THE POP CULTURE
In case you missed it, this past Friday on ‘Real Time with Bill Maher,’ Batman squared off against his greatest nemesis yet: A smart atheist.
Yup, Ben Affleck got into a heated exchange with neuroscientist and author Sam Harris, whose works criticize religion – all religion – but especially Islam, which Harris regards as “the motherlode of bad ideas.” Well it turns out Batman doesn’t much care for that characterization, and he let Harris know it on Bill Maher’s show (even though he was supposed to keep quiet and let Maher interview Harris. But hey, he’s Batman, so he gets a pass for being a dick).
Basically the argument boils down to this: Harris and Maher were saying that liberals need to chill the fuck out when it comes to criticizing Islam, and not scream ‘racism’ every time someone points out how large percentages of Muslims support things like subjugating women, imprisoning gays, killing apostates, and rioting over cartoon pictures of Allah. Of course in response to that, Batman… well, he screamed ‘racism.’
Actually what he said was: “That’s gross, it’s racist. It’s like saying you’re a shifty Jew…”
Except it’s nothing like that, because Maher and Harris weren’t insulting people based on a stereotypical character trait, they were insulting people based on what those people actually believe and value and do. Kind of a huge difference there. People should be judged on their values and beliefs and actions, not on stereotypical character traits, right?
But more to the point, Harris and Maher weren’t just insulting the Muslim religion, they were pointing out how hypocritical some liberals are in their refusal to insult the Muslim religion. After all, liberals like Batman are willing to make fun of all those dumbasses in the Christian world who picket funerals, bomb abortion clinics, and spot Jesus in their chicken salad. So why are all the dumbasses in the Muslim world exempt?
THE POP PSYCHOLOGY
You know how there are ten million memes and articles and posters and bumper stickers telling you not to worry about what other people think of you? Know why there are ten million of those? Because THAT IS WHAT WE ALL WORRY ABOUT!!
In psychology there are a whole bunch of terms like groupthink, herd mentality, bandwagon effect, and contingent self-esteem; all of which break down to the same basic principle: We care about what others think. Simple as that. Very very very few people actually go through life never caring what the world thinks of them; people like this guy or this chick or this gentleman here. The rest of us have to learn to deal with being judged.
That concern that we all share over what others might think of us can cause us to change our behavior. That is the point that Maher and Harris were making. Their argument is that liberals – who live and die by progressive values – are changing their behavior (in this case, their willingness to criticize religion), out of a very basic fear of how they will be judged.
Ironically, when Batman threw a level-5 hissy fit, he ended up making Maher’s and Harris’ point for them. If he had just acted more like the Michael Keaton Batman – you know, calm, thoughtful, intelligent – he could have made his point and engaged in a serious debate. Instead he acted like the Christian Bale Batman… well actually, he acted more like Christian Bale. And in so doing, Batman proved Supersmartman’s point that all those liberals who defend Islam aren’t doing so out of a genuine belief that Islam is on par with every other religion when it comes to being socially regressive, they’re doing it out of a fear of being seen as… well, to use Batman’s own words… ‘gross’ and ‘racist’ (Even though Islam is a religion not a race. But hey, he’s Batman, so he gets a pass for being a douche).
Contingent self-esteem, or self-esteem that is contingent on external factors (like success, looks, money, what others think of us), will always be with us. You’re never going to live a life 100% free of contingent self-esteem. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing! We all need external barometers to help judge the quality of our lives. But problems arise when we grow so concerned about those barometers that we allow them to govern how we think and act. In other words, it’s okay to worry about what others think of you, just not to the point where you compromise your integrity. That’s the point that Batman failed to spot. He was so focused on the super-villain of Racism, that he forgot all about the superhero of being Anti-religion.
PS — I highly recommend checking out Sam Harris’ brilliant recap of all this, which includes a clip of the epic battle itself.