I quote below from the Gurometer developed by psychologist Matt Browne and anthropologist Chris Kavanagh who started the podcast Decoding the Gurus in 2020.
The scores I give Prager are my own.
Overall, I’d place Prager in the middle of the pack of gurus. He’s less damaging than Eric and Brett Weinstein but more damaging than Oprah and Brene Brown.
By guru we refer to the standard definition of “an influential teacher or popular expert” but our specific focus tends to be the subset of gurus who make liberal use of ‘pseudo profound bullshit’ referring to speech that is persuasive and creates the appearance of profundity with little regard for truth or reference to relevant expertise. The recurring characteristics identified collectively trend towards negative traits, so a high score on the gurometer could be regarded as identifying ‘bad’, potentially exploitative gurus who produce ersatz wisdom: a corrupt epistemics that creates the appearance of useful knowledge, but has none of the substance.
1. Galaxy-brainness is an ironic descriptor of someone who presents ideas that appear to be too profound for an average mind to comprehend, but are in truth reasonably trivial if not nonsensical. Gurus often present themselves as fonts of wisdom, and it is an all-encompassing kind of knowledge that tends to span multiple disciplines and topics. Their arguments often link together disparate concepts, such as quantum mechanics, logic, and the nature of consciousness. A guru will often present themselves as a polymath, who can offer novel insights with reference to many different fields. They will often allude to their own accomplishments, and exaggerate them to a shameless degree. They will confidently offer hot takes on technical topics, and with a wave of their hand, dismiss the perspectives of genuine experts. This is, of course, a confidence trick that relies on the recipient being convinced of their unique intellectual powers. Various performative flourishes can assist in this deception, such as unnecessary references to high or specialist literature, the use of jargon and technical terms. On closer inspection, these references can often be recognised to be entirely superfluous and largely tangential to the argument being presented. However, the recipient is not expected to dig too deeply or to fully understand the references being made. Indeed, they are probably most effective when the recipient does not understand them at all; they are merely allusions intended to signal a deep level of knowledge…
Here are the features we came up with (to be rated 1-5 for a highest score of 50)
Galaxy Brain-ness (Breadth)
Polymath, experts at everything, hot takes, special wisdom
Performative unnecessary references to literature/complex theories/science
I’d rate Prager a 4 out of 5.
Here are some examples of Prager’s claims:
* “I have been right on virtually every issue that I have differed with the majority on in my life.” (Dec. 12, 2022 show)
* “If truth is allowed out, there is no left.” (Dec. 12, 2022 show)
* “I know from years of experience with home-schooled kids that overwhelmingly they turn out happier, finer, kinder and more intelligent…” (April 4, 2023)
Who needs studies when Prager knows!
* “I wanted the answers. I wasn’t given them. What is the Jewish role in the world? In 14 years in yeshiva, I never learned the Jewish role in the world.” (2010)
* “The great lack in young Americans’ lives is religion. It is the direct cause, not only cause, of all the depression, lost sense of identity…” (April 5, 2023)
I suspect the Japanese and the Europeans, in general, don’t suffer from the amount of depression and loss of identity that American youth are said to suffer from, despite these other nations being much more secular than America.
* “I have come to entertain the possibility of a devil. It has been so diabolic what I have experienced the past three years. It is hard to explain on rational grounds the madness that has taken over.” (March 27, 2023)
An intellectual non-mystical Jew who can read Hebrew entertaining the idea that a devil is causing most of our problems is about as un-Jewish as belief in the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth.
* “[Climate change] is the single best way for [Biden] and the Left to overthrow Western civilization as we know it and destroy the economies of the Western world.” (April 14, 2023)
* “When the government tells businesses what to do, that is one of the truth sign posts of incipient fascism.” (April 14, 2023)
Thousands of non-fascist governments have told businesses what to do. It’s hardly a sign of fascism. People with power frequently tell people with less power what to do. That’s less a sign of fascism than a sign of being human. As Thucydides put it: The strong take what they want and the weak endure what they must.
* “The left has been working to destroy this country for a century.” (Dec. 19, 2022)
* “Big Lies inevitably lead to violence and can even destroy civilizations.” (Dec. 6, 2022)
* “The news media in the West pose a far greater danger to Western civilization than Russia does.” (July 14, 2017)
* “I think meat is the healthiest food there is. I got that from Jordan Peterson.” (Jan. 30, 2023)
* I’m struck by the awe that the ignorant display towards Dennis Prager and the lack of awe shown to him by those who know something.
Paul Gottfried said Jan. 28, 2020: “I think he’s an intellectual vulgarian of a kind I have rarely encountered in this world. He has said such ridiculous things about history, fascism, democracy and so forth that it is hard for me to bestow any respect on his intellectual accomplishments.”
Paul Gottfried wrote Dec. 17, 2017:
Right-wing Celebrities Play Fast and Loose With History
Forget Trump—Goldberg, Prager, and D’Souza muddle facts to sell books all the time.
Perhaps one of the most ludicrous examples of the conservative movement’s recent attempt at being sophisticated was an exchange of equally uninformed views by talk show host Dennis Prager and Dinesh D’Souza, on the subject of the fascist worldview. The question was whether one could prove that fascism was a leftist ideology by examining the thought of Mussolini’s court philosopher Giovanni Gentile (1875-1944). Gentile defined the “fascist idea” in his political writings while serving as minister of education in fascist Italy. He was also not incidentally one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century; and in works like General Theory of the Spirit as Pure Act, adapts the thought of Hegel to his own theory of evolving national identity. It would be hard to summarize Gentile’s thought in a few pithy sentences; and, not surprisingly, the Canadian historian of philosophy H.S. Harris devotes a book of many hundreds of pages trying to explain his complex philosophical speculation.
Hey, but that’s no big deal for such priests of the GOP church as Prager and D’Souza. They zoom to the heart of Gentile’s neo-Hegelian worldview in thirty seconds and state with absolute certainty that he was a “leftist.” We have to assume that Prager, D’Souza and the rest of their crowd know this intuitively, inasmuch they give no indication of having ever read a word of Gentile’s thought, perhaps outside of a few phrases that they extracted from his Doctrine of Fascism. Their judgment also clashes with that of almost all scholars of Gentile’s work, from across the political spectrum, who view him, as I do in my study of fascism, as the most distinguished intellectual of the revolutionary right.
According to our two stars in what has been laughably named “Prager University,” Gentile proves that “fascism bears a deep kinship to today’s Left.” After all, “Democrat progressives, in full agreement with Gentile, love and push for a centralized state, which manifests itself in stuff like recent state expansion into the private sector.” Among the questions that are left begging are these: “Do the modern Left and Gentile agree on the purpose and functions of the state?” “Would Gentile and Mussolini, who glorified Roman manliness, have rallied to the present Left in its support of feminism and gay marriage?” Did Gentile back in the 1920s favor the kind of “the stuff’ the administrative state is pushing right now?” The answer to all these questions, which of course wouldn’t be acceptable at Prager University, is an emphatic “no.” Control of the national economy by the Italian fascist state, down until its German-puppet version was established as the Italian Social Republic in September 1943, was about the equivalent of that of New Deal America.
* Dennis: “One of the deepest disappointments in my life has been Jews’ opposition to wars against evil. I had always assumed that, as the victims of so much evil throughout history, and as heirs to the great moral teachings of the Bible and Judaism, Jews, of all people, would support fighting on behalf of victims of the greatest evils.” (Oct. 14, 2014)
* If America abandons Israel, “that is the end of America as we know it.” (May 27, 2023)
* July 26, 2022, Dennis wrote: "The average 12-year-old student at a yeshiva has more wisdom than almost any student at Harvard or most other universities."
The great thing about making wisdom claims is that they cannot be falsified. There's no objective test for wisdom. When you hear Prager make these statements, it's easy to feel that you are getting some profound insight into life.
* One man who worked with Dennis for years on the radio found himself going home every day thinking about what Dennis had said on his show. Then he began noticing that Dennis didn’t understand many the articles he was reading from nor the events he was commenting on. Dennis just used the news to get on a soap box with his Pragerisms however disconnected they might be from reality. It was all a con. In the course of a few months, the man went from fascinated with Dennis to disgusted with Dennis.
That disgust reaction? It never left him. And he never picked up another guru.
Back to the Gurometer:
2. Cultishness: Being a guru is a social role: a guru is only a guru if there are people who regard them as such! How gurus interact with their followers and critics, their in-group and out-group, is often quite revealing. Gurus are not usually bonafide cult-leaders. However, the social groups they cultivate — often with themselves positioned as intellectual leaders — can have some elements reminiscent of cultish dynamics. A key characteristic of cults is the establishment of clear in-group and out-group identities, primarily between the cult-members/admirers and outsiders. However, there will often be internal discriminations made within the cult, such as between an inner-circle of favoured members, the broader normal members, and problematic or troublesome members (who may need to be reprimanded, temporarily excluded, or exorcised). In general, cultish behaviour is characterized by emotional manipulation and control.
We’ve noticed that gurus tend to act in a manipulative fashion with their followers and potential allies. This often takes the form of excessive flattery, such as intimations that their followers are more perceptive, more morally worthy, and more interested in the pursuit of truth than outsiders. A guru will often put some effort into signalling a close and personal relationship with their followers — essentially encouraging the development of parasocial ideation. Praise and regard for the guru is usually reciprocated, whilst disagreement or criticism is usually dismissed as coming from an unworthy person who does not truly understand the significance of the guru’s ideas.
A guru may often wish to avoid the appearance of being a controlling leader. It is, after all, inconsistent with the flattery of their followers and the oft-spoken idea of cultivating a community of like-minded and clear-sighted individuals. However, they also do not want their privileged position challenged. Thus, they may often wistfully talk of a desire to engage with ‘good faith’ critics who truly understand their ideas, and lament that they have been unable to receive the robust criticism they desire. Of course, this is a sham, as anything other than fawning praise, or at best the most superficial or minor disagreement, will typically be designated as being low-quality or badly-motivated.
An interesting example of a manipulative technique to prevent criticism and ensure agreement is what we have dubbed the ‘emperor’s new clothes manuevor’. The guru will prime a particularly special, highly elaborate, or controversial idea with various cautions such as ‘I know many of you won’t be able to understand this, but I think the more perceptive among you might’, or ‘I don’t think many of you are in a place where you are ready to accept this kind of idea, but here goes’. Naturally, few among their followers will want to admit that they lack the necessary qualities to appreciate the brilliance of the guru’s insight, and those that do, reveal themselves to be potentially among the set of ‘troublemakers’…
Cultishness: Unhealthy social dynamics In-group vs. Out-group
Flattery, some controlling, they’re special
Super charitable to friends and allies
In-group people like us, are the heterodox “non-ideological”, committed to reason (for IDW types – anti-vaxxers etc)
Personal rapport with followers
I’d rate Prager a 3 out of 5.
Here are some examples of Dennis Prager’s cultish tendencies:
* Dennis tells Jordan Peterson: “When I hear you read your book, the passion comes from you just want to help people lead a better life. It’s overwhelming. Everybody knows you’re bright but I know you’re good.” (May 3, 4 of 2019 at the Prager Summit)
Imagine how many supplements and natural covid cures you could sell at a PragerU summit.
* May 7, 2021, Dennis told Jordan Peterson: “I can’t find a thing you have ever said that isn’t ennobling. I love your work. I wrote the introduction to your biography.”
