Harris’s devious rhetoric dissected


Uh-oh. Brace yourself for waves of outrage and rationalizations from Sam Harris and his fan boys. Eli Massey and Nathan Robinson tackle Sam Harris, and oy, it is not gentle. One quick sample:

Each time Harris said something about Islam that created outrage, he had a defense prepared. When he wondered why anybody would want any more “fucking Muslims,” he was merely playing “Devil’s advocate.” When he said that airport security should profile “Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it,” he was simply demanding acknowledgment that a 22-year old Syrian man was objectively more likely to engage in terrorism than a 90-year-old Iowan grandmother. (Harris also said that he wasn’t advocating that only Muslims should be profiled, and that people with his own demographic characteristics should also be given extra scrutiny.) And when he suggested that if an avowedly suicidal Islamist government achieved long-range nuclear weapons capability, “the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own,” he was simply referring to a hypothetical situation and not in any way suggesting nuking the cities of actually-existing Muslims.[6]

It’s not necessary to use “Islamophobia” or the r-word in order to conclude that Harris was doing something both disturbing and irrational here. As James Croft of Patheos noted, Harris would follow a common pattern when talking about Islam: (1) Say something that sounds deeply extreme and bigoted. (2) Carefully build in a qualification that makes it possible to deny that the statement is literally bigoted. (3) When audiences react with predictable horror, point to the qualification in order to insist the audience must be stupid and irrational. How can you be upset with him for merely playing Devil’s Advocate? How can you be upset with him for advocating profiling, when he also said that he himself should be profiled? How can you object, unless your “tolerance” is downright pathological, to the idea that it would be legitimate to destroy a country that was bent on destroying yours?

Yeah, that’s the man. He is incapable of speaking plainly because he knows his ideas are patently ugly, so he’s got to wrap them up in layers of plausible denial. I’ve just given up on him, because wading through glop to get to the heart of his arguments, which he’ll always deny, just isn’t worth it anymore.

If only he could show the slightest glimmering of change and growth in response to criticisms…but no, instead he has a cuddle-party with his fellow right-leaning dickheads to reassure each other they’re right and everyone else is a big meanie.

Comments

  1. petesh says

    No, you’re the meanie!

    Anyhoo, they cite Chomsky so they are obviously irrational. [No, I am not serious.] It’s a very long piece, thus risking tl;dr responses, and I am skeptical that it will have the impact it should, but good for them.

  2. petesh says

    Just to add: It’s a bit sad that I felt I had to note that an obviously sarcastic comment was not serious, but this post may attract some Harris fans.

  3. erik333 says

    First they quote harris saying “..whats the fucking point of having more muslims..”, then they reference that later as him saying “fucking muslims”? seems sneakily devious…

  4. jrkrideau says

    Just out of pure curiosity, does Harris actually know anything about Islam other than what he learnt off the back of a cornflake box?

  5. lemurcatta says

    Harris rarely even talks about this subject anymore. He has made a few silly statements in the past, but its curious to me how people love to pop up and talk about the Islamophobia thing again and again. I highly highly doubt Sam “knows his ideas are patently ugly” ; he talks all the time (fairly convincingly) that all he has said about religion has been a huge opportunity cost for him when he wants to talk about the neuroscience, conciseness, meditation stuff. I guess it comes down to what/who you believe.I believe him.

  6. kurt1 says

    Anyhoo, they cite Chomsky so they are obviously irrational. [No, I am not serious.]

    Where does that trope come from? Are there people who claim Chomsky is irrational?

    Great article, Marcus Ranum over at Stderr also had a good piece dissecting Harris style of arguing a while back.

  7. kurt1 says

    @5 lemurcatta
    There are still hordes of his fans out there, justifying their support for racist ideas and policies by pointing to Harris all the time. He never took any of that shit back. Just like the Murray interview he did, he just doubles down and never admits to being wrong on anything and wonders why all those irrational people think he’s a racist.

  8. Saad says

    lemurcatta, #5

    Harris rarely even talks about this subject anymore.

    So? He never corrected himself, apologized, or took it back.

    He has made a few silly statements in the past, but its curious to me how people love to pop up and talk about the Islamophobia thing again and again.

    Again, because he never corrected himself or apologized.

