Prager University is an up-and-coming and presumably popular website that targets Millennials and touts freedom of thought and speech. The site is confusing a lot of people who think it is a real school (it’s just a website), and folks are beginning to ask questions.
My first run-in with PragerU was a commercial that made my jaw drop, in which a poised young lady announced confidently that she had learned more from working at McDonald’s than the traditional brick-and-mortar university (a real school) she had attended. She further encouraged everyone to follow her path, in order to leave college debt and liberal indoctrination behind…
PragerU was founded by Dennis Prager, a sixty-nine-year-old, ultra-conservative, Jewish radio talk-show host and author/public speaker with an established agenda for converting people to American conservatism.
And that pretty much explains PragerU in a nutshell, too. It’s sole purpose is to convert young people to conservatism through short, easily sharable videos. The biggest issue with PragerU is that the videos present opinions (all of which are actually really old arguments that young people in particular-PragerU’s target audience-may not have heard yet) on provocative questions many people have, as if those opinions were facts.
For example, Crowder’s video, “Democratic Socialism is Still Socialism,” () claims that adding the word “democratic” to “democratic socialism” does not change the meaning at all. The phrase is still equal to “socialism.” Which is an illogical and untrue argument. Adding “un” to “untrue” changes the meaning of “true” entirely, adding “baritone” to “saxophone” specifies an entirely different instrument from a “soprano saxophone,” and adding “jerk” to “chicken” connotes a Jamaican recipe, not a mean bird.
Later in that same video, Crowder, talking a mile a minute, shoves together several examples of countries that are neither democratic nor socialist to “prove” his point that democratic socialism is bad, then skips quickly over to Denmark and Sweden, using quotes out of context to confuse the issue. This article from CNN does a fairer job of explaining the terms and ideas, I think.
If/when you watch PragerU’s “Free to Think” videos (I have not seen all the videos, and am aware that some are done by professors), notice that rarely are facts cited or sources given*, and there are never references at the end or clickable links to research more. Many videos are either confidently-presented misinformation (like the Crowder video above) or simply testimonials/anecdotes with relatable scenarios, like this one by Jay Stephens (College Made Me a Conservative”.) about college debt, “
Another issue is the use of certain words like, “Trigger Warning”, “Snowflakes”, “The Left”, etc. in a subtly derogatory and not informational way. There is clear bias in the way these words and many others are used. Take for example the fascinating video,, in which Katie Pavlich asserts that “men being stronger than women is controversial these days,” (is it?) and ends with a snarky, “it’s called, ‘biology.’”
There are other subtle problems too, like the video,: Why Do People Become Islamic Extremists, which implies in pictures, text, and speech that only Muslims (especially those outside of the USA) can become religious extremists who kill people. And once again, even though the presenter is an adjunct professor at Georgetown U, he only uses his own stories to prove his points, instead of using verifiable evidence outside of his own experiences.
PragerU videos and PragerU sponsored speakers’ videos, reveal a general theme of victimization, conspiracy, and persecution against conservatives. This narrative allows PragerU fans to reasonably “fight back in self-defense” (just like Jesus didn’t say), and continue to express moral outrage over events that are not as they seem.
Take for example, the several banners on PragerU’s site that claim YouTube has discriminatorily targeted PragerU for Restricted Access on a host of PragerU’s videos, which they outline here: PragerU has gone so far as to launch a lawsuit, garner signatures for petitions, and (of course) ask for donations to “help free the videos.” But when I visited YouTube via a private browser of which I was not signed in, I was able to access several of the videos (I did not test all 40) PragerU claimed could not be accessed by children “for educational purposes.”
Furthermore, it looks as if PragerU took down several videos in their own list themselves; YouTube’s stated policy regarding Restricted Access includes political videos; and finally, yes, some of the videos are meant to be downright inflammatory (and if you have a problem with it, you’re clearly a liberal snowflake).
If you investigate the folks who speak in the videos or write articles (for other conservative organizations with close ties to PragerU), you will find some interesting trends including a surprising lack of credentials among the “Free to Think” videos presenters, many adjunct professors or research analysts from private universities (most with a current strong religious leaning like Georgetown and Duke), and the same few websites featuring the same people again and again likeand the Cato Institute.
