Bill Maher calls out the weaknesses of liberalism

March 30, 2015 • 1:00 pm

I have mixed feelings about this clip by Bill Maher decrying the “politically correct” Left, but I’m putting it up for comments. (Several readers sent it to me.)

I do think that the Left is in danger of fragmenting itself via identity politics, but some of the comments that people found distasteful—like Dolce and Gabbana’s remarks about “synthetic children”—do bother me. On the other hand, to blow those verbal missteps into huge rage-laden issues fragments what unity is left on the Left, and maybe we should just learn to hold our noses and focus.

64 thoughts on “Bill Maher calls out the weaknesses of liberalism

  1. I do think that the Left is in danger of fragmenting itself via identity politics

    Probably not.

    The ‘illiberal’ left just happens to be the loudest, that’s all. They get all of the attention, but really, most people probably don’t even notice and/or care.

    I hope.

      1. Ack!

        I just realized that I read PCC’s comment incorrectly. I thought that he wrote “I do NOT think that the left is’

        And I was agreeing.

        Haha

        Anyway, yes, you are correct. There is a real danger at universities, and certainly in regards to ignoring real threats in favour of trying very hard not to offend minorities.

        For example, haven’t there been a spate of criminal cases in the UK that involved Muslims, crimes that were ignored precisely because the liberal governments were afraid of appearing racist?

        So yes, the illiberal left is *definitely* a danger in some areas. But, my original point, about the squeaky wheel getting the grease is still true, I think. I remember being worried about Sarah Palin becoming President. As a Canadian, I was quite clueless. An American friend had to explain to me that no one really takes her seriously, even though she gets a lot of airtime.

        Anyway, PCC, I withdraw my earlier disagreement with your post due to my inability to read!!

    1. I think you’re right.
      I don’t think its the left vs itself so much as it’s members of the public who favor a populist, reasoned and humanitarian approach to public policy vs. post modernist confirmation bias int he left leaning press.

    2. According to George Lakoff the Left already has split. I highly recommend reading his, “Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know your Values and Frame the Debate” (2014).

  2. Last paragraph of Maher’s monologue:
    “If you are transgender and you can’t handle the Vagina Monologues you don’t need a vagina. You are already a giant pussy.”

    Is there a better way to put this?
    Thanks for posting this video!

    1. Depends totally on what you mean by “better.” There are likely infinite ways to put it that are less provocative. But provocative is just what Maher is going for.

  3. It’s unfortunate, but entirely necessary.
    I think even a cursory glance at the number of headlines about what passes for discourse on college campuses right now confirms that.

  4. The one thing I have to give credit for on the right is they stay on message. It is often a crazy and hateful message, but they do not let themselves get distracted as much as the left does by the occasional flippant comment.

    1. Being stubborn and arrogant is the antithesis of science. Science is about wonder and doubt and not knowing for certain but at least it ties to find the best solution.

      Ironically, it is interesting to observe that science funding can get a boost from the Right if they perceive (usually motivated by insecurity) that national interests are aligned with research.

    2. I do not know what it is like on the political right, but I suspect that many of them actually think that religion has become far too entangled in right wing politics, and that many hold views that are pretty standard fare for the left. But they do not dare ‘come out’.
      I do not think it will happen, but the rights’ swing to the far right is a mirror to where the far left would like to swing the left.

    3. I wouldn’t give credit to fools who stay with their refuted ideas or lies.

      I’d rather vote for a inconsistent fool than a consistent fool, because at least then there’s a chance the inconsistent fool is right at some point in time.

      However, I’d be prepared to change my opinion on this matter, if someone showed the err in my reasoning here 😛

    4. If I were right wing, I would be very unhappy with the way a movement about individual rights has been hijacked by religious crazies and billionaires for their own agenda.

          1. Until 25 years ago the Right was split. There wasn’t a religious right until Reagan. Catholics were Democrats; blue collar were Democrats.