    What’s your objection to people bringing up his anti-Muslim bigotry?

  9. screechymonkey says

    Harris’ book The Moral Landscape had a similar problem. He would appear to make some rather astonishing claim that sure sounded like he was deriving an “ought” from an “is,” but then would backtrack and caveat it to the point where he wasn’t really making much of a point at all.

    He seems to be fond of this motte-and-bailey strategy: get attention and fans for making dramatic claims, but then retreat to a watered-down version. Hardly becoming of a bold independent dark web thought leader or whatever he’s supposed to be.

  10. says

    Harris’ book The Moral Landscape had a similar problem. He would appear to make some rather astonishing claim that sure sounded like he was deriving an “ought” from an “is,” but then would backtrack and caveat it to the point where he wasn’t really making much of a point at all.

    It’s worth reminding people that The Moral Landscape was in fact Sam Harris’ PhD thesis. I’m rather suspicious of a neuroscience PhD thesis that could be transformed into a popular book, whose flaws are apparent even to casual readers.

  11. lemurcatta says

    @ Saad

    I don’t agree that Harris harbors anti-muslim bigotry, but that is a different discussion. So that is part of my objection. A bigger objection is that it just seems lazy to pump out another article on this subject.

  12. kurt1 says

    I don’t agree that Harris harbors anti-muslim bigotry, but that is a different discussion.

    Thats a very convenient statement: I think you are all wrong, but I wont tell you why. Please explain, I’m curious.

    So that is part of my objection. A bigger objection is that it just seems lazy to pump out another article on this subject.

    Nobody is forcing you to read it. What other people do with their time should not be your concern.

  13. hemidactylus says

    If Harris stuck to conducting podcasts with Max Tegmark and Rebecca Goldstein or with Dan Dennett there would be less of a problem. But he doesn’t and there is a problem. He seems to revel in contentiousness as a marketing strategy to get more people listening (even hate listening is traffic).

    His Moral Landscape rubbed me the wrong way (his PhD thesis???), but inspired me to concoct “Harris’ firewall” as a metaphor for how is and ought may relate and I fall back to the sufficiency threshold, facts are often necessary but insufficient to get into values talk. I’ve read this idea separately on Ophelia’s blog and in a paper by Owen Flanagan. Pretty much all Hume meant is that you cannot simply deduce. He then went on to mix the nonoverlapping domains, no? A minor aside that launched worldwide metaethical ink flood?

    Harris’s fMRI tube eudaimonia is farcical, as it for instance ignores Ross’s prima facie duties (which supersede Moore’s Platonic idealism of making Good a sacred word). He also seems to equate anyone who would apply Hume’s guillotine to some relativist who cannot decry FGM or burqas. If you disagree with Sam you are OK with such things? Hume’s guillotine is his bugbear. But both The Guillotine and Moore’s Naturalistic Fallacy are a bit overdone, in a similar manner as Dunning-Kruger being weaponized in online discussion. They shut it down.

    Facts are related to values all the time. Tests and performance evaluations do it. In the pragmatic world of everyday toss and tumble “ought” and “Good” are routinely profaned. There is nothing in the universe that necessitates PZ writing up a biology test a certain way (though it may be foretold in the microwave background radiation if you look close enough), but something factual about the world goes into him setting standards of expectation for student performance. And resulting test scores go into evaluations of where students stand. Passing or failing have some prescriptive or normative input beforehand, but after all is said and done performance measures carry the day.

  14. says

    @lemurcatta:

    I don’t agree that Harris harbors anti-muslim bigotry, but that is a different discussion. So that is part of my objection. A bigger objection is that it just seems lazy to pump out another article on this subject.

    If your critique is that there exist one or more instances of someone else on the internet saying something substantially similar, and that as a result one can be characterized as lazy and one’s words are a waste of time, and that as a result of that, the writer’s behavior is irrational (if you accept the premise that wasting time is irrational), which all seem to be the point of what you’re saying, then why the fuck are you saying things like

    I don’t agree that Harris harbors anti-muslim bigotry

    I mean, by your own argument, aren’t you engaging in behavior to which your own objection applies? Or do you think that no one has ever said,

    I don’t agree that Harris harbors anti-muslim bigotry

    What should we conclude? That you’re lazy? That you’re irrational? What, precisely?

