Two weasels wrestling in a tub of jello made with toxic waste


I actually listened to Sam Harris’s interview with Scott Adams — with only half an ear, admittedly, while I was doing other things. I will say something I find uncomfortable: I mostly agreed with Harris in the discussion. He was reluctantly (there’s a part near the beginning where he declares he’s a “centrist” and wants nothing to do with the left or right) dragged into conceding that he was strongly anti-Trump, and he was compelled to spend most of his time arguing vigorously against Adams. So that’s good at least (although they did seem to have a few moments of consonance on the topic of immigration).

You also get to listen to the Harris Evasion Tactic played over and over again against Harris — “that’s not what I was saying”, “it’s out of context”, and of course, “I’m seeing things much more deeply than you are”. Harris is clearly frustrated at points.

Unfortunately, you also have to listen to Adams, who is hopelessly obtuse and arrogant. Trump meant to do everything he’s done, he’s cleverer than you think, he’s really doing good for the country. He’s also constantly interrupting Harris, to an annoying degree. It’s also one of those events where you wonder why the hell anyone is having a conversation with this lunatic, kind of like how I feel every time yet another Trump proxy is brought on to a television news show. Aren’t we done with this crap yet?

Adams, of course, thinks he won the argument and is preemptively announcing that everyone is getting him wrong.

The Haters of Imaginary Events are out in force already. They imagine I said objectionable things during my conversation with Sam and they tweet about their hallucinations in anger. So far, no one has accurately stated my opinion before criticizing it. That’s a tell for cognitive dissonance. I’ll be making those monkeys dance today on my Twitter feed

Not recommended. They just kind of weasel around for over two hours, with Adams winning the weasely contest, but losing the reason contest. So…a tie?

Comments

  1. Dunc says

    If nobody ever really understands what you’re trying to say, it’s quite likely that the problem is that you’re a lousy communicator.

  2. jlions says

    Harris does weasel out of past statements, but he’s actually been consistently anti-Trump since the primaries

  3. Saad says

    PZ, #3

    Yes. He’s definitely clear about that.

    If only he could be as clear about other things.

    That’s a little unfair.

    He’s also as clear about Muslims, torturing, and profiling.

  4. emergence says

    How in the fuck can anyone listen to Trump speak and think he’s intelligent? He’s completely inarticulate and repeatedly demonstrates that he lacks a basic understanding of many political issues, and even of many basic systems of government.

    As for achieving anything and doing good things, most of his huge promises and major attempts at change have fallen flat on their faces, and a lot of his other supposed achievements are complete lies. How many times has he taken credit for the actions of a company that he had no part in now?

    How the hell can Adams have such a blinked view of Trump?

  5. says

    I’m a regular listener of Sam’s podcast, and I’ve been a fan of PZ since, oh, around 2008 or 2009 when I found this blog. This was my least favorite of Sam’s interviews. Adams doesn’t deserve his reputation as someone to take seriously. I also listened to him on the Joe Rogan podcast, and really, that’s too much of Scott Adams for anyone.

    I’ll try not to sound too much like a Harris fanboi, but I think PZ doesn’t characterize him accurately. If you can ignore the cacophony of meta discussion that surrounds Sam about people misrepresenting him and him whining about misrepresentations — regardless if there is any actual misrepresentation or not — then he is worth listening to or reading, even if you disagree sometimes. Sam’s position on security profiling, for example, I think is dead wrong. Point is, if you are a fan of PZ, like I am, you’d probably enjoy Harris as well, so don’t dismiss him based on PZ’s distaste. Dag, I guess it did come off kinda fanboish…

  6. KG says

    How the hell can Adams have such a blinked view of Trump?

    Because he’s about as stupid as Trump (it’s a close thing), and with the same delusions of genius.

  7. KG says

    Point is, if you are a fan of PZ, like I am, you’d probably enjoy Harris as well – Andrew Whitegiver@7

    That’s a fucking insult. No, I would not enjoy listen to a swollen-headed bigot, pseudo-sceptic and whiner.

