The Progressive Case Against Sam Harris, Part II

Following the completion of the first entry in this series, I had many plans about how it would progress.  I would cover many topics to do with “new atheism” and that so-called movement’s thinkers, which would make clearer the inferiority of their ideas in relation to radical Islamic terrorism, and the world as it exists today.

Perhaps those ideas are still percolating somewhere in the back of my mind, but the details escape me.  Rule number one: always take a note.

Make a note.

And that’s why, you always take a note.

But despite this memory lapse, the “new atheist” versus progressive debate has recently exploded again.  This time, it was the work of one Mr. Sam Harris himself, saying something that seems indefensible to a rational, reasonable human-being:

Given a choice between Noam Chomsky and Ben Carson, in terms of the totality of their understanding of what’s happening now in the world, I’d vote for Ben Carson every time.

Godfather 2 meme

Why do you do this to me!?? Why?


Now, it is a well established verbal tic of Harris and his fans to accuse critics of being dishonest, misquoting or taking him out of context.

It seems no matter how many of his books and articles I read, interviews I watch, podcasts I listen to, and Twitter battles with fans I partake in, I can never, EVER, ever correctly attribute a comment to the man without lying and smearing.

Apparently.

But did he say this about Ben Carson and Noam Chomsky?   Yes.  He did.  Was it dumb?  Fuck yes, it was dumb!  I listened to the entire podcast.  What other context does this require?

He did say that!  Dead to rights!  Read it!  Listened to it!  There it fucking is.

So let’s look at it.


Ben Carson.

Ben Carson in an extremely flattering photo I chose.

Ben Carson can barely put together a sentence on foreign policy.  He has explicitly stated he has a lot to learn.

An adviser of his stated the following: “Nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East“, later adding that with hard work, “we can make him smart”.

But, because he reflexively and irrationally hates Muslims and beats the war drums, he is a better choice than a man who has been writing about and studying foreign policy in great detail since the 1960s?

What would Ben Carson do that would be better than what Chomsky might do?  Would he bomb the right things?  The things that have been waiting to be bombed, to clean up his whole mess?

What would his spreading of rhetoric about the barbarism of Islam achieve, except a self-satisfied sense of superiority?

I guess the bloodthirsty haters need fresh rhetorical red meat.


I regularly see Harris fans say, “we can’t fix the problem if we don’t identify it”, a sentiment which to me is style without substance.

Ok, so we identify the Quran, the Hadith, Muhammad and so forth as the reasons for jihad and terrorism.  All other factors are downplayed or eliminated from consideration.

OK.  FINE.

NOW WHAT.  

What the fuck do you actually want to DO?  Who cares what you call things…really?

Is there some fictional Muslim sitting in Iran or Saudi Arabia waiting to hear the American-or-British-or-otherwise-left condemn Islam?  Do you possibly think that maybe actual policies are slightly more relevant to this person, than mere “leftist” rhetoric?

Do you want troops on the ground in the Middle East?  Do you just want to encourage Muslims to be moderates?  Do you want to kill all of them?  Do you want to do nothing?

Fuck your word games!  Fuck your “label it what it is” bullshit!  Tell us your policy prescriptions.  What are your ideas?  Do you even have any?

Better yet, tell me how labeling it “what is it” will fix the situation.

I’ve often found that people otherwise devoted to science and evidence throw their dedication to these concepts out when it comes to statements like: “not talking about radical Islam only makes it stronger”, “the left’s silence is making terrorism worse”.

Ok, sounds cool, sounds hip.  But you guys never back it up with evidence.

Ironically enough, you use de-contextualised Quran and Hadith verses to make your case, exactly like religious fanatics do!


Whoops.

But how will it eliminate terrorism?  How will it make Muslims more moderate?  How?

I’m yet to hear any reasonable answers to these questions from the “new atheist” crowd.  To them, it’s about the words you use.  The moment you get past the labeling of things, you hit a brick wall.  Their ideas extend to “impotent rage”, and not a lot else.

