Why I am an atheist – Justin »« Tellin’ it like it is

Addressing Sam Harris

I’m going to try a different approach to Sam Harris’s accusations. Since one of the problems with grappling with the objectionable ideas Harris has thrown out is that they’re fuzzily presented and laced with caveats to hide behind, I’ll just state my position as clearly as I can on a couple of the contentious issues, and why I think that way. Maybe contrasting them with Harris’s arguments will at least clarify the differences.

On blogs

I found this the least of Sam Harris’s objectionable views, so I’ll put it first. He doesn’t like blogs. I do. I think they’re a fine way to engage public discussion, pro and con.

It is difficult to overlook the role that blog comments play in all this. Having a blog and building a large community of readers can destroy a person’s intellectual integrity—as appears to have happened in the case of PZ Myers. Many people who read his blog come away convinced that I am a racist who advocates the widespread use of torture and a nuclear first strike against the entire Muslim world. The most despicable claims about me appear in the comment thread, of course, but Myers is responsible for publishing them. And so I hold him responsible for circulating and amplifying some of the worst distortions of my views found on the Internet.

What, exactly, is so destructive of of a person’s integrity about having a large community of readers? I know that Sam Harris has a large community of readers, too; quite likely larger than mine. I also know from the comments that they’ve left here and on twitter that they can be quite sycophantic. What is the secret to the apparently obvious incorruptibility of Sam Harris?

As for what I’ve said, I’ve never addressed the subject of using nuclear weapons against the Muslim world (I’m against it); I haven’t said that Harris advocates the widespread use of torture; I do think he’s racist in his thinking, but then, we all are. That means that if my commenters have expressed despicable distortions of his views in my comments, they must have gotten them from somewhere else. Most of them, apparently, have gotten these ideas from reading Sam Harris’s books. Therefore, the person who should be held responsible is…Sam Harris.

Now also, if he’d bothered to read these comments with an unbiased eye, he’d notice that there are people commenting here who detest Sam Harris and everything about him; some who like some of his ideas, and like others; and others, especially since he recently linked to me, who are vigorously defending him. This isn’t a propaganda organ. People are arguing over the issues in those comment threads. A Sam Harris opponent could also claim that I was circulating and amplifying defenses of the odious views of Sam Harris.

This is the reality of open discussion: you don’t get one view. Not everyone agrees with you. Not everyone agrees with me, even on my own blog.

And yes, I’ve been getting email telling me both that I’ve been too hard and too soft on Harris. I’m more inclined to agree with the latter view right now.

On torture:

I categorically reject it: torture should never be used, under any circumstances, because a) it corrupts the institutions that allow it, b) violates the rule of law, and c) freakin’ doesn’t work.

Sam Harris gave us an independent, straightforward explanation of his position:

Predictably, this article refers to the fact that I have discussed the ethics of torture in the past—and it does so in order to brand me as a moral lunatic. From reading this piece, and hundreds like it, one would never imagine that my position on torture is more or less identical to the one prescribed in that handbook of evil, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (Read the entry on torture there, especially the section entitled “The Beating,” and then tell me that being categorically “against torture” is a morally uncomplicated stance to adopt.)

I thought the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article was terrible. It’s largely anti-torture, but goes out of its way to justify “one-off emergencies in which the use of torture is morally justifiable”…which is what I think Harris’s position is. My problem is that every time these mysterious “one-off emergencies” are trotted out, they’re either wildly unlikely hypotheticals or awful after the fact rationalizations of brutality.

Take “The Beating”. It’s a horrible little story: car thief takes a car with a child in it, abandons it, and is shortly arrested at a railway station. According to the account, it was 20 minutes between the time the car was stolen and the time they had the thief in a truck on the way to the police station. There’s urgency in getting the perpetrator to say where the car was abandoned, because a child left in a car on a hot day is at risk. That urgency is used to justify beating the guy into semi-consciousness to get the information.

Part-way through his umpteenth, “It wasn’t me”, a questioner clipped him across the ear as if he were a child, an insult calculated to bring the Islander to his feet to fight, there a body-punch elicited a roar of pain, but he fought back until he lapsed into semi-consciousness under a rain of blows. He quite enjoyed handing out a bit of biffo, but now, kneeling on hands and knees in his own urine, in pain he had never known, he finally realised the beating would go on until he told the police where he had abandoned the child and the car.

My first thought, though, was “wait — they caught the guy on foot shortly after the car was stolen. It isn’t going to be in the next county — they know it’s going to be near the station. Why don’t they look for it?” I read this story as one of the police enjoying an excuse to beat someone to a pulp, rather than just driving around nearby streets to find an abandoned car with a kid in it. Instead of doing police work, they got to play the role of thug. The story would have also had a very different ending if, instead of semi-consciousness, the thief were rendered completely unconscious, or dead. This is not an example to laud or use to guide your ethics, except as a bad example.

It’s also interesting that at the end of the article, it’s said that if torture is allowed in emergencies, the torturers “should resign or be dismissed from their position”. Were they? This ethical consequence is left out of the story.

But this isn’t my main complaint with the article. It’s a fundamental flaw in all the pro-torture arguments: they all assume that torture works, that it is an effective way to extract the truth from someone. I couldn’t believe that the Stanford article didn’t even consider this basic assumption, that you can get useful information by way of torture, and I read it a couple of times to see if I’d missed it — but it really does assume throughout that torture is just a distasteful way to get an answer. All you have to do is beat the car thief long enough, or start pulling the fingernails off the terrorist who planted a nuclear bomb, and eventually they’ll tell you the truth.

It seems to me, though, that what torture is good for is getting the tortured to tell the torturer what he wants to hear. That’s what it has always been used for; truth doesn’t come into play. If the car thief were determined to cause the child harm, he could have sent them off to a random address to get the beatings to stop; if the terrorist were a fanatic determined to wreak destruction at any cost (could that be?), he could send the interrogators off on all kinds of wild goose chases while the timer ticks down.

So this is a difference between us: we both oppose torture, but I’m incapable of finding a single convincing counter-example, and he can.

Profiling

I think that racial profiling is inconscionable and useless. It punishes the innocent for the crimes of a few, it creates new loopholes that a determined terrorist can exploit, and it generates a false sense of security by artificially exonerating whole classes of people for reasons that have nothing to do with their likelihood of committing a crime. It’s also a case of chasing the past without looking to the future; I’m hoping the people responsible for security aren’t sitting there thinking terrorists are idiots and that they’ll just keep doing the same thing, with no creativity in their planning at all.

I can see where behavioral profiling would be useful in some cases; if someone is looking nervous, or is engaging in unusual behavior, sure, check them out a little more carefully, figure out what’s wrong. But that’s not what Sam Harris is talking about. The giveaway is his frequent excuse that it’s not racism because his version of profiling would also target him. Why? It’s not his behavior. I’ve seen Sam at the airport; he’s calm and confident, like always, and doesn’t have any unusual tics; he doesn’t carry a suitcase gingerly, like it contains a bomb that might go off. He’s probably the last person I’d imagine to start praying or haranguing the crowds about their damnably heathenish ways, nor is he going to unfurl a prayer rug and start ululating. There aren’t any behaviors that he exhibits that aren’t the same as the thousands of ordinary businessmen in nice suits milling about in the terminal.

So let’s dismiss these demurrals that he’s not talking about racial profiling. Of course he is. He thinks he’d be likely to be singled out for scrutiny because he looks like he’s of middle-eastern descent. The fact that he’s willing to bear extra examination is nice and socially responsible, but it doesn’t matter: it doesn’t improve our security to have Sam Harris and many other people given preferential rigor.

Now I’ve adressed the profiling issue multiple times: my initial post, some further comments, a response to his rebuttal (where I again point out the absurdity of thinking it’s not racist if it targets yourself), and my appreciation of Bruce Schneier’s arguments. I think I’ve been clear: I do not approve of racial profiling at all, and neither does a real security expert. It doesn’t work!

I won’t say more. But it seems only fair that I leave the last word to one of my “growing army of trolls”, Marcus Ranum, who has a security background and knows a little bit about this subject.

Schneier points out:
(TSA screeners can’t sort based on religion; they have to sort based on something they can detect. And since there’s no such thing as “looking Muslim” — it’s a belief system, not an ethnic group — they’re going to sort on something like “looking Arab,” whatever that ends up meaning.) Then, you’re going to have to analyze the resulting security system. How does it work, and how does it fail? What’s the false-positive and false-negative rate? (You’ll have to do some theoretical analysis, at the very least refuting current research.)

And that’s it, right there. The rest of the debate is just noise. And you gotta hand it to Bruce, he included a link to “Strong Profiling is Not Mathematically Optimal for Discovering Rare Malfeasors” in PNAS ( http://tinyurl.com/cjcbc96 ) I believe he included that reference in “Liars and Outliers” – his latest book. It’s quite good; I recommend it. Though it’ll maybe make the philosophers and social scientists scream.

Harris’ response to Bruce’s point is pathetic. First he says You have delivered a litany of concerns about profiling that are (in my view) easily answered. and then proceeds not to answer them. Instead he goes off on a tangent about how islamic terrorists have clearly stated their intent and are not shy about talking about their plans in public. Harris ignores the fact that generally terrorists don’t discuss their plans while they are waiting in the security line. Harris continues to ignore (I can’t believe he’s stupid, so I assume he’s arguing in bad faith) the point that you can’t identify a muslim visually unless they are carrying a sign. He then side-tracks about the base-rate fallacy. Ouch, this is really bad.

Bruce isn’t a debater, BTW (though he kicked my ass at the RSA crypto commons this spring when I debated him about software liability) he’s too honest and he’s mostly concerned with educating people, not winning. I am not impressed with Harris’ honesty in this debate.

Harris digs in deeper by arguing about the Israeli behavioral profiling process which is a false equivalence to “religious profiling” or “racial profiling” because, yes, you actually can tell if someone is sweating or clutching a detonator or holding their bag extremely gingerly or the peroxide in their coke bottle is eating a hole in their hand… Most security experts, BTW, are pretty impressed with El Al’s security screening process but will say in the next breath, “… but it doesn’t scale.” I have said that I don’t know how many times, myself.

Schneier tries to get Harris to stick to the point:
That’s behavioral profiling, completely different from what we’re discussing here. I want to stick with your ethnic profiling system.

And Harris dodges it:
Well, I disagree. And the Israelis, who are generally credited with being the masters of behavioral profiling, appear to disagree as well. A person’s behavior can only be interpreted in context. What does a man’s sweating profusely and looking agitated mean? It means one thing if he is a morbidly obese senior from Alabama traveling with his wife and their church group, who is struggling to get all the trinkets he purchased in Jerusalem into a bursting suitcase; it means another if he is a 23-year-old man traveling on a Pakistani passport who is doing his best to not make eye contact with anyone. The distinction between behavioral profiling and everything else that can be noticed about a person is a myth. However, we can table this issue for the time being.

All the things above – passports, ticket purchases, luggage, etc, etc – are legitimate profiling techniques because they actually are something you can decide on.

OK, I’m going to stop here. I had a few bits of respect for Harris going into reviewing the debate closely and now I see that not only is he wrong, he knows it and is dodging the topic and playing debaters’ games rather than arguing in good faith. That’s pathetic. And Bruce is too nice to slam him for it.

As Bruce tries to point out in the debate, the whole profile process revolves around criteria that can be decided – because if they can’t be decided, they can’t be used. Then, once you’ve decided, you can look for correlations. If Harris was being honest he’d say “people with hooked noses” (or whatever the stereotype muslim he has in mind) and then security people could determine whether or not hooked noses are a decent metric. I suspect we know the answer to that. Based on 9/11, there are certain criteria that are searched for: one-way ticket, recently purchased, passport from a certain country, no frequent flier miles, etc.

Comments

  1. says

    Harris and PZ are coming from very different places.

    Harris believes he has a responsibility to make the world a better place by propagating an enlightened perspective. He is absolutely committed, thoroughly compassionate, disarmingly articulate, but perhaps a little naive. Above all, he wants us to understand him.

    PZ believes that much of what’s wrong with the world is down to “religion”, so he champions evidence-based public policy. He enjoys making a noise, breaking stuff, poking people in the eye – he’s basically a clown. Above all, he wants us to notice him.

    And yet, they’re both working to achieve one another’s ends: Harris has very effectively undermined “religious” interests, and PZ has been stalwart in his efforts to secure our civilization.

    Is either of them perfect? Tchaah!
    Do they disagree on some issues? So what?

    Anyone who doesn’t admire both of these people doesn’t know which side his bread is buttered…

  2. says

    This question of profiling is mathematically the same as the theory behind screening tests in medicine. It is completely understood and anyone who wishes to engage this issue with a shred of intellectual respectability should be completely familiar with it, and apply it. Here’s a summary. I don’t believe this particular summary says so explicitly, but the basic idea is Bayes’ theorem. In this case, because the percentage of people who “look muslim” who are actually boarding a plane with evil intent is extremely small — like 1 in 100 million maybe? — the test is useless. Period.

  3. says

    Another flaw with the ticking-bomb scenario is that even if the bomb is found and defused, the question “is there a second bomb?” will almost certainly be raised, and the torture will resume. From a terrorist’s point of view, the optimum strategy to mitigate the torture is to send the police off on a wild goose chase.

  4. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    PZ believes that much of what’s wrong with the world is down to “religion”, so he champions evidence-based public policy. He enjoys making a noise, breaking stuff, poking people in the eye – he’s basically a clown. Above all, he wants us to notice him.

    Gee, what a sore loser you are. PZ is evidenced based because he is a scientist, and science is evience based. Very logical conncection, and science works great. Whereas your hero just mentally wanks without respect to reality. Check to see which discipline, science or philosophy, is progressing the knowledge of humanity faster, and getting things done that haven’t been done a generation before. The one wearing the red bulb nose is the one who is not based in reality….

  5. Pyra says

    I like reading both Harris and Myers. I tend to gravitate my opinions more in alignment with Myers, after hearing all I can about an issue. In a way, Harris is good at bringing up topics I thought I had a grasp on. Then it almost becomes reverse-psychology when I’m reading his discourse on certain issues. I find myself wondering about the other side’s argument. Sometimes, I come away on the other side, sometimes on his side, but not without a nearly rebellious reaction to his words. I happen to like Myers’ snark and sarcastic bent. I also like blogs. I learn much in the links in the comments, here, too. I’m not giving up on any of the people I read just because they have “deep rifts.” I’m pretty strong enough in my mind to take the heat of dissent.

  6. Chuck says

    Another problem with allowing torture “only in emergencies” is that “emergency” is never defined, or only defined loosely, and so the definition is itself subject to abuse. It won’t be long before all kinds of things are considered emergencies to justify the “expedient” of torture.

    The main problem, as PZ stated, is that it just doesn’t work. We’ve all been trained by Jack Bauer to think that torture is very effective — that’s the gist of the Stanford article — and that patriotic individuals will do this unpleasant task for the good of the country, no matter how distasteful it is (24 was pretty much just one long argument for torture). But the foremost goal of the tortured is not to tell the truth, it’s to get the torture to stop. So whatever gets the torture to stop is what the person being tortured will do, regardless of whether it’s true or not. I’m not sure why Harris is so refractory to this one simple fact.

  7. AndrewD says

    With respect to Torture, it is important to remember that in Europe it is Illegal. Article 3 of the European Convention of Human rights explicitly prohibits torture As Wikipedia puts it

    Article 3 prohibits torture, and “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. There are no exceptions or limitations on this right. This provision usually applies, apart from torture, to cases of severe police violence and poor conditions in detention.

    I am aware that there is evidence that the British government has colluded with the US authorities to circumvent this prohibition (Extraordinary Rendition). This means there has been a deliberate criminal act not that torture is acceptable, it isn’t and the US/British governments should be prosecuted for their actions within Europe.

  8. nms says

    Above all, he wants us to notice him.

    No-one responded to your comment the first time, so you posted it again?

  9. says

    I’ve had to do some serious revision about how I think about some issues and some of the people who communicate controversial positions.

    This is important: All people tend to believe first and have reasons afterward.

    Not always. But absolutely everyone does this. And, that does not mean, by the way, that belief — or “conviction” or “reasoned position”, etc. etc — is not itself subject to revision. But everyone does it at some point, some more than others, and in the worst cases, it would seem that no force in nature can alter that belief.

    What I’ve had to reconcile, is the tough point that even my heros and mentors are obvious, flaming idiots from time to time. Sometimes they come around and sometimes I do, but it happens.

  10. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    Anyone who doesn’t admire both of these people doesn’t know which side his their bread is buttered…

    FIFY

    And Vijen, your point was equally stupid the first time you posted it.

    I guess I don’t know which side my bread is buttered on.

  11. devoniansplit says

    Nerd,

    Gee, what a sore loser you are. PZ is evidenced based because he is a scientist, and science is evience based. Very logical conncection, and science works great. Whereas your hero just mentally wanks without respect to reality. Check to see which discipline, science or philosophy, is progressing the knowledge of humanity faster, and getting things done that haven’t been done a generation before. The one wearing the red bulb nose is the one who is not based in reality….

    Citation please?

  12. Brownian says

    Anyone who doesn’t admire both of these people doesn’t know which side his bread is buttered…

    I loathe this culture of hero worship that plagues the atheist community.

    We’re gonna have our own Penn State, or Catholic child rape scandal, and the perpetrator’s defenders are going to follow the script of denial and minimisation exactly.

  13. Chuck says

    I’m not sure why I should care on which side my bread is buttered. It all ends up in the same place.

  14. says

    It’s already happened, Brownian. There are some heroes of the atheist movement who have been found to be sexist douchebags, and people are keeping quiet about it.

  15. anbheal says

    We should also note that a great many large busy important countries such as, oh, Brazil don’t argue too much over the issues of airport security and profiling. Why? They don’t wage wars against a billion brown people. The larger issue of racism lies outside of profiling. We wage racist-cum-imperialist wars, and then act surprised when the victims fight back in ways we find objectionable, using IEDs or airplanes, rather than cruise missiles launched at our cities from ships off the coast of New York.

    We wouldn’t need to even argue about racist profiling if we stopped behaving as a racist bully toward huge swaths of the world.

  16. says

    Anbheal’s point about US foreign policy is, of course, true. Shame he spoils it by the assumptive “we” – is it so hard to see that 95% of the world, including me, isn’t included in that “we”?

  17. dereksmear says

    Why stop at criticising his views on torture, ethnic profiling or nuclear strikes?

    Harris’ politics are pretty obnoxious, but his ideas on the paranormal and reincarnation are just plain ridiculous and worth criticising too.

    Incidentially, Harris bithces that PZ is “responsible for publishing them. And so I hold him responsible for circulating and amplifying some of the worst distortions of my views found on the Internet.”

    Perhaps he should keep an eye on some of the comments on his facebook page after he releases his fear-mongering posts:

    https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=10150332326536015&id=22457171014

  18. says

    The torture scenario leaves out one possible outcome.

    “It wasn’t me,” said the man they picked up and assumed was the thief. So they beat the crap out of him.

    He wasn’t the thief. The real thief took the train home and was relaxing with a beer while some poor schmoe took the heat.

    The kid died. The poor schmoe was tried and convicted and sent to death row, where he spent 20 years, until DNA testing proved that he wasn’t in the car and his conviction was reversed. (Or, alternately, he went to his death truthfully declaring his innocence while the family of the child spat on an innocent man’s grave.)

  19. mythbri says

    @Brownian #13

    Of course we will. The thing that started this most recent back-and-forth between PZ Myers and Sam Harris was an article that was written about how being an atheist or skeptic doesn’t automatically give you credibility on a wide spectrum of issues. Being reasonable and rational in ONE aspect of human thought doesn’t necessarily mean that it translates to ALL aspects of human thought.

    We want to think that the public figures we admire are “on” more than they are “off”, and so we will tweak the facts and roll out the justifications and scream “nuance!” I think that desire to see our “heroes” frees us from the responsibility to think too hard about things, but that responsibility is something that we should embrace.

  20. mythbri says

    @Vijen #17

    anbheal hasn’t, to my knowledge, identified as male or female. Your pronouns are making assumptions.

  21. coelsblog says

    PZ, do you ever disagree with someone nowadays without gumby-quoting their views? (Yes I know, I’m a tone troll.)

  22. gussnarp says

    These hypothetical questions about torture may show interesting ethical nuances for philosophers and psychologists to ponder, but to me they have little bearing on the real world, where I have no problem saying torture is unequivocally wrong. Not only that, they have no relation whatsoever to the issues of torture that actually confront us. The people who have been tortured by our soldiers have been tortured to find out information they may or may not have that may or may not save lives if it turns out to be quality information and is acted on in exactly the right way at the right time. It is (or was, or may be, I’m not entirely convinced of what’s still being done in secret and what’s not) being used for routine intelligence gathering and the lives saved are completely assumed and not directly connected.

    There is no ticking bomb, no child in a hot car, and to introduce one into a discussion of real torture in the real world is a distortion of the issue. Keep it for your grand philosophical debates, but shelve it when we’re talking about actual government policies and procedures.

  23. devoniansplit says

    Brownian,

    I loathe this culture of hero worship that plagues the atheist community.

    We’re gonna have our own Penn State, or Catholic child rape scandal, and the perpetrator’s defenders are going to follow the script of denial and minimisation exactly.

    I have never understood why people bring this point – perhaps you can enlighten me. First of all, “culture of hero worship” does not plague the atheist community – in my opinion. I guess when you sit astride intellectual mountains there isn’t anyone to look up to, eh? Everyone is beneath you and you don’t require mentors or dare I say it – heroes. It strains my credulity to believe that you honestly accept your own point. Harris isn’t above being tested and second guessed – no one is – but we, as a community, aren’t collectively worshiping at his alter – either. We call him on his errors and his inaccuracies but we don’t need to crucify him – he doesn’t need to die for his sins and he definitely doesn’t need to die for mine. But he gets – not deserves – our respect because he is pushing forward valuable concepts that our culture needs in order to survive. His positions of torture and profiling are, perhaps, abhorrent but he, the man – Sam Harris – is not. Your supposed plague is misperceived – perhaps it is time to come up from the sewers – the rats were never here.

  24. Brownian says

    It’s already happened, Brownian. There are some heroes of the atheist movement who have been found to be sexist douchebags, and people are keeping quiet about it.

    Indeed. I didn’t read the entirety of the last thread (I read all of Marcus Ranum’s excellent comments), but there were enough “Sam Harris is a hero!!” and “you don’t like him because he’s not PC!” to make me ill.

  25. Draken says

    I’m very much against torture for nearly all the reasons mentioned- but I’m also convinced it works, under specific circumstances. Namely, if you know upfront your victim has useful knowledge which can be checked, and you’re absolutely ruthless. It helps if your victim has no legal defense.

    I’m pretty certain there must be victims of for example Chilean torture who can attest to its effectivity (warning: pretty graphical WP article).

    So it should on no account become legal anywhere, ever.

  26. Randomfactor says

    the torturers “should resign or be dismissed from their position”.

    No. Same cell, same sentence as the suspect would receive if convicted.

    If it’s worth it to torture someone to save a life, it’s certainly worth it to face the death penalty to save a life.

  27. Brownian says

    Oops. Pretend I blockquote PZ’s comment.

    have never understood why people bring this point – perhaps you can enlighten me.

    Simple. There are, in these discussions, always a contingent who argue the opposite of your claim, that Harris (or Hitchens, or Dawkins, or PZ) is above criticism, that his efforts in promoting atheism provide him with a sort of immunity, and we should simply thank him and be on our way.

  28. says

    @mythbri: @Woo_Monster:
    My pronouns are generic, following the usage of the last millenium of English, and ignoring a very recent, and so far unsuccessful attempt to insist on specifying gender. There are many languages, for example Korean, which mandate the expression of relative social status, so that one party in a conversation must always defer to the other. By comparison, English is superbly free of such discrimination. I concede that the current situation with English is unfortunate, but if you use “their” for a singular referent in your SAT you will be marked down. If you really imagine that language usage is an effective proxy for poltical orientation then I suggest you learn Chinese.

  29. anbheal says

    Vijen — good catch, my apologies, thank all that’s, em, holy that the vast majority of you aren’t we.

  30. patterson says

    I’ve never understood why the suspect in the ticking time bomb is expected to tell the truth, even if they do know it. Any old crap would stop the torture. It would take a while for the torturers find out that you lied, and then all you have to do is keep telling lies until its too late. It might even be preferable in a way as the security forces waste resources chasing wild goose stories.

    Also “the beating”, is there any way to verify the truth of the account? How do we know whether or not the cops bothered to interrogate the guy, maybe they just decided to lay in a beating and rationalized it afterward. Perhaps it is true but without verification then we’d have to assume the possibility that the account is fictional and treat it as hypothetical. Also what if brutality and racial profiling are routine, and as a result “islanders” don’t normally trust or cooperate with cops, making torture and brutality counterproductive, leading to situations like the one described.

    If you’re going to argue for the use of torture you’d have to do a lot better than a couple of hypothetical or out of context examples like these.

  31. mythbri says

    @Vijen

    Who said anything about being political? I pointed out that your use of pronouns was assumptive in nature. That is so. This isn’t me insisting on specifying gender, it’s me making a request to avoid specifying gender. Assigning what is considered to be a “generic” characteristic to an unknown person seems exclusionary to me.

  32. plutoanimus says

    It appears that Sam, PZ and Marcus all agree:

    There’s nothing wrong with profiling on the basis of a person’s nationality.

    Correct?

  33. plutoanimus says

    (Quote supporting above comment:

    It means one thing if he is a morbidly obese senior from Alabama traveling with his wife and their church group, who is struggling to get all the trinkets he purchased in Jerusalem into a bursting suitcase; it means another if he is a 23-year-old man traveling on a Pakistani passport who is doing his best to not make eye contact with anyone.

    Sorry, I’m HTML illiterate.)

  34. ChasCPeterson says

    There are some heroes of the atheist movement who have been found to be sexist douchebags, and people are keeping quiet about it.

    et tu!
    “Always name names!”

  35. says

    Little question here, say you personally have information that the government wants and is willing to torture you. How soon will you give up that information? Or do you think these bad guys, who are not you, have great abilities or are specially trained to take all sorts of punishment, just to trick the government pigdogs?

    The fact is torture properly implemented will generate that information required, if that information exists in the victims mind. Only in James Bond movies do people manage to fool trained torturers.

    Yes, this is a nasty business, and certain not one that nice university professors should get involved in, but it does produce results faster than most other methods. Anyone who thinks different is pandering to their own biases.

    Of course, there is the chance that the victim will not have the information that he is being tortured for, but that is not important to the situation, which is to get this information as fast as possible. Eggs and Omelets. It seems to me that if the information is obtained via torture and the bomb is defused because of the torture, most everyone would be very happy to accept the assault on one victim for it. Or are we saying that if we only can get the information from the use of torture, we should not do that, and accept that the bomb will detonate?

    Sometimes one has to do the lesser of two evils for the greater benefit. And in your personal mind, I think most of us would be willing to do this, if we had sufficient reason to do it. But it is nice to sit back and project the “enlightened” view when there are no direct immediate consequences from holding such views as being against torture. After all it does get you groupies and girls.

  36. mythbri says

    @Balstrome #37

    But it is nice to sit back and project the “enlightened” view when there are no direct immediate consequences from holding such views as being against pro-torture.

    See what I did there? It’s easy to be pro-torture when you’re reasonably certain you’ll never be the target of it.

  37. peterhearn says

    Oh boy, more Harris bashing. Here we go. I really find it strange how so many people here can think themselves skeptics and yet rush to judge Harris over these bullshit accusations taken out of context.

    For those who don’t know the context, Harris was discussing ways to prevent another 9/11, and phrased some of his ideas poorly which landed him in hot water.

    Harris’s biggest mistake is that he takes it as a personal failure of his communication skills when the raving lunatics here feed off PZ’s sensationalized garbage. He needs to realize that some people would rather turn their mind off to critical thought and instead jump on the hate bandwagon and circle jerk each other, perpetually.

    From the guy PZ quoted:

    Bruce isn’t a debater, BTW (though he kicked my ass at the RSA crypto commons this spring when I debated him about software liability) he’s too honest and he’s mostly concerned with educating people, not winning

    This sums up whats wrong with this place. So many people think its ok to be dishonest to win an argument. You see in it every thread. PZ also seems to believe it. Just listen to the end of his speech at the Reason Rally. He sounds like an evil dictator.

    When is the last time you saw Harris, Dawkins, or Tyson argue this way? They know better. That’s why they get to be the kings of skepticism, and PZ will only get to be the king of crazy people acting like toddlers.

    So in an effort to counter-balance this biased bullshit, I’ll link to some of Sam’s best moments.

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwG9pDNSAXA&w=420&h=315

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcO4TnrskE0&w=420&h=315

    Also, if you believe that Sam’s morals are the least bit questionable I would urge you to watch his discussions with Dawkins on morality, if you have some time:

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mm2Jrr0tRXk&w=560&h=315

  38. Brownian says

    Or do you think these bad guys, who are not you, have great abilities or are specially trained to take all sorts of punishment, just to trick the government pigdogs?

    Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times.

    The fact is torture properly implemented will generate that information required, if that information exists in the victims mind.

    That’s a ‘fact’ you need to support, not assert.

    This article does not support your ‘fact':

    The other is an understanding of the social science behind interrogations, which tells us that torture has an extremely negative effect on memory. An interrogator needs timely and accurate intelligence information, not just made-up babble.

    What torture has proven is exactly what experienced interrogators have said all along: First, when tortured, detainees will give only the minimum amount of information necessary to stop the pain. No interrogator should ever be hoping to extract the least amount of information. Second, under coercion, detainees give misleading information that wastes time and resources — a false nickname, for example. Finally, it’s impossible to know what information the detainee would have disclosed under non-coercive interrogations.

    But we’ve been around this mulberry bush already. Grab your guns and your cocks, we’re about to get all sorts of manly tough on terror in here.

  39. Brownian says

    Oh boy, more Harris bashing.

    devoniansplit, may I introduce you to peterhearn?

    When is the last time you saw Harris, Dawkins, or Tyson argue this way? They know better. That’s why they get to be the kings of skepticism, and PZ will only get to be the king of crazy people acting like toddlers.

    So in an effort to counter-balance this biased bullshit, I’ll link to some of Sam’s best moments.

  40. says

    Balstrome:

    Yes, this is a nasty business, and certain not one that nice university professors should get involved in, but it does produce results faster than most other methods.