  8. rietpluim says

    I don’t know about the US, but in The Netherlands the pathetic right always call themselves centrist. It’s a way to frame themselves as being factual instead of ideological.

  9. Saad says

    Andrew, #7

    If you can ignore the cacophony of meta discussion that surrounds Sam about people misrepresenting him and him whining about misrepresentations — regardless if there is any actual misrepresentation or not — then he is worth listening to or reading, even if you disagree sometimes.

    Oh, the whines of context and misrepresentation I can ignore. It’s the bigotry that’s the deal breaker.

    Point is, if you are a fan of PZ, like I am, you’d probably enjoy Harris as well, so don’t dismiss him based on PZ’s distaste.

    Spouting prejudice against marginalized people isn’t a matter of mere disagreement or distaste. It’s the end of engagement and discussion. Bigotry isn’t a valid matter of opinion to be debated. Debates and discussions are about valid things; they’re like chess moves. Arguing against marginalized people’s humanity is like knocking the board off the table. You’re no longer participating in the game and thus I’m not obligated to keep playing by the rules of debate/free speech/whatever the hell they wanna call it.

  10. says

    @Saad, 11

    As I mentioned, I’m a regular listener of Sam’s podcast. I don’t see (hear?) what you apparently do, so I dismiss your vacuous accusations of bigotry and of “Arguing against marginalized people’s humanity,” as simply more noise. That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

  11. rietpluim says

    Andrew Whitegiver Don’t be so pedantic. Harris’ bigotry is frequently debated on Pharyngula, with source and quotes and all. You may have missed it but Saad was there.

  12. says

    @Andrew, 12
    Well…you said earlier (7), “Sam’s position on security profiling, for example, I think is dead wrong.” So it would seem you DO hear what Saad does, but don’t regard Harris as bigoted for even suggesting profiling. That’s a problem. And it is also why I suspect many other fans of PZ (such as myself) will disagree with your earlier suggestion that we would “enjoy Harris as well.”

  13. says

    I’m sure I missed it. I read blogs through an aggregator, so I very rarely read any comments here. I did run a search through Pharyngula in my aggregator for “Harris” to see if I could find PZ himself providing an example of Harris being bigoted, but came up empty.

  14. says

    For what it’s worth, I extended my Pharyngula search for “Harris” farther back into history. I’m prepared to be persuaded, but there’s a good amount to sift through.

  15. specialffrog says

    @Andrew Whitegiver: As has been pointed out, what about his continued insistence on the necessity of racial profiling for security purposes? You agree he is wrong on this point and the evidence is not on his side. So why do you think he continues to hold this position?

  16. Vivec says

    Yeah, uh, I sincerely doubt I’ll enjoy the podcast that thinks profiling and torturing people like me is situationally morally allowable in the right circumstances.

  17. consciousness razor says

    For what it’s worth, I extended my Pharyngula search for “Harris” farther back into history. I’m prepared to be persuaded, but there’s a good amount to sift through.

    What the fuck are you searching for? People are giving an example in this thread. Let’s see which person it was who first brought it up. Here it is, from an “Andrew Whitegiver” if I’m not mistaken:

    Sam’s position on security profiling, for example, I think is dead wrong.

    People have already told you that’s what they’re talking about. Maybe you’re used to Harris making his points in the most convoluted way he can, only after a lot of leisurely bullshit about nothing. But this one’s easy. I think you could get around to it any time now.

  18. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I did run a search through Pharyngula in my aggregator for “Harris” to see if I could find PZ himself providing an example of Harris being bigoted, but came up empty.

    Harris’ Islamophobic profiling/torture stances are widely available, both here in in third party blogs, and his stance on women isn’t too good either.

