THE WAY WE ARGUE: Bombs away!


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.

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—

(Audience applauds)

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.
According to Maher, certain “liberal principles” are lacking in the Muslim world. But when you try to note that fact, liberals 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.

(Maher chuckles)

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—

(Audience applauds)

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.

MAHER: Right.

HARRIS: And that is intellectually ridiculous.
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.”

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.

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.
The discussion was less than two minutes old. Already, two bombs had been dropped.

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


  1. Beyond that, no one thinks Maher is arguing for freedom of religion. He is anti-religious. His sole purpose for discussing Islam is to argue that all religions are bad.

  2. Maher claims no religious affiliation, and frequently lambasts godbotherers with a nasty pique. But he is half Jewish and doesn't realize that anti-semitism has a flip side. Arabs are semitic. I think Afflek was looking for an opportunity to point this out, but he didn't have a clear response; more like 'stop being mean' or somesuch. Maher is an arrogant narcissist, and he certainly isn't the last word on the subject. I'm glad it came up. I think he'll be more careful of who he invites in the future.

    1. He self-identifies as Catholic because that is the religious tradition he was raised in.

    2. He seems to identify more with his jewish half. Aren't many Zionists also atheistic?

    3. I don't think so. Many ethnic Jews are atheists, a tradition going back to Spinoza, but you could say the same about lapsed Catholics. He talks more about being Catholic because he went to Catholic school, but I don't think he identifies more with any religious tradition. You can't ask someone to choose between their mother and father.

    4. What he "self-identifies" as depends on the day and to whom he is talking. He has claimed and denied being an atheist, agnostic and a person who believes in a god, but also believes that human-established religion is a block to that god, whatever he might think it is.

      In other words, Maher is a former stand-up comic who found a niche selling pseudo-intellectual bullshit to people with the maturity of college sophomores.

      Kinda like someone else I know.

    5. I've never heard him deny he was an atheist, but I'll take your word for it. I do know he feels Israel's position is superior to Palestinian, whether of secular or religious bent. He regularly repeats the "Israel has a right to defend' at the expense of elderly and children in Gaza without batting an eye.

    6. Maher has quite often said that he doesn't want to be "labeled" as anything, including an atheist. That's typical of a person with no core principles, to whom everything is relative -- except that which he says is "good and evil" and fixed.

      Interesting that Maher thinks it is Israel's "right to defend" land that they took only because the Bible says it's theirs -- no matter how many civilians are displaced, impoverished, or outright killed.

      My penultimate Maher moment was the scene in Religilous where he went to that makeshift chapel in the truck stop and demanded that the truck drivers justify their belief in God, as if they held post-graduate degrees in theology and philosophy.

      Good grief, these were just guys stuggling to make a living in a very demanding profession that requires days of loneliness away from family. But turning to religion for comfort instead of alcohol or prostitutes was just something Maher couldn't stand.

      I thought what next, Maher? After you showed us how much smarter you were than these guys, you going to a playground and pick a fistfight with a third grader to show how tough you are, too?

    7. What was your ultimate Maher moment, then, professor?

    8. The Truckers' Chapel clip is on YouTube. And Maher didn't demand that the truckers justify their belief in God; he asked why believing something without evidence is a good thing. One of the truckers asks "What if we're right and you're wrong?" Maher says "You could be right. don't I think it's very likely, but you could be right." and he continued saying "I don't know." What Maher can't stand is the certainty in the face of and the embrace of a lack of evidence.

      I think it's condescending to assume that truckers are too stupid to examine their beliefs. I also think you don't know what "penultimate" means.

    9. Anonymous @10:22,

      The "flip side" of antisemitism is not a hatred of Arabs. "Antisemitism" does not mean a hatred of Semites, a group supposedly comprising Jews and Arabs according to long-discredited racial theories. "Antisemitism" was coined in the 1870s by a German journalist named Marr, who wanted to use a term less stark than Judenhass (Jew-hatred). That's what it meant then, and that's what it means today.

