Bill Maher: "If You Strike Me Down, I Shall Become More Powerful Than You Can Possibly Imagine."

The editors at The Federalist were kind enough to ask me to write a guest post, on the movement at UC-Berkeley to disinvite heretic Bill Maher from speaking at December commencement.

I took them up on the opportunity.

Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White


  1. Brandon says

    Bill Maher of course does not have a right to speak as the invited guest at Berkeley’s commencement

    The UC Berkeley administration seems to claim that he does.

    “The UC Berkeley administration cannot and will not accept this decision, which appears to have been based solely on Mr. Maher’s opinions and beliefs, which he conveyed through constitutionally protected speech,” the university said in a prepared statement.

    You call them censors, and yet his previous statements were on a TV show that they aren't calling on HBO to cancel. They're simply against giving him the commencement speech at the university they attend, and which Muslim students and friends, acquaintances, and classmates of Muslim students also attend.

    I love your idea for a debate, but why should it be part of a graduation celebration? Also, was throwing out the 'social justice warrior' ad hominem required by The Federalist for publication? (theyre also on record today with claims that catcalling in NYC is just rudeness unrelated to gender and that gay people and their equal rights supporters really just want to end marriage)

  2. 5up Mushroom says

    I'm not fan of Bill Maher, but I am all for calling Islam out for it's terrible ideas. Also… using SJW as an ad hominem is pretty weak. Being for social justice is nothing to be ashamed of. I'm afraid you've managed to offend every side of this multi-faceted issue with this article.

  3. Mikee says

    I think it's safe to assume that Patrick has never seen Bill Maher debate about Islam.

    Nothing more than pure opinion being passed off as fact, nothing more than inserting conjecture and stereotyping instead of using anything resembling a factual statement.

    14,000 Americans are killed every year by another American with a gun. Does that mean all Americans want to kill other people with guns? 30,000 Americans are killed every year by another American with a vehicle. Does that mean all Americans are stupid and ignorant enough to cause an accident that kills another American? 50,000 Americans die each year because they lack healthcare. Does that mean all Americans are greedy and disgustingly shallow to the point of letting other people die? Hutaree, the Lords Resistance Army, the Army of God and the KKK all murder in the name of Jesus Christ, does that mean all Christians are murdering fuckheads?

    If none of those actions taken by a minority of a group are representative of the entirety of the group, then why do the actions of ISIS and Al-Queda apply to all Muslims?

    A brain-dead bucket of rocks could beat Bill Maher in a debate on this topic. Just because someone gets really loud doesn't mean we should engage them. Isn't that why the rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter aren't representative of all conservatives? The majority of Muslims do not feel the same way about other people as ISIS or Al-Queda, or the people that celebrate in the streets when an American dies (I hope you're not forgetting about the celebrations around the country after Osama bin Laden was killed.)

    Speaking as a nonreligious, politically neutral individual, if one religion or political group is judged by their vocal minorities, then all religious and political groups get judged by their vocal minorities. If ISIS represents Islam, then the KKK represents Christianity. If Osama bin Laden spoke for all Muslims, then David Duke spoke for all Americans.

    Kinda sucks when your grade school logic is used against you, doesn't it?

  4. rsteinmetz70112 says

    Bill Maher is an opinionated self important asshat who is frequently factually wrong on any of a variety of subjects.

    There was a time a few years ago when he was invited to appear on some of the Sunday morning shows because he pretends to talk about current subjects on a "comedy" program. He invariably made a fool of himself by making at least one major factual error every time he appeared.

  5. says

    As Patrick suggests, disinviting Bill Maher over his views on a particular issue lends him undeserved credibility and sympathy.

    Now, if they had not invited him in the first place because he's a substanceless walking smirk, that would have been perfectly appropriate.

  6. sinij says

    Great article. One point I disagree with.

    The rush to take Maher off the podium isn’t “censorship” in the classical sense, as he’s an invited guest, not a speaker in the “public square.”

    Berkeley is a public university. It comes as close to "public square" as it gets.

    If you want to shut down Bill Maher’s hate speech against Muslims, why not invite him to a post-address debate, against your best and brightest?