* “I don’t have an age, so I don’t talk about it much because it is not relevant to any part of my life. I prefer that people just think of me as Dennis.” (May 1, 2023)
Only mere mortals have an age.
* “We are obligated to fight like they did on Normandy Beach.” (Oct. 31, 2022)
Dennis is talking here about fighting the Democrats and the elites.
* The Gurometer notes: “A guru will often put some effort into signalling a close and personal relationship with their followers — essentially encouraging the development of parasocial ideation.”
Introducing Jordan Peterson in May of 2019 at the Prager Summit, Dennis Prager said: “I never met Jordan Peterson in person, but I said to him when we met right before lunch something that is said to me by so many people when they meet me for the first time, ‘I feel like I know you.'”
The idea that someone’s private and public selves are essentially identical is a delusion.
Dennis encourages parasocial ideation. In other words, he encourages a delusion that is sometimes comforting and sometimes destructive. Wikipedia says:
Parasocial interaction (PSI) refers to a kind of psychological relationship experienced by an audience in their mediated encounters with performers in the mass media, particularly on television and on online platforms. Viewers or listeners come to consider media personalities as friends, despite having no or limited interactions with them. PSI is described as an illusory experience, such that media audiences interact with personas (e.g., talk show hosts, celebrities, fictional characters, social media influencers) as if they are engaged in a reciprocal relationship with them. A parasocial interaction, an exposure that garners interest in a persona, becomes a parasocial relationship after repeated exposure to the media persona causes the media user to develop illusions of intimacy, friendship, and identification…
Positive information learned about the media persona results in increased attraction, and the relationship progresses. Parasocial relationships are enhanced due to trust and self-disclosure provided by the media persona. Media users are loyal and feel directly connected to the persona, much as they are connected to their close friends, by observing and interpreting their appearance, gestures, voice, conversation, and conduct.Media personas have a significant amount of influence over media users, positive or negative, informing the way that they perceive certain topics or even their purchasing habits… The conceptual development of parasocial interaction (PSI) and parasocial relationship (PSR) are interpreted and employed in different ways in various literatures. PSI specifically means the “one-sided process of media person perception during media exposure”, whereas PSR stands for “a cross-situational relationship that a viewer or user holds to a media person… Many parasocial relationships fulfill the needs of typical social interaction, but potentially reward insecurity. Many who possess a dismissive attachment style to others may find the one-sided interaction to be preferable in lieu of dealing with others, while those who experience anxiety from typical interactions may find comfort in the lives of celebrities consistently being present.”
Because creators often earn money off their fans through memberships, Patreons, and other cash avenues, there are fans who feel entitled to specific details about the lives of creators or even specific content. The divide between creators’ lives and their work is a fine line”.
In a study conducted by Google in 2017, a reported 40% of millennial YouTube subscribers claimed their “favorite creators understands them better than their friends.”
Parasocial relationships are a psychological attachment in which the media persona offers a continuing relationship with the media user. They grow to depend on them, plan to interact with them, count on them much like a close friend. They acquire a history with them and believe they know the persona better than others. Media users are free to partake in the benefits of real relations with no responsibility or effort. They can control their experience or walk away from parasocial relationships freely.
A media user’s bond with media personas can lead to higher self-confidence, a stronger perception of problem focused coping strategies, and a stronger sense of belonging. However these one-sided relationships can also foster an impractical body image, can reduce self-esteem, increase media consumption, and media addiction…
…parasocial relationships with media personas increase because the media user is lonely, dissatisfied, emotionally unstable, and/or has unattractive relationship alternatives. Some can use these parasocial relationships as a substitute for real social contact.
* The Gurometer notes: “A key characteristic of cults is the establishment of clear in-group and out-group identities, primarily between the cult-members/admirers and outsiders.”
On his Dec. 5, 2022 Youtube show with Julie Hartman, Dennis said: “My wife and I so love Epoch Times, we not only spend our own money, we send them money. These are important and good guys.”
Dennis tends to talk in terms of good guys and bad guys. A more sophisticated approach would be to notice the good and bad things that the same people and institutions do regularly. In general, the world isn’t divided into good guys and bad guys as much as it is divided into separate situations confronting different people with different gifts.
* Sheldon Teitelbaum wrote for the Jewish Journal Mar. 14, 1986:
[Michael] Harris [Bardin’s assistant from 1961-71], however, argues that, “Dennis was simply there at a time when Shlomo was most vulnerable. He saw the end coming and he needed to pitch somebody.”
“Under Dennis’s directorship,” says Chotiner, “Brandeis was a swinging door. We were picking 200 members one year and losing 150 the next.” Chotiner is not alone in his contention that Prager lacked intellectual depth. His critics argue that he was basically a “three-speech man,” and the membership grew tired of hearing the same speeches time after time. Others grew weary of what they claim were repeated bouts of vindictive, almost paranoid behavior by Prager. But there are also those among Prager’s detractors who did not share this view. Says Dr. Goodhill, “Dennis was a brilliant man. He was also very courageous — there was never anything bashful about him. I think that’s what bothered the older people on the board was the strong and rather major dominance at the institute that Dennis wanted and did exercise. We accepted that in Shlomo because it took that kind of personality to get things going. And Dennis did have to be a one-man show!”
Unfortunately for the institute, strife and dissension within the board over Prager’s leadership resulted in a brief but traumatic conflict, between 1979 and 1981, over the actual decision-making process at Brandeis-Bardin, which some called “elitist” and “undemocratic.”
David Margolis wrote in the Jewish Journal in December 1992:
…The seven years of Prager’s tenure in Simi Valley, however, were filled with conflict between himself and the Brandeis board, whom he accuses of treating him “miserably.” At Brandeis, Prager says now, not without bitterness, “I learned that many Jews are uncomfortable with paying another Jew to do something Jewish.”
Or was the problem, as some board members complain, that he tried to make BBI into an Orthodox institution? Prager acknowledges trying to push individuals toward greater observance, in a marked change from Bardin’s non-religious orientation that was sure to threaten and antagonize many. But he castigates the view, which he ascribes to much of the non-Orthodox community, that keeping kosher and not working on Shabbat define someone as Orthodox.
Even his critics acknowledge that Prager succeeded in exciting many young people about Jewish observance and bringing them into the Jewish community. But that enterprise had its down side as well. He developed “followers,” explains one BBI insider during those years, but he turned off many people by leaving no room for “intelligent disagreement. His bullying antagonized a lot of people.”
It is a complaint about Prager’s style that clings to him even today.
* Intentionally keeping people in the dark is a culty move that Prager makes most every day on his radio show. Conservative rabbi Arthur Blecher wrote: “Some rabbis take pains to keep people in the dark about Jewish traditions of Heaven and Hell. For example, a popular guide to Jewish belief, Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism, tells readers that the “notion of hell where sinners suffer eternally is foreign to Judaism and entered the Western world’s religious consciousness through the New Testament.” Its authors…have chosen their words carefully.”
* Dennis spoke on the radio Jun. 28, 2011 about Brandeis-Bardin: “Individuals make and break the world… Do you know how many organizations I’ve seen that were great because its leader was great and then the leader died or retired and the place became nothing? It just shriveled up and died.
“I know of what I speak on a personal level where the leader leaves and the people thought that what was great about the institutions was its policies, its methodologies. Doesn’t matter who led it. Then when good leaders left, the methodologies were useless.”
It’s interesting to watch Prager’s effect on his 23-year-old protege Julie Hartman.
On their Nov. 7, 2022 Youtube show, Julie said: "I grew up thinking doctors, alongside teachers, were the most morally upstanding people… For a time, I didn't believe that doctors were wreaking that much havoc. I thought, maybe they truly believe the Covid vaccine is effective. Maybe they truly believe that lockdowns are effective. I look around now in our society and think who can I trust?"
Dennis: "My heart breaks for your generation. I trusted every institution when I was growing up."
Julie: "I don't trust any."
Dennis: "You're right not to…"
Julie: "What about the Department of Homeland Security working alongside Silicon Valley to suppress "misinformation"?
"What scares me is that so many of my friends totally trust these institutions and don't know how corrupt they are… When they take many doses of the Covid vaccine and something happens to their health, they're not going to be happy."
"One thing that amazes me is how little people know about what is truly going on in this country… They laugh at me."
Dennis: "It's one of my mottos – we know what they don't know."
Julie: "They laugh at me like I was on QAnon… Some of my more peripheral friends have this false notion that I've been radicalized. They truly believe that the things that I just mentioned to you, which are 100% true and shouldn't even be deemed right-wing beliefs because they are facts, they believe those things are conspiracy theories. They believe I have gone on to QAnon, whatever that is. They think I go on these crazy right-wing sites and come up with these conspiracy theories. There are really bad things going on and they think it is just made up. I get the sense that a lot of them want to distance themselves from me because they think I'm nuts."
* “I was voted president of my class from first grade to the end of high school,” said Dennis in a 2005 lecture on Deut. 30. “I have a presence.”
* Until I went to UCLA in 1988 and discovered Dennis Prager on KABC radio, I had high regard for my father. After discovering Dennis Prager, I didn’t. I came to view my dad as psychologically damaged and I dismissed his teachings. I wouldn’t listen to my dad any more and we drifted out of touch. My pursuit of Pragerism caused people around me great pain. And I didn’t care.
I preferred my virtual father to my real father.
Dennis tells people to maintain the best possible relations with family and friends that they can, but the net effect of his teachings is often to drive people apart.
When I was bedridden in my 20s with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I spent thousands of dollars, almost all of my savings, not on getting well, but on sending Prager tapes to my friends, many of whom didn’t listen to them. They laughed at me. They thought I had lost my mind.
They were right.
* In 1989, I wrote to Prager to tell him what his teachings had done for me. He wrote back: “I receive many letters, but few have touched me as much as yours. Get better. You are needed in the fight for good values.”
From the perspective of 2023, I’m not sure I would have made it through this dark time in my life if not for Dennis’s kindness and his enrollment of me in the fight for good values. My life now had purpose.
As Rony Guldmann says, a hero system is a biological necessity.
* Friday, Jan. 28, 1994 in Tampa Bay, I meet Dennis Prager for the first time. On Saturday afternoon, we spoke privately for ten minutes. Dennis said it gave him great comfort that if anything happened to him, I was there to carry on his battle for good values. I was overwhelmed. Years later, I’d realize it was a line he’d used with dozens, if not hundreds, of people.
* May 15, 2010, I was walking around Loma Linda University with a friend. We were talking about Dennis Prager. My friend was surprised that he was more thoughtful in a speech he gave on the campus than on his radio show. He asked me how I viewed Dennis Prager. “I wish he ran for president,” I said. “I wish he ran America. I wish he ran the universe.”
My friend was taken aback. “The universe?”
I felt like an idiot. Where did that come from? I might’ve fallen under the sway of a guru. Why did I fall under the sway of a guru? Because I was lonely while bedridden in my 20s and a virtual friend was better than the flawed alternatives.
This part of the Gurometer struck me as particularly true with regard to gurus like Prager: “[T]hey may often wistfully talk of a desire to engage with ‘good faith’ critics who truly understand their ideas, and lament that they have been unable to receive the robust criticism they desire. Of course, this is a sham, as anything other than fawning praise, or at best the most superficial or minor disagreement, will typically be designated as being low-quality or badly-motivated.”