      1. As does the left. There is a very strong in/out group dynamic at play with the identity types on the left that is at least as strong as that on the right. There has been a certain amount of smug self-congratulation on the Left with phrases like “reality has a Liberal bias” being bandied about. I think that many of us have been jolted awake by Lefty authoritarianism to the reality that there are more important divisions than Left/Right. I can agree that shelving differences to further common goals is a good thing, but the authoritarian Left doesn’t play that game.

  5. Elton John doesn’t like what they said, it’s not the first time they’ve said these things (interviews since 2006 and again in 2013). Why the hell should he support a business run by people who don’t support his marriage, his children or how he raises them?

    In what they said they are merely parroting the catholic dogma they grew up with.

    1. He has every right to be offended, and every right to boycott them (although getting photographed immediately afterwards with on e of their handbags isn’t a good way to start) and they have every right to continue being greedy, vacuous a$$holes who sell overpriced crap to other greedy, vacuous a$$holes. I don’t care what they have to say, I don’t get my morality from them, or from Elton John. Their ignorant and infantile declarations matter not one bit to me or have any affect on my life. I don’t buy their crap, and I never will, regardless of their pronouncements on children or homosexuality or anything else. But, really, what else should I do beyond saying I disagree with them? I have no idea, being in pretty much every way a “liberal”, it’s a funny thing, to accept their right to be morons, but disagree with their statements…oh, to be a right-winger and have life laid out so clearly for me by the bible and other “authority figures”, the easy life! 🙂

      1. Well said! And to your last sentence, I’m glad I’m not a right winger. I’d rather have to struggle and think. : )

    2. He said he wouldn’t support their business, yet was photographed with a D&G shopping bag a few days later.

  6. Da Roolz! say we have to pretend that we speak in Professor Ceiling Cat’s living room. Which means that we don’t insult our host and show evidence to support our opinions.

    I took that advice to heart and even outside this website I pretend to speak in Professor Ceiling Cat’s living room. I think the whole world would look a lot better if we all pretend to be inside PCC’s living room. It’s certainly a way better moral philosophy than islam or christianity.

    1. I appreciate the fact that people here are polite.

      I am a big wuss, and I am honestly afraid to comment at places where people are unnecessarily rude and angry.

      I have even given up on reading the comments at some of these places, because toxic commentary really really distracts from the sharing of ideas. It just ruins the entire experience.

    2. Maher and his writers don’t work for one living room at a time, and I’d hate for them to stop doing what they do. The other day I watched about five hours of New Rules clips on YT, and that was enough for one day.

  7. I don’t have a problem with Elton John calling out Dolce and Gabbana for their comments, but he shouldn’t have called for a boycott, and it shouldn’t have been made into a gay vs gay thing. We shouldn’t even be caring about the sexuality of the protagonists. When a boycott of that chicken takeout place was called for, no one was announcing anything about heterosexuality.

    Maher’s larger point is correct though imo, and he’s said it before. Liberals are forgetting about liberalism. For example, they defend Islam but forget about all the Muslims who suffer living under its tenets because they are women, LGBT, non-Muslim in countries that follow Sharia etc. They defend Hamas instead of Palestine and spew anti-Semitic rhetoric.

    They’re shutting down free speech instead of using debate and better arguments to counter opinions they don’t like. Many have become as intolerant as the far right, and imo are no longer the liberals the call themselves.

    1. “they defend Islam but forget about all the Muslims who suffer living under its tenets because they are women, LGBT, non-Muslim in countries that follow Sharia etc.”

      Exactly. That’s the horrible irony that links this to the Ayaan Hirsi Ali post. A black woman speaking out against an oppressor is typically what the “liberal left” jumps all over, but she’s speaking out agains another minority and they get confused, tying themselves in knots to defend one aspect of their cause while attacking it in another! Or like when in California, liberals overwhelmingly voted for Obama, but then saw black voters overwhelmingly support the anti-gay Proposition 8! Sometimes, the left hand doesn’t know what the other left hand is doing, so to speak, or as a former co-worker of mine put it, “you can be so far to the left that you end up on the right”.

  8. On the kerfuffle from some Italian clothing designers, is this really a battle between the left and the left? Might Dolce and Gabbana be on the political right? Just b/c they are gay does not mean they are supposed to be liberal. Or perhaps they were voicing their opinions as Catholics?
    Just wondering.