    And post it on YouTube so it comes up in searches.

  7. says

    sinij: Maher has no right to be the commencement speaker, any more than Clark, Ken, or I. I do agree that a Youtube video of Maher debating informed scholars on Islam, rather than the mumbling, stuttering Ben Affleck, would be worth the bag of popcorn.

  8. Inlaid says

    There's a big difference between being for social justice and being someone who knee jerk reacts to any form of religious criticism ever. As another person pointed out that's a fairly weak ad hominem attack, and I would say an exceptionally lazy one.

    (Also, you know, if you're on the other side of the debate from people you describe as being for social justice you might might want to take a rain check).

  9. sinij says

    Maher has no right to be the commencement speaker

    Agreed with your statement, but Maher is already invited to speak. Just like nobody has a right to tenure, once they have tenure this status is protected.

    I am not sure that Berkeley, a publicly-funded institution, has a right to un-invite (a form of public condemnation) someone solely based on disagreeing with their speech. Is Maher's status as already invited speaker in any way affords him additional speech protections?

  10. says


    There is, in fact, plenty of caselaw on when a public employee has a protectable due process interest in his or her job. Not every job generates such an interest.

    I'm not aware of any authority saying that someone invited to speak attains a due process interest.

  11. Daublin says

    It's funny how big a tempest can be stirred in a teapot.

    I would think this should be largely up to the students. Why is involved?

    Aside from that, I wonder if the students are excited about having Maher come talk to them. He's a celebrity, but he's rather abrasive. Then again, maybe he'll tone it down for a graduation speech.

  12. MelK says

    > It's funny how big a tempest can be stirred in a teapot.

    … just because something is important doesn't mean that it's not very small. – MIB

    How many archdukes had to be assassinated to cause a world war?
    How many tribbles did it take to (eventually) incapacitate an entire space station?

    Chaos: When the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.

    One donut, more or less, who's going to notice?

  13. Anon4Areason says

    The larger issue of anti-muslim feeling in the US (seems to me) to boil down to a hack of the 1st Amendment to get around the 1st Amendment. Should freedom of religion be allowed to those who seek to deny it to others? Or similar for freedom of speech? Refusal to respect the Bill of Rights should be grounds for terminating acquired citizenship, or at least termination of a US residency permit (green card). After all, acquired citizenship requires an oath to defend the Constitution.

  14. BSD32X says

    I'd like to give my take on Bill Maher, particularly in light of Clark's recent article "In Soviet Russia, Pravda Punches You". I'm a big fan of stand up comedy, specifically podcasts done by comedians, and I think that to understand Maher you really need to be familiar with the way stand ups work an audience. Maher exemplifies pretty well the "I know better than you what is good for you" attitude Clark describes so well in the article. Maher also is anti-religion in general, and rather than engage in something like Averroism he is going to grandstand and push his atheism onto you. Specifically in regard to Anon4Areason, when you say " Should freedom of religion be allowed to those who seek to deny it to others? Or similar for freedom of speech?", that is not a line of criticism that suits him very well. He loves spouting the cliche of "I want freedom FROM religion, not freedom OF religion", he just tends to key in on hot button issues that can garner him media attention and push that viewpoint. Maher has never been a big proponent of constitutionalism, I don't think he would be opposed to gradually removing religion from our society altogether, to be honest.

    Now, onto my second point, that you need to understand stand up comedy to get what he is really doing here. ISIS and the rise of militant Islam suit him right now in gaining attention and pushing his views, but what he is doing is essentially no different than clickbait. Also, it is a mistake to assume he is blindly doing this, there is a real Kaufman-esque element to his comedy and talk show (not saying he is on Kaufman's level by any means, just that he is probably as genuine in making some of his comments as Andy was when he engaged in misogynistic wrestling interviews). If you credit him as being genuine as opposed to promoting himself by talking down to people and for lack of a better word "trolling" celebrities, you are giving him too much credit. What is Maher looking for? Ratings, attention and spouting his agenda to people like Affleck who are used to being unchallenged in their views rather than a skilled debater who would not be so easily flummoxed. He has no interest interest in meaningful discussion.

