By Jeffrey Tayler
“It’s gross! It’s racist!” exclaimed Ben Affleck on Bill Maher’s Real Time in October 2014, interrupting the neuroscientist “New Atheist” Sam Harris. Harris had been carefully explaining […]
Harris (a very valuable man indeed) had to have known that he would be facing one scurrilous attack after another. This is par for the course. The attacks and criticisms will continue.
He chose this path. Sorry.—That’s just the way it goes.
I hope he knew what he was getting into and can endure the pressure.
(Odd that he hardly ever smiles. Very little affect.)
@OP – Yet Affleck seemed predisposed to regard him with hostility, possibly because Harris, at least for some on the Left, has acquired a toxic reputation — one stemming from what amounts to a campaign of defamation involving, by all appearances, a willful misrepresentation of his work, plus no small measure of slipshod “identity politics” thinking.
Harris has been lambasted as, among other things, a “genocidal fascist maniac” advocating “scientific racism,” militarism, and the murder of innocents for their beliefs, as well as racial profiling at airports, a nuclear first strike on the Middle East, plus, of course, Islamophobia and a failure to understand the faiths he argues against.
Strawman attacks and conflating race, religion, attitudes, and actions, is the hallmark of sloppy thinkers who parrot gossip, propaganda, and fallacies, because they are too lazy or biased to to constructively look at evidence or critically examine information they are being fed.
Frequently, they are posing for bigoted audiences who want their confirmation biases massaged, and egos boosted, rather than acquiring objective information which is useful in making real-world decisions.
I disagree with the quality of Sam Harris’s judgments on numerous occasions. His call on what will be politically, socially or psychologically effective sometimes goes awry, but his desire for evidence and intellectual rigor in the service of humane and fair outcomes has never been in doubt. Imputations of malice are cheap and stupid and hugely damaging of Project Mutual Planet by seeking to silence our mutual bargaining.
Olgun @ #6.
One of the many fundamental problems with religions is that different sects evolve all claiming to be the true adherents; and to drive home the point, members of one group often murder those of another.
Regards actors, as one myself, I agree that we should keep quiet unless we have specialist knowledge; some of us have worked in other fields and are qualified to comment, but that should be it.
I expect Ben Affleck was there to promote a production, and he should have kept out of it.
I receive the Sam Harris Podcasts, and enjoy them, but he’s certainly chosen a very tough row to hoe.
Yet in the debate, Olgun, it is Harris that makes the distinction betweem the doctrine of Islam and Muslims as people. It is Affleck that proposes that most Muslims want peace (mostly, who doesn’t?) but then doesn’t address the initial liberal complaints of much higher levels of sexism and religious intolerance within the faith. (I think this stems from his lack of experience of varieties Muslims.) In the US Muslims tend to be quite liberal, highly educated, high achieving. The recent ICM poll of UK Muslim beliefs remained deeply, deeply depressing. This is a reflection of a poor Pakistan mostly (and partially! religiously) educated with Saudi money.
I find Affleck’s complaints non-engaging and silencing by the most mean spirited of means. Flatout dangerous. I think he would still be utterly unhappy with Maryam Namazie. Harris’s problem is that he utterly fails to understand Namazie’s political astuteness as his two hour slug match with her showed.
I am increasingly happy to see the baton of liberal values concerns taken up by folk like Maryam Namazie, Maajid Nawaz and an increasingly realistic Ayan Hirsi Ali.
I am also against singling out any religion. They are as bad as each other.
Nonsense and politically fatal to a gradualist (realistic) agenda.
UK Quakers squeaky clean. RCC middle and upper management a disgrace to their “flock”. African Anglican Bishops incoherently wicked. Unitarians harmless, mostly indistinguishable from Sunday Assemblers.
Don’t be an idealist (I can almost guarantee if your not wrong you will become so.) Just aim for better and achievement will be yours.
Harris’s dunderheaded political and psychological crassness (with which I led) does not license Affleck style defences by means of imputing bigotry and racism. This is a disgrace of another sort. This is the deeply facile thinking that led LGBT and Feminist groups taking against Maryam Namazie for fighting the good fight against sexism. A whole’nother level of stupid that we would do well to highlight at every occasion.
Carrying on from #13-
Our collective aim (on the planet) should be to improve the quality of our moral decision making….period.
Wish I hadn’t started this as I am restricted on my iPhone.
