Bennish and the Nihilistic Left
by Ari Armstrong, March 10, 2006
Just when you thought Colorado couldn't get any crazier.
Jay Bennish, while "teaching" "geography" at Overland High School in Aurora, argued that capitalism "is at odds with humanity" and "human rights," that the U.S. "is probably the single most violent nation on planet Earth," that President Bush "sounds a lot like" Adolf Hitler, that "the modern state of Israel was made" through "terrorist acts," that the U.S. intentionally fosters conflict in the Middle East in order to maintain "supremacy," that the U.S. conducted "terrorist sabotage attacks" against Cuba, and that "in the minds of al Qaeda" the 9/11 mass murders were justified.
So here are the lessons that taxpayers are funding for their children: the U.S. and Israel are evil regardless of context, socialist dictators and Islamic-totalitarian mass murderers are the victims of the U.S., and the state should control the economy rather than protect the rights of people to produce and trade voluntarily.
Bennish threw in a couple disclaimers, saying "you got to figure this stuff out for yourself" and "I'm not in any way implying that you should agree with me. I don't even know if I'm necessarily taking a position. But what I'm trying to get you to do is to think, right, about these issues more in-depth..." Because there's nothing like a one-sided, fact-manipulating, leftist rant to inspire deep thinking among students.
The left has fallen into some unfortunate patterns of thought, the central theme of which is nihilism, the destruction of values. The tone of the left is rage and loathing: loathing of the U.S., loathing of economic liberty, loathing of males, loathing of whites (or at least those who have not confessed the sin of being white), loathing of corporations, loathing of Republicans. The left's program is deconstruction, moral relativism, and multiculturalism (meaning that all cultures are sympathetic except that American culture is always and in every way despicable). Of course there are some genuine civil-libertarian hold-outs among the left, but their voices are increasingly drowned out by the nihilists.
Consider a few other examples:
* Among the films that won at this year's Oscar ceremony are those that promote "war for oil" conspiracy theories and America-hating and race infatuation based on Marx-inspired determinism. Jason Apuzzo writes, "As Participant [Productions] vice-present Meredith Blake put it in a recent interview, 'Our product is social change, and the movies are a vehicle for that social change'." What about movies as art?
* Jay Bennish is not atypical. In his March 9 column for the Rocky Mountain News, Vincent Carroll writes that "Bennish was taught to be a 'change agent' and 'to push the envelope' while getting his teaching degree at Northern Arizona University, one of his professors there confirms. And if you wonder why professor Peggy Raines would so casually acknowledge such a dubious goal for public school teachers, it's because her university's teacher-training program is not at all unusual." Bennish "is one of thousands of teachers who have graduated from programs that promote what amounts to social activism and edgy indoctrination in the class -- and do so proudly, too. The Chronicle of Higher Education documented this trend in a Dec. 15 article, noting that 'some education schools have begun questioning whether students value social justice, acknowledge white privilege, and agree to be change agents in battling sexism, racism and homophobia'." Carroll continues, "According to the Chronicle, the teacher-training program at the University of Alaska, to cite a typical example, insists that 'all teachers' should seek 'to constantly examine the status and power that comes from being white'."
* The University of Colorado takes quite seriously "whiteness studies," which is fundamentally racist. I write for the February 9 Boulder Weekly, "This focus on 'whiteness' encourages racially based unearned guilt and self-loathing. It is the left's version of Original Sin, the idea that people are born bad, but that, if they pursue a life of servile penance (in this case left-wing activism), they can atone for their sinful nature." If CU would spend a tenth of the time tutoring disadvantaged students as it spends fretting over race, the university would actually help students succeed.
* A former Colorado teacher traveled the world to create a documentary revealing the horrors of America. (She did include some positive notes, and thus was more balanced than, say, Michael Moore, not that that's a very high standard.) She praises the socialist controls of European nations, while conveniently omitting any reference to high unemployment and other problems that plague those nations. Unfortunately, this former teacher didn't bother to look at how anti-Americanism elsewhere in the world is fed by the American left (as well as by its foreign counterparts). Ultimately, the fact that socialists (and those they influence) criticize America for not being more socialistic is neither surprising nor interesting.
* The left condemns U.S. businesses that cater to lower-income shoppers, and the left condemns free markets elsewhere, thereby punishing the world's poor.