    No it doesn’t. It produces a stream of panicked lies, as the victim tries desperately to stop the torture. That stream of lies may contain the truth, but there is no way of recognizing it.

    Anyone who thinks different is pandering to their own biases.

    No they’re not. They’re just pointing out that real life is more complicated than the simplistic examples presented in a philosophy textbook (or more likely in your case) the complete 24 DVD box set.

  41. says

    Holy crap, there are KINGS OF SKEPTICISM? Do they get to chop people’s heads off?

    You know, accepting a “king of skepticism” sounds like a very unskeptical thing to do.

  42. says

    It’s fascinating how Balstrome refers to those who might benefit from torture in the first person, but refers to those who might be subjected to torture in the third person.

  43. patterson says

    “The fact is torture properly implemented will generate that information required, if that information exists in the victims mind.”

    Please tell me this sad rationalization isn’t an actual Harris quote.

  44. Amphiox says

    Even if torture and racial profiling actually worked and increased security, security is not the only criteria by which the appropriateness of an action needs to be judged. I would rather be slightly less safe than have my security increased by the use of either in my name.

  45. says

    Uh, peterhearn, can you read?

    This sums up whats wrong with this place. So many people think its ok to be dishonest to win an argument.

    What Marcus was saying was the exact opposite: he was praising Bruce Schneier for prioritizing honesty over winning a debate.

  46. says

    peterhearn:

    From the guy PZ quoted:

    Bruce isn’t a debater, BTW (though he kicked my ass at the RSA crypto commons this spring when I debated him about software liability) he’s too honest and he’s mostly concerned with educating people, not winning

    This sums up whats wrong with this place. So many people think its ok to be dishonest to win an argument.

    How does a quote about Bruce Schneier not being a debater, but an honest educator, sum up this place as willing to be dishonest?

    You confuse me.

  47. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    Just listen to the end of his speech at the Reason Rally. He sounds like an evil dictator.

    What flavor of evil dictator?

  48. says

    I am dazzled with wisdom again! According to Balstrome, uncompromisingly rejecting torture ” does get you groupies and girls.” I did not know this.

    I guess those liberal secular humanist chicks with progressive, enlightened values are just easy.

  49. says

    Anyone who doesn’t admire both of these people doesn’t know which side his bread is buttered…

    I had to go and make sure my understanding of that idiom was accurate. From Cambridge Dictionaries Online:

    to be careful not to act in ways that would lose you other people’s approval, or lose you an advantage

    huh. There is no advantage to me in the approval by Harris or his fans. There is, for that matter, no advantage to me in PZ’s approval (unless he’ll give me a FTB blog if I just get him to approve of me enough :-p ). so, apparently, neither PZ nor Harris are buttering my bread, which means I have no need to admire either of them.

    Also, whining about how the singular use of “they” is newfangled is hilariously stupid, considering that usage has been attested all the way back to the fucking Middle Ages. it’s as old as English itself, even if it is a rarer form (and it takes a special sort of person to thing the SAT is what we should determine correct use of words in English by)

  50. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    Not sure if peterhearn is up for coherently answering questions. He seems to think that PZ is some sort of tin pot dictator.

  51. Brownian says

    What flavor of evil dictator?

    Um, the EVIL kind? What’s wrong with you?

    Wait, since peterhearn can detect EVIL from the sounds of people’s voices, I think we’ve found ourselves a solution to this profiling issue.

    peterhearn, you ready to set the world of criminoly, law enforcement, and counter-terrorism on its collective ear?

  52. heavymetalyogi says

    I’ve been trying to figure out why I get such a queasy feeling about Sam Harris. Approval of torture and racial profiling go a long way, but there is something else that I got after reading ‘The End of Faith’. Something else in there made me not want to read anything else by him and I feel disgusted every time I see a public appearance or see him listed as one of the four horsemen of atheism. Maybe I should reread it, and see if I can find something beyond just a visceral pull.

  53. says

    Peterhearn, did you hit the post button too soon? You wrote a preamble, filled with whiny boilerplate sneering, but the post ended before you had the chance to engage with PZ’s arguments in any way.

  54. says

    @39 peterhearn

    For those who don’t know the context, Harris was discussing ways to prevent another 9/11, and phrased some of his ideas poorly which landed him in hot water.

    This only works if he actually makes a correction, but he hasn’t. From what I recall he just digs in deeper each time he discusses the problem.

  55. Brownian says

    Better balstrome:

    Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to.

  56. Louis says

    Coming up on tonight’s news:

    Heroes have feet of clay. Don’t give into your chimpy tendencies to worship the Big Giant Head (this includes PZ and/or Harris and/or anyone else*).

    Film at 11.

    Louis

    * Except of course Rebecca Watson. Whose fault this all is. Naturally.

  57. yeahright says

    So, you disagree with sam harris. Good for you.
    The core problem is to reblog some random article straw-maning people without any critical judgement.
    Given the number of trolls, good blog management demands critical analysis of stuff being re-posted, to avoid straw-man and unfair attacks by poorly informed people.

  58. Pierce R. Butler says

    There is only one (type of) situation in which I would approve the use of torture (defined as deliberately inflicting pain on someone already under control, where self-defense does not apply).

    I can’t think of a categorical term to describe it, so let me give an example. (Consider yourselves trigger-warned.)

    Jane, minding her own business at home, is attacked by a would-be rapist. By adroit use of (kung-fu/mace/cast-iron frying pan/angelic intervention), a minute later she’s still standing, and he’s on the floor whimpering. Under these circumstances, I would have no objection to Jane proceeding to kick the crap out of her unwanted visitor.

    My logic in this case is not moral, but behavioralist: immediate negative reinforcement, of a very high degree, seems likely to dissuade any recurrence of the problematic actions. The key word here is immediate: the exact same kicking administered by the cops whenever they get there, or on court order months later, would not have the same effect (compare to yelling at an unhousebroken puppy the second it starts to pee on the floor, or rubbing its nose in an hour-old puddle).

    For that reason (and several others cited here), allowing institutionalized torture is beyond my line. But in my knee-jerk reaction to absolutism on any issue, that’s the only exception to a blanket anti-torture position I can come up with.

  59. frankboyd says

    Nice to see that the FTB quest to rid organised Atheism of everyone with any intelligence, character or courage continues apace.

  60. marinerachel says

    Thanks, frankboyd. Your constructive pearls of wisdom have really given me cause to think.

    /me eyerolls

  61. Brownian says

    Nice to see that the FTB quest to rid organised Atheism of everyone with any intelligence, character or courage continues apace.

    devoniansplit, are you beginning to see what I’m talking about?

  62. Brownian says

    quest to rid organised Atheism

    What would this even mean? Is Sam going to convert at the point of PZ’s cyberpistol?

    Besides, haven’t you heard from FtB’s detractors that all the real skeptics and atheists can’t stand FtB?

    Who’s going to listen to us?

  63. Louis says

    Courage?

    Ohhhhh for those values of “courage” that are “agrees partially and superficially with my brand of bigotry”.

    Gotcha.

    Louis

  64. yeahright says

    If ftb continues to repost strawmaning articles without careful analysis, i can see a problem, yes.
    Everybody is entitled to disagree with anyone on any subject.
    More carefullness is required in selecting subjects and articles, especially for critical thinkers.

  65. Brownian says

    We’re so much more powerful than I knew.

    You’re in for a treat. After a few years you’ll have been told ad nauseum, by real skeptics every one, that PZ is a brutal bully, and that he’s a sad pathetic friendless clown, that FtB is the Stasi and that it’s an irrelevant and impotent group of nons, that we’re all an echo chamber and that we should not be criticising our fellow brothers in atheism.

    We’re everything and nothing.

    We’re practically Zen.

  66. says

    yeahright: I’m detecting a strawmanning tendency in your comments, and also a lack of careful, critical thinking. Is it OK if I start deleting your words?

    Or is this only a filter to be applied to those who disagree with you?

  67. says

    yeahright:

    If ftb continues to repost strawmaning articles without careful analysis, i can see a problem, yes.

    It was a piece calling out the problems with several prominent atheists. The article itself did not strawman, it merely focussed specifically on poor arguments made by some respected (and one not-so-respected) atheists.

    More carefullness is required in selecting subjects and articles, especially for critical thinkers.

    What would a real critical thinker do? Ignore the fact that may prominent and well-known atheists have serious flaws?

  68. says

    It’s a little weird to see all these Defenders of Harris running over here to tell me to start editing out criticisms of their hero. Are they also sending email to Harris telling him to tone down his vigorous criticism of me? It just seems they ought to, to be consistent.

    I don’t think they’re really interested in improving the discourse, though…just shutting down a critic.

  69. Sili says

    We’re gonna have our own Penn State, or Catholic child rape scandal, and the perpetrator’s defenders are going to follow the script of denial and minimisation exactly.

    cf. Lawrence Krauss.

    –o–

    Harris believes he has a responsibility to make the world a better place by propagating an enlightened perspective.

    I’m sorry. I seem to have missed the part where you explained the Enlightenment ideals underlying torture.

  70. yeahright says

    I would be pleased to admit i was wrong or misinterpreting someone’s word.
    And as i said, anyone might disagree with me… So why the threat ?

    Do as you wish oO

  71. says

    Re torture and memory, see also this, on the findings of one neuroscientist on what that kind of stress does to the brain.

    As a layman in this field, I have to say I find this not at all surprising, given what we think we know of the general fragility of memory.

    Note also that we know painfully well from the historical record just what bizarre fictions can be concocted into convictions when you mix the heavy hand of torture into the judicial process. Remember: torture was central to both the witch scares and the Inquisition, and that under such duress, people confessed at length and in great detail to the fantastic and impossible, often also indicting others, in a spreading, spiraling cascade of fantasies. Remember also that terror regimes the world over use it delightedly to terrify and suppress dissidents within their populations.

    Keep that last bunch in mind, especially. Because they point to the truth of this thing.

    That hard truth being: torture is, as many, many competent professionals are telling you, close to useless for getting timely and precise intel. Rather: its only particularly reliable value as a tool of statecraft is as a method of terror and suppression. And those who use it frequently know this perfectly well. Their intention isn’t to get their victims to confess a truth and save the city from some mythical suitcase bomb: their intention is to get their victims to confess anything they can use to justify further and spreading punishment and suppression. And they can do this only in an environment in which there are people naive enough to believe the absurd perjuries concocted under such conditions.

    Don’t be one of those people.

  72. gragra, something clever after the comma says

    “It isn’t going to be in the next county — they know it’s going to be near the station. Why don’t they look for it?”

    This is a story about the NSW Police. Based on previous examples I know of from family and friends they would prefer this method rather than move their fat arses and go looking for the car.

  73. says

    There was no threat. You’re the one so concerned about policing my blog…I was just trying to figure out where you’d put the boundaries.

  74. says

    PZ:

    It’s a little weird to see all these Defenders of Harris running over here to tell me to start editing out criticisms of their hero.

    And kinda pathetic.

    If this is the best the Harrisplainers can muster, it’s pretty weak relish. I’d like just once to have someone reasonably outline why it’s not rational to critique our own, rather than just asserting or implying that we’re hurting the cause. And their feelings.

  75. frankboyd says

    I have long learned that it is pointless to even try to bring reason and facts to this lot. Sam Harris tried that, and see where it got him. My only advice to people like Vijen is to get out while you can.

    By the way, when Pat Robertson looks at you lot, do you think he’s scared? Have you deluded yourselves that much? He’s laughing all the way to the bank. He can point to this crowd and say “that’s where atheism goes”.

  76. says

    I’m an admirer of both Harris and PZ. At they end of the day they are both just guys, though. We’re all prone to errant thinking and we all have our hobby horses. I’m actually learning a lot from these disagreements and it’s helping me refine my own thinking. I don’t think we need to portray anybody as a villain here.

    Group hug?

  77. 'Tis Himself says

    So why the threat ?

    Perhaps it was your demonstrated lack of critical thinking that brought it on.

  78. dereksmear says

    PZ cannot be held responsible for what he writes on his blog or for what is written in the comments section.

    Why?

    Because there is no free will. Well, according to Harris anyway.

  79. Brownian says

    Remember: torture was central to both the witch scares and the Inquisition, and that under such duress, people confessed at length and in great detail to the fantastic and impossible, often also indicting others, in a spreading, spiraling cascade of fantasies.

    Oh, sure. You sit there and pontificate about what’s right and what’s wrong without ever getting your hands dirty.

    I for one am thankful that there were men of sterner stuff than the likes of you who were willing to do what was necessary, even if it wasn’t pretty or politically correct, to keep us safe from the Devil and his consorts.

    God bless you, brave Inquisitors.

    [Salutes.]

  80. says

    frankboyd:

    I have long learned that it is pointless to even try to bring reason and facts to this lot.

    That’s funny. How have you learned that? I’ve never seen you bring either reason or facts. Mostly, you seem to bring a bunch of whining.

    What are the reasons we shouldn’t be calling out Harris on his poor logic in the defense of both profiling and torture?

  81. Brownian says

    I’m actually learning a lot from these disagreements and it’s helping me refine my own thinking.

    This is a good thing.

    I don’t think we need to portray anybody as a villain here.

    What is this? Is this even happening? Villains? Are we writing Michael Bay movies?

  82. marinerachel says

    I’ve been on Pharyngula for four years but afraid I’d be eaten alive if I spoke up. Then a year and a bit ago I realised Pharyngula was in fact the safest place for me when compared with the various skeptic/rationalist forums and that it would be a great honour to be dined on by the regulars.

    It still wows me every time I hear about all the trouble we’re causing by saying words in this location in addition to hearing that I’m a fat, ugly bitch who they hope to see get raped and die of AIDS and no one cares what I think.

    I don’t understand how I can be so bloody bothersome if no one is listening to anything I say because I’m irrelevant.

  83. Brownian says

    By the way, when Pat Robertson looks at you lot, do you think he’s scared?

    Is that what you think the goal here is?

    Really?

  84. john says

    If you open the door they will come. In an atmosphere of us vs. the world here is how one culture at the time slid into the home base of torture.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_war_crimes

    If it can be justified on the micro why not the macro scales?
    If your answer is laws please explain this due to most of us slipping out side of the “common law” as we do?

  85. Brownian says

    Then a year and a bit ago I realised Pharyngula was in fact the safest place for me when compared with the various skeptic/rationalist forums and that it would be a great honour to be dined on by the regulars.

    Just remember that Pat Robertson is laughing all the way to the bank when he thinks of this place.

    I understand that’s a thing we’re supposed to think is relevant somehow.

  86. KG says

    Harris was discussing ways to prevent another 9/11, and phrased some of his ideas poorly which landed him in hot water.

    Harris’s biggest mistake is that he takes it as a personal failure of his communication skills when the raving lunatics here feed off PZ’s sensationalized garbage. – peterhearn

    If he “phrased some of his ideas poorly”, that would indeed seem to be a personal failure of his communication skills. But he’s had plenty of time to rephrase them; and his views on both a nuclear first strike and torture, as laid out in his Response to Controversy remain both vile and stupid; while his dishonest evasions in his debate with Schneier are contemptible.

  87. says

    Thanks PZ. I’ve been a long time admirer, and I find you to be inspiringly honest and forthright. Sam has some excellent points when it comes to disabusing the natives of how twisted and wrong faith really is. But when it comes to the points above, he’s sadly bigoted. Ah well, we’re all a product of our times. I have hope that he’ll mature, but I won’t hold my breath. In the meantime, he has useful things to say on other topics, and I’ll look forward to those.

  88. coelsblog says

    PZ Myers:

    I don’t think they’re really interested in improving the discourse, though…just shutting down a critic.

    Does that include Dawkins? It seems to me that it’s entirely possible to value both Harris’s writings, and criticisms of them (many of which are valid), and would prefer the debate to examine ideas, rather than being 90% slagging off people that seems the default on FTB these days (there’s a danger that Pharyngula is becoming a caricature of what it was a few years ago).

  89. says

    Brownian:

    What is this? Is this even happening? Villains? Are we writing Michael Bay movies?

    Dibs on the role of the explosives expert with the tortured but completely predictable past! (Yes, I know it’s easy to predict the past.)

    Harris: PZ shall not stop me from nuking the middle east! Mwaaa-ha-ha-ha!

    (Explosion.)

    PZ: Stand there, fool, while my minions fling poo in your general direction!

    (Explosion.)

    Harris: I have your explosives expert, nigel. I shall torture him!

    (Explosion.)

    PZ: He knows nothing, evildoer!

    Harris: And I need to know nothing! I just like to see people in pain.

    (Flips blade switch. Sounds of electrical discharge. Flips off the blade switch.)

    (Explosion.)

  90. Brownian says

    What are the reasons we shouldn’t be calling out Harris on his poor logic in the defense of both profiling and torture?

    Well, frankboyd? You gonna answer this?

  91. mythbri says

    I know what will make Pat Robertson fear us! We should totally torture the shit out of him. We’ll reduce him to a blubbering, incoherent pile of semi-humanity. He will be terrified of us after that.

    That is the point, right? To force our idealogical opposites to cower in abject terror?

  92. john says

    Agreed very vague, as to the sniff test I cant help but picture you stomping on the gas from time to time and blowing past those speed limits. If not well done good citizen “grandma driver.”;)

  93. Brownian says

    Does that include Dawkins? It seems to me that it’s entirely possible to value both Harris’s writings, and criticisms of them (many of which are valid), and would prefer the debate to examine ideas

    You know, as fun as it is to pretend that didn’t happen for the sake of your later claim, it did. Harris dug in his heels. He waffled, claimed he meant other than what he said (he made a direct reference to profiling people who look like Ben Stiller and then denied he was talking about race or ethnicity), and his argument with Bruce Schneier was an exercise in dogmatically missing the point (see his conflation of behavioural profiling with ethnic profiling).

    His ideas were being examined, and found wanting.

    What else is supposed to happen?

  94. says

    coelsblog:

    …and would prefer the debate to examine ideas, rather than being 90% slagging off people that seems the default on FTB these days…

    Looking back over these comments, I see serious discussion on the efficacy and morality of torture. Most of that is substantive, and most of that comes from the FTB regulars.

    The folks defending Harris come in looking like hero-worshiping sycophants, and contribute nothing to the debate, with few exceptions.

    If there’s no substantive debate, perhaps it’s because one side of the debate has no logical support.

    …(there’s a danger that Pharyngula is becoming a caricature of what it was a few years ago).

    Thanks for your analysis. Your opinion is of the utmost importance to us all.

  95. Brownian says

    Agreed very vague, as to the sniff test I cant help but picture you stomping on the gas from time to time and blowing past those speed limits. If not well done good citizen “grandma driver.”;)

    Learn to write.

  96. frankboyd says

    frankboyd, can you point to a single post you’ve made on FTB that isn’t context-free sneering?

    My dear, why should I go against the theme of FTB? Context free smearing is what it’s all about. If Sam Harris cannot get his views accurately represented, what chance would I have?

  97. Brownian says

    If there’s no substantive debate, perhaps it’s because one side of the debate has no logical support.

    Note how long it took for Harris before he actually consulted someone with actual security expertise (and he was roundly praised for having the courage and open-mindedness to debate Schneier.)

    But put this in the context of someone with little to no knowledge of biology, making a pronouncement on the impossibility of evolution, and only after several posts complaining about how misunderstood he is, he finally agrees to talk to an actual biologist about the issue, all the while insisting that the biologist’s position is identical to his after all.

    Should we be praising this person’s ‘thought experiments’ on evolution?

  98. marinerachel says

    Wait a tick. I wasn’t aware I was supposed to concern myself with what Pat Robertson thinks of me. When did that become a thing?

  99. says

    frankboyd:

    If Sam Harris cannot get his views accurately represented, what chance would I have?

    In what way are Harris’s views not being accurately represented?

    They certainly seem to accurately represent his views as he’s written them.

  100. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    Pat Robertson is incapable of seeing the difference between Sam Harris and PZ Myers. Why should any of us care what Pat Robertson thinks of anything outside of his narrow little world. I care only enough to not want his world to be my world.

  101. Brownian says

    My dear, why should I go against the theme of FTB? Context free smearing is what it’s all about. If Sam Harris cannot get his views accurately represented, what chance would I have?

    You fucking suck, you coward.

  102. strange gods before me ॐ says

    His ideas were being examined, and found wanting.

    What else is supposed to happen?

    We’re supposed to say “let’s agree to disagree” and then stop criticizing him, while he goes on to seek out new audiences.

  103. Brownian says

    Wait a tick. I wasn’t aware I was supposed to concern myself with what Pat Robertson thinks of me. When did that become a thing?

    Ask frankboyd. I don’t know what he’s on about either, except that he’s got nothing and he’s not smart enough to hide that fact.

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

    frankboyd, since it seems impossible for the FtB crowd to accurately represent Sam Harris’s views, that despite them being rephrased several times and also despite the apparently earnest insistence that they do not have reading comprehension problems, could you please phrase them in such a way, with context, so that they are accurately represented for consideration here?

  105. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    My dear, why should I go against the theme of FTB?

    Sweetie, why continue commenting if this is the case?

    Bless your heart.

  106. says

    marinerachel:

    Wait a tick. I wasn’t aware I was supposed to concern myself with what Pat Robertson thinks of me. When did that become a thing?

    Why, when frankboyd informed us it’s a necessary litmus test for Real Atheists™. Or something. They were a little vague as to its importance, really.

    But we were all devastated, I assure you.

  107. strange gods before me ॐ says

    Should we be praising this person’s ‘thought experiments’ on evolution?

    Yes! Yes!

    It is courageous to say things!

  108. legal9ball says

    PZ don’t you have your own mysterious one-off emergency in which the use of torture is morally justifiable? It’s a purely hypothetical though experiment of yours, but it does authorize innocent killing, when you assert that a mother can morally kill a “conscious, aware being writing poetry in her womb.”

  109. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    Group hug?

    OMG that is adorable. I’m in!

    ++

    What are the reasons we shouldn’t be calling out Harris on his poor logic in the defense of both profiling and torture?

    Well, frankboyd? You gonna answer this?

    Oh, that’s easy. We shouldn’t be calling out Harris because frank likes him. And frank is the cener of the universe. His grandma said so!

  110. marinerachel says

    As much as I doubt Pat Robertson fears me, I doubt he’s fearful of any contingent of da organ(teehee)ized atheist communitah.

  111. says

    So in other words, frankboyd, no you can’t. Have you considered using Mabus’s tactic of just pasting in a preprepared rant at random intervals? It would save you lots of time, and would lead to no degradation in quality.

  112. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    when you assert that a mother can morally kill a “conscious, aware being writing poetry in her womb.”

    welcome back, absolute. More whining about how women don’t want to be your brood mares on demand?

  113. says

    legal9ball:

    PZ don’t you have your own mysterious one-off emergency in which the use of torture is morally justifiable? It’s a purely hypothetical though experiment of yours, but it does authorize innocent killing, when you assert that a mother can morally kill a “conscious, aware being writing poetry in her womb.”

    There’s a difference between torture, and the termination of forced life support.

    So, false equivalency.

  114. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    PZ don’t you have your own mysterious one-off emergency in which the use of torture is morally justifiable? It’s a purely hypothetical though experiment of yours, but it does authorize innocent killing, when you assert that a mother can morally kill a “conscious, aware being writing poetry in her womb.”

    So, what of the women who do not have children but have a poetry spouting fetus in their uterus?

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

    legal9ball, that’s not torture. That’s abortion. I know, they’re hard to tell a part and it’s hard to distinguish a person’s bodily autonomy. It’s also hard to tell that these are different topics, in different threads and that you’re very late to the party.

    Wait, that’s why you’re posting here, isn’t it?

    Oh.

    Never mind, then, carry on being stupid.

  116. mythbri says

    @legal9ball #120

    That’s a transparent attempt to derail. Thanks for playing.

    @Janine #117

    No, no, no! It’s “Bless your heart. I’ll be praying for you.”

  117. Brownian says

    We’re supposed to say “let’s agree to disagree” and then stop criticizing him, while he goes on to seek out new audiences.

    Go team Godless White Men!

  118. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    *snicker*

    Mythbri, here at Pharyngula, Bless your heart. has a very specific meaning.

    *evil grin*

  119. screechymonkey says

    Brownian @72:

    After a few years you’ll have been told ad nauseum, by real skeptics every one, that PZ is a brutal bully, and that he’s a sad pathetic friendless clown, that FtB is the Stasi and that it’s an irrelevant and impotent group of nons, that we’re all an echo chamber and that we should not be criticising our fellow brothers in atheism.

    We’re everything and nothing.

    Don’t forget: PZ (and other “controversialist bloggers”) only post what they do because it boosts their blog traffic. But Pharyngula and/or FtB are withering as True Atheists desert it in droves (no doubt in fear of what Pat Robertson will think).

  120. dragon says

    @102 mythbri:

    I know what will make Pat Robertson fear us! We should totally torture the shit out of him. We’ll reduce him to a blubbering, incoherent pile of semi-humanity. He will be terrified of us after that.

    Proof positive that torture accomplishes nothing.

    Pat Robertson is already a blubbering, incoherent pile of semi-humanity. Pat already irrationally fears us, otherwise he would not claim that everything can incomprehensibly be blamed on atheists.

  121. says

    Pierce R. Butler, I’d class a would-be rape victim beating up her assailant in the immediate aftermath as “unjustified but excusable”. It’s the wrong thing to do, but there are levels of provocation beyond which someone cannot be held responsible for their actions.

  122. frankboyd says

    So in other words, frankboyd, no you can’t. Have you considered using Mabus’s tactic of just pasting in a preprepared rant at random intervals? It would save you lots of time, and would lead to no degradation in quality.

    Oh, how about you prove that it is possible to put a rational argument anywhere here and not get smeared and distorted?

    What sickens me about this – if it were just your usual disaffected privileged yank losers mark V, that would not be a problem. What I hate is that this has the possibility of utterly poisoning the skeptic and atheist movements until any hope for reason is impossible.

    No wonder Ayaan reaches out to liberal Catholics and Christians – one look at you lot and anyone would despair.

  123. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    It did not take much to make the ball bounce.

    the bouncy-ness of cowardly bigots is amazing.

  124. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    What about John Hagee and Rick Warren? What do they think of us?

  125. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    No wonder Ayaan reaches out to liberal Catholics and Christians – one look at you lot and anyone would despair.

    Oh, I know. People who fight for social justice! What MONSTERS! What BULLIES!

    And they don’t hate women! THEY’RE HORRIBLE!!!!!!!

  126. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    What sickens me about this – if it were just your usual disaffected privileged yank losers mark V, that would not be a problem.

    You are absolutely correct. Everyone here is from the US.

    I despair for your reasoning ability.

  127. marinerachel says

    Well, just LOOK AT YOU! You’re AWFUL!

    Presenting arguments and shit – what chumps you all are.

  128. frankboyd says

    People who fight for social justice!

    You? Fight? Get real. Look at Maryam Namazie – an actual, genuine, stone cold fucking communist. I despise communism, but I respect her, for the same reason you lot all ignore her. She’s the real thing, doing something worthwhile.

    You think you’re fighting? Tapping away from your mom’s basement or wherever the fuck you are? Don’t make me sick.

  129. says

    frankboyd:

    Oh, how about you prove that it is possible to put a rational argument anywhere here and not get smeared and distorted?

    How about you prove that rational arguments here get smeared and distorted? You are the one bringing the positive claim.

    Also, you’ve had plenty of opportunity to clarify Harris’s position. (So has he, and he keeps saying the same things, so maybe it’s Harris that is distorting Harris’s position.) You have not done so. I can only assume from your complaining, and your inability to clarify that which you complain about, that Harris’s arguments are being accurately represented.

  130. mythbri says

    @frankboyd #139

    No wonder Ayaan reaches out to liberal Catholics and Christians – one look at you lot and anyone would despair.

    I hate that Ayaan has decided to do this, and I hope that she eventually takes a more rational approach to her activism. I don’t think that she decided to ally herself with the religious cousins of Islam because of atheists, however. I don’t understand the “ends justify the means” mentality at all.

  131. frankboyd says

    I despair for your reasoning ability.

    Plenty are, and the rest are dumb enough and spoiled enough to pass.

  132. says

    Oh, how about you prove that it is possible to put a rational argument anywhere here and not get smeared and distorted?

    So… When did you plan on starting with this posting of rational arguments. I eagerly await it!

    Alternatively, since you hate it here so much… What the fuck are you still doing here?

  133. marinerachel says

    As if those of us outside the US, frankie included, aren’t privileged as fuck too.

  134. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    Look at Maryam Namazie – an actual, genuine, stone cold fucking communist.

    But, but, she is part of the echo chamber FTB crush all dissenting though collective.

  135. says

    I liked this rebuttal. It stayed focused on ideas. Also, I liked that PZ illustrated what he meant by racist. He didn’t so much label Harris a racist. Unfortunately a lot of people picture the KKK type racism when you label someone that way. Few people picture the cultural ideas we haven’t questioned that are skewed by misconceptions about race.

    I think that is one of the objections in Harris argument that may have some merit. He doesn’t want his children reading about him years later that he was a racist. That label tends to stick to people.

    Although he did appear confused that PZ never actually called him a racist. He also conflated what is posted on PZ’s comment board as being promoted and “published” by PZ himself. This argument seems to be a bit of a quaint and anachronistic view of the internet.

  136. says

    frankboyd:

    You think you’re fighting? Tapping away from your mom’s basement or wherever the fuck you are? Don’t make me sick.

    And what does that make you, tapping away from your mom’s basement or wherever the fuck you are, just complaining about this lot?

    You’ve passed the three-post limit without contributing a damed thing to this discussion. Your assertions stand bare, with no support, as if you intended to send them out into the world completely naked. Your whining has been, well, just whining. Your attempts at insulting us have been weak herbal tea.

    As for the power of tapping away, it riles you up. So that’s something.

  137. Brownian says

    Tapping away from your mom’s basement or wherever the fuck you are?

    LOL.

    Where are you tapping away from?

  138. frankboyd says

    mythbri, any port in a storm. Who was it who broke the stranglehold of Catholicism in Europe? Martin Luther, a far more ruthless and fanatical man than even the Church in those days. Think about the civil rights movement in the US, or the fight against Apartheid in South Africa, or against the Communist tyranny in Eastern Europe – any of those involved people with views that were… questionable to say the least.

    Can you seriously say that you can look at this lot and blame her for thinking that support from organised atheism is going to be little to nonexistent?

    Who organised her security fund? Sam Harris, who is being smeared up and down here. Who helped back it up? Pastor Rick Warren, while this crowd barely lifted a finger to help.