  19. VolcanoMan says

    I disagree with Harris on a lot of things. Profiling. Torture. But unlike some on the left, I don’t see the need to call anyone who is for profiling, or who makes a *philosophical* argument that torture *may* be ethical in extreme circumstances, a bigot or racist. Because even though bigots and racists may hold similar positions, I see no evidence that they *got* to those positions in similar ways. Harris truly believes he’s being rational, and he constantly qualifies his positions on Muslims by saying that he’s talking about ALL Muslims, of ALL races, basically anyone who holds the Islamic mind-virus, and not just Arabs. And I believe him. One can hold illogical opinions without having bigoted reasons for holding them.

    I see Harris as basically a guy who’s in love with thought experiments. So he posits that IF torture worked, and IF it was the only way to stop a horrific attack, it may be ethical to use torture. Since torture DOESN’T work, I don’t envision any scenario where Harris’ ethical argument would actually result in real torture, a reality he acknowledges when saying that torture ought to be illegal everywhere. You can disagree with him on the ethics (as I do), but he’s not saying authorities should use torture. And you can say that he’s muddying the waters, making it easier for real assholes to get their regressive agendas more attention, to which I say, so freakin’ what? An individual is not accountable for all of the things people do with what they say in public. An individual is only accountable for their own actions.

    As for terrorism, I acknowledge the reality that a lot of terrorism doesn’t get called terrorism in the mass media; it seems you need to have brown skin for all media outlets to call you a terrorist. But I see a bit of the Dear Muslima attitude in those who criticize someone like Harris for focusing on Islam, for trying to bring attention to its extremists while paying less attention to white extremists. There are problems everywhere, and talking about one more than others doesn’t mean you don’t know about the other problems, or care about them. People can focus their efforts wherever they like. All religions suck. Islam sucks. And the people who are most harmed by what extremists do in the name of Islam are other Muslims (of different, or even the same sect, caught in the cross-fire), former Muslims, and those who are Muslims AND breaking some rule in Islam (like living as a gay person in Iran or Chechnya). Harris recognizes this, says it all the time. To focus on Islam is not to be bigoted, it is to recognize a serious problem and be active in finding solutions to that problem. And Harris may talk a lot about Islam now, but he wrote a whole book against American Christianity. This isn’t a person who doesn’t see the harm of all religion.

    There is no room for nuance anymore in our highly-politicized culture – people are fighting ideological warfare. I understand the impulse to demand ideological purity, but people should consider the reasons someone disagrees with them before labelling them as “other” (bigot, racist, right-wing ideologue). I like hearing what Harris has to say on many issues because he tries to start from a neutral point of view. And he reaches similar conclusions to me on many issues, but certainly not all. But I especially like it when I hear him say something that I disagree with because it forces me to come up with reasons, evidence, arguments that deal with each of his points in opposition. It makes me a better debater when I deal with true bigots, people who couch regressive attitudes in intellectual mumbo-jumbo. This is useful.

    I have not listened to the Adams podcast yet because I loathe Adams, I’ve heard all of the bullshit that he’s going to repeat on Waking Up many times before, and like PZ, I find that I would agree with Harris almost all the time. This podcast, I think, was planned by Harris to attract people who support Trump, and dismantle the arguments they use in that support, maybe changing some minds in the process. That’s a bit idealistic, but I actually think Harris is an idealist most of the time. I’m a realist, and honestly, while this may chip away at walls built to deflect contrary information, I don’t think it will have that much positive effect.

  20. Vivec says

    Everything of value that Harris has said can be gotten from someown that wouldn’t hypothetically be alright with torturing or profiling my family.

  21. consciousness razor says

    But unlike some on the left, I don’t see the need to call anyone who is for profiling, or who makes a *philosophical* argument that torture *may* be ethical in extreme circumstances, a bigot or racist.

    You emphasized philosophical for some reason. That’s making any argument whatsoever, if it has anything to do with ethics, because it is then by definition philosophical. I’m not sure what work you think it’s doing in the sentence.