  15. Christopher says

    So, something I've been noticing a lot lately is that people seem to be really scared of specific arguments, so much so that they'd much rather make completely unsupportable general arguments than make easily supportable specific ones.

    Patrick, would you be making this same speech if the college had invited the Grand Dragon of the KKK for their commencement speech? The head of the American Nazi party? A member of ISIS?

    Incidentally, before you say it, I'm not saying that Maher is as bad as any of those people. I'm saying I don't think he is at all, but you'll have to give me a second to get there.

    Would you seriously write a whole article for the Federalist, and perhaps more importantly, would The Federalist ask you to write an article about how more KKK members should speak at commencement addresses because college students shouldn't be "Stung by the news they might be addressed by a man whose views deviate in the slightest from the modern orthodoxy" on blacks and jews and "a university might assist its students by exposing them to challenging ideas, to be tested in the fires of debate, and thereby to arrive at something approximating an education"?

    Well, I'm going to answer part of that question for you. No, The Federalist is never going to ask you to write an article about the exclusion of the KKK from the university environment. They'll never ask this despite the fact that the KKK's views are FAR more marginalized both on and off-campus than Maher's are. How many outspoken KKK members have nationally airing political talk shows? How many of them are invited to speak at Berkeley in the first place?

    So if the arguments you're making are stronger for the KKK then they are for Maher, why isn't The Federalist writing a multi-part series about how the exclusion of overt racism from the college sphere is harming our students?

    My theory is that it's because the editors of the Federalist think that the KKK's opinions go to far and Maher's don't.

    That there is, in fact, a point where your views are so reprehensible that you shouldn't be invited to any commencement speeches, and that Maher has not reached that point. Which seems pretty damn fair to me, but why this fear of making that argument? There's a lot in your article which indicates that you think Maher is articulating a reasonable position; I doubt you'd use this kind of language of "heresy" and coddled students wanting to be shielded from the real world if Maher was a member of the KKK. And I'm damn sure that The Federalist wouldn't publish it if Maher was a member of the KKK.

    Notably missing, though, is an actual analysis of Maher's position or that of his critics. You use innuendo that makes it seem that you are sympathetic to his position, but there's no articulation of his position, or that of his critics, or an attempt to justify his position.

    You have, for reasons I don't understand at all, decided not to make a completely reasonable specific argument, i.e. that Bill Maher's opinions on Islam are not so radical or hateful that he should be dis-invited from this commencement speech, in favor of an untenable general argument, i.e. that colleges should invite people with reprehensible views to give commencement speeches.

    Your argument for giving Bill Maher a platform at Berkeley is also an equally persuasive argument for having Charles Manson give the commencement speech, which is to say, it doesn't persuade me at all.

    So why abandon the solid specific ground for a wobbly, unconvincing non-specific argument? What's the appeal?

    PS – I hope there are actual paragraph breaks when this posts.

  16. JonRob says

    Patrick is not telling them to extend an invitation to have Bill speak at their ceremony. He is saying that they should not rescind the invitation they have already given just because politically opposed groups and like-minded students want them to.

    The key distinction between Bill and your hypothetical clan speaker is that Bill was invited and the clan member was not.

  17. Christopher says


    Except there's literally nothing in Patrick's article that defends the position that colleges shouldn't rescind invitations. Everything he says is about how it's good to be exposed to new ideas that you don't like.

    Is he arguing that you should only be exposed to ideas you don't like if the college administration first extends an invitation?

    I don't think he is, because that's an even sillier position.

  18. Brian says

    I thought social justice warrior was someone who was against patriarchy/misogyny/status-quo, not someone who was for Islam (being an Abrahamic religion, it is a good vessel for patriachy/misogyny/status-quo). I don't like religion for the most part, but whatever, but I have been called a social justice warrior for holding the position that women are actually human, and thus have human rights like men, and all that entails, like bodily autonomy and not being treated as objects, etc. I would've thought that as a SJW I'd be against Islam, not muslims. Oh well, I think Ken said it best: '95% of label (stuff) is bullshit' – a paraphrase.

  19. JonRob says

    I am confused by your last post. Are uninvited speakers for college ceremonies a thing? I wouldn't think that just anyone could walk up and start talking.

