The complaints about Beck all seem to be on the issue of leeway commonly accorded teachers. This is the need to simplify concepts or take some advantage in selecting data in order to communicate the point to be made.

But Beck uses tactics that include tiny snippets of film as proof of a person’s worldview, guilt by association, insinuation, and occasionally outright goofs like the fake quote. To put it another way, I as a viewer have no way to judge whether Beck is right. I have to trust that the snippets are not taken out of context, that the dubious association between A and B actually has evidence to support it, and that his numbers are accurate. It is impossible to have that trust.

The “unbearable paradox” being faced is not whether the teacher is 100% accurate or not but rather the teaching is “is spectacularly right.” Do the snippets, insinuations, and guilt by association reveal a truth or are they attempts to distort a truth? In Beck’s case they reveal a truth and in Olbermann’s case they distort a truth.

Teaching is propaganda, The question is not in the techniques being used but in the integrity of the doctrines being taught. The issue highlighted, the plaint for a “better policy debate,” suffers from a desire for perfection and a problem with an inability to discriminate between intellectual integrity and absurdity. This latter is a form of moral relativism. Beck takes liberties with the ‘Truth’ in order to teach a fundamental truth. Olbermann takes his liberties to attack, impugn, and ridicule those with whom he disagrees. Conflating these two approaches to teaching doctrine highlights a first problem in getting one’s perceptions in line with reality.

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