Sam Harris Gets Himself Howitzered and Blitzkrieged For Writing

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The other night Marie, in comments, left this turd.

Zealots of the variety that is combative, jargon-spewing and orthopolitical [Ed: think orthodoxy in terms of political action (‘PC’) instead of in the realm of beliefs, particularly religious], seem to have one thing in common: they have really, really bad reading comprehension.

Like some of the commenters above who blithely ‘missed’ your distinction between Melissas – or just chose to misinterpret you so as to conveniently ignore the association you were making as well.

As an example of the reading comprehension problem among the ‘zealously politically correct’, see this rank nonsense that’s erupted last couple of days about Sam Harris.

It was about 6:30PM when I began reading it, followed trails to the article by the very piviledged Murtaza Hussain: Scientific racism, militarism, and the new atheists (he gets to write what he wants in the Islamic world, so long as his gram scale is functioning properly). Glen Greenwald lapped it up like a cheap street-corner whore and the typical activist, dishonest liberal. He only occasionally comes up with something prescient, like a tweet that went something like this: “It’s funny listening to Rush Limbaugh bemoan the demise of traditional marriage while sitting next to his fourth wife” (fucking funny!).

Then there’s the Salon piece.

…Turd, because by 7:30PM, reading it for an hour, I just wanted to go to bed and sleep it off. It’s all complete BULLSHIT! if you have a real look at the foregoing; and if you do have that look and don’t think so, you’re just a dismissible fucking moron. Go away, eat shit, die. Thank you.

I was prepared to just leave it alone. But then Sam Harris just published a new bit: On “Islamophobia” and Other Libels. I’m quoting the first few paragraphs below. Note: I am FAR less interested in the subject of the smears (he’s no racist, “Islamophobe,” nor does he want us to preemptively Nuke’em) than I am in how very easy it is to promote extremist neologisms, get people to buy into them, and then use them as a basis of attack & smear against people you simply don’t like, rather than just saying “I don’t like this person” (but that carries zero weight, right, so fake & smear is on, because you must be heard). So, the subject of the attacks, though utter bullshit for people who ought to be eating shit and dying instead, are somewhat prescient for me personally.

A few of the subjects I explore in my work have inspired an unusual amount of controversy. Some of this results from real differences of opinion or honest confusion, but much of it is due to the fact that certain of my detractors deliberately misrepresent my views. The purpose of this article is to address the most consequential of these distortions.

A general point about the mechanics of defamation: It is impossible to effectively defend oneself against unethical critics. If nothing else, the law of entropy is on their side, because it will always be easier to make a mess than to clean it up. It is, for instance, easier to call a person a “racist,” a “bigot,” a “misogynist,” etc. than it is for one’s target to prove that he isn’t any of these things. In fact, the very act of defending himself against such accusations quickly becomes debasing. Whether or not the original charges can be made to stick, the victim immediately seems thin-skinned and overly concerned about his reputation. And, rebutted or not, the original charges will be repeated in blogs and comment threads, and many readers will assume that where there’s smoke, there must be fire.

Such defamation is made all the easier if one writes and speaks on extremely controversial topics and with a philosopher’s penchant for describing the corner cases—the ticking time bomb, the perfect weapon, the magic wand, the mind-reading machine, etc.—in search of conceptual clarity. It literally becomes child’s play to find quotations that make the author look morally suspect, even depraved.

Whenever I respond to unscrupulous attacks on my work, I inevitably hear from hundreds of smart, supportive readers who say that I needn’t have bothered. In fact, many write to say that any response is counterproductive, because it only draws more attention to the original attack and sullies me by association. These readers think that I should be above caring about, or even noticing, treatment of this kind. Perhaps. I actually do take this line, sometimes for months or years, if for no other reason than that it allows me to get on with more interesting work. But there are now whole websites—Salon, The Guardian, Alternet, etc.—that seem to have made it a policy to maliciously distort my views. I have commented before on the general futility of responding to attacks of this kind. Nevertheless, the purpose of this article is to address the most important misunderstandings of my work. (Parts of these responses have been previously published.) I encourage readers to direct people to this page whenever these issues surface in blog posts and comment threads. And if you come across any charge that you think I really must answer, feel free to let me know through the contact form on this website.

Make the best of it. Comments are open.

Factual Relativity

Back in 1999 when we moved out of an apartment in downtown to a fixer-upper in the ‘burbs, I took down my large marine aquarium that I’d maintained for a number of years. This was a big reef tank — 220 gallons in all — with a good 300 lbs. of live reef rock and other stuff. In terms of dimensions, we’re talking larger than a coffin. It was big. But the immediate future held lots of work for me on the new house so I took the tank and all the equipment down to Henry’s shop.

I always figured I’d set up another system and a few weeks ago a friend in our building set up a reasonably large one (150 gallons) and I pitched in with a bit of advice from my experience — though as a PhD in chemistry this sort of thing is right up his alley. So I caught the bug again. Interestingly, things have changed; it’s become easier, actually, so yesterday I went about setting up a smaller system — about 50 gallons. I’ll try to get into all that later, but for now, it’s 6 a.m. on Easter Sunday so I must post something about religion.

