Botanical Wednesday: An inordinate fondness for Australia »« The only abortion argument that counts

Comments

  1. KG says

    Why would I want a book by a racist apologist for torture, who favours killing people for their beliefs?

  2. quinnmartindale says

    First, be aware that this is an essay, not a full length book. I read it and liked it an interesting exploration of the neuroscience and philosophical implications of deceit, but be aware that it does have his characteristic tone of conflating his opinions with objective fact.

  3. Thomathy, Holy Trinity of Conflation: Atheist-Secularist-Darwinist says

    quinnmartindale, so it’s shit from a shit-stain? I admit, shit-stains can be explored for the interesting things they may contain, but it remains that they’re shit stains. I don’t have the constitution to look upon shit-stains.

  4. leprechaun says

    I just read his short essay on Lying and am rather unimpressed. Aside from a call to be more honest, it doesn’t contain anything of value. I am not surprised as, having heard about the argument he presents in the Moral Landscape, Harris seems fond of pissbucket philosophy. This may be too harsh however as I have not read the Moral Landscape, but after reading Lying, I certainly have no plans too in the foreseeable future.

  5. sc_56d17f3d5f8c4a9ea728abcb600837a6 says

    I bought it a few weeks ago, and found it an interesting read, although there were one or two arguments that were a little weak, such as not lying to protect a child from a murder, where Harris says that it could lead to the murder of another child.

    “racist apologist”? What have I missed?

  6. KG says

    On second thoughts, of course I might want it if I was planning to write a book entitled Atheists can be arseholes too. But I’m not.

  7. Wesley Harding says

    I bought it a few weeks ago, and found it an interesting read, although there were one or two arguments that were a little weak, such as not lying to protect a child from a murder, where Harris says that it could lead to the murder of another child.
    “racist apologist”? What have I missed?

  8. KG says

    “racist apologist”? What have I missed? – sc_blah

    Actually, I didn’t say “racist apologist”, I said “racist and apologist for torture”. You’ve clearly missed his call for “anyone who looks as if they could conceivably be Muslim” to be singled out for harassment by airport security, for one thing. His apologia for torture is readily available.

  9. Wesley Harding says

    KG, sorry about the misread. I hadn’t see that article, and strongly disagree with his stance on torture, but that doesn’t mean you would have to automatically be averse to any view Harris holds. Much of what he declares objective is subjective, in my opinion, but he makes some strong arguments.

  10. says

    but that doesn’t mean you would have to automatically be averse to any view Harris holds

    The question isn’t “should we be automatically averse to any view Harris holds”, but rather “why should I read a book by someone who thinks lying to a murderer to protect a child is morally suspect because dishonesty is so fundamentally problematic, but torture on the other hand deserves a more nuanced and apologetic approach”?

  11. KG says

    WEsley Harding,

    Well, there’s also his idiocy about “parapsychology”, his claims to establish an objective morality, and his statement that a person holding certain beliefs can justify killing them. When someone comes out with stupid and/or immoral garbage in so many instances, I feel entitled to ignore their further writings, just as I would those of Ken Ham.

  12. devoniansplit says

    Thinkers can be wrong in one area and right in others. It is intellectually vapid to conclude that Sam’s work on neuroscience or god or anything else for that matter is a waste of time because you disagree with his views on profiling and torture. This reasoning also ignores the fact that this book is free and therefore you aren’t supporting a “racist apologist for torture“ by reading it. By all means though, be a closed minded moron – making friends won’t be difficult.

  13. Wesley Harding says

    A valid point, aleph. You would think that Harris would be aware of the literature on the effectiveness of torture in yielding truth, and not let his personal feelings cloud his judgment. As for his view on racial profiling, such views have lead to the increased attacks on Arabic and Sub-continental peoples in the US since 9/11.

  14. Matt Penfold says

    Thinkers can be wrong in one area and right in others. It is intellectually vapid to conclude that Sam’s work on neuroscience or god or anything else for that matter is a waste of time because you disagree with his views on profiling and torture. This reasoning also ignores the fact that this book is free and therefore you aren’t supporting a “racist apologist for torture“ by reading it. By all means though, be a closed minded moron – making friends won’t be difficult.

    There comes a point when wading through the bullshit is not justified by the good bits.

  15. KG says

    devoniansplit,
    You may have unlimited time, andor a shortage of books you want to read. Most of us don’t: we have to be selective, and a writer’s past record, if any, is an important part of what we have to go on. I said nothing whatever about “supporting” him, and nor did anyone else – you’ve just pulled that one out of your arse, where I’d guess you get most of your ideas.