  139. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    You think you’re fighting? Tapping away from your mom’s basement or wherever the fuck you are? Don’t make me sick.

    LOL holy fuck you’re a dumbass. Stop pretending you have mind-reading super powers, shitstain.

    In REALITY – the place where you have clearly never been – I’ve been volunteering time and money for the past 14 years to various liberal social justice orgs.

    I also volunteer at a soup kitchen at a UU church by my house.

    What have YOU done, again? Apart from screaming at people who actually do things that they live in their mom’s basement, you completely dishonest fucking bully?

  140. marinerachel says

    When the hell did Ayaan Hirsi Ali become the hero of angry western men everywhere? I swear I hear her cited every goddamn time some spoilt dude whinges about his not-even-first-world-problems, primarily the moooooooslems coming to take over.

  141. says

    frankboyd, before I can respond further, I’d like some information as to your precise grievance. Your posts are so vapid and devoid of anything besides boilerplate sneering, that it’s difficult to say much more. Most of them don’t even give any indication that you’re an atheist. They’re practically indistinguishable from the aggrieved whining of many of our religious trolls.

    What exactly is your problem?

  142. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    Frankboyd sees all and knows all. Frankboyd knows how everyone here spends their time. Frankboyd knows with absolute certainty that everyone here does not work for any social justice angency.

    Keep fighting the good fight, frankboyd. You are an inspiration to us all.

    Bless your heart and bless you for pointing out our wicked evil ways.

  143. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    Shhhhh, Brownian! he’s got imaginary bullies to fight!

  144. Brownian says

    What exactly is your problem?

    Haven’t you been reading his comments?

    Why, just look at us lot.

    Damning criticism indeed.

  145. says

    @Vijen

    @mythbri: @Woo_Monster:
    My pronouns are generic, following the usage of the last millenium of English, and ignoring a very recent, and so far unsuccessful attempt to insist on specifying gender.

    So you want to defend your use of the generic “he” by citing usage? In particular, the last millenium of English? I presume you can back up your claim that the generic “he” was common usage in the year 1012?

    I concede that the current situation with English is unfortunate, but if you use “their” for a singular referent in your SAT you will be marked down.

    First, the idea that we should consider correct only those usages endorsed by the SAT is ridiculous.

    But these two ideas together, that usage supports he, and we should not use singular they, are also terribly wrong. After all, if using generic he is OK because of usage, so is singular they. We know, for example, that the singular “they” was in usage during Shakespeare’s time. Jane Austen was also quite content to use singular “they” all the time.

    Of course, if such usage-based arguments don’t convince you, you can take your copy of the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language off your shelf (don’t have it? too bad! reference books might help you with this problem) and look at it, like me, and discover that they also endorse singular they.

    Also the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, and Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage support the use of singular they. Both usage over the past millenium (I only included two examples, but I could cite more if you’d like), and current dictionaries and usage guides agree that using they/their with singular referents is fine.

  146. says

    I’m very much against torture for nearly all the reasons mentioned- but I’m also convinced it works, under specific circumstances. Namely, if you know upfront your victim has useful knowledge which can be checked, and you’re absolutely ruthless. It helps if your victim has no legal defense.

    And, if you have entirely false information, and your victim is ruthlessly tortured into confirming that false information, even just enough, or seemingly just enough, that you are sure your existing information is accurate?

    This is precisely why you *don’t* use it. If you are already sure your information is right, you don’t need the person you are beating. If you don’t know, then you can’t be sure the result confirms a truth, instead of a lie. Hell, it wouldn’t surprise me to find people being carefully couched, in certain terrorist training camps, to “break” convincingly, just to actually give up false information, or confirm something that isn’t true. What does it take to show this scenario is stupid, an innocent family, bombing an allies encampment, invading a city where no terrorists exist, or worse, bombing one? Remember, these people are fanatics and/or crazy, not stupid. And you can’t trust a fanatic, or a crazy person, to not be absolutely *certain* that what they are telling you is truth, or at least be convincing about lying, especially under conditions where they might have been specifically trained to give out that kind of information. Hell, supposedly, we, and the UK, and others, actually provide that sort of training as it is. The enemy, somehow, never heard of it? Or, would never lie to their own people, so that false information got out, and the captured individual was absolutely sure it was true?

    Are we, like with the NRA, waiting for a big enough body count, before admitting there is a problem?

  147. frankboyd says

    What exactly is your problem?

    As I said: that there is a danger that you lot so thoroughly poison atheism and skepticism that we may as well forget any hope of a rational future.

    I do hope that the emptiness and malice and spite of this crowd will prove self defeating however.

  148. says

    Haha whoops, sorry. I started writing that comment, left, came back, and threadsplosion had occurred. Apologies for responding 100+ comments later.

  149. Brownian says

    As I said: that there is a danger that you lot so thoroughly poison atheism and skepticism that we may as well forget any hope of a rational future.

    Gosh, what will Pat Robertson think of us?

  150. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    Kagehi – you are making FAR too much sense. Clearly, we should torture people because it shows them how awesomely macholy manly we are. The fact that it doesn’t fucking work and never fucking has is irrelevant.

    *flexes bicept* <— that right there is all that matters.

  151. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    Who helped back it up? Pastor Rick Warren, while this crowd barely lifted a finger to help.

    Damn! I will over look all of his efforts to take away rights from people like me and keep me suppressed. I will ignore all of his support to groups around the world that think that people like me should be imprisoned and executed.

    Fine reasoning ability there, sweetums. Pat Robertson should look upon us in fear but does not while Rick Warren is held up as a model of social activism.

  152. José P says

    frankboyd:

    If Sam Harris cannot get his views accurately represented, what chance would I have?

    What Chance? WTF? Just type your views in the damn box, press submit, and there is a 100% chance your views will be represented exactly as you would like, distortion free.

  153. mythbri says

    @frankboyd #155

    Can you seriously say that you can look at this lot and blame her for thinking that support from organised atheism is going to be little to nonexistent?

    Here is the point where I have no idea what you’re talking about. I honestly don’t. What do you mean by “this crowd”? Is your definition based on online location or by general ideology? What should “they” have done?

    All I see is that Ayaan has decided to ally herself with people whose belief system is intrinsically linked to the one that she (most understandably) abandoned. It’s not “any port in a storm”. It’s jumping from the frying pan and into the fire.

  154. marinerachel says

    How can we be such a threat if we’re an isolated group whose opinions no one cares about on the periphery of atheism and skepticism?

    SOMEONE, PLEASE HELP ME WITH THIS!

  155. says

    As I said: that there is a danger that you lot so thoroughly poison atheism and skepticism that we may as well forget any hope of a rational future.

    Yes but why? On what policy points to you disagree with PZ?

    As for poisoning atheism and skepticism, you’re being just as obnoxious as anyone here. If you believe otherwise, then you really need to grow up.

  156. says

    frankboyd:

    As I said: that there is a danger that you lot so thoroughly poison atheism and skepticism that we may as well forget any hope of a rational future.

    You have already established your thesis.

    People are asking for your problem. That is, what’s your problem with presenting evidence? A rational argument to support your otherwise-bare assertions? An articulation of Harris’s arguments that truly represents what he means, rather than what he’s written?

    If all you’re going to do is whinge on about how we’re poisoning atheism and destroying hope for a rational future, the least you could do is explain how we’re doing it, and making suggestions for fixing the problem.

  157. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    As I said: that there is a danger that you lot so thoroughly poison atheism and skepticism that we may as well forget any hope of a rational future.

    I do hope that the emptiness and malice and spite of this crowd will prove self defeating however.

    So in other words, you’re dangerously delusional and hostile to social justice. Got it.

    I notice you chickened out of answering the question: What do YOU do – apart from tapping furiously at people who actually DO things from you mom’s basement?

    Oh right, you lie and lie and lie and lie and lie and lie and lie and lie and lie about people who actually do things.

    Wow. What a great contribution to the atheist movement.

    LOL

  158. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    As I said: that there is a danger that you lot so thoroughly poison atheism and skepticism that we may as well forget any hope of a rational future. But you irrationaly keep posting here to prove your inane and fuckwitted prediction will come true all by yourself. We just need to point at yor idiocy Self-fulfilling prophecy. Typical of evidenceless and arrogant losers who can’t stand being told they are full of it when they are full of it. And you are full of yourself..

  159. Brownian says

    I do hope that the emptiness and malice and spite of this crowd will prove self defeating however.

    Let’s look at some of the emptiness and malice and spite:

    Nice to see that the FTB quest to rid organised Atheism of everyone with any intelligence, character or courage continues apace.

    I have long learned that it is pointless to even try to bring reason and facts to this lot. Sam Harris tried that, and see where it got him. My only advice to people like Vijen is to get out while you can.

    By the way, when Pat Robertson looks at you lot, do you think he’s scared? Have you deluded yourselves that much? He’s laughing all the way to the bank. He can point to this crowd and say “that’s where atheism goes”.

    My dear, why should I go against the theme of FTB? Context free smearing is what it’s all about. If Sam Harris cannot get his views accurately represented, what chance would I have?

    Plenty are, and the rest are dumb enough and spoiled enough to pass.

    Oh, how about you prove that it is possible to put a rational argument anywhere here and not get smeared and distorted?

    What sickens me about this – if it were just your usual disaffected privileged yank losers mark V, that would not be a problem. What I hate is that this has the possibility of utterly poisoning the skeptic and atheist movements until any hope for reason is impossible.

    No wonder Ayaan reaches out to liberal Catholics and Christians – one look at you lot and anyone would despair.

    You? Fight? Get real. Look at Maryam Namazie – an actual, genuine, stone cold fucking communist. I despise communism, but I respect her, for the same reason you lot all ignore her. She’s the real thing, doing something worthwhile.

    You think you’re fighting? Tapping away from your mom’s basement or wherever the fuck you are? Don’t make me sick.

    mythbri, any port in a storm. Who was it who broke the stranglehold of Catholicism in Europe? Martin Luther, a far more ruthless and fanatical man than even the Church in those days. Think about the civil rights movement in the US, or the fight against Apartheid in South Africa, or against the Communist tyranny in Eastern Europe – any of those involved people with views that were… questionable to say the least.

    Can you seriously say that you can look at this lot and blame her for thinking that support from organised atheism is going to be little to nonexistent?

    Who organised her security fund? Sam Harris, who is being smeared up and down here. Who helped back it up? Pastor Rick Warren, while this crowd barely lifted a finger to help.

    As I said: that there is a danger that you lot so thoroughly poison atheism and skepticism that we may as well forget any hope of a rational future.

    Write “you lot” some more. It’s very effective.

  160. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Dang, #175, first sentence is FB in blockquote failure, the rest my snark.

  161. Brownian says

    How can we be such a threat if we’re an isolated group whose opinions no one cares about on the periphery of atheism and skepticism?

    SOMEONE, PLEASE HELP ME WITH THIS!

    Well, there’s this god, you see. And he’s god, but he’s also his own son. And a ghost, kind of…

  162. says

    marinerachel:

    How can we be such a threat if we’re an isolated group whose opinions no one cares about on the periphery of atheism and skepticism?

    Probably in the same way as all the other atheists just laugh at us, and are tragic victims of our cruel persecution.

  163. Brownian says

    Who organised her security fund? Sam Harris, who is being smeared up and down here.

    devoniansplit, are you reading this?

  164. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    …and he punished his son/himself for the sins of humanity, a flaw that he knew was there…

    Oh this sophisticated theology makes my brain hurt.

  165. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    How can we be such a threat if we’re an isolated group whose opinions no one cares about on the periphery of atheism and skepticism?

    SOMEONE, PLEASE HELP ME WITH THIS!

    Femnazi Cooter Powers UNITE!

  166. says

    As I said: that there is a danger that you lot so thoroughly poison atheism and skepticism that we may as well forget any hope of a rational future.

    Aaaand again a meaningless bit of drivel. We know you think we’re poison. What is less clear is how exactly you think we are poison. What is it according to you that we do to destroy all hope of a rational future?

    I do hope that the emptiness and malice and spite of this crowd will prove self defeating however.

    Hmmmm. Let’s see. Reading through this thread, nearly every comment seriously and rationally discussing the subjectmatter of the OP comes from one of us regulars. I do not, however, see anything even remotely resembling a substantive argument coming from you. There is emptiness here, but it’s not coming from us.

  167. Brownian says

    …and he punished his son/himself for the sins of humanity, a flaw that he knew was there…

    That’s why we’re crucifying Sam Harris, I guess. It’s all be prophesied.

  168. Brownian says

    You have completely distorted what frankboyd wrote.

    No, what I think I’m doing is smearing him up and down.

    And after all he’s done for the world…

  169. Pteryxx says

    How can we be such a threat if we’re an isolated group whose opinions no one cares about on the periphery of atheism and skepticism?

    Stochastic rationality!

  170. frankboyd says

    mythbri,

    It’s not “any port in a storm”. It’s jumping from the frying pan and into the fire.

    I’m sorry, but that is not even slightly true. Any attempt to compare modern day Christianity, especially the liberal version she was speaking of, to modern day Islam is insane. It’s flat out madness. You have to go back to groups like the Legion of the Archangel Michael to find anything remotely comparable.

    But that’s the line that so many of this FTB pit espose.

    Mark my words, this will happen more and more. More and more people will, say, take a look at Myers puffed out chest when there’s not a chance of trouble and his running scared during the cartoon crisis, and will conclude that it’s simple madness to expect any form of solidarity or support if you are facing real danger from religious fanatics. And they will then form their own deals elsewhere. You already hear it said by certain American religious conservatives, to gays, to their face, “Only those of us who don’t want you to marry are going to fight against you being killed“. And anyone stumbling across this rabble will be forced to come to the same conclusion. You think that someone like myers would last ten seconds against, say, Hizb ut-Tahrir or Jamaat e-Islami? And what happens when other religions notice this and decide to get their own piece of the violent action? That’s already the case with the Hindu nutcases of the RSS and Shiv Sena and the Christians will not be far behind. We’re already seeing very dangerous rumblings across europe. And believe-you-me, as soon as the creationists in the US decide “Fuck it, let’s just grab our guns and settle this”, you’ll see myers “teaching the argument” about evolution faster than you can blink.

  171. says

    But this isn’t my main complaint with the article. It’s a fundamental flaw in all the pro-torture arguments: they all assume that torture works, that it is an effective way to extract the truth from someone. I couldn’t believe that the Stanford article didn’t even consider this basic assumption, that you can get useful information by way of torture, and I read it a couple of times to see if I’d missed it — but it really does assume throughout that torture is just a distasteful way to get an answer.

    Given that this comes from something called The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy I would assume that what they are interested in is the philosophical implications of torture. That is, they are looking at torture from the perspective of it being a potentially interesting ethical issue. If torture does not work there’s nothing interesting about it as an ethical issue. Thus, I am not at all surprised that the issue of whether it works or not is not addressed.

  172. says

    Ah, frankboyd. Good to see you come clean.

    Islamophobe, with delusions of your own courage, just wringing your hands in anticipation of watching others suffer when everything collapses, predicting how cowardly others will be while puffing out your own chest.

    You are far more pathetic than I’d imagined.

  173. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    I’m sorry, but that is not even slightly true. Any attempt to compare modern day Christianity, especially the liberal version she was speaking of, to modern day Islam is insane. It’s flat out madness. You have to go back to groups like the Legion of the Archangel Michael to find anything remotely comparable.

    Sorry. It is secularism and humanism that is keeping the like of Pastor Rick Warren (A man you just praised.) from acting like the worst elements of Saudi religious society.

    I still despair for your reasoning ability. It is just as based in reality as your charges against us.

  174. Brownian says

    You think that someone like myers would last ten seconds against, say, Hizb ut-Tahrir or Jamaat e-Islami?

    And Harris, what, would?

    You would?

  175. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    You are far more pathetic than I’d imagined.

    And cowardly. notice how suddenly he’s not interested in talking about who does something more than angrily typing in their mom’s basement, now that his utter failure to “gotcha!” is out there for everyone to see.

  176. says

    PZ wouldn’t DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! say that about Islam. (Except on the two separate occasions when he desecrated a Koran of course. And all of those other posts attacking fundamentalist Islam.)

  177. says

    Janine:

    Sorry. It is secularism and humanism that is keeping the like of Pastor Rick Warren (A man you just praised.) from acting like the worst elements of Saudi religious society.

    Exactly. Rick Warren already contributes to the murder of gays in Africa. He has already advocated for a theocracy here in the United States.

    The real liberal Christians are generally silent on matters like this.

  178. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    Frankboyd does have more stamina then legal9ball.

    Yes, that is damning with faint praise.

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

    frankboyd, Rick Warren? Really? He’s your shining example of someone better than this crowd here? He’s your example of someone doing something socially responsible? He’s better than this crowd here because he, a famous American pastor who gets huge public attention, publicly endorsed something Ayaan Hirsi Ali did and you know about it and this crowd here is comparativey worse than him because you don’t know about the things that any individual of this crowd has done for social justice and assume that it is nothing?

    That’s laughable.

  180. Brownian says

    PZ wouldn’t DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! say that about Islam. (Except on the two separate occasions when he desecrated a Koran of course. And all of those other posts attacking fundamentalist Islam.)

    What a wimp PZ is.

    It takes real cojones to demand that the TSA frisk Ben Stiller look-alikes in the face of evidence of such a policy’s ineffectiveness.

  181. says

    “running scared during the cartoon crisis”? Now I’m really baffled. I never had one moment of fear during the Danish cartoon nonsense: I’m far away from any Muslims, I was not targeted, so why would I have been afraid?

    I have spoken out against Islam multiple times. Is it the fact that I don’t think bombing Muslims fixes anything that makes me a coward?

  182. joed says

    this is just my take on Sam’s problem.
    What I find to be odd is that Sam’s site doesn’t allow for comments?!
    He is not aware of his privileged status as a white male in the U S. It takes a certain amount of self-awareness to be able to recognize, admit to White Privilege. Few white people can see it.
    WP is a major problem in the US and other Western Countries. Certainly Sam is not a racist in the Trent Lott, Jesse Helms sense. But until he can admit to the WP he is possessed of he is keeping WP alive and well. And simply admitting to WP doesn’t change anything except ones consciousness and perhaps ones empathy towards humanity.
    Sam seems to think it possible to look at a person and know they are Muslim–well he can’t, no one can. Yet he make his Profile case on the ability to do this–He has a blind spot that only self awareness can illuminate.
    Sam’s torture ideas are even more unaware than his profiling.
    And condoning the use of Nukes on people is bordering on psychotic.
    Sam, like the rest of us, wants to do the right thing but finds it difficult or impossible at times. IMHO

  183. says

    Janine:

    Frankboyd does have more stamina then legal9ball.

    Yes, but legal9ball actually tried to make a point. Poorly, and without recognizing the problems with their argument, but it was an attempt, with references to things actually said.

    frankboyd hasn’t even tried to do that. He’s basically one long ad hominem diatribe after another.

  184. says

    Brownian

    You think that someone like myers would last ten seconds against, say, Hizb ut-Tahrir or Jamaat e-Islami?

    And Harris, what, would?

    You would?

    He’d probably be like Neo in The Matrix. He’d put up his hands, and all the brown-people’s bullets would stop in mid-air before falling to the ground.

  185. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    I have spoken out against Islam multiple times.

    And this often draws out the crowd that accuses PZ and the regulars of having a fear of brown people.

    It never ends.

  186. mythbri says

    @frankboyd #188

    Your “stream of consciousness” style of writing is extremely hard for me to follow, and you come off as though your mind is grabbing at everything at once instead of following your thoughts through in a logical procession. This makes it difficult for me to understand what you’re trying to get at.

    Do you want to know why modern Catholicism/Christianity is not on par with modern Islam? It’s because, as Janine said, their religious influence is restricted, at times imperfectly, by the separation of church and state. And the reason that separation of church and state is as strong as it currently is, is because of the efforts of secularists of all kinds. I very much doubt that Ayaan would enjoy her association with her strange bedfellows if they were allowed to impose their religious beliefs on everyone else and have them codified into law. That is exactly the problem that she had to run from.

  187. peterhearn says

    @PZ

    Uh, peterhearn, can you read?

    No, PZ. I cannot read. Its a huge problem in my life. Don’t make fun.

    What Marcus was saying was the exact opposite: he was praising Bruce Schneier for prioritizing honesty over winning a debate.

    Well then I picked a bad example and I look dumb, but my point still stands.

    @Janine

    What flavor of evil dictator?

    Satan. See for yourself. The face of fucking evil.

    Ok so the king and evil dictator was hyperbole. I’m just trying to make this cesspit a little less slanted against Harris.

    So leave Sam Harris alone you bastards! HES A HUMAN BEEEEIIIING!

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

    How can we matter if we don’t matter? How can we taint anything when we’re so inconsequential? What can we influence when we have none? How can we disagree when we agree totally?

  189. says

    frankboyd:

    And what happens when other religions notice this and decide to get their own piece of the violent action? That’s already the case with the Hindu nutcases of the RSS and Shiv Sena and the Christians will not be far behind.

    Too late. Christians have used violence for many, many years. There was a time it was almost fashionable for Christians to shoot abortion doctors.

    Also, you might want to check out what’s going on down in Africa, fueled by the likes of Rick Warren and the Catholic Church. It makes those Muslims you fear seem rather tame in their violence.

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

    peterhearn, a sarcasm tag is to be inferred, right?

  191. KG says

    I’m actually less bothered about Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s stupidity with regard to Christianity than her association with the neocon scum at the American Enterprise Institute. She has chosen to align herself with the liars and murderers who ran George W. Bush’s foreign policy. That’s unforgiveable.

  192. dereksmear says

    Replace the word ‘Britney’ with ‘Sam Harris’ and you have captured the essence of what a lot of Harris fans are saying on this thread

  193. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    Ok so the king and evil dictator was hyperbole. I’m just trying to make this cesspit a little less slanted against Harris.

    And what a fine job you did of it too.

    I just might believe this is I lacked the memory of your previous posts.

    Also, when PZ asked if you were able to read, he made a mistake. He should have asked if you can comprehend what you are trying to say.

    You are now dismissed.

  194. frankboyd says

    mythbri, you see my point? They are already, before they’ve even been hurt, making their apologies for crawling to fascism. You think that this lot will do anything but bow and scrape? If they are this abject before any real threat has been made against them, what the hell will they be like in the face of it?

    Contra Myers’s pretending about this issue, when people were being murdered and jailed and beaten up, did he reproduce the cartoons in solidarity ? No he didn’t. He waited several years before doing so, when they had, apparently, become magically not racist (to quote his craven and cowardly excuse beforehand). And by his own evidence he ran when he wasn’t even under threat.

    Do you want to know why modern Catholicism/Christianity is not on par with modern Islam? It’s because, as Janine said, their religious influence is restricted, at times imperfectly, by the separation of church and state

    Yes, and who put those barriers there? They were put by people quite literally willing to die for what they believed in. Nothing Sam Harris has written would even remotely compare to the ferocity of the Enlightenment philosophes. So. What happens when modern day Catholics look at the likes of myers and realize that those walls aren’t guarded any more? To take your own argument straight, what happens when they realize that all that stands between them and their old power is a group that drops at the first sign of trouble? What happens then?

    mythbri, since you seem to be the only one honestly trying to understand here – that’s what’s kept me around. Think long and hard on that. Ask yourself: if you genuinely do want to oppose religious madness, do you think you can rely on this crowd for anything? Or do you think that the instant it get’s controversial or dangerous, you will find yourself denounced and spat on? Or the instant you disagree with anything here?

    I think I’ve made my points as clear as I can be, and you are the only mind on this thread. I hope that, at least, I’ve provided something to think about.

  195. marinerachel says

    I’m really, really confused, you guys. I know it’s got something to do with my vulva but I don’t understand how. I know that we’re all really terrible people and that unless we eat our own we’re going to tarnish atheism and skepticism irreparably and I know we’re the outlying weirdos or rationality whose ideas concern no one so we’re irrelevant and stand-alone from the movement (teehee) but I don’t understand how nor do I see how my vulva fits into the equation.

  196. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    Also have to love an idiot who links to lie to make a point about a alleged hyperbole.

  197. says

    I’m facepalming at the torture defenses I read above, and their dependence on ideal scenarios and perfect insight. It really reinforces my impression that torture only works for extracting information if you already have that information and know that it’s accurate, which entirely negates the motivation for torture. It’s something of a catch-22, as well:

    If the victim is innocent or ignorant, he’s discouraged from telling that truth because it results in more torture for being “stubborn.” This puts the innocent at an inherent disadvantage. Whatever they make up in desperation is unlikely to be the truth. Falsehood has the advantage.

    If the victim is guilty and/or possesses the information, they can feign breaking, tell an informed lie, and the interrogator will eagerly snatch it up and treat it as sacred truth. Falsehood has the advantage.

  198. KG says

    So leave Sam Harris alone you bastards! HES A HUMAN BEEEEIIIING! – peterhearn

    So are Pope Ratzi, Pat Robertson and Ayman al-Zawahiri.

  199. says

    augustpamplona:

    I would assume that what they are interested in is the philosophical implications of torture. That is, they are looking at torture from the perspective of it being a potentially interesting ethical issue. If torture does not work there’s nothing interesting about it as an ethical issue. Thus, I am not at all surprised that the issue of whether it works or not is not addressed.

    Without real-world context, the issue is just an unremarkable facet of the “is doing a small evil to counter a larger evil morally justified?” question. The article as it stands is not an idealized version of a real world issue, it is an inaccurate version of a real world issue.

  200. strange gods before me ॐ says

    I think that is one of the objections in Harris argument that may have some merit. He doesn’t want his children reading about him years later that he was a racist. That label tends to stick to people.

    Shit, I don’t want anybody reading about me that I used to listen to Creed.

    What can I say, though? Sam created his own prison.

  201. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    Yes, and who put those barriers there? They were put by people quite literally willing to die for what they believed in. Nothing Sam Harris has written would even remotely compare to the ferocity of the Enlightenment philosophes. So. What happens when modern day Catholics look at the likes of myers and realize that those walls aren’t guarded any more? To take your own argument straight, what happens when they realize that all that stands between them and their old power is a group that drops at the first sign of trouble? What happens then?

    What is the point of refuting?

    That’s insane troll logic.

  202. KG says

    mythbri, since you seem to be the only one honestly trying to understand here – that’s what’s kept me around. – peterhearn

    mythbri, could I appeal to you to stop trying to understand peterhearn? Maybe then the tedious fuckwit will go away.

  203. says

    frankboyd:

    They are already, before they’ve even been hurt, making their apologies for crawling to fascism.

    What? Where?

    Are you reading the same thread I’m reading? Because seriously. You have not only a communication problem, but a comprehension problem.

    Or do you think that the instant it get’s controversial or dangerous, you will find yourself denounced and spat on? Or the instant you disagree with anything here?

    Look. I gave you plenty of opportunity to support your vague half-thought-out claims. You refused. What you are getting here isn’t a reaction to your disagreement with us, so stop pretending it is. What you are getting is an allergic reaction to bare assertions presented without backing evidence — presented, in fact, with a disclaimer that you weren’t going to present rational argument or evidence.

    There have been many arguments and discussions among regulars here. This is far from the echo chamber you seem to think it is. The one thing we all agree on is the necessity to use rational argument (which you have not) and evidence (again, which you have not).

    Now you can go on and cry to all your rationalist friends that you came to Pharyngula and got your poor little feelings hurt. You can even leave out the little detail that you didn’t even attempt to engage in rational discussion, but came in just to stir shit up. That should give you a case of the prouds.

    Just realize, we’ll always know you presented nothing of substance, just a lot of whining.

    And you’ll know it, too.

  204. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    mythbri, since you seem to be the only one honestly trying to understand here – that’s what’s kept me around.

    Mythbri, it is unfair that frankboyd and pinned this all on you.

    It is not your fault.

    *wink*

  205. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    Substitute “has” for “and”.

    *grumbles some more about the Typo Monster*

  206. Brownian says

    I fucking hate chickenhawk pieces of shit:

    You think that this lot will do anything but bow and scrape?

    Well, let’s take a look, you brainless stupid fuck:

    Or do you think that the instant it get’s controversial or dangerous, you will find yourself denounced and spat on? Or the instant you disagree with anything here?

    What do you think that disagreement is, you fucking moron? It’s the opposite of bowing and scraping.

    Go fuck yourself, you whiny lickspittle toad. You’re human garbage.

  207. Brownian says

    And fucking take that taint-licking halfwit peterhearn with you, frankboyd.

    You and Gomer go stand on that wall.

  208. says

    marinerachel:

    I’m really, really confused, you guys. I know it’s got something to do with my vulva but I don’t understand how.

    No it’s the uterus and ovaries that make you confused, hysterical, emotional and uppity. The vulva is used to manipulate and blackmail men into doing your bidding.

  209. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    frankboyd, what have you done to fight militant religion?

    He is making sure that the Catholics know that walls of secularism are still being guarded despite all the evidence of PZ Myers being incompetent about this.

    If only PZ Myers were more like Pastor Rick Warren, atheism would have a place at the table.

  210. KG says

    Sorry, I confused peterhearn and frankboyd@214. My excuse is that neither has ever said anything of the slightest worth or interest.

  211. mythbri says

    @frankboyd #214

    They are already, before they’ve even been hurt, making their apologies for crawling to fascism. You think that this lot will do anything but bow and scrape? If they are this abject before any real threat has been made against them, what the hell will they be like in the face of it?

    I DON’T KNOW WHO “THEY” MEANS, frankboyd. You haven’t defined your terms more specifically than “this lot”. Again, are you speaking in terms of online presence or general ideology? This gratuitous use of the word “they” comes off like paranoia.

    What happens when modern day Catholics look at the likes of myers and realize that those walls aren’t guarded any more? To take your own argument straight, what happens when they realize that all that stands between them and their old power is a group that drops at the first sign of trouble? What happens then?

    So, this excuses Ayaan’s allying herself with these Catholics? The fact that the only thing holding them back from total religious fascism is the presence of atheists willing to die for their non-belief? I don’t understand what you’re saying.

    if you genuinely do want to oppose religious madness, do you think you can rely on this crowd for anything? Or do you think that the instant it get’s controversial or dangerous, you will find yourself denounced and spat on? Or the instant you disagree with anything here?

    What do you think the people here do when they’re not online? Do you think that words on the internet is the extent of their activism? Do you not believe that they devote their time and money to secular causes? Has the internet endowed you with the ability to see exactly what these people do to promote secularism in their various countries?