  15. says

    When I did my line-by-line dissection of Harris I was surprised by how badly he justifies his biases. He doesn’t set up an escape at all – he just makes flat-out misstatements like equating all Palestinians or, in fact, all muslims to Hamas! I don’t think he’s clever enough to be allowing himself rhetorical outs; he’s just another ideologue shitlord with an axe to grind, riding skepticism to create a frisson that means payday.

  16. says

    don’t agree that Harris harbors anti-muslim bigotry, but that is a different discussion.

    It is. And if he didn’t harbor anti-muslim bigotry why does he attempt repeatedly to equate Hamas with all of islam, and then equate Hamas to terrorism?

    I went to the trouble to think about Sam Harris for you [stderr] so you can save yourself the effort. If you actually listen to what Harris says it’s pretty obvious that he’s profoundly dishonest about islam.

  17. says

    #11: WHAT? I did not know that. Not only is it problematic that he could turn a thesis into a popular book, but that ain’t neuroscience. At all. You could make an argument that it’s lazy philosophy, but not neurosci.

  18. says

    I should walk that back a bit. The Moral Landscape is based on his PhD thesis, and Sam Harris says so himself. For all I know, when he transformed it into a book, he took out all the scientific parts. Hard to say, without journal access (the link above is only to a preview). A comparison of the table of contents suggests that he removed chapters discussing consciousness and the split brain.

  19. dontlikeusernames says

    On a rather small point…

    I’m actually a fan of the whole Devil’s Advocate thing, but you kind of have to say that up front… otherwise it just becomes a lazy way to “reason” without reasoning. “Oh, I was just playing Devil’s advocate!” could be used to deflect almost anything just in case you don’t have an actual argument. Listeners will of course feel emboldened to think that the argument is right because you’ve just “put it out there”. It’s almost like a rhetorical decide to agree-without-agreeing. (Kind of like ‘agree to disagree’ come to think of it…)

    (Sorry, I overuse quotation marks and parentheticals.)

  20. raven says

    I don’t agree that Harris harbors anti-muslim bigotry,

    You are wrong.

    …but that is a different discussion.

    No it isn’t. It’s the topic of PZ’s blog post.

    So that is part of my objection.

    Who cares.
    At best you are wildly wrong, at worst you are lying.

    I read his book, The End of Faith. Or tried to. Something rare for me happened.
    I got halfway through, decided life was too short , and tossed it.
    Sam Harris spends a huge amount of time Muslim bashing.
    I can’t even say that it is exactly wrong.
    But it isn’t our problem!!!

    I don’t live in a Muslim country, I live in the USA.
    We have our own version of radical Muslims, the fundie xians, who are every bit as awful, far more powerful, and a whole lot closer to where I live.
    Harris has supported pointless torture, racial profiling, and Muslim bashing again and again.
    The fact that he hasn’t changed his mind or walked any of that back says loudly that he is exactly what he appears to be.
    An Islamophobe, bigot, alt right conperson and nonintellectual pretending to be a thinker.

  21. hemidactylus says

    PZ, being absurdly facetious one could collapse moral philosophy into neuroscience. Isn’t that related to a criticism of Harris in that he loosens the connotation of science to shoehorn ethics in?

    I am recovering from a double face palm jaw drop based on Siggy’s revelation. Wow.

    Quoting Harris from The Moral Landscape: “I am convinced that every appearance of terms like “metaethics,” “deontology,” “noncognitivism,” “antirealism,” “emotivism,” etc., directly increases the amount of boredom in the universe…Of course, some discussion of philosophy will be unavoidable, but my approach is to generally make an end run around many of the views and conceptual distinctions that make academic discussions of human values so inaccessible.” So don’t expect a deep and enriching discussion beyond his polemics? And such polemics include: “There are very practical concerns that follow from the glib idea that anyone is free to value anything—the most consequential being that it is precisely what allows highly educated, secular, and otherwise well-intentioned people to pause thoughtfully, and often interminably, before condemning practices like compulsory veiling, genital excision, bride burning, forced marriage, and the other cheerful products of alternative “morality” found elsewhere in the world. Fanciers of Hume’s is/ought distinction never seem to realize what the stakes are, and they do not see how abject failures of compassion are enabled by this intellectual “tolerance” of moral difference.” Really? Are you forcing words in mouths of anyone drawing a distinction between is and ought? Constructs a strawman so extreme that it poisons the discussion.