  16. says

    It is intellectually vapid to conclude that Sam’s work on neuroscience or god or anything else for that matter is a waste of time because you disagree with his views on profiling and torture.

    Yes, but it is not intellectually vapid to say to onesself: “I’d like to learn more about neuroscience, morality and lying. There are a number of authors on the subject: should I pick someone who I know has a tendency for irrational arguments and ignoring hard evidence in order to justify torture, or should I pick an author who, whether I agree with xir or not, tends to consider rationality and strong evidence as more important than xir own opinions?”

    I’ve asked this question, and therefore will not be wasting time on Harris.

  17. Stevarious says

    his claims to establish an objective morality

    Ugh, some of my most embarrassing conversations with theists as a brand new atheist contain that rationale. *cringe*

  18. pacal says

    I bought it a few weeks ago, and found it an interesting read, although there were one or two arguments that were a little weak, such as not lying to protect a child from a murder, where Harris says that it could lead to the murder of another child.

    Not Kant’s idiotic dictum that lying to a murderer about where his next target is always morally “wrong”. And that we are obligated to tell the murderer the truth because telling the truth is vastly more important than other peoples lives. It is morally superior to be an accessory to murder than to lie!?

    I just cannot take anyone seriously who thinks this sort of morally bankrupt shit is even arguable. You lose something even to consider that this might be a arguable case.

    Lets make this really plain shall we. You see X murder a child, although X doesn’t notice you. Another child Y, was with the child X who was killed and X at the same time stabbed Y. Oh you also saw X stab Y. Y has managed to hide without being seen in your house. X comes to your door and demands that you tell him where Y is. Y is hiding in a corner of the same room begging you with pleading eyes not to betray him/her. Do you tell X the truth? It is pretty obvious youi don’t. You lie your head off and when X leaves call the police if you haven’t already.

  19. redpanda says

    By all means though, be a closed minded moron – making friends won’t be difficult.

    It had been a pretty civil discussion until this bit. What’s with the random need to throw crap like this in?

  20. says

    While I disagree with a lot of Sam’s ideals, from his subtle racism to his moral philosophy, I still have respect for him as a neuroscientist and so I’d like to know what he has to share on this matter. Here’s to hoping he manages to stay at least partly objective in this matter.

  21. Thomathy, Holy Trinity of Conflation: Atheist-Secularist-Darwinist says

    I don’t care if Sam Harris is a competent writer on other subjects or a good neuroscientist, I don’t have to like him and I don’t have to read him and I certainly don’t have to have respect for him because of his other good work. He’s an asshole, a bad person and I won’t read any of his drivel, whatever it’s worth, because I have better things to do than to deal at all with a person I don’t like.

    I understand that Orson Scott Card has written some apparently great sci-fi, and I won’t read it because he is a bad person and I don’t like him because of that.

    It is hardly being closed-minded to decide that I don’t want to read anything written by a person I have deemed not worth my time when there are other people who have written on or within those subjects that I like who are at least as good as those others whom I don’t like.

  22. steve oberski says

    @redpanda

    It had been a pretty civil discussion until this bit.

    Including the shit stains ?

  23. Thomathy, Holy Trinity of Conflation: Atheist-Secularist-Darwinist says

    By all means though, be a closed minded moron – making friends won’t be difficult.

    This is an odd statement. Not only is it a non sequitur in regards to not reading something penned by professional asshole Sam Harris, but it raises the question of who, exactly, wants to make friends with people they don’t like?

  24. Thomathy, Holy Trinity of Conflation: Atheist-Secularist-Darwinist says

    Including the shit stains ?

    Do expletives make a conversation inherently uncivil? Should I have phrased myself in less plain and more colourful language in order to avoid the use of an expletive so as not to offend the sensibilities of people having a civil discussion?

    devoniansplit is uncivil because xe has introduced an assertion, both baseless and inflammatory, that people who choose not to read Sam Harris because of what he has said (I don’t want to associate with or read the thoughts of a contemporary racist who is a pseudo-intellectual on other topics whom I loathe) are closed-minded and will have a hard time making friends. Not only is xe just plain wrong for reasons already stated, xe makes an irrelevant statement in conclusion to a poorly thought out, but blessedly short, rant.

    Blatant stupidity and wilfully stirring the pot are not civil ways to engage in conversation.