    10. My kingdom for a horse.

  3. Yes, Bob. Maher and Affleck are the perfect examples of how debate is always carried on these days.

    And this is sooo unlike those high-minded days past, where William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal used to hold their televised debates on such a high intellectual level, using reason, logic and great care with their language.

    Come on, Somerby. Provide a link to some of those debates so that your younger readers will know how debate really happened in those good old days, back when everybody acted like adults.

    Or would that destroy the myth you have been laboring mightily to create that things were so much better then, and so much worse now.

    1. Maher and Affleck set off the debate but the debate itself has been among the wider liberal community on a variety of blogs and venues. For example, digby jumped to Affleck's defense. You are the only one talking about Buckley and Vidal here. If anyone knows how to debate, it must be philosophers. That is all they do in their field.

      One troll and counting -- remember, I have pledged $1 for every troll comment posted here this week. If you love Somerby and want to support his efforts here, be sure and post lots of trollish garbage this week! He needs your support too.

    2. I think mentioning digby around here is trolling. She was once good in her pre-Salon period.

    3. I am talking about Gore and Vidal to demonstrate that 46 years ago, this was all considered good fun on TV. And apparently it still is.

      But Somerby tells you this is all something new, and like a good lap dog, you believe it. Keep your checkbook handy. I'm sure Somerby needs the money. And like a good lapdog, you'll fetch it.

    4. #4 = $4 for Somerby, to continue his good work here.

    5. Make it $5.

      A fool and his money . . .

    6. No, that doesn't count as a troll comment. It isn't Spellcaster and it doesn't say anything mean about Somerby. Keep trying, Somerby deserves every dollar!

    7. Running out of money?

    8. "...46 years ago, this was all considered good fun on TV."

      That is preposterous. Firing Line was reliably intellectually stimulating. Maher is bubble gum.

    9. It wasn't on Firing Line, genius.

      Go look it up before you shoot off your mouth next time. And come back and tell me how "intellectually stimulating" it was.

    10. "One troll and ..." ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

    11. "Buckley and Gore Vidal used to hold their televised debates.."

      If you are referring to Buckley calling Vidal a queer and Vidal calling Buckley a "crypto Nazi", that wasn't on a televised "debate", that occurred during the televised broadcast of the 1968 Democratic Convention. And having lived through that period you would have to admit that tensions were running pretty high during that convention.

      Their debate at the Republican convention the same year and other times on Firing Line were on a level that you don't see anymore.

      So I think you should be more careful with your choice of words , jackoff.

    12. Where does TDH say that things are worse now or that this type of "debate" is new?

    13. Hey junior. The encounter was televised and it was a debate. That makes it a televised debate, dumbass.,

      ]And go ahead and pretend that their other encounters that year were "on a level you don't see any more." They were every bit as nasty as the Affleck-Maher encounter that Somerby is crying about today as yet another example of how far we have fallen.

      Next time, don't run to youtube and pretend you lived through that era. You won't look like nearly the lying dumbass you have exposed yourself to be.

    14. "As we liberals increasingly argue this way,"

      "Increasingly, this is The Way We Argue."

      But at this point, Affleck broke in, and he was visibly angry. And alas!

      And again.

      "Increasingly, this is The Way We Argue."

      Followed by:

      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:"

      "The discussion was less than two minutes old. Already, two bombs had been dropped."

      "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."

      "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."

      Now pretend he didn't say it, and pretend that "increasingly" doesn't mean something that hasn't been done in the past.

      And good God, that doesn't even take into account the worst sin of Somerby's supercillious pseudo-intellectualism in taking what two lightweights say on a pay cable TV comedy show and trying to say this is how all "liberals" "increasingly argue.

      More fodder for Somerby's morons, I suppose..

      Now please, deadrat. Tell us that Bob really, truly meant something entirely different. De rigueur when Somerby is caught with his pants down, and you are caught with your head up his ass.

    15. "Next time, don't run to youtube and pretend you lived through that era."

