Why Do We Take Sam Harris Seriously?

Sam HarrisOver at Raw Story, Tom Boggioni reported on an amazing interview that Sam Harris recently gave. We all knew that the Paris attacks would make Harris more offensive than usual. But he is definitely upping his game. You’d almost think that he was running for president as a Republican. You may remember back a few years, Harris claimed that the Europeans “who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.” He likes these kinds of claims and then nitpicks those who claim that he is siding with fascists or whoever it is he is talking about at that point.

Well, in this recent interview with Douglas Murray, Harris asked and answered his own question, “What percentage of Christians will be jihadists or want to live under Sharia law? Zero.” Well, given that Sharia law is the basic Islamic legal system, that’s not too surprising. There are lots and lots of American Christians who want to implement Biblical law. This is the kind of sloppy mistake that Harris would never make if discussing an issue that he was not blinded by because of his hatred and fear. In general, I’ve found Harris to be a fairly smart guy. I found his article length book Free Will quite good. But if the discussion is Islam, there is no amount of nonsense that he won’t haul out to achieve his predetermined conclusions.

This was said in defense of Ted Cruz and his preference for Christians. But as is always the case with Harris, he claims to be making a fine tuned argument, “I hope you understand that I am expressing no sympathy at all with Ted Cruz’s politics or with Ted Cruz.” Yes, no sympathy for Ted Cruz’s politics — just his policies regarding Muslims? I’m not sure what to make of that. I think what he is really getting at is that the process by which Ted Cruz gets to his bigotry is different from the process Sam Harris uses. Cruz gets there by being a “religious maniac.” Harris gets there through his special blend of pure logic and fearlessness in the face of PC criticism. Because if you listen to him, his argument for why other intellectuals don’t agree with him is always just that his detractors let their manners get in the way of their clarity of thought.

But the big moment was when Harris compared Ben Carson and Noam Chomsky:

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. 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.

This is typical of Harris in that he isn’t actually saying that he would vote for Carson over Chomsky. He’s saying that regarding this one issue. But given how much Harris cares about this stuff, you would have to wonder. Regardless, I know that Harris will make a big deal out of people claiming that he said he would vote for Carson over Chomsky, and he clearly did not say that. I don’t care. The issue is not who he would or wouldn’t vote for. He said that that Carson understands these geopolitics better than Noam Chomsky. That’s one of the most fatuous claims I’ve ever heard. You don’t have to agree with Chomsky to see that.

Noam ChomskyWhat’s more, he’s simply wrong to say that Chomsky doesn’t understand that the jihadists are the enemy. Chomsky’s been very clear about that. The fact that Chomsky sees the jihadists in a broader context that is nuanced is only a reflection of the fact that Harris is wrong to say that Carson understands what is happening now better than Chomsky. It’s all just amazing and I do not think I have ever thought so lowly of Sam Harris. I didn’t think he was capable of making such an obviously unjustified claim.

This raises a really important question for me, “Why does anyone listen to Sam Harris on such matters?” He has nothing more to say on geopolitics than Dick Cheney does. In fact, he has the same things to say, as well. He shouldn’t be taken seriously. He’s nothing but an ideologue who continues to push us to do things that have not only hurt us internationally but also domestically. The opportunity costs of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars — not to mention the “war on terror” — have been enormous. We have wasted trillions of dollars that we could have invested in our people and our infrastructure. And the result of wasting all that money has probably been worse than a wash in terms of the state of terrorism in the world.

I could go on and on. Harris’ reasoning is totally messed up. His ideology is bankrupt. I think there is a lot of psychology going on here, because in his highly publicized email “debate” with Chomsky, Sam Harris came off as an idiot except to all his worshipful fans. But the main thing is that I see no reason to pay attention to Sam Harris anymore. I’m sure he won’t miss me. There’s a lot more money in appealing to people’s hatred and fear. Appealing to people like me would lose him far more readers. But it’s sad for a man who certainly thinks of himself as a serious intellectual.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

88 thoughts on “Why Do We Take Sam Harris Seriously?

  1. I think Sam Harris, and his views on Islam, is actually much more compelling than you are giving him credit.

    What you refer to as a sloppy mistake in the beginning of your article is no such thing. His point in the quote, which is his biggest thesis about Islam in general, is that religious beliefs will lead to certain behaviors. He is saying that certain passages in the Koran allow for violent and repressive behaviors. He fully concedes that political and social factors have an impact as well, but when considering the specific atrocities committed, and the forms of repression used, the beliefs and practices in Islam must be examined.

    In his most recent book “Islam and the Future of Tolerance”, I found Sam and his coauthor, Maajid Nawaaz, to be very insightful, and found the discussion well worth my attention. It shows that Sam is much more interested in reform and religious discussion than war mongering. Speaking of which I do not think that Sam Harris has ever spoken in support of the Iraq war.

    Given Sam’s beliefs about the dangerous beliefs in Islam, and his prescription of religious reform to fix it, it is no surprise why he is closer to Ben Carson than Noam Chomsky on the issue of Islamic terrorism. Sam believes that more needs to be done than to change U.S. foreign policy. The specific beliefs in Islam that allow for violence against apostates and infidels must be changed for the threat to end. Given this belief, if Ben Carson and Ted Cruz acknowledge problems within Islam, and Noam Chomsky doesn’t believe religious beliefs play a role, then of course Sam would side with Ben and Ted Cruz on this debate.

