Maybe the botox has leaked into his brain?

I really can’t stand listening to Sam Harris — he is a dreadfully boring speaker whose schtick is to reduce racism to a bland, boring mediocrity that we’re supposed to just accept. I managed to get all the way through this interview on BBC Hardtalk because the interviewer actually pushes back on him. I almost bailed, though, at seeing Harris, who looks chillingly botoxed or processed by some video filter, matching the plastic quality of his arguments.

For instance, he goes off on the Black Lives Matter movement, accusing it of “identity politics” and seeing racism everywhere, even where it’s not. To back up his claim that concerns about racism are overblown, Harris says out of his emotionless white face that Black Americans are roughed up by the police far more often than white people, but on a per incident basis, black people are less likely to be murdered.

No, really, he says that.

That’s right. If cops beat up white people robbing gas stations, and they also beat up black people robbing gas stations and jaywalking, then black people are less likely to get shot in any particular encounter with the police. Gosh. What a triumph of statistical bullshit.

If you want an example of a calm, polite racist holding odious views while denying that he’s a racist, just tune in to Harris. Or don’t. You’ll be less angry if you don’t.


  1. kingoftown says

    A good thing about British journalists (not that there are many) is that they will usually push back against interviewees even if they agree with them. I remember when Ben Shapiro accused Andrew Neil (chairman of the right wing Spectator and former Murdoch crony) of being left wing because he wasn’t used to being challenged by interviewers. Also, probably because of the BBC’s mythical left wing bias.

  2. whywhywhy says

    So Harris is pulling a Barr and using the fact of institutional racism to claim that there is no racism. AAHHHHH! It makes my brain hurt.

    I respect the racist terrorist Ammon Bundy more than Harris. At least Ammon understands that the police are a bigger threat than BLM.

  3. raven says

    … just tune in to Harris.

    Not going to waste my time.

    I started to read Harris’s book, The End of Faith, got halfway through, thought,this is a waste of time, and stopped. A rare case of not finishing a book.

    He spent most of his pages Muslim/Islam bashing. I can’t even say it was wrong.
    But that isn’t our problem!!!
    We have our own version of Islamic extremists known as fundie xians.
    The fundie xians are here while the Islamic extremists are over there.

    This was long ago, over 10 years, and nothing since about or from Sam Harris has shown anything worth paying any time or attention.

  4. hillaryrettig says

    Harris’s interview with The Bell Curve author Charles Murray was the apex of this. The most ridiculous and appalling views, presented as if over afternoon tea, all the while lauding themselves for their “civility.”

    Oh, and with tons of self-pity (for “consequences”) thrown in.

  5. raven says

    Any given US citizen is more likely to be killed by cops than by an islamic terrorist.

    Any given US citizen is more likely to be killed by right wingnut/fundie xian terrorists than Islamic terrorists or leftist terrorists.

    ADL 2018

    Last year’s murders at the hands of right-wing extremists reflect an ongoing trend. ADL’s Center on Extremism, which has aggregated data going back to 1970, shows that over the last decade,
    a total of 73.3 percent of all extremist-related fatalities can be linked to domestic right-wing extremists,
    while 23.4 percent can be attributed to Islamic extremists. The remaining 3.2 percent were carried out by extremists who did not fall into either category.

    The vast majority of recent terrorism in the USA has been from right wingnuts.

  6. says

    Oh gods, that unmoving face is creepy.
    But really, for somebody who claims to “just go with the data”, he seems to be pretty much lacking any curiosity beyond anything beyond one conglomerate of numbers. So black folks have more encounters with the police. Notice his dog whistle: “and we know why that is” (quoted from memory, but as usually taken out of context ;)). Well, Sam, why is that? Could that be because the police tend to harass black people? That “stop and frisk” is still largely practised but proven to be racist? That black people have the cops called on them for things like taking a nap, swimming in a pool, being in their own home? And that those encounters have an ugly tendency to turn deadly? While white folks have the cops called on them for instances where there might actually be a problem*? If Harris had any intellectual integrity he’d look at all those subsets of data.