May 25, 2023, Dennis said that Douglas Murray is his favorite English thinker.
Polemicists of a feather flock together. Gurus respect the game of other gurus. Those who are working a solid angle respect their fellow anglers.
On the other hand, scholars aren't fans of hacks.
Statistician Andrew Gelman wrote September 12, 2012:
[A]cademia has what might be called the John Yoo line: the point at which nothing you write gets taken seriously, and so you might as well become a hack because you have no scholarly reputation remaining.
John Yoo, of course, became a hack because, I assume, he had nothing left to lose. In contrast, historian Niall Ferguson has reportedly been moved to hackery because he has so much to gain. At least that is the analysis of Stephen Marche…
Ferguson is looking for (as am I, in my scholarly domain) is influence. He wants to make a difference. And one thing about being paid $50K is that you can assume that whoever is paying you really wants to hear what you have to say.
The paradox, though, as Marche notes, is that Ferguson gets and keeps the big-money audience is by telling them not what he (Ferguson) wants to say—not by giving them his unique insights and understanding—but rather by telling his audience what they want to hear.
And so he slips under the John Yoo line.
This is too bad; I was a big fan of Ferguson, back before he jumped the shark.
* On his Jan. 30, 2023 show with Julie Hartman, Dennis Prager said: “When I read, and there are many people who hate my guts, and it has no effect on me, but it does tell me about them. If you hate me, it doesn’t tell me anything about me, it tells me everything about you. I know that I aim to do good and I do good. I know there are many people who have happier marriages because of my male-female hour. There are many happy people because of my happiness book, lectures and radio hour. There are many people who have reconciled with their parents because they heard me. How many leftists who hate my guts can say that? Zero. How many people are kinder because they were influenced by a leftist? Zero. It’s not possible to become woke and to become kind.”
If someone hates the polluting of public discourse, he’s going to hate Dennis Prager.
* May 11, 2023, Dennis said: “Donald Trump announced that if he is elected president, he will pardon all or nearly all of the [January 6] political prisoners. They are political prisoners.”
Back to the Gurometer:
3. Anti-establishment(arianism): It is necessary that the orthodoxy, the establishment, the mainstream media, and the expert-consensus are always wrong, or at least blinkered and limited, and are generally incapable of grappling with the real issues. In the rare occasions when they are right, they are described by the gurus as being right for reasons other than they think. Kavanagh has coined the term ‘science-hipsterism’ which captures this tendency quite nicely. A guru can seldom agree with the establishment, because it is crucial to their appeal that they are offering unique insight – a fresh hot take that is not available elsewhere, and may be repressed or taboo. The guru’s popularity will obviously benefit, if this iconoclastic view happens to coincide with their prejudices or intuitions of their lay-followers. Thus, gurus are naturally drawn to topics where there is a split between the expert consensus and public opinion (e.g. climate change, GMOs, vaccinations, lockdowns). After all, if a guru is merely agreeing with an expert consensus on a topic such as COVID, then there is less reason to listen to the guru rather than the relevant experts. Thus, the guru is highly motivated to undertake epistemic sabotage; to disparage authoritative and institutional sources of knowledge. There is a tradeoff where the more the guru’s followers distrust standard sources of knowledge, such as that emanating from universities, the greater the perceived value that the guru provides. This tendency is at odds with the guru’s natural tendency towards self-aggrandisement, which may involve emphasising or inflating their (even limited) academic intellectual recognition, which results in some amusing contradictions. Gurus will also strategically utilise ambiguity and uncertainty within their criticisms, providing themselves with the means to walk back claims that prove wrong or attract criticism or to enable them to highlight disclaimers. This provides them both with plausible deniability and the superficial appearance of having nuance & humility. This dynamic of sabotaging other sources of wisdom is also evident in their fractious relationships with other gurus, with whom they may often have alliances of convenience, but are also strongly incentivised to compete with…
Outgroup is everyone else – the institutions and experts. The establishment are corrupted by incentives and so on
Cannot trust any authorities or mainstream media
Undermining all other sources of information
I’d rate Prager a 4 out of 5. Here are some examples:
* Sep. 29, 2020, Dennis said about the death of George Floyd: “The chances are miniscule that the knee on the side of the neck caused him to die.”
Dennis knew better than those who performed the autopsy.
* Oct. 21, 2020, Prager posted to Facebook: “Voter fraud. It’s for real.”
The evidence is overwhelming that voter fraud is not an important issue in American politics.
* Mar. 28, 2012: “I am certain that my school would’ve asked to medicate me under the same rules we have today. And I don’t know that I’d be the same person I am today if I had been medicated.”
* Dennis felt out-of-step with authority everywhere he went. He was unhappy at home. He was unhappy at school. He was unhappy at university. At Brandeis-Bardin, he fought with his board. He was unhappy in two marriages that ended in divorce. At KABC, he struggled with management. He felt in no-man’s-land in Jewish life, not fitting into Orthodox, Conservative or Reform Judaism.
Feeling distinctive is a big part of being Dennis. Greatness is a burden. He was Harry Potter before there was Harry Potter.
* When I argue that someone like Dennis Prager engages in epistemic corruption, I claim that he manipulates knowledge for his personal, professional and monetary gain, and by so doing, he pollutes discourse.
* Historian Marc B. Shapiro tells me in 2012: “I don’t think he has any influence [in Orthodox Judaism].”
* Dennis Prager reminds some people of Jesus. Both came from non-prestigious communities (Nazareth and Brooklyn). Both had solid if unspectacular Jewish educations. Both started public speaking at a young age (Jesus in the temple at age 12, and Dennis in the temples at age 21). Both preached a simple version of Judaism that gave greater weight to ethics than ritual. Both preached with messianic fervor and moved thousands (Dennis autographs Bibles). Both were not known for their humility (Jesus claimed to be God’s son and Dennis said his contributions wouldn’t be recognized for a millennia). Both were largely rejected by the Jewish leaders of their day. Both had non-prestigious professions (carpenter and talk show host). Both had devoted followings among the common people while the intellectuals despised them.
* In the Spring of 2020, Dennis had Covid minimalist Michael Fumento on his show five times saying that current concern about Covid was hysterical. Dennis agreed. Pragertopia.com noted for February 25: “Dennis talks to Michael Fumento, investigative reporter and science writer. What is going on with the coronavirus?… The Left fears everything…” Mar. 2: “Fumento sees no need to change his original prognosis: this is a media-generated panic…”
* In his column Mar. 17, 2020, Prager wrote: “If the government can order society to cease functioning, from restaurants and other businesses to schools, due to a possible health disaster, it is highly likely that a Democratic president and Congress will similarly declare emergency and assert authoritarian rule in order to prevent what they consider the even greater “existential threat” to human life posed by global warming.”
* In his Mar. 31, 2020 column, Prager wrote: “Virtually every opinion piece in The New York Times, The Washington Post and every other mainstream, i.e., left-wing, journal share two characteristics: a sense of foreboding (millions will die) and an unshakeable conviction that to prevent mass death, the world’s economy must be shut down.”
* April 28, 2020, Dennis wrote: “People will argue that a temporary police state has been justified because of the allegedly unique threat to life posed by the new coronavirus. I do not believe the data will bear that out. Regardless, let us at least agree that we are closer to a police state than ever in American history.”
* April 28, 2020, Dennis said: “The lockdown is the greatest mistake in the history of humanity.”
David Simon responded: “Never mind the burning of the library at Alexandria, European colonialism, the 1914 alliances that provoked the Great War, the Weimar left and center failing to unite against Hitler…”
Former U.S. Representative Joe Walsh: “I worked for the same conservative media co. @DennisPrager works for. Prager is no dummy. He can’t believe this. But this is what sucks about conservative media. You get rewarded for being outlandish, for enraging your audience. I did it at times too. It’s wrong. It’s dishonest.”
Frank Luntz: “Galaxy Brain stuff from the University of Prager.”
Jonah Goldberg: “Let’s assume it’s a mistake. The biggest in human history? The reparations on Germany after WWI? Sending Lenin back to Russia? Carve out for slavery in the US Constitution? The Fire of Alexandria? Canceling Firefly?”
Dennis wrote in his Genesis commentary: "It is often tempting…to use drama or exaggeration to make a point. It may work the first time and even on subsequent occasions. But once a person acquires a reputation for exaggeration or melodrama, his credibility is lost."
Prager's producer Allen Estrin said about Dennis: "Through his radio show, his writing, and now PragerU, he changes the way you live – for the better. He makes you a better a person – a better father, a better son, a better mother, a better daughter. Name another public figure who does that."
On Oct. 18, 2021, Dennis said on his show: "I'm broadcasting from my home because I'm not going into the station as I have COVID. I was tested positive last week and I have been steadily improving. At no point was I in danger of hospitalization. I have received monoclonal antibodies, that's Regeneron. I have, of course, for years — a year and a half, not years — been taking hydroxychloroquine from the beginning, with zinc. I've taken z-pack, azithromycin, as the Zelenko protocol would have it. I have taken ivermectin. I have done what a person should do if one is not going to get vaccinated.
"It is infinitely preferable to have natural immunity than vaccine immunity and that is what I have hoped for the entire time. Hence, so, I have engaged with strangers, constantly hugging them, taking photos with them knowing that I was making myself very susceptible to getting COVID, which is, indeed, as bizarre as it sounded, what I wanted, in the hope that I would achieve natural immunity and be taken care of by therapeutics. That is exactly what has happened. It should have happened to the great majority of Americans.
"The number of deaths in this country owing to COVID is a scandal which one day will be clear to Americans. The opposition of therapeutics on the part of the CDC is owing to the corruption of the belief in the value of vaccine and only vaccine. Whether it is because of all the money that goes into the CDC from the pharmaceutical companies or a simple unquestioning faith in vaccines, or both, only God knows. So, I have walked the walk on this matter and here I am."
According to the FDA on September 3, 2021: "The FDA has not authorized or approved ivermectin for use in preventing or treating COVID-19 in humans or animals. Ivermectin is approved for human use to treat infections caused by some parasitic worms and head lice and skin conditions like rosacea. Currently available data do not show ivermectin is effective against COVID-19."
…if these therapeutics [ivermectin and hydroxychlroquine] were acknowledged to work, the vaccinations would be rendered largely unnecessary and Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson would lose a great deal of money. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health and state medical boards essentially work for Big Pharma.
Based on the rule that those who censor are almost always lying, we must come to the frightening conclusion that the American medical establishment has been lying to us…
In its suppression of scientific dissent, the American medical establishment mimics the medieval Church’s treatment of Galileo.
On November 9, 2021, Dennis wrote his weekly column on why natural immunity to Covid is better than vaccine immunity. "Nor does the study warn that getting the vaccine may also induce harmful consequences. To its everlasting shame, that is a taboo subject in America’s medical community despite the fact that the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists over 700,000 cases of suspected injury and more than 17,000 otherwise unexpected deaths temporally associated with COVID-19 vaccines."
Anyone can make a report that they had a negative reaction to the Covid vaccine. That's hardly a convincing argument about the dangers of vaccines. And we have no evidence that Covid vaccines have killed anyone. Reuters noted April 2, 2021:
Of the 145 million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in the United States from Dec. 14, 2020 through March 29, 2021, “VAERS received 2,509 reports of death (0.0017%) among people who received a COVID-19 vaccine.” Having reviewed “available clinical information including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records,” the CDC found “no evidence that vaccination contributed to patient deaths”.