    In your article, you don’t at all acknowledge Sam Harris views on how to deal with Jihadism, and in my mind, you have missed his central thesis. Even if you disagree with his views, I think it is a nontrivial point, and one that deserves to be treated seriously. If you don’t believe that there needs to be reform within Islam, and you think that the passages in the Koran play little role in the actions of Al Queda and ISIS, then your case requires elaboration. I found nothing in your article that was damning to Sam’s body of work about Islam. Instead, you stay on the periphery, and condemn him for reasons I find to be foolish.

    • You accuse me of trivializing Harris’ arguments, but you don’t provide evidence. It’s the same old thing: if only I understood his arguments, I would agree with him! Then you trivialize Chomsky’s argument. If I didn’t know that there is an army of Sam Harris auto-sock-puppets, I would think this was his own. You are not saying a thing that isn’t said every time anyone criticizes the poor misunderstood Dr Harris. I don’t have the time or interest in a back and forth with yet another Sam Harris apologist. Go read some other articles where you might have something interesting to add. You’ve made your point, “Yay, Sam Harris!” You might find my articles on economics interesting, for example. Otherwise, you aren’t adding anything.

      • I cited his latest book which is pretty short, but no worries. Unlike Sam Harris I don’t think this is the most important issue of the day.
        I’ll likely read your other articles, though I don’t care to be called an auto-sock-puppet.

        • Well played. I give you that point, for sure. Forgive my gruffness. I had just spent eight straight hours in a car, I don’t even like to leave the house.

          I’m not interested in reading any of Harris’ new work because I understand: given all his caveats, his position can be justified. But how he works as a public intellectual is to spread hatred. I wish that he would talk about neuroscience and such. This is what he claims to want to talk about it. But I think he is one of these guys (eg, Jonathan Chait) who just can’t let an argument go. He should, because I think he has valuable things to share with the world. Let torture and Islam go.

          • Mr Moraes, do you have evidence backing up ‘hatred’ being spread by Mr Harris? I am doubtful you will be able to find evidence of such. As to letting an argument go, why would anyone in the field of public discourse not respond to a refutation of their central thesis, especially one with as little regard to facts as your blog above. Wishing he would talk about neuroscience instead of engaging his arguments, quite frankly, are no way to win debates.
            And yes, I know I’m a few years late to this party.

            • I’m not interested in having yet another argument with a member of the Poor Misunderstood Sam Harris club. It isn’t because I can’t back up my argument — I have done so on many occasions. I don’t want to do it because I know that you will not accept any level of evidence. Sam Harris is a cult leader. It is hilarious that the cult believes it is rational.

              Please read: Sam Harris Isn’t as Smart as I Thought. Then go back to your private world where there are fairies and elves and Sam Harris is a serious intellectual.

              • I read the blog you linked. I am not at all impressed with your’arguments’ as they seem to be steeped in emotion. I’ll respond directly to them later, have family functions today. Thanks

                • Have fun with your family.

                  I’m not really interested in talking about Sam Harris — especially after your reference to emotion. The fact that Sam Harris presents as calm and rational does not mean his arguments aren’t emotional. And because someone else is passionate doesn’t mean they are irrational. I fear that most people laud Harris more for this demeanor than the content of his arguments. But ultimately, there are people who love him. That’s fine. But he isn’t an important public intellectual. So why is it necessary to even discuss him?

                  I’ve said all I have to say. And his defenders have said all they have to say. If you must respond, please read my many other articles (some quite positive) about Sam Harris. I can’t guarantee that I’ll respond given that I almost certainly have already responded to whatever argument you are going to make. But I’m eager to be surprised.

        • Fair response about the sock-puppet comment. Consider how someone writing that may have encountered a lot of sock-puppets (and not the good kind!)

          I fail to see with Harris (and with his fellow travelers) what exactly they’re seeking to accomplish. Should Western countries use their criminal/civic laws when trying Muslims in courts instead of the wildly varying interpretations of Islam used in fundamentalist Islamic countries? That’s what every Western country does. Should we demean Muslims for headscarves or white garments? Surely those are symbols of religious extremism. If so, should we get rid of yarmulkas, Orthodox ringlets, Jesus fishes and bumper stickers on cars?

          Ultimately I think Harris and others in his crowd want credit for being “intellectually gutsy” because they insult Islam, yet they have no concrete policy proposals that aren’t nuts. It might be an interesting theoretical/theological debate just to criticize aspects of modern Islam, and there’s nothing wrong with that. To say Carson is preferable to Chomsky is nuts, unless your point is to make some little ripple in the intellectual community (sports bloggers call this “hot takes!”)

          Did anyone here see the BBC spy from earlier this year who described his time in al-Qaeda? According to him (it’s one source, and we have to take his word for it), many recruits he met were poor, or depressed by the shallow entertainments of middle-class life, and looking for some meaning.


          A common religious justification taught them for killing civilians had to do with some ancient war in which people attacking a city captured human shields. Since the Authoritative Religious Teaching said, “yes, you can kill innocent victims to save yourself,” it means killing people willy-nilly is fine today.

