Thursday, April 26, 2012

What does Bill O'Reilly know that Karl Popper doesn't?

On Facebook earlier today I found out that Robert Reich has called Bill O'Reilly to task for calling him a communist... 

Why Anyone Should Care that Bill O'Reilly Calls Me A Communist :
O’Reilly’s accusation is odd, to say the least. If we were living in the 1950s, amid Senator Joe McCarthy’s communist witch-hunts, the claim might have some bite and cause me injury. But these days it’s hard to find a full-throated communist anywhere in the world.
O’Reilly’s accusation isn’t even logical. How can he know if I secretly adore Karl Marx, if it’s a secret?
For the record, I’m not a communist and I don’t secretly adore Karl Marx.
Ordinarily I don’t bother repeating anything Bill O’Reilly says. But this particular whopper is significant because it represents what O’Reilly and Fox News, among others, are doing to the national dialogue.
They’re burying it in doo-doo.
O’Reilly based his claim on an interview I did last week with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, in which I argued that because America’s big corporations were now global we could no longer rely on them to make necessary investments in human capital or to lobby for public investments in education, infrastructure, and basic R&D. So, logically, government has to step in.
Since when does an argument for public investment in education, infrastructure, and basic R&D make someone a communist or a secret adorer of Karl Marx?
Obviously, O’Reilly has no interest in arguing anything. Ad hominem attacks are always the last refuges of intellectual boors lacking any logic or argument. (Whoops, I think I just stooped to name-calling. Sorry, Bill.)
Yet this is what’s happening to all debate all over America: It’s disappearing. All we’re left with is a nasty residue.
Reich is asking people to tweet O'Reilly and ask him to have Reich on to debate so I quickly complied:

Go do the same, as one tweet doesn't make for #viral demotic action but 1000 can.

But I want to take it up a notch and propose he make it a two segment debate because I want to have O'Reilly engage someone on the question--What does Bill O'Reilly know about Karl Marx that the likes of someone like Karl Popper didn't?

Reich is an economist and his focus is on public policy so I won't begrudge him for brushing off the importance of Marx because such nuances could cause his core message on policy to be blurred by the media spin machine.

But Karl Marx was an extremely important thinker of the nineteenth century and our public discourse should have room for people who can articulate the substance and quality that Marx brought to the table.  Marx shouldn't be a dirty word.

Last semester while I was taking a Marxism class in the Georgia State Philosophy Department I emailed the economist Dean Baker on what he thought of Marx:
I found Marx incredibly valuable because he was trying to wrestle big issues and thinking about them in interesting ways. You can find support for almost anything you want to say in Marx because he was writing stuff largely on his own, without a group of academics to rein in and tighten his thinking. Therefore you can find many contradictory strains in his writing. 

Back in the old days there was an active school of Marxoligists who would make an argument and then find the relevant pages of Capital to support their case. This is an unbelievably silly exercise. However, Marx certainly prodded me and many others to think about the world differently. 

I actually read Marx before I read Keynes and had largely come to a Keynesian view of the world through Marx. Then when I read Keynes, I was suddenly going "oh yeah, this guy has it down."
The philosopher Karl Popper in his book The Open Society and Its Enemies wrote of Marx:
There can be no doubt of the humanitarian impulse of Marxism.  Moreover...Marx made an honest attempt to apply rational methods to the most urgent problems of social life.  The value of this attempt is unimpaired by the fact that it was, as I shall try to show, largely unsuccessful.  Science progresses through trial and error.  Marx tried, and although he erred in his main doctrines, he did not try in vain.  He opened and sharpened our eyes in many ways.  A return to pre-Marxian social science is inconceivable.   All modern writers are indebted to Marx, even if they do not know it...
Now something is amiss.

Dean Baker is a huge champion of harnessing free-markets and has written at length on how the wealthy and powerful harness protectionism to transfer wealth upwards.

Karl Popper was a passionate champion of freedom, democracy, and free markets and his work in political thought focused on working to undermine totalitarianism of all kinds.

If these guys think Marx had something of value to contribute then what is O'Reilly not telling us?

Either O'Reilly doesn't appreciate the intellectual tools, ideas, and frames Marx passed on to him or he knows something that Karl Popper, one of the 20th centuries most regarded champions of markets, freedom, and democracy doesn't.

I'm intrigued to hear more.

So I propose O'Reilly have Reich on to debate public investment but then I think O'Reilly should have a second segment on the "evils of Karl Marx" that he has uncovered, which up till now, has been missed by many of the most educated and articulate champions of markets, freedom, and democracy.

As Reich notes in his post:
What makes America’s current polarization remarkable isn’t the severity of our disagreements but our utter lack of engagement debating them.
So many Americans are so angry and frustrated these days – vulnerable to loss of job and healthcare and home, without a shred of economic security – they’re easy prey for demagogues offering simple answers and ready scapegoats. Take, for example, Bill O’Reilly and his colleagues at Fox News.
But people can only learn from others who disagree with them — or at least from witnessing debates between people who respectfully and civilly disagree. Without respect and civility, it’s not a debate – it’s just name-calling.
A democracy depends on public deliberation and debate. Without it, the members of a society have no means of understanding what they believe or why. The Lincoln-Douglas debates were notable not because they solved anything but because they helped Americans clarify where they agreed and disagreed on the wrenching issue of slavery.
The likes of O'Reilly, Neal Boortz, and other media personalities have caused the political debate in this nation to decline to the point that center-right Wall Street Democrats like Obama or Clinton are called "radical socialists" who trying to destroy capitalism and promote "class war," and far too many voters actually believe it.

When I ran for State Senate in 2010 I spent many a late night on the campaign trail closing out events talking to voters who were truly concerned about utterly nonsensical quandaries--which was time not spent talking about actually substantive changes that can and should be taking place.

Its a politics of distraction and that's why i'm glad Reich called O'Reilly to task for it.

Some people say we shouldn't feed the demagogues by engaging them in their "hillbilly politics" as one of my teachers has called it.

But I think the realities of modern media and the challenges of money-politics mean we have to attack the right wing directly one tweet--and TV appearance-- at a time if we are ever to reawaken our democracy and create the educated and empowered populace a flourishing society requires.

So I nominate either Corey Robin, Daniel Little, David Harvey, or Brian Leiter (though i'm not sure any of them would take me up on it) but am open to other nominations on academics who might go toe to toe with O'Reilly on Marx.

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