  9. Good for Maher. I do think he fails to understand why this sort of thing happens, which is because politics is not about policy. It’s worse on the Left than anywhere IMO but it’s not new or unique. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDmeqSzvIFs

    That said, internecine bloodbaths are fun to watch, and I like a good show.

  10. Come on, Dr Coyne: you have ‘mixed feelings’? In other words, you have to agree with everything he says?

    I’m not even sure what Dolce and Gabbana were objecting to. Adoption? Test-tube babies? I can’t say I agree with them in either case, but the liberal response should not be “You can’t say that.” Isn’t that just the argument you’ve been making in other posts on this subject?

    I don’t agree with Maher all the time (energy politics, to cite the first example that leaps to mind), but when I’m in the US I make a point to watch his show whenever possible. And I don’t even have to hold my nose when we’re on opposite sides of an issue.

  11. I am reminded of Doris Lessing:

    “The phrase “political correctness” was born as Communism was collapsing. I do not think this was chance. I am not suggesting that the torch of Communism has been handed on to the political correctors. I am suggesting that habits of mind have been absorbed, often without knowing it.

    There is obviously something very attractive about telling other people what to do: I am putting it in this nursery way rather than in more intellectual language because I see it as nursery behavior. Art — the arts generally — are always unpredictable, maverick, and tend to be, at their best, uncomfortable. Literature, in particular, has always inspired the House committees, the Zhdanovs, the fits of moralizing, but, at worst, persecution. It troubles me that political correctness does not seem to know what its exemplars and predecessors are; it troubles me more that it may know and does not care.

    Does political correctness have a good side? Yes, it does, for it makes us re-examine attitudes, and that is always useful. The trouble is that, with all popular movements, the lunatic fringe so quickly ceases to be a fringe; the tail begins to wag the dog. For every woman or man who is quietly and sensibly using the idea to examine our assumptions, there are 20 rabble-rousers whose real motive is desire for power over others, no less rabble-rousers because they see themselves as anti-racists or feminists or whatever.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/13/opinion/13lessing.html

    1. I first heard the phrase “politically correct” used among leftists to humorously describe those who took a ritualistic prescriptive approach to trying to live a better life. This was in the early 1970’s. It wasn’t until the late 1980’s that I started hearing it among non-leftists and in its current disparaging form.

      1. I have on my bookshelf a very thin book entitled “Politically Correct Bedtime Stories” by James Finn Garner, 1994. Here’s an excerpt from the thrilling scene in Little Red Riding Hood when the wolf is about to eat Red and a passing woodcutter (or “log-fuel technician” as he preferred to be called) enters the cottage with his axe.

        “But as he raised his axe, Red and the wolf both stopped. “And just what do you think you’re doing?” asked Red. The woodchopper-person blinked and tried to answer but no words came to him.

        “Bursting in here like a Neanderthal, trusting your weapon to do your thinking for you!” she exclaimed. “Sexist! Speciesist! How dare you assume that womyn and wolves can’t solve their own problems without a man’s help!”

        And so it continues for 13 hilarious fairy tales.

        Oh, the working title for the book was “Fairy Stories for a Modern World” but his editor pointed out the obvious heterosexualust bias.

  12. Some of the problem is that we love to put a label on everything. Religious right, liberal left, moderate Muslim. Very few people fit nicely into the boxes we create for society. Even the term democrat and republican don’t mean much so most of us decided on Independent or none of the above.

    And because the people all do this, they think they have to play the roll and think alike. It is pretty stupid actually but the party/club system requires it. The best thing to do when covering something that someone or someplace did, is to nail them to the wall for what they did but don’t spend a lot of time assigning labels to it.

    Those guys over in Indiana know who they are and what they did and all we need to know is how disgusting it is.

  13. Does the left in the US really exist?
    I wouldn’t call the Democratic Party a left wing party.

    But of course left and right are relative concepts.

