Sam Harris Gets Himself Howitzered and Blitzkrieged For Writing

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.

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  1. marie on April 9, 2013 at 15:21

    Richard, oh my, sooo sorry to have pooped on your evening!
    I saw Harris’ new post yesterday and yes, again thought of you. He’s got to defend against widely read and already respected media, the war-of-perceptions there is daunting. No matter who is getting attacked like that and where, however, it’s more than the difficulty of defending against the chaos from unethical critics, it’s the impossibility of proving a negative “no, I don’t’ believe that”.
    So just imo, the most effective thing you can do is what you have gravitated towards doing, to reiterate accurately, state complete exchanges and facts, identify patterns.
    The rest is noise and it’s confusing.
    On an aside, combative personal characterizations and comments by readers (on any ‘side’) seem to cause more reactions from anyone affected and in so doing, increase the noise and can make it even more difficult for everyone to hear the valuable information on your or anyone’s blog.
    However, there’s few of those people frequenting the related blogs, so no matter how loud they are, I’m just hoping to see more and more of the situation more recently where they’re getting drowned out by the rational and the sane.

    Then again, for the incurably comprehension-challenged, you could do like a colleague of mine at work who maintains on her door a short list of one-line ‘positions’ titled ” Quote THIS : ” ;)

  2. Bill on April 9, 2013 at 15:41

    I so miss Hitch. Like Maggie Thatcher we will never see his like again….

    • Richard Nikoley on April 9, 2013 at 16:22


      In my anarchism, I acknowledge that Maggie and Ronnie existed at a special moment in time and their soul-mate stature, privately more than we’ll ever know, perhaps had a positive change on history not unlike Roosevelt & Churchill.

  3. marie on April 9, 2013 at 16:12

    +1 Bill, the four horsemen at a time, on religious offensiveness. What a treasure.

  4. LeonRover on April 9, 2013 at 17:33

    Who would Submit (Islam) to Jihad?

    The Crux of the matter is that Constantius provided the Jihadic precursor to the hadith compilers of 9th century Caliphate by his cooption of Christianity with the cry:

    “ἐν τούτῳ νίκα” (or even “In hoc signo vinces”).

  5. Richard Nikoley on April 9, 2013 at 18:56

    “what you have gravitated towards doing, to reiterate accurately, state complete exchanges and facts, identify patterns”

    When I wrote that I collect smart people, there was an upper limit.

  6. CatherineakaCate on April 9, 2013 at 19:15

    You are the only atheist I like and I am sticking with The People of The Book.
    I have a feeling my tribe might be getting a little bigger.
    Dawkins, ugh.
    I plan to stop eating atheist food all together.

  7. Richard Nikoley on April 9, 2013 at 19:17

    “+1 Bill, the four horsemen at a time.”

    No shit. Treasurous (just killed auto correct). Looks like there is more and that makes another blog post right up my alley.

    Guess what? In research over those doing the best on this primal promotion Im doing? Blogs that have 95% food pics. Weird. Thing is, no way the food pics are what they actually east all the time.

  8. Revo Luzione on April 9, 2013 at 21:10

    Guys like Harris get skewered because they’re too earnest. When he responds to Greenwald (who can be decent, at times, and a total ideologue at others), he parses his language with straightforward humility, and thus as he responds to Greenwald’s exoriation, Harrais has his feet planted firmly on Greenwald’s turf.

    That’s a tactical error. He concedes to Greenwald’s frame of reference instead of remaining staunchly planted in his own. His best response comes much later, in his “Response to Controversy, version 2.3,” where he finally gets into the strong part of his argument–that political Islam is indeed a threat that only the far right has so far made much public comment upon.

    He would have done well to take a page from Riccardo Nikoley’s book, and that is to respond, not with polite, well-reasoned logic within his attacker’s paradigm, but to go on the offense, be offensive (literally, offend people), abandon the “nice guy” code as well as the pretense of political correctness. For all your haters, Richard, I do think your approach is effective because you are authentic and because you don’t let anyone bully you. You stand your ground.

    To sum up, Harris explains himself too much in apologia and is far too nice to those that call for his head. Of course it’s easy for those of us in the peanut gallery to monday-morning quarterback this dude, but that’s why I mostly lurk in the shadows–to observe, learn, and develop tactics and strategies for rhetorical discourse here in the wild lands of teh interwebs.

  9. Sean on April 9, 2013 at 22:06

    Remember kids, Nidal Hassan engaged in workplace violence, not terrorism. Anyone killed in Pakistan by Obama’s carefully approved drone bombing is ipso facto a terrorist, even if they happened to be six years old. The murder of an American ambassador in Libya was justifiably provoked by a terrible YouTube video, that was NOT terrorism, thank God the guy who made that terrible video is in prison for, uhm, violating parole, because we lurve us some free speech in America. And anyone who notices violent passages in the Koran or the fact that Islamic terrorists happen to be Islamic is an Islamophobe and the really should be blacklisted and shunned by society if not imprisoned for hate speech.

