Sunday, December 21, 2014

Bill Maher at Berkeley yesterday


Funny, but I didn't see anything in the papers about Bill Maher's commencement speech at UC Berkeley yesterday. I had to go to The Friendly Atheist to find this. Maybe it's part of what Ross Douthat wrote about in today's New York Times (North Korea and the Speech Police):

We live in a time of consistent gutlessness on the part of institutions notionally committed to free speech and intellectual diversity, a time of canceled commencement invitations and C.E.O.s defenestrated for their political donations, a time of Twitter mobs, trigger warnings and cringing public apologies. A time when journalists and publishers tiptoe around Islamic fundamentalism, when free speech is under increasing pressure on both sides of the Atlantic, when a hypersensitive political correctness has the whip hand on many college campuses.

The audio on the video above is pretty bad, so here are some highlights from Maher's speech:

...This institution is all about passing on knowledge. You know, humans have gotten as far as we have because we’re selfish about a lot of things, but not about knowledge. When humans learn something good, they tend to pass it on. The guy who discovered how to make fire gave that shit away for free...

So the first thing you have to know is: It goes fast. Your life. I’m gonna be 59 next month and I know when I thought of 59 at your age, I didn’t know much about it, but I knew it was something that was never going to happen to me. There was just too big an ocean of time out there before I got there. No. It’s actually the blink of an eye. And because of that, people often say “Make each second count.” Don’t. Don’t do that. That’s too much pressure. That sounds like one of those vacations where there’s something scheduled every minute.

No, actually, some of the greatest times of your life and going to be idly goofing around. Like I have to tell you, a bunch of college kids! However, the other side of that is don’t goof around too much. Taking time off to travel or to find yourself, that’s cool. But if you do it until you’re 30, you’ll probably find it harder to elbow your way into the rat race. Now you may not want to be in the rat race. That’s cool. But it’s also cool if you want to be in the rat race. It doesn’t make you a rat! This is America. There’s nothing wrong with competitive people wanting to win...Just do it with compassion and perspective.

Not like a Republican.

I’m kidding, of course. No, keeping perspective is maybe the most important way to stay sane throughout your life, and losing it — losing perspective — is a great way to sabotage what otherwise could’ve been a really good life. Do you know that opinion polls this year in America were very bleak? People thought that this country and the world in general were going to hell in a handcart.

They saw a passenger plane just disappear. They saw black-hooded ISIS fighters behead innocent people on YouTube. They learned that Ebola can get across the globe in less than 24 hours. Unless it’s on United.

My point is: We all want perspective. The world seems scarier than ever, but the truth is that the world, although still very troubled, is actually less violent, less engaged in war, and more prosperous than it’s ever been.

As a species, we do seem to be advancing. And when I think about my own life, I feel very lucky that I was born in what could prove to be a real sweet spot in history. I was born after electricity, after antibiotics, and (thank you Jesus) especially after indoor toilets. I was born after those things, but I was born before climate change and environmental destruction could make life a living hell. Which could happen in your lifetime.

You know, I had my fun with the planet, but you need it to be around and in good shape for another 50 years. So I hope all of you here today consider the environment to be paramount among the many challenges we face, because unless we solve that issue there are no other issues.

It’s true. We need a place to live. We’re humans. We need a crib! And the world desperately needs a generation — your generation — to make this a priority the way the Vietnam generation — on this very campus — made stopping that war a priority.

Now some people would say, well, the Vietnam kids, they had skin in the game. They didn’t want to get drafted. You have skin in the game! You don’t want to get roasted!

All over the world, we see the devastation that pollution is causing: heat waves, oceans that are dying and rising, glaciers melting, species disappearing, droughts, wildfires, Frankenstorms. This is an awful lot for Pat Robertson to blame on gay sex.

We have no more time for dithering on this. Here’s a lesson I’ve learned: No politician is perfect. But in every election in your life, there will be one choice that is better than the others. Go out and vote for that one.

Make a difference. That’s what you owe everyone who came before you and died so you can live free. And that’s what you owe everyone who’s sacrificed for you, like your parents. And it’s also what you owe yourself, because you’ll feel a whole lot better if you do make a difference. And also making a difference is why I’m liberal.

Now, you don’t have to be a liberal...although, c’mon, it’s Berkeley. I think I can speak freely here. I mean, I hope I can. [Pause for effect]

...You don’t have to be a liberal, but if you call yourself a liberal, you have to fight oppression from wherever oppression comes from, especially of women, gays, minorities, and freethinkers…

That’s what makes you a liberal.

And that’s the last thing I’m going to suggest to you: Be a freethinker. One reason our politics is so screwed up is because everyone has become so tribal. As you go down the path of life, ask what’s true, not who else believes it.

Be unique. Stay vigilant for busting yourself for falling into groupthink. You know, everything good and smart started out not by the mainstream.

Steven Hawking once said, the thing about smart people is they seem to be crazy people to dumb people...Don’t be afraid to be a crazy person and understand that the truth is not always popular.

I recognize that this university, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Berkeley free speech movement, made a statement by choosing me for this speech, and I would like to say I appreciate that, and I’d also like to say: I think you made the right statement.

Some misguided students tried to stop Maher from speaking because of his views on Islam.

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