      Jackass, I don't have to prove anything to you. I indeed did live through that era.

      I really don't know what your problem is buddy. You idiotically compared Buckley/Vidal debates to what occurred on Maher's show between Affleck and Maher. The proposition is so laughable I felt compelled to express a contrary opinion. Part of the reason may be that I miss that quality of debate. I didn't agree with Buckley but I respected his willingness to take on all comers. Nowadays, you have Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham etc etc etc,.

      That little bit of nastiness between Buckley and Vidal comprised maybe a minute out of hours of back and forth debate. This occurred during the Democratic national convention in Chicago at the height of the Vietnam War, in a year in which we experienced the assassinations of MLK and RFK.

      In your mad dash to attack Bob, you offered a comparison that appeared to me to be simply ludicrous. But suit yourself, you don't have to agree with me.

    16. Let's bump that troll count total for another dollar. Fifty cents for "Bob" with his pants down, and another fifty cents for making this about me.

      Let's see if I can type slowly enough and provide an analogy simple enough so that you can follow. My hopes for this outcome are not high, but here goes:

      My city uses a sticker system for garbage collection. You buy an adhesive-backed sticker and slap one on each container you want picked up. They started this system maybe 30 years ago, and over the years, the price of the stickers has changed, increasingly. I don't remember what the stickers cost when they started, but you'll be unsurprised to learn that at no time did they ever give them away. In other words, you always had to pay for them, but it costs much more now than when they started.

      Just as there was no golden age of free garbage pickup in my city, there was no golden age of liberal rational argument. It's TDH's contention that liberals have dropped rational argument more and more to emulate the nonsense approach of Faux News.

      This is arguable, but I don't have to "pretend" that the word "increasingly" doesn't imply not "done in the past." Because the word actually implies "done more than in the past."

      I don't know how to make it any simpler for you.

    17. I'll put a quarter in for deadrat, but only if it is matched.

  4. It is clear that Ben Affleck was not listening to what Bill Maher and Sam Harris were saying.

    1. Sam Harris was interviewed by Michael Smerconish and it was clear he didn't begin to lay out his argument on Maher's show. But that is always true on that show. It would perhaps be more useful for Somerby to call out the whole Maher show as an example of a format where nothing gets discussed well because it all just exists as a straight-line generator for Maher, they jump around a lot because he assumes the audience has a low attention span, and it is all for entertainment, not for information. It is one of the worst places to learn anything about current events -- unlike Daily Show or John Oliver's show.

  5. I am glad Somerby is no longer overlooking the profound demonstration of the melted emerging liberal culture as displayed on Friday night premium cable television. Even if it means delaying fundraising, the Nantucket County tour wind up, and that anger inducing procrastination conference in Oxford. I mean, he could be looking at press coverage of the ISIS war, ebola, or the mid term elections. What a waste in discourse that would be.

    1. #3 = $3 for the pledge drive.

    2. Actually, he is applying the old Marquis de Somerby rules of debate, and again, to only one side.

      When confronted with a bigot who seeks to define an entire religion by its most extreme elements then resorts to pulling phony facts and non-existent surveys out of his ass to back it up, of course, the only response should be calm, reasoned, discourse.

      Anything less, and the plutocrats win. . . according to the Marquis de Somerby rules.

    3. You clearly haven't read anything Sam Harris has been saying on this topic. The surveys (polls) exist and they make it difficult to claim that the views stated are those of only an extreme element.

      An oddness in the debate was Kevin Drum's post where he tried to relate extremism in Islam to proximity to Saudi Arabia, as if nationalist factors were influencing extremity of belief. He neglected to state the obvious fact that Mecca is in Saudi Arabia. History trumps the relatively short existence of the political boundaries of Saudi Arabia and its oil producing. So it seemed like he was trying to shift the blame for extremist views off of Islam as a religion and onto Saudi Arabia as a nation-state. Very odd.

