Part 1—Maher and Affleck fight: Ten days ago, Bill Maher and Ben Affleck had a televised discussion.
Or did they? Their widely-discussed semi-discussion occurred on the October 3 broadcast of Real Time with Bill Maher. After watching the videotape quite a few times; after reading a slew of columns about their semi-discussion; we’ll have to admit it:
We still aren’t entirely sure what specific question the gentlemen were debating. No one else seems super-clear about that question either.
What specific question were the gents debating? What was the ultimate point of their discussion?
No one seems entirely sure! Increasingly, this is The Way We Argue.
We don't think it serves liberal interests.
Other people were present on Maher’s panel, holding the combatants’ coats. “New atheist” Sam Harris argued on Maher’s side. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof spoke in support of Affleck.
To watch the full, ten-minute discussion, click here.
Maher and Affleck are well-known Hollywood figures. As a general matter, they were discussing a well-known topic—the major world religion known as Islam.
Or something! In many follow-up columns, many antagonists failed to define the specific questions under review. We weren’t entirely why their discussion even occurred—what the overall purpose was.
The discussion generated lots of heat—and a lot less light. Very familiar bombs were dropped.
Increasingly, this is The Way We Argue.
What seemed to be under discussion this day? The whole thing started with the aforementioned Maher and Harris expressing disappointment in the behavior of liberals.
Maher introduced the segment with the following statement to Harris. In all the subsequent hubbub, we’ve seen his remarks transcribed nowhere else:
MAHER (10/3/14): So the other thing we want to talk about, of course, is that you and I have been trying to make the case, I think—I have, anyway—that liberals need to stand up for liberal principles. This is what I said on last week’s show. Obviously, I got a lot of hate for it.According to Maher, certain “liberal principles” are lacking in the Muslim world. But when you try to note that fact, liberals get upset.
But all I’m saying is that liberal principles like freedom of speech; freedom to practice any religion you want without fear of violence; freedom to leave a religion; equality for women; equality for minorities, including homosexuals—
These are liberal principles that liberals applaud for. But then when you say, “In the Muslim world, this is what’s lacking,” then they get upset.
Maher had spoken for 37 seconds. At this point, Harris extended his nascent presentation:
HARRIS (continuing directly): Yeah, yeah. Well, liberals have really failed on the topic of theocracy. They’ll criticize white theocracy. They’ll criticize Christians. They’ll still get agitated about the abortion clinic bombing that happened in 1984.According to Harris, “liberals have really failed on the topic of theocracy” in the Muslim world. According to Harris, the problem stems from a meme we’ve been sold—the meme of Islamophobia, in which “every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry toward Muslims as people.”
But when you want to talk about the treatment of women and homosexuals and free thinkers and public intellectuals in the Muslim world, I would argue that liberals have failed us. And the crucial point of confusion—
HARRIS: Yes. Thank you. The crucial point of confusion is that we have been sold this meme of Islamophobia, where every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry toward Muslims as people.
HARRIS: And that is intellectually ridiculous.
By now, Maher and Harris had spoken for 87 seconds. Be they right or be they wrong, they had barely begun to outline their claims.
But at this point, Affleck broke in, and he was visibly angry. And alas!
Before the discussion was two minutes old, Affleck had dropped the first of his several bombs:
HARRIS: I’m not denying that, that certain people are bigoted against Muslims as people. And that’s a problem.The discussion was less than two minutes old. Already, two bombs had been dropped.
AFFLECK (sarcastically): That’s big of you.
HARRIS: But the—
MAHER: But why are you so hostile about this concept?
AFFLECK: Because it’s gross, it’s racist.
MAHER: It’s not. It’s—but it’s so not.
AFFLECK: It’s so—it’s like saying, “You’re a shifty Jew.”
HARRIS: Absolutely not.
MAHER: You’re not listening to what we are saying.
In our view, there were potential problems with the short opening presentation by Maher and Harris. And not only that:
After Affleck dropped the first of his bombs, the discussion’s emotional quotient rose. Rather quickly, Maher and Harris each made statements which, in our view, generated more heat than light about a sensitive subject.
That said, we were most struck by Affleck’s reactions, and by the high-minded, off-point remarks by Kristof when he spoke in support of the aggrieved star.
Talk about a two-minute warning! Quite literally, it took less than two minutes before our angry liberal champion dropped the first of his bombs on this nascent discussion.
Things got heated after that. Increasingly, this is The Way We Argue.
Less than two minutes in, the first of Affleck’s bombs had been dropped. Please note:
As we liberals increasingly argue this way, the plutocrats just power along, robbing everyone blind.
Tomorrow: Affleck’s objections