Sam Harris shoves his foot down his gullet again

Remember, Sam Harris is the atheist leader who once, when asked where all the women were at in atheism, explained it away by saying atheism lacked that “estrogen vibe” instead of noting all the women who have been leaders and who were currently hard-working activists.

I think it may have to do with my person slant as an author, being very critical of bad ideas. This can sound very angry to people..People just don’t like to have their ideas criticized. There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree instrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women. The atheist variable just has this – it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.

He has a great big blind spot for anyone who isn’t a rich white man. So when he says bullshit like this:

A paradox for our time: The far Left is disproportionately white, wealthy, and well-educated. So extreme “wokeness” is now one of the most glaring symptoms of “white privilege.”

He’s just doing it again. It’s because all the black men and women, and Hispanic men and women, and LGBT people who have been fighting for the Left all this time are invisible to him. That far Left is awesomely diverse, while his “Intellectual Dark Web” and the alt-right are a mess of mediocre white people suckling at the teats of conservative think tanks and promoting the status quo that maintains their privilege.

But this is typical of the tin-eared pronouncements from Harris, probably the most clueless of the “Four Horsemen”, and the one who is still regarded as the premier figurehead of alt-atheism. If only this was a position he could be fired from, but he’s still propped up by a horde of white male cultists.

Sam Harris’ very special pleading

Sam Harris has a long interview with Kara Swisher (1’40”! transcript here), which even in written form puts me to sleep. Fortunately, Paul Campos has extracted some of the more bizarre, Sam-defining bits for me, and gets right to the problem of the Intellectual Dark Web. They pooh-pooh the harm and danger of white nationalism and racism and general bigotry, trivializing it and suggesting that it’s not important, which allows them to fan the flames of racial bias while neatly divorcing themselves from its outcomes. What stuns me is his argument for doing this: white nationalism is an ideology, but it’s not a religion, therefore it’s not as bad?

The difference I would draw between Christchurch, a white supremacist atrocity, and what just happened in Sri Lanka or any jihadist attack you could name, the difference there is that white supremacy is an ideology, I’ll grant you. It doesn’t link up with so many good things in a person’s life that it is attracting psychologically normal non-beleaguered people into its fold. It may become that on some level.

It doesn’t have all the elements of a true religion. I mean, there are ways in which it’s entangled with certain forms of Christianity. Again, there’s not a death cult of martyrdom forming there. It’s conceivable that one could form there. I’m not ruling out the white supremacists for causing a lot of havoc in the world. But in reality, white supremacy, and certainly murderous white supremacy, is the fringe of the fringe in our society and any society. And if you’re gonna link it up with Christianity, it is the fringe of the fringe of Christianity. If you’re gonna debate a fundamentalist Christian, as I occasionally do, if I were to say, “Yeah, but what about white supremacy and all the …” He’s not gonna know what you’re … It’s not part of their doctrine in a meaningful way.

Where I come from, a bad idea is a bad idea, and we don’t excuse it if it avoids being entangled with a religion. I’m comfortable with saying religion is a bad idea, but it is only one member of a much larger class of bad ideas, especially problematic when you’re trying to give a special status to a category as broadly diverse and amorphous as religion.

What’s particularly obnoxious about this twisty exercise in special pleading is that it is so transparent in what he’s trying to do: he is once again straining to make the case that Islam is uniquely evil. That only Islam is a “death cult of martyrdom”, that any instances of Christianity inspiring mass murder are weird outliers that can be ignored, while any instances of Muslims committing mass murder are truly representative of the faith. If I had to argue against such a ludicrous claim, I’d take a twofold approach.

First, if you’re gonna debate a fundamentalist Muslim, and you were to say, “Yeah, but what about suicide bombers and all…”, that Muslim is likely to be annoyed that you’ve brought up an insulting stereotype and is going to tell you that murder is not part of their doctrine in any meaningful way, and that terrorism is the fringe of the fringe of Islam. They might also point out that Harris seems to be deeply ignorant about the religion (I’ve seen him handwave away the assessments of Arabic speakers and researchers in the field of Middle Eastern culture), and that his popularity is entirely a consequence of his appeal to equally ignorant bigots.