No worries, Olgun. I couldn’t do this on a five and a half inch screen.
My childhood friends were mostly Jewish. I got most of my progressive liberal indoctrination in their homes….political, sexual-political, the arts. My home was good for science and history, but a bit buttoned up on the other things. I think my folks were glad to sub contract that part of their task.
No need to reply. Or I promise not to respond to the next. Enjoy your break!
@ Olgun, others
“…make a distinction between Islam and its adherents…”
I think he does make this distinction all the time. I think Harris is deeply critical and contemptuous of religion in general, for the reasons that we are all aware of, and therefore considers a lot of the indoctrinated adherents of religion to be acting and thinking in ways that warrant real concern, in so far as they lead to the very thing (prejudice, generalization, intolerance, bigotry) that you are concerned about.
Harris does not strike me as a prejudiced man. He seems very reasonable to me. The people he debates are always saying: “it’s not religion; it’s social, political, economic…” They talk as if Religion were a person, their friend, and they have to defend that friend: “Oh it’s not his fault…”
He asked a good question in one debate, Olgun. Someone argued (perhaps correctly – don’t know for sure) that the people who created the modern state of Israel were atheists who were persecuted as apostates. Harris took that in, but then asked why it has to be that one precise spot on the globe as opposed to another one, like British Columbia. The other guy made a joke, the audience laughed, and that was the end of that. (Perhaps I am being simplistic, but it seemed like a good question to me.)
All that aside, I am sure that there is a lot that Harris does not get. No one is perfect. I think he is open to reasonable arguments, however.
“Stamford hill Jews are nothing like the Chigwell Jews although, our pretty liberal Chigwell Jewish friends showed us another side when the husband put his foot down and became ultra Jewish against his wife for a moment or two.”
What the hell does that mean? Maybe ISIS is acting ultra Muslim. (I don’t think that way; just making a point.)
I won’t mince words.
This whole issue of distinguishing between Radical Islam and Muslims is rather silly. Obviously not all Muslims are bad. Anyone who says they are is a sick jerk. But many muslims are brainwashed and unduly loyal (tribal), ignorant and potentially manipulatable. And it is partly to do with the religion and yes, partly to do with other things. Harris would like (I think) for people to question their religions (and that includes Christianity and Judaism), if he could, and we’d all be better off. He wants people to think critically, to start being people again, and not deluded sheep who are easily turned into wolves. And Islam does advocate violence and the Koran is considered a holy book, which it is not. Sorry if that offends anyone. This applies to other religions but we’re focused on Islam right now.
And I heard Namazie debate. She wouldn’t let Harris speak, kept cutting him off and couldn’t or wouldn’t grasp his fine points. She’s like Anda, a clever apologist who just does not or will not get it. (This opinion is based only on the one podcast debate I heard. I could be underestimating her.)
From her wiki entry
Namazie was keynote speaker at the World Atheist Convention 2011 in Dublin, where she stated that there is currently an “Islamic Inquisition” going on, that labeling people and countries as being first and foremost ‘Islamic’ or ‘Muslim’ denies the diversity of individuals and societies and gives Islamists more influence, that human rights are not ‘Western’ but universal, and that the word “Islamophobia” is wrong because it is not a form of racism, and because fear of Islam and opposition against it is not unfounded, but even necessary.
This is a politically savvy atheist and cultural Muslim (like Maajid Nawaz) that sees the fine detail of the moral problems at hand and a realistic path that can lead to progress and a freeing of many Muslims to lead lives based on families and careers rather than serving the needs of the religious bullies.
Atheists are as much a problem to her (and me!) when they do the Clerics’ work for them, insisting on what constitutes a Muslim and Muslim identity and that the Koran and Hadiths are somehow irresistible, supernatural forces, when they are merely refined and effective tools in the hands of bad men well rewarded by it.
I am thoroughly anti-theist. The idea of a creator, and an interfering creator at that, is aesthetically repulsive. But what concerns me daily about others is simply the quality of their moral decisions and additionally how that impacts truth finding.
Just curious, Phil: why is it that people like Namazie, who is a fine person I am sure, always beating around the bush? Are they afraid to really say what they want to say? What would happen if she were as outspoken as, say Hitchens was, or Dawkins is? Would she be in danger?
Why can’t she just say that we’d all be better off without Islam and Christianity, period? Why not just say that the religion has done no good and has done tremendous harm? Why all this pussy-footing around?
