If you haven’t been watching NBC’s The Good Place you are missing out on one of the shrewdest take downs of modern liberalism in recent memory.
What was likely sold to NBC execs as an excoriation of religious, conservative “Fly-Over” Deplorables, turns out, in it’s grand twist at the end of Season 1 to be a re-imagining of Jean-Paul Sartre’s play “No Exit,” where the conclusion is, “Hell is other people.”
The basic setup is simple. Your life’s actions are tallied up as you live. When you die a positive balance sends you to the Good Place (heaven) and a negative score to the Bad Place (hell).
Our focal character, Elanor, is a bad person who mistakenly gets sent to the Good Place.
Elanor quickly realizes she doesn’t belong here, and selfishly wants to stay in the Good Place. Who wouldn’t? The problem is, of course, that she’s not a nice person at all.
While she tries to cover up her misdeeds in classic sitcom fashion, things spiral out of control and hilarity ensues.
Believe me, the show is truly funny.
But, the best part of The Good Place is it doesn’t end there. If it was just an endless farce of Elanor trying to stave off eternal torture it would get thin quick.
The twist at the end of Season 1 refutes Sartre and begins a story far more interesting. In fact, the show’s conclusions are that while we may do bad things, there is the potential for growth and self-awareness.
Not only that, but all attempts to maintain an illusion are futile : Elanor’s, Michael’s (the Architect of this particular hell), everyone’s.
And for that reason, The Good Place is a rarity in modern television. It’s not a nihilistic piece of ironic crap. In fact, it’s the polar opposite of Sartre.
Oh, the Humanity!
By acknowledging that humans are noble in the face of faceless, unrepentant chaos, represented by the architects of this reductionist karmic system, The Good Place becomes more like Philip K. Dick’s classic novel, UBIK than its obvious post-modern inspiration.
UBIK’s protagonist, Joe Chip, begins the story a selfish user of others who has zero control over his environment and his relationships. He can’t manage his finances to even have spare change to pay the door to open his apartment. He falls into an abusive relationship with a classic femme fatale who can also manipulate time itself.
In short, he’s a mess.
But, it’s only through nearly dying and being placed in ‘half-life’ — a frozen state between life and death — that Joe gets his opportunity, like Elanor, to become something better.
After all of his friends are killed and his predicament becomes clear, Joe is forced to decide. Will he curl up in a ball and wait for the inevitable end? Or will he persevere, knowing that a final death forever nips at his heels?
Because Philip K. Dick was not a nihilist, when Joe needed help, the Universe provided him support, UBIK.
What makes Joe an archetypical hero is his going one step further. He takes on the responsibility to fight the malevolent child destroying the world. In the broader sense, he accepts responsibility for mankind, allowing God’s agent and his benefactor her opportunity to pass on and be at peace, knowing that all he can do is forestall death for a time.
Death will come to him on his terms, not someone else’s.
In The Good Place, Elanor’s philosophy lessons and her willingness to confront her own inhumanity give her the opportunity to let that negative image of herself go and become something better. Someone capable of life and love.
And in doing so, she transforms her world. Illusions are stripped away and a cold reality is revealed.
And that’s honestly refreshing in this insanely ironic age we’re living through.
Wish You Were Here
So, how is The Good Place a take down of modern liberalism? Liberalism today is indistinguishable from post-modern Marxism, a fundamentally nihilistic view of the Universe and humanity.
It is embodied in the work of Sartre, Derrida and Foucault.
Unable to bear the fact that life is struggle they concluded the Universe is a cosmic farce and we are its playthings. So, acquire power and pelf to yourself for everything else doesn’t matter.
There are no real costs, only a soul you don’t really have anyway.
But, by turning Sartre on his head, both structurally as farce and philosophically as humanist, The Good Place finds nobility and purpose in its characters’ struggles.
What starts as something we laugh at begins to be something we laugh with.
Because, we’ve all been where these people have been at some point. From Elanor’s distrust and Chidi’s indecision to Tahani’s neediness and Jason’s cluelessness, these people are us amplified.
They reflect us back at us. Elanor is the hero because she embraces her weakness and transforms it into wisdom, just like Joe Chip.
The primitive and ultimately childish rejection of anything spiritual that animates modern liberals is the antithesis of that. As Jordan Peterson continually points out, they have embraced chaos completely and rejected order.
And since everything else is chaos (hell is other people) stamping out the other is seen as justified for there is no morality.
They see the world as a series of unsolvable threats to their existence and feel justified in removing any that disagree with their interpretation of reality.
And that’s a dangerous place to be.
The Unwinnable War
And that’s why the Culture War that is upon us is unwinnable by conventional means. It’s why meeting their violence with violence is not the solution.
The people who have manipulated, lied and cheated their way to power are tearing themselves apart. If Andrew McCabe doesn’t turn on the Clintons and Obama, then someone else will.
It’s only a matter of time. In fact, it’s already happening.
Look at what’s happening to Facebook today. The illusion this is a company interested in building communities has been completely blown up.
It’s brand is forever tainted with the phrases “Cambridge Analytica” and “data harvesting.” We knew it was happening. We didn’t know how it was being used, for political manipulation, while all the time they preened about the ‘sanctity of our elections’ and all the rest.
Former Prime Minister of France, Nikolas Sarkozy was arrested for campaign finance violations. But, Sarkozy stole $50 million. It goes back more than 10 years. Why him? Why now? This is more than just a desperate bid by the Macron administration to restore some faith in the French government.
The British government has lost it’s mind trying to convince the world the evil Russians would poison an old man and his daughter in broad daylight without motive.
President Obama’s Former CIA and FBI Directors and U.N. Ambassador took to Twitter to openly threaten a sitting President.
There’s a through line for all of these things: the coming fall of the Clintons. And they are calling in markers everywhere, causing as much damage as possible to keep people quiet and avoid the hell they’ve created around themselves.
It’s enough to make your blood boil with rage.
And it’s also why retaining our humanity now is what we need to do. Venal, nihilists like the Clintons will never admit their guilt. They will burn everything around them and willingly cause society to spiral out of control to avoid their guilt.
Keeping your cool is hard.
There are many days when I am, in the words of H.L. Mencken, tempted to spit on my hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.
But that won’t solve the problem. Our enemies in the Culture War are already in Hell. Yes, it’s a Hell of their own devising.
And they want nothing more than to drag us along with them because while hell may not be other people, misery certainly loves company.
They don’t believe in a Good Place, only the Bad Place, from which there is No Exit.
And it’s our job, like Elanor, to call bullshit on the whole charade and say, “That is Enough.”