          You can find something similar without even looking hard in any venerated textural tradition, be it ancient or relatively modern (“End Of Faith” has quite a few.)

          Picking apart ancient shit has some fun value for fans of reading ancient shit. Picking apart modern interpretations of theology has some fun, like picking apart why people like “Transformers” movies (they like them for about the same reasons people like certain interpretations of ancient shit; everyone else in your peer group does.) It doesn’t mean a damn thing of any practical use, besides being fun to do.

          There are real important issues about integrating Muslims into our societies. Most have to do with not scapegoating or disrespecting them, because doing so makes them cling to old traditions more strongly and increases the chance people in their new countries will support cutbacks on social/educational services essential to easing transition into a new culture with new values.

          Anyone who’s getting their jollies doubling down on how Muslims are just Too Different — and citing Christian Fundamentalists as examples of those who Get It — is not being remotely serious. They’re playing around with picking apart “Transformers” (they don’t know thing one about the ancient shit) because it impresses others in their chosen peer group. (They have more options about choosing their peer group than people born in poor, fundamentalist cultures — and act with less independence.)

          If Harris’s fun picking apart of “Transformers” amuses you, that’s fine! It amused many. (Never me, I was more of a Hitchens guy.) But it’s not remotely intellectual (it doesn’t acknowledge what it doesn’t know, the definition of intellect) or serious (thinking about what policies to pursue with actual considerations what those policies might do to human people.) It’s silly, like making lists of “what I found wrong in the new Star Wars trailer.”

          And it’s been wrangled over a lot on this blog (no way for you to know that!) so a harmless liking of Harris’s silliness will stir up some bad memories.

              • Yeah, but DFTT and I’m stressed out. You’re right, though! Happy Eating Day!

                If you aren’t eating heavily today, here’s two good things. One is a classic “change the nicknames” video made a year or two ago:


                Another is a story about how I learned to cook. I was working at a group home and nobody was working Thanksgiving except me and a Native woman. She explained how all you need to cook turkey perfectly is to defrost it thoroughly and use a meat thermometer. Given the battles my family had over Thanksgiving over the years, I thought she was lying. She was not. I cooked a perfect turkey, and learned that cooking is easy. (Vegetables are even easier than meat!)

                Yay, people who don’t think our midwinter holidays are sacred rituals worthy of family members screaming at each other over “you ruined” (insert meal course X-1)!

                • Some troll feeding is really helpful in comments. It spices things up. But I don’t think he was a troll. At least if he is, I can deal with that level of trolling. Others get much worse!

                  I don’t know if you saw the recent Bob’s Burgers Thanksgiving episode, but I was thinking, “How do you screw up a turkey?!” I’ve never made one. We are having a chicken today. I’m doing side dishes. There is my family famous macaroni and cheese. And I have created a new green bean casserole — so new I haven’t managed to turn it into a recipe. It’s more green bean than casserole, but delicious. And I made a pear-apple pie last night that looks really good. Here’s hoping.

                  I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

                  • The first way you screw up a turkey is by having a turkey.

                    The second way is forget the timer-I did that once. And hazelnuts smell awful when burned.

                    • I’ll remember that. But I am determined to go my whole life without cooking a turkey.

                    • That sounds like me and Stairway to Heaven. Never heard it and I vowed to only listen to it at an event that will never happen.

                    • How have you managed to never hear “Stairway to Heaven”? There are many of us who wish we could say the same. Except for the Tiny Tim version, of course.

                    • Pretty easily, Dad was not very into Led Zepplin and I like incredibly sappy music as well bad eighties music. So all of my seventies music is like Anne Murray or Bread.

                    • They do? Never heard it at either of mine and I don’t go to Trader Joe’s.

                    • Well, you know, I live in California, so the grocery stores are very hip — playing hits from 45 years ago!

                  • Harris the neocon torture clown has absolutely zero credibility. No one over 12 years old takes the imbecile seriously. Apparently, he’s so demoralized at being annihilated in his debate with Chomsky that he thinks he can score points by comparing Noam unfavorably with Ben Carson. This is the sort of infantile sludge you can count on this guy for. An occultist weirdo who endorses ESP, life after death, speaking in tongues and all manner of idiotic nonsense (when he’s not busy defending the hospital-bombing vermin of Israel) is the “voice of reason” Right. And I’m Reinhold Messner.

                    • It seems like it was done on purpose to get attention. But it was thrown in at the end of a long interview. I keep checking to see if Harris is going to issue a “clarification” where he explains that everyone is taking him out of context. But maybe he’s just at the point where he knows he can make the most money appealing to the neocon crowd and just going for it. I don’t know. But clearly, there is something wrong with him. I’m sick of hearing that he’s written a book with Maajid Nawaz as though that proves something. It seems like the literary equivalent of, “Some of my best friends are black.”

                • This from a guy who has mentioned he is not a great baker. :)

                  My sister does all the cooking in my family. I just bring store pies. Then again, I rarely eat much at Thanksgiving because I am not a fan of most of the food made.

                  • The traditional Thanksgiving food is not my favorite either. But today will be okay.

                    I don’t know that pies are really baking. Making pizza crusts with dry yeast seems more like baking. Anyway, I make a lot of pies. I prefer meat pies. That’s how I got stated on it.