  20. Neurokeen says

    Would this entire debate be happening if Berkeley were being called to revoke their invitation based on Maher's pseudoscientific views on medicine?

    Somehow I suspect not…

  21. Cromwell Descendant says

    I was disappointed not so much by the illogical and silly views argued, as expressed by @Christopher, but by the low quality of the arguments. Not only the "SJW" nonsense, (Is Justice really so bad? Is Justice only good if it is anti-social? What?) but even if I ignore that and pretend he was arguing relevant points, the analysis just stinks.

    What happens if they choose somebody by committee and students express to them that they made an awful choice, and they revisit their decision, and they decide the students are right; they made a poor choice that won't benefit the students very much. Maybe they just chose whichever celebrity was available with the highest name familiarity with students, and didn't realize he might say something that would violate some students' rights, something innaproriate for a paid presentation by a non-accademic at a public University. According to Patrick Non-Justice, they should not revisit their decision, because any decision that is complained about must be held to completion; even if you agree you made a mistake. Because you must not cave to pressure for justice. Even if you agree. You should only cave to pressure… not to change decisions. One-way street, people.

    And don't forget… admitting a mistake is censorship! But only if you believe that correcting the mistake furthers Justice. Or if you're a warrior.

  22. Mercury says

    Nobody actually risked anything by publicizing the aerial image of Barbara Streisand’s Malibu home. That’s simply not the case here. Maher is transgressing against both state ideology and that of his fan base. Not many people will jump on his bandwagon because the stakes are too high.

    If Maher really wanted to make a point about false piety at Berkeley he’d instead get up on stage, throw the crowd some red meat and simply let them make fools of themselves. If he, for instance, defiled Christian totems in a graphic and Youtube worthy manner, the crowd would howl with ecstasy and of course he would have no hate crime charges to fear.

  23. Sean says


    "I would expect he'll limit his graduation remarks to the usual platitudes, with a little more profanity."

    How does the whole "fires of debate" thing fit into this? How on earth is Maher speaking some platitudes going to spark vigorous and educational debate on his controversial views? How, in fact, is it going to even expose students to unfamiliar views? By some intellectual osmosis whereby views the speaker holds but does not come close to articulating somehow transfer to the minds of the listeners? I don't know, it looks to me like all Maher gets from this is (besides the honorarium) a further boost to his reputation and legitimacy. If students think that legitimacy's undeserved, it is entirely reasonable to complain about him being chosen to speak. The whole "debate" thing is irrelevant unless you can argue that a) Maher's going to be making controversial political points in the speech and b) there's going to be a solid Q&A session afterwards. Neither of those points seems remotely plausible.

  24. Dan says

    The comments here about "social justice warrior" seem really off-point, compared to what I normally see here. Yes, it's a safe bet that 99+% of those here believe in justice in society, and many of us would no doubt fight for that in some way, but the term means something much more specific than the dictionary definitions of its constituent words strung together. I would think this was a point sufficiently obvious to not need mentioning, but the comments here suggest this is not the case.

    We all (or almost all) believe in choice, and we all believe in life–but we wouldn't all identify ourselves as pro-choice or pro-life (and it'd be a rare bird indeed who identified himself as both).

  25. CJColucci says

    What happens if they choose somebody by committee and students express to them that they made an awful choice, and they revisit their decision, and they decide the students are right; they made a poor choice that won't benefit the students very much

    A frequently forgotten point. I'd be the last to suggest that most colleges or universities give a damn what the students might like when they select a graduation speaker. Usually it's some C-list celebrity babbling anodyne nonsense that no one takes seriously and that the students don't want to hear. And if that's the process at the University of X, well fine. But if the University of X does care what the students might want or like, it is perfectly legitimate to take into account that a speaker will offend a significant and respectable portion of the student body at an occasion meant to be for everyone. That doesn't mean a speaker can't be challenging, but at a function meant for everyone in the college community, the speaker should challenge the students generally, not offend a specific subset of them.