  25. steve oberski says

    But Thomathy, based on your comments, I don’t have to like you and I certainly don’t have to respect you. I think you’re an asshole and a bad person and I won’t read any more of your drivel whether or not you come across as anything less than totally deranged.

    See how this works ?

  26. jthompson says

    @steve oberski: That’s a mighty low bar you’ve set for being an asshole, and an outlandishly low bar for being a bad person.

    Well, at least for Thomathy. In regards to Harris not so much.

    “I don’t read authors that suck.” > “Torture is dandy, especially if you’re torturing Muslims.” it would seem.

  27. KG says

    While I disagree with a lot of Sam’s ideals, from his subtle racism to his moral philosophy, I still have respect for him as a neuroscientist and so I’d like to know what he has to share on this matter. – Adam

    Harris has a 2009 PhD in neuroscience. That’s hardly enough to make him an authority on the subject; AFAIK, he has done no post-doctoral work.

  28. redpanda says

    Did you notice Matt’s reply @15? That’s how you maintain civility around trolls.

  29. cquartly says

    Some of the comments in this thread are a little embarrassing and a clear indication that the arguments have not been followed. Do people really still think that Harris advocates torture? And all that The Moral Landscape was advocating was a future science of morality. Some of the claims in this thread have about as much basis in reality as creationists view on biology.

    Lying is a nice little read, not heavy, and while Kant was brought up earlier, Harris writes in Lying “Though it has the obvious virtue of clarity—Never tell a lie—in practice, this rule can produce behavior that only a psychopath might endorse.”.

  30. cquartly says

    In addition to (pressed submit too soon!): “I cannot see any reason to take Kant seriously on this point.”

  31. steve oberski says

    @jthompson

    It’s not as if I’m arguing that everything Thomathy says is pot stirring shit from a shit-stain.

    Just everything of his that I’ve read.

  32. chrisdevries says

    Yikes! Some people have clearly mis-heard or mis-remembered what Harris has actually said.

    On torture, Harris only said that if an individual is able to justify the commission of violence against those who commit hostile acts against our nation and its allies in which collateral damage is inevitable, xe should also be able to justify the torture of an individual who is in possession of certain information that if we learned it, would allow us to prevent a violent act against us. He admits that there is no reason to think that torture would WORK, as its efficacy is questionable at best, only that it is justifiable IF AND ONLY IF killing a few innocent Pakistanis to get a terrorist (or try to do so and fail) is justifiable.

    In my opinion, killing those who would harm us is certainly okay, but in the balancing act of life and death, we should both treat innocent Pakistani lives as equal to our own, and be willing to die instead of stooping to the level of killing innocents or torturing the guilty, in defense of our values. Otherwise, the values for which we are fighting become forever compromised by fear of terrorism, which is the true sign that the terrorists have won. Many people here will agree with me. Harris’s only point is that someone like Bush or Rumsfeld CAN justify it given their frequent amoral policy decisions, social dominance disorder, and right wing authoritarian ethics.

    This is not torture apologism, it is simple logic, and I agree with his logic even though I do not think torture should ever be employed for any reason. Arguing with his logic is a sign that you don’t understand what he’s saying at all.

    As for racism, I think Harris is wrong, and that we cannot reliably identify Muslims by analysing their physical characteristics (of which race is only one example) and behavior. He thinks we can. There is no doubt that sometimes we can pick out Muslims based on appearance and behavior; the problem that he fails to recognise is that if we start profiling for those qualities and behaviors, the people who are legitimate terrorists will change their behaviors and minimise how much their physical characteristics meet the qualities security people are looking for. Thus, the only people who will be singled out for extra security checks are innocent Muslims, which could sour relationships with the Muslim community. However, this merely makes him a stubborn person who is having a lapse of rationality; it does not make him a racist. He is correct in his assertion that Islam has certainly distinguished itself as having many adherents who are particularly willing to die in a violent manner for their beliefs, and if we could reliably identify ALL Muslims (even those trying to look non-Muslim), and single them out for extra security checks, he would have a point. Since we cannot, it is better to use methods that have a better chance of catching genuine terrorists.

    Now whether you like his books or not is a matter of personal opinion. But please learn the facts before accusing someone of racism or torture apologism.

  33. brendiggg says

    chrisdevries seems to be the only commenter thus far who has actually read Harris’ work (at least the controversial bits). Sad really, because it’s one or two clicks away for anybody to read.

