What do you do while exercising? I watch TV. Yesterday news’ program was interrupted to present Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s speech broadcast live on Libyan television. Most often what you get are snippets and highlights, but I watched for a half hour (he spoke for more than an hour) as he decried the protests in the streets, blaming them on drug and alcoholic induced youth who were tricked into turning Libya over to Islamic radicals that will be used by America as the pretext for the re-colonization of his country. Gaddafi took the protests personally, saying how had sacrificed a lifetime for his people and how they were ungrateful He took out the Green Book, his own writings, and read how their demonstrations were punishable by death and he wouldn’t forgive them. He also said that if were the president, he would resign, but he isn’t the president and therefore hasn’t nothing to resign from. He told Libyans to form new councils, set up new districts and that he shall remain, defiant, the “leader of the revolution until the end of time,” ready to unleash more violence against protesters just as “the integrity of China was more important than [the people] in Tiananmen Square.”
Did you follow this? The threats were clear enough. But the speech was an incoherent conspiracy-laced discourse. No one is safe when a paranoid is in charge.
Which brings me to Glenn Beck, who I read every now and then, as I did later in the day. He fears the upheavals ripping the Arab world and predicts dire consequences, not the least of which, Beck says, will be the spiraling cost of oil, which will cause the collapse of Western powers. He also points his followers to the speech given by Ghaddafi’s son, who warned about this last week, in a speech equally incoherent as his father’s.
It isn’t hard to understand Gaddafi’s rant: he’s been in power for more than 40 years and he has no intention of giving it up. It is more difficult to under Beck’s, other than he is willing to have dictators brutalize their own people so he can have cheap oil. Beyond this, though is the fact that his world-view is shared by the John Birch Society, which on its website writes, “As a longtime member of The John Birch Society (JBS), I’ve been watching the Glenn Beck TV Show closely since he moved over to Fox News in 2008. I’ve been fascinated to see how Beck has been getting progressively (sorry for the bad word choice) closer to presenting American history in the way that The John Birch Society has been doing it for over 50 years.”
The John Birch Society’s view of American history is as incoherent and full of conspiracy theories as Gaddafi’s. The most straightforward example is the John Birch Society’s view of Dwight Eisenhower as part of a communist conspiracy. Its founder, John Welch, wrote, “With regard to . . . Eisenhower, it is difficult to avoid raising the question of deliberate treason.” This was too much for Bill Buckley, who feared that this was taking conservatism down the road to fascism.
It’s not that paranoids don’t have some things right. As the saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day. But no rational person would want to tell time by a broken clock. Unfortunately, there are those still willing to listen to and accept Gaddafi’s rants, and Beck and the John Birch Society have their minions here.
Ethics requires both feeling and reason. Paranoids are full of feeling; reasoning with them is a waste of time.