Saturday, November 04, 2006

Bill Maher, Sophist

Last night, I had the opportunity to somewhat involuntarily listen to Bill Maher. Maher, BA English Cornell, 1978, parades as an intellectual. Indeed, he has a pretty quick wit. But his commentary is a mix of tendentious rants with occasional humor.

The format for Maher's show is a lot of blabber with a somewhat feckless opponents and a syncophantic audience and crowd of groupies who salivate every time he scores a point. Like Bill O'Reilly, BA History Marist, 1971/MA Boston 1978, he really does not care to engage in substantive discussion about important issues. But in O'Reilly's case there is not the premise of intelligent debate.

One of Maher's favorite themes is the relationship of religion and life. Last night his argument was that the institution of marriage is really unnecessary in "modern" societies and that there is no difference for societies where there is no formal sanction of long term relationships which encourage the care of children. One of Maher's charms, is his ability to set up false premises and then knock them down. In this instance, he went on to argue that those who support the institution of marriage automatically oppose any standing for unmarried and same sex couples. That is nonsense.

Unfortunately there is pretty good evidence that societies which value marriage have lower levels of child abuse and other indicators of stability in society that are desirable. Maher ignores that. Institutions like marriage are for general not specific purposes. That means while such conventions offer society general benefits, and they do; those benefits are not present uniformly in society. Neither should one believe that in supporting something like marriage that one would automatically support additional rights of property transfer for non-traditional relationships or for official sanctions for individuals who make alternative choices.

In the end, Maher did a rant which gave the democrats four or five answers to the GOP's claims against them in this election. Any partisan republican would welcome those as the key themes. But they were like Maher's show - evidence that Maher actually does not care to engage in real policy discussion and lives in the very narrow world where he only hears from a set up audience. I wonder how Margaret Spellings and Maher would get on in a discussion where no one was watching.

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