    It’s ok to disagree with Sam Harris but he asks you work for it. That in itself is a good thing.

  34. says

    Harris has a 2009 PhD in neuroscience. That’s hardly enough to make him an authority on the subject; AFAIK, he has done no post-doctoral work. – KG

    I’m not really looking for authority more than I am for the lay scientist’s perspective on the matter. When I read things I’m not really looking for someone to tell me what to think, I’m mostly looking for points of contention (either with myself or others) that I can read further on.

  35. KG says

    Adam,

    Fair enough; I prefer to read those who can be expected to be most knowledgeable, unless I have a specific reason to go elsewhere.

    chrisdevries,

    Despite your nonsense, I have indeed read Harris’s words on both torture and profiling. As for torture, either you haven’t, or you’re lying. Here is a quote from Harris in his Response to Controversy:

    Nevertheless, there are extreme circumstances in which I believe that practices like “water-boarding” may not only be ethically justifiable, but ethically necessary.

    His belief that Muslims both can and should be singled out for harassment is, of course, racist: Racist beliefs, statements and actions are those which reinforce existing injustices and inequalities between ethnic groups.

  36. KG says

    I see that cquartly too, either hasn’t read Harris on torture, or is lying. The words I quote@38 are from May 2011. If Harris has since recanted, I admit I haven’t heard about it.

  37. KG says

    Incidentally, Harris is also an advocate of genocide by first-strike nuclear attack, under certain circumstances. From the same “Response to Controversy”, quoting himself from an earlier article:

    Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime—as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day—but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe.

    Of course, saying it would be “the only course of action available to us” is a lie – so maybe Lying is a How-to primer. The alternative course of action would be not to launch a genocidal nuclear first strike.

  38. cquartly says

    KG this is ridiculous, I have read almost all of Sam’s work, of course you can take a paragraph or two and turn a quote to make it seem like whatever you want, but in the whole context of the pieces he has written it (indeed, the very one you’ve just linked to) is perfectly obvious what he is saying. You’re being, at best, disingenuous.

  39. KG says

    cquartly,

    I agree, it is ridiculous. What kind of a lying lackwit are you? Harris says quite clearly and explicitly that in certain circumstances, he believes torture would be: “not only ethically justifiable, but ethically necessary”. There is simply no possible context in which that is anything other than an apologia for torture.

  40. cquartly says

    We can attribute most things to thought experiments, it doesn’t take much in the way of creative thinking (regardless of the likelihood) to come up with a scenario in which almost anything is ok, that doesn’t mean that point of view is necessarily endorsed. But still, since you have posted a link to the “response to controversy” piece on Sam’s website, I’d simply encourage others to read it rather than cherry picking a couple of quotes and appearing to completely misunderstand what he’s saying, although since you’re using the term “lying” incorrectly as well (are you inside my head and therefore know that I believe something contradictory and am just merely willfully trying to deceive?), I am no longer surprised.

  41. KG says

    since you’re using the term “lying” incorrectly as well (are you inside my head and therefore know that I believe something contradictory and am just merely willfully trying to deceive?) – cquartly

    Since no-one is ever inside anyone else’s head, you apparently think that no accusation of lying can ever be justified, but I am no longer surprised by any example of your stupidity. Harris quite clearly and explicitly says that is some circumstances he considers that torture is “ethically necessary”; it’s hard to see how anyone who knows that, and yet denies that he is an apologist for torture, can possibly not be lying; although since anyone can confirm for themselves that he does say that, it’s a peculiarly pointless lie.

  42. cquartly says

    You still appear to be confused about what a lie is, perhaps read the free PDF to help this confusion… Are you William Lane Craig in disguise?

    Context matters.

  43. chrisdevries says

    I’m not sure what the confusion is here. Even though the efficacy of torture is questionable, can people really not think of incredibly improbable circumstances in which it would be the only ethical choice, especially if you believe that causing collateral damage in wars is also sometimes ethical? Personally, I frown on collateral damage, and indeed war with very few exceptions, and would rather die than have the government employ torture in an attempt to stop an attack that would kill me. Maybe, KG agrees with me on this point. But plenty of people do not, including Sam. This does not make him a torture apologist, just a man who is prepared to sacrifice his values for pragmatic reasons in extremely unlikely circumstances.