Matt Walsh is one such person I’ve investigated before, who has run his own controversial opinion blog for years (). I have never been able to learn if he has a college degree or what he majored in, and citation of facts (or even Biblical concepts) is something consistently lacking in his writing. But he is bombastic and gets attention, so people follow along.
Caroline Kitchens is another writer/speaker who appears to have gone to college at Duke U, but never states that she graduated or in what area. Yet these people are deriding college and higher education when they’ve seemingly never been or completed a degree!
No one can “get educated” from a series of 5-minute videos. Take it from me, a highschool reading tutor: education takes a lot of work, reading, study, and guidance, no matter your field. There are no shortcuts.
To put it bluntly, PragerU is not about education but political and even religious indoctrination. The people behind PragerU want young, relatable-sounding and looking spokespeople who will say what PragerU wants them to say, to convince other young people to follow conservatism. Many other Christian churches and groups seek to “reclaim” the “lost Millennials” who have been leaving ultra-conservative churches in droves in the past few years as well.
Ironically, many of the pertinent questions and important issues PragerU addresses were created or aggravated by…(wait for it)…conservatism. I’m a living, breathing example of the damage such ideas can cause:
We absolutely need to talk about all the different issues and problems plaguing our country. We absolutely need to hear different viewpoints (hint: there are more than just 2 sides). But we also must absolutely have our opinions informed by facts, not just pretty/handsome faces, “nice” people, confident people, slick videos, or fast talkers.
*I tried to look up the quote and study by David Kopel of Denver U cited in the video, “Gun Rights are Women’s Rights,” but could not find the study. I also learned that he was an adjunct professor at Denver U, that he is a member of the NRA, and a long-time gun rights advocate.
In the wake of the Charlottesville, VA protests, one thing has become crystal clear:
Which side am I talking about? If you only see one side or the other, you are part of the problem. United we stand, divided we fall.
A response to John Corvino, continued from Part 1
The legal line between small businesses and giant corporations is wide and well established, but anti-discrimination cases like the ones in question, all center around small businesses. Why? Could it be that small businesses are easier for states and state regulatory commissions to pick on?
Larger corporations are likely to have a team of lawyers on hand, but independently owned businesses may have none. Without the same legal standing or protections as corporations, when small business owners come under the radar of radical state commissions like Oregon’s Civil Rights Commission, they often fold altogether. Not only are the owners out of a job, they may be financially, reputationally, and creatively ruined. Those business owners have not been “educated” or “taught a lesson to,” their homes and holdings have been forfeit. They have been effectively obliterated from society, just as ancient Inquisitors did to so-called heretics.
As Roger Parloff pointed out in the March, 2017 New Yorker piece, Christian Bakers, Gay Weddings, and a Question for the Supreme Court,
“…From the standpoint of individual liberty, a mammoth corporation, such as Woolworth’s, is different from a mom-and-pop business. The regulatory machinery has been hesitant to tell individuals how to behave on their own premises, no matter how repugnant their behavior may seem. To this day, as Eskridge observes, the federal employment-discrimination laws do not apply to businesses with fewer than fifteen employees, and housing-discrimination laws do not affect owner-occupied buildings with four units or fewer…”
As an independent business owner and contractor, I absolutely value my ability to choose not to work with certain clients for any reason. They may be a pain to work with and a potential liability, and that liability and work outcome are my direct responsibility. I do not get to pass the buck, I do not get to hide in corporate shadows, and I can’t even be fired. Therefore, as any good business owner, I will pick and choose whom I work with very carefully and attempt to further protect myself and clients with fair contracts for us both. But those measures don’t offer protection against rapidly changing (and often unknown) laws or interpretations of them. Small business owners are screwed.
The main difference between a cake bought from the case, versus a custom-made cake via Cake Boss, is the risk and time and talent involved in the creation of the custom cake. If a generic cake gets accidentally dropped on the floor, there may be 5 more just like it in waiting. If a custom cake gets dropped, it’s a potential disaster (the worst part about watching Cake Boss is worrying those big cakes won’t make it to their intended destination in tact!).