                    • Oh, good! I was afraid you were linking to “The Worse Pies in London”! That sounds really good. Usually I make chicken pies. Sometimes I make beef pies. I’d like to make some kind of vegetarian pie, like the Amy’s pies, which are delicious. But yes, this is the idea.

                    • There is a worst pie in London? Are they imported Hot Pockets?

                      I was hoping to find a pie making video from Hampton Court’s Henry the Asshole eighth period. Last time I was in England I took a picture of my hand holding some of the real garlic they had in the kitchens since they do have archaeologists cooking in there sometimes for the kiddie tour groups.

                    • Yeah, I try not to think of what the English do to any kind of food.

                    • They don’t have sour cream. The bloody bastards! How do you make potatoes skins without sour cream?! Answer: poorly!

                      I need to stay there for six months, I would lose all the weight.

                    • The Brits don’t have sour cream? Really?! That would make life far worse.

                    • No, they don’t. It was horrible. Too small roads and no sour cream. But they have history and Dartmoor lives up to its spooky reputation.

                • I do tend to do that everywhere. I think at this point I will never be cured but there are worst things to be-like a Sam Harris fan.

                    • Yeah, I am fairly sure you have no qualms pulling a Hillary and telling me to cut it out.


                    • It took me a moment to figure out the reference. And then should I expect my proclamation to be similarly effective?

                    • No, unlike most of Wall Street (see Kevin Roose’s crashing of a high society secret function), I have the sense to stop when someone asks me to.

                    • I’m sure if it is anyone who needs to be told to stop, it isn’t you. But I’ll be on the lookout!

                    • I am sure it will happen on Twitter eventually or when I say something super sexist against men. ;-)

                    • I know it will come as a shock to many men, but it’s kind of hard to say anything sexist about them when they still have so much undeserved power as a gender. Not that I won’t bristle at, “All men…”

                    • My habit of being fair to people prevents me from doing the all men thing. Now all fifty something men…

            • Elizabeth is right! We don’t even know what your sins are when you apologize for them. You really need to up your game!

              Here’s an example. A blogger I read wrote something about the “Jewish lobby.” I wrote him privately and noted that this is generally considered racist. What he meant to say was the “Israel lobby.” His response was, “Well, no one has complained.” Now he should have changed the article and begged forgiveness. He didn’t. That’s typical. People who should apologize don’t, and people like you run around apologizing for I don’t even know what! And if you apologize for apologizing, I will hunt you don’t in Minnesota and write nasty things on your car (assuming you have one).

          • I don’t really know what Harris is on about here. This particular comment just doesn’t make sense. It seems designed to offend. And I do get that coming from someone like me. But Harris has a huge number of readers. He doesn’t need to troll. And that’s all this is. I don’t believe for an instant that Harris really would vote for Carson over Chomsky. Or if he would, he is lost to civilization.

            For the umpteenth time: Chomsky is not pro-ISIS. He is against our foreign policy that empowers groups like ISIS. But he doesn’t think if the US disappeared from the face of the earth that groups like ISIS wouldn’t exist. It’s too bad that Chomsky isn’t as lively a speaker and writer as Harris!

          • James – I guess I was looking for you to address the problems inherent in Islam that Dr. Harris points out. Your response seems to ignore that all together. You attack him without addressing the issues he brings up. It leaves me wanting more. You don’t like the guy. I get it. There is a problem with religious texts that promote violence, be they Islamic, Christian, or (name that religion). We are a tiny…microscopic planet. We have to find ways to work together for our own survival. Call it irrational fear mongering if you will. The truth, and I think folks like Sam Harris have their finger on the pulse of the issue, is that it’s imperative that we understand our interdependance. How crazy is it that in this day and age we have millions of adherents of a particular religion wanting to kill other humans because they don’t believe the same thing? I’m a person of faith, but I understand that our species’ faith traditions need serious evaluation. They are not serving us in the way they were intended. Apocolyptic scenarios dance around in our heads, not because there’s some reality out there pushing us toward it, but because there are millions, upon millions of people who believe there is a reality pushing us toward it.

            • Doug — we all have writers whose tone rubs us the wrong way, and you’re right, Harris does that for me. His books/writings may have become significantly more serious since “End Of Faith” and I’ll trust your word that they are. However saying Ben Carson is “right on terror” (or anything else) is ludicrous.

              As to the problems “inherent in Islam,” well, I linked to a story about a MI-6 spy who mentions how terrorists use ancient religious teachings to justify their actions. Clearly such people are bonkers. None of the Muslims I know are bonkers. They have superstitions I don’t about what not to eat/wear and that’s about it.

              I agree that millions of people who want others killed for worshiping the wrong way is hugely destructive. American fundamentalism is the most dangerous movement in the world without question. But we need to examine why people are drawn to it. It doesn’t exactly lure in well-adjusted sorts who love their fellow humans, then turn them into fearful/hateful supporters of endless war by reading them random Bible verses (I’ve read the same verses and so have many liberal Christians.) It’s a movement that was moribund in 1930, picked up steam with opposition to the New Deal and support of Red-baiting, then blew up into a modern force opposing civil rights. (Billy Graham got his start as an anti-union guy, and became hugely popular by opposing civil rights.)

