Recently, Harris was skewered in Salon, as he’s been skewered everywhere else — his Ezra Klein interview made his inadequacy obvious, and that weird exchange with Bruce Schneier in which he just waved away the words of an internationally known security expert so he could continue to support racial profiling exposed his racism. This story just sums up everything we already knew.
But over time, Harris withdrew from expressing his opinions through platforms designed to ensure a minimum level of intellectual integrity. He began blogging and then started an enormously popular podcast, his principal medium for the past seven years. He stopped publishing peer-reviewed research papers. He opted not to submit articles to media outlets that imposed some editorial control over what they publish. Instead, he created a small media empire that enabled him to say whatever he wants, whether or not the message is misleading, the claims are factually erroneous, the reasoning is fallacious and so on. In other words, he figured out a way to bypass intellectual accountability — to opine as much as he wants about topics he doesn’t understand without peer-review, editorial oversight or other quality-control measures.
Like Trump, Harris seems wholly uninterested in getting things right. He claims to care about intellectual honesty and good scholarship, yet he consistently spouts misinformation on his podcast that could easily be corrected if only he were to engage — sincerely, and in good faith — those who disagree with him (very often actual experts on the topics of racism, feminism, social justice and so on). Indeed, so far as I can tell, Harris has become one of the greatest sources of misinformation on social justice issues in the United States today. His contribution to scientific racism — his boosting the visibility of claims like Black people are almost certainly dumber than white people for genetic reasons — will no doubt be one of his greatest, and darkest, legacies.
There’s good news and bad news here, though. The bad news is that yes, he’s a terrible, shallow person with a large audience — he’s sharing a niche with Joe Rogan — who promotes bad information. The good news is that over the years he has retreated into his own personal safe space, a hug box for racists.
Years ago when we were both on the atheist conference circuit (on different tiers, he was the high-priced speaker who demanded a security detail, I was the guy who was happy to be there and didn’t charge a fee), he was annoyingly ubiquitous. You couldn’t escape him. He was at every con, he was in every atheist magazine, I’d turn around and there he’d be with a big guy in a dark suit and sunglasses, glowering.
But now he’s got his podcast and a dedicated fan base, and I haven’t seen him or read anything by him in ages. You have to make an effort to find him and listen to his words, and I don’t, so that’s nice. I picture him as an unpleasant cyst that has become encapsulated in fibrous connective tissue, still there and it still hurts when you poke at it, but at least it’s not oozing pus all over everything else anymore. We should probably get it removed surgically some day.
Oh, jeez, remember when every time you pointed out some racist, stupid thing Harris said, there’d be some slimy fan boy showing up in the comments to complain that you’d taken him out of context? Let’s hope those days are over.