With his love for Bible-based morality, Dennis Prager might have pointed out that social distancing is a tactic endorsed by the Torah. Notes Wikipedia:
Although the term “social distancing” was not introduced until the 21st century, social-distancing measures date back to at least the 5th century BC. The Bible contains one of the earliest known references to the practice in the Book of Leviticus 13:46: “And the leper in whom the plague is… he shall dwell alone; [outside] the camp shall his habitation be.”
So where do public health officials get the right to shut us down? Prager might have learned from Michael Lewis's superb 2021 book, The Premonition: A Pandemic Story: "If there is the faintest possibility of a catastrophic disease, you should treat it as being a lot more likely than it seems. If your differential diagnosis leads to a list of ten possibilities, for instance, and the tenth and least likely thing on the list is Ebola, you should treat the patient as if she has Ebola, because the consequences of not doing so can be calamitous."
The prestigious Nature magazine published February 18, 2021: "The average years of life lost per [Covid] death is 16 years."
What is the true Covid death toll? The Economist magazine, using academic estimates that the true Covid death toll is multiples of the official death toll, as of May 11, 2023, estimates the true worldwide death toll at between 17 and 29.9 million.
…that question — “What is the price?” — was avoided by virtually every political leader in the world as well as the vast majority of epidemiologists and physicians, journalists and editors, college presidents, deans, professors and K-12 teachers.
They never asked, “What is the price?” with regard to locking down businesses, schools and, in many cases, entire countries.
That is why so many political leaders, teachers, college presidents, doctors, epidemiologists and other scientists turned out to be fools.
The handful of scientists — and, of course, the even smaller number of academics or people in the mainstream media — who questioned the lockdowns were labeled purveyors of “misinformation” and “disinformation,” the terms used by the Left to describe all dissent….
Fools, led by universities — Harvard shut down in early March 2020, when there were 51 confirmed cases COVID-19 in the entire state of Massachusetts — and followed by virtually every teachers union, ruined countless young Americans’ lives.
This happened because teachers unions are led by fools and because virtually every public health authority is a fool. And because the overwhelming majority of American parents put their faith in fools — and thereby injured their own children.
On his December 12, 2022 show with Julie Hartman, Dennis said: "How do they [Julie's peers] decide what is true? By [expert] consensus. A consensus of scientists say that we have to stop all carbon emissions by X year. So they take a vote on what is true. The consensus was that masks had to go on two-year-olds [during Covid]. Now that is regarded as child abuse, which is how I regarded it during the time. I have been right on virtually every issue that I have differed with the majority on in my life."
Julie: "Especially on ivermechtin and hydroxychloroquine."
Dennis: "And lockdowns. I said the greatest international mistake in history. All you need to do is think and read."
"All these revelations are coming out about Twitter suppressing conservatives. My favorite insight of  — how do I know who's telling the truth? Whoever is suppressing speech is lying. We [conservatives] don't suppress speech." Holocaust deniers are true evil but I am not for suppressing their free speech. If truth is allowed out, there is no left. And Twitter proved it."
Julie: "We've lost our ability to think clearly. I had a friend who was going to get vaccinated [against Covid] for the fourth or fifth time and I said to her please do not do this. There's all this evidence coming out that the vaccine causes harmful effects in young people… I sent her all these studies including Naomi Wolf on Substack that your wife Sue sent to me… My friend couldn't see what was really happening. She bought whatever excuse the Danish government is saying. A government isn't going to admit that we forced this vaccine on you citizens and now I feel bad about that it is harmful. "
Dennis: "Does your friend know about all the scientists who are now speaking about myocarditis in young people?"
April 24, 2023, Dennis said: "[The Covid] vaccine was never properly tested."
October 3, 2022, Dennis said: "The lockdowns only did harm. Will they acknowledge that the vaccines did a lot of harm?"
October 24, 2022, Dennis said that Covid vaccines for people under 50 do more harm than good.
Feb. 15, 2022, Dennis wrote: "In September 2021, for the 15th consecutive year (except for 2020), I led Jewish High Holiday Services for about 400 people — no masks required, and no vaccination necessary. Other synagogues could have done the same thing — but nearly all rabbis and synagogue boards were too scared and too obedient to do so. And of course, the same holds true for most churches, whether Catholic, Protestant or Mormon. Too scared. And too obedient to irrational dictates."
New York magazine leftist Jonathan Chait wrote May 2, 2023:
Conservatives got COVID extremely wrong. Where is the accountability? Where is the course correction? The answer is that they don’t exist, because the conservative movement is incapable of engaging in them…
Donald Trump threatened to fire Dr. Nancy Messonnier, a top CDC official, for telling reporters in February 2020 that the virus would likely spread to the United States. Trump insisted that month that China was “getting it under control more and more, that the United States had just 15 people [with COVID], and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.” He repeated over and over: “Just stay calm. It will go away.” (March 10). “It’s going to go away, hopefully at the end of the month. And, if not, hopefully it will be soon after that.” (March 31). “It is going to go away. It is going away.” (April 3). “I always say, even without it [a vaccine], it goes away.” (June 16). And on and on…
But even highly respectable conservative intellectuals made utterly absurd claims about the pandemic’s likely death toll. Hoover Institute scholar Richard Epstein predicted COVID would kill just 500 Americans, before correcting a small computational error and revising the prediction to 5,000 (still a gross underestimate, as more than a million Americans have perished from COVID-19).
In March 2020, the Journal ran an op-ed arguing that the standard models of the projected COVID death toll were “too high by orders of magnitude,” proposing the actual death toll would be 20,000 or perhaps 40,000. The prominent voodoo economist Kevin Hassett created a model that persuaded White House staff that COVID deaths would drop to zero by mid-May 2020.
The wishful delusion that COVID posed barely any serious health risk produced other delusions. Hydroxychloroquine would cure it! The vaccines were unnecessary or even harmful! These errors were the product of ingrained mental pathologies on the right, which is why a figure like Hassett is now merrily assuring Republicans that defaulting on the national debt would be no big deal.
Far from examining the epistemic bubble that produced these bizarre beliefs, conservatives have coalesced around them. Trump is now running away from Operation Warp Speed, because it constitutes a political liability for him. Ron DeSantis, the Journal’s preferred candidate, has turned the anti-vaccine movement into a powerful wedge against Trump. DeSantis has appeared with and promoted anti-vaxxers and recruited an idiosyncratic vaccine skeptic, Joseph Ladapo, to run his state’s health department. Florida is “affirmatively against” providing the COVID-19 vaccine to children, making it the only state to adopt such a position. Ladapo recently altered a study to exaggerate the risks of the vaccine.
You're A Scientist? So What?
Then there was the American medical community’s opposition to therapeutics, dismissing hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin (both used with zinc) as frauds despite the testimony of numerous physicians that they saved COVID-19 patients’ lives when used appropriately. State medical boards around the country threatened to revoke the medical license of any physician who prescribed these drugs to treat COVID-19 — despite these drugs being among the safest prescription drugs available.
As early as July 2020, Harvey Risch, M.D., Ph.D., professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, wrote in Newsweek:
“I myself know of two doctors who have saved the lives of hundreds of patients with these medications, but are now fighting state medical boards to save their licenses and reputations. The cases against them are completely without scientific merit.”
As a result of the American medical community’s opposition to therapeutics, Risch wrote, “tens of thousands of patients with COVID-19 are dying unnecessarily.”
Doctors throughout America were essentially telling COVID-19 patients, “Go home, get rest, and wait to see if your COVID-19 gets worse. If you can’t breathe, come to the hospital where we can put you on a ventilator.” Ventilators, it quickly became clear, were a virtual death sentence for COVID-19 patients. And then they died alone.
Medpagetoday.com reported Aug. 5, 2021:
Yale Doc Backing HCQ Cites Questionable Data — Negative results from randomized trials not even acknowledged
America's Frontline Doctors aren't the only physicians pushing hydroxychloroquine (HCQ); another expert frequently toeing that line is Harvey Risch, MD, PhD, an epidemiologist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.
Risch authored a Newsweek editorial on July 23 calling on doctors to immediately start treating patients with HCQ.
Risch points readers to his review — he is the only author — published in late May in the American Journal of Epidemiology that cites five studies in support of HCQ, particularly when used early in the course of COVID-19.
None are randomized controlled trials. One is the heavily publicized and now discredited French study by Didier Raoult, MD, and colleagues in March that sparked initial hopes for HCQ. Two have no corresponding data or publications.
Risch asserts his own re-analysis of the French study suggests a stronger benefit for HCQ plus azithromycin when started earlier in the illness compared with standard of care. But researchers have called the original data involving only 42 patients "uninterpretable."
A second study from Raoult's group published in May involved 973 patients all of whom got HCQ; there was no randomization or control.
For his third study, Risch links to a two-page Google document by Vladimir Zelenko, MD, a doctor who cares for a large Orthodox Jewish population in Monsey, New York. Zelenko has made headlines for managing to catch the ear of FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, MD, to request help with access to HCQ for an outpatient trial.
Risch cites data from Zelenko on 405 outpatients who were treated with HCQ, azithromycin, and zinc, of whom six were hospitalized and two died. There was no control group, and the Google document doesn't provide more detail on the data.
The fourth citation is a controlled, but not randomized, study from Brazil with a total of 636 patients; 412 were treated with HCQ and azithromycin, with 224 who declined treatment serving as controls. Fewer of those on the drugs had to be hospitalized, but with no randomization, the treatment's role is uncertain.
Finally, Risch cites a small ongoing study in a long-term care facility on Long Island in New York that gave HCQ plus doxycycline to about 200 high-risk COVID patients, again with no control group. Only nine died, suggesting a treatment benefit, but Risch gave no source for the data nor other details.
Risch published a follow-up to that paper — again in the American Journal of Epidemiology, on July 20, and again as sole author — that outlined an additional seven studies that he said support HCQ early in disease. None appear to be large randomized controlled trials, though some have comparator groups. Some lack any citation at all. One study is additional data from Zelenko, on another 400 patients, but again unpublished and without full data.
In the Newsweek editorial and in the later journal submission, both of which were published following three highly publicized randomized trials that reported no benefit from HCQ, Risch did not address or even acknowledge them.
Just this week, about two dozen of Risch's Yale colleagues published an open letter on Medium, acknowledging his renown in cancer epidemiology but criticizing his "ardent advocacy" for HCQ. The letter notes that Risch is "not an expert in infectious disease epidemiology and he has not been swayed by the body of scientific evidence from rigorously conducted clinical trials which refute the plausibility of his belief and arguments."
Justin Peters wrote for Slate Nov. 8, 2021:
Why Are Right-Wing Radio Hosts Still Being Such Jerks About COVID?
On Monday, Nov. 1, Dennis Prager began his popular radio show with a very strange boast. “I rarely say, ‘I did the following.’ It’s not my style,” the 73-year-old conservative host and YouTube culture war impresario said. “But I believe I am responsible for the CDC announcing the following: that if you have natural immunity you are less immune than if you have the vaccine.”
Prager was referring to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, released on Friday, Oct. 29, which found, basically, that the immunity conferred by full vaccination with an mRNA COVID vaccine is more effective than the “natural immunity” gained by having had and recovered from COVID-19. Good news, right? Ha! If you welcomed the CDC’s findings, you are almost certainly not in Dennis Prager’s target demographic.
