Yesterday, I brought on the wrath of the defenders of Slippery Sam. Sam Harris has an amazing talent: he can say the most awful things, and a horde of helpful apologists will rise up in righteous fury and simultaneously insist that he didn’t really say that, and yeah, he said that, but it only makes sense. And they have a battery of excuses that boil down to another contradiction: you must parse his words very carefully, one by one, and yet also his words must be understood in their greater context. They actually have a lot in common with radical Islamists: the sacred holy texts can only be understood in their original language, and the appropriate way to study them is by rote memorization.
So, in a report literally titled racial profiling, we’re told that it’s not about racial profiling at all; the new line is that it’s about
anti-profiling, that we should be able to look at a group of people and easily rule out on appearance alone a whole bunch of individuals and make security so much easier. So people who look like grandmas and little old Asian ladies and five year old Scandinavian girls are all perfectly safe, would never harm a fly, and we should just wave them through the lines at the security gates. We should just screen youngish to middle-aged men, because old people and women and children are harmless.
See? He’s not about racism at all, it’s all about ageism and sexism. Nothing to see here, folks.
But at the same time, it’s a lie. Practically the first thing he says is this:
We should be honest. We’re looking for suicidal jihadists.
anti-profiling at all, whatever that is. He’s got some sort of vaguely undefined search image in his head for what we ought to be looking, and he’s not very clear on what it is, except that it’s
suicidal jihadists, and not Norwegian grandmas. I think it’s something like that guy on the right. I quite agree that if a wild-eyed long-bearded fellow with an AK-47 and an explosive belt shows up at the airport, you shouldn’t let him on the plane. But then, the 9/11 hijackers showed up at the airport clean shaven, nicely dressed in Western clothing, and acted professionally to get aboard. We actually aren’t looking for mad boogey men — we’re looking for rational, determined human beings with evil plans. I don’t know what they look like. I’d rather the people in charge of my safety did not have narrow preconceptions about what they look like. Slippery Sam has bigoted ideas about what they look like, and wants that implemented as policy.
In his earlier defense of profiling, he was quite clear on who he wanted singled out for special attention.
We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it.
He’s very big on declaring his honesty, except when someone calls him on it, and then the familiar dodges begin.
I’m also seeing this from his defenders. How can you simultaneously say that no, this isn’t about targeting Muslims for special screening, but hey, haven’t you noticed that all the terrorism in the world is caused by Muslims? I just want to sit them all down in a special room that simply plays back their own words at them, and let them argue forever.
Their big gotcha right now is that Slippery Sam said this:
If Jerry Seinfeld goes through the airport and gets the same search as someone who looks like Osama Bin Laden does, that’s a crazy misuse of resources.
In the context (oh, that again — how dare I listen to the whole damn interview?) of a discussion of why airports need to profile people who look Muslim, I heard this as yet more special pleading for giving one class of people a pass, while holding up another class of people. It turns out that no, he literally meant Jerry Seinfeld specifically, in comparison with people who look like Osama Bin Laden generally. His whole argument is that celebrities like Jerry Seinfeld and Betty White shouldn’t be treated to the same security measures as the common people, because it’s a drain on resources.
We’ve got $10 worth of attention. If you spend a dollar here, you’ve got nine to spend elsewhere.
I had no idea such a substantial fraction of our Homeland Security budget was being thrown away on useless searches of famous celebrities, and that so much of my time standing in line was wasted because Jerry Seinfeld was getting the same treatment as the thousand other people in line.
I’m sorry, Defenders of Slippery Sam, but if that’s seriously your argument, you’ve lost it. It makes no sense. It represents a total lack of perspective on the problem. Celebrities are not a major drain on security, and I can’t imagine how you or Slippery Sam propose to deal with it: a general dictum to screeners to give preferential treatment to people who look famous? A specific list of famous people who should be allowed to cut in line? I look forward to the day when I arrive at the airport and a Homeland Security flunky has to check their list to see if I’m Tom Cruise or Betty White. That’ll save money and time, I’m sure. I’m also going to have to approve giving carte blanche to movie stars and comedians, because Lord knows every one of them is rational and stable.
Once again, the inconsistencies and pure stupidity of Sam Harris’s anti-Muslim bigotry have led his devotees to plunge even deeper into ridiculous and bogus ‘interpretations’ to support him.
I like Adam Lee’s succinct summary of the Harris problem: “That’s precisely the problem with what Harris said: either it’s racist, or it’s meaningless.”
That's precisely the problem with what Harris said: either it's racist, or it's meaningless.
— Adam Lee (@DaylightAtheism) September 15, 2015
I’m going with racist and meaningless.