O’Reilly’s premise is based on a belief in free will, which has been embedded in white, American culture since before 1776. It holds that everyone has the free will to pull up their bootstraps and let their indomitable human spirit overcome all odds. It’s very Horatio Alger-like. According to this creed, O’Reilly believes that all young black boys and girls have a personal choice. Therein lies the flaw in his thinking. He’s talking about symptoms not root causes and his dissertation does more damage than good – of course, it is the entertainment business, not “news.”
(3 minute read)
Bill O’Reilly recently posted a commentary on CNSNews.com with the headline, “O’Reilly on America’s Race Problem.” Someone commented that it was a “home run.” It’s not. It’s maybe a single, a single point in a much bigger context, which he fails to address. (If you want to see a home run, watch Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention – not from a political viewpoint, from a higher purpose perspective. O’Reilly should take note).
At the end of his video, O’Reilly states, “If you want a conversation, ya’ got it.” Well, here’s a continuation of his conversation and an attempt to take it to a higher level – higher than his five-minute, oversimplified dissertation
He states the problem is: “The disintegration of the African-American family.” He’s right about that – within the poor black communities he’s referring to. But then he falls into entertainment superficiality and never goes to the root cause of the problem: Why the disintegration? He deals with the symptoms: a lot of brutal facts and a lot of blame to go around, including his entertainment colleagues in Hollywood. For the most part, his facts are right but his reasons for the problem are superficial and his solutions lightweight – as in entertaining versus thought-leading.
First to his criticism of Hollywood. It’s right, and well deserved. But surely he doesn’t consider himself arrogantly perched outside the entertainment business. He is certainly not a “hard news guy” whether he’s on CNSNews or Fox. Fox News is up to Roger Ailes’ fat neck in entertainment disguised as news and O’Reilly is a big factor in it. He and other talking heads work hard at delivering hyperbole and showbiz masquerading as news. O’Reilly’s rants are prime time entertainment built on facts, opinion and sensationalized headlines, in this case: “Young black men commit homicides at a rate ten times greater than whites and Hispanics combined.” That’s an important fact. And we should all try to understand the reasons behind it instead of following O’Reilly as he jumps and hypes his way to easily applied, veneer solutions.
The disintegration of the African-American family is a subject that does not belong on O’Reilly’s teleprompter and his poking a pointy-opinion-stick in the audience’s face just fuels more wrong-headed, distorted thinking rather than providing clear, foundational insight that could start a deeper conversation.
First, he makes it sound as if an advertising campaign will solve the problem. Talk about trivial. Then he draws a false race line by saying, “White people don’t force black girls to have babies out-of-wedlock. That’s a personal decision.” What does the problem have to do with his implication that white people aren’t to blame for forcing black pregnancies?
The real issue lies in his statement, “That’s a personal decision” – referring to girls having babies out of wedlock and guys getting into drugs, guns and gangs.
His premise is based on a belief in free will, which has been embedded in white, American culture since at least 1776. It holds that everyone has the free will to pull up their bootstraps and let their indomitable human spirit overcome all odds. It’s very Horatio Alger-like. According to this creed, O’Reilly believes that all young black boys and girls have a personal choice. Therein lies the flaw in his thinking.
Thought leaders like Sam Harris, Steven Pinker, Daniel Wegner, Jared Diamond and many more in the cognitive sciences have demonstrated that there is no such thing as free will. Dr. Sam Harris, author, commentator and neuroscience Phd, sets this out succinctly in his book, Free Will (2012):
Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control. We do not have the freedom we think we have. (O’Reilly, and anyone truly interested, should read this perspicacious book).
The principle of no free will states that we are all a product of “nature and nurture.” At birth we are not a “blank slate,” (see The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker), and how we turn out is determined, in large part, by a mix of nature (DNA) and nurture (primarily family upbringing). And these are driving forces in human development, whether you’re a young black kid from the “hood” or a white kid from Levittown, Long Island. Therefore, the “personal choice” that O’Reilly purports black kids have – or their parents have (73% being unwed mothers) – is not a free choice, it’s a choice acutely influenced by a predisposed contagion.
The disintegration of the African-American family is a systemic, socio-economic disease and young black boys and girls living in poor black communities can be as predisposed to this disease as people can be predisposed to cancer, arthritis, mental illness or alcoholism. And the cure is almost as complex. The malady of unwed mothers and runaway fathers is both a cause and effect and a toxic nature-nurture pathogen, certainly not solved with ad campaigns.
O’Reilly is right to suggest solutions that strengthen discipline (e.g., in schools, school uniforms, zero-tolerance for guns and drugs) because it can help mitigate the virulent, transmissible culture which produces and propagates these damaged kids. It’s akin to what Nietzsche called “eternal recurrence,” history repeating itself until you break the mold.
Ironically, O’Reilly is part of the very entertainment industry he criticizes as “Hollywood greed,” and his rant serves little purpose other than entertainment. He has a skin-deep diagnosis and his prescription is nothing more than band-aides and bromides, addressing the symptoms, not the disease. Furthermore, if he’s going to talk as if he has a PhD in social psychology or psychiatry then he should not ignore the Hippocratic oath, “do no harm.” He expresses concern about kids emulating what they consume from Hollywood but he should also be concerned about his adult audience emulating a shallow media assessment of this deep, longstanding problem; consequently, starting and perpetrating a poorly-grounded conversation about America’s race problem.