              These are my people, I know them in my bones, it’s what I grew up in. (There are liberal Evangelicals, a small but principled movement.)

              Clearly people are drawn to fundamentalist Christianity because of their political views, xenophobia being the most important. (I mean adult converts. Children are raised xenophobic in that movement.) The same can probably be said for every totalitarian movement, and quite a few had very little connection to religions.

              The deeper question is what causes these “fear/hate of The Other” views to begin with. Part of it must be rooted in our mental makeup as humans, part of it involves sociopolitical dynamics.

              If Islam is so inherently evil, why was the Ottoman Empire vastly less violent than most other empires? Muslims have never gone for mass pogroms against Jews, while Christians and secular governments have. (Iran’s leaders love to spew anti-Jewish bile, but the large Jewish community in Iran is better treated than Jews in Europe ever were.)

              What we think of as modern, “terrorist” Islam basically didn’t take off until Europe started using former Ottoman countries as an exploited labor pool. And that’s important to note. (The aforementioned Iran would be a secular government today if we and the Brits hadn’t staged a coup in 1953 for the benefit of BP.)

              To me, the “let’s be brave and outspoken and identify Islam as this great threat to civilization” stuff is just a way for supporters of capitalist imperialism to avoid any blame for their disastrous policies.

              Anyone who criticizes modern, fundamentalist Islam has to start with what caused it to grow — not some ancient scripture, but geopolitics of the last 150 years. If Harris is doing that, I’ll read him again. If he’s not, I can’t take him seriously in the slightest.

              • Well stated. I have a hard time taking these arguments seriously, because regardless of what they say, this is really all about people being upset that Sam Harris has been wounded. And he has worked very hard to make his followers feel that he must be defended. Certainly admirers of Chomsky don’t feel that they have to troll every website looking for excuses to defend the Great Man. That tells you a whole lot about Sam Harris and just how serious a thinker he is.

                My recommendation is to stay away from any new Sam Harris books. The arguments that “he’s much better now” are just a special case of “Sam Harris is always misunderstood” argument. If Sam Harris wanted to have a reasonable conversation rather than throwing red meat to his followers, he wouldn’t go around talking up how right European fascists, Ted Cruz, and Ben Carson are. Sam Harris is the thinking man’s demagogue.

                • Recommendation noted. If someone says, “you should read the new Harris, it’s a cogent critique of how US military policy helped ferment fundamentalist Islam” I might give it a look. But he’ll never write that book. That’s why Yahweh, may his name be blessed, gave us grownup writers who actually increase our understanding of the world around us.

                  It does seem like a lot of people don’t want to have a discussion about the issues Harris pokes at so much as nobly defend his honor. Chivalry is not dead! I launch into contest carrying my true love’s token!

                  How would one even get int a flame war about Dr. Noam? He doesn’t do what people in the sports blog world call “hot takes.” It’s sheer scholarship.

                  Supposedly left-leaning political writers who engage in “hot takes” are feeding off the corpse of Gore Vidal. Who made appearances, as often as he could, before hostile audiences (“no point in preaching to the converted,” he wrote.) Who readily admitted on a regular basis that his predictions were wrong and his views changed over time. Who regarded religion as a kind of mania yet respected how other cultures are no stupider than our own. Then again, he was a history buff.

                  • The first Chomsky book I ever read was, Towards a New Cold War. It blew my mind. But being who I was, I went out looking for counter arguments. There were none. That’s the thing about someone whose critiques are too sharp and well documented: they just ignore them. I have to admit to being impressed by Buckley in actually engaging with him. I think that Buckley made a few good points, although Chomsky had the facts on his side.

                    • Buckley, ginormous friend of imperialism and racism that he was, had some standards. I think they were arbitrary standards, but he did stick to them. I appreciate it when anyone has a internal code of conduct. When the drug war violated Buckley’s code, he came out against it. I’ll always be grateful to him for that. He did a lot of harm; in that moment he did some good.

                      As an intellectual . . . pshaw. When losing an argument against Vidal on TV, Buckley went fag-bashing. This is offensive of itself; it’s more offensive since Buckley gave off gaydar signals beyond the charts. If Buckley ever regarded one woman as an equal it’d be a shock to me. Only men were worth debating, only men were worth regarding seriously. Buckley produced children with his sperm, but he was totally gay.

                    • One thing about Buckley is that he really believed. You never got the impression that he was pretending the way most conservatives do today. So I think it was easy for him to debate Chomsky, because he knew much the same history as Chomsky, but saw it as good. So much modern conservatism is based on not knowing the facts. That’s what’s behind the whole “Bush kept us safe” meme. You can’t make a cogent argument for American imperialism if you aren’t even aware that it exists.

                      Now an interesting debate would be between Noam Chomsky and Eric Alterman on Palestine. That I would enjoy, although I’m afraid that Alterman would be crushed. And let’s face it: Alterman is more of a literary type than anything. I really like him, but when it comes to geopolitics, he isn’t even Max Blumenthal, much less Noam Chomsky.

                      Oh, speaking of which, I had dinner with a couple of very interesting people my sister has been trying to set me up with. They are both big Slavoj Zizek fans. I noted that it was sad that they are both really difficult to listen to because Chomsky is such a boring speaker and Zizek has such a terrible accent. But on the page: brilliant. Anyway, I thought, “James should be here!” It was definitely your kind of night.