It bears repeating that many of those who have won financial settlements against small business owners like bakers and florists, have done so without ever having a contract to begin with for customized creative services. Many cases do not end up in court, but are investigated (which is appropriate), prosecuted with the force of law (not appropriate), and legally penalized by certain state Civil Rights Commissions working independently from impartial judges, lawyers, etc. (really, really not appropriate).
We should not tolerate such behavior, particularly if we fancy ourselves as supporting small businesses. It’s legally outrageous, and sets a frightening precedent for small service providers who cannot always cope with the legal or media outcomes of major lawsuits or “legal” fines.
Some readers might respond to the above, “Well if business owners would only follow the law to begin with, they wouldn’t get in trouble.” Unfortunately, as we saw in part 1, state anti-discrimination laws are interpreted subjectively and, as we will see, are sometimes applied “unevenly.”
Mr. Corvino’s examples of Kosher and vegan bakeries not making bacon cakes or buttercream cakes for anyone (and therefore, no one), is a false dichotomy. Those bakeries have set professional limitations on what they will produce, based on sincerely held beliefs. It would be offensive to knowingly go into a Kosher bakery and ask for a bacon cake, or to ask a vegan baker for a meat pie, though they surely have the technical skills to produce such things. So how is it different when the bakery is a Christian one? Christian bakers also refuse to produce certain products based on sincerely held beliefs, but for them this is reprehensible, because their particular belief is culturally reprehensible.
*I do not necessarily endorse all views contained within this video or within others by Louder with Crowder
In addition to anti-discrimination laws being culturally and judiciously haphazardly applied, I am angry by the underlying societal devaluation of creative talents and skills. It’s not “just a cake,” but a carefully crafted work of art, unless you are buying from a generic, big-box retail store.
It’s not “just photography” or “just a painting,” as if no real heart, imagination, or effort goes into these things. But customers really do know better; they are attracted to artistic works precisely because they are different. Customers can see the difference, and are willing to pay higher prices because of the quality and creativity involved. Not just anyone can make beautiful cakes. Not just anyone can take gorgeous pictures, and not just anyone can fix computers or human hearts. These things require serious investments of time, experimentation, specialized equipment, and education.
So when people imperiously declare that small business owners should “suck it up” and “perform” on command, so long as potential customers throw money at the owner/creator, it is incredibly insulting. It is, in fact, prostitution!
This scene from Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert Edition by Universal, shows that even Fantine, an actual prostitute, should still be able to choose with whom she works. The result of her refusal and self-defense, eerily echoes the legal retribution some shop owners have unfairly faced. This clip was taken from my legally purchased, home copy DVD.
In general, Americans love funky little shops and hole-in-the-wall restaurant discoveries. They are personable, more welcoming, custom-geared for certain clientele (like my new favorite local bar geared towards gamers, D20), and tend to have higher quality customer service and products. Customers love these places not just for the food or flowers or art (products), but also for the atmosphere (heart). These are places where memories are made with family and friends, as opposed to generic retail stores which supply general goods and public services.
Most anti-discrimination laws, therefore, make no sense when applied to privately owned small businesses. For proof, let’s define the confusing term, “public accommodations,” which has been broadly (and unusually) interpreted by Oregon’s Civil Rights Commission to mean essentially any place “the public” might be. However, according to Wikipedia,
“Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 defines public accommodations as a limited number of facilities which are open to the public. Examples include hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce; exempted private clubs without defining the term “private”.
In other words, privately owned small businesses are not generally considered “public accommodations”.
Lastly, let’s say just a word about prohibition and coercion and how the attempt to legalize something via these hard lines never, ever, ever, ever works. Ever. Even when the cause is noble, like protecting women and children from the abuse or neglect of drunk fathers. Even when parents are seeking to protect their kids from getting addicted to hard drugs, and even when we long to see all people treated the same everywhere because they are people (though you know, that road goes two ways).
Community and education are the keys to societal changes, albeit those things take much longer to implement and see progress. It isn’t as satisfying as exacting a kind of vengeance upon others who share the same ideas with people who may have hurt us, or our friends, or loved ones. But vengeance is not justice, and change only starts with an army of one.
Otherwise, just let our robot overlords rule and program us outright.
*I had no idea when writing this that “Robot Overlords” was a real film. But now I do, and since it features Gillian Anderson (X-Files) and Ben Kingsley, I must watch it.