The other day I stumbled across a new series on Netflix: Bill Nye Saves the World. Now I, like millions of public school children, grew up watching Bill Nye, so I figured I’d try out this new series. At the forefront, he told the audience that this was not going to be the same Bill Nye they had grown up on. He was right. The new Bill is not talking about balloons and static electricity; this Bill is teaching us about transgenderism and global warming. The subject matter is only a part of what has changed in Bill Nye’s mission. In the past his goal was to spark a love of science. Now his objective is to “save the world.”
In the last two weeks, I’ve seen article after article published and shared by conservatives, and most of them focus on the fact that Bill Nye is not credentialed enough to lecture us on the majority of hot-button issues. This is true; a man with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering should probably leave discussions of sexuality and climate change to the experts in those fields. But I need to make clear what I am not doing here. I am not trying to attack his credibility, because to do so would just be adding noise. I am not trying to convince him that I’m right and he’s wrong. I don’t even want him to shut up.
What I am doing is pointing out an alarming trend in popular culture. “Science” has simply become another identifying word in our culture of identity politics. In our time, you either love science (and in doing so reject all ideas that are not supported by elites like Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson), or else you are stuck in the past. We live in a society that sees science as a monolithic discipline which provides irrefutable facts to all who are willing to listen. In the eyes of Bill Nye, all the world is split into two groups: those who are intelligent and agree with him, and those who are stupid and disagree. I don’t resent science per se. I resent that anything Bill calls by that name can be used to beat me over the head.
And watching Bill Nye Saves the World truly is like being beaten over the head if you are white, cisgendered, have a big family, object to vaccines, doubt even the extent of climate change, and especially if you believe in God. My objection to Bill is not that he’s rude, or that he’s unqualified to talk about many of the topics the show attempts to tackle, though both of those are true; my issue with him is that he is trying to rally support to coerce those who disagree with him. In Bill’s world, if we don’t require anti-vaxxers to vaccinate, our children will die of polio. If we don’t lower the number of children we let couples have, our children will starve. If we don’t force action on climate change, our children will drown and melt and starve and die of polio all at the same time.
Bill’s show is a case for a police state. He plays upon the fears of his audience, convincing them that they are the last line of defense in a world being taken over by zealots of all kinds. And what does it look like to act? It means to have fewer children, use less gas, eat less food, use less water. But his audience can only do so much on their own, and that won’t be enough to turn things around. So they need to start getting other people to do the same things. That’s where it gets scary. What if someone wants five kids and doesn’t want them vaccinated? The children would be a strain on resources, and walking cesspools of disease, which means that the number of children someone chooses to have (and how they choose to raise them) has to be society’s concern. After all, what my neighbor does increases or decreases my quality of life, right?
The agenda as it would appear—to provoke critical thought and encourage people to do what is best for their neighbors—is not a bad one. In fact, caring for your neighbor is a Christian mandate (Mark 12:31 KJV). The problem is that behind this thin veil of good intentions, the threat of coercion is real. Bill recently insinuated that he may be in favor of criminal charges for climate change deniers, equating this to a cigarette marketer denying that cigarettes are addictive. “In these cases, for me, as a taxpayer and voter, the introduction of this extreme doubt about climate change is affecting my quality of life as a public citizen… So I can see where people are very concerned about this, and they’re pursuing criminal investigations as well as engaging in discussions like this” (Richardson 2016). Bill Nye has been working on a great equivocation: to reject the current scientific consensus is to be a threat to the public.
I dislike Bill’s show because I know what he wants. As H.L. Mencken said in his Minority Report, “The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it” (Mencken 1967, 247). Bill is part of a movement trying to split us into two groups, one enlightened and the other gullible. If it stopped there, I wouldn’t take the time to write on his show, because he would simply be expressing an opposing viewpoint. But it doesn’t stop there. Bill wants to convince his audience that, in a time like this, to be gullible is to be dangerous to society. And if you’re dangerous to society, it’s society’s job to stop you.
Mencken, Henry Louis. 1967. Minority Report. 4th ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Richardson, Valerie. 2016. Bill Nye, the science guy, is open to criminal charges and jail time for climate change dissenters. Washington Times, April 16. Accessed May 5, 2017. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/apr/14/bill-nye-open-criminal-charges-jail-time-climate-c/.