Sam Harris drains the intellectual cesspool of Salon

November 26, 2015 • 12:00 pm

Over the years, Salon has proven itself an organ of the Regressive Left, vilifying atheists at every turn, constantly flaunting the canard of Islamophobia, and coddling religion. With the exception of Jeff Tayler’s “strident” antitheistic Sunday Secular Sermons (see his most recent piece on the soppy, faith-osculating David Brooks), it’s a pretty vile place for those who adhere to Enlightenment values.

A while back, after Sam Harris had been subjected to a number of misguided and hateful pieces in Salon—like this one—he decided to write the place off, refusing to be interviewed by the site and telling his publisher not to send them review copies of his books. I don’t blame him.

Recently, however, Sam suspended his boycott and sat down for an interview with Sean Illing, a Salon staff writer whom I’ve criticized in the past for bashing New Atheists (Illing is a nonbeliever), as well as for Illing’s osculation of religion and promulgation of the Little People’s Argument (“everyone but folks like me need religion”). Illing, by the way, appears to have been butthurt by my piece, and mentions it in his interview.

Sam gave several conditions for the interview, which you can see at the transcript (Sam kept his own record), but he couldn’t prevent Salon from editing it—which it did. It’s a good interview, and Sam is quite eloquent, giving a few choice words about regressive Leftists like Reza Aslan and Glenn Greenwald. He also makes a few remarks about the incompatibility of science and religion, as Illing, here and in the column I criticized previously, suggests that almost no religious people take the empirical claims of their faith as literal truths.

I recommend reading all of Sam’s piece as a good digestif after today’s food orgy. I’ll highlight just one Q&A bit before I mention the perfidy of Salon.

Below Sam discusses why religion must surely play a role in jihadism and the brutality of organizations like ISIS and Boko Haram, and I can’t see how he’s wrong here (my emphasis in Sam’s answer).

[Illing]: Let’s start with your views on Islam. You’ve acknowledged that Islamic extremism is a hydra-headed problem that can’t be reduced to single variable – certainly I agree with that. Given that the Islamic world has not always been what it is today, and has at times been more civilized than the Christian world, how much weight can we give to factors like history, geopolitics, foreign policy, or Western interventionism? And if these non-religious variables are significant, does it undermine the argument that Islam is a uniquelyproblematic religion?

[Harris]: The short answer is that I think the problems we are seeing throughout the Muslim world—jihadism, sectarian conflict, and all the attendant talk of Muslim “humiliation”—are almost entirely religious. And wherever rational grievances do exist, they are invariably viewed, and become magnified, through a religious lens. The truth is that a belief in specific religious doctrines is sufficient to produce all the violence, intolerance, and backwardness we see in the Muslim world.

The abysmal treatment of women, the hostility to free speech, the daily bloodletting between Sunni and Shia—these things have absolutely nothing to do with U.S. foreign policy or the founding of Israel. And, contrary to the assertions of many regressive Leftists and Islamist apologists, violent jihad is not a product of colonialism or the 20th century. The tactic of suicide bombing is relatively new, of course, as is the spread of jihadist ideology on social media, but if you had stood at the gates of Vienna in 1683, you could have not helped but notice the civilizational problem of jihad.

Yes, politics and ordinary grievances enter into many of these recent conflicts. It isn’t difficult to see why a person who has lost his or her family in an errant drone strike might hate America, and there is no question that a desire for revenge transcends religion or culture. But the truth is that a sincere belief in the metaphysics of martyrdom can turn an ordinary person into a dangerous religious maniac. And only Islam preaches this doctrine as one of its central tenets.

I have yet to hear the blame-the-West crowd explain why the items in bold, not to mention the killing of apostates, Yazidis, and gays, can be pinned on the West. Saudi Arabia’s brutality, which I mentioned in the last post, can’t really be pinned on colonialism, either, as the country is supposedly our ally. Seriously, can you make any coherent argument why the oppression of women endemic to most Muslim lands  stems from colonialist missteps by the West?

Every country that criminalizes apostasy, some imposing the death penalty, is a majority-Muslim land. Is that a result of colonialism—or religion? And the death penalty for blasphemy—also given only in Muslim-majority nations (save Nigeria, which is largely Muslim)—how can that be blamed on anything but religion? After all, the very idea of blasphemy involves religion!

But I digress. One thing that stands out in Sam’s interview is the bit that wasn’t published by Salon. As you might expect, that was the one part that was critical of the website. Here’s Sam’s transcript of what Salon said when it published the piece:

Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 9.07.54 AM

When I checked the interview on Salon, I noticed that that disclaimer was gone, and in the interview’s preface, Illing now says this:

This was mostly an email correspondence, not a traditional interview, so remarks were edited throughout.

Sam verified that in the original version, the disclaimer was the first one shown above. It was changed by Illing, apparently in response to Sam’s own post.

Why did Salon change this disclaimer? Because the first bit on editing was simply a bald-faced lie: Salon did make substantive changes in the interview. And those changes were the ones eliminating the critique of Salon. Here’s the stuff Sam said that Salon chose not to print:

As long as we’re talking about the regressive Left, it would be remiss of me not to point out how culpable Salon is for giving it a voice. The problem is not limited to the political correctness and masochism I’ve been speaking about—it’s also the practice of outright deception to defame Islam’s critics. To give you one example, I once wrote an article about Islamist violence in which I spoke in glowing terms about Malala Yousafzai. I literally saidnothing but good things about her. I claimed that she is the best thing to come out of the Muslim world in a thousand years. I said she is extraordinarily brave and eloquent and doing what millions of Muslim men and women are too terrified to do, which is to stand up to forces of theocracy in her own society. I also said that though she hadn’t won the Nobel Prize that year, she absolutely deserved it—and deserved it far more than some of its recent recipients had. And in response to this encomium, Salon published a piece by the lunatic Murtaza Hussain entitled, “Sam Harris Slurs Malala,” which subjected my views to the same defamatory and dishonest treatment that I’ve come to expect from him. And this sort of thing has been done to me a dozen times on your website. And yet Salon purports to be a forum for the civil discussion of important ideas.

