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The Nonsense Politics of PragerU

Comments 34

  1. Here are some answers to questions I imagine some might have about this video. I might add more later if I need to!!

    1) Is Burt Folsom really claiming that we ought to remember unregulated capitalism fondly in that video? Or is that a straw-man you’re creating to knock down?

    In answering this question, I think we should consider how this video is framed and what his suggestion that we ought to rethink educational practices could possibly mean. Folsom doesn’t say that the Gilded age was exploitive for many people but that Rockefeller stands out from that system as a good dude (a fact which ought to be more recognized by the academy). Rather, Folsom transparently positions Rockefeller as a great product of the times in which he lived, a time when the goodness of one man could be vastly rewarded, allowing his goodness to be widely expressed. As such, it seems obvious to me that when he says, paraphrased, “we ought to rethink our educational practices,” he’s claiming we should stop demonizing the forces that produce men like Rockefeller. Those forces are good because they produce Rockefellers, Carnegies, and Vanderbilts, and academia should stop educating otherwise. This position is functionally identical to the claim, “Unregulated capitalism ought to be remembered fondly because it was a pretty good thing.”

    2) Isn't that quote you used at the end there from Rockefeller Junior, not Senior?

    Yes! Wikipedia gives incorrect information on this and when I looked at the source, I misread what it said. I apologize. That said, John D Rockefeller Senior was aggressively anti worker's rights. He once fired a group of laborers for trying to unionize and felt all attempts to organize were simply laziness. In the case of Ludlow, Senior actively egged on Junior to respond the way he did. And, according to Junior, while tensions were rising and people freezing in the tent colonies, he took "unusual interest and satisfaction" in the events transpiring. According to Chernow (who wrote an interesting biography I'm getting most of this information) the Ludlow Massacre actually "forced Junior to admit that his father had some antiquated views and that he must take spiritual leave of him."

    It's true that I misattributed the quote to Rockefeller and not his son, but let's be clear. They were on the same side, one raising the other to do the things he did.

    3) In his video on gratitude, Prager doesn’t just say gratitude will increase happiness, but also goodness. You’ve ignored this second claim. Why?

    For Prager in this video, “goodness” is once again defined in terms of the attainment of other values, generosity, honesty, kindness, and every other good thing. The reason I chose not to address this claim is that it once again demands the question: If not happiness, what are these values good in reference to? Do they evidence themselves? And if so, how? I already discussed this objection extensively earlier in the video, so I decided to ignore it here.

    4) You presented the canon of Western art as some homogenous cult of skepticism. I know, for a fact, that not all works of the canon present this skeptical perspective. Aren’t you cherry picking here?

    I am cherry picking, you’re right! The canon is not an object that expresses one idea, it’s a collection of works that are often in stark disagreement with each other. But if we are able to frequently locate these transgressive, skeptical impulses within the works we call “classics,” then it seems strange to me that Mac Donald would think the introduction of new ideas and critical theory are in some way a betrayal of our fundamental, western ideals. These pure ideals never existed. Western history is philosophically and ideologically tense. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

    That said, I don’t think I’m cherry picking that much. More often than not, the history of the enlightenment and beyond, the great humanist tradition that Mac Donald embraces so vehemently, absolutely is one that often rejects power and portrays a certain skepticism. From Descartes to Cervantes to Shakespeare, from Nietzsche, who asked how we could construct morality in a godless world, to Darwin, whose work questions the teleological notion that we are here for a reason distinct from natural processes, to Freud, who questioned our control over our own minds and thoughts, the most formative works of the enlightenment and post-enlightenment canon are all deeply skeptical, particularly of various forms of authority.

    5) I’ve seen many more PragerU videos than you probably have. It seems to me that what you’re describing here isn’t the unanimous position of the channel but just one trend. Doesn’t that take the steam out of your argument?

    It’s hard to see why such a thing would impact my argument. My purpose here wasn’t to examine the entire body of PragerU. Rather, I’m more interested in one specific narrative that seems quite important to the channel.

    6) You've torn down the work of PragerU without introducing any better ideas yourself. What do you think we should design policy around? Is there an objective good, and if so, how do you know?

    First, I think it's important to recognize that not all critical things have to give a better answer. PragerU has a bunch of bad ideas and it's worthwhile to say so on the face of it. Talking about my thoughts on this issue would demand another hour and a half of your time, and I don't think it'd be worth it.