Obviously human rights are for everyone. Obviously.
And labeling is bad but it’s a side issue. Are you sure she’s not a closet believer herself (or a frightened follower) working with one foot in and the other real foot just peddling more tolerance, like any good diplomat?
“I am thoroughly anti-theist. The idea of a creator, and an interfering creator at that, is aesthetically repulsive. But what concerns me daily about others is simply the quality of their moral decisions and additionally how that impacts truth finding.”
The one (theism) often leads to the other (lies). Why is you aversion “aesthetic”? The consequences of rigid adherence to dogma and superstition impact upon education, science, truth itself – and has many other serious ramifications that are, I believe, outside the sphere of aesthetics.
Why can’t she just say that we’d all be better off without Islam and Christianity, period?
And practically how will that work to everyone’s advantage? To change minds she must be accepted by them.
Why not just say that the religion has done no good and has done tremendous harm?
I don’t believe that is universally true, though it has been mostly a catastrophe since 600BCE. In the UK Quakers have been in the vanguard of improving our culture. Their 1963 paper on sexuality was a major factor in the 1967 bill legalising homosexual behaviour. They have a deep history of being ahead of the curve. They achieve this by having very little dogma but they have one very healthy belief, that all humans are fully equipped and intended to be moral authors using their own judgment. This is the rational understanding that no codified morality contained in the bible say can encompass a look up table of rules for every moral dilemma that confronts us. New evidence and understanding of harms happens daily as we finesse our way into compassion and its rewards.
By contrast Libertarianism with its impoverished and simple minded model of human needs, desires and capacities poisons everything. This is so often dogmatic living, organised, licensed selfishness for those born with advantage.
It is fatuous to dogmatically and ideologically target the inoffensive for theoretical crimes.
My enemy is ideological thinking and the holding of dogma. My, desire to improve the quality of all moral judgments. My wish that I use my little piece of time as well as I can.
I applaud all pragmatic improvers of moral discourse.
If its any consolation, I don’t consider UK Quakerism as very religious in one important sense (half of them are agnostic) because they have so little actual dogma. The capacity for being moral authors stems from “The Inner Light (of Jesus)” which they hold is a capacity and obligation on all humans. Atheist Steven Pinker uses the term “The Better Angels of Our Nature.” to sell books to Americans. I talk of mutuality resultant from successful evolution and particularly from the nurturing requirements of mammals.
Its about Betterism and lubricating change, unblocking log jams….
Its aesthetic because its a viceral response that cannot be logically argued out of you. You may be trained over time, may train yourself and thus appear to grow out of it. This slow process is mediated by society, and your own IQ, but much of it derives from your glass half full glass half empty Quotient. The fearful cling most tenaciously to the solid rock of dogma.
That last paragraph is in relation to my anti-theism and not the fact that I am atheist. For myself, I am atheist, I hope entirely for the lack of any evidence to the contrary. Were I presented irrefutable evidence of a creator I hope my IQ and desire for an internal integrity was such that I would accept it, but I must admit I would be bitterly disappointed with existence.
Read your comment quickly. Gotta go. (I’ll give it the attention that all your comments deserve later.)
But you mentioned the Quakers. Look, you’ve heard Harris and Dawkins debate this stuff. You know what they’d say, right? The Quakers could have done everything they did without having to believe in a supernatural being. Of course many Christians and other religious people at various times in history have accomplished things. But that is not an argument that compels me to think that their religion is worth preserving. They did what they did. Fine. Granted. But they can do everything they do without the religion. And we’d be spared the perpetuation of this great scourge.
More former Muslims-turned-atheist should say that their religion is, like all delusions, bad for people, and stop apologizing and defending. (Still not sure if they can, and still feel safe. Can they?) That’ll empower other people to speak out and to really think. The people need to be hit over the head, figuratively speaking. Harris and Dawkins would get nowhere if all they did was talk from both sides of their mouths. Namazie is a lightweight, just peddling tolerance (of the almost intolerable), is scared or indoctrinated, like all the rest, presumably.
I could be wrong about applying the Dawkins approach vis-a-vis Islam. Maybe I just don’t get it.
I hate religion.
Hate immorality first, Dan.
Most religious folk aren’t so dedicated to religion, they want families and careers and to live. They aren’t obliged to fight religion, don’t want to fight religion. They want to get on with mom and dad and their community. They do though think they are moral. Everyone thinks they are moral, even Catholics!