    You seem to equate disagreement on the internet with extreme penalties. I personally have never laid eyes on Harris in person, much less spat on him. His ideas are being scrutinized, but I don’t see him suffering for it. It’s not as though anyone in the atheist community is going to throw him in jail, or attempt to kill him. I don’t know why you think the consequences of disagreement within the atheist movement is somehow signaling its eventual demise. ALL social movements have had internal disagreement, even the successful ones.

  212. peterhearn says

    @Janine

    Also have to love an idiot who links to lie to make a point about a alleged hyperbole.

    Oh wow. You thought I was being serious there huh? Well, now I just feel bad for you.

  213. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    No, peterhearn, I do not think that your were being serious there. I just cannot take you seriously at all. And I feel all so bad about that.

    Time to put on my hairshirt.

  214. Brownian says

    Oh wow. You thought I was being serious there huh? Well, now I just feel bad for you.

    peterhearn, you haven’t earned the right to be cocky after your failure of a comment in 39.

    You and frankboyd go fuck off to plot against the coming storm.

  215. mythbri says

    Sorry, all. My attempt to encourage frankboyd to tiptoe towards substance seems an exercise in futility.

  216. PatrickG says

    To take your own argument straight, what happens when they realize that all that stands between them and their old power is a group that drops at the first sign of trouble? What happens then?

    So the upcoming extermination of the atheist community at the hands of vengeful armed religious people can be stopped by all of us just shutting up and going away? If reasoned criticism of Sam Harris and/or some intemperate speech at a single blog is stripping away our defenses in the forthcoming war, aren’t we kind of doomed anyway.

    At first I thought you were just a garden variety troll, but I’m really starting to worry for you, trapped in a paranoid world of fear and impending apocalypse as you seem to be.

  217. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    Like I said, mythbri, I think it was unfair of frankboyd to blame you for his blathering here. He would have done this even if you had not said a word.

  218. Quinn Martindale says

    Bronzedog 217

    If the victim is guilty and/or possesses the information, they can feign breaking, tell an informed lie, and the interrogator will eagerly snatch it up and treat it as sacred truth. Falsehood has the advantage.

    Unless the information is easily and quickly verifiable. There are certainly (far fetched and unrealistic) scenarios where only a correct answer stops the torture. This is one of the problems with pragmatic arguments against torture as opposed to principled ones.

  219. consciousness razor says

    I would assume that what they are interested in is the philosophical implications of torture. That is, they are looking at torture from the perspective of it being a potentially interesting ethical issue. If torture does not work there’s nothing interesting about it as an ethical issue. Thus, I am not at all surprised that the issue of whether it works or not is not addressed.

    If you don’t know some things which would determine how you act (or what will happen as a result) with a sufficient degree of certainty, that itself is an “interesting ethical issue.” What definitely isn’t interesting is assuming that we’re omniscient beings and thinking about how we ought to act if that were the case, because that doesn’t apply to anyone.

  220. says

    mythbri:

    Sorry, all. My attempt to encourage frankboyd to tiptoe towards substance seems an exercise in futility.

    Not entirely. It provided the cover needed for frankboyd to spew the real problem they have with us: we’re not willing to go to extremes to protect rationalism against the impending religious war, in which it’ll be necessary to torture and profile the Evil Muslims, in spite of the fact that neither torture nor racial profiling are effective.

    It may be necessary to nuke them, if the pattern of bilious support of Harris is a guide.

    And all we’re doing is using rational arguments against that obvious necessity, which poisons the well of atheism, such that none may slake their intellectual thirst for decades to come.

    At least, that’s assuming I’m not distorting frankboyd’s argument. It’s difficult to tell, as the shotgun approach to vague but violently-phrased condemnation of Pharyngula has been a bit non-specific.

  221. peterhearn says

    peterhearn, you haven’t earned the right to be cocky after your failure of a comment in 39.
    You and frankboyd go fuck off to plot against the coming storm.

    Not sure why I’d want to live up to the standards of crazy people. But keep up the personal attacks. I’m glad that you care so much.

  222. says

    Re: Vijen

    English is unfortunate, but if you use “their” for a singular referent in your SAT you will be marked down.

    I can find no evidence for this, in the case of unknown persons. I doubt they’d ask that as a question, but they do ask to retain the same pronoun schema throughout a sentence or writing. They and their is perfectly good English; specifying the wrong pronoun is an insult. Period. Assuming a gender from a name is not entirely bad, as many names are gendered, but it’s all we have to go on.

    Personally, I put boobs in my icon.

  223. frankboyd says

    Okay, short simple and final:

    I DON’T KNOW WHO “THEY” MEANS, frankboyd. You haven’t defined your terms more specifically than “this lot”

    Myers, his groupies, a significant section of FTB (again, exceptions: Taslima and Maryam), and people like that.

    So, this excuses Ayaan’s allying herself with these Catholics?

    You miss the fact that at the moment they are much more liberal and enlightened than the votaries of Islam. I cannot blame Ayaan for looking for support where she can get it. What would you offer in that place? Can you seriously offer an alternative? Because – again, taking your comment at face value – you will have to provide that, if you wish to have any hope against a religion with teeth.

    What do you think the people here do when they’re not online? Do you think that words on the internet is the extent of their activism?

    I think it fantastically unlikely that any of these people are more courageous when not protected by the anonymity of the internet than in real life.

    It’s not as though anyone in the atheist community is going to throw him in jail, or attempt to kill him.

    The problem is always the people who look on and do nothing. If he were thrown in jail – what, exactly, would someone like myers do? What’d he even be able to do?

    The FTB crowd, with one or two exceptions, have made it clear that they will never amount to anything when things get real.

    This isn’t criticism; it’s smearing and lying and defamation. This atmosphere is so poisonous that it’ll drive anyone worth having from the atheist movement.

    Now, no one ever changes their mind in these internet exchanges, but I hope that you’ll eventually see it for yourself. Believe me, stick around long enough and you will.

  224. consciousness razor says

    Unless the information is easily and quickly verifiable.

    In that case, torturing the person for it is completely fucking useless. Don’t waste your time or manpower on some person locked in a cell who isn’t likely to help you. Just go out and easily and quickly verify it.

  225. Brownian says

    But keep up the personal attacks.

    You mean how several commenters pointed out that the quote by Marcus Ranum completely contradicted your point that “This sums up whats wrong with this place. So many people think its ok to be dishonest to win an argument…When is the last time you saw Harris, Dawkins, or Tyson argue this way?” and then when called on it, you doubled down with:

    Well then I picked a bad example and I look dumb, but my point still stands.

    Those kinds of personal attacks?

  226. Brownian says

    I think it fantastically unlikely that any of these people are more courageous when not protected by the anonymity of the internet than in real life.

    Then there is no doubt that you’re a fucking fool.

  227. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    Now, no one ever changes their mind in these internet exchanges, but I hope that you’ll eventually see it for yourself. Believe me, stick around long enough and you will.

    Because of frankboyd, I will now disregard all of the lurkers who delurk to let us know that their minds have been changed by reading internet exchanges.

    If only frankboyd were able to change mythbri’s mind.

  228. Brownian says

    This isn’t criticism; it’s smearing and lying and defamation.

    “Hey, Sam Harris: neither torture nor ethnic profiling are effective in solving the problem you are purporting to solve” is smearing and lying and defamation?

    Are you honestly that stupid?

  229. unclefrogy says

    I believe this is to be the truth of torture the only truth there is in it!
    —————–
    >Rather: its only particularly reliable value as a tool of statecraft is as a method of terror and suppression. And those who use it frequently know this perfectly well. Their intention isn’t to get their victims to confess a truth and save the city from some mythical suitcase bomb: their intention is to get their victims to confess anything they can use to justify further and spreading punishment and suppression. And they can do this only in an environment in which there are people naive enough to believe the absurd perjuries concocted under such conditions.<——

    All the things I have read about here by PZ that criticize others boils down to the incomplete or total lack of using reason and evidence to draw conclusions about the real world as we find it not the mythical world of religion or the hypothetical.

    reality does not play favorites
    it cares not for winners or losers
    my idea of an ideal world would be one where reality would be paramount and naturally every effort to determine it would be exhausted before we would consult opinion and then only tentatively.
    yes I know us monkeys will never accomplish this level of sophisticate civilization in my life time.
    uncle frogy

  230. says

    frankboyd:

    This isn’t criticism; it’s smearing and lying and defamation. This atmosphere is so poisonous that it’ll drive anyone worth having from the atheist movement.

    You have been asked repeatedly to illustrate this. Where are the lies? Where is the defamation?

    If it’s a poisonous atmosphere, it’s poisonous only to irrational arguments, or unsubstantiated claims. If you personally feel threatened, it’s not because the atmosphere here is poisonous to you, but to your unsubstantiated claims.

    Harris’s arguments are terrible with respect to torture and profiling. They have been pretty well eviscerated, not just here, but by people far better qualified to do so. Your refusal to defend Harris with any substance doesn’t prove we’re poisonous. It proves you are wrong.

    If an idea can’t hold up to scrutiny, it should be discarded. Harris clings to his ideas, though they have been shown to be flawed. If he chooses to leave the “atheist movement” (whatever the fuck that is), that’s his choice, not ours. But you can’t blame us for holding his ideas up to scrutiny. That is the exact opposite of rationalism.

    Yet that’s what you call for. The opposite of rationalism.

    But then, I’m not sure what I expect, from someone who promised to not use evidence or rational argument.

  231. consciousness razor says

    You miss the fact that at the moment they are much more liberal and enlightened than the votaries of Islam.

    And the fact is, Myers and his ilk are conservative and unenlightened. The evidence for this is all around us, and that is why we must protect ourselves with these tinfoil hats.

    The FTB crowd, with one or two exceptions, have made it clear that they will never amount to anything when things get real.

    Yes, they have made it clear what they will do — somewhere you haven’t specified, for some time now, for reasons which should be obvious to everyone — when things “get real,” since they’re not real now.

  232. Brownian says

    I think it fantastically unlikely that any of these people are more courageous when not protected by the anonymity of the internet than in real life.

    The problem is always the people who look on and do nothing. If he were thrown in jail – what, exactly, would someone like myers do? What’d he even be able to do?

    The FTB crowd, with one or two exceptions, have made it clear that they will never amount to anything when things get real.

    This isn’t criticism; it’s smearing and lying and defamation. This atmosphere is so poisonous that it’ll drive anyone worth having from the atheist movement.

    Emptiness.

    Malice.

    Spite.

  233. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    Not sure why I’d want to live up to the standards of crazy people. But keep up the personal attacks. I’m glad that you care so much.

    You are mistaken yet again, peterhearn. Just because you are mocked does not mean that anyone cares about what you say.

    Also, using the lone sane man slur?

    Bless your heart!

  234. says

    frankboyd:

    The problem is always the people who look on and do nothing. If he were thrown in jail – what, exactly, would someone like myers do? What’d he even be able to do?

    Help spread information about it, and raise public awareness?

    That’s a proven, effective strategy.

  235. crocodoc says

    Thanks to Sam Harris for writing wonderful books that I enjoyed and to a great degree agree with.

    Thanks to PZ Myers, Bruce Schneier and others for pointing out the flaws in Harris’ works.

    10 Years ago we had an interesting case here in Germany. Magnus Gäfgen http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnus_G%C3%A4fgen abducted and killed an 11 year old boy. A police officer, not knowing that the boy was already dead, threatend him with torture until he told the police where his victim’s body was hidden. I fully understand the policemen’s intensions and in the same situation I would have done that, too. But is that a reason to allow torture? It was the only case that I know of where there was at least a chance that a life could have been saved. The chance to save the boy was not depending on the legality of what the police did. But if there is any law to allow violence under such circumstances, it will be twisted and bent as any other law, increasing the chance that torture will be used even if it can be avoided, or against innocents, and that the torturers will get away with it. As Schneier says, we must not only examine if an action makes us safer – we have to look at the trade-off and then decide if it’s worth it. In the case of torture, I’d say the answer is a clear no.

  236. PatrickG says

    This atmosphere is so poisonous that it’ll drive anyone worth having from the atheist movement.

    If only it could drive certain people away from this forum… if we can’t pull that off, how are we possibly going to continue with our master plan of destroying the atheist movement?

    Help me out here, guys.

  237. ewanmacdonald says

    I don’t think Harris’ position on torture is as close to that of the Stanford paper as he’d like to think. (Even if it was, by what authority are we all to gasp and sink to our knees at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy?)

    The SEoP essay clearly, clearly calls for torture to be extrajudicial and beyond process, as it would be a disaster to any liberal society that adopted it if it was to be legalised and normalised. Harris’ essay in the Huffington Post, meanwhile, does *not* make this distinction. He keeps the ‘rare circumstance’ proviso – obviously – but not only does he not explicitly call for it to be extrajudicial, but in fact at times implies (but does not state) the opposite by making frequent recourse to our leaders and to our legislation.

    What is true, and what’s largely omitted from peoples’ complaints, is that he qualifies his argument by saying this:

    Which way should the balance swing? Assuming that we want to maintain a coherent ethical position on these matters, this appears to be a circumstance of forced choice: if we are willing to drop bombs, or even risk that rifle rounds might go astray, we should be willing to torture a certain class of criminal suspects and military prisoners; if we are unwilling to torture, we should be unwilling to wage modern war.

    Then we need to ask Harris the question: do you want to adopt a pacifistic position? If he doesn’t, then clearly, by his own definition, he’s in favour of torture; and it also seems evident to me that he’s in favour of our adopting it as part of our legal and cultural norms.

    I would genuinely like for someone to argue against the above, because Harris isn’t stupid, and for him to argue that he’s being misrepresented by posts like this one is presumably based on something. Am I missing something obvious?

  238. says

    The “Theys” are:

    Myers, his groupies, a significant section of FTB (again, exceptions: Taslima and Maryam), and people like that.

    You do know that Taslima, Maryam, and I are friends, right? That we meet up at conferences and have a good time? That we unapologetically link to each other?

    I hope your brain hasn’t exploded trying to deal with that.

    Meanwhile, I’ve been speaking at these conferences for years and still don’t have any groupies. You have apparently met them. Could you offer some advice about how we could connect up sometime? They’re not all living in Canada or someplace uninhabitable like that, are they?

  239. Gaebolga says

    @ frankboyd, #245:

    So am I correct in my reading of your post that you believe that we (the collective “we” of atheists, skeptics, and rational thinkers) will soon be engaged in a war with religion (you seem to imply that the religion in question is Islam, but it also seems to slide your focus to include various christian sects and other religions at some point)?

    If so, I still don’t understand your reason for this belief. Why do you think this is likely?

    Ignoring for the moment any and all of your criticisms of FTB, PZ Myers, the Horde, and all of that, what has led you this belief, if that is indeed a belief that you hold?

    And if that’s not what you believe, if I’m misreading your words or misrepresenting your position, what is your position?

  240. says

    Assuming that we want to maintain a coherent ethical position on these matters, this appears to be a circumstance of forced choice: if we are willing to drop bombs, or even risk that rifle rounds might go astray, we should be willing to torture a certain class of criminal suspects and military prisoners; if we are unwilling to torture, we should be unwilling to wage modern war.

    See? I agree with that. Let’s bring the troops home, and let’s stop killing people with drones and bombs and land mines.

    I’m happy to be coherent on that issue!

    Is that the answer you wanted?

  241. cuervodecuero says

    People are supposed to conduct themselves in manners that will not gain Pat Robertson’s sneering dismissal and condemnation??

    Aside from the personal suspicion that Pat Robertson doesn’t spend five minutes a week *actually* noting what atheists are saying anywhere, he’s in the business of dismissing *Eugenie Scott’s* level of diplomacy as satanic temptation to the faithful, in between blaming atheists and other meanies for everything from earthquakes to his garbage not being picked up on time.

    Him laughing at atheists because they have opened the process of hammering out “ok, so there are no gods, now what” aspects to society strikes me as a dictator laughing at citizen democracy.

    For those that would decree Pharyngula a dictatorship, I’ll pre-emptively disagree. To me, Pharyngula and bloggy ilk seem an echo of the taverns and coffee houses of yore where ‘degenerate’ university students, artists, actors, philosophers, pamphleteers and freethinkers argued ideas passionately. I think there were more than a few actual brawls and duels over what was reasoned and what wasn’t. Shakespeare’s world was rife with roughhouse. And what of the enlightening and vociferous correspondences between personality-riddled intellects burning up the post offices back in the day?

    The internet seems to have combined both meet-ups. Blogs are alight with signal and noise as they analyze and throw mugs and in some cases, yes, nail things to doors. So, other blogmongers want to come stand on a table in Pharyngula and wax forth? They’d best be prepared for mug dents unless they bring logic to a gum fight. I’ve ‘watched’ the tavern owner at Pharyngula fend off challenging mugs!

    It seems…great to me, even when I don’t feel qualified to do more than sit and listen and take notes on sources/references. I don’t fear ‘enemies’ laughing at unruly ‘infighting’. Ideas society needs will bear out if people can bear to look at the evidence. In what seems a basic human behaviour, argument drives more people to evidence than mere curiousity.

    I fear having the means to vigourously and immediately contest declarations being stifled and locked up out of reach of the less connected, less traveled, less financially able, less internet ninja.

    I apologize for length and possible repetition of others.

  242. davidjanes says

    This is one of the problems with pragmatic arguments against torture as opposed to principled ones.

    I can give you a practical case where torture does in fact work: so called “rubber-hose cryptanalysis”. If the password doesn’t decrypt, the pain doesn’t stop, in fact it may get worse.

    That doesn’t make it right, mind you. But there is a world of difference between torturing someone who has a specific, verifiable piece of information and time is not of the essence (because sometimes it takes quite a while before the kidnappee gives up their ATM PIN, but they do eventually, or they die), and the vague “I think you are a terrorist, tell me your plans and your associates” fantasy so many torture apologists seem to be fond of thinking they can extract.

    Maybe this is what Harris was trying to convey, although to be frank, all of the back and forth has me rather confused. It also seems to be of limited utility: you are going to have an awful lot of other information about whatever plot you are trying to stop if you manage to have your hands on both the data and a person who knows the password to it. For criminals it makes sense, but it seems to me you have to construct some pretty obtuse hypotheticals to have it make any sense for law enforcement and arguments that removed from day to day reality seem like debating points, not an honest attempt to discuss the issue.

  243. PatrickG says

    @ewanmacdonald

    If anything, I find that clarification just makes the position look worse.

    He’s arguing that since war is bad, once we’ve done that, we should completely disregard any further constraints on our behavior. By that logic, I could well say that since we went to war in Iraq under false pretenses, we might as well bomb Iran, because hey! we already did something wrong, and let’s be ethically consistent.

    It also completely ignores the possibility of conducting a modern war and nottorturing. There may well be compelling reasons to wage war. There are no compelling reasons to torture. The only forced circumstances here are in Harris’s writing there.

  244. ewanmacdonald says

    I should add that Harris said this in a later essay:

    While I think that torture should remain illegal, it is not clear that having a torture provision in our laws would create as slippery a slope as many people imagine. We have a capital punishment provision, for instance, but this has not led to our killing prisoners at random because we can’t control ourselves. While I am strongly opposed to capital punishment, I can readily concede that we are not suffering a total moral chaos in our society because we execute about five people every month. It is not immediately obvious that a rule about torture could not be applied with equal restraint.

    It seems probable, however, that any legal use of torture would have unacceptable consequences. In light of this concern, the best strategy I have heard comes from Mark Bowden in his Atlantic Monthly article, “The Dark Art of Interrogation.” Bowden recommends that we keep torture illegal, and maintain a policy of not torturing anybody for any reason. But our interrogators should know that there are certain circumstances in which it will be ethical to break the law. Indeed, there are circumstances in which you would have to be a monster not to break the law… (etc.)

    That is closer to what the SEoP says – but, again, not as close as Harris seems to think.

    The one thing I’d say in favour of Harris’ view is that it is more nuanced than some people – and by this I mean professional journalists as much as I do blog commenters (who are fair game for criticism, while the former set aren’t) – might claim. But again, I just can’t square this with his denial that he’s in favour of torture. I take him at face value when he says that his motivation for writing this passage (and indeed that book) was in part to ‘render certain forms of conflict, quite literally, unthinkable.’ But I also think that his critique of ‘collateral damage’, powerful though it is, doesn’t actually call for, much less posit a way to achieve, an end to collateral damage. By the end of the paragraph he’s instead left calling for torture based on what he happily admits could be a one-in-a-million chance of success. Based on this I can’t be persuaded that anyone adopting his arguments without also adopting pacifism can be described as anything other than pro-torture in certain, admittedly extremely rare circumstances.

    Again, I gratefully accept any arguments to the contrary. I genuinely want to know if/how this is misrepresentative.

  245. ewanmacdonald says

    @PatrickG 266:

    My first post was a bit incomplete – I followed up by saying that Harris meant that part of the book to be, at least in part, a critique of our blithe acceptance of collateral damage. But I think you’re right in that his argument will in practicality boil down to “if we accept X we accept Y as well,” rather than “if we don’t accept Y we can’t accept X.”

    He actually does close his first essay with the latter statement, but from reading of his other works he doesn’t, to my knowledge, actually condemn military aggression.

    A link might get moderated so if you search ‘response to controversy sam harris’ you can see it in his own words.

  246. Pteryxx says

    I can give you a practical case where torture does in fact work: so called “rubber-hose cryptanalysis”. If the password doesn’t decrypt, the pain doesn’t stop, in fact it may get worse.

    There’s a suggested solution to that: have a ‘safe’ decoy password that decrypts only the harmless files, so the torturers don’t know it didn’t work.

  247. Tethys says

    peterhearne

    Well then I picked a bad example and I look dumb, but my point still stands.

    You’re really failing at this logic thing. Your example did not support your opinion, it actually disproved your opinion.

    No, your point does not stand, it was shredded as stupidity and failure to comprehend what you were reading.

    I give you 1 point for admitting that you look dumb.
    ____

    Hey everybody, look at my sniny new straw-mane! I hear that they are all the rage here on FTB.

  248. Pteryxx says

    *headdesk* and I forgot the big one: have a ‘kill’ password that wipes the encrypted data. So much for the rubber-hose technique.

  249. PatrickG says

    I’ll expand my earlier reply just a bit. To quote from him, and then from you:

    We have a capital punishment provision, for instance, but this has not led to our killing prisoners at random because we can’t control ourselves. While I am strongly opposed to capital punishment, I can readily concede that we are not suffering a total moral chaos in our society because we execute about five people every month.

    I give you the state of Texas as rebuttal for the argument that we control ourselves despite having capital punishment.

    It is not immediately obvious that a rule about torture could not be applied with equal restraint.

    Positing that Texas exists, if we can’t even meet that standard, I find the rest of the argument extremely unpersuasive.

    To expand on my earlier post, his truth table for war and torture is not complete.

    War + Torture
    War + Not Torture
    No War + Torture
    No War + No Torture

    War may be justified in some cases, or at least you can make strong arguments for it. There’s a conversation to be had about collateral damage, about goals of intervention, about “reward”, so to speak. This and the previous thread have pretty exhaustively shown that except in extremely aberrant hypothetical situations, torture simply does not work. All cost, no reward.

  250. davidjanes says

    @269

    Nothing is sure-fire, but your proposed evasion mechanic won’t work if it is something other than files, like say the combination to a safe, or the aforementioned ATM PIN. Criminals do use torture successfully and are punished quite harshly for it.

  251. says

    Unless the information is easily and quickly verifiable. There are certainly (far fetched and unrealistic) scenarios where only a correct answer stops the torture.

    Of course no terrorist organization would ever think of creating a false trail, seemingly verifiable, that leads nowhere and training their operatives to fake “breaking” under torture and send their interrogators up that trail to waste time.
    No, the only person who could conceive such a devious plan is me.
    Me and a few thousand Hollywood scriptwriters.

  252. mythbri says

    @frankboyd #245

    I’ve lurked at Pharyngula for a very long time, and have been commenting for a relatively short time. I trust my own judgment regarding the general atmosphere, thanks. Believe it or not, I’ve seen disagreement here. I’ve disagreed with some of the regulars, and in some cases with PZ – and miraculously, my head remains un-exploded by the differences that exist.

    You miss the fact that at the moment they are much more liberal and enlightened than the votaries of Islam.

    That’s like saying a good ol’ boy is more liberal and enlightened than a full-fledged member of the KKK. They are of the same genus.

  253. ewanmacdonald says

    Of course no terrorist organization would ever think of creating a false trail, seemingly verifiable, that leads nowhere and training their operatives to fake “breaking” under torture and send their interrogators up that trail to waste time.
    No, the only person who could conceive such a devious plan is me.
    Me and a few thousand Hollywood scriptwriters.

    I’m not as anti-philosophy as some people on here but it does worry me that some people just can’t see past the end of their thought experiments. Real life doesn’t correspond so easily to the parameters of a hypothetical. All of the pro-torture hypotheticals that I’ve seen either i) assume perfect knowledge or ii) downplay the importance of the unreliable data problem… which, to me, should actually be the starting point.

    Harris is at least consistent in that he says a one-in-a-million shot is sufficient to act, based on our other ethical choices.

  254. davidjanes says

    @feralboy

    Again, I am dealing with things that have indeed actually happened that make the “torture doesn’t work” argument fail as a general case. People have been tortured for financial information and the like by criminals for centuries. I am not arguing that you cannot also produce specific cases where it will fail or where careful planning can get around it: you’d have to be a raving idiot to be that obtuse. That makes it a very low utility tactic when the stakes are high, and very useful when the goal is something as puny as someone’s checking account.

    I just think we do better on focusing on the simple truth that in general, ethical human beings do not inflict pain and suffering on other human beings to force them to comply with their wishes. It’s rather Kantian, but a categorical imperative seems to be better than an argument from pragmatic principles.

  255. says

    ewanmacdonald:

    Based on this I can’t be persuaded that anyone adopting his arguments without also adopting pacifism can be described as anything other than pro-torture in certain, admittedly extremely rare circumstances.

    While I am a pacifist, I admit to the potential utility of war. War can, at times, be justified, because it may produce a better outcome than not going to war (say, WW II).

    The problem with torture is its inefficacy. The desired outcome of torture is based on current ignorance. The desired outcome of the tortured is to stop the torture, at least for a while. As the torturers are by definition ignorant, this can be achieved by the tortured giving them incorrect information, or information the victim thinks the torturer wants. All the contrived scenarios in the world can’t change the fact that people lie under torture.

    It isn’t just a question of the moral standing of torture. It’s not just a slippery slope argument. (However, I question the comparison of capital punishment, which is legal, with the extra-legal implementation of torture.) It’s a question about the effectiveness of the tool.

    The other moral questions extend beyond things like collateral damage. Torture is the intentional, directed, extended infliction of pain and psychological abuse on a specific helpless and captive individual. This is morally different from the accidental (or even calculated) killing of innocents in the execution of war.

  256. PatrickG says

    @ewanmacdonald:

    Wanted to add that my apparent support of war is rather divorced from the practical situation of how we wage war. Not really meaning to speak too much about war here, just about the War and Torture problem Harris speaks to.

    Now as to your next comment. From his piece, this sentence sort of jumped out at me:

    if you think it is ever justifiable to drop bombs in an attempt to kill a man like Osama bin Laden (and thereby risk killing and maiming innocent men, women, and children), you should think it may sometimes be justifiable to “water-board” a man like Osama bin Laden (and risk abusing someone who just happens to look like Osama bin Laden).

    Bomb: Objective is to kill Osama bin Laden. Moral issue is collateral damage.
    Torture: Objective is _______? Moral issue is risk abusing innocents.

    This is the pervasive error I keep finding in his writings about torture. It happens again and again and again. There is never any truly specific mention of what specific goal torture is supposed to achieve, except vague mentions of general scenarios, or specific mentions of extremely hypothetical and bizarre scenarios.

    You can have a very definite and rational argument about whether or not dropping that bomb is worth the moral horror of killing, because the goal is defined and achievable.

    Torture simply doesn’t have that possibility for rational debate. It’s been shown to be a remarkably ineffective tool for its stated aim (i.e. defined and not achievable. I really just don’t understand why Harris ties himself in knots to defend something that has repeatedly been shown to be useless.

  257. Quinn Martindale says

    consciousness razor @ 246.

    Don’t waste your time or manpower on some person locked in a cell who isn’t likely to help you. Just go out and easily and quickly verify it

    Unless you have proof thatP=NP, the ability to verify something quickly does not imply the ability to solve something quickly. Let’s say that, in the beating example, they could check any location in a short time but that the set of possible locations was too big to examine every possible location. Or consider the case of a person being tortured to give up a secure password. In either case, a false answer would be quickly found out, and the torture could continue until a true answer was given.

    So it’s possible to suggest such far-fetched scenarios where the set of all possible solutions is too large to check them all in time, but any individual solution can be quickly checked. Furthermore, there is real world precedent for torture actually working. Consider the Battle of Algiers. That’s why pragmatic arguments against torture are a bad idea.

  258. PatrickG says

    Harris is at least consistent in that he says a one-in-a-million shot is sufficient to act, based on our other ethical choices.

    It’s the way he arrives at this and defends it that people consider to be simply wrong. Consistency is a virtue, but it doesn’t confer reason. Just look at our trolls today — absolutely batshit, but they’re consistent!

  259. kieran says

    I think my biggest problem with the profiling was the assumption that airport security can actually stop a terrorist attack. Then ignoring the expert in the field who pointed out why racial profiling fails.
    In Ireland during the troubles the English had greatest success against the IRA not when they sent the SAS after them but rather by careful use of informers and following the money.

  260. PatrickG says

    All the contrived scenarios in the world can’t change the fact that people lie under torture.

    Nigel says it more eloquently in his post, but this is the key point.

    Torture doesn’t work. That should end the discussion right there, but instead we get treatises devoted to babies in cars and Jack Bauer.

  261. says

    #280: Your point isn’t clear. Note that the article you link to says, “The use of torture resulted in a backlash against the French presence in Algeria, triggered a controversy in France, and stimulated international support for the FLN.”

    How is that torture working?

  262. PatrickG says

    From a wiki in your link, emphasis mine:

    Although Aussaresses claimed that torture was an efficient way to fight against what he saw as FLN terrorism, recent historical research[6] demonstrate that, contrary to the popular “ticking time bomb scenario”, torture was not used for short-term intelligence purposes. Instead, the aim of torture was not to make people talk but to affect the group as a whole and to break the civilian population’s morale. Torture was fully a part of the psychological warfare methods as theorized by General Salan and others (Branche, 2004[6]).