    And the finale: “The categorical distinction between facts and values has opened a sinkhole beneath secular liberalism—leading to moral relativism and masochistic depths of political correctness.”

    Were these passages in the PhD thesis?

  22. raven says

    …he (Sam Harris) just makes flat-out misstatements like equating all Palestinians or, in fact, all Muslims to Hamas!

    What an idiot.

    In 2009, there were an estimated 50,000 Christians in the Palestinian territories, mostly in the West Bank, with about 3,000 in the Gaza Strip. Of the total Christian population of 154,000 in Israel, about 80% are designated as Arabs, many of whom self-identify as Palestinian.
    Palestinian Christians – Wikipedia

    and

    Palestinian Authority calls on Hamas to hand over Gaza ‘all at once …
    https://www.jpost.com/…/Palestinian-Authority-calls-on-Hamas-to-hand-over-Gaza-all…
    Mar 20, 2018 – Hamas has controlled Gaza since ousting the PA in 2007 from the territory. … The Palestinian Authority government on Tuesday called on Hamas to

    Hamas and the other Palestinians, the PA, hate each other and have fought armed battles before.

    This is one of many reasons why I pay no attention to Sam Harris.
    It’s just a complete waste of time.
    Not only does Hamas not speak for all Palestinians, but not all Palestinians are even Muslim.
    There are a fair number of Arab…xians.

  23. kurt1 says

    @24 hemidactylus

    Were these passages in the PhD thesis?

    Page 13-14 “Facts and Values”:

    While Hume’s is/ought distinction has always had its detractors,6 it has led most philosophers and scientists to assume that science will never have anything prescriptive to say on the subject of human values.
    [… something about Moore and Popper …]
    The combined effect of such arguments has been to create a firewall between facts and values in intellectual discourse.7 While psychologists and neuroscientists now routinely publish descriptive work on human happiness, positive emotions, and morality, they rarely draw normative conclusions about how human beings ought to think or behave in light of their findings. In fact, it seems to be generally considered intellectually disreputable, even vaguely authoritarian, for a scientist to suggest that his or her work offers some guidance about how human beings should live.

  24. hemidactylus says

    @27- kurt1

    His reference to Popper may be from Open Society. Too lazy to skim Popper right now but memory has it he drew a natural vs conventional distinction. In a nutshell physics says you cannot exceed the speed of light. Your local or state officials dictate local speed limits.

    IMO, germane to facts/values, physics and science on crash test dummies influence laws on speed limits, and my personal preference for wearing a seat belt. And I drive on the normative side of highway because I assume the factuality of head on collisions being gruesome. And I value living and not killing others.

  25. consciousness razor says

    His Moral Landscape rubbed me the wrong way (his PhD thesis???), but inspired me to concoct “Harris’ firewall” as a metaphor for how is and ought may relate and I fall back to the sufficiency threshold, facts are often necessary but insufficient to get into values talk. I’ve read this idea separately on Ophelia’s blog and in a paper by Owen Flanagan. Pretty much all Hume meant is that you cannot simply deduce. He then went on to mix the nonoverlapping domains, no? A minor aside that launched worldwide metaethical ink flood?

    First thing to remember about Hume: he was one of those old-school British Empiricists. Facts about the world can be known via sensory experience. If you want to consider other things “facts” as well (logical or mathematical statements), then you should recognize that you derive/deduce these things in a very different fashion from the way you can come to know about empirical matters. But the proposal is not that this difference in any sense disqualifies the former or the latter as factual, real, true, real, etc. We just have different kinds of epistemic issues to worry about in either case, and it is important to be aware of them.

    Second thing, from a nice pithy quote that summarizes much of his moral theory: “Reason is, and ought only to be, a slave of the passions.” These passions are actual, physical events that comprise part of a human being’s experience: feelings, beliefs, drives, needs, and so forth. They are features of the natural world, which are contingent (i.e., might have come out any number of ways, if the world had been different), so one cannot derive such things with mere logic (as Rationalists may hope) which does not give any account of these kinds of contingencies but takes them to be necessary in some sense. The right way to go about it is empirical: you first have to go out and learn what the world is actually like, including people and their societies in it.

