Recently a close relative sent me a transcript of Bill Maher’s diatribe at the close of his recent show about how America has become a nation of silly people. Maher used China as a comparative foil to illustrate how we’ve become so focused on meaningless things like renaming stuff, or self-destructive policies like eliminating merit, or woke insanity like debating if Mr. Potato Head has a penis, that we are losing the battle for the future.
While he described questionable feats of infrastructural engineering as fact, he failed to mention that China has built some cities that are vacant, and only briefly acknowledged the atrocities committed against the Uyghur Muslims, his point does have validity regarding the societal silliness that pervades much of our national dialogue.
However, Maher fails the freedom test when he proposes that “There’s got to be something between an authoritarian government that tells everyone what to do and a representative government that can’t do anything at all.” This kind of thinking is what got us into the silliness sink hole to begin with. The woke movement, while silly in so many ways, is also dangerous in a very insidious way. It presupposes that there is but one way to think about everything, and if you don’t agree with that you’re up for cancellation. It really doesn’t matter if such authoritarianism comes from a central committee or a majoritarian occult.
But the message that Maher’s rant provides needs to be considered even if it has these flaws. America was once a very serious country, and like most imperfect in many ways. That we were capable of seeing and freely talking about our faults is what made for a civil society, which created tolerance for others who may think and live differently than ourselves. What has happened in America is a decline in civility, the absence of the live and let live ethos where now we must all think alike, even about whether or not Dr. Seuss books need a dose of revisionism. We are replacing what is important to think about with hardly thinking at all; yes, that is a silly people.
It is also true of Maher’s rant that China, while still politically repressive, has made incredible progress since it allowed a more free market. China will continue having growing pains as the results of a free market collide with its statist politics. What still baffles me is how America, with about a fifth of China’s population, remains the largest economy in the world. That may not last too much longer as China’s economy continues to grow; its outsized population alone is a key factor driving that reality.
The dynamism of the American economy was due to the synergy of a free society and a free market; the two elements were inseparable and essential for its economic dominance. As we politically veer toward more authoritarianism and economic interventionism, coupled with our insatiable military adventurism that depletes our financial and human resources, our dynamism will decline at the same time as China’s could exponentially rise.
China does not dwell on social justice; fact is it doesn’t really dwell on justice much at all. It is all about results and at any costs. There is no pluralism in China. If you are not ethnically a Han, which represents nearly 92% of the population, you are treated as a second class citizen, or worse like the Uyghurs. This has been the way in China long before Mao and there is little indication that will change anytime soon. If you are not in harmony with The State Council, the central governing body, politically controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, you will find yourself in a pretty bad place as the people in Hong Kong know all too well.
In recent US media articles and congressional hearings, praise was expressed for how China handles the internet. Now talk about how silly Americans can be, we the champions of free speech and expression, literally “kowtowing” to a repressive regime like China. This was not a polarizing moment by the way as both political parties are guilty of such obscene behavior. China’s motivation for such censorship is obvious, but what are leaders in a free press and representative government thinking when they say such silly things; perhaps, they are not thinking at all, or perhaps only thinking of how they too can control people.
These tendencies to undermine what made America such a dynamic country is worse than silly, it’s self-destructive. It ignores or denigrates our heritage, both the good and the bad; we need to understand the differences in order to focus on what it takes to make things better. You can’t change the past, and to make a better future you have to live in the present, not some silly Bizarro World where you hold the living responsible for things that happened before they were even born.
You will not see China practice such self-deprecation; they’re all about moving forward, albeit in lockstep if they know what’s good for them. America used to be all about the future. Now we seem stuck in a hopeless time trap about making amends for things that happened that we had little if anything to do with; there’s no vision in that, and therefore no way to live productively. While it’s important to learn from history, it’s even more important to put what you learn to work for you.
For example, many of today’s financial news reporters were gushing about how many people found jobs last month, far more than expected. Some of the more observant and serious reporters, while positive about the good news, noted the more sobering reality that this was not about real growth but an economy opening up again. One of the important details they stressed was that many of the jobs will not be coming back as companies are learning the benefits of the technology they had to live with during the lock downs; the future for mindless and repetitive labor means fewer lower end jobs. This was already true pre-pandemic; it just accelerated out of necessity. People will need to change with the times and learn new skills in this technological revolution, or be left behind. It’s no different than what happened during the Industrial Revolution, an historical lesson in creative destruction. China sees this and is not getting caught up in myopic thinking about how to keep antiquated jobs on life support in order to appease a segment of its labor force. Here in the US, the cronyism between unions and government is continuing to be a drag on real economic progress; another example of what silly people do.
When President Macron of France in a recent speech rejected the woke movement in the US, stating that France needs to focus on and embrace what really matters in life, you know that when such criticism comes from the French you must really look silly in the eyes of the world. The US needs to get serious again and embrace our heritage of ingenuity, productivity, and a great work ethic, and shed this miasma of silly thinking and reject the government’s efforts to make us dependent on their stimulus. After all, it’s our future at stake, and that’s no silly matter.