A new atheist in the flesh.

A new atheist in the flesh.


So what in the name of holy fuck is going on?

Is Harris losing his grip on reality due to the echo chamber of his fans, slavishly never calling him out, pointing fingers constantly at others as regressive, accomplices in the production of terrorism due to their saccharine, insufficient words, or his collection of personal grievances against specific people, such as Chomsky, or Reza Aslan?  Is it pushing him to irrational, ideologically driven conclusions?

Ok…ok.  It’s fine.  It was a gaffe.  Everybody makes mistakes, even if they don’t know it.  Even if they can’t admit it yet.

One day later…and Harris posted an addendum to his podcast, in order to address the outrage (beginning at 1:55:30).

Let’s listen to it with an open mind and see what Harris has to say.  Perhaps he will retract his statement?  Maybe, he will modify it to be more reasonable?  At least, that’s what a rational person might do.

He starts by saying it’s “interesting” to see how far his critics will go to “mislead” their own audiences about his views.  Right away, a shot at his critics.  Ok, but why?  What did they do?  Let’s find out.


Max Blumenthal, writer for Alternet and The Daily Beast, quoted Harris as having said: “I’d vote for Ben Carson everytime[…]he understands that Jihadists are the enemy”.  Umm.  Alright?  This is obviously quoting on Twitter, so he can’t include the whole quote without using multiple tweets, but he went the short route.

Still, Harris notes: “that ellipsis is obviously doing a lot of work there”.  But is it?  Really?  Here is the full quote:

Ben Carson is a dangerously deluded religious imbecile, Ben Carson does not…the fact that he is a candidate for president is a scandal…but at the very least he can be counted on to sort of get this one right. He understands that jihadists are the enemy.

So Harris called Carson a dangerously deluded religious imbecile.  But doesn’t that make the quote worse?  Considering you still said you’d vote for him?  How does calling him mean names modify whether you said you’d vote for him?  It doesn’t.  The thing is, that’s not a misrepresentation.  That’s just literally what Harris said.  In fact, in full context I think the sentiment is even stupider.  But ok.  I guess Max Blumenthal did you a favor by cutting the worst bits out of the quote, but it’s still a travesty of pseudo-journalism.  But continuing on.


Next, TYT Network host Cenk Uygur meets Harris’s ire, for retweeting a meme of Harris saying he would vote for Ben Carson (which as we’ve seen, he LITERALLY said.  He said it!  How is it a misquote?  For the love of (nonexistent God) HOW!?  I don’t know how to be clearer!), and calling him “increasingly deranged” in his videos about Harris’s views.  Having watched these videos, I saw a lot of crowing and laughing at Harris by Uygur, but no derangement.  Harris gives himself too much credit.  He then says Uygur “appears to be suffering some kind of breakdown”.  Nice.

No, maybe you keep saying dumb shit, and people are calling you out on it?

“Do these guys know that they’re misrepresenting my views to their audiences?”.  I would wager yes, they do, because it seems Sam Harris is the only guy in the world who to quote is to misrepresent.  To discuss the stupidity of his “thought-experiments” and pointless quips and one-liners is to lie and smear.  To bend over backwards to accommodate his caveats, beyond the graces of all reason, is to be fair-minded.

So yes, they probably know you are impossible to represent fairly Sam.


The usual complaints about critics dispensed with, we start getting to the core of Harris’s explanation for these ideas.  Here we go.

“I should clarify something here: my remarks about Ben Carson and Noam Chomsky were simply a statement about how dangerously out of touch with reality the left appears to me, on this issue”.  Oh no, sounds bad.  Let’s hear more.

Harris calls Chomsky an “anarcho-masochist” in regards to his approach to the threat of the “Islamo-fascist insurgency”.  Ouch.  “All he ever seems to do is cite the ways in which the U.S has been terrible”.  Ok.  Sounds…really bad?  I guess citing how the U.S. has been terrible means there’s more terrorism eh?  I guess that means we’ll all die because of Islam eh?