Getting them to address their immorality or support of immorality is the start of a revising of their identity. You can be a better Muslim or Catholic and not sacrifice your life to my ambition. You can oppose the worse aspects from within and not destroy your family. You can teach your kids better than you were taught. You can be more moral than this.
The educated and those with higher IQs may well make the smart move and distance themselves from their own community and family because, intellectual integrity, and an ability to survive without support, but the rest (the indifferent, the fearful rump) can be reached by making appeals to doing good and doing better and having them take little steps that nevertheless collectively contribute to the quality of their own lives and that of their children. Don’t back folks up to a cliff and expect them jump off. Show them, also, the gentle windy path down. Those taking the windy path down need encouragement, not the negativity that they failed to match your ideological ambition and sacrifice much of their lives.
More former Muslims-turned-atheist should say that their religion is, like all delusions, bad for people, and stop apologizing and defending.
Who has apologised for or defended religion in our discussions? Namazie? She defends abused people. The last thing she is is an apologist of Islam.
“If you discount Islamic doctrine as the motivation for domestic violence and intolerance of sexual minorities in the Muslim world, you’re left with at least one implicitly bigoted assumption: the people of the region must then be congenitally inclined to behave as they do.”
Hm, what about no? Since when the only motivations for human behaviour are religious doctrine and “congenital inclination”?
What congenital inclination or religious doctrine makes me a first-language speaker of Portuguese, a literate person, a reader of Borges, or a lover of guaiva candy?
The ignorance and stupidity of such argument is appalling. And these are the people shouting at the supposed “lack of logic” of others?
Actors should stick to acting if this is what they come out with.
And neuroscientists should stick to neuroscientising, perhaps? What are Dr. Harris credentials regarding sociology of religion, history of the Middle East, history of religion, specifically history of Islam, history of mentalities, gender studies, etc., that his opinion carries so much weight on a subject in which he is obviously an amateur?
Most specialists in these fields would summarily dismiss his views, I fear. And then what, the position of these specialists would be dismissed as mere “political correctness” or because such specialists happen to be “liberals”?
When I was a Mormon it took a direct shock to the system to get me out of my religious mindset (this came when my father a former Mormon confronted me eventually with the nonsense of the church – I was about 15 at the time). Because I was a good Mormon (I followed and believed the doctrine) I only needed to have the rather obvious errors in the religion to realise it was all a load of rubbish and about 60 seconds of the shock of realisation I was an atheist. My Father had avoided this confrontation with me because he was at a family level being political, stuck in a difficult situation. I wish he had done it sooner but there perhaps was a risk I might have not been reasonable about it, I don’t know but I’m grateful he did.
Sam Harris strikes me as someone who is forcefully confronting the irrationality or religion and prepared to cop the consequences. I understand that this puts many religious believers off side but I think we need voices like Sam’s that are bluntly pointing out the flaws in religion, others can be more consistory and come along latter and find a more socially acceptable (to the religious) manner. I think about say religious opposition to euthanasia. Right now as I write this some percentage of the dying (who’s tumours are placed in such a manner or who’s bodies are insufficiently effected by pain relief) are screaming in agony, being starved to death, suffocated, or having liquids removed from their diet to hasten death but for no secular reason are not allowed to peacefully exit via a fatal injection. From my point of view I’ll be more amenable to politeness once they have gotten their noses out of my life and my future death. I hope Sam keeps going the way he is even when I disagree with him (such as his position on gun control). I know he will upset some but he will also convert many and he makes everyone have to talk about the issues.
Luis Henrique #29
Apr 27, 2016 at 9:44 am
And neuroscientists should stick to neuroscientising, perhaps?
What are Dr. Harris credentials regarding sociology of religion,
I think god-delusions come well within the specialist area of neuroscience and psychology!
All religious people are abused people to some extent or another. It’s less safe to attack the religion in its entirety, and all religions as religions.
Violations of human rights and flagrant abuses is one thing. Speaking out against religion, and not merely against the extremists and the stoners and the mutilators and the more obvious forms of abuse, is what I want to hear from Musims-turned-atheists.
Many peddlers of tolerance masquerading as outspoken critics out there. Listen closely, and you’ll see what I mean.
I hate the immorality of inculcation and mental enslavement.