    Second, and I'll keep this brief, I do think there exists an objective morality, but not one that exists outside humanity. When I say "objective morality," I mean morality relative to the human condition. In my view, there are two essential things about human nature to take into consideration when deciding if an act is right or wrong. First, the desire people have to experience good things, to have the things we want and need and to follow the plans we like (consequentialism). Second, the desire people have to be seen as ends unto themselves, to not be used as pawns or instruments (deontology). I won't be substantiating these two claims here, because it would literally take the rest of my day. I highly recommend taking an ethics class yourself, though. It's good to come to your own conclusions on these things, I think.

  2. If there’s one thing that grinds my gears on YouTube, it’s when ever I watch the Great War videos, a PragerU add appears, Ruining a momentum I had when marathoning it. It seems ironic too, I go watch a well developed and researched show, to then get an add from Ben Shapiro

  3. OH THANK FUCK FINALLY!
    A nuanced and deep looking into an opposition to PragerU
    I have been looking for this THANK YOU
    I have seen a couple of these Opposition videos but they have only focus on a single video, instead of the whole. THANK YOU

  4. This video is both interesting and entertaining, and has a satisfying conclusion. You should make more of this. I think you will get more comfortable with the whole showing your face format and you will probably come to use it better.

  5. I wonder if this video will change the mind of anyone about PragerU. I thoroughly enjoyed this video but I was already aware of the nature of PragerU. Anyone here who actually liked PragerU until they came upon a video like this one?

  6. i cant finsih this video bc seeing your face is distracting. its not your looks thats the problem, its that in a video essay i can concentrate better if i look at the subject, not the person talking about the subject; but im sure this was supposed to get you more views. thanks for what you do anyway, im a big fan.

  7. Did John D. Rockefeller's so-called philanthropy come before or after the IRS allowed for charitable deductions? Did Andrew "Gospel of Wealth" Carnegie build his libraries in the US before or after they could be run as 501(c)3 non-profits? Either way, I've always had this cynical belief that philanthropy in the US wouldn't exist if it couldn't be used as a tax dodge. Or some other monetary or in-kind reward, for that matter.

    Like the long lines at bottle & can redemption stations that I've been to in Oregon. Did those people care about the virtues of "saving the environment"? Did I? Maybe they did, Maybe I'm Captain Planet? But for sure, the redemption ticket dispensed by the collection machines don't say "Congratulations! You've eradicated Koala Chlamydia!" or "You've saved us all from Manbearpig!" There's always a "what's in it for me?"

  8. This is the foundation of modern right wing ideology. Self-evident values are subjective, therefore all subjective values are created equal. Which equates democracy and fascism. Self-interest gets to trump (no pun intended) everybody else's beliefs. Hence guys like Cliven Bundy thinking they're "patriots". Conservatives like Prager make themselves known a mile away.

  9. Praeger is a just another conservative/libertarian douche bag trying to intellectually justify his selfishness. You gave him FAR more credit than his inane drivel deserves by making a 30 minute video. You could have ended your video soon after it began by simply saying "Prager U advocates unregulated capitalism LOL" and left it there.

  10. PragerU certainly deserves a fact check and a grain of salt occasionally, but I can’t say that they’re wrong about leftist education. No, not the historians, but the teachers and professors of leftist institutions. My closest friends have been indoctrinated, I can’t even look at their twitters anymore.

  11. Its pretty obvious that PragerU is not an educational enterprise, its purely a far-right propaganda outlet designed drum up support for conservative politicians and political causes. While they did manage to produce one video that wasn't too bad or far from the truth (staring a token moderate democrat) it primarily uses cherry-picked half-truths to convert impressionable young minds who don't know the whole story — even that one reasonable video was clearly designed as a gateway to lure in those angry over some of the far-left's extremes. Anyway, their tendency to push out content as ads reveals an important fact: Their primary goal is neither education nor profit but simply indoctrination and political recruitment. Unfortunately there are many out there who want to buy what they're selling, who will love how PragerU's rhetoric supports their own biases.

  12. People only seem to go after PragerU because most other conservatives would actually respond while Prager generally doesn't.

    Also, it's easy to pick on neocons.

    This video is sad and worth less than the bandwidth it takes up.

  13. "Good" is whatever seems to benefit our society at the time. When that value interferes with some other society's idea of "good", our values are seen as "evil". For example, the crusades were seen as something good to the crusaders, but we seem to agree nowadays that they were wrong.

  14. I think you overlook the true meanings behind the prageru videos, which is that it creates a counterpoint. Perhaps school was different for you but in both k-12 and college I wasn't taught how to think but rather what to think. These are things many people have never heard before. Short videos that jar you from your train of thought make you think, not necessarily what to think. Oh, and to your point of holiness, by way of Plato, just because gods have a reason doesn't invalidate holiness or gods because social morals/values require one to look beyond oneself and the animal nature of man is selfish. Perhaps one can do the same by learning from the past but is that any different?

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