    Similarly, singling out Muslims for an extra security check, if it could be done with 100% efficacy, would be a pragmatic way to stop terrorists from destroying airplanes and buildings, given that the rates of this kind of terrorism amongst Muslims are higher than amongst non-Muslims. The fact that Sam doesn’t acknowledge that identifying all Muslims based on behavior and physical qualities is impossible is a failure of logic on Sam Harris’s part, not a demonstration of racism, at least not according to my definition of the term.

    It seems KG has a very different definition of racism than I do. For me, racism is irrational discrimination against a group of people who are underprivileged (based on the colour of their skin and/or their cultural background), by a group of people whose skin colour and/or cultural background affords them privilege in their society. Key word: irrational. The fact that most of the recent airplane-based terrorism attempts have been conducted by Muslims makes this minor discrimination completely rational. If it was atheists (definitely an underprivileged group in some American states) who were slightly more likely than the non-atheist majority to engage in this type of terrorism (and if identifying atheists could be done with 100% accuracy…I dunno, maybe we all carry copies of The God Delusion or something ;) ), I would be happy to endure the additional harassment, even though I would not be part of the small minority of atheists committing those acts. Am I a racist? :-O

    And since you brought it up (KG), if causing collateral damage is sometimes ethical, why is a tactical nuclear strike, designed to remove a nuclear weapons threat, not also sometimes ethical? Sam Harris correctly points out that some Islamists would not be interested in a “cold” war, with mutually assured destruction keeping their fingers off the trigger. They WANT to die for their beliefs. If a scenario unfolded where a nuclear strike from such Islamists was imminent (i.e. with reliable intelligence from multiple sources), taking out their nuclear facility with conventional weapons would be ethical and produce few innocent casualties. If doing so with certainty of success required a small nuclear weapon (given the covert and typically underground nature of such facilities), why would this not be an ethical decision for those people who feel that the millions of people at risk from an Islamist strike (sure to be directed at a major populated area) are worth more than the tens of thousands who would be killed by a small bunker buster nuke?

    Some people employ the perfectly rational argument that I like to call “the arithmetic of life-and-death”…saving a million lives by killing fifty thousand is entirely ethical for these people. I am undecided on this point; I would never say that my life was worth more than the life of a peaceful Iranian citizen, but I might kill one peaceful Iranian citizen to save myself and ten others. Indeed, I might kill one peaceful Iranian to save ten peaceful Pakistanis, with my life not in the balance, and therefore not affecting my judgement.

    So if you would rather see innocent people in a country with which your country is at war die as collateral damaged than allow that country’s soldiers to successfully prosecute that war and threaten countries allied to yours, it would certainly be ethically consistent for you to support first-strike nuclear action in certain circumstances. Again, Sam is compromising his values for a pragmatic reason in the event of an extremely improbable scenario taking place. And I hazard to guess that you (KG) would do so too, if you agree with the statement “wars are a horrible but sometimes necessary reality in today’s world.” ALL WAR, as traditionally fought, includes the death of innocents. People who don’t agree with fighting for their values can still be killed because of their unwillingness to fight. Personally, there are very few scenarios in which I think war is justifiable, but even I agree that it sometimes is, and therefore some collateral damage is ethical for me. Pacifism is an entirely indefensible position, in my opinion.

    So there are maybe clashes of value systems here; maybe KG is willing to die to save innocent Iranians. Maybe I am prepared to die so that my country doesn’t torture someone in an attempt to save my life. Maybe Sam Harris is not prepared to die if torturing a terrorist would save his life. Maybe inconveniencing Muslims for their religion alone is wrong, even if they are more likely to be terrorists than non-Muslims. These are complex issues. But I am certain of one thing: talking about them as if they were simple choices and choosing to label Sam Harris a torture apologist and racist, is definitely not okay with me.

  44. chrisdevries says

    An additional point: I had not seen the link KG gave in #38, and was unaware that Harris himself saw torture as ethically necessary in highly improbable circumstances. I do not agree with him. This makes him someone who is unwilling to sacrifice his life to defend the human rights values he holds in extreme circumstances. If that is what KG believes is a “torture apologist” then we have an argument over labels, not content.

    But most people can find some example of an instance in which a closely-held value of theirs must be discarded. For example, killing people is wrong. But I would try to kill someone if it was their intent to kill me and killing them was the only way I could prevent it. I would feel incredibly bad about it for the rest of my life, but would learn to live with the act via the following justification: a person who tries to kill me has already decided that his reasons for doing so are worth more than my life; he has therefore sentenced himself to death if I kill him because even if I believe killing is wrong, my would-be killer is not operating by the ethical standards I hold. The aggressor makes the rules, and if I don’t live by them, I die by them.