Harris then goes on to make an incredibly weird analogy about how if aliens came down from outer space, Chomsky would welcome annihilation, because he would say we deserve it.

At this point I became acutely aware of the hypocrisy of a man complaining about being misrepresented, creating an analogy in which he says someone who disagrees with him would welcome the destruction of humanity.

It sounds benign, but what if I did the same to Harris?  Would this idea still be so cute?

Harris is a man so obsessed with destroying Islam, if he got his hands on a nuclear warhead, he’d no doubt launch it at an “Islamic regime”, because he is utterly deranged by his anti-religion talking points.  Unfair?  Yup.  Is that what Harris’s views actually entail?  Nah.  Who gives a fuck.  I don’t like him, so in this hypothetical situation, would he be a genocidal maniac?  Sure.  Why not.

Oh that’s bad?  Well apparently it was fine when HE just did it to Chomsky.  Did you complain about that?  Of course you didn’t.

The hypocrisy disgusts me.


Harris goes on to say that people have been “throwing” Chomsky quotes at him, but that these quotes only show that Chomsky merely “knows Jihadists exist, and that they occasionally kill people.  The explicit message of everything I’ve heard him say in this area, is that Jihadists wouldn’t be killing people, or trying to conquer the world, but for the crimes of America”.

Everything?  How much Chomsky have you even read or listened to Sam?  Would it kill you to do some homework?

I thought you were talking earlier about how horrible it is to misrepresent the views of others?


Now, I actually think there is a valid point to be made here.  The conservative nature of Islamic nations is not necessarily because of the “crimes of America”.

Of course, a lot of it has to do with a conservative interpretation of Islam, in the exact manner that Christianity was also once equally as extreme.

But this additional fact does not mean America has never aggravated the situation, even significantly, and failed to contribute in a fashion which would tend towards moderation.  Coups, bombings and wars appear to have failed, time and again.

That’s the thing, you don’t need to segment out the facts, in order to diminish them based on your ideology.  You are allowed to see the situation in totality.  It is not apologetic to acknowledge both the strong religious component, which is followed by these extremists and fundamentalists, and a significantly corrosive western-interventionalist component.

The ironic thing about Harris’s criticisms in this realm, is that he is only the yin to Chomsky’s yang.

Harris is focused only on the religious angle, Chomsky almost entirely on the geo-political one.

But is there no conceivable reason as to why we can’t chew gum and walk at the same time.  Has anybody considered that both are major factors?  I don’t understand this slavish devotion to being ideological.  Why do we force everything to be a binary either/or.  0 or 1.  The world is simply not that simple.  Let alone, on an issue like this.


Neo-conservatives

A plethora of great candidates.

Harris criticizes Chomsky calling the fight against the Soviets a “pretext” for “our own greed”, and Chomsky’s overuse of the word “pretext” as a qualifier regarding radical Islam and so forth.

I think this is one of the first actual fair criticisms by Harris.  Yes, Chomsky does tend to overemphasize foreign-policy and western greed.  However, as I said before, as an ideologue focused solely on a singular narrative, Harris is literally the worst person I can think of to legitimately make this point.  But I guess I can forget everything I know about what he thinks for just one moment.

“This kind of self-flagellation would be disastrous, would it ever come to power”.

Sam, you’re losing me again.  I mean, where have the disasters come from?  The fucking NEO-CONS.  The neo-conservatives who invaded Iraq and implemented torture policies that were damaging far beyond their mere physical application.  The neo-conservatives who allowed 9/11 to happen, and then invaded the wrong country, killing hundreds of thousands of people.

The neo-cons who hate science and reason, who oppose gay marriage, who are against enlightenment, who think Muslims are savages.  Those people.

The worst the liberals did?  Agree with the neo-cons!  When liberals are being liberal, they don’t invade countries, they don’t send people to die, and they don’t abuse human rights.  They are not the guilty ones.

