May 6, 2022
While I have watched Real Time with Bill Maher for years, I grow increasingly impatient with it these days. Bill has grown didactic and rants more than he lets his guests talk; he prefers to bully his guests to agree with is conclusions and turns petulant when they don’t; his audience claps and laughs for everything, and the constant interruption of these sycophants makes the show hard to watch. Still, I usually watch while having my Saturday lunch.
This week’s show was more of the same. During one of this segments, he got preachy and proclaimed that “higher education is bullshit—especially degrees beyond a bachelors.” I’m paraphrasing though not by much. When one of his guests, an ESPN journalist, said she had a master's in communication, he called it “bullshit.” And she did not disagree. Maher’s position on higher education seems to be a common one: if it directly relates to your career, then higher education is beneficial, be it college or trade school. This attitude has become prevalent in the US, as bullshit areas of study, like anything under the liberal arts, is slowly done away with in favor of the job-training curricula of EduCorp. When education ceases to be practical (i.e., knowledge applied to making money), it becomes bullshit. As a corollary, higher education is too expensive, and getting a degree say in art history is bonkers because it lacks a practical pay-off (a high-paying job with little-to-no debt) after graduation.
His “New Rules” segment then went on to lament that people are so gullible in this “Misinformation Age.” His argument goes: social media is full of lies, and it’s not the job of the corporations that control the platforms to filter them out. It’s the job of the consumers to use their critical capacities, common sense, and good judgment to separate the wheat from the chaff. I do not disagree.
Yet, the contradiction between his higher education is bullshit proclamation and his later media consumers need to be more sophisticated one shows a striking disconnect. When education is all about job-training, where are we supposed to learn to be critical consumers of media? One place would certainly be that graduate course in communication that Maher dismissed as bullshit. All the courses that are not directly relatable to the societal emphasis on jobs and materialism help us to become better, more discerning, more empathetic citizens. Life is more than just a high-paying job. Maher is perpetuating this myth of capitalism that just wants to keep us dumb and distracted.
Eliminate the liberal arts at your own peril. We can already see the outcome.
- This position is nothing new for Maher. Last year, his “New Rules” screed against higher ed is particularly memorable; see Bryan Alexander’s response for more. He is not totally wrong here, but his thinking is contradictory as I argue below.