    It is a very short way from justifying killing someone to justifying torturing them if there was no other way to stop them from directly or indirectly killing you. I’m cool with personally defending myself in a life-and-death situation because it is me, personally, who has made the choice and is going to live with the consequences. But how am I to know that the people torturing on my behalf to save my life have not exhausted all other possibilities? And even if they have, compromising my own values to save my life stains those values forevermore. It makes what we are fighting for in this ideological war not worth having. Me killing an individual to save my life hurts me and only me. But in the clash of ideologies, I believe my culture is genuinely morally superior to an Islamist’s. Therefore, I would rather die than see my culture ethically diminish itself.

    So Sam Harris is right about one thing: the ethics here are far more complex than they seem.

  45. ixchel, the jaguar goddess of midwifery and war ॐ says

    talking about them as if they were simple choices and choosing to label Sam Harris a torture apologist and racist, is definitely not okay with me.

    Haha! Who cares what’s okay with you?

    Sam Harris is a racist and so are you.

  46. Brownian says

    Even though the efficacy of torture is questionable, can people really not think of incredibly improbable circumstances in which it would be the only ethical choice

    What a dumb thing to say.

    I don’t know whether or not it would effectively cure AIDS by smashing your head open against a wall.

    Can you really not think of incredibly improbable circumstances in which it would be the only ethical choice?

  47. Brownian says

    But how am I to know that the people torturing on my behalf to save my life have not exhausted all other possibilities?

    You’re wilfully ignorant, and dangerously obedient to authority figures.

  48. Paul says

    Key word: irrational. The fact that most of the recent airplane-based terrorism attempts have been conducted by Muslims makes this minor discrimination completely rational.

    For men in their early thirties, African-Americans are about 7 times more likely to have a prison record than whites.

    Racism against blacks painting them as more criminal than whites due to inherent lawlessness is completely rational.

    Humans are machines that can rationalize anything, given enough motivation. Using “rationality” or lack thereof as a prerequisite for racism is just a way of ignoring institutionalized racism; whatever the current way of thinking is defines what is considered rational or irrational (cf. thinking on women or other minorities throughout time, which has most definitely changed), so it is a handy was of only directing the charge away from what those in power already believe. It makes the word useless.

    I don’t know why I’m bothering…

  49. Nightjar says

    Similarly, singling out Muslims for an extra security check, if it could be done with 100% efficacy, would be a pragmatic way to stop terrorists from destroying airplanes and buildings, given that the rates of this kind of terrorism amongst Muslims are higher than amongst non-Muslims. The fact that Sam doesn’t acknowledge that identifying all Muslims based on behavior and physical qualities is impossible is a failure of logic on Sam Harris’s part, not a demonstration of racism, at least not according to my definition of the term.

    Oh, sure. The fact that Sam Harris wants to single out people based on their physical appearance totally doesn’t make him racist. At all. Right.

    racism is irrational discrimination against a group of people who are underprivileged (based on the colour of their skin and/or their cultural background) [...] Key word: irrational.

    Wait. So if the key word is “irrational”, and according to you Sam’s position results from a “failure of logic” (i.e., he’s not being rational about it)… how the hell doesn’t this fit even your own definition of racism?

  50. David Marjanović says

    We can attribute most things to thought experiments, it doesn’t take much in the way of creative thinking (regardless of the likelihood) to come up with a scenario in which almost anything is ok

    That’s not at all true.

    Take torture. Not only do people lie under torture to make it stop, torture also gives people trouble distinguishing between their memories and their imagination, so they end up talking nonsense while actually believing it.

    With this in mind, I have no idea how to come up with a scenario where torture is OK.

    Clearly, Harris had no idea. That’s why he titled his essay “In Defense of Torture” and then wrote the stupid “Response to Controversy” linked to in comment 38.

  51. chrisdevries says

    Jeez, do I have to explain this to y’all.

    He wants to discriminate against Muslims for a rational reason. His intention is perfectly comprehensible, and if it were possible to identify all Muslims by some unique characteristic that all Muslims have, then I would agree with him.

    However, since there is no way to do so, he is being irrational and if he actually implemented a program or convinced someone to implement such a program which would identify “Muslim” passengers and screen them extra-hard, this would be irrational, and racist in nature.