Secondly, though, I’d explain that many Western nations, built on Christian foundations, seem to be entirely comfortable with prolonged, brutal warfare against Islamic countries, which makes uncaring mass murder a rather significant element of our ‘faith’, and that what we’ve been doing is ongoing oppression that empowers the terrorist fringe of a fringe. I’d point out, as Campos does, that the rising of the Right has succeeded in taking over our government, and is a greater internal crisis than any distant threat from angry foreigners in oil rich countries, no matter what their religion.

I mean who doesn’t recognize that white supremacy is absolutely at the ideological core of the political movement that at the moment happens to control the government of the most powerful nation in the world? Sam Harris, that’s who!

And as for the claim that there’s no connection between white supremacist ideology and fundamentalist Christianity, that would seem to be belied by the fact that fundamentalist and/or evangelical Christians make up by far the most significant voting bloc in the coalition of white supremacists and conservative ethno-nationalists (but I repeat myself) who have taken over the Republican party and most of the government of the United States.

A bad idea is a bad idea. I don’t care if it’s sponsored by a fringe of a fringe, or by mere ideologues, or by Christians or Muslims, or even by bizarrely popular atheists — racist claims that have no foundation in legitimate science and that are used to further discrimination and hatred must be opposed. Sam Harris is one of those deplorables who deserve condemnation.

He’s so oblivious and dim, too. When asked what can be done about all the racists taking advantage of social media, here is his reply:

[T]here’s just no way for us to keep track of what’s on our platform, right? So you know, the AI can’t do it. If we turn up the filter on white supremacy, we’re going to catch too many ordinary Republicans and we’re even going to catch certain Congressman, right, and we might even catch the president, and so that doesn’t work.

A scientist would say that, if we objectively tune our filters to detect expressions of white supremacy and racism, and we then find that we catch a bunch of “ordinary Republicans” who we already know are wont to spout off racist remarks, that’s a sign that the filters work. Harris’s bias is pretty naked there.

“We on the left”: Sam Harris, Joe Rogan, and Tucker Carlson

Here’s an excellent video that includes clips from various interviews with famous people saying stupid, hateful things about trans people. That part I’m warning you about; there’s lots of ugly cluelessness included here. But the video’s creator does a great job of tearing them apart.

Sam Harris begins his clip saying “We on the left”, which stopped me cold. He’s in an interview with Joe Rogan! What do you mean, “we”? Especially when he goes on to chortle over the very idea that a person with a penis might call themselves a “woman”. Don’t you realize that the biological reality of a woman begins with her uterus? The two of them sit there bonding over their shared contempt of the idea of trans people. I think it’s safe to say that they aren’t even vaguely liberal here.

It also includes a clip of Julia Beck on Tucker Carlson’s show, explaining that the “T” doesn’t belong in LGBTQ+, and also carrying on with the usual ugly stereotypes of fake men trying to get into women’s bathrooms to commit rape. EssenceOfThought dismantles that one, but I just want to point out that if you are on a Tucker Carlson show, and if you aren’t challenging him on his far right views, and if the two of you are engaged in a mutual back-patting kaffeeklatsch, agreeing that trans people must be excluded from civil society, you have swung way over to the right yourself. That’s a situation that ought to lead you to question your self-declared political orientation.

Especially when you consider that Tucker Carlson is a man who has contempt for even cis women.

Tucker Carlson refused to apologize Sunday after audio surfaced of him degrading women and airing controversial opinions about statutory rape and underage marriage on a radio program between 2006 and 2011. Instead, the Fox News host plugged his prime-time show and urged his detractors to come on as guests.