    Perhaps it’s supposed to mean “don’t take this seriously”…? Or does it mean “I get to argue whatever I want, aimlessly, no matter what harm it causes anyone else and without consequences to myself”? Maybe if such a rarefied and elaborately-decorated argument is made, we can’t or shouldn’t draw any conclusions about the person who made it? Or what do you think we can really take away, from a person who’s “in love with thought experiments”? Must we love those harmless little thoughts too, or may we be serious about them and criticize what he’s actually doing with them?

    I think anybody who argues that torture is good (at least sometimes) is pro-torture (at least sometimes). And if they’re arguing for racial profiling, then there are other words for it but they are a racist. If their aimless consequence-free philosophical worries boil down to torturing brown people, in the wake of a horrible event like 9/11, then of course that’s obviously motivated by racism too.

    Because even though bigots and racists may hold similar positions, I see no evidence that they *got* to those positions in similar ways. Harris truly believes he’s being rational,

    Is it necessary that they don’t truly think they’re being rational?

    and he constantly qualifies his positions on Muslims

    You mean he prevaricates. Qualifying is different.

    He has “positions on Muslims” which are not bigoted in any sense. Hmm…. Do you have any “positions” on people who belong to predominantly-black churches? What kind of position would that be, if you did? There’s not much I could say about that entire category of people, and whatever it might be, it’s not going to amount to “a position” of any significance, which I will somehow argue for publicly.

    by saying that he’s talking about ALL Muslims, of ALL races, basically anyone who holds the Islamic mind-virus, and not just Arabs.

    But his position on racial profiling is that we should profile people who “look” Muslim. Dumb, skittish, tree-hugging liberals like me are just afraid of admitting that it’s plain old common sense that we should do things like that. How do you reconcile that position with this “Muslim position,” whatever that’s supposed to be about?

    Besides, as Harris knows perfectly well, there are a lot of mind-viruses going around. Seems like he is being a little selective about which racial groups are “infected” with one of those viruses, not so much about the others. Does he actually care more (if you’re really going to buy any of your bullshit) about the plight of Muslims to this kind of mind-plague than he does about other groups, and if so why? If this is the kind of worry you have and the kind of rhetoric you’re going to use, why wouldn’t you say you’re worried about all people everywhere, regardless of which particular mind-virus they’ve got? The simple denial of “no, no, not just Arabs” doesn’t seem like an appropriate response here.

    And I believe him. One can hold illogical opinions without having bigoted reasons for holding them.

    But he “truly believes he’s being rational.” So we’ve got that he believe (truly) that he’s rational, in fact he’s truly not rational, others who are bigots don’t think that about themselves, and in your considered opinion he may not be bigoted because that (perhaps remote) possibility is at least conceivable to you. Somehow. We could argue about it, Philosophically.

    Not a great start.

  22. VolcanoMan says

    I dunno. I mean, it’s totally impossible to tell if someone’s a Muslim just by looking at them. And if people start profiling brown people, real extremist groups will just recruit white people who don’t look like a stereotypical Muslim, to carry out attacks. So Harris is wrong. I already said I thought he was wrong on this. I don’t follow his reasoning, and don’t think he has made a good argument.

    I suppose there’s a point at which you have to look at the effect a statement or belief has in the wild, and if it’s bad, it shouldn’t matter how the person who let it loose came to hold it. But my argument is just that – attack the argument as flawed, not Harris the person, who made the dumb argument. Fight the battle vs. ideas, not people. Because people are complicated, and can be right about certain things and wrong about other things, and writing them off as somehow bad people is counterproductive when they agree with you on some issues. Argue the issues.