  26. Rick H. says

    The term “social justice warrior” shouldn’t be confusing to anyone. It is used to refer to a certain kind of tribalist characterized by strident hatred, bad faith, extreme appeals to authority and ad populum arguments, and loads of in-group pseudo-academic jargon that serves only to dehumanize their opponents based on class, race or gender. If the phrase “social justice” has a particular meaning, that ain’t it. SJW is a satirical epithet that sums up the violent, unreflexive battle mentality of certain internet crazies.

    Look, if someone were to criticize the staggering death toll of Mao’s Great Leap Forward, mocking the name of that atrocity, it wouldn’t mean that person is opposed to actual human progress. Conversely, simply saying you’re fighting for justice doesn’t make it true. Words are not magic things that transform reality and make bad actions good.

  27. Ryan says

    I think much of the criticism of Patrick about this piece is unfounded, or based on the intention the critics are ascribing to Patrick rather than what he actually said. This, for me, is the key part of the piece:

    It seems a quaint notion in the 21st century, but at one time it was thought that a university might assist its students by exposing them to challenging ideas, to be tested in the fires of debate, and thereby to arrive at something approximating an education.

    I spent 7 years completing two degrees at an internationally-ranked university, and I found that, at least outside of the hard sciences, this attitude was all but lost among undergraduate students. Many students seem to feel that they have the right to not only be free from offense, but to shut down anyone or anything even proximally-related to the university/college itself that challenges their world views. I say this as someone who identifies predominantly as a classical liberal, so it's not like I'm terribly right-wing in my political views to begin with.

    Should Maher have been invited to speak in the first place? I think most of us will agree that Maher is a generally tiresome buffoon whose ideas can be refuted about as easily as most of us can refute the notion that the sky is neon orange. As choices for graduation speakers go, he isn't exactly an inspired one.

    That said, Patrick is correct. Maher may be a simplistic buffoon, but disinviting him at this point on the basis of university students that don't want to be offended makes him a simplistic buffoon with an even larger platform and axe to grind on it. It gives him more ammunition.

    The best way to deal with simpletons, buffoonery, and generally annoying idiocy is to challenge it, in public, and so thoroughly discredit the ideas that the person presenting them becomes utterly irrelevant to the public at large. This, I believe, is also Patrick's core point.

    Maher shouldn't have been invited. Now that he has, uninviting him for the reasons these students/faculty are supporting him simply compounds the error. I do quite like Patrick's suggestion of inviting him to a post-speech debate and trouncing him there.

  28. Mark says

    I think typical denizens of this site support "justice" more than most. The problem is when the word "social" is slapped in front. To me, the plain meaning of 'justice' is precise and related to a system of codified standards applied objectively to the actions of all. When "social" is added in front of a word, it tends to make it less precise, less useful and often more subject to the vagaries of unknowable intent and inconsistent context. Let's take for example the recently coined term "Social Entrepreneur". I know precisely what an entrepreneur is but having tried to pin down several social entrepreneurs about what social entrepreneur actually *means* results in a discussion centered more on the entrepreneur's subjective intent and less on objective actions. As near as I can tell, the result of adding the word "social" just makes the meaning of the word "entrepreneur" less objectively precise – and thus less useful. In a similar way, "Social Justice" makes "Justice" more malleable to those that might like to apply it more subjectively.

    As Ken said so well in a related post, the law shouldn't change based on how one feels about the results. Of course all right-thinking people support the concept of "justice". This is what makes the invention of the term "Social Justice" so clever. Anyone who supports the application of Justice certainly could never oppose the application of Social Justice, could they? The Law is the objective standard for the application of justice. What is the objective standard for the application of social justice? The answer seems to be "it depends". On what? The perception of intent. The perception of context. The perception of outcome – as in 'ends' over 'means'. In the public and media sphere it seems to hinge on how much indignation, offense or even outrage those perceptions can summon.

  29. says

    "How does the whole "fires of debate" thing fit into this?"

    My suggestion in the linked piece is that, rather than cover their ears, the Berkeley MEMSA ought to invite Maher to a debate. One at which they may well triumph, given that he'll be debating scholars with some knowledge on the topic, rather than the churlish Matt Damon (or Ben Affleck, I forget which.)

    And he won't have Sam Harris to act as his second.