  14. I agree with Bill Maher completely.
    Too many people with exemplary Liberal credentials are unfairly criticized and maligned over some perceived misstep or misspeak.
    Sam Harris comes to mind.

  15. Maher hits on something that Stuart Sutherland discusses in the wonderful book irrationality: groupthink. That instead of a group being a collection of the views of the members, the more extreme voices tend to drown out the moderate ones, pushing a group to those extreme ends.

    The advantage to liberalism, or at least I thought it was, was the celebration and tolerance of diversity. That puritans tend to dominate seems a betrayal of liberalism, but if we take psychology seriously then it’s an all-too-natural disposition for any group – and liberalism doesn’t shield us from being human.

    Still, it amazes me the venom reserved for those who are only 95% in agreement with the puritans. A nod is as good as a wink to a blind bat, and not being 100% in agreement with a puritan counts for as much as being in total disagreement.

  16. I think Maher sums it up beautifully when he says, “we joke about everyone here.” True, Dolce and Gabbana may not be joking and may say some bothersome things, but whether used as humor or otherwise, offense can be an effective tool in speech. Even when it fails to be effwctive, Maher is still on point; what kind of world would it be if everyone agreed all the time? Use speech, offensive or otherwise, to make a counterpoint, bit keep it in proportion to the offense.

  17. When Elton John calls for a boycott of Dolce and Gabana because they disagree with him or people refuse to ever use Chick-fil-A because they were anti-gay, is that really that different from the new law in Indiana that says businesses don’t have to serve people if it conflicts with their religious beliefs? It’s okay for a customer to discriminate against a service provider for their beliefs but not okay for a service provider to discriminate against a customer for their beliefs?

    I suppose the counter argument is that by offering a service you have to offer it for everyone while a customer doesn’t have to buy from everyone. In that case, do those people also oppose sanctions that say you should not sell Uranium to Iran or North Korea? Isn’t that just discriminating against customers because you disagree with their beliefs?

    1. “It’s okay for a customer to discriminate against a service provider for their beliefs but not okay for a service provider to discriminate against a customer for their beliefs?”

      Yes, it is.

      /@

      1. Want to explain why or should we just take your word for it? I could understand there being a difference for essential services but that’s not the case for most businesses. I would think most cases of business are mutual agreement and either side can leave if they are not happy with the other.

    2. I’ve never felt compelled to participate in boycotts, mainly because of the practical outcome of participating in such an action. Take the Chik-fil-A outcry a few years ago as an example. Many people boycotted, but more bigots lined up in support and actually increased sales. I am all for a boycott if it can be shown to be useful as a tool for reinforcing desired behavior and punishing unwanted behavior. That simply isn’t the case in the majority of instances, especially in the United States, where we have such a polarized country.

      On top of that, boycotts can very easily be used as a form of retributive punishment. What is the goal? If it isn’t to modify behavior (with a reasonable confidence that it will be effective), then there’s some likelihood it is being used to inflict pain. I personally believe that even bigots should have liberty, but measures should be taken to ensure they don’t impede the liberty of others. Simplified, is a boycott having a net positive effect on humanity? Also, we can’t forget boycotts work both ways, which tends to have a nullifying effect. I didn’t eat at McDonald’s for 3 years as a child because my parents decided not to go there due to McDonald’s having supported a pro-abortion charity. I highly doubt McDonald’s was swayed or even affected in a material way. Don’t get me wrong; if one’side own moral compunction dictate not patronizing a business, by all means, boycott it. But don’t stand there morally outraged at others who decide not to join when evidence dictates the boycott has no effect.

      As for sanctions on a country like North Korea, that’s a different game, but the same logic applies. Is the sanction making life materially worse for the majority of North Koreans? And does it have some reasonable hope of swaying the leadership? If the answer to the former is no and the latter yes, then sanction away.

    3. I’ve never felt compelled to participate in boycotts, mainly because of the practical outcome of participating in such an action. Take the Chik-fil-A outcry a few years ago as an example. Many people boycotted, but more bigots lined up in support and actually increased sales. I am all for a boycott if it can be shown to be useful as a tool for reinforcing desired behavior and punishing unwanted behavior. That simply isn’t the case in the majority of instances, especially in the United States, where we have such a polarized country.

