I’ve Never Met Sam Harris, but . . .

I think I’m already over him. Plus, as collateral damage, I think my bromance with Bill Maher may be at an end too. I mean, regarding Bill, I haven’t yet committed to never watching his show again – but I deleted the scheduled recording of it from my PVR yesterday. He’s moved from my “I want to watch” list to my “I’ll only watch it if it’s on while I’m in front of the TV and it’s somehow the least stupid option, like if there’s no mixed martial arts on or something.” I’ve got a feeling that he’s lost more fans than just me over this latest Islamming (trademark!) that he’s doing. A parting bit of advice, Bill? You may want to distance yourself from Harris a little.

Now to Harris.

Mr. Harris has been taking a lot of guff since Bill’s show some eleven days ago, and from some pretty popular voices, not just internet nobodies like myself. Here’s a response he made to some of it on his blog:

http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/on-the-mechanics-of-defamation#.VDsSLTPpryM.twitter

Now, before I delve into details, and before we get caught up in those particulars, I want to point out that this blog post of his is an answer to people calling him a “genocidal fascist maniac” (which even I would suggest is a little hyperbolic), but this the thing. Nothing in this post would change my mind. I’ve been having some back and forth on Twitter with a person or two, someone is telling me that the point of the passage in question, and the chapter in his book it comes from, is a philosophical one about how belief drives action, and I think they’re trying to say the statement about the war is only an example.

Which, if the passage from the book had been the end of it, while I still don’t believe that theory (that the justification of the USA killing Islamist terrorists was put forth only as a theoretical example), I might have been able to let it pass, I might have said, ‘OK, close enough,’ but he said it again, in this blog post that was ostensibly intended to portray him in a less maniacal light. It wasn’t a hypothetical reference; it was updated for today’s war and was very specific. I’m speaking of the last three paragraphs in the post. Here’s the new statement, same as the one that got him in trouble with actual liberals in the first place:

“It would be ethical to kill these men (he means ISIS)—once again, only if we couldn’t capture them—because of all the death and suffering they intend to cause in the future. Why do they intend this? Because of what they believe about infidels, apostates, women, paradise, prophecy, America, and so forth.”

And here’s the rest of his defense:

“ . . . nowhere in my work do I suggest that we kill harmless people for thought crimes.”

First of all, wow, just wow. If we’re not dangerous people AND we don’t ever have nasty thoughts, Harris is not advocating for our destruction. What a shining beacon of Liberalism.

Now, the ways in which this philosophy contrasts with my own views:

The clear implication here is that Harris does think we should kill harmful people for thought crimes.

Personally, I think that anyone trying to lessen both the expected duration of the Islamists’ hatred for and wish to kill Americans and also the level of violence and war in the world generally would not even advocate for killing these harmful people for actual crimes, let alone thought crimes.

I marvel at this philosopher’s self-unawareness. In advocating that we should kill harmful people for thought crimes, Mr. Harris is a faithful mirror to the very attitude he ascribes in these passages to Islamists alone, that it is justifiable and somehow helpful to kill those whose beliefs are antithetical to ours, or to our lives. By this reasoning, it must also be “ethical” for Islamists to kill Americans.

The only place this reasoning is ethical is in a very small world, a tribal situation. This is only morality to someone for whom the only moral concerns are the domination interests of his own tribe, someone for whom the death of his enemies is not a moral issue. It’s not exactly peacemaking, which, I think, by definition means the search for a larger morality, one in which a solution is sought for all parties. Of course, in geopolitics, in the new, smaller world we live in, for the more than fifty years during which nuclear war has been a real concern, the difference between war and peace affects us all. It is really in all of our interest that the morality of peacemaking be the morality we attain to.

And if America is, God forbid, listening to Sam Harris for moral guidance, then it seems sort of obvious what the problem is, at least from our side.

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8 thoughts on “I’ve Never Met Sam Harris, but . . .

  1. Pamela Spiro Wagner October 14, 2014 / 10:39 pm

    I spent a good part of this evening listening to both Bill Maher s many comments over the years on Islam (very disturbing as I was unaware of how much an islamophobe he is) and then I spent well over an hour on a video from 2010 (y0u cannot accuse me of being au courant!) on a debate about Is Islam a religion of peace? I believe the debaters on the side of NO ended up winning but I turned off the Internet TV before I saw those results, which I had surmised from a blog about it before hand as well as the measurement of relative applause given each side. I was not too surprised. The US is NOT for all our vaunted self-praise, an enormously tolerant country, not to my way of thinking…After all, we are the country of (of course) centuries of black slavery, but also of the signs with “No Irish wanted here” in Boston, “No Chinese wanted” in California, though of course they could work as the lowest wage earners…and always there was some group everywhere that was hated and discriminated against just as the jews (anti-semitism is alive and well) and blacks still are. There had to be intolerance and bigotry here in order for the United States to function… We are not in fact a country founded on tolerance and equality at all but on Intolerance and on hatred of one people against another who are NOK,,,not our kind, whoever that group is at any given period of history.

