What happens to you when politics comes to define every aspect of your life? What happens when ticking off the right positions on political controversies of the day, supporting your side’s favored politicians, and vilifying politicians on the other side all becomes a substitute for wisdom and virtue?
We saw two really great examples recently, and the results aren’t pretty.
Last week, a group of young women who had survived cancer met with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to “advocate for pediatric cancer research.” So the film and television director Joss Whedon, in a ham-handed attempt to take a potshot at Ryan and Donald Trump, tweeted out this.
Yes, I think you can read that as demeaning (and creepily sexualizing) teenage cancer survivors by comparing them to contestants in a sleazy reality TV show. He has since deleted and apologized in a backhanded way, insisting that he “inadvertently offended everyone.” But this has been something of a trend with him: he’s so eager to take pot shots at whoever he sees as a political villain that he doesn’t look first to see who else might be in the way. Whedon is an outspoken political “progressive,” yet like many of these so-called “progressives,” he often seems lacking in basic humanity toward actual, individual human beings.
This is what happens when your view of what it means to be a good person starts and stops with a checklist of the proper political positions—instead of starting with who you are as a person, and with your values outside the realm of politics.
The bigger and more spectacular version of this is Bill Nye. Famous as the host of an educational science show for kids in the 1990s, Nye has been slowly transforming himself into a political hack, and the diminution of his personality has been appalling to watch. He was never my favorite popularizer of science, but as he became addicted to the adulation of the “I love science” crowd—which wants nothing more than to believe that the latest leftist causes are synonymous with Science Itself—he has visibly shrunk. Now he has a television show on Netflix, “Bill Nye Saves the World,” and from its self-important title all the way down, it seems designed to validate every bad thing his critics ever thought about him.
What has to be said first about the show is that it is awful. Not awful in the sense of conveying bad ideas, but awful in the sense of being unbearably stupid, incompetent, and unwatchable.
Just try watching this segment, in which he invites a semi-obscure comedienne onto the show to do a number about sexual identity and how it’s fluid and subjective, or something.
I got about 60 seconds into this before I started wondering whether it is possible to die from cringing.
I was overwhelmed with vicarious embarrassment on behalf of people who apparently lack the ability to experience it themselves, because they went on to produce an equally unwatchable cartoon that involves some sort of louche ice cream orgy in order to make a point about homosexuality being good and “plain vanilla” heterosexuality apparently being bad.
The worst part of this is that it made me think of “Bill Nye” and “orgy” in conjunction, which I really didn’t want to do.
As my Federalist colleagues uncovered, this new “scientific” gender dogma reverses what Nye used to teach about the science on this subject. Back when he was still producing an actual science show, it affirmed that “chromosomes…control whether we become a boy or a girl.” Nothing about it being fluid or a “kaleidoscope.” But that clip has since been scrubbed from the show as it appears on Netflix, in a Soviet-style act of historical revision. Call it the chromosome vanishes.
Given how embarrassingly bad all of this is, the question is why Nye’s new show didn’t get cancelled in its first five minutes, and why a beloved science show host would belittle himself by trading in this kind of schlock.
The answer is all there in Nye’s intro to the ice cream cartoon, when he tells his panelists, “We are enlightened and forward-thinking, but not everyone sees it that way.” They could have stopped the show right there, because the core message had already been delivered. Or consider what he says after the “Sex Junk” number, while the rest of us are still trying to uncurl from the fetal position: “That’s exactly the right message, Rachel.”
That’s what it’s all about these days. It’s the right political message, so it makes us enlightened people unlike everybody else. It doesn’t have to be thoughtful or clever or beautiful or make any sense.
“Political correctness” is just a manifestation of a larger problem, which is that politics has grown to swallow up life itself. Political virtues have become the only virtues, and mouthing the right platitudes offers you a special dispensation that excuses whatever moral or intellectual sins you might happen to commit—up to and including the appalling crime that is the “Sex Junk” routine.
I’ve been making a point recently about the evils of socialism, and the chief evil isn’t simply material. It’s moral, intellectual, and spiritual. By placing the collective good of “society” over the good of the individual, it provides an all-purpose excuse for every horrible thing done to actual, individual human beings. Worse, it hollows out the personal character of its own adherents, making them more obsessed with the cause and the “right message” than they are with their own lives, brains, and souls.
If that turns you into a monster, you become, say, Fidel Castro. If it makes you a jerk, you become Joss Whedon. If it just makes you pathetic, you become Bill Nye.