Their lack of using strong language against ISIS is not the problem.  It’s when they don’t stand up for their values in the face of moral hysteria and people die in far away lands!  Many people die.  Innocent people and combatants alike.

Tell me again who would be dangerous in power?


You can listen to the rest of the podcast yourself, here is a perfect place for me to part ways with it.

Behold the following (full) quote:

“When it comes to dealing with the global challenge of Jihadism, and Islamism, I would take our own theocrats, who recognize the problem for what it is, even with all their crazy religious top-spin, over delusional leftists, who don’t”.

This is what happens when somebody gets so enamored with the sound of their own thoughts that they lose all perspective.  When you have fans that always stand up for you, even when you’re wrong.  When you create an environment around yourself that all criticism is slander, quoting unfavorably is misquoting, and critics are shunned from the conversation.

It’s just mind-boggling, incredible, that a man with such a simple view of the world puts it forth so confidently.

Harris says he’s just “the canary in the coalmine”, that liberals should take notice when a guy like him starts favoring theocratic Christians over their liberal thought-leaders.  To me the canary here is Harris’s brain, and the coalmine is his echo-chamber of fans who support his every waking move and bend over backwards to defend the most limited thinking imaginable.

But what would I know, I’m just a blogger in my underpants.  Another fine criticism Harris levels against his detractors.  But it’s sad then when a so-called intellectual fails so miserably at what he does, that an underpants donning blogger can see through his nonsense.

Nobody should be above criticism.

Especially when they say such incredibly stupid things as Sam Harris has been saying.

Dick Cheney

Just go the full way, and vote for this guy.

R.I.P Sam Harris’s Brain

April 9, 1967 – November 22, 2015

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6 thoughts on “The Progressive Case Against Sam Harris, Part II

  1. hello mr. tim. you say the truth in many things, i agree 100% always that we must see the big picture and its OK to chew the gum while you walking. when we make the minds simple, we make the enemies and not the solutions.

    1. Nah, I think Dave Rubin sort of gets bundled into a lot of these posts in some way or another. Don’t feel the need to do a post only about him. Gad Saad? Maybe. I don’t really know enough about the kind of work he has produced though. Not yet!

  2. Tim, dissecting what Sam Harris has to say and what some of his readers have to say is not the same thing. If you’re are going to talk about your strong disagreements with specific things Sam has said it really doesn’t serve your writing to conflate that with what the readers of Sam Harris say.

    That being said, I haven’t gotten the impression that people are suggesting that naming the problem is the end game or that it will ultimately fix it, which you seem to imply when you say “tell me how labeling it ‘what is it’ will fix the situation.” The suggestion is more that it is an important first step to be clear about what the problem actually is. I think the emphasis is to get everyone on the same page. Whatever the problem may be, if some people think the problem is that there is a large group of thugs doing horrific things for some reason, while others think the reason these awful things are being done is specifically related to jihadism, then you get a divided game plan. Labeling the problem helps focus the effort. That’s a general idea of how I have interpreted the “name the problem” comments.

    Concerning Ben Carson and the ellipsis, it seems pretty clear to me that when Sam talks about how much of a “dangerously deluded religious imbecile” Ben Carson is, he is using that as a tool to express precisely how problematic he believes jihadism to be. The point doesn’t seem to be to provide general information on who he would vote for, it’s more importantly providing information on how dire he considers the situation to be concerning what he thinks is the most dangerous problem of our time. By removing the information about his general feelings towards Ben Carson, which are overwhelmingly negative, it takes away what seems to be the meaning and power of the statement, which is that the problem of jihadism is so dangerous to Sam that he would go against all his other values and vote for someone as ridiculous as Ben Carson because he expresses more similarly the concern with what he views as the extremely serious problem of jihadism.

    In my view, since the topic of misrepresentation is on hand, to read this any other way is to actually not understand what Sam is saying and accidentally misinterpret him, which would be understandable. Or it is to understand it, but purposefully not give it a fair reading and then purposefully misinterpret it.

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