Suppose someone — maybe like the guy in Henry’s shop yesterday afternoon admonishing that he "ought to go to church on Sunday" — wants to set up a saltwater aquarium but wishes to disregard all the many inviolable principles having to do with the laws of nature. Rather, he believes that little microscopic fairies will take up residence in his tank and protect his biota.

Suppose further that someone like me comes along and stridently insists, without slightest equivocation, that he’s wrong and that all his stuff will die and rot. Sure; he has every right to do with what he wants with his tank and livestock, but the facts of reality aren’t up for grabs. Facts aren’t relative to anyone’s preferences or fantasies.

Granted; the guy might get all offended and bent out of shape if I go right ahead and ruin his pleasant fantasy about little fairies living in his tank, protecting his livestock. It’s such a nice fantasy. So comforting. It’s hard to imagine living in a world devoid of marine fairies bestowing their blessings upon reefs. How depressing: to confront the mean — indeed, hateful — inflexibility of water chemistry.

But he’s just one misguided soul. Nobody’s going to rush to his defense. Of course, if there were hundreds of millions world-wide — who believe in marine fairies — that might be another story. You’d have articles like this.

The problem with the neo-atheists is that they seem as dogmatic as the
dogmatists they condemn. They are especially frustrated with religious
“moderates” who don’t fit their stereotypes.

In his bracing polemic “ The End of Faith,” Harris is candid in
asserting that “religious moderates are themselves the bearers of a
terrible dogma: they imagine that the path to peace will be paved once
each one of us has learned to respect the unjustified beliefs of

Pay attention, because if this whole "neo-atheism" thing keeps on keepin’ on, you’re going to see this "argument" more and more. But it’s no more valid than the objection that I ought not be too "dogmatic" about marine water chemistry in the face of someone who’d rather believe in little marine fairies.

It’s everyone’s right and pleasure to decide which, if any, fantasies they wish to entertain and to what extent. What they don’t get to do, unchallenged, is to pass off fantasy for fact; and at root, that’s what this is all about and all it will ever be about. Today, billions of supposedly intelligent beings will file into large buildings far and wide to celebrate the fantasy that God was killed 2,000 years ago and rose from the dead. Alright; perhaps it’s a nice story — to each his own — but it’s simply a "nice story," if you go in for such things, and doesn’t necessarily mean a single thing to anyone but you.

The God Debate

Sam Harris vs. Rick Warren.

Follow up: I hadn’t read it all when I posted, but my assessment after finishing is that it’s pretty good and easy to follow. I’m biased, of course, but it’s abundantly clear to me that Warren can’t adequately respond to any of Harris’ objections. It’s all the same gobbledygook I used to hear back in Sunday school. That the arguments haven’t improved any, at all, suggests two possibilities: first, it’s just the best they’ve got (they really think Pascal’s Wager is clever); second, it’s sufficient to convince enough people, and in the end, it’s just a numbers game. If you could come up with arguments that would get people to believe in Zeus, then you would have "serious" theology surrounding Zeus (kind of the anthropomorphic principle applied to religious belief).

“God’s Dupes”

So Sam Harris is at it, again, this time in an Opinion piece in today’s Los Angeles Times. Ostensibly, the piece is about CA Congressman Pete Stark coming out of the closet to declare himself rational on the issue of religious belief; in essence, letting everyone know that, unlike most of them, he doesn’t profess to literally believe in an Imaginary Friend.

It kind of puts this entry of mine from way back in a different light for me. Setting his politics aside, I do have sympathy for nonbelievers who must endure living in a world where 9 of 10 people they encounter are, for lack of a better description, partially insane. You never quite know for sure whether you’re dealing wholly with a person’s insane compartment, or some hybrid that’s at least partially contaminated by the insanity. Realizing that this is a bit "convenient" to say, it is nonetheless obvious to point out that the insane rarely understand the nature of their insanity (kinda by definition). As such, though you can probably never fully trust anybody with free will, I think that goes doubly so for grown adults willing to believe in the literal equivalent of Santa Claus.

And so it goes. You want a good look and a good laugh at "God’s Dupes?" Check out the comments to this post at Newsbusters – "Exposing and Combating Liberal Media Bias." Alright. Well how about "exposing and combating" some conservative Christian lunacy? But no matter. If anything, the comments lend perfect support to Harris’ assertion.

The problem is that wherever one stands on this continuum, one
inadvertently shelters those who are more fanatical than oneself from
criticism. Ordinary fundamentalist Christians, by maintaining that the
Bible is the perfect word of God, inadvertently support the
Dominionists — men and women who, by the millions, are quietly working
to turn our country into a totalitarian theocracy reminiscent of John
Calvin’s Geneva. Christian moderates, by their lingering attachment to
the unique divinity of Jesus, protect the faith of fundamentalists from
public scorn. Christian liberals — who aren’t sure what they believe
but just love the experience of going to church occasionally — deny the
moderates a proper collision with scientific rationality. And in this
way centuries have come and gone without an honest word being spoken
about God in our society.

I grew up amongst fundamentalist, "born-again" Christians. They really do want to rule the world, and they want everyone to burn in hell — experiencing literal eternal torment — who ultimately refuses to submit. Moreover, they believe this to be their literal destiny — whether in "this" life, or their imagined after "life." To the extent they deny that, any single one of them, they’re bold-face liars, too embarrassed to honestly confront the lunatic insanity and sadistic fantasies they harbor.

Going easy on them is in no one’s best interest.