    If torture apologists wanted to have a frank conversation about psychological warfare and the utility of torture in that framework, it would at least be a rational discussion.

    They don’t seem to want to, though, and it’s not hard to see why.

  263. Quinn Martindale says

    @PZ Myers,

    That’s a big part of the point I’m making. General Massu succeeded in his objective of eliminating the FLN from Algiers through horrifying means, but lost the war because of the secondary effects of his immoral policies. Torture may prove effective in achieving its objectives, but its larger consequences will almost certainly prove disastrous to any society that employs it.

  264. BeyondUnderstanding says

    From that article

    General Jacques Massu, military chief of Algier, had defended the use of torture in his 1972 book, The True Battle of Algiers (La vraie bataille d’Alger). He later declared to Le Monde in 2000 that “torture was not necessary and that we could have decided not to use it”.

  265. ewanmacdonald says

    Quinn: If the objective is – as is usually given in the hypotheticals – to extract secrets, your link doesn’t demonstrate it.

  266. ewanmacdonald says

    Just to go back to your original point, Quinn:

    So it’s possible to suggest such far-fetched scenarios where the set of all possible solutions is too large to check them all in time, but any individual solution can be quickly checked. Furthermore, there is real world precedent for torture actually working. Consider the Battle of Algiers. That’s why pragmatic arguments against torture are a bad idea.

    Unless you’re explicitly discussing to a ‘check’ scenario here, that ‘furthermore’ is inaccurate. Here your link displays – debatably – something else entirely being accomplished, namely fear, terror, demoralisation. If your case for torture is “people don’t like it” then congratulations, you’ve certainly slam-dunked it, but you’re as far as you ever were from showing that torture is an effective way of gaining information – which is what we’re discussing.

  267. PatrickG says

    @Quinn: The objective was not to extract information, it was to terrorize a population. I have no doubt torture worked quite well for that aim, though as you say it was, um, less effective as part of a larger strategic goal.

    And to go slightly back OT, this is what I find so disturbing about Harris. Either he really doesn’t get that torture is not a useful tool of interrogation, or he’s strenuously trying to reframe the argument with faulty arguments to conceal the fact that torture has only one “legitimate” use: terror.

    I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt. I don’t really think he’s advocating for torture as a tool of terrorizing populations. He is, however, giving a lot of cover to people who do.

  268. says

    As I said: that there is a danger that you lot so thoroughly poison atheism and skepticism that we may as well forget any hope of a rational future.

    #164franklloyd, The above quote is some seriously paranoid drivel. What is the proposed causal mechanism for this “poisoning” to take place? commentators at Pharyngula have that kind of power? Who knew?

  269. Quinn Martindale says

    My claim is that opposing torture because it categorically ineffective is an untenable position. First because, it is possible to concoct a version of the ticking bomb scenario where torture might work. Second, because there is historical precedent where torture has been used by a party that achieved its goals.

    If we say, don’t torture because its ineffective, that shifts the debate to a dangerous area. This is why PZ is right to list objections to the intrinsic nature of torture as his first two points.

  270. PatrickG says

    Second, because there is historical precedent where torture has been used by a party that achieved its goals.

    If “goals” here means “the successful extraction of information that could not have been obtained any other way”, citation please.

    Nobody will dispute that torture works really well for hurting people and causing terror. That’s what it’s for.

  271. ewanmacdonald says

    My claim is that opposing torture because it categorically ineffective is an untenable position. First because, it is possible to concoct a version of the ticking bomb scenario where torture might work.

    It’s also possible to spot the minor flaw in these thought experiments, namely that they are completely and absolutely contradicted by the empirical evidence.

    Second, because there is historical precedent where torture has been used by a party that achieved its goals.

    Find me an advocate of torture who backs it on the grounds of “it can cause pain, suffering, and demoralisation among the enemy” and I’ll take this objection seriously. I’ve not encountered a single person who would take this tack. Torture is, to my knowledge, almost universally advocated in the west as a mode of extracting information, not as a tool for demoralisation.

    Again: as far as you ever were from defending your premise. Either find an example of item 1 that is somehow immune to what we know about how torture actually works; or find someone arguing point 2 from a serious position. (That’s even allowing for your having already debunked 2 by pointing out that it’s a bad option in the long term.)

  272. PatrickG says

    Quinn:

    If we say, don’t torture because its ineffective, that shifts the debate to a dangerous area.

    Well, you might be right in the realm of dishonest debate.

    However, if people are going to defend torture on the grounds that it can defray “ticking time bombs”, then it’s an entirely ballgame.

    1) Extraordinary claim is made!
    2) I can find no evidence.
    3) I ask for evidence.
    4) I receive none.
    5) I state this claim is bunk.

    As in, torture is morally wrong, has dramatic consequences, and it doesn’t work, so let’s not use it.

  273. says

    Quinn Martindale:

    My claim is that opposing torture because it categorically ineffective is an untenable position. First because, it is possible to concoct a version of the ticking bomb scenario where torture might work.

    It’s also possible to concoct a magic unicorn scenario where torture might work. In such cases, however, the details must be so ludicrously contrived to eliminate all the complications, that they become completely inapplicable to real life.

  274. BeyondUnderstanding says

    My claim is that opposing torture because it categorically ineffective is an untenable position.

    But you’re using torture in two different ways: As a means of extracting information quickly (ticking time-bomb) and as a means of terror to win a war (Battle of Algiers).

    And as all the previous comments have pointed out, either use of torture isn’t effective enough to outweigh the cons.

  275. PatrickG says

    And somehow I submitted early. Meant to close that with:

    The apologists for torture rest their entire case on the fact that torture is the only method that will work in certain scenarios. Tearing that apart is entirely fair game.

    Of course, if you’re talking about how to have a debate in the political realm, well, hell, that’s an entirely different story. Rational thinking has no place in politics, after all.

  276. says

    My claim is that opposing torture because it categorically ineffective is an untenable position. First because, it is possible to concoct a version of the ticking bomb scenario where torture might work. Second, because there is historical precedent where torture has been used by a party that achieved its goals.

    Is anybody here arguing that torture is “categorically” ineffective, and absolutely never works? Or has never worked, in the whole history of everything? I don’t think so, which makes your statement a bit of a strawman.
    What we’re arguing is that torture produces way too many false positives, at great cost to the victims and the interrogators, to be considered anything like an effective means of obtaining information.
    Just because there are historical precedents where dowsing has been used by a party that found water doesn’t make the argument that dowsing doesn’t work untenable.

  277. says

    Quinn:

    If we say, don’t torture because its ineffective, that shifts the debate to a dangerous area.

    We can say, “It has not been proven effective for the stated goal of the extraction of valid information.” That is so far true. I gave a link to a report on interrogation that includes this very point.

    As a rationalist, I can’t advocate the use of torture any more than I can advocate the use of homeopathy. Neither works, and both are harmful.

    This is in stark contrast to war (as Harris is attempting to tie the morality of torture to the morality of war).

  278. gjoh says

    I’m done. There is no honest debate going on here and reading the discussion thread has been neither enlightening nor informative. This is a gang fight complete with drive by shootings. If I hang out here much longer I’ll just get hit by a stray bullet. This is not what I thought it was. My mistake.

  279. davidjanes says

    Is anybody here arguing that torture is “categorically” ineffective, and absolutely never works?

    Comments 6, 283, 299 and PZ in the post itself seem to at least strongly imply that position, don’t you think?

  280. KG says

    The FTB crowd, with one or two exceptions, have made it clear that they will never amount to anything when things get real.

    This isn’t criticism; it’s smearing and lying and defamation. – frankboyd

    Quite so; why don’t you stop doing it?

    I followed up by saying that Harris meant that part of the book to be, at least in part, a critique of our blithe acceptance of collateral damage. But I think you’re right in that his argument will in practicality boil down to “if we accept X we accept Y as well,” rather than “if we don’t accept Y we can’t accept X.”

    He actually does close his first essay with the latter statement, but from reading of his other works he doesn’t, to my knowledge, actually condemn military aggression. – ewanmacdonald

    Indeed, he has said that “we” are “at war with Islam”. How such a war against 1 1/2 billion people, the vast majority of whom have not done “us” any harm, is to be conducted without collateral damage, he has not, AFAIK, explained. When on the preceding Harris thread I was objecting to his statement that if an Islamist regime obtained nuclear weapons, a nuclear first strike might be “our” only option, one of his defenders argued that his intention was merely to show that we must avoid this happening, not to advocate such a first strike in that eventuality. I think my interlocutor was wrong, but suppose xe’s right: since preventing an Islamist regime gaining nuclear weapons could only be guaranteed (if at all), by conquering the entire Muslim world and keeping it in subjection indefinitely, then if my interlocutor was right, Harris presumably favours this course of action.

  281. ewanmacdonald says

    I’m done. There is no honest debate going on here and reading the discussion thread has been neither enlightening nor informative. This is a gang fight complete with drive by shootings. If I hang out here much longer I’ll just get hit by a stray bullet. This is not what I thought it was. My mistake.

    A really distasteful metaphor; you won’t be missed if that’s the standard of your contribution.

  282. says

    davidjanes:

    Comments 6, 283, 299 and PZ in the post itself seem to at least strongly imply that position, don’t you think?

    Those comments apply to torture in the context of the state use of torture for the goal of the extraction of valid information from a prisoner.

    As there is no scientific evidence indicating torture is an effective method of interrogation, these comments are true.

    I think we would pretty much all agree that, outside the scope of interrogation, torture is an effective device for terrorizing people.

  283. KG says

    This is a gang fight complete with drive by shootings. If I hang out here much longer I’ll just get hit by a stray bullet. This is not what I thought it was. My mistake. – gjoh

    You’ll not be missed. Why would we need yet another fuckwit unable to tell the difference between a row on a blog and murder?

  284. eean says

    How is the “ground zero mosque” not being discussed? His opposition to it was the main clue to me that Harris is motivated by Xenophobia/Islamophobia. The whole episode was a great way to kick up the illiberal jerks (hello Not-So-Anti-Defamation League!).

  285. PatrickG says

    Nigel said:

    Indeed, he has said that “we” are “at war with Islam”. How such a war against 1 1/2 billion people, the vast majority of whom have not done “us” any harm, is to be conducted without collateral damage, he has not, AFAIK, explained.

    And it’s in the context of his writings on this subject that the original accusations of racist thought came up. That’s the context where devastating nuclear war, intrusive and ineffective profiling, and pointless torture are advocated as distasteful, but perhaps necessary.

  286. says

    There’s nothing wrong with profiling on the basis of a person’s nationality.

    I do not agree.

    The way security screening (in the US, at least) is being done, there isn’t that much “extra” stuff that can be added as a result of the “profile.” Everyone is already bag-scanned, shoe scanned, body scanned, belt removed, laptop and electronics and wallet scanned, jacket scanned, etc. I’ve always thought that’s the right approach and, for once, I agree with TSA (though my disagreements with DHS/TSA could and did fill an entire book…) it’s easier to not worry about “profiling” at all and just apply the best reasonable search to everyone.

    I’ll note that TSA drones are, in a sense, constantly looking for “unusual behavior” at the checkpoints. That’s pretty nebulous but it’s probably about as nebulous as looking for people who are “dressed funny” or “look muslim” – so there is additional “profiling” taking place, it’s just not very effective. And that’s the point. I got “profiled” pretty seriously the time before last when I went to Australia – the immigration person simply couldn’t believe I’d fly all that way to be in Sydney for a day, so she questioned me at length and they took my luggage completely apart. I probably fit the profile of a drug courier.

    If I am early for a flight, I opt out of the body scanners simply because I resent the way TSA put them in place (they short-circuited public comment and ramrodded them through because there was a great deal of money involved) and I like to see how well-trained the pat-down givers are. I’ve been patted down 15 times this year and only one of them asked to see the soles of my feet. Not that I’m carrying anything there, but Harry Houdini’s lessons are lost on TSA. When my hair was long in the spring the same guy who checked my feet checked my pon y tail. I asked him if he was a magician and he looked puzzled. They don’t check far enough up your butt-crack, either, but let’s not go further, OK?

    “Profiling” (Bruce explains this better than I do) is a probability game. You want to make it so that the attacker is no longer sure they’ll get through. That encourages them to go somewhere else, since they want their efforts to be predictable. Right now, the system is such that if you have something odd in your bag there is a high probability it will get pulled out and looked at. I also ignore the 3 oz limit so I can see how often TSA takes away my toothpaste. (2 times in one year; I fly about 2-4 trips/month) That’s pretty good. The question remains: what more is there? I say, not much.

    Smart terrorists will attack movie theaters, trains, security lines, etc – stuff that’s outside the perimeter. That has the added impact of the economic cost of security theater where it isn’t needed and an attack against things that wide-open.

  287. nms says

    English is unfortunate, but if you use “their” for a singular referent in your SAT you will be marked down.

    I can find no evidence for this, in the case of unknown persons.

    If true, what it suggests to me is that SAT evaluators are illiterate.

  288. says

    Here’s why this scenario is bogus:
    car thief takes a car with a child in it, abandons it, and is shortly arrested at a railway station. According to the account, it was 20 minutes between the time the car was stolen and the time they had the thief in a truck on the way to the police station. There’s urgency in getting the perpetrator to say where the car was abandoned, because a child left in a car on a hot day is at risk.

    Officer #1: “Listen here, we got a report that there was a car stolen, and the lady is very distraught because her kid was in the back.”
    Officer #2: “Yeah, we was uh theorizin’ that someone jacked the car, and didn’t see the kid sleeping in the back…”
    Car Thief: (looks worried)
    Officer #1: “So I was thinking of taking you back into the back lot here and putting you to the question, see?”
    Officer #2: “But den I sez to myself, ‘I bet da theif didn’t know about the kid, and would probably tell us where the car is because – if it wuz you – you’re already in the bag and you’ll either be droppin’ for manslaughter or car theft and if you wuz to help us out, everyone’d look good and da DA might take your cooperatin’ into account, see?'”
    Car Thief: “I didn’t steal a blue Lexus. But if I did, I’d have left it down in the parking garage on 14th st.”
    Officer #1: (lights and siren)
    Officer #2: “Get outta my car, creep!” (pushes the car thief out at 30mph)

    Most of these fake scenarios involving torture or nuclear brinkmanship only seem to work because they assume that both sides are crazy nihilists that are incapable of searching for workable solutions to the problem.

  289. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    frankboyd, what have you done to fight militant religion?

    Did that worthless piece of chickenshit ever answer this question? I asked him twice, but he’s too much of a fucking coward to admit he does nothing but troll from his “mom’s basement”.

  290. says

    Sili 8 August 2012 at 11:38 am

    cf. Lawrence Krauss.

    Could you fill us in? It’s apparently not well known enough to show in a Google search or Wiki page.

  291. David Marjanović says

    *happily munches on tasty, tasty marinerachel*

    I couldn’t believe that the Stanford article didn’t even consider this basic assumption

    As far as I can tell, it’s extremely common for philosophy to not notice basic assumptions.

    Achilles and the turtle? A paradox for well over 2000 years, and then it *poof* vanished, because it turned out to contain not one, but two false assumptions: that an infinite sum of infinitely small numbers cannot be larger than 0, and that there is such a thing as an infinitely small amount of time or space. (…OK, so maybe three false assumptions; it wasn’t philosophy that discovered spacetime.)

    See also comment 19.

    I’m not sure why I should care on which side my bread is buttered. It all ends up in the same place.

    Seconded.

    if you use “their” for a singular referent in your SAT you will be marked down

    …which is stupid, because singular “they” has been in constant use since at least Chaucer. Shakespeare used it, and the King James Bible uses it.

    English simply isn’t Latin (or French or German).

    Flips blade switch. Sounds of electrical discharge.

    At the same time, the lights suddenly dim like in Hot Shots II.

  292. Quinn Martindale says

    Form the report Nigel linked to:

    The potential mechanisms and effects of using coercive
    techniques or torture for gaining accurate, useful information from an uncooperative source are much more complex than is commonly assumed. There is little or no research to indicate whether such techniques succeed in the manner and contexts in which they are applied. Anecdotal accounts and opinions based on personal experiences are mixed, but the preponderance of reports seems to weigh against their effectiveness.

    I’m glad that torture “seems” to be ineffective as an information gathering tool based on a review of anecdotes. That, however, is insufficient, to support the categorical claim that torture “freakin’ doesn’t work.” I think opposition to torture based on its intrinsic nature is more effective than arguing efficacy.

    If torture did succeed in effectively “educing information,” would that change anyone’s mind?

  293. says

    Achilles and the turtle? A paradox for well over 2000 years

    Best refutation of that paradox:
    “It only works on philosophers, it doesn’t work on turtles.”

  294. David Marjanović says

    Smart terrorists will attack movie theaters, trains, security lines, etc – stuff that’s outside the perimeter. That has the added impact of the economic cost of security theater where it isn’t needed and an attack against things that wide-open.

    …and when you’re constantly in terror, the terrorists have won.

  295. says

    Quinn Martindale:

    I’m glad that torture “seems” to be ineffective as an information gathering tool based on a review of anecdotes. That, however, is insufficient, to support the categorical claim that torture “freakin’ doesn’t work.” I think opposition to torture based on its intrinsic nature is more effective than arguing efficacy.

    I will agree that the arguments against its intrinsic nature are strong. But that’s the point of Harris’s argument: the use of torture can be justified based on its assumed efficacy, all in spite of the intrinsic arguments against torture.

    The problem isn’t that torture has been shown to not be effective. The problem is, in spite of all the torturing we’ve done, it’s not been proven to be effective. The assumption of efficacy in Harris’s argument is false. Therefore, his entire argument is moot.

  296. David Marjanović says

    If torture did succeed in effectively “educing information,” would that change anyone’s mind?

    About “exceptional cases”, however those might possibly be defined? Yes, obviously. :-| Scenario: I get a hold of someone who I (for, presumably, some reason) firmly believe has planted a bomb that will kill lots of people, and I’m stupid enough to believe that torture works – what happens? Paaaaain. I’d rather hurt one than wait while lots of people die, duh.

    Difference between me and Harris? He expects situations with firm belief, and he’s actually stupid enough to believe that torture works.

    “It only works on philosophers, it doesn’t work on turtles.”

    “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they aren’t” because the theory is incomplete.

  297. Paul says

    ZOMG! I haz troll status!!!!

    And here I would have expected that to have been given to you a couple years ago, when some of the regulars were sniping at you for self-identifying as a nihilist while having some unpopular views of why slavery ended.

    You’ll always be a troll to me! But that’s mostly because I’m a longtime Schneier reader, and one must be loyal to their team! You were on the other side of the debates! boo! hiss!

    How is the “ground zero mosque” not being discussed? His opposition to it was the main clue to me that Harris is motivated by Xenophobia/Islamophobia.

    For reference, Sam Harris’s own words:

    Should a 15-story mosque and Islamic cultural center be built two blocks from the site of the worst jihadist atrocity in living memory? Put this way, the question nearly answers itself. This is not to say, however, that I think we should prevent our fellow citizens from building “the ground zero mosque.” There is probably no legal basis to do so in any case—nor should there be. But the margin between what is legal and what is desirable, or even decent, leaves room for many projects that well-intentioned people might still find offensive. If you can raise the requisite $100 million, you might also build a shrine to Satan on this spot, complete with the names of all the non-believing victims of 9/11 destined to suffer for eternity in Hell. You could also build an Institute of “9/11 Truth,” catering to the credulity, masochism, and paranoia of the 16 percent of Americans who imagine that the World Trade Center was intentionally demolished by agents of the U.S. government. Incidentally, any shrine to conspiracy thinking should probably also contain a mosque, along with a list of the 4,000 Jews who suspiciously declined to practice their usury in the Twin Towers on the day of the attack.

    Perhaps we’re just misreading him. I mean, how is a community center anything like a shrine to Satan or to 9/11 truthers? Although you’d really think if he didn’t want his kids to hear people call him a bigot, he’d quit saying bigoted things.

  298. David Marjanović says

    Last time this topic came up, somebody linked to a paper that showed that torture (including things like sleep deprivation) causes people to confuse their memories with their imagination (more than they would otherwise). So, even when they want to tell the truth, they may end up saying what the torturer wants to hear instead!

  299. rainmaker42 says

    @Marcus #318

    But doesn’t the article expressly say that the cops did attempt to convince the car thief of reduced charges if he cooperated, and he refused to cooperate even then?

  300. chigau (違う) says

    There are almost 40 blogs on ftb.
    Do those commenters who condemn the whole thing read all of them?

  301. marinerachel says

    I’m not sure I understand how, in his own head, Harris is equating the Islamic cultural center with a shrine to non-believing victims now burning in hell. An Islamic cultural center has no such implications (unless you believe everyone practices Islam the same way.)

    And I am pretty yummy.

  302. Paul says

    But doesn’t the article expressly say that the cops did attempt to convince the car thief of reduced charges if he cooperated, and he refused to cooperate even then?

    This would be an example of what Marcus noted, “they assume that both sides are crazy nihilists that are incapable of searching for workable solutions to the problem”. The thief doesn’t even need to say “I didn’t do it, but if I did”. Simply “before I was picked up, I saw a car matching that description at the corner of X and Y”.

  303. rainmaker42 says

    Except that avenue wasn’t open to him since they already found material from the stolen car in his pockets.

    I’m not disputing that there isn’t a better way to resolve this situation when looked at dispassionately in retrospect. I’m just not sure how easy it is to deal with situations thus in the heat of the moment. I can’t put myself in that situation and imagine how I’d act

  304. Brownian says

    The thief doesn’t even need to say “I didn’t do it, but if I did”. Simply “before I was picked up, I saw a car matching that description at the corner of X and Y”.

    Except that avenue wasn’t open to him since they already found material from the stolen car in his pockets.

    “Lemme guess: you were just parking it and your valet uniform is at the cleaners. Let’s go.”

    God I miss Jerry Orbach.

  305. rainmaker42 says

    Oops, scratch that last comment.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that such exchanges seem to work when looked at in retrospect in a calm dispassionate manner. In the heat of the moment, the perp would have to have the presence of mind of make such a statement. Apparently he didn’t and the direness of the situation is getting everyone edgy.

    I repeat. I don’t know what would have been the best way to deal with the situation at that point of time. Its a complex matter

  306. PatrickG says

    Hey! You just shot KG with that misattribution!

    Phew! Parted my hair, that one – and I’m bald!

    Damn guys, one innocent mistake and I’m subjected to a veritable firing squad!

  307. Paul says

    Damn guys, one innocent mistake and I’m subjected to a veritable firing squad!

    So that’s what an atheist firing squad looks like. Someone call Greg Laden, he was asking about that.

  308. PatrickG says

    For his own safety, better keep him out of the line of fire. It’s dangerous here.

  309. says

    But doesn’t the article expressly say that the cops did attempt to convince the car thief of reduced charges if he cooperated, and he refused to cooperate even then?

    Yeah, it’s one of those carefully constructed incredible fables. :( If there was a life at stake, the cops would not be offering the guy a reduced sentence (besides, only the DA can do that and only after the guy has been arraigned and it’s part of a plea bargain) they’d be telling him, “if the girl dies, you’re going up for manslaughter. but if you cooperate, you might get grand theft auto with your good behavior thrown in.” Only a crazed nihilist would reject a deal like that, and a car thief is practically by definition not a crazed nihilist (because obviously he appreciates the value of a car!)

    Seriously, what would possibly make the cops not offer the thief a reasonable out? And what would possibly make the thief reject it? An even slightly rational thief might offer right away, “I maybe saw the car.. if I help you, do you think you could cut me some slack?”

    I’m generally very suspicious of these moral “thought experiments” because they offer highly constructed situations that are unlikely to happen in real life and virtually never offer only a single choice. You don’t have to be James Tiberius Kirk to come up with alternative solutions to these Kobayashi Maru problems; they’re silly.

  310. says

    (Addendum: the cops could also lie. “OK, tell us where the car is and we’ll let you go.” Thief says where the car is, cops go there, let the girl go, then haul the thief in, “that’ll serve you for trusting a cop! Nyar nyar har!”)

  311. Brownian says

    “that’ll serve you for trusting a cop! Nyar nyar har!”

    That was pretty much my personal experience with being a ‘perp’.

  312. consciousness razor says

    Unless you have proof thatP=NP,

    For fuck’s sake, this doesn’t make your sophistry any more impressive.

    Let’s say that, in the beating example, they could check any location in a short time but that the set of possible locations was too big to examine every possible location. Or consider the case of a person being tortured to give up a secure password. In either case, a false answer would be quickly found out, and the torture could continue until a true answer was given.

    If they continue to waste time giving you the wrong locations or the wrong passwords, what then? Keep torturing them until they run through the same plausible list of possibilities you’d have to go through anyway? And when the ticking time-bomb finally goes off, then what? You punish them with even more torture for no fucking reason at all? Maybe punish the torturers too, for being bad at their jobs?

    No matter what kind of hypothetical scenario you invent, that scenario could still include a suspect who is unwilling to cooperate. You say “until” it is given, but making someone cooperate is simply not something torturing them can guarantee.

  313. Paul says

    @Paul (I hope you realize that Bruce and I don’t really disagree about much except table wines and how cooked we like our steaks)

    Indeed. I thought booing and hissing would make the tongue in cheek status clear enough. But then, this is just text on the internet.

  314. Brownian says

    I hope you realize that Bruce and I don’t really disagree about much except table wines and how cooked we like our steaks

    Well, why didn’t you tell us you were a drone in Schneier’s hive-mind?

  315. says

    Brownian:
    Well, why didn’t you tell us you were a drone in Schneier’s hive-mind?

    Because I’ve been working in security a lot longer than Bruce. I was building firewalls back when he was just a crypto protocols guy. :)

  316. Brownian says

    Because I’ve been working in security a lot longer than Bruce. I was building firewalls back when he was just a crypto protocols guy. :)

    Firewalls, eh? That’s what you use to line the echo chamber?

  317. says

    This implication that it somehow takes ‘courage’ to torture people or to countenance doing so, this is, of course, a) quite disgustingly self-serving, and b) quite (darkly) hilariously wrong.

    It doesn’t take courage to torture. It takes, as any number of governments can tell you, a chain of command.

    (A bureaucracy, of course, can be useful, too. But then, that generally goes with the chain of command.)

    Even at the bottom-most rung–in the actual torture chamber, where bones are broken and the prisoner is screaming and sobbing and bleeding, they don’t need anyone special to do the job, really. They just need to socialize them right, beforehand. Torturers are whoever you can get to do the job, and you always find someone. They don’t have different brains than yours or mine; they’re not psychopaths, exactly, or they don’t start that way. They’re just people suitably enmeshed with the social and organizational structure, and convinced this is the way forward, this is the job they’ve been given to do, and that people above them have made the decision anyway, and thus their own conscience is subsumed and suppressed within the larger whole. If they manage to begin to see the subjects of their ministrations as less than human, of course, they will last longer on the job, but this isn’t necessary for them to get going. They just have to follow orders.

    In short, it doesn’t take heroes. It takes company men.

    And, of course, it takes bureaucrats, but then, that’s much the same thing. In the middle, it just takes a sense that you’re part of a larger machine, that this isn’t your affair, that the decision is made, and what can you do? You’re part of the larger system, you’re owned by the system, and you put your objections aside and get on with pushing the paper that moves prisoner X to cell Y. What happens in cell Y will be made properly aseptic with distancing language. These are ‘enhanced interrogations’. ‘Interrogation’ is a pretty bloodless word, and so is ‘enhanced'; the specific use of electrical cords in the chamber and the nauseating terror that comes with a sensation of drowing and the stark, black, hopeless depression that’s to be induced by any means necessary–isolation, being held incommunicado and being assured no one on the outside even knows you’re gone, sensory deprivation and so on–as part of the overall manipulation are unlikely to be described in any great detail on the transfer.

    At the top, of course, it just takes a few demagogues who realize nursing a public anxiety along and finding a scapegoat and vilifying them sufficiently is frequently a pretty good ticket to sustained power. I might almost credit this level of the hierarchy, perhaps, with a certain limited courage–as there may be involved somewhere the courage of a gambler blowing on the dice and hoping–the courage, in this case, that they have played their political calculus correctly and the mob will bay for blood on cue as opposed to running them out of town on the rail…

    But really, in our context, with the modern science of PR, even this would be romanticising it unrealistically, and being far too kind. For here and now they know too well by the time they give the order that they’re going to get away with it because their focus groups have told them so; all that is necessary therefore to proceed is some patient rationalizing and a sufficient cynicism for at once playing the public like a fiddle and, of course, at the end of the day, accepting that someone somewhere else no one you know much likes anyway and whom you’ve already convinced yourself as part and parcel of believing your own propaganda are universally Satan incarnate anyway are going to be generally beaten and terrorized.

    So courage? Hardly. Mind, nor would I credit anyone opposing so much with ‘courage’, exactly, either, not in our context…

    Unless, of course, they’re directly part of that chain of command, and in doing so they do disobey that fateful order. That would take nerve. But, regrettably, as noted, that’s a fairly rare a sort of nerve. Putting it more kindly for those enmeshed in these miseries, I guess you could venture that maybe the bureaucracies and chains of command have developed their techniques too well. They know how to get it done, apparently.

  318. Hairhead, whose head is entirely filled with Too Much Stuff says

    Groupies . . . They’re not all living in Canada or someplace uninhabitable like that, are they?

    Of course Canada has groupies! The fact that Canada is, yes uninhabitable, means that none of the groupies are, um . . . living. There are the Zombies and Vampires.

    So the next time you come to Kamloops, if some of us fondle your cranium (Mmm! delicious brains! Ignore that!) or your neck, well, . . . so long it’s been nice knowin’ ya!

  319. Paul says

    Firewalls, eh? That’s what you use to line the echo chamber?

    Well, yeah, if you want a quality echo chamber you start with the best firewall – wire cutters. Then nobody can get access to disagree!

    This is, of course, why Pharyngula does not permit new posters. It’s been a closed community since 2005.

  320. 'Tis Himself says

    Quinn Martin somewhere up there ↑

    That, however, is insufficient, to support the categorical claim that torture “freakin’ doesn’t work.” I think opposition to torture based on its intrinsic nature is more effective than arguing efficacy.

    If I put 10,000 volts (low amperage) to your genitals, I could have you confessing to the White Chapel murders, kidnapping the Lindbergh baby, and convincing George Lucas that Jar-Jar Binks was vital to the plot of a movie.

  321. Brownian says

    If I put 10,000 volts (low amperage) to your genitals, I could have you confessing to the White Chapel murders, kidnapping the Lindbergh baby, and convincing George Lucas that Jar-Jar Binks was vital to the plot of a movie.