  30. albert says

    This whole debate is silly.
    Does anyone here know exactly _who_ invited Maher? And, more importantly, why? That's a reasonable starting point. Until then, I'm forced to assume that it's just another form of rabble rousing, like guerrilla theater (and in that respect, quite successful).
    In an era where even Supreme Court Justices piss on the Constitution, I shouldn't find it surprising that students (our future leaders, God help us:) should be demanding freedom from criticism, disagreement, misrepresentation, and being offended.
    Wonder what reaction an invitation to Tom Friedman, Sam Harris, or Bibi Netanyahu would have gotten?
    Patrick! What happened to the BEST QUOTE OF ALL, from ASUC Senator Marium Navid, :

    "…“It’s not an issue of freedom of speech, it’s a matter of campus climate,” Navid said. “The First Amendment gives him the right to speak his mind, but it doesn’t give him the right to speak at such an elevated platform as the commencement. That’s a privilege his racist and bigoted remarks don’t give him.”…"
    Read about the ASUC Senate (what a great moniker) here:
    Smells a lot like POLITICS to me.
    Finally, this intriguing final paragraph ( :
    "…Finally, the unfortunate events surrounding the selection of this year’s winter commencement speaker demonstrate the need to develop a new policy for managing commencement ceremonies. The new process will ensure that these events are handled in a manner commensurate with our values and enduring commitment to free speech. We will be announcing the new policy as soon as it is ready…."
    Stay tuned, and restock your popcorn, I got a feeling we haven't heard the end of this.
    I gotta go…

  31. Carl says

    I assume the newage left-cheekers over there are not bothered by things Maher is actually wrong about, such as his unscientific medical bulls hit.

  32. Richard says

    About the whole "SJW" debate:
    Wasn't there a recent post on this blog with multiple points, one being something to the effect of "95% of label-based debate Is bullshit?" I believe that article used the example of "feminist," saying that one person may think of those who are against women being kept barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, and another might think of the worst kind of misandrist when they use that term.

    On the one hand, you could say that it was obvious by Patrick's context what he meant. On the other, if it were that obvious, people wouldn't be arguing about it (as much) in these comments.

    I had never heard the term "SJW" before the GG issue popped up – I'd heard of social justice, which was described to me as "attempting to give everyone an equal shot at success, regardless of their birth circumstances (gender, race, neighbourhood, parental income, etc.)." That was the filter I first processed "Social Justice Warrior" through, which is why I still find it extremely odd to see it used as a pejorative.
    I still don't know what the "accepted" definition of SJW is, but I suggest that you abide by your colleague's advice: "Labels are an excellent way to vent outrage, but a lousy way to argue about ideas or facts."

  33. Jacob Schmidt says

    My suggestion in the linked piece is that, rather than cover their ears, the Berkeley MEMSA ought to invite Maher to a debate. One at which they may well triumph, given that he'll be debating scholars with some knowledge on the topic, rather than the churlish Matt Damon (or Ben Affleck, I forget which.)

    But how are they covering their ears? It's a commencement speech. What, specifically, are they avoiding hearing?

    As Patrick suggests, disinviting Bill Maher over his views on a particular issue lends him undeserved credibility and sympathy.

    Eh, depends on how it's done. "Our students are offended by him, so we've disinvited him," might lend him credibility and sympathy. "It's come to our attention that Maher is an ignorant blowhard. It was a mistake to invite him in the first place, so we rescind our invitation," less so.

  34. BSD32X says

    I would also like to defend Patrick a bit here, in that I think he offers the only good solution for the university at this point. If you cancel now, you look to the world as if you are of the ilk that believes Pro Wrestling is real and having now realized the truth continue to play into what Maher really wants. If you ignore the criticism altogether, you give credibility to a man who has worked you over like a carny. Don't forget Maher's income is derived from putting butts in the seats at his stand up gigs, not by gaining respect from academics and community leaders. He is preaching to a very specific choir with disposable income that want to hear their views reinforced. If you realize you made a mistake, but force him to be challenged on his issues, you either expose him for what he is or you end up looking the fool if you can't find anyone capable of doing that, but at least you have the possibility of a respectable way out of the situation. Patrick really has laid out the only good option on the table. Also, if you are wondering why Maher did this, I would put this out there: He has been criticized recently for being irrelevant compared to John Oliver who is doing a very similar show on HBO and is a media darling while Maher appeals to a 40+ crowd, it's very interesting he purposely creates a controversy at this point in time.