    His desires are rational, his actions (if actions were taken) would not be. And you can totally conduct racist actions without knowing it; since I have seen no evidence that he is a racist in action, in the ideal, platonic world of belief where you can hold stupid beliefs and yet think they’re totally fine, he’s not trying to be racist at all, he’s trying to solve a problem that plagues our society.

    And as for Brownian’s comment, my whole point, if you had read what I wrote, is that I don’t agree with torture even in extreme circumstances, and would rather die than have someone save my life with information obtained through torture. I don’t know where you got the idea that I trusted the government to do the right thing and only use torture when there were no other options. Ideologically speaking, our culture’s values (you know, what we supposedly stand for, if people didn’t constantly break the rules when times got tough) are more important than lives lost through a refusal to compromise those values, even my own.

  52. Brownian says

    And as for Brownian’s comment, my whole point, if you had read what I wrote, is that I don’t agree with torture even in extreme circumstances, and would rather die than have someone save my life with information obtained through torture.

    Sorry, I misread you. I apologise.

  53. chrisdevries says

    No problem.

    As for the racist issue, I concede that his plans would be racist in action, because there is no way to do what he’s trying to do without being racist. I suppose that is kind of what counts in the end, but I don’t think his idea is racist in theory.

    So yes, he’s being a massive idiot by not seeing the obvious reality of how trying to identify Muslims will produce huge numbers of false positives and probably false negatives too, when terrorists start changing their behavior and physical qualities to not be taken aside for extra screening. Idiot and logic fail…not yet racist in my books.

  54. ixchel, the jaguar goddess of midwifery and war ॐ says

    Every racist wants to discriminate for something they consider rational.

    You are a racist, chrisdevries.

  55. chrisdevries says

    If it is racist to think that people with strong fundamentalist religious faith, or other beliefs held dogmatically and without regard for evidence, are more likely to be willing to commit unspeakable acts of violence than people with no dogmatic beliefs, then I guess I’m a racist. But I’m also not wrong, and if there were definite trends between a certain type of violence and a certain religion and it were possible to tell people of that religion apart from other people, I would certainly use this religious profiling were I tasked with keeping people safe.

    It just so happens that more airplane terrorists have been Islamists than non-Islamists in the 20th century. How is saying “if there were a way of identifying all Islamists for extra screening, it would be ethical” any different than saying “if there were a way of identifying all Muslims for extra screening it would be ethical”? Islamists advocate violence in the name of their beliefs; their goal is theocracy. Some Muslims are Islamists. No non-Muslims are Islamists. Both Islamism and Islam are ideas held by people of many different races. Sam is advocating minor discrimination against a group of people who hold certain ideas, not a group of people of a certain skin colour. The fact that it’s impossible to do so means his ideas are not possible to put into practice. I would happily call myself a person who treats people differently, even unfairly, because of their religious beliefs…but a racist?

  56. ixchel, the jaguar goddess of midwifery and war ॐ says

    No non-Muslims are Islamists.

    You’re seriously tempting me.

  57. Nightjar says

    He wants to discriminate against Muslims for a rational reason.

    Leaving aside the fact that they’re not rational reasons at all… no. He wants to discriminate against people who look like what Muslims are supposed to look like (and who happen to be an ethnic minority in the places he wants to do this) for irrational reasons. You said so yourself.

    if he actually implemented a program or convinced someone to implement such a program which would identify “Muslim” passengers and screen them extra-hard, this would be irrational, and racist in nature.

    Precisely. Since he advocates for something that is racist in nature (even by your definition), I have no problem calling him a racist. It’s the consequences that matter.

    And you can totally conduct racist actions without knowing it

    Yeah, but thankfully not without someone else noticing and calling you a racist for conducting or wanting to conduct racist actions. And after having it explained to you why the actions you want to conduct are racist, the “not knowing it” excuse kind of doesn’t work any more, does it?

    he’s not trying to be racist at all, he’s trying to solve a problem that plagues our society.

    He’s worsening a problem that plagues our society: bigotry against Muslims and people who look like what Muslims are supposed to look like. I really don’t care what he’s not trying to be and what he’s trying to do.

  58. ixchel, the jaguar goddess of midwifery and war ॐ says

    Once again, the worst thing in the world is to call someone a racist.

    Calling someone a racist is much, much worse than doing something racist.

    (The reason this is true is because being called a racist happens to white people more often than something racist happens to white people. And things that happen to white people are the things that matter.)

