October 8th, 2014
I’ve been consumed with the writing of my new book, but on Friday night I did catch the heated “debate” between Bill Maher and Sam Harris versus Ben Affleck and (somewhat) Nicolas Kristof. Aside from being such a huge fan of Kristof that I would automatically take whatever side of an issue he does, I found myself stirred by Ben Affleck’s somewhat reckless and crude but deeply impassioned defense of the idea of respecting people’s religious beliefs, even if some criminals have tried to co-opt a religion. It’s been almost a decade since I made “Flock of Dodos” and found myself involved in a lot of those discussions. I was thankful for the things he was saying. And thankful that despite being an actor and not one hundred percent articulate, you could hear Kristof backing him up repeatedly. They were a good combination — the style backed up by the substance.
A BRIDGE TOO FAR FOR SAM HARRIS? His quote that Islam is “the motherlode of bad ideas,” didn’t sit well with a lot of people. He might not have wanted to blurt that out on national TV.
STYLE AND SUBSTANCE CONFRONT ANGER
I’m busy writing. The deadline for the first draft of my new book, “Houston, We Have A Narrative” for University of Chicago Press is next week. Plus I’ll be at John Hopkins University School of Medicine next week speaking and running workshops. Which is why I’ve posted nothing on the Benshi for the past month. But watching the Bill Maher-Ben Affleck “debate” resurrected some old thoughts.
There’s really nothing I could say that could be any better or more articulate than what H.A. Goodman said in detail on the Huffington Post (it was refreshing to see someone on that site take on Bill Maher).
I’m generally a fan of Bill Maher and his show, but that said, he spends a lot of time blindly hating all things conservative, Republican and right wing, but then occasionally tossing out a comment about how terrible it is that our society is so polarized these days. The yin is connected to the yang. You really don’t get to spew hatred then be surprised you’re not making the world a better place.
I think that was the basic dynamic on Friday night when Ben Affleck finally had to be the one to call him out. The Sam Harris line about the motherlode, as Affleck tried to get in, was just such a broad brush comment. And said with such smug certainty.
Human existence isn’t that simple. And that’s what H.A. Goodman explains nicely. It was a good “debate.” And also Howard Fineman, on MSNBC’s Hardball, did a great job of understanding the importance of it. Eugene Robinson tried to dismiss it as a bunch of silliness among white guys with no background in the issue, but Fineman rightfully pointed out it was a heated debate on a show with large viewership.
If you understand the media, you understand that is the definition of an important event. Doesn’t matter how ill-informed the argumentation is — it was widely watched and reflective of a million ill-informed debates throughout America at the moment.
It’s difficult to stand up to hatred, but that’s what Ben Affleck was doing. Somebody had to.