  35. pillsy says

    Quoth Ryan:

    Maher may be a simplistic buffoon, but disinviting him at this point on the basis of university students that don't want to be offended makes him a simplistic buffoon with an even larger platform and axe to grind on it. It gives him more ammunition.

    Emphasis mine. It seems a bit odd to accuse the of not wanting to be offended when there's pretty much universal agreement that Maher will deliver a commencement speech that is inoffensive to the point of being soporific. Graduation ceremonies, whatever other virtues they may have, are not occasions for academic debate, and inviting a celebrity to speak at them does not provide an opportunity for the attendees to engage with that celebrity's views.

    The best way to deal with simpletons, buffoonery, and generally annoying idiocy is to challenge it, in public, and so thoroughly discredit the ideas that the person presenting them becomes utterly irrelevant to the public at large.

    Except that option is unavailable to students who will be attending the graduation ceremony. Given that, why shouldn't they protest that an honor (of being graduation speaker) is being bestowed on someone they don't think is worthy of it?

  36. Ryan says

    @David Byron

    Be nice. The point of that was not boasting, but to illustrate that I wasn't talking about a tiny and completely unknown college outside of its 50 mile catchement area, but a large and highly thought-of institution that should take its mission of educational challenge seriously.


    I don't have a problem with their protest of Maher's views or that he should never have been invited in the first place; I simply think disinviting at this point is a spectacularly bad idea, particularly because it would be done on the basis of protest that finds him offensive.

  37. Christopher says

    I still don't know what the "accepted" definition of SJW is, but I suggest that you abide by your colleague's advice: "Labels are an excellent way to vent outrage, but a lousy way to argue about ideas or facts."

    There isn't an accepted definition, really. It just means "left-winger I think is crazy". Or, more succinctly, it just means "jerk".

    I don't really care for it for the same reason I don't like terms like "feminazi" or "Rethuglican". There are, certainly, loud intolerant feminists or Republicans who act like thugs, but all you're saying is that you don't like jerks, and I think that can mostly be assumed.

    "I don't like unreasonable left-wingers" is something you don't need to say, because nobody likes unreasonable people. That's the definition of "unreasonable".

    It's better to actually explain why you think that a specific person is unreasonable, then to just bring up the fact that not every academic left-winger/Republican/Feminist/Whatever is reasonable and smart.

  38. Czernobog says

    Since others have already brought up the whole "Social Justice Warrior" thing, I might as well point out that if I understood the passage correctly, the driving force behind the protest wasn't people who are interested in social justice, nor was it a bunch of left-wing reactionaries. It was a group of Muslims who didn't want to hear someone say a bad thing about Islam. Bringing up SJWs seems to be remarkably and deliberately wide of the mark.

  39. sinij says

    Traditional definition of SJW would be a "concern troll". New monicker was needed due to social media making concern trolling more widespread, more acceptable, and "concern" more prone to echo chamber effect.

    In my mind "Social" in SJW applies equally to Social Media and Social Issues. That is social media is a natural habitat and fertile breeding ground for SJW trolling. The key difference between activist and SJW is that later is not willing to act outside the social media posting.

    To simplify – people picketing outside are activist. People voicing outrage on twitter are SJWs.

  40. Impulse says

    This seemed unpersuasive. The main tact you took was that colleges should expose students to scary ideas, and that's all fine and good, but that's really the sort of thing that should be happening before the graduation. Commencement speakers are not there to provide the first challenging thoughts students encounter, I hope. They're there for the university to show off the most famous person to bore graduates with platitudes they could corral.

    For the record, I don't think there's anything wrong with Maher speaking, though his thoughts on religion in general and Islam in particular are increasingly worthless. I don't fault students for protesting, but it's not like he's a war criminal or something, he's just a jackass. Play on your smartphones while he talks.