    I’m in.

    The safeword is “Ben Stiller”.

  322. PatrickG says

    @ Paul

    This is, of course, why Pharyngula does not permit new posters. It’s been a closed community since 2005.

    Oh crap, was that in the New Rules, too?

    /me takes ball
    /me goes home

  323. chigau (違う) says

    This is, of course, why Pharyngula does not permit new posters. It’s been a closed community since 2005.

    Nah. I got in a couple of years ago by joining this realy long queue…

  324. Hairhead, whose head is entirely filled with Too Much Stuff says

    Freakin’ brilliant, Brownian! All it lacked was the call of the loon!

  325. rainmaker42 says

    @Marcus #342 et al

    Since Sam mentions his stance on the matter is limited to such seemingly impossible scenarios, what’s all the fuss about

  326. imthegenieicandoanything says

    PZ’s far from perfect, which is one of his greatest strengths, but always honest about himself, as much as anyone I’ve read on the net.
    The crowd here can often piss me off royally with their self-righteous gdogpile dickishness, and their poor reading skills, but Sam H comes off even more terribly than before, with an “onward into the Big Muddy!” determination.

    And HIS followers here come across as weak-kneed embarrassments!

  327. PatrickG says

    @rainmaker42

    Because he very usefully fits the role of “Even the liberal atheist…” It’s harmful to our debate, as it provides cover to people whose positions aren’t quite so limited.

    On an off note, I’m suddenly realizing that Marcus has an unfair advantage in knowing a lot about the subjects in this thread. Why can’t PZ post something controversial about turbulence closure schemes and Hilbert spaces?

  328. The very model of a modern armchair general says

    I haven’t read all 360+ previous replies, so if this has already been said before, please ignore it.

    Sam: “Having a blog and building a large community of readers can destroy a person’s intellectual integrity—as appears to have happened in the case of PZ Myers.

    PZ: “What, exactly, is so destructive of of a person’s integrity about having a large community of readers?

    My understanding was that Sam is referring to the effect that having a Horde can have on another person’s reputation, not the reputation of the blog owner. He doesn’t mean that having a large community of readers has destroyed PZ’s integriry; he’s saying that writing opinions to a large group of followers (who in turn may tweet and blog about it) can result in ruining the reputation of a third party. But I could be wrong. Sam could have been clearer about what he meant to say.

  329. Hammer of dog says

    When did the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy become the standard on which all moral discourse must be judged? When Harris proudly aligned himself with that text, he had an air that that was all he had to say to defend his position on torture.

    Did I miss the memo?

  330. 'Tis Himself says

    Sam could have been clearer about what he meant to say.

    This seems to be one of Harris’s major problems.

  331. Paul says

    My understanding was that Sam is referring to the effect that having a Horde can have on another person’s reputation, not the reputation of the blog owner.

    He doesn’t reference reputation, but intellectual integrity. This is not something that is harmed by a Horde targeting a person. Harris goes on to say

    The most despicable claims about me appear in the comment thread, of course, but Myers is responsible for publishing them. And so I hold him responsible for circulating and amplifying some of the worst distortions of my views found on the Internet.

    He’s very clearly referencing Myers’ integrity.

    Did I miss the memo?

    It doesn’t appear so. It does seem to hint at where his fans picked up the appeal to authority kick, though. Just count how many are dumbfounded that people are opposing the great Sam Harris, after everything he’s done for atheism. The NERVE of you critics!

  332. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Just count how many are dumbfounded that people are opposing the great Sam Harris, after everything he’s done for atheism. The NERVE of you critics!

    Gee, and we read what was written and make freethinking conclusions based on that??? Bad Horde, Bad Horde (*sign up sheets for the mandatory spanking sessions are being circulated, along with a round of free grog/swill/popcornz to ease the pain…Hic*)

  333. Quinn Martindale says

    conciousness razor:

    No matter what kind of hypothetical scenario you invent, that scenario could still include a suspect who is unwilling to cooperate. You say “until” it is given, but making someone cooperate is simply not something torturing them can guarantee.

    Very true. It also could include someone who is honestly mistaken about the information desired or someone who is ignorant. Certainty of success is not required for a technique to be considered efficacious. Chemotherapy is effective for some cancers despite not having a guaranteed success rate and causing suffering.

  334. says

    It doesn’t take courage to torture. It takes, as any number of governments can tell you, a chain of command.

    eh, you don’t even need much of a chain. one person in authority who is trusted to “know what they’re doing” for entirely superficial reasons is apparently enough. See: Milgram.

  335. says

    I think opposition to torture based on its intrinsic nature is more effective than arguing efficacy.

    opposition based on deontology might be easier, but it’s by definition inarguable. someone might simply disagree with you about the nature of torture, or about whether that nature is good or bad, and then you’re either stuck just asserting that torture is bad intrinsically, or you’re going to have to dig up some properly consequentialist arguments; one of which is that it doesn’t fucking work as an interrogation tool.

  336. consciousness razor says

    My understanding was that Sam is referring to the effect that having a Horde can have on another person’s reputation, not the reputation of the blog owner. He doesn’t mean that having a large community of readers has destroyed PZ’s integriry; he’s saying that writing opinions to a large group of followers (who in turn may tweet and blog about it) can result in ruining the reputation of a third party. But I could be wrong. Sam could have been clearer about what he meant to say.

    You do realize this “having a Horde” thing is totally bogus, right? PZ doesn’t have us. We all just comment here. Without Pharyngula, I would still be publicly and vehemently disagreeing with Harris (so would others, I assume), because there would always be numerous other communities (online or not) where such a discussion would take place. Perhaps he just doesn’t want the public to disagree with his arguments. Probably because we’re all shitheads. If so, he should stop writing.

  337. consciousness razor says

    Very true.

    Okay, so come up with a new argument for torture, not chemotherapy, because your old argument for it is broken. Or, better yet, don’t come up with a new argument.

  338. Brownian says

    You do realize this “having a Horde” thing is totally bogus, right? PZ doesn’t have us. We all just comment here. Without Pharyngula, I would still be publicly and vehemently disagreeing with Harris (so would others, I assume), because there would always be numerous other communities (online or not) where such a discussion would take place. Perhaps he just doesn’t want the public to disagree with his arguments. Probably because we’re all shitheads. If so, he should stop writing.

    Mm-hmm. The only way I would not disagree with Harris is if I’d never read him.

  339. rainmaker42 says

    @PatrickG #362

    Even if that were so, and I’m not conceding it is, is that a reasonable starting point from which to go on and label him as a “torture apologist and/or advocate” etc.? Not that you’re doing that yourself but the general opinion in this thread seems to be in that direction.

  340. says

    PZ:

    I couldn’t believe that the Stanford article didn’t even consider this basic assumption, that you can get useful information by way of torture

    You’re surprised that a book about philosophy is more interested in hypothetical wanking than in real-life results?

    Vijen, as has been pointed out already, your pronoun usage isn’t following “the last millennium of English.” The lexicographers of the 18th century decided that “the male embraces the female,” i.e., the male is the default. In any case, you’re more or less making an argumentum ad dictionariam.

    Balstrome:

    Yes, this is a nasty business, and certain not one that nice university professors should get involved in, but it does produce results faster than most other methods.

    Citation needed.

    Anyone who thinks different is pandering to their own biases.

    “I’m politically incorrect, and people who disagree with me are just ignoring reality!”

    Of course, there is the chance that the victim will not have the information that he is being tortured for, but that is not important to the situation, which is to get this information as fast as possible.

    Wut?

    Eggs and Omelets.

    Your quoting that old aphorism does not make your argument more tenable. Or palatable.

    After all it does get you groupies and girls.

    Thanks for presuming that we’re all straight and male here. Oops, sorry to be politically correct, because only a politically correct person would object to that default. Vijen said so!

    Peterhearn:

    So many people think its ok to be dishonest to win an argument.

    Versus, you know, calling people fat and wishing rape on them. (Sorry, PZ, but I don’t think the reset principle ought to apply to walking dungheaps like Hearn who leave turds in every other thread.)

    Amphiox:

    I would rather be slightly less safe than have my security increased by the use of either in my name.

    Goddamn, this.

    Yeahright, as best I can tell, your poorly written comments constitute yet another Courtier’s Reply in defense of Harris. People who disagree with him are at best misinformed, at worst trolls.

    Frankboyd:

    Nice to see that the FTB quest to rid organised Atheism of everyone with any intelligence, character or courage continues apace.

    Excuse me, I didn’t see anything in PZ’s post demanding that Harris be kicked out of “organised Atheism.”

    Though I think overall it’d be less of a loss than all the women driven away from atheism by the slimepit and its sympathizers.

    ny attempt to compare modern day Christianity, especially the liberal version she was speaking of, to modern day Islam is insane. It’s flat out madness. You have to go back to groups like the Legion of the Archangel Michael to find anything remotely comparable.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opus_Dei
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dominionism

    Off the top of my head, asshole.

    Louis, of course. They’re such brave little soldiers for standing up on behalf of the status quo, aren’t they? They deserve cookies and ribbons.

    AJ:

    Rather: its only particularly reliable value as a tool of statecraft is as a method of terror and suppression.

    Yes. And TV shows like 24 get all manner of useful fools to support it, at the expense of the society they live in.

    Kudos to your #351 as well.

    Gragra:

    This is a story about the NSW Police. Based on previous examples I know of from family and friends they would prefer this method rather than move their fat arses and go looking for the car.

    Can the fat hatred, please.

    Robaylesbury:

    I don’t think we need to portray anybody as a villain here.

    If you’re that allergic to vigorous debate, I suggest sticking with Cute Overload.

    Coelsblog:

    rather than being 90% slagging off people that seems the default on FTB these days (there’s a danger that Pharyngula is becoming a caricature of what it was a few years ago).

    Thanks for your concern.

    Legal9ball, if you come back to this thread: What’s your favorite edition of fetus poetry? Also, what’s it bound with?

  341. echidna, acolyte of Sofia Kovalevskaya says

    rainmaker42:

    Even if that were so, and I’m not conceding it is, is that a reasonable starting point from which to go on and label him as a “torture apologist and/or advocate” etc.? Not that you’re doing that yourself but the general opinion in this thread seems to be in that direction.

    The words “torture apologist” nor “advocate” are not applied to Sam Harris even once in any of the comments in this entire thread. You might want to rethink the idea that Sam Harris is being labelled as such.

    Expressing an opinion that disagrees with Sam Harris is not “labelling” him.

  342. consciousness razor says

    You’re surprised that a book about philosophy is more interested in hypothetical wanking than in real-life results?

    SEP isn’t a book. Its articles are usually fairly thorough about the limitations and counter-arguments involved with a given claim or issue, so it is somewhat surprising. Philosophy isn’t all wanking. Epistemology, which is the kind of problem which makes this sort hypothetical unrealistic, is itself a philosophical issue.

    So, uh… that’s the wrong question.

  343. tonyinbatavia says

    Miss Daisy @375:

    Legal9ball, if you come back to this thread: What’s your favorite edition of fetus poetry? Also, what’s it bound with?

    Er, wouldn’t that be umbilical cord?

  344. rainmaker42 says

    @echidna, acolyte of Sofia Kovalevskaya #376

    My apologies for that poor generalization for this thread. This matter was on my mind since the last one on the subject where, granted the general scheme had nothing to do with labeling, there were a significant number of discussions where this indeed seemed to be the view of a number of commentors, and they weren’t held up to any kind of scrutiny by the broader group. It gets my goat. end rant

  345. PatrickG says

    @ rainmaker

    Even if that were so, and I’m not conceding it is, is that a reasonable starting point from which to go on and label him as a “torture apologist and/or advocate” etc.? Not that you’re doing that yourself but the general opinion in this thread seems to be in that direction.

    I’ve tried to avoid calling him that directly, for the reasons I cited above:

    Either he really doesn’t get that torture is not a useful tool of interrogation, or he’s strenuously trying to reframe the argument with faulty arguments to conceal the fact that torture has only one “legitimate” use: terror.

    As I said there, I really want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I sort of stumble over the idea that Harris didn’t realize how his comments were going to be taken on all sides. He’s later expressed regret and wish he hadn’t raised the issue at all, but only because it’s too hard to have reasoned debate and he’s really tired of it being brought up.

    So before I actually answer your question, here’s how it looks from my place on the fence.

    He really seems to want to treat this as more of an intellectual exercise than a debate on what we should actually be implementing as policy (despite all his real world/practical world/in this world rhetoric). That, combined with constant rhetorical tricks (I liked Sullivan’s take) really sends up some red flags for me.

    I also get really irritated by his constant moral relativism in claims like this:

    I consider it to be one of the more dangerous ironies of liberal discourse that merely discussing the possibility of torturing a man like Osama bin Laden provokes more outrage than the maiming and murder of children ever does.

    It’s just hyperbole (and patently untrue!), and it really does poison the well for me somewhat that he waves that particular flag so much. I’d like to believe he’s arguing in good faith, but this whole LOOK PZ IS AN INTERNET TROLL kerfluffle isn’t helping my view of him.

    In the same piece, he does this:

    The best case against “ticking-bomb” arguments appears in David Luban’s article, “Liberalism, Torture, and the Ticking Bomb,” published in the Virginia Law Review. (I have posted a PDF here.) Luban relies on a few questionable assumptions, however.

    But he doesn’t bother to identify what those assumptions are, or show why they’re wrong, even though he subsequently goes on to show how Luban is just so wrong, and later says that no one but no one has ever adequately refuted his arguments.

    To actually answer your question: I don’t think it’s inappropriate to call him a torture advocate/apologist. Granted, they’re loaded terms. I don’t want to use them because, again, I want to give him the benefit of the doubt based on his other work that I’ve seen which wasn’t clouded by the whole ISLAMIC WITH BOMB blind spot he seems to have.

    But he does, after all, advocate the idea that torture may be ethically necessary (even if he sort of hedges by saying it should be illegal). And the whole argument by extreme case* really does approach the sort of logic you’d find at a Christian Apologetics site (ok, that was overly snarky).

    If other people choose to use those terms, I’m not going to quibble.

    *Probably a formal term for that, but eh, I’ll look it up later.

  346. PatrickG says

    But I will add that I do think other people choosing to use those terms should back it up, not just throw it out as a one line rebuttal.

  347. says

    Not even a third of the way through the thread here but I just want to get something off my chest.

    I am a skilled and experienced interrogator. I used to be, at least, before I left the military. To crib from Logan, “I’m the best there is at what I do, and what I do… well, it’s actually pretty nice, contrary to popular opinion and 24.”

    Torture doesn’t work, and if one claims it does, one is an idiot.

    Yes, this is an argument from authority.

    Yes, it is a bare assertion.

    Yes, it ends in an insult.

    But, I’m the real life Jack Bauer, so any counter-argument is irrelevant.

  348. chigau (違う) says

    Amphiox said

    Even if torture and racial profiling actually worked and increased security, security is not the only criteria by which the appropriateness of an action needs to be judged. I would rather be slightly less safe than have my security increased by the use of either in my name.

    Rejecting torture and racial profiling is defending Harris?

  349. says

    We’re already seeing very dangerous rumblings across europe. And believe-you-me, as soon as the creationists in the US decide “Fuck it, let’s just grab our guns and settle this”, you’ll see myers “teaching the argument” about evolution faster than you can blink.

    The whole entire fucking paragraph amounts to, “The crazy people will kill you, so its better to choose sides with the crazy people!!!” WTF?

  350. Lachlan says

    I’m seeing a similar tactic used to refute a hypothetical torture scenario as has been used for the profiling scenario; it wouldn’t work. Seems to me like a nice way to avoid the moral dilemma entirely, but does nothing to resolve the moral dilemma itself.

    Also, post #39 nailed it. There’s an incredible amount of dishonesty and intentional misunderstanding around here. I haven’t seen anybody here tackle Harris’ arguments without mangling them beyond recognition, and that goes for PZ Myers as well. These tactics are disturbingly similar to those I see so regularly in religious apologetics.

    Everybody agrees that torture and profiling are bad things! Harris merely tries to illustrate that in certain situations, they may be the lesser of two evils. I don’t think that makes him a moral abomination worthy of castigation. This atheist sectarian bullshit is really not serving our common cause.

  351. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Seems to me like a nice way to avoid the moral dilemma entirely, but does nothing to resolve the moral dilemma itself.

    If something doesn’t work, the moral dilemma is moot. You don’t need to resolve it, as it is irrelevant.

    I haven’t seen anybody here tackle Harris’ arguments without mangling them beyond recognition, and that goes for PZ Myers as well.

    You do the same to our arguments, so shut the fuck about it. You aren’t the expert in anything. Your authority isn’t recognized on any subject. Welcome to reality, not your mental wanking and ego.

  352. Sophia, Michelin-starred General of the First Mediterranean Iron Chef Batallion says

    I’m bemused by the torture/chemotherapy comparison. Chemotherapy has a proven success rate and masses of peer-reviewed medical science to back it up. It can be tested ethically on humans.

    I think a more apt comparison to torture would be urine therapy. No proven success rate, no peer-reviewed literature and completely unethical to test on humans considering the lack of support that it can actually have any positive net effect whatsoever.

    “Some people assert that it works!*” Not good enough evidence for urine therapy or any other quackery – not good enough for torture.

    (*under very limited and far-fetched circumstances without other possible considered alternatives and assuming that everyone in the situation is an emotionless nihilist who communicates via machismo squirting and chinese burns.)

  353. says

    Lachlan:

    Harris merely tries to illustrate that in certain situations, they may be the lesser of two evils.

    But if it’s not effective, it’s not really “the lesser of two evils.” Harris’s moral scenarios are corrupted by his fallacious assumptions.

    Put another way, there is no moral dilemma if it’s not effective. Yes, it avoid the problem entirely, because there is no problem.

    Please explain how we are distorting Harris’s position. Summed up, to the best of my ability, it is this: “It may occasionally be necessary, under extraordinary circumstances, to torture someone to avoid a worse outcome. And that is morally acceptable.” That, I get. But at the core, it still relies entirely on the presumption that these extraordinary measures will be efficacious.

    We’re not avoiding Harris’s dilemma. We’re just noting that it is not, in fact, a dilemma at all. The fact that the lack of a dilemma negates Harris’s philosophical wanderings is the least of our worries.

    Now, if I’ve misrepresented Harris’s argument, please inform me how. Because I would dearly love to address the actual argument, rather than simply the argument Harris has put forth, as I understand it.

  354. says

    If an Islamist regime obtained nuclear weapons, a nuclear first strike might be “our” only option

    Harris has never, apparently, heard of Pakistan.

    #ifdef SNARK
    Maybe the Pakistanis don’t look muslim enough to be a threat.
    #else
    Maybe Harris means “only muslims that object to Israel.”
    #endif SNARK

  355. says

    nigelTheBold, Venomous Demonic Hater,

    This very issue makes up a large part of the rest of the thread.

    Ha! So it does. I was a little surprised my premature thought ejaculation was actually on topic when I got to the end.

    Lachlan @386

    Everybody agrees that torture and profiling are bad things(1)! Harris merely tries to illustrate that in certain situations, they may be the lesser of two evils(2). I don’t think that makes him a moral abomination worthy of castigation(3). This atheist sectarian bullshit is really not serving our common cause(4).

    1. This is a lie. No, not everyone agrees on these points.
    2. He fails. Then he doubles down on his failure. This is the main problem I see being attributed to Harris on these issues.
    3. Harris hasn’t been put on some (A)theist blacklist. There is no (A)theist fatwa on Sam Harris. I haven’t even seen a fucking boycott appeal. Keep the straw man in Oz, please.
    4. Holy fuck. I WANT THE FUCKING IIDIOTS OF THE WORLD TO MAKE UP THEIR MINDS ABOUT WHETHER GROUP-THINK IS A GOOD THING OR A BAD THING.

    I’m seeing a similar tactic used to refute a hypothetical torture scenario as has been used for the profiling scenario; it wouldn’t work. Seems to me like a nice way to avoid the moral dilemma entirely, but does nothing to resolve the moral dilemma itself.

    I don’t even have to factor in a moral component, you moron. All throughout this thread there are reasons given why torture is ineffective. Why it actually hinders the collection of accurate information.

    And the only fucking defense against this fact has been to concoct wildly specific and unlikely thought experiments that rely on torture working in this made up scenario.

    It is, “hey, in this scenario where torture works fast, it WORKS! GAME, SET, MATCH!”

    Which has precisely the same merit as the following:

    If giving an ice cream cone to the terrorist/baby stealer/unicorn is the only way that this particular terrorist/baby stealer/unicorn will give up the information in time, then clearly giving the terrorist/baby stealer/unicorn an ice cream cone is the only way to get this particular terrorist/baby stealer/unicorn to talk in time.

    It is a fucking tautology. A tautology that has no fucking bearing on the real world and is only relevant to the made-up scenario.

    You can replace ice cream cone with torture, a high-five, gatorade, a coloring book, a picture of you holding a gun to their babies head, a fighter jet, or a an autographed copy of The Moral Landscape.

    However, a couple of these things – like torture for example – have been demonstrably shown to consistently hinder interrogation. Resources spent of false positives. Actions taken, and the ramifications of these actions as a result of false positives. The addition of a unreliable source of information into a matrix of sources assumed reliable and on and on.

    The “torturing someone who will quickly give you accurate information as a result of torture will get you quick and accurate information” isn’t the god damn philosophical gotcha you think it is.

    It is a, “no shit – gently stroking the hair of, and singing a old negro spiritual to someone who will quickly give you accurate information as a result of having their hair stroked and being sung an old negro spiritual to will also get you accurate information – now what is your fucking point?” kind of god damn philosophical gotcha.

    Humorously, an ice cream cone and a singing of negro spiritual actually can be used as parts of an effective interrogation. Because bonding with someone, or being helpful to someone, or entertaining someone are actually, you know, consistently effective at gathering accurate information in interrogations.

    But fuck reality. It is way more fun and macho to imagine smashing Haji Amir into a dresser, then standing back with a stoic expression as he weepily and grudgingly confesses all the details to your heroic, no nonsense ears.

  356. says

    tkreacher:

    4. Holy fuck. I WANT THE FUCKING IIDIOTS OF THE WORLD TO MAKE UP THEIR MINDS ABOUT WHETHER GROUP-THINK IS A GOOD THING OR A BAD THING.

    Thanks. I just snorted my last bit of beer out my nose.

    Now that I’m out of beer, I reckon I might as well go to bed.

  357. Lachlan says

    tkreacher:

    1. This is a lie. No, not everyone agrees on these points.

    Find me someone who doesn’t.

    2. He fails. Then he doubles down on his failure. This is the main problem I see being attributed to Harris on these issues.

    We consistently fail to convince people out of their religious beliefs. Does that make our arguments false?

    3. Harris hasn’t been put on some (A)theist blacklist. There is no (A)theist fatwa on Sam Harris. I haven’t even seen a fucking boycott appeal. Keep the straw man in Oz, please.
    4. Holy fuck. I WANT THE FUCKING IIDIOTS OF THE WORLD TO MAKE UP THEIR MINDS ABOUT WHETHER GROUP-THINK IS A GOOD THING OR A BAD THING.

    You’re deliberately missing the point (or maybe not). One consistent theme I’ve seen in this blog of late is the whole “you either agree with us, or you’re a misogynist, or you’re a moral deviant, or you’re a terrible atheist”. This is the only group-think nonsense going on around here. I’m not suggesting that we all agree on everything, in fact I’ve explicitly said on this blog that such a thing is obviously unlikely. What I am advocating is reasoned discussion that doesn’t descend into rude, uppercased ad hominem, like the tripe you posted above. The quality of discussion in these blog comments has been appalling at times, and unfortunately PZ himself too often sets a very poor example (so many of his tweets contain “fuck you” as a response, an embarrassing way for a middle-aged biologist to behave).

    As for you specifically, tkreacher, I don’t feel you’re in a particularly good position to criticize anybody’s sense of morality, given the following statement you made on your blog:

    If it came down to a choice between saving my dog and some random human I don’t know, I’d probably save my dog. I’m not kidding, I like (love) my dog more than I like most fucking people.

    [ http://bit.ly/O5i7B9 ]

    As for the actual topic at hand, many people are failing to understand the point of conjuring up unlikely scenarios like those given in Harris’ defense of torture. Harris studies the nature of human morality. In order to learn more about human morality, Harris concocts scenarios that are out of the ordinary, and observes how they tickle our moral funny bone. The fact that the scenarios are unlikely, or even impossible, is totally irrelevant, as I don’t think he is attempting to outline a workable policy.

    For example, I’m a physics student (early in my degree) and in our current study of quantum mechanics, we use a physical scenario called the Infinite Square Well. A hypothetical box that has zero potential inside, and infinite potential at its boundaries. Such a thing is physically impossible, but guess what, it’s a very useful theoretical tool that does yield results applicable to the real world. In my mind, this is the physics equivalent of what Harris does with his own moral scenarios. He’s telling us something about what our shared sense of morality actually is, and how it might serve us, when all the bullshit is stripped away.

    Continuing to claim that torture doesn’t always work is to miss the point completely. However unlikely or impractical you find his scenarios is really irrelevant. He is attempting to explore the nature of human morality, and his hypotheticals, whether you’re likely to encounter them or not, are still useful tools in doing so.

  358. d.f.manno says

    Legal9ball, if you come back to this thread: What’s your favorite edition of fetus poetry? Also, what’s it bound with?

    Leather from only the softest placentas.

  359. Paul says

    Continuing to claim that torture doesn’t always work is to miss the point completely. However unlikely or impractical you find his scenarios is really irrelevant. He is attempting to explore the nature of human morality, and his hypotheticals, whether you’re likely to encounter them or not, are still useful tools in doing so.

    Harris’s writings don’t exist in a vacuum. He presumes that torture is effective and then justifies that in an environment where the torture debate was actually a thing that affected real policy, where the idea that torture is effective was a very toxic meme.

    And not everything people nail him for is a hypothetical. Ground Zero “mosque”? Weird how his real positions happen to line up with what his “hypothetical thought experiments that are just exploring the nature of human morality, and any suggestion that they represent supporting racist policies and programs are missing the point”.

  360. Brownian says

    For example, I’m a physics student (early in my degree) and in our current study of quantum mechanics, we use a physical scenario called the Infinite Square Well. A hypothetical box that has zero potential inside, and infinite potential at its boundaries. Such a thing is physically impossible, but guess what, it’s a very useful theoretical tool that does yield results applicable to the real world. In my mind, this is the physics equivalent of what Harris does with his own moral scenarios. He’s telling us something about what our shared sense of morality actually is, and how it might serve us, when all the bullshit is stripped away.

    Jesus Christ. Is there anybody here for whom the “If you knew then what you know now, would you shoot Hitler?” scenario is new? Can you take Lachlan out for a beer and deal with this?

  361. vaiyt says

    If Sam Harris wants to just masturbate over hypotheticals that only could happen in some parallel universe where torture works, it would help if he didn’t invoke the specific context of the American “War on Terror” as the basis for his argument.

    As it stands, his supposed thought experiment is indistinguishable from practical advice. As practical advice, it stinks.

  362. smef says

    ….and unfortunately PZ himself too often sets a very poor example (so many of his tweets contain “fuck you” as a response, an embarrassing way for a middle-aged biologist to behave).

    Scandalous! Very unbecoming for the Pope of Atheism or the King of Skepticism or whatever PZ is at this point in time.

    Harris does like to use hypotheticals to explore this or that thing, it’s true, but the problem is they end up being so very silly. As in, very unimaginative on his part and loaded with “common sense” assumptions.

    You can indeed use thought experiments to explore things conceptually, just ask Dan Dennett or some other respectable philosopher. Unfortunately for Mr. Harris he sorta sucks at it. He’s had training in philosophy before but at some point he sort of rejected all of it and started doing bad philosophy as a result, making weird mistakes like trying to ignore the is/ought gap because meta-ethics is “boring”.

    It’s become increasingly obvious that a lot of his nuance somehow ends up collapsing into bigotry or apologies for authoritarian policies or whatever. His “ground zero Mosque” piece is a more recent and subtly contemptible example, ala “Look, I don’t think we should deprive Muslims of their rights or anything buuuuuuuuuuuuut……”

  363. says

    Lachlan,

    Find me someone who doesn’t.

    Are you really arguing that no one thinks that torture and/or profiling are good things? Really?

    We consistently fail to convince people out of their religious beliefs. Does that make our arguments false?

    Don’t be obtuse. I wasn’t just implying that he failed to convince people (not to metnion, his arguments did convince some people), I was implying that his arguments fail.

    There is a difference.

    I’ll leave it to you to figure out what the difference might be.

    What I am advocating is reasoned discussion that doesn’t descend into rude, uppercased ad hominem, like the tripe you posted above. The quality of discussion in these blog comments has been appalling at times, and unfortunately PZ himself too often sets a very poor example

    The fact that you seems to imply “rude” disqualifies an argument from being reasoned leads me to suspect you may not know what “reasoned” means.

    Also, you tone trolling piece of shit, what exactly is your evidence that “rude” expression isn’t effective, other than your delicate sensibilities? I’ve seen this asked of a shit ton of fainting tone trolls, but I’ve never even seen someone attempt a response.

    Then, in real life, when I see Hitchen’s say a vigorous “FUCK THAT” in a room full of people, the crowd goes wild. Strange, that.

    While Lachlan is clutching pearls and admonishing the interwebs on their uncivilized and shockingly uncooth behavior, polemicists are out their and in these here webs (look where you are, dumbass) with a platform and the ear of hundreds of thousands to millions of people who are interested in their ideas and fired up into action about these ideas precisely BECAUSE THEY ARE POLEMIC and blunt and rude and not giving a fucking inch to the “just calm down” types like yourself.

    Or are you not making a claim about the efficacy of “rude” discourse, and are instead just admonishing me for not conducting myself in a manner befitting a distinguished, educated genteel man of proper breeding?

    Or is it some other option I also wouldn’t give a fuck about that has you going on in this annoying, stupid ass way?

    I don’t feel you’re in a particularly good position to criticize anybody’s sense of morality, given the following statement you made on your blog:

    1. I’m almost certain you didn’t have to go as far as my blog (as you kindly give it enough respect to call – it’s shit) to find me saying that. I’m pretty sure I’ve said similar things right here on this blog.

    2. What the fuck are you on about? I specifically said I wasn’t even factoring in a moral component. How me not even bringing morality into the conversation is somehow me “criticizing anybody’s sense of morality”, or even me implying I am in a “position” to, is one of the many mysteries of your mind.