Carlson was widely criticized on Sunday following a report from the nonprofit Media Matters for America that compiled and transcribed more than a dozen instances of the host appearing on the “Bubba the Love Sponge Show,” a popular radio program broadcast from Tampa. In the segments, Carlson suggested underage marriage is not as serious as forcible child rape, called rape shield laws “totally unfair” and once said he would “love” a scenario involving young girls sexually experimenting. He also described women as “extremely primitive,” and used words such as “pig” and the c-word.

You know, Sam Harris and Joe Rogan and Julia Beck and Tucker Carlson can hold whatever views they want. I just think they ought to strive for accuracy and honesty, and instead of claiming membership in the Left, they ought to confess to being center-Right to Right in their regressive positions, and aren’t in any sense representative of a left-wing position. Conservatives would love their ideas, but I think they at least have a rudimentary awareness that that’s a club no one with any decency would want to join.

How about if Harris were to admit to his center-Right position and struggle to draw the looney conservatives a bit leftward, rather than falsely claiming to be a Leftist in order to pull progressives to the Right? He might actually do some good for a change.

Kamala Harris is a cop

As the presidential electioneering starts up (way too soon, and mostly pointlessly), I can only hope that more articles focus on candidate’s policy history, rather than the usual glib stereotyping. Like this one, a discussion of Kamala Harris’ record. Basically, she’s smart, aggressive, and hard working — quite a contrast to the slow-witted sloth in office now — but she’s been consistently pro-police, pro-prisons, and anti-sex workers. Those are things that will definitely appeal to some voters, but not to me.

Next. We need someone to rein in the cops.

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.

“Harris’ moral landscape is cratered with artillery and pock-marked with bullets.”

I’m glad someone else is paying attention to Sam Harris, because I just can’t. Too many years of wrestling with creationists has given me some nasty allergies to bad reasoning and arrogant codswallop. But at least Marcus Ranum has the spine to tear into Harris’s terrible arguments defending Israel’s atrocities. It’s long, but worth reading.

Two hours of Sam Harris whining

I didn’t listen to the Sam Harris/Ezra Klein conversation, I couldn’t possibly bear it. I read the transcript, and that was more than enough. Harris’s main theme: ‘everyone is picking on me.’ Klein keeps pointing out that he’s promoting bad ideas, that he isn’t engaging with people’s actual concerns, and that his brand is all about defending his identity, white identity, while denying that he engages in identity politics…because his line of attack is a blanket condemnation of all identity politics while labeling everyone else as engaging in it. It’s infuriating.

Here’s a revealing sample from near the end.

Ezra Klein
We all have a lot of different identities we’re part of all times. I do, too. I have all kinds of identities that you can call forward. All of them can bias me simultaneous, and the questions, of course, are which dominate and how am I able to counterbalance them through my process of information gathering and adjudication of that information. I think that your core identity in this is as someone who feels you get treated unfairly by politically correct mobs and —

Sam Harris
That is not identity politics. That is my experience as a public intellectual trying to talk about ideas.

Ezra Klein
That is what folks from the dominant group get to do. They get to say, my thing isn’t identity politics, only yours is. I will tell you, Sam, when people who do not look like you hear you telling them that this is just identity politics, they don’t think, “God he’s right. That is just identity politics.” They think this is my experience and you don’t understand it. You just said it’s your experience and they don’t understand it.

There is also the part where Harris declares that he has black friends, therefore you can’t accuse him of casual racism. The part where he reveals that he knows nothing about Charles Murray’s work outside of The Bell Curve and can’t comprehend how anyone can think he has racist motivations. But mainly, Harris is all about how others have dared to criticize Sam Harris.

I think it’s damning enough that Harris thinks so highly of himself that he would walk unarmed into a duel with Ezra Klein, and get fairly and politely slaughtered on all points.

Of course, Harris probably emerged thinking that Klein never even touched him.


Just a thought…I just now posted about how there are rational Christians and foolish ones, and how, if you must be a Christian, you should do yourself the favor of being the kind who cares about the evidence. You know, a non-atheist could look at our side and say something similar: do yourself the favor of not simply blindly following the self-appointed leaders of your tribe, and think about more than just their ideas on one issue. Harris is right that there is no god, but there’s a whole lot of other shit that he’s flamingly, painfully wrong about.

For someone who doesn’t like to be called a racist, Sam Harris sure writes a lot of racist stuff

Racist pseudoscience keeps creeping back into the culture, and I like the point made in this article by Gavin Evans that one mechanism is by the alliance of the pseudoscience of race with the pseudoscience of heritable intelligence, both “slippery concepts” that allow an amazing amount of sloppiness in which to inject one’s biases. You know you’re dealing with a charlatan when they start making very specific claims about the genetics of intelligence in humans, something that has been extraordinarily difficult to measure and test, in correlations with the genetics of race, a concept that is poorly defined. They’re trying to build a skyscraper when the only materials they have to hand are buckets of watery jello and porridge — it turns out they don’t make steel when combined.

My personal views are that populations have structure, and there are rivers of genes that run through different lineages, but that the structures don’t align well with the exclusionary, constructed concept of race. Those genetic patterns are interesting and important, but their study is ruined by the know-nothing yahoos, like Charles Murray, who keep intruding and trying to warp the data to fit their preconceptions about how the human social order ought to be, which somehow is always conditioned by archaic and crude ideas about the inferiority of the Other. There is no higher or lower, there is only difference.

As for intelligence, the entire point of the human brain is plasticity and sensitivity to experience and novelty. There is no such thing as high intelligence — but there is such a thing as high adaptability. Since intelligence is actually a response to the environment, it’s disappointing and absurd that there are actually scientists arguing for some mysterious hard-wiring of the brain for some difficult to describe ability like “performance on IQ tests”. Don’t they realize that that’s the antithesis of what human intelligence is? You have a property that is all about interacting with complex environmental challenges in diverse ways, and you think you can capture it in a simple, constant parameter, one that doesn’t include the environment? Weird.

Yet people still push this contrary notion. Charles Murray is one; so is Steven Pinker; among the worst and clumsiest promoters of racial IQ science is Sam Harris, whose career has been all about defining boundaries between people, and making evasive suggestions about what ought to be done with the Other. When Harris brought on Murray for an interview, this is how he introduced him:

People don’t want to hear that a person’s intelligence is in large measure due to his or her genes and there seems to be very little we can do environmentally to increase a person’s intelligence even in childhood. It’s not that the environment doesn’t matter, but genes appear to be 50 to 80 percent of the story. People don’t want to hear this. And they certainly don’t want to hear that average IQ differs across races and ethnic groups.

Now, for better or worse, these are all facts. In fact, there is almost nothing in psychological science for which there is more evidence than these claims. About IQ, about the validity of testing for it, about its importance in the real world, about its heritability, and about its differential expression in different populations.

Please, please, please…someone define this curious property that Harris has labeled “intelligence” which doesn’t change and which is hardly at all malleable, even in childhood. Anyone who has had a child knows that their minds grow and change over time — I see it even in the 18 year olds who enter college and then leave 4 years later with often great changes in maturity and outlook. Yet none of that is part of Harris’s understanding of “intelligence”.

We know that living in poverty, suffering trauma, lead exposure, poor schools, social isolation, abuse, and poor nutrition all affect academic performance and people’s roles in society, yet somehow none of these involve the ineffable subject of the term “intelligence”. “Intelligence” is fixed and intrinsic, with perhaps 20% that can be modified by stuff like education and experience. Or is it 50%? I don’t know. I don’t even know how you can peg it to a single number, or what it means for someone to be 20% more or less intelligent than I am.

Also, contrary to Harris’s claim that this assertions are facts unopposed by psychological science, Vox found 3 psychologists specializing in intelligence who, um, opposed his views.

This infuriated Sam Harris.

He went on a tweet rampage — apparently, showing that he is wrong, and that his opinions are not universally shared, is “defamatory”. He is very upset that once again someone has publicly pointed out that his statements sure sound awfully racist, and that what was published against him is “nothing less the total destruction of a person’s reputation for the crime of honestly discussing scientific data”. He made a suggestion that Ezra Klein, editor of Vox, should engage with him in his podcast, and published the emails that bounced back and forth between the two as they negotiated.

It’s a remarkable exchange. You should read it. Also remarkable is that Harris willingly posted it, thinking it would demonstrate the rightness of his position, when all anyone can see is that Klein is patient and friendly, while Harris is increasingly testy and self-righteous. Harris challenges Klein to do a podcast, he accepts, and then there’s this long weird gripe about how he was defamed, yet he doesn’t want to discuss this subject with qualified psychologists (which Klein suggests), but only with Klein — and then he doesn’t want to discuss the claims about race and science he obligingly approved of in his discussion with Murray, because, he says, it would be “boring” to his listeners.

This “boring” dismissal seems to be routine with Harris when he senses the argument isn’t going his way. He did the same thing with Omer Aziz, recording a 4 hour session and then deciding not to air it, because it was “boring”.

He also likes to pull this stunt when he meets someone who dismisses him of posting the email exchanges between them with this strange notion that somehow they redeem him — he did this when Noam Chomsky refused to debate him. It’s a curious phenomenon, because he seems to think his prickly whining makes him look like a good guy, but all it really does is reveal him as a pompous ass. But he might be wise in doing it, because there are always a mob of ardent fanboys who afterwards reinforce Harris’s opinion of himself.

Ezra Klein has responded by pointing out how Harris pandered to Murray, and rejecting the claim that psychological scientists even have the ability to assess an intrinsic component to IQ.

International evidence suggests oppression, discrimination, and societal resentment lowers group IQs. As the New York University philosopher of neuroscience Ned Block has written, quoting the work of anthropologist John Ogbu, oppression has a clear effect on marginalized groups globally. “Where IQ tests have been given, ‘the children of these caste-like minorities score about 10-15 points … lower than dominant group children,’” he writes.

Block’s point, and this is important, is not that IQ isn’t heritable, or even that it’s impossible to imagine it differing among groups. It’s that it’s impossible to look at the cruel and insane experiment America has run on its black residents and say anything useful about genetic differences in intelligence.

He makes a measured response. It’s a solid article that politely rips Harris’s views strongly. It should win over rational people, which doesn’t include the blinkered goons who love Sam Harris no matter what he says.

But that doesn’t matter. Sam Harris has won over 4chan.

A nicely done critique of Murray and Harris

It tries hard to be generous to both Murray and Harris, but this analysis of their racist claims also doesn’t cut any corners in tearing apart their claims.

Harris is not a neutral presence in the interview. “For better or worse, these are all facts,” he tells his listeners. “In fact, there is almost nothing in psychological science for which there is more evidence than for these claims.” Harris belies his self-presentation as a tough-minded skeptic by failing to ask Murray a single challenging question. Instead, during their lengthy conversation, he passively follows Murray to the dangerous and unwarranted conclusion that black and Hispanic people in the US are almost certainly genetically disposed to have lower IQ scores on average than whites or Asians — and that the IQ difference also explains differences in life outcomes between different ethnic and racial groups.

In Harris’s view, all of this is simply beyond dispute. Murray’s claims about race and intelligence, however, do not stand up to serious critical or empirical examination.

I’m far less charitable in my opinion of the two. It also doesn’t help that after I posted my criticisms of their bad science, I got flooded with racist email — the people who love Harris and Murray most are not dispassionate, objective scientists, but rather a motley assortment of unhinged bigots. Among other things they did, they subscribed me to goddamned awful newsletters and mailing lists, such as the one from American Renaissance. I got an invitation to attend their 2017 conference, featuring such illustrious racists as Peter Brimelow, Jared Taylor, and John Derbyshire.

That is the company Harris and Murray keep. Let’s not pretend they’re serious scholars anymore, ‘k?