* According to the March 2 Rocky Mountain News, Bennish's attorney, David Lane, actually suggested that Bennish has a First Amendment right to propagandize on the taxpayer's dime. (Lane made the same case for Ward Churchill. However, as Mike Rosen writes in his March 10 column for the Rocky Mountain News, "Lane conceded on my radio show last week that the district policy requiring that teachers offer a balanced presentation in class is most certainly constitutional.") Nobody is so confused about private establishments. For example, as Todd Manzi points out, receptionists who work for David Lane do not have a First Amendment right, while on the clock, to answer the phone by criticizing their employer or, we might imagine, ranting to potential clients about the evils of America. Nobody would question a market school for firing a teacher who said what Bennish said. Lane's case, then, amounts to the position that Bennish can spew his leftist propaganda in the classroom, precisely because taxpayers are forced to pay his salary. Lane's position is nihilistic because it ultimately obliterates the free-speech rights of those taxpayers.
Unfortunately, the nihilistic left uses as a foil the mystical right. Against the migrant scapegoaters, gay haters, abortion banners, drug warriors, and global "democracy builders" of the modern religious right, the left often makes a plausible case. For example, Bennish is correct that the U.S. drug war in South America has been a disaster. But today's left and right offer a choice of which even Hobson should be ashamed. That the nihilistic left sometimes seeks to destroy what is actually bad policy isn't a point in favor of nihilism.
I'll end on a positive note. Sean Allen, the student who recorded Bennish's "lesson," deserves a lot of credit for his moral courage in standing up to Bennish. Allen asked, "Isn't there a difference of, of, having Hamas being like, we want to attack Israelis because they're Israelis, and having us say we want to attack people who are known terrorists?" Such common sense is lost on the nihilists of the left.
* * *
Following are some of Jay Bennish's remarks...
If you don't understand the economic system of capitalism, you don't understand the world in which we live. Ok. Economic system in which all or most of the means of production, etc., are owned privately and operated in a somewhat competitive environment for the purpose of producing PROFIT! ... Do you see how when, you know, when you're looking at this definition, where does it say anything about capitalism is an economic system that will provide everyone in the world with the basic needs that they need? Is that a part of this system? Do you see how this economic system is at odds with humanity? At odds with caring and compassion? It's at odds with human rights.
On the violence of the U.S.:
Who is probably the single most violent nation on planet Earth?! ... The United States of America! And we're a democracy... Who has the most weapons of mass destruction in the world? The United States. Who's continuing to develop new weapons of mass destruction as we speak?! The United States...
On George Bush's similarities to Hitler:
[George Bush] started off his speech talking about how America should be the country that dominates the world. That we have been blessed essentially by God to have the most civilized, most advanced, best system and that it is our duty as Americans to use the military to go out into the world and make the whole world like us. Sounds a lot like the things that Adolf Hitler use to say. We're the only ones who are right. Everyone else is backwards. And it's our job to conquer the world and make sure they live just like we want them to.
On Israel and the U.S. as terrorist states:
We told--Condoleezza Rice said--that now that Hamas got elected to lead the Palestianians that they have to renounce their desire to eliminate Israel. And then Condoleezza Rice also went on to say that you can't be for peace and support armed struggle at the same time. You can't do that. Either you're for peace or war. But you can't be for both.
On U.S. oppression of the Middle East and Cuba:
During the 1980s, Iran and Iraq were involved in an 8-year-long war. The United States sold missiles, tanks, guns, planes, to which side? ... The answer is both. Why would we send armaments to two sides that are fighting each other. That seems to be self-defeating. Don't we want one side to win? Not always! Sometimes you just want there to be conflict! ... Do we really want the Middle East to unite as one cohesive political and cultural body? No! Because then they could what? Threaten our supremacy...
On why "in the minds of al Qaeda" the 9/11 mass murders were justified:
[W]hen al Qaeda attacked America on September 11, in their view, they're not attacking innocent people. Ok. The CIA has an office at the World Trade Center. The Pentagon is a military target. The White House was a military target. Congress is a military target. The World Trade Center is the economic center of our entire economy. The FBI, who tracks down terrorists and so on and so forth around the world, has offices in the World Trade Center. Some of the companies that work in the World Trade Center are these huge multinational corporations that are directly involved in the military-industrial complex in supporting corrupt dictatorships in the Middle East. And so in the minds of al Qaeda, they're not attacking innocent people. They're attacking legitimate targets. People who have blood on their hands as far as they're concerned! We portray them as innocent because they're our friends and neighbors, family, loved ones...