    Meanwhile Christianity is for stupid rednecks, Mormons are even more ridiculous and Scientology is so ridiculous that it must be mocked and protested non-stop lest someone think it’s not ridiculous. Piss
    Christ was a brave act of government funded bravery but mocking the Koran is a violation of Human Rights! It’s also racist even though Islam is a religion (of peace!) not an ethnicity. And misogynist, because it’s misogynist turtles all the way down…

    I liked this little aside from Harris:

    I recently suggested to Greenwald on Twitter that we settle our dispute by holding simultaneous cartoon contests. He could use his Guardian blog to solicit cartoons about Islam, and I’d use my website to run a similar contest for any other faith on earth. As will come as no surprise, the man immediately started sputtering non-sequiturs.

  10. marie on April 9, 2013 at 22:26

    Leon Rover,
    …and in terms of violence, the cultures subsumed by Islam have been maintaining a 500 year lag ever since..
    Yes, they learned the tactics of the earlier conquering Christians for νίκη, and the long history of Christian violence, cruelty and oppression should gut any holier-than-thou argument of Christian-bred practices vs Islamic-bred ones.
    However, given that indeed Islam is closest to Christianity in the worst ways (eg. it is not relatively pacifist like some of the far east religions) but that Islamic cultures have not had their Enlightenment, perhaps today there’s just “the Crescent of the matter”.
    Though, given that the cross was not even adopted until Constantine, that last suggestion is an infinite loop;)

  11. marie on April 9, 2013 at 22:30

    Sean, +1
    And it’s always misogynist turtles all the way down, laf.

  12. Sean on April 9, 2013 at 22:52

    Also, I’d like to point out that howitzer is a Czech loan word passing through German to English.

    Via Wiki:

    The English word howitzer originates ultimately from the Czech word houfnice. Czech houfnice is derived, through the addition of the suffix -nice, from the word houf, “crowd”, suggesting the cannon’s use against massed enemies […] In the Hussite Wars of the 1420s and 1430s, the Czechs used short barreled houfnice cannons to fire at short distances into such crowds of infantry, or into charging heavy cavalry, to make horses shy away.

    Jan Hus was Martin Luther born a century too early.

  13. marie on April 9, 2013 at 23:05

    LeonRover, even the lag quip is in the context of violence.
    Not that I’d mind setting-off a retrospective of Persian or Arabic cultural achievements, one should start with Kayyam, yes? ;)

  14. Richard Nikoley on April 10, 2013 at 06:57

    “He would have done well to take a page from Riccardo Nikoley’s book, and that is to respond, not with polite, well-reasoned logic within his attacker’s paradigm, but to go on the offense, be offensive (literally, offend people), abandon the “nice guy” code as well as the pretense of political correctness. For all your haters, Richard, I do think your approach is effective because you are authentic and because you don’t let anyone bully you. You stand your ground.”

    That’s quite nice of you, Revo. I never really looked at it quite like that but rather, that I don’t like acting not pissed off when I actually am. What’s the shame in getting pissed off about something and acting rather accordingly within the confines of one’s own personality? I think one can become boorish over time by ranting and raving though, so in the matter for me personally, I’m rather over it and resigned to the fact that this is just how it’s going to be.

  15. Richard Nikoley on April 10, 2013 at 07:05

    Yes, Sean, and I must add that I’ve been using Howitzered since Sean used it in an email (in ref to Robb Wolf, I think) a couple of weeks back. Nice addition to my repertoire.

  16. Bill on April 10, 2013 at 08:54
  17. […] Time waster. You see, deconstruction is easy. Or, in the words of Sam Harris the other day, in a post most paid no attention to because It. Wasn't. About. […]

  18. mm on April 13, 2013 at 21:20

    This 90-min. debate is also a good one:

    Informative for those who want to know more about atheist activism & the anti-jihad movement…
    it also shows how irrelevant the “critics of muslims are bigots” argument is; the woman who won 2nd place at that pundit competition is quite elegant and all that but her whole line of arguments are so weak she’s made herself essentially useless. I wonder if she really thought she’d be debating redneck islamophobes or something. The other guy at one point even hilariously argued against himself.

    All this heavy political stuff is heavy… here, why not watch a nice, funny Canadian beer commercial?

  19. mm on April 13, 2013 at 21:24

    Hey, while I’m at it I might as well post this:

    Theo van Gogh/Ayaan Hirsi Ali: “Submission”
    Someone did, after all, die so we could watch it.

  20. mm on April 13, 2013 at 21:41

    Sorry to clog up your comments but there is also this:
    Excellent summary of how the whole palestine-israeli situation is really slanted against both the Jews and palestinians, and thus should really be called the Palestinian Israel-Egypt-East Palestine (Jordan) situation…

  21. Raphi on April 14, 2013 at 10:59

    You are right to discuss this subject on your blog as I believe defending reason and productive discourse is fundamental whatever the context and is as well in and of itself truly essential for the Paleo/Primal/Healthy/whatever ‘movement’.

    I haven’t read you blog as much as the other big ones out there. This will change.


  22. marie on April 14, 2013 at 16:44

    Getting down to the root source :
    “I am absolutely convinced that the main source of hatred in the world is religion, and organized religion” – Christopher Hitchens.
    In this segment, in just ~8mins he sets out the objections to religion and then specifically deals with the current Islamic problem.

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