    That not-so-rare ability to read plain text and utterly fail to comprehend what is there.

    It must be interesting to live in this brain of yours.

    Also, even as the “gotcha” it is intended to be, it sucks. I do love my dog more than I love you. So it doesn’t even sting.

    As for the actual topic at hand… *snip*

    Ah, so your argument boils down to Sam Harris is just mentally masturbating in public, and it just happens to be in a way that is along the same lines that racists, Islamaphobes, warmongers and conservative right-wingers justify their odious (and demonstrably false) conclusions and attempts at policy.

    It isn’t that he is condoning these things in real life – other than, you know, saying that ethnic profiling is a good thing, and that the fascists are the closest to getting in right in terms of how do deal with the Mooslimz – he’s just doing philosophical aerobics.

    And also, it’s like physics.

    Ok, thanks for clearing all of that up.

    How could I have not seen it earlier?

  364. Anri says

    He’s telling us something about what our shared sense of morality actually is, and how it might serve us, when all the bullshit is stripped away.

    With, presumably, “all the bullshit” being… reality.

    Well, I’ll make Harris a deal. He can go on trying to find imaginary people in imaginary situations to torture or bomb, and I’ll keep paying attention to the real people being tortured and bombed, ok? I understand that I will be morally and intellectually deficient in doing so, but it’s all my tiny brain can handle. My apologies.

  365. chigau (違う) says

    …Harris studies the nature of human morality…

    I’ve never seen “pontificates on” spelled like that.

  366. Lachlan says

    tkreacher:

    Then, in real life, when I see Hitchen’s say a vigorous “FUCK THAT” in a room full of people, the crowd goes wild. Strange, that.

    There is a big, big difference between saying “fuck that” to some insipid idea, and saying “fuck you” to someone, or calling someone a “piece of shit”. If you think that conducting yourself that way is going to persuade anybody to see your point, or reflect well on atheism in general, then I think you’ve been living on the internet a little too long, and I wish you’d stop making the rest of us look bad. There’s a very good reason that the most effective advocates of whatever ideology (especially one that is constantly accused of rudeness and arrogance) don’t go around calling people pieces of shit. I find it a little strange that this even needs to be said.

  367. John Morales says

    I doubt torture never works; it may be problematic, but I think it’s akin to stating that coercion never works.

    (Pragmatism works)

  368. Brownian says

    As for the actual topic at hand, many people are failing to understand the point of conjuring up unlikely scenarios like those given in Harris’ defense of torture. Harris studies the nature of human morality. In order to learn more about human morality, Harris concocts scenarios that are out of the ordinary, and observes how they tickle our moral funny bone. The fact that the scenarios are unlikely, or even impossible, is totally irrelevant, as I don’t think he is attempting to outline a workable policy.

    Tickling our moral funny bone? You do understand that this brilliantly provocative thought experiment that’s supposed to get our thinkin’ bones all a tinglin’ has formed a major plot point of a fucking primetime show that began in 2001 and aired for eight seasons? It’s been a film and television writer’s trope since Dirty Harry at least?

    What’s next for Sam Harris, Time Philosopher? Is he going to explain that all matter is made of atoms which are very like a raisin bun?

  369. Brownian says

    There is a big, big difference between saying “fuck that” to some insipid idea, and saying “fuck you” to someone, or calling someone a “piece of shit”. If you think that conducting yourself that way is going to persuade anybody to see your point, or reflect well on atheism in general, then I think you’ve been living on the internet a little too long, and I wish you’d stop making the rest of us look bad.

    Aww. I remember when Framing Science came out.

  370. says

    What’s next for Sam Harris, Time Philosopher? Is he going to explain that all matter is made of atoms which are very like a raisin bun?

    He’s working on a thought experiment which explores the possible ramifications of a hypothetical situation in which his mother is a car.

  371. John Morales says

    feralboy12:

    He’s working on a thought experiment which explores the possible ramifications of a hypothetical situation in which his mother is a car.

    Care to sustain that claim?

    (Your snark is ridiculous, to put it kindly)

  372. says

    Lachland,

    Hitchens – “I’d say no: fuck you”. In reference to god, nonetheless. Wild applause follows.

    Hitchens – “fuck you.” To the entire audience of Bill Maher, live while giving them the finger no less.

    Let me know when your book comes out – Christopher Hitchens: the ineffective polemicist who couldn’t persuade people because he used curse words and was rude, presumably because he’d spent too much time on the internet – Lachland

  373. says

    (Your snark is ridiculous, to put it kindly)

    When you present old TV plots as thought experiments that supposedly illuminate an issue, you don’t really deserve my best stuff.

  374. Wowbagger, Titillated Victorian Gentleman says

    I would like to nominate this post by tkreacher for whatever the hell we’re calling the upcoming ‘comments of pure, shining awesomesauce’ award.

    lachlan wrote:

    …I wish you’d stop making the rest of us look bad.

    What ‘us’ are you talking about? Haven’t you managed to work out that there are no small number of people who are more than happy to say “fuck the ‘atheist movement’ if it’s not going to be progressive on issues like social justice; we’ll do it on our own if we have to.”?

    I guess I do understand that without people like PZ to actually do the fucking hard work that allows atheists like you to pat each other on the back and wallow in the self-congratulatory feeling you get for being totes smarter than the religious, you’re all just a bunch of headless chickens, running around and bumping into shit.

    But that time’s coming to an end – and you’re being left behind. Looks to me you’ve got two options: a) wake the fuck up and realise that the ones who are willing to lead anything resembling a movement are also leading it in a progressive direction, or b) find someone who shares your own values (or lack thereof) to step up and fill the void.

    Either way, stop fucking whining about how ‘the movement’ is being harmed. It’s not being harmed, it’s evolving.

  375. Lachlan says

    tkreacher:

    Hitchens – “I’d say no: fuck you”. In reference to god, nonetheless. Wild applause follows.

    Hitchens – “fuck you.” To the entire audience of Bill Maher, live while giving them the finger no less.

    Can you really not distinguish these situations from the ones I was referring to?

    Regardless, Hitchens is something of an anomaly, and I certainly wouldn’t call him one of the best advocates for atheism (though he was perhaps the most eloquent). If we look at some of the best atheist advocates, heck I’ll use PZ Myers own list (Eugenie Scott, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, Susan Jacoby, and Barry Lynn), tell me they’d speak the way you’re advocating that they speak. Of course they wouldn’t, and again, there’s a very good reason for this. Because it’s not effective.

    Anyway, that’s the last I’ll say about it.

  376. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    Because it’s not effective.

    Anyway, that’s the last I’ll say about it.

    Darn, that is all you’ll say? But you were just about to get to the good part, the part where you tell us how you know rude polemics are ineffective.

  377. says

    John Morales,

    I doubt torture never works; it may be problematic, but I think it’s akin to stating that coercion never works.

    I don’t think anyone has made this claim contextually speaking, but I know you’re a pedant (and I don’t use that insultingly), so I’m going to pretend I’m certain this was directed at me particularly and flesh this out a bit.

    “If you torture someone who is going to give you accurate information because they are tortured” is a tautology. And it can and has happened in real life.

    However, if you interrogate someone and tell them, “if you give me accurate information you’re a traitor to everything you hold dear, a coward, and a disappointment to your ancestors” – that can also work.

    The point of this conversation is, in both cases, each of these are less likely to work than other non torture-y, non I-hope-you-are-the-type-to-get-off-on-shaming-yourself-y.

    Even in the fantasy scenarios about a ticking bomb and time-is-short thought experiments, both of these attempts are stupid. Even more stupid than scenario where time isn’t an issue, because one could argue that “well, we have unlimited time, so we might as well try this stupid ass shit that consistently and demonstrably results in false positives that take up more time and resources than no information at all, and that might have terrible moral implications and ramifications.”

    Using torture is a terrible way to gather accurate information.

    That isn’t to say “it never works”.

    *****

    Lachlan,

    Can you really not distinguish these situations from the ones I was referring to?

    Is this a cargo cult thing? I asked you if you were “really” presenting a stupid argument, and now you think asking if I “really” can’t distinguish one thing from another has equal weight?

    There is no difference. I provided a blatant and clear example of why your tone trolling didn’t line up with the world. You can curse and be rude and still be persuasive. Even have some of your persuasion and fame be a result of it.

    Regardless, Hitchens is something of an anomaly

    Alright. I’ll add your willingness to commit special pleading to your ignorance of what ad hominem means as I evaluate your ability to dictate what “reasoned” argument is.

    And I love how you add to your list of “atheist advocates” who are better at advocating for atheists than Hitchens at least one person who won’t even declare themselves an atheist.

    You’re a fucking moron.

    Which is why I’ll say,

    Anyway, that’s the last I’ll say about it.

    is one of your most reasonable ideas of the night.

  378. hotspurphd says

    While it is well known that torture does not usually work, is it really true that there are NO cases of it working? And can you be sure that there wouldn’t be a ticking bomb case where it would work, and would indeed be the lesser evil though illegal. I haven’t seen any evidence here that this couldn’t happen or that it couldn’t perhaps be predicted with high probability to work (though I haven’t read every post). Is it possible, or even likely that a terrorist MIGHT give the info needed. If there is little time to spare and no time to use the usual interrogation methods that do work with enough time, can anyone say categorically that torture would never ever get the info to save a lot of innocent lives?
    It would be greatly appreciated if anyone responding please address the issues and not insult me. thanks.

  379. says

    Meh, read that back and noticed missing words, stupid grammatical mistakes, ect.

    Fucking alcohol.

    Hopefully the meaning of the particular statements aren’t lost, because I’d stand by the meaning sober.

    :p

  380. says

    The aim of torture is to break people. Unlike 24 where the tortured get up and get on with their lives, tortures severely harms the victim mentally.

    When people are broken they will say and do anything, tell secrets, tell lies, it doesn’t matter.

    Some people think torture is like in 24. Rough someone up a bit and they will tell you what you want to know in order to not be inconvenienced any more, but that is not so.

    I’ve read a lot of accounts from torture victims – not any where torture was used for getting information – which I think is quite rare, but for its intended purpose terror and the breaking of people.

    A female refugee coming to Denmark showed signs of severe stress, she couldn’t sleep at all, she had trouble completing even simple tasks. When she was counselled she denied being the victim of torture.

    She told how her whole family, herself children and husband were arrested. She spent her days in captivity in her own cell, not being tortured. In the adjoining cells she could here the screams of her children when they were raped and abused, of her husband being beaten, but she herself was not touched, so she denied being tortured.

    Whenever someone talks about torture I think of that story, and how torture is just not slapping someone around for a bit. It is vile and despicable.

    And while I say it should never be used, if the unlikely scenario arises where the fate of the world hangs in balance, with only one supervillain knowing the location of the doomsday device, then by all means use torture, but anyone in the chain of command should receive the maximum penalty under law whether the use of torture worked or not. If it is worth breaking a person to save humanity, then the death or life long incarceration of the torturer, his/her superior all the way up to the head of state should be a price worth paying, if not well then the use of torture clearly wasn’t warranted in the first place.

  381. says

    I doubt torture never works; it may be problematic, but I think it’s akin to stating that coercion never works.

    The presumption, as far as it appears to me, is that torture becomes necessary when there is a ticking time bomb scenario.
    The reason it’s supposed to be “OK” is because there is too little time to sit on a guy for weeks or months hoping he cracks.

    So, you torture someone, he tells you “there’s a bomb under building x) and off you go to building x to save the day just in time, you hope.

    Unless he lied, in which case you helped him throw you off the trail and the attack is a success.

    How is that really any different than writing down all the possible places and asking the suspect to “pick a card, any card?”

    If the best that can be claimed for torture is that it’s a gamble that could conceivably pay off but you never know until it’s too late, WTF good is it really?

    And then there’s the ethics.

    Frankly, I would rather the US suffer a terrorist attack that kills a bunch of people in an office building – even me – than be a nation and culture that accepts and uses torture.

    The deaths of the people in the office building are a less severe form of damage to the country.

    What was the very worst effect of 9/11? The 3000+ people that died in the attack? I’d argue that that was NOT the worst effect.

  382. hotspurphd says

    JAFAFA HOTS
    you may be right. but what if it were a million people? 10 million? the whole world?

  383. John Morales says

    tkreacher @414, an excellent response. I cannot dispute you.

    Jafafa Hots @418, not-so-good.

    So, you torture someone, he tells you “there’s a bomb under building x) and off you go to building x to save the day just in time, you hope.So, you torture someone, he tells you “there’s a bomb under building x) and off you go to building x to save the day just in time, you hope.

    Torture if it’s the the last resort (when relevant) and in addition to (not instead of) regular interrogation methodology, and yes, of course one may get untruths.

    (But one will get responses when otherwise other might not be forthcoming)

    The issue is one of morality, not of pragmatism.

  384. says

    hotspurphd,

    Fuckin’ a, it doesn’t matter, even pragmatically.

    Let me try to state this as unambiguously as I can:

    If you gave me unlimited knowledge on a subject, and I knew for a fact that the only way I can save the planet is to cut a prisoners fingers off, I would immediately cut the prisoners fingers off.

    This should show that it isn’t a moral issue about harming a human being that dictates my behavior.

    I don’t have, and have never had unlimited knowledge of a subject. I am not a mind reader or a prognosticator of the future.

    I do, however, have a shit ton of experience as an extremely effective and sought after interrogator.

    So, in this scenario you are positing about a ticking time bomb – let’s say I have a half an hour – I would be running through emotional appeals, you-can-identify-with-me machinations, hilarious anecdotes, discussions of how precious and rare life is… and a giant list of things I literally couldn’t even remember and write down before a half hour passed here in real time, before I went to torture.

    Torture is a pragmatically bad way of extracting accurate information.

    God damn you Jack Bauer, for making this so hard to explain.

  385. ryanb says

    Not sure if anyone has pointed this out yet but it seems obvious; I’d hate to be the guy just waiting for his train who happened to fit the description of the car thief.

    The high chance of getting the wrong person (especially when the officers have this “at all costs” attitude) is one of the biggest arguments against torture IMO*

    *Along side it not working, being morally repugnant etc…

  386. hotspurphd says

    tkreacher,
    it’s not hard to explain nor hard to understand. the fact is I think that the torture MAY work-MAY- and millions will be saved. Period. You are making it too complicated. you don’t need unlimited info. only a half hour. not worth a try. forget the bonding. this is not hard to fathom. don’t need expertise to understand this. seems easy. you cannot say it won’t work. jeeze.

  387. KG says

    Everybody agrees that torture and profiling are bad things(1)! Harris merely tries to illustrate that in certain situations, they may be the lesser of two evils(2) – Lachlan

    Maybe on whatever planet you’re lucky enough to be from, but on this one, that is blatant nonsense. There are and have been many governments, not to mention resistance/terrorist movements and criminal gangs, which use torture as a matter of policy – generally more as a tool of intimidation and revenge rather than to gain information. Not so long ago, there were many governments that had people tortured in public, and crowds who went to watch the fun. Similarly racial profiling, officially or otherwise, is standard practice in many – I might even say practically all – police forces. Harris himself has demanded that Muslims endorse it, and practise it themselves (I’m not sure how this works – maybe they’re required to arrest themselves for driving while Arab, or something).

  388. KG says

    hotspurphd@423,

    The incoherence you demonstrate here suggests that you’re typing one-handed, and in a state of considerable excitement.

  389. says

    hotspurphd,

    it’s not hard to explain nor hard to understand. the fact is I think that the torture MAY work-MAY- and millions will be saved. Period. You are making it too complicated. you don’t need unlimited info. only a half hour. not worth a try. forget the bonding. this is not hard to fathom. don’t need expertise to understand this. seems easy. you cannot say it won’t work. jeeze.

    Can someone translate this for me please?

    I left my Stupid to English dictionary in my other coat.

    (I know you asked not to be insulted. That made me not like you, and added to the likelihood of me insulting you.)

    *********

    I wanted to add something else to the discussion as a whole. Another factor that increases the instances of otherwise reasonable people being stupid in regard to interrogation and torture is an us vs them cognitive dissonance.

    So let me try to break that down on this issue in some small way:

    It is easy to see the Nazi, the Moozlim, the Insurgent, the Terrorist as a monster. In fact, I agree.

    The beliefs of any of the given groups are monstrous to me. I hate those beliefs.

    But they are all people who actuallybelieve they are doing the “right” thing.

    So, in terms of interrogation, think about it.

    If you want to do a thought experiment, base it in fucking reality.

    If you thought that giving up information meant that the people you are giving the information to were going to find your daughter and sexually assault her, right before they killed her… tell me how accurate your are going to be at giving that information out while being tortured.

    They ask you nicely, they give you some money, they try all sort of things.

    None of it works.

    Then they start torturing you. Tell me, exactly how long will it take for you to sell out your daughters life to these assholes.

    I would hope the answer would be, “FUCKING AS LONG AS POSSIBLE I’D MAKE UP A BUNCH OF SHIT AND HOPE THEY WENT OFF ON A WILD GOOSE CHASE AND GAVE MY DAUGHTER ENOUGH TIME TO GET AWAY!!!!!!”.

    Well, no shit. I hope so.

    You need to understand, in the context of this conversation, that people actually believe shit to the same degree as protecting their loved ones from atrocity, regardless of how real that belief is.

    So, if terrorist Joe truly believes that dying or killing a bunch of evil people is “right”, TORTURING HIM FOR INFORMATION IS EXACTLY THE SAME AS TORTURING YOU FOR YOU LOVED ONE’S WHEREABOUTS, WHEN YOU THINK I’M GOING TO KILL/RAPE/MAIM YOUR LOVED ONES.

    This is why it is far better to befriend a person, to dispel a persons particular belief (even if you are lying), to assuage a person’s fear, and on and on, than to torture them.

    Pragmatically speaking, before even taking into account the morality of the issue.

    ****

    I’ve had too much to drink to preview this for any error, I apologize beforehand for what is likely a number of grammatical and coherence mistakes.

  390. dereksmear says

    Here is a scenario and question about Harris’ position on torture.

    The US grows more and more fearful of Iran regarding its nuclear programme. The US eventually feels that the only option is to strike Iran’s nuclear reactors which would potentially kill millions of people. Does anyone think Harris, based on his own logic, would support the kidnapping and torture of US diplomats by the Iranian secret service to determine which civil nuclear reactors they are planning to strike and thereby save countless lives?

  391. says

    the fact is I think that the torture MAY work-MAY- and millions will be saved. Period.

    Right.. Lets make it real simple then. You have a half hour. There are 10 million people at stake, 20,000 buildings it could be in, and someone that has no incentive, at all, to tell you (especially if they happen to be in the city in question, and therefor ready to die). When you are done, have him tell me next weeks winning lotto tickets, assuming we all survive to buy one…

  392. Sophia, Michelin-starred General of the First Mediterranean Iron Chef Batallion says

    @dereksmear

    The US eventually feels that the only option is to strike Iran’s nuclear reactors

    No. Why?
    This is NEVER the only option. Neither is torture. There are ALWAYS alternatives, even if that alternative is simply -not- torture, or -not- a nuclear strike.
    THIS is the problem. Torture or nuking are options that should NEVER be ok or excused because there are always options that are less abominable. You can talk of effectiveness all you want – it has shown to have very little effectiveness, or at least as little as any non-torture option, so why choose an ultimately deplorable act with the same rough chance of success as the next, less horrific, option?

    You’re trying to argue that a person with a proven history of bias against muslims wouldn’t support barbaric actions by those people? Give a medal to captain obvious! No. The point is we can’t support the notion of torture by, or on, anyone. It’s not ok just because it’s us who’s doing it.
    In fact, to be logically consistent, Sam Harris would indeed have to support torture by muslims, if the person being tortured fell under his magical set of hypothetical circumstances that he believes would excuse it.

  393. dereksmear says

    @Sophia, Michelin-starred General of the First Mediterranean Iron Chef Batallion

    Spot on with everything.

    Indeed the point was to show that “to be logically consistent, Sam Harris would indeed have to support torture by muslims, if the person being tortured fell under his magical set of hypothetical circumstances that he believes would excuse it.”

  394. Sophia, Michelin-starred General of the First Mediterranean Iron Chef Batallion says

    @dereksmear

    HAHAHA wow I’m a doofus. I totally mistook you for another commenter trying to defend the inconsistencies really badly.

    Trust me to latch on to a comment that was intentionally daft :P

    Bad day. Baaaad day. At least my logic curcuits still sort of work, even if my commenter-parsing system doesn’t.

  395. says

    (so many of his tweets contain “fuck you” as a response, an embarrassing way for a middle-aged biologist to behave).

    Heh. How many twitter followers do you have, Lachlan? I’ve got 108,000. They aren’t all there because they like me. Some are spammers. Some are actually people who hate me (unthinkable, I know), and who sign on to harrass me. I will tell such people to fuck off, to bugger themselves, to sit’n’spin on a flagpole, and then block them. And if you don’t like that I’m rude to assholes, well then, you can fuck off too.

  396. says

    Before I pass out I want to add one more thing.

    Given what I’ve said about interrogation, someone might attempt to claim “then being rude to someone is dumb”.

    I’m sorry that this will be obvious to many people, but, I need to point it out… there is a very big difference between extracting information from an individual and attempting to influence a group of people who might be viewing/listening to a conversation.

    If I’m trying to glean useful information from a particular person in a private conversation that might save lives, I might be asking them about what their mothers favorite food is.

    If I’m not concerned that this same person, under different circumstances, is involved in some violent thing and am having a conversation with them in public I might be asking them why they are such a dumb piece of shit.

    These two conversational tacks are not inconsistent.

  397. strange gods before me ॐ says

    There’s a suggested solution to that: have a ‘safe’ decoy password that decrypts only the harmless files, so the torturers don’t know it didn’t work.

    Then you’re encrypting both the real and the fake files together as one file; analysis will show that the encrypted file contains significantly more information than was decrypted. It’s an obvious give-away.

    You can avoid this problem by using real and fake one time pads, but one time pads aren’t passwords, and can’t be memorized except by folks with eidetic memory unless the encrypted information is very small.

    *headdesk* and I forgot the big one: have a ‘kill’ password that wipes the encrypted data. So much for the rubber-hose technique.

    It’s impossible to make the password itself do that, so you’re relying on the attacker to access the encrypted data only through your proprietary application. Plausible, if they are pressed for time and no attacker has ever encountered this system before, but unlikely.

    And you’re relying on the attacker to not make a copy of the encrypted data before trying to decrypt it. This is not at all plausible unless the attacker is very, very stupid.

    (No responsible company would distribute such a product; due to the triviality of copying before attempting decryption, it would give only a false sense of security. If you do see such a thing for sale, don’t buy it; the sellers are scam artists.)

  398. Louis says

    I love the idea that floats around:

    1) Person A is famous to some degree for something.

    2) Person B (relatively un-famous/anonymous perhaps) makes derogatory or unpleasant remark about Person A.

    3) Person A must not reply (in kind perhaps) because this is worse than Person B’s initial derogation or unpleasantness.

    It’s always amazed me.

    I think, correct me if I’m wrong, that PZ is a human being, with all the wonders and flaws that that entails. I also think that other people are human beings, Piers Morgan aside, and that PZ is perfectly entitled to treat them as rudely as they treat him should he so wish and vice versa.

    Where did the idea that because PZ (or anyone) is relatively well known that they have no right to reply come from?

    If I posted “Up your knickers, Queenie” on Her Majesty’s Royal Twitter feed, I’d expect Auntie Liz to reply with “I’m Queen, right. Fuck YOU, pal!”. At a minimum.

    Nowt wrong with that.

    I’m wondering if people are confused by the difference between “fuck off” and “go away”. Or perhaps if they think the simple presence of some modicum of fame presupposes that the person must be some aloof demigod, who (as Billy Connelly notes about all Royals and celebrities) does not even go to the toilet they are so splendid.

    Haven’t we learned that our chimpy tendencies to be awestruck by the Big Giant Head are wrong yet? If PZ is just a man, and I’m relatively sure he is, then why should he be held to some different standard in public discourse? If you post “fuck you PZ” on his Twitter, why can’t he post “fuck you, right back old bean!” and block the person? They’re hardly contributing to meaningful discourse. Why is PZ (or anyone) suddenly burdened with lifting every single mouth breathing IQ 70 oxygen thief on the planet out of the self imposed swamp of dumbfuckitude they have waded willingly into?

    Louis

  399. coelsblog says

    Brownian:

    [Harris's] ideas were being examined, and found wanting. What else is supposed to happen?

    Harris’s ideas have indeed been examined and critiqued, and many Pharyngulites feel that the evidence is against them (this may well be true), and that Harris is wrong (that may well be true also). So, you ask, what is supposed to happen at this point?

    One could, perhaps, accept that different people see things differently and, even when acting in good faith, evaluate ideas and evidence differently. For example there is the well-known quote about scientific disputes being settled not so much by people changing their minds, but by proponents on one side dying off and making no new younger recruits. It is simply human nature that substantial mind-changing takes time.

    So, if you think that Harris has been soundly refuted (which he may well have been), then you can still accept that he is arguing (as he sees it) in good faith and (as he sees it) attempting to be rational and evaluate evidence. The fact that you evaluate the evidence entirely differently is not inconsistent with that! So you could at least keep the discussion amicable, reubtting him (and critiquing his ideas) as and when appropriate.

    Or, you could take the Pharyngula approach, which (nowadays) amounts to, whenever someone sticks to an opinion that you consider wrong (which it may be), then conclude that they are acting in bad faith, and heap vitriol and abuse on them, refusing to see any merit in what they say, and refusing to agree to differ amicably.

    This would involve gumby-quoting anything they say, and would be accompanied by labelling anyone who sees any merit at all in Harris’s writings as “hero-worshipping sycophants” and similar (even when such people can also see the flaws in his work).

    And this will of course also be accompanied by swear words and labelling as a “tone troll” or a “concern troll” anyone who sees the rabid vitriol (for which Pharyngula has now acquired a reputation) as a pity and unproductive.

    Having said that, I’ll save you all the trouble and reply for you:

    “Thank you, your concern is noted, now fuck off”.

  400. Anri says

    While it is well known that torture does not usually work, is it really true that there are NO cases of it working? And can you be sure that there wouldn’t be a ticking bomb case where it would work, and would indeed be the lesser evil though illegal. I haven’t seen any evidence here that this couldn’t happen or that it couldn’t perhaps be predicted with high probability to work (though I haven’t read every post). Is it possible, or even likely that a terrorist MIGHT give the info needed. If there is little time to spare and no time to use the usual interrogation methods that do work with enough time, can anyone say categorically that torture would never ever get the info to save a lot of innocent lives?

    Please, please quote the (I presume) multiple places in which people have categorically said it can never work. May I speculate that you didn’t… because you can’t… because there haven’t been?

    The answer to your “what if” is another “what if”: What if there were other techniques that work better and also aren’t morally bankrupt? Because there are.
    Knowing a technique that works frequently and tends to produce good results, and that another technique works badly and tends to produce poor results, which would you work with, given that you have limited time?
    Or, indeed, under any circumstance?

    It would be greatly appreciated if anyone responding please address the issues and not insult me. thanks.

    Well, ok, but just as a word of advice: if you enter a thread and ask a question that has been answered many times previously – about a position nobody is actually trying to take -people might very well take it as uninformed or disingenuous strawmanning and are likely to think their intelligence is being insulted. They are likely to respond in kind.

    The thing that will really determine if you get insulted or not is how you respond to the explanation that your point is both nonsensical and has already been covered. If you continue with “But what if… what if… what if…” you’re going to be insulted. Just giving you a heads-up.

  401. says

    When people are arguing for the utility and reasonableness of fucking torture, I will gladly accept a reputation for rabid vitriol.

    Man, when coelsblog puts it that way, now I’m regretting that I did not “heap vitriol and abuse on them, refusing to see any merit in what they say” in my post, since I’m going to get accused of it anyway.

  402. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    then you can still accept that he is arguing (as he sees it) in good faith and (as he sees it) attempting to be rational and evaluate evidence.

    The italicized part is why many of us don’t think Harris is arguing in good faith. His biases get the better of his evaluation of the evidence.

    refusing to see any merit in what they say, and refusing to agree to differ amicably.

    And if they refuse to acknowledge the evidence, what is the best approach to get them to acknowledge the evidence? You should lead by example and show us how to get deaf people listening.

    And this will of course also be accompanied by swear words and labelling as a “tone troll” or a “concern troll” anyone who sees the rabid vitriol (for which Pharyngula has now acquired a reputation) as a pity and unproductive.

    Of course, it is productive to get peoples attention and we have evidence being rude can bring folks up short and actually start them thinking. Whereas there is also plenty of evidence politely challenged ideas changing nothing. Politeness is for those who can’t handle the truth, and hide behind politeness remain in stasis. Which is why tone trolls exist and are called out here, tone troll.

  403. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    Man, when coelsblog puts it that way, now I’m regretting that I did not “heap vitriol and abuse on them, refusing to see any merit in what they say” in my post, since I’m going to get accused of it anyway.

    Exactly, PZ! trolls like coel isn’t actually interested in debating, he just wants his ego stroked. His characterization of Pharyngula is straight from the script of a slimepitter. There was nothing honest about that post – just a bunch of “boo-hoo-hoo I can’t make you shut up.”

    What I can’t figure out though is this: what is the point of lying so blatantly as coel did? The only people who believe you are the cowards for whom any dissention or interest in social justice is “bullying”

    unless those sorts of dishonest cowards are who coel wants on his side. In which case, well done!

  404. Lachlan says

    PZ Myers:

    They aren’t all there because they like me. Some are spammers. Some are actually people who hate me (unthinkable, I know), and who sign on to harrass me.

    You must love being harassed then, PZ, because giving them exactly what they want, a “fuck off” type message, is hardly going to discourage them.

    When people are arguing for the utility and reasonableness of fucking torture, I will gladly accept a reputation for rabid vitriol.

    Torture is a terrible thing. Who denies it? But if such a situation exists where the choice is between the temporary pain of one, or the deaths of many, what possible argument is there to choose the latter?

    I do believe Harris’ logic is sound, but I also believe he fails to recognize the potential downsides of giving credence to the usefulness of torture at all, even if it’s justified in some (potentially unlikely) hypothetical situation. If people can make this point without spewing vitriol, that’d be great, because the personal attacks are just noisy, pointless muck.

    Nerd of Redhead:

    Politeness is for those who can’t handle the truth, and hide behind politeness remain in stasis.