    Although I don’t think he ever made much an issue of it, you could come away with the wrong idea here. Hume would not need to object to the idea that there are facts beyond those concerning the contents of a person’s mind (i.e., how they feel, what their preferences are, etc.), like the environmental and social conditions in which people live, which also constrain what is required for them to have a good life and act morally. And even if some people don’t know that they need clean water to survive, don’t know that they should be equals or have freedom, etc. — if there is no mental faculty (or neuron) corresponding to any such “passion” that an individual supposedly has — those may still be conditions for a good life.

    It’s not like it must all be in the brain somewhere. (This is one place where Harris goes off the rails…. He’s too thoroughly confused, ignorant, narrow-minded, etc., to realize what he’s missing here.) Rather, psychological facts about people are among the relevant ones that need to be understood. You get such information empirically (so says Hume), not with magical incantations that some thing “must be” good or bad by definition, because that is what logic itself demands, because God says so, etc.

    These should not be controversial points, nor are they difficult to understand…. I think many people are just ignorant of what Hume was saying and (based on dodgy second-hand accounts presumably) mistake him for some kind of postmodern nihilist or some such horseshit.

  26. kurt1 says

    @28 hemidactylus
    That’s correct, it’s a reference to “Open society and its enemies”. Harris just states that Popper has echoed Moore on this “[..] any attempt to locate moral truths in the natural order was to commit a “naturalistic fallacy.” so I left it out.
    Is Popper worth reading?

  27. hemidactylus says

    I hesitate to recommend reading anything especially that involved. It’s a tedious two volume work that critiques totalitarianism by going after Plato and Hegel. Probably better than Peikoff’s Ominous Parallels, but so are the Harry Potter books. This Open Society book did inspire George Soros to become a reptoid puppetmaster if that matters.

    Popper is better known for evolutionary epistemology and falsificationism. He had quirky ontological views based on his three worlds pluralism and an odd connection to the brilliant but eccentric neuroscientist John Eccles. Those may not be persuasive selling points.

  28. DanDare says

    Conciousness Razor #29 I Express this as the Is of Ought. Humans have basic motives evolved into them and these generally create goals. Goals and the way things actually are then determine best actions to achieve them.
    The foundation for “the passions” is empiracle, an observable fact of the world.

  29. says

    I’m not a Harris fanboy so it is hard for me to konw exactly what he really means by his examples, however examples themselves make sense to me. I assume the problem lies in the fact all the caveats are only to allow for plausible denialability?

    Because surely it makes sense to profile people on the airport and while not excluding any demographic from the random check, profile as higher priority all the people that fit the most probable suspect?
    Whether it will be age sex, occupation, travel history, race, ethnicity, religion, signs of being nervous, financial history, payment method or whatever

    Of course it may be abused as an excuse to pester the unliked group and may be used as a cover for racism, but if there is good (and I really mean good) reason to believe some group is high risk group, we shouldn’t stop because we are afraid to look racist?

    So just suggestion that we should allow racial (among others) profiling at the airport doesn’t seem outlandish or outright nazi to me.
    It is just a matter of restricting it only for viable, data supported reasons and to reasonable degree (with probably some oversight checking for abuses)?

  30. Rowan vet-tech says

    Gorzki, by your logic the #1 people who should be racially profiled in just about every situation are white men as they have a long history of being the most dangerous.

  31. says

    @Gorzki:

    It may not seem outlandish or outright Nazi to you, but it’s wrong and it’s counterproductive and it leads inevitably to abuses. Bruce Schneier has written extensively about this and he, unlike Harris, is an actual expert in facility security and in anti-terrorism measures and how best to achieve both. You can, for example, read Schneier on the topic here. He’s not taking down Harris directly, but he does mention Harris in that and discusses his (then recent) comments as partial motivation for the timing of his post, though it’s a topic on which he writes frequently anyway.

