Sam Harris Was Right About Neanderthals


Europeans have, on average, more neanderthal DNA than Africans. In an interview with Ezra Klein, Sam Harris said, “Had it gone another way, all of a sudden we can’t talk about Neanderthal DNA anymore.”

His point is that if Africans had more DNA, liberals like myself wouldn’t want to talk about it because it would be a concrete sign that Africans were more brutish. It’s a hilariously stupid thought to support his contention that Charles Murray is a perfectly fine person to platform on his show.

But Sam Harris is probably right. But not for the reasons he thinks.

What Would Happen If Africans Were More Neanderthal

The truth is that if Africans did have more neanderthal DNA than Europeans, it would cause a reaction. White supremacists would use the information along with the ignorant belief that Neanderthals were stupid brutes to argue that white people are superior to black people.

And thus, the discussion of neanderthals would become complicated. Because for each person who was discussing neanderthals seriously, there would be ten who were just using it to push racist bullshit.

Neanderthal DNA, IQ, Whatever

“All of a sudden we can’t talk about Neanderthal DNA anymore.” –Sam Harris

It’s like IQ. There are plenty of people who talk about it seriously and there is never a problem. No one demonstrates against James Flynn speaking on a college campus. They have a problem with Charles Murray because he isn’t actually a scientist. Instead, he’s a racist quack who uses the respectability of the pretense of science to push his own political agenda.

Sam Harris has shown himself to be open to racist IQ pseudoscience. He has also shown that he accepts the same tired stereotypes of neanderthals. So if it had turned out that Africans had more neanderthal DNA than Europeans, I have little doubt that Harris would allow racist quacks on his show to use this information to push their agenda.

And he would do this because, he’d claim, college students were trying to silence the brave neanderthal quacks. It certainly wouldn’t be because Sam Harris has some latent racism that he refuses to grapple with.

No, it would be because he’s just a brave truth-teller. It’s interesting that brave truth-tellers are almost always people pushing really old, regressive ideas. Leftist ideas somehow have a much higher activation energy when it comes to brave truth-telling.

Sam Harris Gonna Platform Bigots

The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what neanderthal DNA says about human evolution. White supremacists would use it to make racist arguments if it helped them and ignore it if it didn’t. If it did help them make their case, liberals would rightly see the issue as a delicate one.

And Sam Harris would platform racists wanting to use it.

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1 thought on “Sam Harris Was Right About Neanderthals

  1. In William Burroughs’s essay collection, “The Adding Machine,” he mentions that the defining mark of an asshole is someone who always has to be right.

    That’s Harris’s curse. He can never admit when he was just dead damn wrong about something. All sorts of great writers with high public profiles have no problem admitting “I called that one wrong.” Harris can’t — and what’s more, he doubles down by embracing a shared persecution complex with similarly obstinate, sometimes truly vile public figures such as Jordan Peterson.

    To me it’s the pseudo-intellectual equivalent of a shock jock like Limbaugh or Alex Jones. They’ll say outrageous things to get attention, then backtrack to claim “it was only a joke, stop being so sensitive.” (Rather like an emotionally abusive partner.) Harris and his ilk will say outrageous things (such as advocating nukes to get rid of Islamic countries Harris doesn’t like, which he absofuckinglutely did in “The End Of Faith”), then post-dub some pseudo-philosophical bullshit to explain how he Didn’t Mean It Literally Yet He Stands By The Moral Principles He Was Illuminating.

    Harris published “End Of Faith” at just the right time, lucky for him. Republicans were running an aggressively anti-gay-marriage platform, with same-sex marriage bans on the ballot in swing states where same-sex marriage was already illegal. It was designed to increase bigot turnout, and it worked (thanks, Karl Rove), and many agnostic or post-religious people turned in frustration to the New Atheists who told religion to go fuck itself. The paperback copy of “Faith,” published after the 2004 elections, sold like bathtub gin during Prohibition (and was roughly of the same quality; I would amuse friends by reading the crummiest paragraphs out loud). Once Prohibition ended, people didn’t want bathtub gin anymore. Once Obama was elected, people didn’t want “fuck religion” books anymore.

    Fundamentalism certainly remains one of our democratic problems, as does bigotry in every form and neoliberalism’s failings, but these all constitute a Venn diagram where circles are constantly floating around. (Like malevolent alien orbs in an old “Trek” episode.) Nobody wants to read a “fundamentalism sucks” book anymore, it’s been done. We’re interested in the other floating circles.

    And unlike a Michelle Alexander or Naomi Klein who are content to focus on the floating circles they know most about, Harris wants to be thought of as a Big Picture guy. The grand unified theory of what’s wrong with all our conceptions, presented for we small minds by Dr. Harris. He has a Ph.D in neuroscience, no small achievement, although I suspect he’s the kind of college teacher who goes full nuts if an undergrad calls him “professor” instead of “doctor.”

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