    I can, however, understand if someone who is actually marginalized looks at a statement like the one I just made and says, “YOU can say that because YOU have privilege, you will never be profiled, you will never be tortured. It is entirely appropriate to write people off when they are okay with taking away the civil liberties of people who look like me”. I get that. Which is why I try to ensure that I always challenge bad beliefs and ideas, ones that are harmful to those without privilege, and don’t let people like Harris get away with saying things, even in ignorance, that if implemented would be incredibly detrimental and ineffective to boot. My privilege allows me to listen to him and enjoy some of what he says, because I will never be harmed by the real-world results of the idiotic things he says.

  23. specialffrog says

    VolcanoMan: So if someone thinks their bigotry is rational it doesn’t count as bigotry?

  24. VolcanoMan says

    To me, bigotry implies irrational hatred. But that’s not to say that someone whose opinions that are indistinguishable from a true hater’s, but which come from a place of ignorance and/or an inability to see an issue clearly should be let off the hook. I can sit here and say challenge the ideas without writing off the person, and like I said, that’s my privilege speaking. But I have decided that I have no issue with someone who is really harmed by such opinions writing Harris off as a bigot. Still, part of me thinks we need a better word for people who are just cluelessly harmful.

  25. says

    @VolcanoMan
    You have some problems.
    1) Racism is a subset of bigotry, which has to do with irrational belief and behavior. If you wish to criticize a claim of bigotry you should be ready to quote the claim.

    Also I want to see if I can wrestle you into showing how treating all Muslims as a threat is rational.
    2) Changing society to deal with bigotry requires the criticism of authority figures. That will involve bigoted activity by supporters, again implicitly. It has to do with the history of being a dominant social group, the behaviors have means of propagation and maintenance, they need to be addressed in a pragmatic sense.

    3) The people here tend to talk about the effects of beliefs in the wild, that’s part of socially addressing bigotry. Reformulate your approach. You don’t like our responses to those beliefs in the wild, unless you think you have Harris trapped in a lab or something. He’s in the wild, we’re in the wild.

    2) Do you really believe that you should not be accountable for all of your actions on the internet? That is the natural assumption to make when you respond to our criticism of Harris in a social appeal.

    Because I can use our innate reciprocity to make you regret that very much. When you say “And you can say that he’s muddying the waters, making it easier for real assholes to get their regressive agendas more attention, to which I say, so freakin’ what?”, I say you tell me “what”. You know that you used a metaphor.

    Unpack the reality now. At the moment I am teasing, but I do enjoy mirroring people with the consequences of their beliefs, since social criticism involves criticizing people with minds that generate the beliefs and behaviors through bigoted manner of thought based on that belief. So without even talking about Harris I can say, no we can’t just address the specific bigoted things, we must also name the bigots so a social response to bigotry can happen.

    3) You typed “But I see a bit of the Dear Muslima attitude in those who criticize someone like Harris for focusing on Islam, for trying to bring attention to its extremists while paying less attention to white extremists.”
    That’s the reflection of it, you are experiencing the criticism of a beloved authority figure. As a fellow member of the chromatically challenged I will point out that when a dominant social group is socially challenged on a matter of bigotry the responses be identical to rationally made responses. The white guy is affecting the brown people and Muslim people here.
    The fallacy is inherently about relative privation between people of [different social position]. To affect social change requires public criticism of authority figures.

    4) Polarization in language is an inherent part of social conflict as a general feature. This is a social conflict. So just complaining about polarization is like complaining about rain, it’s an inherent part of our social emotional processes. Besides, you just claimed that someone did not consider Harris’s reasons before criticizing them. In what universe are these words is that are not going to be felt as an increase of polarity? Stop complaining about the generalality instead of the reality.
    Besides, how the fuck does our criticism of Harris prevent you from consuming Harris’s works? You are the one that just failed to mention the irrational labeling of Harris as a bigot. Are we supposed to ceremonially recite the list of offenses with every criticism? But sure, let the victims of the bigotry do more work. You be you. I’ll be me. They will be them.