      • Well that was no reply at all. You can’t just refuse to play and then declare victory. Any of your readers with a brain can see that.

        • You misunderstand how this works. Tedious repetitions of the “Sam Harris is so misunderstood” arguments do not deserve a response. I wish I had literally provided no response at all.

      • “his special blend of pure logic and fearlessness in the face of PC criticism.”

        Yes how dare he employ logic and not appeasing cry babies who can’t get their minds to wrap around the problem because they’re more concerned with leaving a legacy of their own niceties. This article is a joke.

        Here’s a clue: If you’re arriving at conclusions through, other than logical means, then you’re doing it wrong.

        If you follow Islam with honest intentions you will seek to commit jihad.

        If you ignore some of the rules of Islam you are not following the religion honestly.

        Muslims with the strongest personal integrity will seek to honestly follow the rules.

        Muslims with the strongest personal integrity will not pretend to themselves that the text does not say, what it clearly says

        Jihad is the only option for these people and they will exist until the text says something besides kill the infidel.

        The text can never say anything besides kill the infidel. It is…

        “…the only perfect book, wanting in naught.”

        We are fuel for the fire.

        Stop apologizing for this garbage you fucking idiot.

        • God damn trolls piddling all over the floor like this. *puts down a bunch of paper towels* Oh gross, I got it on my hand!

          • It’s weird. The entire rant is based upon the fact that he didn’t understand that I was being sarcastic about Sam Harris’ thinking. But I think I was pretty nice to Harris in this article. I do think he’s a smart guy and well worth listening to except on this issue where his bigotry blinds him.

            But it’s funny to watch the ever repeating process: Harris says something offensive; people complain; Harris defends himself by claiming people just didn’t understand the subtlety of his argument. If that happened once or twice, okay. But it happens constantly, indicating that either he’s a really bad writer, or he’s lying (to himself most of all). I think it’s the latter.

            But the thinking and writing of his followers shows what’s really going on: bigotry pure and simple.

            • Sam Harris’s bigotry is something of a joke. Donald Trump’s bigotry is not. And yet we’re not allowed to link A to B.

              • Trump’s bigotry is coarse. Harris’ is finely tuned. It’s the same thing with everyone getting upset about the use of the n-word, but pretending that systemic racism doesn’t exist.

    • You nailed it Kevin….reading this article was pretty infuriating for it’s complete misunderstanding that another point of view CAN exist, until I got to your comment, which made me feel a lot better and in the company of sane people again.

        • I just glanced at it. Seems to be one troll thanking God that other trolls had been by earlier.

          Is the “peeing” analogy in reference to one of my articles? It seems to me that I wrote something about how a website was like a business and that one should be respectful when they enter a business. But most people don’t think that way. I’ve found most trolls to be subgeniuses at best — and usually much worse than that. Occasionally, one will make a good point and I can turn it into a good conversion. But both these were of the “you dissed my hero” variety, which means they have nothing to say.

  2. I saw that interview a few days ago. Not Sam’s finest hour. He seems to be getting worse. The obsession he has, and Hitchens as well, with Islam is a glaring blind spot in their thinking. I suspect with both men that their Jewish heritage plays a role in this. And more importantly, white male with money privilege. Islam, to them, is especially bad because Arabs are violent, swarthy Others. But really they are not worse than the fundamentalist christian and Jewish communities. All three are nearly identical in their goals. The christians and Jews are constrained by the relatively (on our better days) nonviolent social norms in the West. Except for some notable terrorist organizations like the KKK and Operation Rescue. And except for how the Likud party treats the Palestinians.
    One of the reasons I am not a broad spectrum anti-theist, apart from practical considerations about wanting as many allies as I can get, is that I don’t think religion is the primary axis of alignment in people. I primarily consider myself a liberal, who is also an atheist. Religion can and is put in the service of all manner of ideology. The ideology is the problem. The religion mainly becomes a problem when it provides divine armor for bad ideas that would require much more work to sustain by other means.

    • I don’t know. The ADL has been pretty good on Islamophobia. But I don’t know why and I don’t really care at this point. I thought it was funny that Harris was complaining that he wanted to be talking about other things. I know how terrible that is: everyone going around making Sam Harris talk about things he doesn’t want to. He is the biggest whiner in the public square.

  3. Kevin said: He is saying that certain passages in the Koran allow for violent and repressive behaviors. He fully concedes that political and social factors have an impact as well, but when considering the specific atrocities committed, and the forms of repression used, the beliefs and practices in Islam must be examined.”

    Ignoring the part about the Koran as it is not unique in justification for violent and repressive behaviors, this sentence I believe shows where you and Sam run off the tracks.

    Sure, he fully concedes political and social factors have an impact, he just never bothers to factor them in in any meaningful way. If he mentions them at all they never come into play in his calculations, and are only ever considered again when it comes time to face his critics … then those ‘throw away’ comments become the central theme of his argument … “but I did consider political and social factors, see right there on page xx are the words ‘political and social factors’. … of course, this is complete intellectual dishonesty as simply recognizing that something exists, then going on to ignore that they play any factor in your arguments or the real world, is a meaningless acknowledgment. Unless you then go on to explain why they play no factor, or include them in your factoring, you are saying nothing.