A post of mine last night has not cleared moderation or whatever. It contains links to a conversation with Nawaz and Harris after their joint book and a conversation between Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali after hers, showing her interest in moving from rhetoric to engagement.
This is about rolling up sleeves and finding more effective engagement with much larger numbers of people.
Speaking out against religion, and not merely against the extremists and the stoners and the mutilators and the more obvious forms of abuse, is what I want to hear from
Me I’ve heard that stuff about the innate badness of religion and the peculiar effectiveness of Islam plus its gate guarding bullies for ten years now. I did my share of giving voice to it for the first six of those years. Now I want to help start the sea change with ordinary mostly indifferent folks. And so increasingly do those who first voiced those very ideas.
I’m not sure I even care anymore about Islam, and religious fanaticism, frankly. How much time do we have on this planet? Let them revel in their delusions. And what the hell can I do about it even if I did?
I never heard of Nawaz. Is he that interesting? What will I learn from listening to your video? I know Harris, heard him speak ad infinitum, and assume that the other guy is going to talk about intolerance and generalizations, like all the others.
I listened for five seconds and turned it off.
Let me know when you’ve made some headway in this area.
Btw, I am interested in the origin of art.
Nawaz is important for what he is trying to counter in the UK. A very high proportion of the UK’s Muslims have strong or immediate family ties to Pakistan. This country has tragically poor levels of development compared to its neighbour India, which is speeding ahead (though the current Prime Minister is turning out to be dodgy.) Much Wahhabi money and education feeds Pakistan and finds its way to the UK. There are great struggles for the control of mosques between educated reformists and Saudi indoctrinated bitter low achievers. Nawaz with his organisation the Quilliam Foundation has positioned himself at the heart of this. He may not be god fearing any longer but as an ex-terrorist he knows exactly of what he speaks.
Are you familiar with Ayaan Hirsi Ali? You would love the tone and substance of her first book, I think.
We’ll re-engage with art then!
“I think god-delusions come well within the specialist area of neuroscience and psychology!”
I would say not. Individual delusions about the other world may be within the specialist area of psychology (definitely not within the area of neuroscience). But we are not talking about individual delusions; we are talking about widespread social phenomena. You can’t explain those things with individual psychology.
And as far as I know, Dr. Harris is not a psychologist.
I stand by what I said: Dr. Harris is an amateur historian and an amateur sociologist; as far as academic training goes, he is in no better situation compared to Ben Affleck to discuss Islam.
Also, he is a cherry-picking atheist; his criticism of Abrahamic superstition is not matched by an equivalent criticism of Vedic superstition, for instance. To which one may ask, if the suicide bombing of the Twin Towers is directly readable into the Quran, how isn’t the caste system, with more reason, directly readable into the Bhagavad-gita?
Yep! God-delusions are frequently socially interacting with each other!
… and atoms are frequently interacting with each others, which eventually results in DNA, proteins and cells.
… but that doesn’t turn atomic physicists into specialists on biology or genetics.
There is a fallacy of composition in your argument.
Seeking to isolate one aspect, is like denying that software is part of computing when looking at hardware and communication systems!
Indeed, and no serious historian or sociologist would deny that individual psychological aspects have social impacts.
But it is Dr. Harris who does what you accuse me of proposing. Why is there something like “Islamic terrorism”, Dr. Harris? Perhaps because the industrial development of the Middle East was thwarted by a bad case of “Dutch disease”? – No, of course not! – Or perhaps it is due to the colonial adventures of Western powers in the region? – No, not possible! – Or is it because Western powers insist on destabilising the region with ill-thought military and political adventures? – Are you crazy? – Or perhaps it is because the West directly and indirectly funds and protects the House of Saud, which in turn funds and protects Islamic terrorists? – By absolutely no means! – Then it is perhaps because a 13 century old texts commands them to? – Oh yes! of course! That’s it! What else could it be?!
He still is an amateur historian and an amateur sociologist.
Luis Henrique #40
Apr 28, 2016 at 4:53 pm
Or perhaps it is due to the colonial adventures of Western powers in the region? .. . . . . . .
Unsurprisingly, we seem to agree on these issues, as your list seems to match one I wrote on a previous thread.
Then it is perhaps because a 13 century old texts commands them to?
That is frequently a theist kick-back when put under pressure, or when extreme fringe groups are “liberated” from restraining state laws, but as you say, there are numerous other historical causes.