    One of the more important points:

    it isn’t true that almost all Muslims are out to blow up airplanes. In fact, almost none of them are. Post 9/11, we’ve had 2 Muslim terrorists on U.S airplanes: the shoe bomber and the underwear bomber. If you assume 0.8% (that’s one estimate of the percentage of Muslim Americans) of the 630 million annual airplane fliers are Muslim and triple it to account for others who look Semitic, then the chances any profiled flier will be a Muslim terrorist is 1 in 80 million. Add the 19 9/11 terrorists — arguably a singular event — that number drops to 1 in 8 million. Either way, because the number of actual terrorists is so low, almost everyone selected by the profile will be innocent. This is called the “base rate fallacy,” and dooms any type of broad terrorist profiling,

  32. says

    #35

    Counterproductive , wrong and leading to abuses are 3 different issues. Thank you for helping me to articulate this difference :D

    Counterproductive is pretty obvious – if something doesn’t increase security is useless and shouldn’t be used.
    However, by the logic of base rate fallacy one can argue as well that any random security check (as additional more detailed security check for some part of people) is useless. If we use this extra layer of protection (if it works at all) it’s goal seems to be making the risk of additional control high enough for potential terrorist to force him to prepare for it. In that way saturating potentially more dangerous part of travellers with random check to a bigger extend than low risk group may be justifiable.
    I don’t mean race neccessary in that case, I mean any factor that has statistically significant correlation may be used, like who paid for the ticket and how or the travel history of the person. I just argue that Productivity-wise every factor that correlates with risk AND is easy/cheap to spot should be considered (obviously if there would be a gene that makes you 100 times more likely to blow a plane up, checking every passenger for this gene would be to costly to use it in everyday’s life).
    I am not arguing here that race is a good factor at all, only that from the effectiveness perspective the only questions are “does it work” and “is it easy to spot”.

    Leading to abuses is a cost. We don’t want abuses to happen or at least to minimize it as much as possible. So it is just a matter of effectivenes of given prejudice-related factor (like age, sex, race, religion, orientation and so on) is worth creating the system that is either fully automated or has enough checks and balances to effectively minimize the abuses. All the “leading to abuses” part may be seen as a part of “effectiveness” issue.

    “Being wrong” issue is just an assumption that any sensitive factor shouldn’t be used at all because it violates the human rights or works based on assumption of whole group being in some way responsible for the acts of individuals. So it doesn’t matter if it works or not, it doesn’t matter if it leads to abuses or not, it should never be even considered to be implemented because it is a form of prejudice.

    So for me Productivity trumps everything. If it doesn’t work and one wants it anyway, one is a racist.

    I agree with leading to abuses argument, although I acknowledge there is some spectrum of how to value the potential abuses versus the protection achieved. In other words how many abused people are acceptable to stop 1 terrorist attack – I don’t know the number, I only know that it should be somewhere between 1 abused per 1 dead in terrorist attack and all people in the word abused for 1 terrorist attack stopped in the history ever. The numbers could be probably narrowed down a bit but it is not an issue at the moment.

    It is the “being wrong” part that I don’t agree with. I understand the logic behind it, I just don’t agree with it.
    Definitely we should at least know if any policy is productive and what is the cost of it – and never stop from researching the issue.
    If someone wants to shut even researching the issue in the fear of results showing something one disagrees with it is ultimately counterproductive. Best way to reaffirm racist they are right is telling them that even researching the issue is racist and forbid them to.
    Just look at how happy is the ultra-right in Sweden every time someone on the left in Sweden says that rapes in Sweden has nothing to do with race or religion. Deny to investigate is for the racist even better than any numbers real investigation can find (and had find).

    If we have the research, then we can start asking questions should we implement any sensitive factors in actual policy or not. I think we should only if we really know that they really work and it will not make me happy nor sad if they are implemented or not, as long as it is based on facts not ideology (either hidden racism or ultra-extreme antiracism). I don’t even want to check the numbers myself as long as I know that effectiveness was the priority of proper authorities.

    So back to Sam Harris now.
    The best way to deal with rhetoric like the one presented in pzmyers post is just researching the issue. Either we find, that some policy is effective after we allow for all the caveats – and if he really is racist he will not be happy with such limited version of the policy (in your face Sam) or we find that policy is useless and he will have to either drop it or reveal himself as racist.
    Just calling him a racist without showing his assumptions are wrong will just make him, his supporters and people on the middle dismiss it.