    4. No, you haven't read anything Harris has written, and more importantly, you forgot the part in the "debate" where Harris attempted to define Islam as concentric circles with the "jihadists" at the center.

      That is not only a bigoted misrepresentation of the entire religion, it is also a bigoted misuse of the word "jihad" which is common for people like yourself and Harris who think they know far more than they actually do.

    5. "Even if it means delaying fundraising, the Nantucket County tour wind up, and that anger inducing procrastination conference in Oxford."

      Somerby does seem to be especially easy to distract these days. That's what happens when you have a brilliant idea, rush to the blog to type it up, then forget what you have written.

    6. @11:16, He didn't represent it as concentric circle with jihadists at the center. He represented it as %s of people expressing jihadist beliefs with the non-jihadists either condoning or failing to criticize the jihadists. I saw the show. You have earned Somerby $7.

    7. Suggesting someone is a troll after writing a substantive response causes Bob to go directly to Salon and your contributions are forfeited to the Troll State University Institute for Date Rape Culture Studies.

    8. It was for the Nantucket remark.

    9. @ 11:16 said nothing about Nantucket. Why not give Bob all the money you have in the bank right now. You are too dumb to be trusted to do anything of value with it and it is obvious you are merely encouraging rather than discouragin the trols who profit by your foolish, inconsistent, and untrustworthy insouciance.

    10. You're right, it was 11:49. I take back the $1 and award it for 11:49 instead, leaving the total unchanged.

      I think the jury is still out on whether this is encouraging or discouraging trolls. I am testing the hypothesis that the trolls are commenting out of ego and personal attention-seeking not to discourage Somerby's efforts. If the former is true, trolling will increase. If the latter is true, it should decrease. Seems to be unchanged right now. We're up to $22 after your comment. Go ahead and reply if you want me to send more money to Somerby -- happy to do it!

    11. Ooh, "insouciance"!

      Is that penultimate insouciance?

    12. "I am planning to donate $1 to Somerby for every troll post during fundraising week."

      This gives our experimenter the option of deciding to run up a big promissory note to Somerby then welch, by saying it wasn't really "fundraising week."

    13. So if trolling increases due to your generous dollar donations, it will prove the trolls aren't agents of someone out to get Bob? That may satisfy your social science curiosity but it may lead to suicide among the three other anonymous Bobfans. They'd rather jump off a tower of black and white televisions than believe the trolls aren't in the employ of the plutocrat's pimp of piddle.

    14. Well, fella, here's the problem.

      If you all your bragging posts about how much money you are donating (already enough for Bob to treat his entire staff to dinner at McDonald's), then Bob has gotten the same few dozen posts from the same handful of remaining readers, pro and con.

    15. OK, this approach has squelched KZ but not anyone else. On the other hand, trolling hasn't increased either. So, I conclude that KZ is here to hurt Somerby but the rest of you are here for ego gratification and associated dark triad motivations -- bad personality and lack of consideration for others basically.

      Today's total so far is $30 (counting this set of comments). I am tired of this game so I will multiply that by 5 and send it to Somerby, whether it is fundraising week or not. If you care, you can ask Somerby whether I welched.

    16. You taking credit for chasing KZ away since lunch?

      If I were you I'd take credit for delaying the spellcasters.

      I seem to recall your giving a bonus after a ZKoD verse of Old McDonald around lunch.

    17. Knowledgeable observers say we are responsible for 75% of the comments, talk to ourself, and only come out in the morning to mess up the thread for regular BOBfans who are thus intimidated from commenting.

      That said, it is poosible we are simply not that interested in celebrities. Except Meredith Vieira.
      Like most from our planet, we enjoy a good cry.

  6. Here's what's so weird: not a single Muslim on a panel talking about Muslims!

  7. Who the Sam Harris is Sam Harris?

  8. why all the comments about maher when it was affleck that played the mad bomber?

    1. Maybe it's because nobody agrees with you.

    2. well it is pretty obvious bob does. i hope you trollz make somerby rich.

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