  41. Odelay says

    At our local u they used the exposure to scary ideas rationale to bring a holocaust denier on staff. No, seriously. Not all offensive ideas have value just because they challenge people or their own ideas. Some are really just worthless crap. That students should not have to pay for with their hard earned 30 year loans.

  42. The Wanderer says


    "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." –George Bernard Shaw.

    And people certainly seem to like (or at least respect and/or admire) various people who have contributed to progress in one direction or another

    Also, from a certain perspective, "unreasonable" is just another word for "stubborn" – and if you're stubborn on a point that people agree with or like or otherwise support, they're probably going to like you for it. At least more than they like people who disagree with them on that point, and more than they would like you if you were more flexible on it.

    I suspect that this principle is the explanation for the popularity of many politicians with the parts of their constituencies which continue to re-elect them.

  43. Sami says

    What exactly is the heresy, though?

    If it's because he's an anti-vaccine, anti-science blowhard, I'm kind of on their side. It's not *actually* censorship to disinvite someone from an event.

  44. GuestPoster says

    The thing is, of course: they're not afraid of his viewpoint per se. They're not avoiding it – they've clearly been exposed to it, which is how they know what it was, and they don't want to give him the honor (which some find more dubious than others) of speaking at their university. This seems a very reasonable thing – they're not asking that he be shut down. They're not refusing to listen to what he has to say even once. They HAVE listened to what he has to say, and wish to reward him for his viewpoint by not rewarding him with a podium.

    And it's not like they're refusing to debate the point – a commencement speaker isn't in a debate. They have the podium to say whatever they please. There is no rebuttal, no frank exchange of ideas. Just one person and an effectively captive audience.

    It may or may not be to the university's credit that it is not revoking the invitation. But it IS to the credit of the students that they are taking a reasonable approach to protesting Maher's viewpoint. They're not trying to censor him. They're not trying to harm him in any way. They're just asking that they not be forced to listen to even MORE of his drivel, at a ceremony that is supposed to be celebrating THEIR accomplishments.

    Maybe the Streissand effect will kick in here, but I doubt it – his views are already well know, he's a very public speaker, and this isn't something that he wants kept secret. All it is is a bunch of students who don't want him to be given a certain honor at their expense. That seems reasonable. Sure, they COULD invite him to a debate – but doesn't that just legitimize his viewpoint anyways? They consider him to have nothing of value to say, and wish to not be paying him to say it. That really, honestly seems like a rational response to his idiocy on this particular topic.

  45. Cynic says

    If you want to shut down Bill Maher’s hate speech against Muslims

    Seriously? You seem to have an excellent ability to conflate issues. It would be nice to see a modicum of intellectual honest here.

    Maher clearly hates religion, and that includes more than just Islam.

    But you jump from "Maher hates an idea that X holds" to "Maher hates X", and that is simply false. If you really hold that belief, then you must also accept that Maher not only hates Muslims as people, but hates Christians as people, and Buddhists, and Jews, and… You know that's false.

    Way back in 2001, when you were playing with Pokemons or whatever it was toddlers did in those days, I was infuriated by Maher’s remarks on the bravery of a certain group of Muslims.

    I believe the reference is:

    We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly… Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it’s not cowardly.

    Perhaps you should consult the dictionary for what "coward" means. You discredit yourself there and cave in to a perverse, politically correct distortion of what "coward" is.

    It may be useful to consult Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking-Glass" for a brief commentary on what words mean:

    'And only ONE for birthday presents, you know. There's glory for you!'

    'I don't know what you mean by "glory,"' Alice said.

    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. 'Of course you don't—till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'

    'But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument,"' Alice objected.

    'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.'

    'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.'

    'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master—that's all.'

    Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. 'They've a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they're the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!'

    'Would you tell me, please,' said Alice 'what that means?'

    'Now you talk like a reasonable child,' said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. 'I meant by "impenetrability" that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life.'

    'That's a great deal to make one word mean,' Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

    Were Japanese kamikazes in WWII cowards?

    Ken, you are an excellent writer and so often you clearly articulate complex ideas with an astounding degree of clarity and integrity. It's disappointing to see you so horribly soil that with such blatant intellectual dishonesty.