  33. KG says

    Gorzki@37,

    “Being wrong” issue is just an assumption that any sensitive factor shouldn’t be used at all because it violates the human rights or works based on assumption of whole group being in some way responsible for the acts of individuals. So it doesn’t matter if it works or not, it doesn’t matter if it leads to abuses or not, it should never be even considered to be implemented because it is a form of prejudice….
    It is the “being wrong” part that I don’t agree with. I understand the logic behind it, I just don’t agree with it.

    I’m guessing that you’re not a part of any group that’s likely to likely to have its human rights violated as a result of Harris’s proposals. Try considering them from the point of view of a member of such a group.

    Just calling him a racist without showing his assumptions are wrong will just make him, his supporters and people on the middle dismiss it.

    You’re either incredibly naive, or dishonest. Racists do not hold their views because no-one has taken the trouble to show that their assumptions are wrong. They are not racists because of some set of factual propositions they hold true; rather, they hold various factual propositions true because they are racists. And the “people in the middle” – those who aren’t sure whether to be racist or not? They are more likely to express racist views, vote for racist parties, etc. the more the issue is treated as one on which people of goodwill can reasonably disagree.

  34. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Gorzki: “In that way saturating potentially more dangerous part of travellers with random check to a bigger extend than low risk group may be justifiable.”

    Wrong. Any departure from random sampling introduces bias into the statistical sample and actually decreases the efficiency. You can see this logically in that imposing any sort of rule other than randomness means that the terrorists can learn your selection criteria and impose criteria to defeat it–or at least maximize their probability of defeating it.
    So, in addition to being morally wrong, it is also objectively wrong and counter-productive.

  35. KG says

    To expand a little on #38, the far right in Sweden (or anywhere else) are not going to accept the results of any research if those results do not confirm their racist beliefs – they will simply claim that the research has not been done honestly. You surely know that as well as I do. But suppose the results do confirm their beliefs – say, that immigrants to Sweden, or some subgroup of them, are charged with or convicted of rape more than the general population. What would be the correct response? To deport or imprison people in that group who have not been convicted of rape? To accept a lesser standard of evidence against them in rape cases? To ban them from certain areas? To apply a religious test to potential immigrants, or measure their skin colour? Or what? I suggest that the only ethically acceptable approaches are ones that tackle all rape, by anyone: legal, cultural/educational (tackling “toxic masculinity”, which certainly exists among native Swedes as well as among immigrants, making it easier for rape victims to report with the confidence they will be treated appropriately…), environmental (the layout and lighting of public spaces can make a big difference to crime rates).

  36. ck, the Irate Lump says

    a_ray_in_dilbert_space wrote:

    Wrong. Any departure from random sampling introduces bias into the statistical sample and actually decreases the efficiency. You can see this logically in that imposing any sort of rule other than randomness means that the terrorists can learn your selection criteria and impose criteria to defeat it–or at least maximize their probability of defeating it.

    To elaborate on your point slightly, since the terrorists (or drug runners, or any other group who wishes to bypass your screening) can clearly see your profiling methodology, they can choose people less likely to run afoul of it. If they know you’re more likely to screen men, they’ll send women through the security checkpoint. If they know you’re more likely to screen the young, they’ll select people who look older. If they know you screen the dark skinned, they’ll select the lighter skinned.

    Therefore, profiling (or anti-profiling as Harris and his acolytes have called it) based on easily discoverable criteria actually makes security weaker because you’re actually giving tools to avoid detection to the very people you claim to want to detect.

  37. says

    Another, related way the profiling is inherently flawed is that you’re probably never going to really have a good idea where the next threat is coming from. It’s not just terrorists intentionally trying new and different things, but a whole host of other factors that can cause something new and different. Not just new and different tactics by known groups, but entirely new threats cropping up.

    I think it’s also important to recognize that our current government and security systems have pretty thoroughly demonstrated that they’re not capable of a carefully nuanced approach. If you open up to processes that allow for bias then biased people are going to push and lean on those more and more and just weakening the actual security even further.

    Basically, I don’t see any reasonable possibility that opening up to profiling like Harris suggests would do much more than give a veneer of permissibility to lots more abuse and harassment of anyone who appears to be Muslim. Harris himself is a pretty glaring example of letting biases run away with him, and there’s a whole lot of people working for TSA and Homeland Security that are even worse than he is.

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