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:


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.