  59. chrisdevries says

    So Sam Harris is either clueless of his idea’s inherent impracticality and the racism that would be inevitable were it implemented, or he is actually a racist.

    Either way doesn’t work out so well for him: if the best thing you can say about someone is that they don’t hold racist beliefs intentionally, that’s not saying much. Truly though, I think that right now he thinks he’s being perfectly reasonable and is so unaware of his own privilege that he is simply unable to acknowledge that there is no possible way to tell if someone is Muslim or not reliably. Sam Harris isn’t stupid (I see plenty of evidence of intelligence in many pieces of his writing on other subjects), but you don’t have to be stupid to be blind to the way your own privilege twists a set of facts into what seems to be a perfectly reasonable belief (but is vehemently not so). I’m very certain that most (probably all) of the people in this discussion (including myself) have come to realise that a belief they once held was irrational, and that it was a privileged perspective that made it seem totally reasonable for so long. It’s what you do when that internal realisation comes and you realise that your position was not rational, and therefore unethical, that matters. The longer he goes without having made that realisation and changed his tune, the more I’ll think that he HAS made that realisation and despite this, is continuing to advocate a policy that would result in racist action taking place.

    For now though, I see Sam as a normal white, pretty stubborn privileged guy who happens to be exceedingly good at making waves in the atheist community by seeking evidence for ideas that are outside the mainstream. Despite the fact that I disagree with him a good portion of the time, he makes me analyse my reasons for doing so, and it never hurts to shore up your opinions with actual evidence and change your mind if the evidence you thought was present was actually very weak.

    Oh, and by the way…ixchel: how can a person who doesn’t follow the Islamic faith be an Islamist? It would seem to me a prerequisite. Not all Muslims are Islamists, but all Islamists are certainly Muslims. It’s got “Islam” right there in the name! Just sayin’!

  60. Nightjar says

    I think that right now he thinks he’s being perfectly reasonable

    But of course he does. So does every racist out there.

    So what?

  61. ixchel, the jaguar goddess of midwifery and war ॐ says

    Oh, and by the way…ixchel: how can a person who doesn’t follow the Islamic faith be an Islamist?

    You’ve convinced me to find a way.

    +++++
    By the way, your earlier claims — “Islamists advocate violence in the name of their beliefs; their goal is theocracy” — neither is true in most cases. Look it up.

  62. hikinthru says

    Having read most of the comments above, I believe that Harris’ writings are ‘rationalist’ and not ‘racist.’ I agree with Blackford (Talking Philosophy: http://blog.talkingphilosophy.com/?p=5291&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+CombinedTpmBloggingFeed+%28Combined+TPM+Blogging+Feed%29) that the use of the term racist, in recent decades has taken on a taint that lends itself to over-use when aimed at people with whom one disagrees (the same could be said of the use of ‘homophobe’ in the recent Chick-Filet silliness) over a sensitive topic involving people with different belief systems. I’ve read a fair amount of Harris’ work, and it is sometimes clear that he’s biased (so is Richard Dawkins, but I still love his books and debates).

    Harris can be accused of gaps in ‘reason’ in a technical sense with regard to some of the convictions he’s persuaded himself of, but to leap to racism is just name calling and completely ends any intelligent, constructive dialogue.

  63. KG says

    hikinthru,

    Having read your comment, I believe you’re at best a complete fuckwit:
    1) Harris’s advocacy of racial profiling (don’t try to pretend it’s anything else) is both irrational, and if accepted, would reinforce existing injustices and inequalities between ethnic groups. It is, therefore, racist. Even worse is his advocacy, in certain circumstances, of a genocidal nuclear first strike. Harris may believe he’s not a racist, but that’s not a judgment on which anyone has to take his word.

    2) Anyone who can deny that the management of Chick-fil-A are homophobic is either that, or a homophobe themselves.

    Incidentally, citing the misogynist shitbag Russell Blackford isn’t going to impress many people here.

  64. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    the same could be said of the use of ‘homophobe’ in the recent Chick-Filet silliness

    Then how else would you describe Cathy’s stance?

  65. Stevarious says

    the same could be said of the use of ‘homophobe’ in the recent Chick-Filet silliness

    If I said ‘I don’t hate Christians, I just don’t think they should be allowed to have the same rights as normal people’, what would my stance be called? Christianphobic?

    So why is hating gays and lying about it any better?

  66. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    And for fuck’s sake it’s Chick-fil-A

    Lame as it may be that thier name