The Maher life can’t be representative of human needs.

Arguably, Eric Abbenante— overstates the degree of “debate” in this clip featuring Dr. Phil and Bill Maher, but the difference in point of view he highlights is the crucial one.  Here’s Abbenante:

Bill Maher and Dr Phil debate the importance of family and religion:
“You think family and faith are a big fix to the problems we have. I don’t have a family, and I definitely don’t have faith”
“Then you’re definitely not part of the solution”
Bill Maher being anti family is frankly, eugenic.

Maher actually nods toward — and quickly veers from — a key point when he says that the country is headed in his direction and that Dr. Phil might argue that’s why things are falling apart.  That’s precisely what I would argue, but not in the direct, practical way Maher (and Phil) suggest.

There’s a step between “no faith or family” and “country falls apart.”  What we have in the West, right now, is a meaning crisis, which is manifesting in all sorts of ways, and which will be the end of our civilization if we don’t turn back from it.  Our loss is not a practical calculation that can be fixed.  Dr. Phil argues that faith and family intertwine to produce children, the absence of whom necessitates immigration, which creates additional problems.  To this, Maher and his sympathizers might respond that we need only solve those problems, and we’ll have solved the problem of lost faith, too.  But they’ll never manage to knot all the loose ends of this unraveling fabric.

If Dr. Phil had made the full case I’ve heard from him on the shows of those who agree with his beliefs, Dr. Phil might have asked Maher whether he is genuinely happy.  We can predict that Maher would have offered an enthusiastic “yes,” and while we might suspect he is not as happy as he claims, or is deceiving himself in some unhealthy way, we cannot read his heart.  In any event, our suspicions will never overcome his own testimony about himself.

The happiness question is only to set up the next questions:  Does he believe that he’s been fortunate in his life?  Of course he has.  How many people does he think can follow his path?  Not that many.

And then to empathy:  Does he think that those who have not enjoyed his good fortune might, on average, have needs — not material needs, but emotional and spiritual needs — that are, at least, distinguishable from his?  Does he feel they deserve comfort and confidence in life, even where good fortune doesn’t supply material comforts in abundance?

Here, a socialist might take the microphone to insist we need only take some of the abundance from the Mahers and give it to those who are less fortunate.  Even if Maher would assent, however, this wouldn’t fill the lack.  People don’t want only comfort; we want meaning, as well… maybe above all.  Being given comfort without having earned it does not answer our longing.

Yes, members of our society increasingly long for the life of the Mahers, both in financial success and the meaning we imagine comes with notoriety.  This might explain the trend of young adults’ turn to social media to find a life like Bill’s as “influencers.”  At least in his version of that trajectory, Bill Maher has encouraged genuine conversation and thought; how quickly his example deteriorates!

The rich man who happened to be out on his yacht when the flood came cannot claim his good fortune disproves the necessity of solid ground.  And the rest of us should not look to a celebrity who enthusiastically applauds the decline in church attendance — which heralds the deterioration not only of organized religion, but also of family and community — as representative of anything other than a dark, cynical error from which we must turn away.


Featured image by Justin Katz using Dall-E 3.

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