    *Not to say that those justify the violence, just that they are on the more serious side of incidences.

  7. woozy says

    …. and seeing racism everywhere, even where it’s not.”

    Hmmmph. Better to see racism where it’s not than to not see racism where it is.

  8. Akira MacKenzie says


    blockquote> At least Ammon understands that the police are a bigger threat than BLM.<

    Sigh… and this is why the Left can’t make any political headway anywhere in the world.

    Let me put it to you this way:

    Military and police violence against BLM and other progressive social and economic movements: BAD.

    Military and police violence against racist, anti-government, terrorists (and others like them, e.g. The KKK, The Weaver Family, the Branch Davidians, The Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer, The Three-Percenters Alex Jones’ Audience,): GOOD, and perhaps THE ONLY OPTION OF DEALING WITH THESE DANGEROUS KOOKS BEFORE THEY KILL US ALL!!!

  9. Akira MacKenzie says

    Whoops, sorry, first paragraph should have been blockquote death and attributed to whywhywhy @ 2.

  10. slatham says

    A friend pointed me to a podcast of his not long after the George Floyd murder. I went to the podcast’s transcript instead so I could follow the links to the examples and studies he cited, as a follow-the-data person myself. The data say that killings of unarmed citizens by police are rare (of course not nearly rare enough, and they are likely understimated besides), rare enough to make the statistics a bit challenging. The data also say that whites in the US commit suicide by cop a lot more frequently, per capita, than blacks. These incidents have a big effect on the overall stats regarding who gets killed by police. This is because, although suicide by cop is an unusual choice of method, there are so many suicides that the number of suicides by cop confuses the interpretation of the proportions of blacks and whites (and others) killed by cops.
    The playing down of other use of force (non-lethal), as disproportionately applied in stop and frisk for example, by Harris was galling. It is very important, as noted by PZ and commenters here. But I was more upset by Harris ignoring the impact of suicides — if he read the studies he cited, he would have to know that the data were strongly affected by this influence. This deception was difficult for me to stomach.

  11. James Fehlinger says

    I almost bailed, though, at seeing Harris, who looks chillingly botoxed
    or processed by some video filter, matching the plastic quality of his arguments.

    Maybe Peter Thiel has been sharing his life-extension secrets with
    Sam. ;->

    I knew now well enough where to find the monster I sought. . .

    The great box was in the same place, close against the wall,
    but the lid was laid on it, not fastened down. . .

    I raised the lid, and laid it back against the wall. And then I
    saw something which filled my very soul with horror. There lay
    the Count, but looking as if his youth had been half restored.
    For the white hair and moustache were changed to dark iron-grey.
    The cheeks were fuller, and the white skin seemed ruby-red
    underneath. . . Even the deep, burning eyes seemed set amongst
    swollen flesh, for the lids and pouches underneath were bloated. . .

    He lay like a filthy leech, exhausted with his repletion. . .

    — Bram Stoker, Dracula , Chapter 4

  12. lotharloo says

    Wasn’t Ammon Bundy marching with BLM and was very supportive of the movement? Has he expressed racist opinions before?

  13. pick says

    I’ve been reading what I can online of Jay Gould’s book The Mismeasure of Man. He takes apart Murray and explains the kind of racism expressed by Harris, Pinker, Coyne
    I think. I just ordered it to read it all but was curious what your take was on his arguments.

  14. garnetstar says

    @14, good point about white suicide-by-cop skewing the data.

    That’s the thing about Harris: what goes on in his mind he takes for absolute fact, and no external data even exists to him.

    What I really disliked in his Murray interview was that Harris apparently read The Bell Curve and just accepted it all as fact. It supported what was in his own mind, so it was true. He never so much as looked up the criticisms of its scientific methods, data handling methods, conclusions from the data, etc., that were what discredited the book when it was published. He thought that those who disagreed with the book were doing so only out of PC wokeness, not on the basis of bad science and bad methods. I guess he’s never had a scientific paper reviewed!