The CDC’s conclusions are broadly in line with the scientific consensus on the efficacy of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. And they directly contradict Prager’s contention, voiced over and again on his long-running, nationally syndicated show, that natural immunity to COVID-19 is superior to vaccinated immunity. To Prager, the CDC’s latest findings did not mean that he, Prager, was wrong—they meant that the liberal, corrupt health agency had ginned up a bogus study in order to cloud the debate and specifically silence his voice.
“All I did was open up to you, my audience,” Prager said, referring to his advocacy for natural immunity. “I had no idea that I would shake up the nest to the extent that I did.” Assuring his audience that he had done “a lot of homework on COVID,” and highlighting an Israeli study from August (even though it has not yet been peer reviewed and had certain limitations that ought to make any prudent person think twice before citing it as definitive), Prager weaved a fantastical counternarrative as a way of underscoring his central point: that the CDC study in question was a dirty, rotten lie. “To some of you, it is stunning to say the CDC is lying,” said Prager. “To me, it is like saying the sun shines brightly when there are no clouds.”
Huh? Why would the CDC rush out a false study—co-authored by more than 50 people—just to neutralize a random right-wing radio host? Why would Prager presume calumny and conspiracy in the agency’s motives? These fair questions naturally beget another fair question: Why are so many right-wing talk show hosts still being such dicks about COVID measures?
…“I took ivermectin for the last year and a half as a prophylactic, believing, and I put my actions where my mouth was, believing that ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine and zinc, et cetera, over the course of time, that it would prevent COVID from being seriously injurious to me,” Prager said on that Nov. 1 show, railing against those fools in the media who dared to characterize ivermectin as a mere “horse dewormer.” As per the irrationalist imperative to willfully confuse correlation with causation, the host presented his victorious bout with COVID as clear evidence both of the merits of Dr. Prager’s Curative Elixirs and of the superfluity of the various vaccines. By ostensibly proving that his ivermectin use was what prevented him from dying from COVID, Prager hoped to demonstrate that he was once again privy to the “real truth” that the liberal establishment is determined to suppress.
For decades now, the most successful conservative broadcast media sources have sought to isolate their audiences by constantly sowing distrust of any news outlet or official entity that exists outside of the hard right. The unifying theme is the notion that there are no depths to which the deep state, liberal media, and elitist professoriate will not stoop in order to advance their godless, anti-American, and culturally transgressive agendas.
So for committed Pragerheads, it is perfectly rational to believe—even as 750,000 Americans have died due to COVID-19—that the media is still suppressing the real truth about ivermectin and that the CDC is basically SPECTRE, because right-wing media has literally spent decades convincing its audience that politics is as conspiratorial and simplistic as a James Bond movie. “It’s impossible, virtually impossible, to live in a right-wing bubble,” Prager said on his program on Wednesday, in a statement that is so un-self-aware as to be almost entirely self-aware. Prager surely understands how right-wing media works, even as he also surely understands that he can never, ever publicly admit it.
This cynical strategy, enervating enough in normal times, is especially frustrating in the midst of an ongoing public health crisis in which lots and lots of people are still dying in part thanks to the endemic misinformation being spread by dummies on the radio. Actually, dummies might not be the right word here. No matter what you might think of their politics, Prager and his nationally prominent peers are not stupid. You can tell this is true because they are so adept at dancing right up to the lies-and-lunacy line while almost never crossing it. The evening opinion hosts on Fox News, for example, rarely tell outright lies; instead, they draw false equivalencies, or cherry-pick outlying details and use them to inaccurately characterize the whole, or offer misleading narratives that can be explained away as matters of opinion.
Even Prager is not explicitly anti-vaccine. He does not say that the vaccines don’t work, or that they are actively harmful to those who take them. Instead, he disparages them via a boatload of logical fallacies that he presents as plain common sense. “I have never once told any of you or anyone not to take the vaccine; it is not my province to tell you what to do. But it is my province to tell you the truth, and the truth is that natural immunity is stronger,” said Prager on Nov. 1. “Alex Berenson wrote about this. He’s the guy who was with the New York Times until he started telling the truth.”
As always with right-wing anti–virtue signaling, deflection is the point here. Prager and his peers’ goal writ large is to get their audiences so hot and bothered about federal government overreach and the scurrilous rascals in the elitist media that those audiences do not stop to think critically about what these hosts are actually selling. When Prager threw his show to commercial break, his announcer reported that The Dennis Prager Show was broadcasting “live from the Relief Factor Pain-Free Studio.” The ad gave away the game.
As historian Rick Perlstein observed in his seminal Baffler essay “The Long Con,” and as anyone can observe by watching or listening to more than 20 minutes of conservative broadcast content, right-wing media is and has long been underwritten by billions of dollars of advertising for dubious curatives. While lots of reputable news sources also have some questionable advertisers, the practice is particularly pervasive on the right…
“The strategic alliance of snake-oil vendors and conservative true believers points up evidence of another successful long march, of tactics designed to corral fleeceable multitudes all in one place,” wrote Perlstein. “One weird trick”–style remedies, in a very real sense, pay the salaries of hosts such as Prager; these hosts are incentivized to tout them just as their audiences are conditioned to trust them. The vaccines threaten the framework of burnished shit that supports and sustains these sorts of programs…
On Monday, Prager led off his show by blasting the city of Los Angeles for a new ordinance that would require patrons to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test in order to dine inside a restaurant, get a haircut, or engage in certain other indoor activities. Prager warned of “the communist hell that all communists create, and will in the United States if allowed,” and bemoaned “the love of power and the hypochondriacal fear, the maniacal fear that pervades the left about [COVID] and global warming.” Then, he threw the show to a commercial for Relief Factor, in which he spoke glowingly about the supplement’s “100 percent drug free ingredients, each helping your body deal with inflammation.”
…the layout of HumanEvents.com on the day it featured an article headlined “Ideas Will Drive Conservatives’ Revival.” Two inches beneath that bold pronouncement, a box headed “Health News” included the headlines “Reverse Crippling Arthritis in 2 Days,” “Clear Clogged Arteries Safely & Easily—without drugs, without surgery, and without a radical diet,” and “High Blood Pressure Cured in 3 Minutes . . . Drop Measurement 60 Points.” It would be interesting, that is, to ask Coulter about the reflex of lying that’s now sutured into the modern conservative movement’s DNA—and to get her candid assessment of why conservative leaders treat their constituents like suckers.
When Prager came back, he was at it again about natural immunity and the CDC—“who I believe are professional liars,” he clarified. By sowing doubt over the vaccines and crying foul over mandates, Prager and his peers are running through the tribal script of right-wing infotainment, otherizing every idea and institution that could plausibly be considered “liberal.” But in a very real sense, they just don’t want the liberals’ miracle drugs, because they already have plenty of their own.
Back to the Gurometer:
4. Grievance-mongering: A cult will generally have more than a few bones to pick with supposedly nefarious forces in the outside world. Likewise, fascist organisations will derive much energy from narratives of grievance focused on specific out-groups. Feelings of frustration and oppression, being excluded and disregarded, and deprived of one’s manifest rights and recognitions, represent a potent set of negative emotions. Gurus too, will sometimes rely on narratives of grievance pertaining to themselves and their potential followers in order to drive engagement. After all, a worldview in which all is essentially fair and just is not one that will encourage people to search for alternative ways in which to view the world.
Gurus sometimes also engage in personal grievance narratives. These are especially convenient, in that they not only encourage emotional connection and sympathy for the guru, but they provide a convenient explanation for why someone of their unique talents has not been well-supported or given the recognition they deserve by the outside world. They also relate to conspiratorial ideation (discussed more below), in explaining why the special ideas and perspectives shared with followers have not been recognised and accepted by the outside world. It is because their ideas have been suppressed by malevolent and powerful actors for selfish reasons…
4. Grievance Mongering
Personal narratives of victimhood
Suppression of their ideas
Inculcating grievance in their followers
I’d rate Prager a 4 out of 5 on this trait. Here are some examples of Prager’s grievance-mongering:
* “All the Left’s charges against me are lies.” (April 26, 2022)
* May 1, 2023, Prager's Youtube cohost Julie Hartman said: "There are some people on the Right who are government conspiracy theorists. They think there is an apparatus to create chaos and tear down the United States. I don't think those people are totally nuts because all of this seems too coordinated to be coincidence."
Dennis: "The desire is to bring down this country."
* Dennis: “For the first time in its history, freedom is under assault [in America]… The dismissal of humans based on the color of their skin. It is the opposite of liberalism to say that color matters. The Ku Klux Klan said color matters. The Nazis said color matters. And now the Left says color matters.” (Aug. 22, 2023)
Color didn’t matter much to the Nazis who murdered six million whites in the Holocaust as well as a greater number of white non-Jews during WWII while simultaneously allying with brown Arabs and yellow Japanese.
* “The only difference between the American Left and communist totalitarianism is opportunity. All leftists want to control speech and eventually thought.” (Jan. 31, 2023)
* “California is not the Soviet Union, but it is moving towards the Soviet Union… It’s quite possible that society as we know will end.” (May 25, 2023)
Instead of juicing up needless hatred between people, Dennis could instead use his talents to promote understanding. He could explain that left and right politics are evolutionary adaptations that enabled our ancestors to pass on their genes. In some circumstances, a left-wing approach of welcoming strangers was more adaptive. In other circumstances, a right-wing approach of fear of strangers was more adaptive. In some situations, a traditional hierarchical approach to organizing the community was more adaptive, while in other situations, a more democratic approach was more adaptive. At times, organizing life in a new way was more adaptive, and at other times, following the old ways worked best. Notes the 2013 academic book Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences: “[T]he political left has been associated with support for equality and tolerance of departures from tradition, while the right is more supportive of authority, hierarchy, and order.”
The left and the right experience life differently and each approach has its strengths and weaknesses. We can learn from each other.
* “Jewishly, it’s been a lonely journey.” (2010)
Why has it been a lonely journey for the most booked speaker in Jewish life? Because his fellow Jews are deluded about what really matters. I’d have a grievance too if I believed that.
* “My brother frequently says to me, ‘You are a religious party of one.'” (2003)
Why is he a party of one? Because other Jews just don’t get it.
* Prager said the Brandeis-Bardin board treated him “miserably.”
* In 1997, Dennis Prager wrote in his journal The Prager Perspective:
By the end of January , the Jewish Journal had published my one essay on homosexuality and rabbis, and then published an editor’s rebuttal, a statement on the low moral level of my ideas signed by 16 rabbis, seven letters attacking my decency, and one letter agreeing with me…
I had decided not to reply to any of the letters that maligned me (not one dealt with issues I actually raised), but when the 16 rabbis maligned me, I knew that a response was necessary…
As for “homophobic,” shame on these rabbis for emulating the McCarthy right by giving someone they disagree with a horrible label instead of responding to arguments. The rabbis did not quote me once. They wouldn’t, because if they did, it would be obvious that they engage only in ad hominem attacks, not intellectual or religious responses…
What depressed me about the letter was not the name-calling instead of dialogue. I experienced that when I debated the Jewish rightist, the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, and I experience it from the Jewish left. I am used to being attacked, since, unlike these rabbis who work and live among those who agree with them, I am used to debating my positions and being attacked every day, three hours a day.