      On top of that, boycotts can very easily be used as a form of retributive punishment. What is the goal? If it isn’t to modify behavior (with a reasonable confidence that it will be effective), then there’s some likelihood it is being used to inflict pain. I personally believe that even bigots should have liberty, but measures should be taken to ensure they don’t impede the liberty of others. Simplified, is a boycott having a net positive effect on humanity? Also, we can’t forget boycotts work both ways, which tends to have a nullifying effect. I didn’t eat at McDonald’s for 3 years as a child because my parents decided not to go there due to McDonald’s having supported a pro-abortion charity. I highly doubt McDonald’s was swayed or even affected in a material way. Don’t get me wrong; if one’side own moral compunction dictate not patronizing a business, by all means, boycott it. But don’t stand there morally outraged at others who decide not to join when evidence dictates the boycott has no effect.

      As for sanctions on a country like North Korea, that’s a different game, but the same logic applies. Is the sanction making life materially worse for the majority of North Koreans? And does it have some reasonable hope of swaying the leadership? If the answer to the former is no and the latter yes, then sanction away.

      1. The restricted liberty is one of the things that makes me uncomfortable with some liberal positions.

        I think worrying about whether a business’ behaviour is affected by a single person misses the point. I’m vegetarian so I no longer buy and eat meat. Some people say, “well those animals are already dead anyway” or “the shops won’t notice one person less.” Yes, that’s true. But similarly it’s unlikely that every person’s vote matters because elections aren’t usually down to one vote. But that view would lead to no one ever taking any action. By individual decisions we can move, very slowly but hopefully influencing those around us and picking up speed, towards a world that we would rather live in.

  18. I agree with Maher to an extent, but I’ve never understood his opposition to things like boycotts, or imploring advertisers to stop supporting people with odious views.

    In a country where the Supreme Court has declared that corporations are people, and money is speech, things like advertiser pullouts and boycotts are sometimes the only meaningful free speech available. To pretend otherwise only puts people like Rush Limbaugh at an advantage by default.

  19. I actually saw this episode when it aired, and even though I like when Maher and Sam Harris go after liberals, I have to admit that I wasn’t sure how I felt about this particular issue. It seems that Maher is saying we shouldn’t protest or boycott things that we find offensive if the people causing the offense or otherwise usually on our side. But that line of thinking doesn’t make too much sense to me. I agree that it’s ridiculous that we don’t see as much outrage or backlash against some of the other instances of offenseor discrimination that really matter, but I don’t think that means we need to ignore these lesser comments.

    It

  20. I wonder if Maher would agree with this:

    According to a translation, Stefano [Gabbana] believes Elton’s boycott is unfair. “It’s an authoritarian way of seeing the world: agree with me or, if you don’t, I’ll attack you,” he said. “I even posted the word ‘Fascist!’ on his Instagram.” The designer also shared how surprised he was by the boycott:

    “I didn’t expect this. I didn’t expect this, coming from someone whom I considered, and I stress ‘considered,’ an intelligent person like Elton John. I mean, you preach understanding, tolerance and then you attack others? Only because someone has a different opinion? Is this a democratic or enlightened way of thinking? This is ignorance, because he ignores the fact that others might have a different opinion and that theirs is as worthy of respect as his.”

  21. This reminds me of how I feel when Jerry debates Dan Dennett on Free Will.

    Obviously, the question of Free Will has fascinated great thinkers for millennia. But let’s keep it real. In practical terms, the debate over Free Will is an insignificant sideshow compared to the current battle against religion’s influence on politics and education in the U.S. (and everywhere else).

    I’m sure some will respond that the debate on Free Will is just as important (since dispelling the notion of Free Will leads to more secular thinking), but I don’t buy that argument at all. I don’t feel that any significant number of believers (or any at all, really) will be converted by Free Will arguments.

    So I hate to see two people I deeply admire argue about Free Will when I’d much prefer to see them joining forces to battle faith and superstition.

Leave a Reply