    I challenge anyone to show any time Harris has presented an in-dept analysis of how social and political factors play a part in the conflict with Muslim countries. At best he simply says “we can concede all these facts” and then go on to ignore that these facts even exist. The furthest I’ve ever seen Harris do any meaningful comment on social factors is to comment on how the 9/11 terrorists were middle-class so as to offhandedly dismiss social factors (as though all the people being fought in Afghanistan and Iraq were college educated hipsters who accidentally opened the Koran while visiting the library and were immediately brain washed into killing infidels.)

    “but when considering the specific atrocities committed, and the forms of repression used, the beliefs and practices in Islam must be examined.”

    Sure, but again this is such a limited and closed-minded examination that it is almost laughable. There is nothing unique or ‘interesting’ in the ‘forms of repression’ used, you can find similar (even same) forms all over this planet wherever conflict occurs. Drug gangs in Mexico, insurgent groups in central and south America (including groups trained by the USA’s ‘School of the Americas”,) Conflicts in central/south central Africa, etc.

    In so far as religion plays a part it is just as likely to become part of the avenue to achieving peace as it is any other factor. If you really believe that a conflict is caused by religious, political and social issues, then putting one of these issues aside and treating it as a non negotiable issue that must first be totally destroyed before any movement on political and social issues can move forward is simply and bluntly STUPID.

    There is only one real answer to conflict, one avenue out of conflict, and that is when serious people sit down and talk … all conflict ends this way, the process of war is one of the stupid and usually unnecessary steps on that path to discussions … Harris may understand this, but he seems to not really care that his works appeal far more to people who see forced western Imperialism as ‘the answer’ rather than part (a large part) of the problem.

    Neo-con thought has morphed a bit from the 90’s and early 2000’s. They’ve lost some of the more abrasive GOP policies, the gay, feminist, minority hatred is less in your face, although they still only care about these groups in so far as it can forward the remaining neo-con agenda (securing US hegemony around the world,) and these groups are the very same groups that support and fund Harris and his agenda.

    Harris is no great warrior for oppressed gays and women around the world, he didn’t spend his youth fighting for human rights, for the rights of women and gays .. he spent it as the poor rich kid traveling the world on his mom’s credit card experimenting with drugs. He only started to show ‘concern’ for human rights when it served his purpose as a weapon to attack Islam … of course he will still apologize for the western bombing that kills these same oppressed women, and then turns around and use this ‘unfortunate acceptance of collateral damage’ as justification for torture.

    Hopefully Harris has no real influence in this conflict, as all he is doing is providing justification to extend this conflict, and in doing so extend the suffering and oppression of the very groups he claims to be worried about. Bombing a people back to the stone-age has never been the answer to empowering women, gays and minorities.

    You can tell how little he really considers the plight of women when he was asked why his books and blogs attracted so few women … his answer was completely dismissive of women, essentially saying that women were just incapable, due to the defect of being women, of appreciating his manly man philosophy. Then went on to write a blog post justify his comments as ‘just jokes’ and how much he respects women … okay, he respects women so much that when asked a serious question by one, the response is ‘hey, here’s a funny joke answer that will offend you’.

    • Well stated! Whenever I read a comment like that I’m sad that the writer isn’t associated with a blog.

      A big problem with Harris is the way he won’t own his focus. There are lots of things I care about that I don’t write about. And that’s because I don’t care about them nearly as much as I do the things that I do write about. You nailed it here in how Harris brings up non-religious issues only when he’s being attacked. His focus is what he cares about: Islam — or rather hatred of Islam. I doubt people would complain so much about him if he would just own it. But he never will because that will put him in the category of Carson and Cruz. He wants the good things that come from their demagoguery and still be respected by liberals.

    • When I was a kid, my father left the Catholic Church for a very specific reason. I was very young (eleven or so) but I remember it vividly. During one sermon the priest said voters (this was 1984, right before the election) should consider more than one issue. “There are people in this congregation today who would vote for Genghis Khan if he were anti-abortion.”

      Well, that was it for my dad. How dare a priest tell him to focus on more than one issue! So he never went again, and found a new church that shared his obsession that abortion was the greatest evil known to humankind.

      Harris is like my dad here. “We much denounce Islam, it is the only thing that matters.” At least the anti-abortion nuts have a platform — they’re going to ban abortion (for poor people; I doubt they’ll prosecute rich women who take trips overseas “for their health.”)

      What exactly do Harris et.al. think we should do? Scream hatred more loudly? Bomb more people? Unless they’re willing to go full-on genocide and commit to establishing a worldwide police state which punishes Islamic faith with imprisonment or death, they’re being nonsensical.

      And I believe Harris would back that, not that I’ve read a word of his since “End Of Faith,” which was only good for kindling. I think some people are turned on by the idea that their wildest notions might determine the lives of millions.

      Recently a cop shot an unarmed black man here in front of witnesses. As usual. Protests began in front of the police station, as usual. On Tuesday some white supremacists shot several protesters (fortunately none died and the shooters were all captured later.)