What is most depressing is to see three respected Conservative signatories to the letter…
Most Jews, myself included, were appalled at the hate-filled descriptions of the late Yitzhak Rabin that emanated from parts of the Jewish right. In what way do the hate-filled descriptions of me by these rabbis and all the other nine letters you published against me differ?
I am disappointed by something else – the absence of public support from the many rabbis who I know agree with me. Hopefully, The Journal will now receive a letter signed by twice as many rabbis in support of what I wrote. But if the Los Angeles Jewish community and its rabbis do not find maintaining the Jewish male-female ideal worthy of their attention, I do not want to be a voice crying in the wilderness, while those arguing for acceptance of bisexual behavior among rabbis are considered mainstream.
April 26, 2010, Dennis said:
When Disney took over ABC, it decided that the only thing that mattered were ratings. And so they put in a general manager at the station who said, ‘None of this high-quality talk stuff. We’ve got to go down in the gutter.’
It was a very bad period. I thought I’d be let go because I wasn’t prepared to do everything this woman wanted me to talk about. It was a very tense time.
In his 2004 lecture on Deuteronomy 12, Dennis said:
What does God want me to do? I try that all the time. I don’t succeed all the time. I ask myself before every show, what does God want me to do?
I was torn. It was really an issue for a time. This is what God wants me to use the microphone for and this is what my employers’ want me to use the microphone for. Employers in the secular media want ratings.
I didn’t talk about the O.J. Simpson trial and I had an only-LA show one of the two prime stations in LA (KABC). I talked about the verdict.
I kept saying to myself, ‘Dennis, God didn’t give you the gift of speech to talk about Kato Kaelin.’
It was the end of my TV career because I wouldn’t do stuff they asked.
* Feb. 1, 2011, Dennis wrote: "Through the use of public opprobrium, laws, and lawsuits, Americans today are less free than at any time since the abolition of slavery…"
* Aug. 27, 2013, Dennis wrote: “[I]f there is a real fascist threat to America, it comes from the left, whose appetite for state power is essentially unlimited.”
* Dec. 5, 2006, Dennis wrote: “It is not I, but Keith Ellison, who has engaged in disuniting the country. He can still help reunite it by simply bringing both books to his ceremonial swearing-in. Had he originally announced that he would do that, I would have written a different column — filled with praise of him. And there would be a lot less cursing and anger in America.”
Back to the Gurometer:
5. Self-aggrandisement and narcissism:
It is almost impossible to be a guru without having a sense of grandiosity and inflated idea of one’s self-importance. The role of being a guru involves cultivating praise and attention, and demands a certain level of charisma and charm. Another trait of narcissists is a belief in one’s uniqueness, and that only special people can appreciate them. It is therefore not surprising that one tends to see other narcissistic traits in gurus, such as having a very thin skin when it comes to criticism, or expecting that the world should be recognising one’s talents far more than it does. Our tentative hypothesis is that narcissism is the key personality trait of gurus. People without at least some degree of over-confidence and attention-seeking will find the role of guru very uncomfortable and eschew it, even if it is thrust upon them. People who are not narcissistic, but with genuine expertise and insight in a given domain, may find the spotlight an unwelcome distraction. People ‘on the spectrum’ of narcissism, however, will find any attention and regard highly satisfying, and this is the motivating factor for engaging in going beyond whatever talents they may have, to engage in the pseudo-profound bullshitting techniques described here. The lack of self-awareness common among narcissists also seems to explain why gurus seem to ‘believe their own bullshit’. Just as a narcissist loves themselves, they are in love with their own ideas, and may be incapable of seeing the degree to which they are bullshit…
5. Narcissism-ish / Self Aggrandising
We think thats the real motivation of many of them
Attention economy, clicks and likes
I’d rate Prager a 3 out of 5.
Here are some examples of Prager’s self-aggrandizement:
* Dennis explaining why he wrote The Rational Bible commentary: “Somebody has to explain these Biblical texts or they will go further and further into oblivion.” (Dec. 5, 2022)
I’m skeptical that Dennis, who autographs Bibles, has the ability to save the Bible.
Julie Hartman: “It has revolutionized my life.”
Dennis: “If all I did was affect you, it was worth writing.”
Dennis has used that line on thousands of people.
Julie: “When I was done reading it, I went from seeing the world in a secular way to seeing the world in a religious way. When I walk down the street and look around me, I feel more connected to life. I appreciate the every day more.”
* Dennis: “I believe that I have brought more people to belief in God, to taking the Bible seriously, to Jews embracing Judaism, and to others embracing Christianity than perhaps any other living Jew or Christian.” (May 9, 2023)
Given the poor epistemic quality of Prager’s reasoning, I wonder about the quality of these conversions. It reminds me of the Christian evangelists around my father who’d boast about the hundreds of people they had baptized. Everyone they saw was just fodder for Christ.
* “I have never been hurt by a friend… I have built-in antennae for who to trust. I have perfect pitch.” (Sept. 26, 2013)
Anyone who says they’ve never been hurt by a friend is clearly wrong. If Prager believes what he is saying, he is deluded.
* February 13, 2023, Dennis said: "I've never had a female friend."
Friendship with the opposite sex is for mere mortals. For a self-described highly sexed man like Dennis Prager, it is not on.
* “I have never been envious of another human being in my life.” (Jan. 16, 2023)
Only mere mortals experience envy.
* Aug. 2, 2022, Dennis said: “I didn’t think they [parents] loved me when I was a kid… I didn’t fly once with my parents. I didn’t want to do much with my family. What I did was develop antibodies. I was vaccinated against emotional problems.”
Unlike mere mortals, Dennis Prager was vaccinated against emotional problems.
Aug. 29, 2012: “That’s the reason I became something, because my parents said at an early age, ‘You’re on your own. Have a great life.’ And I’ve had a great life. And it wasn’t easy.”
Prager’s cultishness, epistemic sabotage and river of pseudo-profound nonsense also helped him become something. I suspect he’s wrong when he claims his parents said to him, literally or figuratively, “You’re on your own. Have a great life.”
* “I would say that the Jewish identity of Jews… is overwhelmingly ethnic. They were born and raised in a Jewish world and they are Jewish only for this reason. Few have gone through the soul searching of asking “Why am I a Jew?” If I am Jewish, I said, I want to be Jewish because I chose to, not because I was raised in it. That’s why I studied all these other religions. I wanted to come to Judaism on my own.” (Spring/Summer 1986 edition of Ultimate Issues)
* Dennis wrote April 18, 2012 in the Jewish Journal:
That [the Holocaust] was my first encounter with massive evil, and I was never again to be the same person. I became obsessed with good and evil — specifically why people engage in evil, and how to fight them. That obsession has never left me. The only change that occurred did so later, in high school, when I broadened my preoccupation to include why people do good and how to make good people.
Prager’s obsession with good and evil only goes as far as his starring role in this cosmic drama. Answers about why people commit evil and why people do good that don’t play to his vision of himself as the moral leader don’t rate with Dennis. For example, people with below-average IQs have a below-average capacity for empathy and hence a below-average capacity for decency, but Dennis has no interest in this obvious explanation for much of good and evil.
* “I am the last person in the world who walks around with a victim mentality.” (April 15, 2011)
Only mere mortals feel like victims.
On the other hand, when it comes to the Brandeis-Bardin Institute, Prager has not stinted in explaining how often he was victimized by a cruel and unfeeling board of directors.
In a 2010 interview at Stephen S. Wise temple, Dennis said: “I don’t care about Jewish culture. That’s why the board at Brandeis[-Bardin Institute] got angry at me. They were very into Jewish culture. I was very into Judaism.”
In September of 1983, Prager abruptly left the Brandeis Bardin Institute. He wrote: “While the membership and I loved each other, the heads of the board of directors and I did not. Indeed, I left BBI largely because the president/chairman of the board [William Chotiner] made life miserable for me. I occasionally reflect on where my life would be today had he and others of the lay leadership treated me differently.” (1998 Prager CD)
* June 21, 2022, Dennis said to his Youtube cohost Julie Hartman: “At a very early age, aside from wanting to do good and to influence people to do good, I wanted to understand life. I had this ambition that I would live a long life and would understand at least as well as anybody whoever lived. One of the reasons I thought I had a chance, I have no prejudices. There was no dogma I had to meet. I confronted life straight on. I didn’t have to prove anything because I am an American, a Jew, a male, a white. Nothing mattered except what is true. I never read anything with an agenda other than is it true and will it make a good world. I wasn’t burdened by [psychological] problems in my thought such as anger at men or anger at women… There was no Dennis for Dennis.”
* Sept. 28, 2012, Dennis said: “I have the training of a rabbi but I never sought ordination.”
* Sept. 15, 2010, Dennis said: “The last time I felt physically unsafe, I was in my early 30s in the Soviet Union trying to escape on a train at midnight to Romania and with me were documents that the Soviets would not have been happy that I took out.”
Only mere mortals feel unsafe.
* April 20, 2011: “It took until the Reagan administration to realize that if I didn’t fight, I was going to lose this country.”
Wow. If Prager didn’t fight, America was going to be lost. Only one man can save us! Dennis Prager!
* Dennis Prager wrote June 10, 2008:
The day the O.J. Simpson verdict was announced, I said to my then-teenage son, “David, please forgive me. I am handing over to you a worse America than my father handed over to me.”
With the important exception of racial discrimination — which was already dying a natural death when I was young — it is difficult to come up with an important area in which America is significantly better than when I was a boy. But I can think of many in which its quality of life has deteriorated.
What kind of man apologizes for not being able to change the direction of a country of 300 million people?
* June 2, 2022: “Reagan changed me with one sentence. ‘Government is not the solution, it’s the problem.’ That is what made me a Republican. Everything resides on small government. In the 20th Century, 100 million civilians were murdered. Who murdered them? In every case but Rwanda, big government.”
In the Mishna, Rabbi Chanina, the deputy High Priest, said: "Pray for the welfare of the government (lit., monarchy), for if not for its fear, a person would swallow his fellow live." Big government sometimes kills people but just as often saves people. In the absence of big government, we return to the state of nature where life tends to be "nasty, brutish and short."
For problems such as crime, pollution, and roads, most countries have found that government is the best solution. How else would you enforce standards? What countries that don't have government provided police, parks and passports should America emulate?
* David Margolis wrote in the Jewish Journal in December 1992:
Perhaps somewhat uncomfortable with his lack of academic credentials, Prager notes that he co-wrote (with Rabbi Joseph Telushkin) Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism as a kind of substitute Master’s thesis. With a touch of the salesman, Prager calls the book, which has been translated into Russian, Spanish, Persian and Japanese, the “most widely used introduction to Judaism in the world.”
…Over the next few years, he lectured “hundreds of times” to American audiences about Soviet Jewry. But that wasn’t the only subject on which he claimed some expertise. Accepting minimal fees in return for exposure, he leapt onto the Jewish lecture circuit with talks on why Jewish youth was alienated from Jewish life. “It was part chutzpah,” he admits, and part inspired experimentation.
* Wikipedia says: “Despite the name, PragerU is not an academic institution and does not hold classes, does not grant certifications or diplomas, and is not accredited by any recognized body.”