    Also, I’m just wondering: he always calls on “identity politics” as a hideous evil, but, what kind of politics isn’t identity politics?

    No, don’t tell me, I already know: his politics, which are objective fact, in no way connected to his perspective, experience, or identity, because they proceed from absolute objective reasoning that he, among all humans, is alone capable of. He alone hasn’t got a human brain, with all the cognitive biases and logical fallacies that inevitably come with using one. His thought is god-like and universal.

    He really thinks that. And, he’s not boring because of his affect, but because his ideas are so unoriginal, just repeats of what’s been claimed for centuries or millenia.

    Also, well, Zoom makes me look pretty odd, too.

  15. PaulBC says

    slatham@14 That’s an interesting observation.

    I think I am less inclined to go into the weeds here. Sam Harris is showing very clear confirmation bias, digging through statistical measures until he finds one that he thinks backs up his assertion. I thought this was a no-no among “rational” people, but the biggest claimants to “rationality” or “critical thinking” seem to engage in it all the time.

  16. raven says

    That’s the thing about Harris: what goes on in his mind he takes for absolute fact, and no external data even exists to him.

    That is called confirmation bias.

    It’s a very lazy way to not bother thinking about anything.
    Using think and Sam Harris in the same sentence doesn’t work.

  17. garnetstar says

    @21, yes, he has a lot of cognitive biases. That’s what happens when you think your thought is above it all and needs no correction from inspection of external reality.

    Listening to poor Ezra Klein trying to tell Harris that he too has a viewpoint, he too has an identity and experiences and biases from which his thought proceeds and that he must try to correct for, was excruciating. Klein might as well have been talking to a block of stone.

  18. Akira MacKenzie says

    @ 16

    Yeah, I’m not buying that act. “Look at me, I’m not some gun-toting anti-government terrorist from a family of overt racists. See, I’m marching with real-live black people and everything!”

    It’s PR. Nothing more.

  19. lotharloo says

    @Akira MacKenzie
    PR for what? He is not a politician, and right-wingers didn’t like it at all that he seemingly supported BLM so your comment makes no sense. Now, I don’t know much about Emmon Bundy really but it looks like you know even less.

  20. darw1nner says

    What a sad, sad performance. It is disheartening to me who came to the atheist community with the rise of the “four horseman.” Harris very obviously does not have a broad or deep understanding of race in America or, more specifically, the experience of Black Americans. Yet he presumes to lecture us about “moral panic.” In fact, Harris does not appear to know much of anything on the topic—except the cherry-picked statistics he uses to argue that there is no problem with racism in America. I would have thought that a self-proclaimed rationalist and empiricist would take the effort to learn something about the topic before weighing in.

  21. Rich Woods says

    @raven #22:

    Using think and Sam Harris in the same sentence doesn’t work.

    I think Sam Harris is a racist idiot.

  22. Saad says

    Does he address the various associations police are discovered to have, or their behavior around white supremacist “protesters” versus BLM protesters, or the things cops are heard saying to black people during their encounters?

    Or is that not “data”?

  23. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    @raven #22: “Using think and Sam Harris in the same sentence doesn’t work.”

    Rich Wood: “I think Sam Harris is a racist idiot.”

    Which is two words longer and less accurate and meaningful than:

    Sam Harris is a racist idiot.

  24. seedye says

    I’ve been through this script a number of times.

    White guy: Cops kill more white people than black people, so BLM is bullshit.
    Me: Per capita?
    White guy: Say wut?
    Me: There are more white people in the US than Black people. That’s why we refer to them as a “minority”. If there are 7 white people for every 1 Black person, then having 7 white people killed by cops for every 1 Black person killed by cops would mean things are equal. But it’s more like 4 white people killed for every 3 Black people. So to be fair, cops should be killing a lot more white people, or killing a lot fewer Black people. Which would you prefer?
    White guy: Well, 4 is greater than 3. Therefore, black people have it good by comparison.
    Me: Ah, so you’re an idiot AND a racist.

    Re: The Bell Curve. Here’s a (long) and thorough take-down: