As a follow-up to my post on how the alt-right hate groups are targeting young skeptics for recruitment, I want to point out how prominent atheists like Sam Harris are enabling this disturbing trend, something that Harvard secular chaplain Greg Epstein has already observed. This is because people like Harris say things that are rife with ambiguity. I and many others have noted before the disingenuous way that Sam Harris argues that enables him to be on both sides of an issue, something that I have labeled the Sam Harris two-step, though he is not the only one to use it. Charles Murray is also a master at it. They both seem to say outrageous things then, when challenged, point to other statements that seem contradict it.
I came across an excellent example of this in comments that Harris made during the last presidential elections when Ben Carson ran for the Republican nomination. Harris made this statement: “Given a choice between Noam Chomsky and Ben Carson, in terms of the totality of their understanding of what’s happening now in the world, I’d vote for Ben Carson every time.” (He also has some nice things to say about Ted Cruz over Barack Obama.)
The first reaction of any sane person would be an incredulous “You have got to be kidding me!” Harris would choose as president a religious grifter who is largely ignorant of world affairs and who wants to screw over the poor over one of the leading thinkers of our time and who has an enviable lifetime record of support for the oppressed and downtrodden and worthy causes?
So what happens if you call out Harris for taking the outrageous position of endorsing Carson? He (and his many supporters) will indignantly respond that you are dishonestly and deliberately taking him out of context (this is his favorite defense) by pointing to the next statement Harris makes, which is “Ben Carson is a dangerously deluded religious imbecile, Ben Carson does not…the fact that he is a candidate for president is a scandal…but at the very least he can be counted on to sort of get this one right. He understands that jihadists are the enemy.”
So you end up and scratching your head. Does he like the “dangerously deluded religious imbecile” Carson and dislike Chomsky or not? And this is precisely the problem with Harris. He likes to have it both ways. He first tacks to the extreme right by saying he prefers Carson over Chomsky (something that will greatly please the extreme religious right wingers), and then he tacks to the left by calling Carson a religious imbecile. The classic two-step on display. Note that he could have easily avoided any ambiguity by saying that he disagreed with Chomsky on US foreign policy. There really is no reason to bring in Carson into any discussion on foreign policy because he is irrelevant. But by deliberately saying that he prefers Carson over Chomsky, he has thrilled right-wingers.
Young skeptics who look up to Harris as an atheist role model can easily be sucked into thinking that it is acceptable to support a religious imbecile as long as that person supports an extreme right-wing political agenda. Is it any wonder that with prominent atheists expressing ambiguous sentiments like this, young skeptics who are drawn to them initially because of their atheism can easily drift into supporting fascists, neo-Nazi, and xenophobic groups and ideologies?