    But as to Sam Harris, I read that piece you posted, on that link and had a very strong reaction, because all I can say to him is, get into CBT if you think that thoughts/belief/emotional reactions and behavioral reactions are somehow inextricably and insurmountably inevitably linked…because I can tell you (Sam Harris) that you have a pretty dim view of humanity and human capacities of self control and learning if you think we are just emotional time bombs, so reactive that mere “wrong-think” of certain toxic sorts can turn anyone into human sacrificial time bomb!

    Nonsense. Becoming a mature adult is learning to control 1) the extreme range of your emotions no matter what your beliefs are, and 2) if you experience an extreme emotional range or reaction to something , you most certainly can learn to control your BEHAVIOR in response, NOBODY has inextricably linked emotions and behavior unless they have never been taught (NOT by punishment I assure you but by the simply joy of achievement and self mastery) to control what they do. IF NOT, that is a very sad said of affairs for everyone…and that person is out of control in ways that have nothing to do with religion or politics or ideology and everything to do with upbringing and not learning at the proper time that it is possible to not be driven to distraction by the siren song of one’s OOC emotional reactions to beliefs…

    After all, even a trained dog is happier than a misbehaving dog that just gets yelled at by its master for jumping on everyone and running where it ought not to. (Am I rambling. Mea culpa,..I had a train of thought but it may have long ago departed the station… i haven’t slept well in days…!

    I’ll leave well enough alone here. TTFN. enough for now.

    Pam WAGNER

    PS In complete agreement with you about the killing people issue. Ditto capital punishment which is a disgusting extension of it for me…you don’t do that but we still do and it sickens me…

    Like

    • neighsayer October 15, 2014 / 7:03 am

      for me the thing is his complete unawareness that his belief is supporting his call to violence. Apparently his brilliant insight is only about “them.”

      Like

    • neighsayer October 15, 2014 / 7:19 am

      and yes, the core belief that both these violent groups share is punishing, the mostly unconscious belief that by hurting and killing people we can somehow change their beliefs, bring them around to our POV. I left it implicit, but that’s why I posted this in the punishment blog. It is this core belief that overrides the normal development of self-control that should come with maturity, but doesn’t in these violent societies.
      That’s where you were heading, isn’t it?

      🙂

      Like

      • Pamela Spiro Wagner October 21, 2014 / 1:16 am

        Where i was headed was that we in the west are the violent society, one, and two, whatever Islam is it is made up of the billion or so individual practicing people,not all by far in the miiddle east , who call themselves muslim…so bill maher needs to stop overgeneralizing and appealing to the lowest level of american’ instinctive “other” hatred…because we have a strong tradition and history of that…if he wants to do “anti muslim comedy” that would work without encouraging real anti-islamic hatred, which i think was in fact his point, he should attack someone safely protected by westerners admiration, someone like, say, malala! I am serious. can you imagine the “politically incorrect humor” and the points he could score and message gotten across with a spiel about how people need to be properly labelled, one, so we can tell who our enemies are at a glance and dont need to use mere guesswork. Then each person should have a small target bullseye provided. I mean how much better for the terrorists among us, since apparently they are terrible marksmen, if only malala had had the proper bullseye attached to her skull. Just think! The taliban might have spared the world a lovely 16 year old nobel peace prize winer!!! ( now, if that sort of “hate speech” isnt at least a little funny but also at least harmless largely because we all know the wotrld loves malala…well you git my point, i hope.) There are ways to talk about certain subjects that work better than excoriating muslims for “actually belonging to a barterting culture” to which i myself would cheer BRAVO! Enough..i gots to get up in themorning, only three hours from now..cheers, pam

        Like

        • neighsayer October 21, 2014 / 6:58 am

          just got up and too sleepy to comment yet . . .

          Like

  2. Scarlet October 15, 2014 / 2:41 am

    Bill never did it for me, I found out about him through Zaph who loves him, in much the same way I am mild on conan, I don’t get it. I tend to agree with his politics and stance on relgion but meh, I’m getting old 😀

    Like

    • neighsayer October 15, 2014 / 7:00 am

      “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now . . . ”

      they say conservatism is an affliction of the old. Yeah, I was even overlooking that Bill hates kids, but this is the last straw for me. I’m getting really tired of ‘ugly Americans’ who have no idea that liberalism is and who think they’re liberals no matter what fascist crap they believe.

      Like

      • Scarlet October 15, 2014 / 8:48 pm

        I’m actually not liberal or conservative but I do have to fight off having conservatism drilled into me as a girl, Conservatives are easy to hate though, especially the ugly american type, they seem to not have much grip on reality – its all that bible talk I think. Liberals infuriate me in that they – generally – will back anything not conservative, even to idiocy, the both need a good weeding out.

        Like

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