Back to the Gurometer:
6. Cassandra complex: Gurus like to claim prescience among their many talents. Their heightened insight gives them a superior ability to predict the future, and they will enjoy dwelling on those instances in which they made a purportedly correct prediction (obviously not mentioning or acknowledging the times when they got it wrong). We’ve already described how a narrative of grievance plays a role in being a guru. A heightened sense of how the world is not right, and ought to be fixed, and that they are the persons to do it, is a common feature. Unfortunately, the broader public fails to recognise their genius and heed their advice, and thus the world lurches from calamity to calamity. Combining these features, we will often see that a guru positions themselves as something of a Cassandra – seeing the future and warning of possible calamities, that could be avoided if only they were heeded. The followers also gain a positive role for themselves, in supporting, defending, and promoting the guru, they can help make the world a better place…
6. Cassandra Complex
Warning of danger that others can’t see
Making predictions and saying they’re prior predictions are always right
I’d rate Prager a 5 out of 5.
Here are some examples:
* “Joe Biden and the Democrats… Why do these people want to destroy the economy?” (May 15, 2023)
In school, Prager’s classmates were amused by his big mouth, but it never occurred to them that he was a good source for truth or morality. In the more than 50 years since his high school graduation, none of them, to the best of my knowledge, have changed their minds on this score.
* “The greatest of all freedoms, that of speech, is disappearing.” (April 4, 2023)
“Our justice department, about half of our judges and our security agencies are well on their way to becoming what the Soviet ministry of justice, Soviet security agencies and Soviet judges were: tools of the ruling party.” (April 4, 2023)
* April 4, 2023, Dennis Prager published a column titled, “Could It Happen Here? It Is Happening Here.”
A nationally syndicated radio host telling his listeners they lived in a country increasingly like Nazi Germany is not a good way of creating an appropriate level of safety in listeners. Around 1997, I realized that listening to Prager consistently filled me with rage even though I largely agreed with him and even though he was ostensibly all about promoting happiness and goodness. The man pours poison into the American soul. Enraging people is a great way of getting listeners but it makes them less happy and less effective in life. Outside of a few murder zones, life in the United States for Prager listeners is safe and free (compared to other countries on this earth). Inculcating gratitude might be a wiser path for a man intent on doing good. There are situations in life where rage is more adaptive than gratitude, such as when you are fighting for your life in a dark alley, but they are few and far between.
By claiming he sees American on the road to Nazi Germany, Dennis Prager places himself at the very center of things. He feels confident that “there is nothing more pressing to consider” than his ideas.
* “Rampant evil is what the Left has engaged in…” (April 3, 2023)
* “The USA Today is a rag sheet on the level of Pravda.” (April 3, 2023)
It’s not just a flawed publication with some mistaken op-eds, it is Pravda!
* “If you support the [March 2023 Trump] indictment, you are not on the side of truth or of concern for America.” (April 3, 2023)
Prager must have learned early in life how to use the power of drama to command attention. I wonder who he copied?
* “We are becoming like the Soviet Union.” (April 4, 2023)
* “We sold our soul in the early 20th Century when we said the government should educate our children.” (April 4, 2023)
* Jan. 31, 2023, he wrote: “LGBTQ+ ‘Pride’ Is Totalitarian”
Gay pride parades are clearly another Auschwitz!
* Jan. 3, 2023, Dennis wrote: “America Has Become the Greatest Exporter of Destructive Ideas”
* Nov. 3, 2022, Dennis wrote: “Young Americans Voted to Ruin Their Lives”
* July 26, 2022, he wrote: “Why My Friends and I Had More Wisdom When We Were 12 Than College Students and Faculty Have Today”
* Feb. 22, 2022, Dennis wrote: “Is Canada Becoming North America’s Cuba?”
* Feb. 15, 2022, Dennis wrote: “COVID-19 and the Failure of America’s Major Religions”
* Nov. 30, 2021, Dennis wrote: “A Brief Guide to Leftist Destruction”
* Oct. 19, 2021, Dennis wrote: “The Left is Evil — and Liberals Keep Voting for Them”
Back to the Gurometer:
7. Revolutionary theories: If galaxy-brainedness refers to a breadth of knowledge, an ability to forge connections between disparate topics, then their professed development of revolutionary theories displays the depth of their knowledge. Connected with their narcissism and worthiness of being a guru, they are greatly attracted to claiming that they have developed game-changing and paradigm-shifting intellectual products. This is, in a sense, the credentials and the resume of a guru. Just as the public were keen to seek out Albert Einstein’s opinions on all matter of topics unconnected with physics, they also find it quite natural that one who has accomplished something great in one area, should be qualified to offer advice on all matter of topics. Of course, genuinely revolutionary theories such as general relativity are few and far between, and therefore the guru is compelled to manufacture their revolutionary theories.
7. Revolutionary Theories (Content)
Have a revolutionary theory: Nobel worthy
Able to revolutionize disciplines
I’d rate Prager a 3 out of 5.
* Around 1995 at Stephen S. Wise temple, I remember telling Dennis Prager that I wished his Jewish teachings had more influence on Jewish life. He replied that his thought wouldn’t be recognized for a millennia.
* Nov. 7, 2022, Dennis said: “I got a question from a young person on my Fireside Chat — how do I know what to trust? How do I know what’s true? I said, those who wish to censor others are usually lying. If you are telling the truth, you are OK with other people speaking their minds.”
That sounds great, but is there strong evidence for this? Many people on the left want to censor “misinformation” about vaccines. Where is the evidence that they are lying? If you are a scientist who has devoted his life to virology and you believe you are telling the truth about the efficacy Covid vaccines, why would you be unbothered by people without expertise denigrating vaccines to millions of people? Many on the left want to censor Nazi and ISIS propaganda because they claim it is dangerous. Where is the evidence that they are lying? Many on the left want to censor racial slurs. Where is the evidence that they are lying? Prager’s point sounds profound, but it falls apart upon examination.
* “The Bigger the Government, the Smaller the Citizen.”
* On his Nov. 14, 2022 Youtube show with Julie Hartman, Dennis said: "I'm not looking for great lines to make a better living and get a bigger audience. I'm looking for important points to touch people's lives."
Like Deepok Chopra, Dave Rubin, and Gwyneth Paltrow, Prager undoubtedly touches lives. He says many things that sound profound. In the final analysis, though, many of his crowd-pleasing points are epistemic sabotage.
Back to the Gurometer:
8. Pseudo-profound bullshit: At the outset we described a guru who engages in pseudo-profound bullshit (PPB). This is their core business, their stock-in-trade. They are most comfortable in the role of armchair opinionator, the wise man (or woman, but usually man) graciously offering their advice to eager seekers of wisdom. Most of the other techniques and maneuvers discussed here function primarily to support and justify this most-favoured activity. Whilst the ‘revolutionary theories’ and ‘galaxy brainness’ describe the content of their discourse, PPB describes the form of their discourse. It is typified by language that is cognitively easy to process, superficially appears to be something profound, but upon analysis turns out to be trite, meaningless, contradictory, or tautological.
The ‘classic’ examples of PPB are best exemplified by Deepak Chopra, who said things such as
“There are no extra pieces in the universe. Everyone is here because he or she has a place to fill, and every piece must fit itself into the big jigsaw puzzle.”
“To think is to practice brain chemistry.”
“It is the nature of babies to be in bliss.”
All of which are easily detected by most people to be cases of PPB, partly due to their strong resemblance to ‘inspirational quote’ memes, in being blandly positive messages of saccharine self-affirmation. However, it is the logical and semantic structure, not the content, that is the core property of PPB. Modern secular gurus do not necessarily provide self-help (although some, like Jordan Peterson certainly do), and their PPB, liberally peppered with abstract and abstruse references (see galaxy-brainedness above) can be on any literally any secular (scientific, health, political, social, etc) topic…
8. Pseudo-profound Bullshit (Form- Verbal agility)
Able to wax lyrical using metaphorical language
Unnecessary references to literature/complex theories/science
Strategic Ambiguity, Irony & obfuscation
I’d rate Prager a 3 out of 5. Here are some examples:
* “Nothing in the history of the human race has caused more evil than the belief in the importance of blood.” (Think a Second Time, 1996)
* “Children do not assuage our existential loneliness, a spouse does.” (Feb. 5, 2014)
* American values have “universal applicability” and are “eminently exportable.” (Nov. 1, 2005)
An evolutionist such as myself would see American values or Japanese values or Russian values as the product of particular people surviving in a particular environment.
* “Mr. Obama is by far the most left-wing person to ever hold the office of the American presidency…” (May 10, 2012)
* “Every child is a blank slate.” (Mar. 25, 2014)
Dennis Prager advocates the "proposition nation" (a country united by shared beliefs) as well as the "proposition family" (parents and children united by shared beliefs). He wrote: "As a father, my purpose is not to pass on my seed, but to pass on my values."
Prager doesn't believe the family is a big deal when compared to the importance of the individual. In a 2005 lecture on Deut. 24:5, Dennis said: “Traditional life in Europe became you are defined by your family but that’s not the way it ought to be. You are defined by you, not by your family. People think family is a big deal. It’s not. It’s a big deal, who are you?”
Prager's view that we are primarily individuals rather than members of families is a modern liberal perspective. In his 2018 book, The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities, John J. Mearsheimer wrote:
My view is that we are profoundly social beings from the start to the finish of our lives and that individualism is of secondary importance… Liberalism downplays the social nature of human beings to the point of almost ignoring it, instead treating people largely as atomistic actors… Political liberalism… is an ideology that is individualistic at its core and assigns great importance to the concept of inalienable rights. This concern for rights is the basis of its universalism—everyone on the planet has the same inherent set of rights—and this is what motivates liberal states to pursue ambitious foreign policies. The public and scholarly discourse about liberalism since World War II has placed enormous emphasis on what are commonly called human rights. This is true all around the world, not just in the West. “Human rights,” Samuel Moyn notes, “have come to define the most elevated aspirations of both social movements and political entities—state and interstate. They evoke hope and provoke action.”
[Humans] do not operate as lone wolves but are born into social groups or societies that shape their identities well before they can assert their individualism. Moreover, individuals usually develop strong attachments to their group and are sometimes willing to make great sacrifices for their fellow members. Humans are often said to be tribal at their core. The main reason for our social nature is that the best way for a person to survive is to be embedded in a society and to cooperate with fellow members rather than act alone… Despite its elevated ranking, reason is the least important of the three ways we determine our preferences. It certainly is less important than socialization. The main reason socialization matters so much is that humans have a long childhood in which they are protected and nurtured by their families and the surrounding society, and meanwhile exposed to intense socialization. At the same time, they are only beginning to develop their critical faculties, so they are not equipped to think for themselves. By the time an individual reaches the point where his reasoning skills are well developed, his family and society have already imposed an enormous value infusion on him. Moreover, that individual is born with innate sentiments that also strongly influence how he thinks about the world around him. All of this means that people have limited choice in formulating a moral code, because so much of their thinking about right and wrong comes from inborn attitudes and socialization.
If Mearsheimer is right, and I believe he is, then Dennis Prager is just another guru spouting pseudo-profound nonsense.
James Kirkpatrick argued: "Nor can any real family hold together on the ground of ideology. We love our parents and our children because they are ours—not because we agree with their view of the Constitution."