    A very silly statement, I feel. Truth and politeness are not mutually exclusive. If your argument is sound, calling someone this or that does nothing to advance it, and might actually make people less receptive to hearing it. So if you’re interested in changing minds, and I’m not convinced that many people around here actually are, then why not just stick to the point? I know it feels good to unleash on the internet, but maybe you should buy a punching bag instead.

    If anyone has seen Richard Dawkins interviewing Wendy Wright, it’s a study in patience and civility, and I know I would not have been able to keep my cool in that same situation. If Dawkins had descended into ad hom, he would have given Ms. Wright the moral high ground, and an avenue for distracting from the point. Thankfully, he kept it civilized, and the weakness of her position was on full display.
    [ http://youtu.be/YFjoEgYOgRo ]

  405. says

    Lachlan,

    Please stop using the term ad hominem. If nothing else.

    I mean, if you want to keep making stupid arguments… ok.

    But please. You keep using ad hom and you… you don’t even know what it means.

    This is like the third time or more.

    It was even pointed out that you didn’t know what it meant.

    Please, I’m trying to pass out, and… you’re making me so angry with how stupid you are.

    Please stop saying ad hom and thinking you’re being “logical” and making a “reasoned” argument.

    Please stop.

  406. fenne says

    So PZ and Harris agree on many things, both have done much for a common cause. It appears there is just a disagreement on some rather exploratory, philosophical topics. Thought experiments etc. Sure, no problem in disagreeing and motivating your position. So ask yourself, is the ridicule then really necessary?
    I’ve been following this blog for some time now, and am familiar with Sam’s work. You both make good points and sometimes lesser ones. As it stands now, I would put PZ on the most ‘awful’ atheist list however, as he makes ‘us’ look like self-righteous, truth is mine alone dicks. This is especially true for the more rabid followers here, some of which seem to no longer notice there’s ‘freethought’ in the URL. I’m not even going to debate this, because the immediate reaction will be defensive and laden. I wouldn’t even be surprised if 5 comments hence I’m suddenly a misogynist. So, some of you, including PZ, cool down for a week and do some critical introspection in the mean time.

  407. says

    You haven’t said anything misogynistic yet, except for your assumption that misogyny is a meaningless and arbitrary word.

    Also, I’m getting fed up with assholes like you who charge in with accusations that I’m a “self-righteous, truth is mine alone dick”. DID YOU EVEN READ MY GODDAMN POST YOU SANCTIMONIOUS FUCKING ASSHOLE? I addressed Harris’s claims. You pissants aren’t about improving the discourse, you’re about doing exactly what you claim I do: shutting down discussions with deranged accusations. And then you ignore what I actually said. And this whole thread is full of Harris fans who are so impressed with his calm monotonous presentation that they fail to notice that he’s making excuses for torture. For torture.

    Read it, address it, or shut the fuck up.

  408. coelsblog says

    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls:

    “… many of us don’t think Harris is arguing in good faith. His biases get the better of his evaluation of the evidence.”

    All humans have biases, and many humans are not aware of their biases. Thus being biased in ones evaluations is not incompatible with trying to act in good faith.

    “… if they refuse to acknowledge the evidence, what is the best approach to get them to acknowledge the evidence? You should lead by example and show us how to get deaf people listening.”

    I don’t claim any special insight into how to do that; I would say that for minds to change usually takes time. Note that nothing I said was a suggestion to avoid criticising Harris or anyone else.

  409. coelsblog says

    Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle:

    ” … trolls like coel isn’t actually interested in debating, he just wants his ego stroked. His characterization of Pharyngula is straight from the script of a slimepitter. There was nothing honest about that post – just a bunch of “boo-hoo-hoo I can’t make you shut up.” What I can’t figure out though is this: what is the point of lying so blatantly as coel did?

    Hmmm, I’m not sure. Was this a satirical parody of a Pharyngula post, or was it intended straight? If the former, it’s quite good! (If the latter, pray tell, what part was “lying”?)

  410. nms says

    There is an important point here that I feel has been lost in the noise of the debate, concerning Sam Harris and his arguments for profiling.

    Sam Harris believes there is a subset of the population (people who “look Muslim”) that is more likely to commit terrorist acts. Sam Harris believes that people in this group should therefore be subject to extra security screening. Sam Harris notes that Sam Harris himself fits Sam Harris’s profile “looking Muslim”.

    This means that Sam Harris belongs to the subset of the population he believes is more likely to commit a terrorist act.

    What is Sam Harris planning??? The warning signs were everywhere!!!!

  411. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    A very silly statement, I feel. Truth and politeness are not mutually exclusive.

    They need not be, but folks like you do hide behind politeness to protect your idiocy. So, you made a silly evidenceless statement that *poof* is dismissed as fuckittery. You see, philosophical argument is not evidence of anything other than mental masturbation. So, who the fuck cares what a person hiding behind politeness thinks, since it is obvious they aren’t thinking, and are afraid to have their ideas fully challenged, including being told they are full of shit.

    Philosophers have several problems when they post here. The biggest is their attitude thinking they have all the answers and are here to teach us. Sorry, not the case, as the typical poster here is just as smart or smarter than they are. Lose the attitude.

    Another is their disdain for real evidence. Evidence we scientists use on a daily basis, and makes science work and progress. Unevidenced philosophy is mental masturbation. Unevidenced complaints (not even a quote) means you have nothing to say. You get toward reality, you need a reality check. Lose the attitude that philosophical argument per se means something. It only means something after a reality check occurs.

    moar later

  412. dianne says

    I’m not even going to debate this

    Don’t post comments you don’t want to debate to web sites where they will inevitably be controversial. That just makes it look like you’re a passive aggressive twit who wants to have the last word while pretending to be above it all.

  413. says

    That just makes it look like you’re a passive aggressive twit who wants to have the last word while pretending to be above it all.

    Bingo.

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

    Dianne, what I want to know is with what our comments will be laden with?

  415. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    (If the latter, pray tell, what part was “lying”?)

    LOL that’s cute. What part wasn’t lying, troll?

  416. fenne says

    So now I’m the ‘SANCTIMONIOUS FUCKING ASSHOLE’? :) Didn’t you read that I said I’ve been following your blog for awhile now? That I asked everyone to cool down, not respond immediately (because it would be defensive and boy did you prove my point :/) and think about it first. Sheesh. That reply is beneath even you PZ.
    I am not in the know about the entire torture discussion, every philosophical finesse. All I’ll say about it is that being absolutely, categorically against something, no matter what the situation is suspect to me. Principles are good, but one can be overly principled. It can get doctrinal, which would be quite ironic seeing the amounts of vitriol dogmatic people receive on this blog.

    “Politeness is for those who can’t handle the truth, and hide behind politeness remain in stasis”
    This is a bogus arguement which is really nothing more than an excuse to act like a smug know-it-all. You’re probably an intelligent person and often right. In this specific case, you’re dumb and victim of the rudememe.

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

    Oh crap! I need some tea! I’m getting repetitious with my prepositions.

    Also, this:

    So, some of you, including PZ, cool down for a week and do some critical introspection in the mean time.

    Yes, Mum!

    Really? You’re going to play aloof and also play nanny? You know so well to let cooler heads prevail. It’s so good that you can be so dismissive of substantive argument while offering …what? Seriously, what is that and who are you to suggest it, oh anonymous, aloof nanny?

  418. millssg99 says

    I loathe this culture of hero worship that plagues the atheist community.

    Ditto, only I would apply it to all communities.

    People in an any community who vigorously disagree with someone who is in many ways like minded should vigorously and passionately make their disagreement known. Nobody, no matter who they are, should get a pass.

    In evolutionary biology there are many passionate disagreements about specific issues. Should the parties there stop their vigorous debate so that they will present a united front against the creationists and prevent out of context quote material?

    The problem is people are human and they have feelings and feelings get hurt and people get their back up and they strike back. Then we get into a situation where most of the energy is spent pissing on each other and arguing about who is being unfair to whom and the real important issues that need real important vigorous debate get lost in the resulting mayhem.

    As long fallible humans are involved, it’s difficult to see the problem going away. The best approach is to do what PZ did in this post. Clearly state the differences and avoid the pissing.

  419. coelsblog says

    Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle:

    LOL that’s cute. What part wasn’t lying, troll?

    All of it, since you ask. (Do you know what “lying” means?) And I note your evasive non-answer.

  420. PatrickG says

    @ fenne

    Do take into account that this is a 400+ comment thread, with plenty of people coming in here to dishonestly call for ‘calm’ and ‘reason’ while completely disregarding the original post and all the argument that’s taken place in the comment section.

    If you feel jumped on, consider the context. If people seem defensive, I would point out it’s because people are really tired of saying the same damn thing over and over again.

    For crying out loud, PZ posted a very calm, polite disagreement with Sam Harris specifically because he felt his argument was being diluted by the previous thread (or so I read him). He bent over backward to present terms of debate that could potentially spark useful discussion, and all he got was more people coming over to tut tut at him while totally disregarding the content of his post.

    As to the politeness thing… Nerd, would you accept the following revision? (I’m sure you could phrase it better, and I like your original version, but you know, I’m trying to be polite).

    Appeals to politeness are for those who can’t handle the truth, as evidenced by using politeness as reason to not discuss issues.

  421. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    In this specific case, you’re dumb and victim of the rudememe

    Looked in the mirror passive-aggressive tone troll hiding behind politeness? If you have evidence politeness works to change the minds of the deaf, either present it, or shut the fuck up about politeness being an end-all. That is science, either put up the right information or shut up with your claim.

  422. coelsblog says

    PatrickG:

    For crying out loud, PZ posted a very calm, polite disagreement with Sam Harris … He bent over backward to present terms of debate that could potentially spark useful discussion

    Personally I wouldn’t regard gumby-quoting as a polite invitation to useful discussion.

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

    Didn’t you read that I said I’ve been following your blog for awhile now? That I asked everyone to cool down, not respond immediately (because it would be defensive and boy did you prove my point :/)

    That’s a self-fulling prophesy, fenne, especially if you categorise any of the responses as being defensive and assume that anyone is going to follow your advise. Just who are you too tell anyone to cool down? And who are you to presume that because responses come quickly, that you’re post was neither read nor understood? You’re being a sanctimonious, fucking asshole and a presumptuous, holy-than-thou douchecake.

    Substance, fenne; you need to post with it and not with sanctimonious screeds about how everyone ought to be calmer and about the benefits of quiet introspection.

    Really, just who do you think you are?!

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

    coelsblog, have you anything of substance to say except to plea with us to leave of Harris because you believe this is merely a matter of differing interpretations of the same evidence? Because that’s a laughable claim contained within a plea that is, at best, disingenuous.

  425. PatrickG says

    @ coel

    Personally I wouldn’t regard gumby-quoting as a polite invitation to useful discussion.

    Say what?

    He started by saying he wanted to clarify the differences in position (by stating his). He identified three specific issues (blogs, torture, profiling), explained what he thought was objectionable, linked to his past discussions on profiling, linked to a knowledgeable takedown of Harris’s position, and closed it there.

    See, where I come from, that’s an invitation to dialogue. I guess you disagree?

    I see you’ve been cluttering the thread above with calls for civility and recognizing Harris’s “arguing in good faith”. I’ll just paraphrase something you said:

    Or, you could take the Harris approach, which (nowadays) amounts to, whenever someone continues to attack an opinion that you consider right, conclude that they are acting in bad faith, and heap vitriol and abuse on them, refuse to see any merit in what they say, publicly smear an entire community of people who comment on a different blog, and refuse to agree to differ amicably.

  426. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    As to the politeness thing… Nerd, would you accept the following revision? (I’m sure you could phrase it better, and I like your original version, but you know, I’m trying to be polite).

    Appeals to politeness are for those who can’t handle the truth, as evidenced by using politeness as reason to not discuss issues.

    I’m finally downing my first cup of coffee. I don’t mind folks improving on my words, or taking credit for the improvements. I’ll sit back and them run with idea. Maybe we need to get the horde involved to come up with a meme that we can use when tone trolls show up and demand politeness. One that politely shows them that they are hiding their ideas from real scrutiny behind a facade of politeness.

  427. PatrickG says

    Yeah, I’m sort of looking for a go to for myself, given the 3 post rule being back. And hey, you know, maybe sometimes I do impair my communication ability (none too high to begin with!) with unnecessary snark and “vitriol”.

    I don’t really mind being asked to be polite. I mind being told to be polite while my points are ignored. A meme might be helpful for those situations where sincerity might be present.

  428. coelsblog says

    Thomathy, Holy Trinity of Conflation: Atheist-Secularist-Darwinist:

    coelsblog, have you anything of substance to say except to plea with us to leave of Harris …

    I’ve not suggested that you avoid criticising Harris (indeed I’ve said the opposite). My concern is purely that of a tone troll, in that I consider the amount of rabid vitriol and personal attacks on Phayngula nowadays to be a pity (saying that as someone who has read this blog for 7 years or so).

    There are complaints above about the fact that PZ’s
    “very calm, polite disagreement” hasn’t led to any useful disussion. Well, why aren’t there useful discussion on Pharyngula these days? Why do most threads descend into vitrilic attacks?

    (By the way, don’t ask me to attempt a reasoned defense of Harris on this issue, since I’m not a supporter of him on this.)

    … because you believe this is merely a matter of differing interpretations of the same evidence?

    Despite the fact that I disagree with Sam Harris on this topic, I do think that he is acting in good faith in the sense of using his reason and evaluating the evidence as best he can as he sees it.

    It may be that his conclusions are wrong (all humans are imperfect at reasoning and evidence-evaluation), and I for one don’t support his conclusions, but I don’t agree with the usual assumption here that if someone disagrees with you, and stubbornly sticks to that disagreement, then they must be acting in bad faith and deserving of vitriolic attack. It is possible to be honestly wrong.

  429. PatrickG says

    My concern is purely that of a tone troll

    Your concern is noted. Tone troll elsewhere, please.

    I don’t agree with the usual assumption here that if someone disagrees with you, and stubbornly sticks to that disagreement, then they must be acting in bad faith and deserving of vitriolic attack

    I totally agree. It was very rude of Harris to call PZ a shepherd of internet trolls, describe his commentariat as one in which he is unfairly slandered without reason, and in general accuse this community of bad faith.

    So, we’re on the same page, right?

  430. says

    coelsblog:

    So, if you think that Harris has been soundly refuted (which he may well have been), then you can still accept that he is arguing (as he sees it) in good faith and (as he sees it) attempting to be rational and evaluate evidence.

    So, you admit he may have been soundly refuted (he has). So, making that assumption, if his argument has been soundly refuted, his torture apologetics has been found morally and pragmatically wanting, and he still continues to argue for it, then&helip; what? What are we supposed to believe?

    Once your argument has been demolished by logic and evidence, and you continue arguing it, you are no longer arguing in good faith.

    Sam Harris is no longer arguing in good faith. If he still supports torture, or still supports racial profiling, he is not arguing in good faith. Both torture and profiling have been demonstrated to be at best unreliable, and at worst, detrimental. Since they are not useful, that means there’s nothing to temper the fact that they are morally repugnant. So if Harris is still arguing so, he is not doing so in good faith.

    So please. Take your non-committal, non-thread-reading self out of here and find yourself a nice little thread where a nanny is actually wanted, needed, and appreciated.

    Because you’re not arguing in good faith either, for the same reasons.

  431. Pteryxx says

    coelsblog:

    Personally I wouldn’t regard gumby-quoting as a polite invitation to useful discussion.

    So it wasn’t polite ENOUGH for you… and your polite, reasoned response is to refuse to engage in useful discussion. Y’know, folks acting in good faith would say “That hurt and I don’t appreciate it” and then either go on with the useful discussion, or withdraw altogether from the useful discussion. Because the discussion’s more important than being offended, IF you were actually here to be useful.

    and fenne:

    I am not in the know about the entire torture discussion, every philosophical finesse. All I’ll say about it is that being absolutely, categorically against something, no matter what the situation is suspect to me.

    I’d say that stance alone demonstrates that you’re a sanctimonious asshole. (‘fucking’ optional.)

  432. consciousness razor says

    Personally I wouldn’t regard gumby-quoting as a polite invitation to useful discussion.

    Oh heavens, then by all means, let’s not have a useful discussion. You’re doing an excellent job so far.

  433. says

    coelsblog:

    There are complaints above about the fact that PZ’s
    “very calm, polite disagreement” hasn’t led to any useful disussion. Well, why aren’t there useful discussion on Pharyngula these days?

    Taking a cue from the Fox News playbook, huh? Take an assertion (perhaps make it yourself, like you did your first post), and then continue later as if it were fact.

    This was a very useful discussion. Harris’s “modest proposal” that torture might be moral under some circumstances was demonstrated (yet again!) to be completely empty of truth. Therefore, it is morally repugnant.

    Good, interesting discussions happen all the fucking time around here. Not every thread, sure, but in every thread concerning an interesting and important social topic.

    The fact you don’t find them useful isn’t our fault. It’s yours.

  434. fenne says

    “I’d say that stance alone demonstrates that you’re a sanctimonious asshole. (‘fucking’ optional.)”

    Pot, kettle.
    ‘Fuck you too pathetic douchebag’ obligatory.

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

    My concern is purely that of a tone troll, in that I consider the amount of rabid vitriol and personal attacks on Phayngula nowadays to be a pity

    I’ve been here likely as long as you have. The personal attacks are not in evidence, not from regulars, at least. If you are concerned, quote the evidence. Present it.

    Well, why aren’t there useful discussion on Pharyngula these days? Why do most threads descend into vitrilic attacks?

    I’ve seen discussion, reasoned and useful discussion, but I haven’t seen anyone who does not post here regularly or anyone who does not attest to be a regular reader or a lurker engage in any substantice conversation. You claim is again not in evidence. Your questions are loaded, coelsblog. Surely you can see that? Provide the evidence that there aren’t useful discussions and provide evidence that most, and define most, threads decend into vitriolic attacks.

    It is possible to be honestly wrong.

    I’ll give you that. I don’t think this is true of Harris, though. He makes an awful lot of money being evidentally wrong. I like to think he’s better than you paint him, better than just deluded, even if honestly so.

  436. PatrickG says

    @fenne

    Would you care to respond to the posts by Nigel and myself (and Thomathy, who posted while I was writing this) that didn’t use language that you apparently focus on?

    We made pretty much the same point, but we did it more politely, and we got ignored. I’m going to call that evidence that politeness doesn’t work in some cases without further data points.

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

    And ‘better’ is relative. Better than you paint him, because I do believe he’s fully capable of being aware and is aware that he is wrong. I don’t think he’s better for putting on a charade to protect his interests and doubling-down as he is. For that I think he’s a contemptible fraud.

  438. coelsblog says

    PatrickG

    I totally agree. It was very rude of Harris to call PZ a shepherd of internet trolls, describe his commentariat as one in which he is unfairly slandered without reason, and in general accuse this community of bad faith.

    Somewhat rude, yes.

    So, we’re on the same page, right?

    Excellent!

  439. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    What I find amusing is that the SH threads have been very free of vitriol, but strange non-regular sophists come here here, post evidenceless and contentless drivel, and then hide behind politeness and complaints of vitriol to prevent their evidenceless assertions from being *poof* dismissed as per Christopher Hitchens.

    It’s easy to have a logical and reasonably polite debate here. Say “this is what I believe, and this (link to evidence) is the evidence to back it up”. Reasoned and evidenced debate will happen with reasonable politeness.

    Compare this to “this is my unevidenced OPINION, and if you reply with any criticism, you are mean, vitriolic, and impolite”. The latter is what almost every new sophist has done. And they wonder why they aren’t taken seriously.

  440. coelsblog says

    nigelTheBold, Venomous Demonic Hater:

    Once your argument has been demolished by logic and evidence, and you continue arguing it, you are no longer arguing in good faith.

    Well, that’s the point, humans, even ones acting in good faith, can come to differing conclusions about whether an argument has been “demolished by logic and evidence”. Sam Harris can legitimately differ from your assessment while still being in good faith.

    Wouldn’t things be nice and easy if good-faith humans always arrived at the same conclusion! But they don’t, owing to biases etcetera.

  441. PatrickG says

    @ coelsblog

    Perfect! So now we can move on to the discussion of why I, at least, consider that Sam Harris is acting in bad faith. I refer you to my posts at 272, 279, 281, 283, 291, 299, 302, 313, 362, and 380.

    I don’t believe I used a single intemperate word in any of them. I particularly point you to 380, where I find Harris using the same misleading rhetoric and arguments by extreme hypothesis again and again, while continuing to insist that no one has adequately refuted them.

    On the basis of the arguments I have made in those posts, I argue that Harris argues in bad faith on the subjects of profiling and torture.

    To borrow from CWH:

    Your Thoughts?

  442. says

    Nerd of Redhead:

    It’s easy to have a logical and reasonably polite debate here. Say “this is what I believe, and this (link to evidence) is the evidence to back it up”. Reasoned and evidenced debate will happen with reasonable politeness.

    I submit Quinn, from upthread, as a shining example of this. There was no vitriol, no anger, just good discussion with Quinn.

    People come in acting like sanctimonious ass-monkeys, and expect us to respond as if they had just given us the greatest piece of wisdom we might ever hear.

    They seem a tad surprised when we dont’ genuflect appropriately.

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

    I should append to my statements, that I don’t know what Harris’s motives are, so read those as being contingent on his actual motives. I don’t know why he doubles down when he’s wrong. I do know that I don’t believe that he is acting honestly.

  444. coelsblog says

    Pteryxx:

    So it wasn’t polite ENOUGH for you… and your polite, reasoned response is to refuse to engage in useful discussion. Y’know, folks acting in good faith would say “That hurt and I don’t appreciate it” and then either go on with the useful discussion, or withdraw altogether from the useful discussion. Because the discussion’s more important than being offended, IF you were actually here to be useful.

    Sigh. I wasn’t offended. Why not? Because I don’t support the views that PZ attacked. So why would *I* be offended by it? Why would it hurt *me*?

    And if I’m not defending Harris’s views it is because I DON’T AGREE WITH THEM. (Clear enough for you? I had said that already.) Why would I defend views that I don’t agree with?

  445. PatrickG says

    @ nigel

    Another dynamic I might add is that people come in right in the middle of a raging trollfest with sincerely dishonest actors, look around at the verbal bullets, and conclude that anything they say will be treated similarly.

    This is not a tone troll, this is simply observing that some people can’t/don’t/won’t read for context and consider the presence of one ‘fuck’ in some comment taints the entire discussion. Which is patently false, as your example illustrates.

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

    coelsblog, Harris is not arguing in good faith. That’s the contention that certain people here are making. There are people here who disagree with you that Harris is arguing in good faith, that he is being deliberately dishonest in these discussion. That he knows that he is wrong and is not backing down. As nigelTheBold has said, he’s not acting in good faith.

    Your response to his statement makes no sense. It’s as though you ignore that part. How many other ways can it be said to you that there are people here, myself included, who just don’t believe that Harris is being honest? Harris is being dishonest. Harris is acting in bad faith. This is the contention. People here, myself included, disagree with you that he is acting in good faith. Need I repeat myself further?

  447. consciousness razor says

    Well, that’s the point, humans, even ones acting in good faith, can come to differing conclusions about whether an argument has been “demolished by logic and evidence”.

    They sure can. Teach the controversy!

  448. PatrickG says

    @coelsblog

    So ignore the people trying to engage you in defense of Harris’s position, and engage me! :)

    I advance:
    – Harris has a giant blind spot when it comes to Islam (yes, I think he is beingracist/xenophobic.
    – Harris makes extremely weak arguments when things touch on Islam
    – Harris uses shoddy reasoning and rhetorical tricks to defend himself in this area
    – Harris personalizes debate in this area, to an absurd level
    – Harris is either unable to see this, or is arguing in bad faith.

    Nothing to do with the content, everything to do with the way he’s comporting himself.

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

    Why would I defend views that I don’t agree with?

    Unknown. And you’re not. You are defending the idea that Harris is acting in good faith. What makes you think so? Because here there is room to further the discussion past Harris’s claims. Defend your position that he is acting in good faith. I don’t see that he is.

  450. says

    coelsblog:

    Well, that’s the point, humans, even ones acting in good faith, can come to differing conclusions about whether an argument has been “demolished by logic and evidence”. Sam Harris can legitimately differ from your assessment while still being in good faith.

    At that point, arguing in good faith requires addressing the logic and evidence. Sam Harris has not, to the best of my knowledge, ever addressed the fact that torture has not been proven effective nor reliable — in fact, what study has been done suggests exactly the opposite.

    So no. Harris has not argued in good faith, to the best of my knowledge. If you know of an instance where he has addressed this, please let me know, and I will reconsider his argument.

    Wouldn’t things be nice and easy if good-faith humans always arrived at the same conclusion! But they don’t, owing to biases etcetera.

    (Emphasis mine.)

    Ah! Excellent point.

    I wonder what bias Sam Harris has to ignore the fact that torture simply doesn’t work for his stated goals?

  451. coelsblog says

    Darwinist:

    The personal attacks are not in evidence, not from regulars, at least. If you are concerned, quote the evidence. Present it.

    Well 441 from Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle is typical.

    Provide the evidence that there aren’t useful discussions and provide evidence that most, and define most, threads decend into vitriolic attacks.

    Well, perhaps I should have said “many” rather than “most”, but there certainly are “many” Pharyngula threads full of personal attacks.

  452. says

    PatrickG:

    Another dynamic I might add is that people come in right in the middle of a raging trollfest with sincerely dishonest actors, look around at the verbal bullets, and conclude that anything they say will be treated similarly.

    That’s very true. I sometimes forget that people don’t always recognize as dishonest trolls people we’ve identified as dishonest trolls, simply from immediate context.

    That’s one of the good things about the new “Each thread is a reset” rule, in my opinion. We don’t have to explain to someone like coel that a person is being dishonest based on earlier interactions. We have evidence right in that thread.

  453. PatrickG says

    I hope coels doesn’t ignore me because I failed to close a parenthesis. I might actually agree with that position.

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

    PatrickG, besides which point you make at #483, we don’t really swear that much, do we? /sarcasm, because our use of language aside, it’s substantive. Heck, even most of our insults are substantive.

  455. vaiyt says

    @437:
    I do not want to “differ amicably” with people that are okay with torture.

    @444:
    This is not an “exploratory” topic. Torture is a real thing, and many people think it works in the real world. If Sam Harris was trying to make it a philosophical argument, he failed spectacularly by tying it to a specific real-life situation that has a whole lot more nuance than his mental masturbation calls for.

  456. coelsblog says

    Thomathy, Holy Trinity of Conflation: Atheist-Secularist-Darwinist

    there are people here, myself included, who just don’t believe that Harris is being honest

    OK, stance noted. Personally I’d regard that as less likely than that he is biased and unaware of his biases. What would be gain from being deliberately dishonest and disingenuous on this?

  457. PatrickG says

    @ Thomathy

    Oh fuck that bullshit noise. Fuck. And, um, vagina*.

    But yeah, totally agree. I see some truly epic descents into potty-mouthdom here and there, but (repeat after me);

    This. Is. THUNDER–, er Pharyngula!

    * Now banned from the MI state capitol building.

  458. Paul says

    Then you’re encrypting both the real and the fake files together as one file; analysis will show that the encrypted file contains significantly more information than was decrypted. It’s an obvious give-away.

    It would only show more space, not more “information” (unless your crypto is crap and it doesn’t appear to simply be random noise). The real killer is if they can perform differential analysis over time and determine that while files change in your “outer” volume, that free space where the “inner” volume resides is never used (this would require access to your drive at various points in time, with you using it in between).

    Of course, as your adversary has been familiar with hidden volumes for several years, as long as there is unaccounted for “noise” on your drive, the rubber hose cryptanalysis won’t stop.

  459. PatrickG says

    @ coels

    Page views? It’s what PZ is all about, after all.

    Seriously though, there’s a well-carved niche in our national discourse for people who adopt the “Even the liberal/progressive/atheist” position. It gets you invited on talk shows, you do radio interviews, you get a lot of attention, you sell more books, because controversy sells.

    For the reasons I stated in my posts above, I consider Harris to be at best willfully blind to weaknesses in his arguments and at worst deliberately courting the attention. I do find it amusing, if not ironic, that now he’s complaining about how his stance on torture/profiling is all anybody wants to talk about, when that’s what really vaulted him into a firestorm of national money dialogue at the beginning.

    I’m making a rather sweeping moral judgment here, and I’d much prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt. But he doesn’t make that easy (for me, at least).

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

    Coel, #441 is not a personal attack. It’s surely personal though, even if the comment is directed toward PZ and it is a legitimate response (though not the kind I would make) to your comment, which was just plain stupid considering the context in which you posted.

    If that’s the best you can do, I guess I’ll agree. I mean, boo-hoo. Okay, someone said you were a lying troll. If that’s the extent of the personal attack, you’re getting of rather lightly. Have you ever read a youtube comments thread? Those are personal attacks. As I’ve said, at least 441 was substantive. You can refute those claims. I might say you have, if not directly. But seriously, many things will be categorised as personal attacks of a grievous nature if 441 counts.

  461. coelsblog says

    PatrickG:

    So ignore the people trying to engage you in defense of Harris’s position, and engage me! :)

    OK!

    I advance:
    – Harris has a giant blind spot when it comes to Islam (yes, I think he is being racist/xenophobic.

    Possibly. I certainly didn’t agree with some of the stuff in End of Faith.

    - Harris makes extremely weak arguments when things touch on Islam

    Possibly, though can you give an example?

    - Harris is either unable to see this, or is arguing in bad faith.

    The former is possible, and for people in general is the more likely of the two. Human blind-spots tend to be quite common in such matters.

    Harris, it seems to me, tries to follow logic to conclusions, even if those conclusions are unpopular. In my opinion he often goes wrong when he does this (not just on this issue), however my reading of him is that he considers himself to be following logical argument honestly.

  462. says

    coelsblog:

    OK, stance noted. Personally I’d regard that as less likely than that he is biased and unaware of his biases. What would be gain from being deliberately dishonest and disingenuous on this?

    He staked out a controversial position. He did so quite firmly.

    While you might file this under bias, it could be that he’s personally invested in this. That doesn’t mean he isn’t being deliberately dishonest and disingenuous.

    But again, honest engagement requires he at least answer the core logical problem with his stance on torture, and not just dismiss it with a wave of his hand, as he has done before.

    His actions indicate he is being less-than-honest (or at least, less than open) about this. We’re not just judging him on his proposal, but on his reactions to others who have critiqued and rebutted it.