With his geeky lab coat and nerdy bow tie, Bill Nye is one of the most familiar faces in America and something of a jack-of-all trades - Emmy-winning “Science Guy” on a PBS children’s television program, former Boeing engineer, author, and honorary co-chair of the 2017 March for Science. But a recent interview in the Los Angeles Times revealed another role –Bill Nye, utopian.
In the Times interview the Science Guy discusses the future: scientific literacy, scientific progress and admirable objectives including “clean water, reliably produced renewable electricity and access to the Internet or whatever the future of electronic information is called.” Nothing controversial - motherhood and apple pie stuff.
But he also exhorted a more ambitious goal, “Save the world! … We are in charge now of the planet. So you can’t just solve one problem or another problem. We have to solve all the problems and we have to solve them all at once.”
Bill Nye has thus become part of the longstanding utopian tradition of those who aim to eliminate all of humanity’s basic problems. Presumably through those efforts tyranny, injustice, and inequality will disappear forever.
There is nothing new under the sun. Utopian efforts to create a perfect world have historically been a part of every society. In America, there have been utopian aspirations from the days of John Winthrop in 1630 with his Puritan goal of building a “City Upon a Hill” (a Biblical phrase). Today, some of the Silicon Valley billionaires have an implicit faith in the power of the Internet and social media to eradicate all the world’s evils.
But there is an inherent contradiction with utopians – in their quest to build a perfect world, anyone who disagrees cannot be tolerated. The people who do must obviously be ignorant, evil, or both. There is no need to debate with them for how can anyone be opposed to attempts to eliminate all the world’s problems? As such, those who disagree must, in turn be vilified, marginalized, humiliated, and ostracized. And Bill Nye does his share in his LA Times interview.
Those who do not view science in the same way as Bill Nye are “clowns” and “Tinkerbell people”. Anyone who does not share his specific understanding of climate change is the equivalent of someone who does not believe in evolution or thinks the moon landing was faked. His primary example is a Republican state senator from Kentucky who said in 2014, “the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here. Nobody will dispute that.” Of course this is hardly a mainstream opinion, and by citing it Nye commits a textbook example of a strawman fallacy, intended to marginalize all who disagree.
And Nye subtly undermines religion as well by saying, “Science is not out there to take religions down” but he adds tellingly, “At least I’m not.“ The clear implication is that there are those with similar goals who are out to take religions down.
But the interview contains a money quote. Describing the final step in the progress toward his utopia Nye leaves no doubt what that step is, “It just sounds like people are scared. It just sounds like people are afraid. And the people who are afraid in general … are older. Climate change deniers, by way of example, are older. It’s generational. So we’re just going to have to wait for those people to “age out,” as they say. “Age out” is a euphemism for “die.” But it’ll happen, I guarantee you — that’ll happen.”
Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is just a modern take on the concept popularized another utopian, the Bolshevik Leon Trotsky. One hundred years ago, he told his opponents as they departed from the Congress of Soviets, ‘’Go to the place where you belong from now on - the dustbin of history!’
Trotsky, too, was seeking a more perfect order, in his case in the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, some of his Soviet comrades had other ideas as to what that perfect order should look like, and Trotsky wound up suffering the same fate as those he consigned to the dustbin of history – he was ostracized and forced into exile. His utopian vision ended in tragedy and death. State-created famines in the “utopia” set up by his former colleagues killed millions in the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, his efforts to create a more perfect world ended abruptly when the other utopians “aged him out” – a Soviet assassin dispatched him with a pickaxe through the skull. When utopians disagree, this is the most severe form of ostracism.
Give Bill Nye, utopian, his due. He is not one of those advocating termination with such extreme prejudice. To realize his perfect world, he merely wants his ideological opponents to “age out”. His self-professed goal, to solve all the world’s problems at once, is not something for the faint of heart.
Have PoliticalMavens.com delivered to your inbox in a daily digest by clicking here