So what best predicts a child's education attainment (and with it future income and family stability)? Blood or home? As the Times of London reported: "NATURE not nurture is the main determinant of how well children perform at school and university…"
* “I was living in the very country [United States] that had best figured out how to make a better world.” (April 18, 2012)
* “I hate bullies. Always did. That’s why I hate big government — it’s the ultimate bully.” (Mar. 18, 2011)
* July 6, 2022, Dennis said: “I don’t know what I have learned morally that I didn’t know in fifth grade. I can’t think of a single moral insight.”
* In a 1995 lecture on Exodus 5, Dennis Prager said: “The word for servant and the word for slave is the same [in the Torah], which is probably why to this day that Jews don’t like to be servants because they think it is slavery. Did you ever meet a Jewish waiter? Jews don’t wait. That and the Chosen People notion are the reasons why Jews don’t want to serve anybody.”
* Oct. 3, 2022, Dennis said to his Youtube cohost Julie Hartman: “Early on, I said to myself, wow, your instincts are identical to the Torah’s. And it blew my mind. My natural mode of thinking was the Torah’s mode of thinking. If you take those five books seriously, you will think clearly about everything.”
Julie: “And you will be so much happier.”
Dennis: “You can testify to that.”
Julie: “Society will run better. Your life will run better.”
Dennis: “I know it is the answer to everything. That’s why it is frustrating that it is not out there more. This is the answer to evil. To unhappiness.”
Over a million Jews in the world base their lives on Torah. I don’t think anyone could look at them and say they have the answer to everything. I don’t think anyone could even say that these Jews clearly have the answer to evil and unhappiness.
* “The reason to be Jewish is to take Torah to the world.” (2010)
* “I have always identified Judaism with goodness, the thing that I most value in this world. I don’t remember meeting cruel religious Jews.” (2003)
* “Modern Muslims have a unique dilemma because the Islamic world today is a net moral deficit.” (December of 2016)
* “The American Protestant produced the greatest society ever produced by any religious group.” (Jan. 16, 2014)
* “It is our task to figure out what is eternal [in Torah] without just choosing what we are comfortable with.” (Lecture on Leviticus 14)
* “I believe the oral law [Mishna] developed the most humane way of killing an animal devised in history.” (Oct. 28, 2010)
* “The serious Jew meets four criteria:
1. This Jew is committed to each of Judaism’s three components: God, Torah, and Israel.
2. This Jew attempts to implement the higher ideals of each of these components.
3. Whatever Jewish laws this Jew does or does not observe is the product of struggle.
4. This Jew is constantly growing in each of these areas.” (Summer 1988 edition of Prager’s journal Ultimate Issues)
* Mar. 17, 2014: “Tribalism is racism. Tribalism is a curse for modernity.”
* Jan. 2, 2014: “I don’t like any ethnic neighborhood. I don’t think it’s the American ideal.”
* Feb. 13, 2014: “If you see another person, you should see another one of God’s children [first]. You shouldn’t see a white or a black.”
“This notion about we want to preserve the culture. That’s a very dangerous idea that race and culture are identical. Race is race and culture is culture. Either we believe we are all God’s children and character matters infinitely more than skin color or we don’t.”
* “Racism — the belief that people of a certain skin color are inherently different (and inferior or superior) — is not only evil; it is moronic.” (Mar. 11, 2014)
* “To divide people by pigmentation, genitals and money is wrong. We should divide people only by good and bad.” (Vol. 9, No. 2 of Ultimate Issues in 1993)
* “Graduate school was a tough time for me. Everything I believed to be true and good overturned. I had only pessimism for my country.” (Mar. 2, 2006)
* “After visits to about a dozen African countries, I came to realize that the spread of Christianity holds the best hope for that sad continent.” (Feb. 8, 2011)
Back to the Gurometer:
9. Conspiracy mongering: To gain real insights, real special knowledge that nobody else can see – that’s hard work. For normal people, even a lifetime of study and research only provides scant few original intellectual contributions. That is not nearly enough for a guru, who needs a steady supply of fresh, original content to supply to their followers and justify their status. To be a guru, they must set themselves up, not only as uniquely insightful, but above and apart from orthodoxies, including established political or ideological groups. Thus, they are encouraged to go beyond standard heterodoxy, contrarianism and scepticism, into the realm of conspiratorial ideation. This is because the expert consensus – though naturally not infallible – but definition, tends to supply the most reasonable and evidence-based view, based on current information. The guru is in the position of needing to provide a strongly contrasting perspective, and then to supply the argumentation that backs up their bold claims in a compelling way. This leads them inexorably down the path of bespoke conspiracy mongering, with an alternative view of events that authoritative sources either can’t or won’t tell you about. Conspiracy theories require a ‘suppressive network’ to explain away the lack of evidential support, and why almost nobody else is willing or able to accept their theories. Gurus are subject to the same dilemma, and will often need recourse to some conspiracy-like As with conspiracy theories, their reasoning will be intricate but subject to massive reaches, and they will disregard simpler or more conventional alternative explanations.
9. Conspiracy Mongering
Use of Disclaimers
Elaborate theories to explain mundane events
Secret coordination of powerful & malevolent groups and institutions
Promotion of conspiracy theorists with valuable insights that are dismissed unfairly
The world is targeting them and their friends
I’d rate Prager a 3 out of 5.
Here are some examples of Prager’s conspiracy-mongering:
From Rolling Stone, Nov. 23, 2021:
Is Dennis Prager Conservative Media’s Biggest Covid Jackass?
It's a lofty title, but his recent argument that the unvaccinated are the biggest American pariahs since slavery puts him in the running.
…Prager claimed last year that the disease is “not a killer” while continually drawing and erasing and re-drawing the line for when the U.S. should take real action to combat it. He even called the lockdown “the greatest mistake in the history of humanity.” He’s since touted a number of unproven therapeutics, including the “Zelenko Protocol,” a treatment plan developed by conspiracy theorist doctor and Jan. 6 rally attendee Vladimir Zelenko.
Prager is unvaccinated, of course, and during a recent even for Awaken Church felt compelled to play a game of Who’s the Biggest Pariah between the unvaccinated and “the gays … during the AIDS crisis.” It isn’t hard to guess who Prager thinks is more oppressed. “Were people with AIDS banned from travel? Were they banned from restaurants? Were they fired from their jobs? Were they deprived of a way of feeding their family?” he asked, neglecting to mention that anyone who is unvaccinated could have retained these things if they’d elected to take a live-saving shot, whereas people with AIDS were shamed and left to die in huge numbers by people who didn’t care about the disease because they didn’t care about the population it was killing.
Why stop with AIDS, though? Prager is well-versed in the history of humanity, remember?
“The unvaccinated are the most hated group since slavery,” he added.
It’s worth noting here that Prager comparing his oppression to that of the slaves was in service of his point about how the left “has a monopoly on victimhood.”
…Some of Prager’s conservative radio brethren learned this the hard way. Five such hosts, at least who bashed the vaccine have died from complications stemming from Covid. Nashville radio host Phil Valentine posted a statement in July saying that he “regrets not being more vehemently ‘Pro-Vaccine'” before dying less than a month later…
“I have engaged with strangers, constantly hugging them, taking photos with them knowing that I was making myself very susceptible to getting covid,” the 73-year-old said on his radio show. “Which is — indeed, as bizarre as it sounded — what I wanted, in the hope I would achieve natural immunity and be taken care of by therapeutics.”
…Who isn’t lying to you? Prager, of course. He knows what he’s talking about because he’s done “a lot of homework” on Covid — unlike the scientific and medical communities, which want to kill you … or something … for some reason.
Oct. 5, 2020, Dennis said: "I take zinc every day and I take hydroxychloroquine every week. The fact that the people feel intimidated is only because we have communists running medicine, just like we have running everything else. I never used this term before. I can't — You prefer leftists? I'll use leftists. They shut you up. Free speech has never existed in anything that the left controls. Never. Whether it's the Soviet Union, China, Eastern Europe under communism, or the universities today in America."
Aug. 24, 2021, Dennis said: "Why should doctors be any better than lawyers, or professors, or any other group that has disgraced itself in American life? There's no reason. Doctors have the same degree of wisdom as gender studies professors. The issue isn't medical knowledge. The issue is wisdom and courage. There are plenty of doctors who have it. Read about The Great Barrington Declaration….Your doctor knows nothing about COVID, nothing. All they know is how the virus works, that's all they know. It is an amazing thing that listening to this show, of a non-doctor, you have learned more about COVID — more about masks — than your doctor probably knows. Not only is it not a boast, it is totally meant to be an attack on the medical profession. I should not know 10 times more than your doctor about all of the issues with therapeutics. And if your doctor thinks ivermectin is dangerous, change your doctor. And I mean it. Might be a nice guy — go golfing with him, or her — but check out another doctor."
Sep. 29, 2021, Dennis said: "Many doctors have killed patients because of their ignorance, obstinance, and arrogance. It is not odd that the Talmud — the second holiest work in Judaism — stated 2,000 years ago that the best doctors go to hell. Doctors, even when they could do nothing 2,000 years ago, were known for their arrogance. There are some wonderful doctors in America — some, just for the record. Never said this in my life, my eyes have been opened in the darkness of the last two years. And they have been dark. Why haven't all Americans' eyes been opened? Like to teachers, and teachers unions, and colleges. Every student going back to college has to have a vaccine? Despite the fact that their age group is virtually untouched by this — untouched, I mean no fatalities. In fact, the more young people that get COVID the better it is for them and society, they have natural immunity. But your college doesn't accept natural immunity."
Jan. 10, 2022, Dennis said: "Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whom I had on the show with the publication of his book on Dr. Fauci, has gone from being regarded as a kook to being regarded as a very serious, very courageous man. That's very big. In a sense, the left has lost. They've lost half this country that believed them on these matters just two years ago. "
Back to the Gurometer:
10. Profiteering: Gurus perhaps desire respect and admiration above all else, but they also tend to feel that more worldly and tangible recognition of their talents is appropriate. Accordingly, gurus may be surprisingly willing to undertake activities such as shilling health supplements, that would otherwise be a little surprising in an intellectual of their calibre. Note that it is natural and reasonable for any intellectual worker or content creator to be compensated for their effort. Thus, book royalties, YouTube advertising royalties, or the insertion of standard advertising in a podcast does not usually or necessarily indicate grifting. However, gurus tend to go somewhat further in an effort to monetise their following, while avoiding the appearance of such – which would detract from their guru status. A recent example was the actions of London Real, a venue for gurus such as JP Sears or David Icke, who constructed an elaborate censorship justification for gathering over 1 million dollars from followers, to move their content from YouTube to a dedicated platform, from which they could then further monetize their content at a much higher rate.
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I’d rate Prager a 2 out of 5 on this score.
Here are some tentative examples of low-level grifting:
* On his Youtube show with Julie Hartman Nov. 21, 2022: Dennis said: "I am so committed to always telling the truth to the best of my human ability, when I receive scripts from sponsors, if there is something in there that isn't true, and there almost always is, I omit it."
Six minutes later, he read this ad: "Focus & Recall is not a pill. It is a patent-pending gell with ultra-absorption of science-backed ingredients to help you immediately sharpen focus, concentrate longer and strengthen recall. Super charge your brain and see the difference. Go to healthycell.com. Use the limited time code Prager for 20% off your first order, risk free."
Decoding the Gurus notes: "…[G]urus may be surprisingly willing to undertake activities such as shilling health supplements, that would otherwise be a little surprising in an intellectual of their calibre."