    5) So how do you functionally deal with bigoted idealists?
    Yeah, I know. Rhetorical question, not specific problem I have with the words your brain generates as it moves forward in time. But at least I’m honest about just how subtle conflict really is. You are effectively pressuring people who are trying to functionally deal with bigotry and utterly omitting the reality of just how we can realistically deal with people who have more control of historically established social structure.

    If it helps you can pretend I’m an abstract, you seemed to think that would work with people earlier.

  26. says

    Oops! I missed something.
    “…when a dominant social group is socially challenged on a matter of bigotry the responses be identical to rationally made responses in form. The white guy is affecting the brown people and Muslim people here.”

  27. says

    Not just hatred. Positive racism is a thing for a reason. Why is xenonausea not a thing? You know it’s in there. Because we don’t take bigotry seriously as a society. It’s an error of thought. That takes effort on multiple levels to deal with. Positive ones too, but I know of none that are effective in a memetic sense at this point in history so until someone offers me a better tool…

  28. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    To me, bigotry implies irrational hatred.

    Says an irrational person. Any “reason” to be a bigot that is accepted without looking at refuting evidence is irrational. Where is the real evidence to be more scared of Muslims than Xians with guns??? I’m scared of the Xians, as they are here, and they are armed, and they kill people. Time for some self-reflectiion.

  29. says

    Bigotry is irrational, yes.
    But:
    Having this irrational hatred
    has!
    never!
    STOPPED!
    ANYONE!
    from proclaiming that they are the most rational being in the land.

    I mean come on. The entire self proclaimed “rational” Youtube scene is a bunch of horrible people in every possible shade of bigotry. Sam Harris calling himself and his stance rational does mean nothing at all.

  30. consciousness razor says

    VolcanoMan:

    Still, part of me thinks we need a better word for people who are just cluelessly harmful.

    “Republicans” is already reserved for that. But seriously, I think you mean a “friendlier” word, one that will make such people feel better about what they’re doing, not a “better” word in the sense of being appropriate and having the right effect. We certainly don’t need it, but why would you want that?

    We apparently don’t have the same ideas about what racism is like. Do you know anybody who fits the bill? Their ideas and actions “come from a place of ignorance and/or an inability to see an issue clearly.” I think that’s a decent description of racism. But you said that doesn’t characterize people doing racist shit, I guess because you don’t see a “true hater” in that.

    So, let’s see: people engaging in actual racism do really know what they’re talking about and see the issues clearly. Yeah, they have it all figured out, they are clued in to what’s really going on, they get it, they understand the issues. No… wait, uh… That went off the rails pretty fast, didn’t it?

    And I guess the true hate comes from … I don’t know … the bad place where bad things come from. You didn’t actually offer any explanation of that, just claimed it wasn’t something else. Why was that idea already off the table, that hate comes from a place of ignorance, etc.? Don’t people become hateful for reasons like that? As I said, that seems to fit with my experience pretty well, and likewise I’ve seen plenty of people turn around once they got a little real knowledge (replacing the racist ignorance) about groups of people who are different from them. If you think that’s not at least headed in the right direction, what do you think would be a better sort of explanation for it?

  31. KG says

    PZM@31,

    But Andrew Whitegiver has already told us that Harris isn’t being bigoted in his support for racial profiling, because he (Harris) really believes he isn’t. So you didn’t provide an example of him being bigoted! As long as Harris doesn’t actually say “I have an irrational hatred for people who look as if they might be Muslim”, it’s all good, and we should sit back and enjoy his thought experiments.

  32. Saad says

    Andrew, #12

    As I mentioned, I’m a regular listener of Sam’s podcast. I don’t see (hear?) what you apparently do, so I dismiss your vacuous accusations of bigotry and of “Arguing against marginalized people’s humanity,” as simply more noise. That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

    I’m not going to quote him over and over for people like you. It’s not some obscure ambiguous statements. I’m clearly talking about his views of Muslims. He says it very clearly and says it multiple times. If you are a regular follower of Harris, you’ve seen/heard them already. You just happen to agree with it.

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