      A skilled newspaper reporter tracked down one of the shooters online, at a far-far-right wing site. After the bigots did their shooting, some posters on the site were really regretful and suggested the angriest threads should be taken down a notch. (So says the reporter, I don’t look at sites like that.)

      My point is that normal people who say vile things for attention are appalled when those vile things result in actual violence. But some others are pretty thrilled. Trump’s immigrant bashing has already resulted in increased hate crimes; Trump loves it. Harris’s contributions to Muslim-bashing have helped create an America where drone operators refer to kids being killed as “fun-sized terrorists,” a Europe where Muslims live in abominable slums, has helped enable the political candidacy of madmen like Carson, and Harris loves it.

      Christ, even Norway dialed back the hate level a bit after Anders Brevik slaughtered all those teens for being future liberal traitors to Western Civilization. It seems to me like the Harrises and Hitchenses (damn “es”!, I hate that with a name ending in “S”) love loathing terrorists because they’re engaged in the same game. Like how Grover Norquist and all those Young Republican types studied Stalinist control measures to fight Communism.

      • You could also say that Harris is like the regular Muslims. Certainly he wouldn’t want to be held responsible for the bigots who kill. Nor would anyone expect him to make a public statement any time such bigots hurt other people. Yet the opposite is common. I would assume that Harris would claim that he doesn’t blame all Muslims (that’s a pretty shaking claim) or think that Muslim groups should have to apologize for the acts of radicals, but he does indeed provide intellectual support for those who do. But as I’ve stated again and again: the issue is racism — treating groups as monolithic.

        • I’m afraid I don’t see it as racism Frank. Sam Harris is very clear when he talks about, not a religion as a whole, but rather actual people commiting crimes or groups of people ascribing to certain extreme doctrines or texts. It’s not a condemnation as much as it is a wake up call to look at religion in general (especially the ones who have segments of their membership religiously justifying the maiming and killing of other humans). So, please address the issues being raised rather than critique the person raising them.

          • I’ve written about Harris and religion a great deal. This article is not intended to be the final word on either. And I’ve dealt with the issue of religious intolerance as racism. I don’t know who is linking to me, but I find it tiresome to have Sam Harris fans come here and try to start conversations about him. Since the article is about Sam Harris and his bigotry, it is comical that you would expect me to talk about “issues” rather than the person given the issue is the person.

            • It’s a compliment! Somebody out there was bugged enough by your writing to link to it!

              I can’t speak for the participants in this thread, of course, but I think this goes back to what you’ve said about New Atheists and libertarianism (of course one can be religious and like Harris, too.) The “sensible” Islamophobes (we don’t want them all killed, of course, just the bad ones, and anyone else within a few hundred miles) want to blame anything — anything — rather than American foreign policy for the current terrorist movements. Since American foreign policy has been largely in service of business interests, and we all know business interests made great policy decisions; it’s the free market, right, it’s like science and stuff!

              This whole seemingly-sober-minded “we need to assign blame to all religions” (just not US policy, ever) stuff is mindboggling. Let’s look at some events in US history that everyone (who isn’t a Carson supporter) agrees to be wrong, and define them by New Atheist standards.

              Genocide of the Native population; clearly, the fault of religion. Conquistadors didn’t want gold and justified murder by “converting” the Natives; they were Christians first, which is why they donated all gold to the Church and died in poverty. Same thing with settlers; not a one wanted to get rich.

              Slavery: again, Christianity’s fault. If the Bible didn’t allow for slavery, nobody ever would have thought of it. Damn you Gutenberg, you created slavery!

              And slavery was the last thing America ever did wrong, so we’ll stop there. (Also, the soldiers who sang “Battle Hymn Of The Republic” were really atheists — they were using religious imagery is a literary-reference way, they didn’t believe God hated slavery.)

              To flip this around: do we actually think if Islam didn’t exist, that there would be no such thing as murderous resistance from politically devastated groups? They could just be treated like ass and accept it if they were atheists? (That didn’t work for the Soviet government so well, which is why they put millions of rebellious atheists in gulags and killed many others.)

              Oh, well. Some people don’t want to admit that empires have consequences. We all have blind spots. Take the compliment that you annoyed them enough in your charmingly polite way to stir up response!

              • Whenever I find myself thinking something that just so happens to support American empire, it gives me pause. It doesn’t mean it is wrong, but it is suspect. This is the kind of thing that the Harris types don’t engage with. They are the intellectual left guard of the neocons. But sadly, I don’t think most of them even realize that.

  4. This article seems to have been written by someone who clearly dislikes Sam Harris due to his criticism of Islam among other things. That seems to be the starting point for the author. He has already made up his mind that no matter what Harris says, he is wrong. Harris has his opinions and he presents them extremely well and convincingly (and his eloquence doesn’t hurt). I am yet to see a single response rich in substance and fact, and light on verbal diarrhea. Sorry but this is nothing more than a ‘hit piece’. Instead of engaging in honest debate, the typical response from the left seems to be name calling whenever confronted with anything that makes them uncomfortable.

    • And you couldn’t even spend 5 seconds to search this site for all of the positive things I’ve said about Sam Harris. I think it is clear that you are just another member of the Sam Harris army who can brook no criticism of him. Poor misunderstood Sam Harris. What would he do if he didn’t have people like you running around the internet protecting his good name!

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