Most readers simply don’t understand how this game is played. If they read an article which states that Sam Harris is a racist, genocidal, xenophobic, pro-torture goon who supported the Iraq war—all of which has been alleged about me in Salon—well, then, it’s assumed that some journalists who work for the website under proper editorial control have actually looked into the matter and feel that they are on firm enough ground to legally say such things. There’s a real confusion about what journalism has become, and I can assure you that very few people realize that much of what appears on your website is produced by malicious freaks who are just blogging in their underpants.

I’m not saying that everything that Salon publishes is on the same level, and I have nothing bad to say about what you’ve written, Sean. But there is an enormous difference between honest criticism and defamatory lies. If I say that Malala is a total hero who deserves a Nobel Prize, and Salon titles its article “Sam Harris Slurs Malala,” that’s tabloid-level dishonesty. It’s worse, in fact, because when one reads about what a nanny said about Brad and Angelina in a tabloid, one knows that such gossip stands a good chance of not being true. Salon purports to be representing consequential ideas fairly, and yet it does this sort of thing more often than any website I can think of. The latest piece on me was titled “Sam Harris’ dangerous new idiocy: Incoherent, Islamophobic and simply immoral.” I don’t think I’m being thin-skinned in detecting an uncharitable editorial position being taken there. Salon is telling the world that I’m a dangerous, immoral, Islamophobic idiot. And worse, the contents of these articles invariably misrepresent my actual views. This problem isn’t remedied by merely publishing this conversation.

I love the bit about “malicious freaks who are just blogging in their underpants.” Sam is clearly extremely angry at Salon, and it shows, but I can’t blame him given the site’s one-sided behavior, dressing up hatred as journalism.

And that behavior continues. The first disclaimer was simply a flat-out lie, with Salon leaving out the stuff that makes it look bad. That’s reprehensible journalism—if you call what Salon does “journalism”. If a website solicits an interview, they can’t simply expunge the criticism of their own behavior without looking duplicitous. Well, the first disclaimer has mysteriously vanished.

And even with the amended disclaimer, saying that Harris’s remarks were “edited throughout,” the piece remains mendacious, for “edited throughout” implies that Salon simply tweaked the piece because it was “email correspondence.” The new disclaimer is still a lie, for, as Sam told me, it wasn’t “edited throughout”: the only edit to the text was the section Salon omitted.

Since Illing apparently wrote the emended disclaimer himself, he’s responsible for this, not his editors, and it’s just more dishonest journalism. Salon can’t even conduct an interview without trying to cover its tuchus, and Illing is complicit in that. But. as a staff writer, he knows who butters his bread.

150 thoughts on “Sam Harris drains the intellectual cesspool of Salon

  1. “Recently, however, Sam suspended his boycott and sat down”

    Turtle and scorpion, etc. Those who wish to think the best of others tend to give people second, third, fourth chances and it’s usually in vain.

    The fact that the exchange was via email is even less justification for editing, since each person has presumably already edited his own remarks before sending.

  2. Then again, some things Harris says are disturbing, e.g. this:

    “Is it crazy to express as Ted Cruz did, a preference for Christians over Muslims in this process? Of course not. What percentage of Christians will be jihadists or want to live under sharia law? Zero. And this is a massive, in fact the only, concern when talking about security. If we know that some percentage of Muslims will be jihadists, inevitably we know we cannot be perfect in our filtering, if we know that a larger percentage, if not jihadists, will be committed to resisting assimilation into our society, then to know that a given refugee, or family of refugees, is Christian, is a wealth of information, and quite positive information, in this context. So it is not mere bigotry, or mere xenophobia, to express that preference.”

      1. But the Plutocrats and others who have big plans for this country and the world saw the Communists were falling by the wayside. So the only other they can build up as a Big Bad were the followers of Islam. Christianity, with Judaism against Islam would be nightmare fuel for a long term conflict. And works out as the imperial minded here saw a long haul war. Declaring Global War on Terrorism sounded good to them. Jihadists versus Crusaders. War is terrorism. And the more war the more small scale war or terrorism will happen. And now that the marketing is in the Daesh’s favor, they are franchising all over the world via YouTube etc.

        A brilliant plan that is working. And those who plan and carry it out got more than they bargained for yet it still works in their favor. We all get to pay for it.

        Even failure for their supposed goals still give them more reason to have even larger military and use it more often in over 100 countries.

        1. “War is terrorism”

          WHAT? Was the war against the Nazis terrorism?

          How do you think America and Europe should respond to the Islamist attacks? With flowers and #JeSuisParis hashtags?

          1. Yikes. I am afraid you have stepped upon the paranoia club. One who can separate Muslims and Christians and the other who believes the whole thing is a conspiracy. Why did I not think of that?

      2. Okay, in your opinion, exactly what if anything ought Harris or anyone else say about jihad and Sharia?

        For starters:
        That while zero Christians wish to live under Sharia (Islamic theocracy), a sizable number of them seem just hunky-dory with Christian theocracy. By specifically saying “Sharia” he pre-loaded the question.

        1. Currently, I do not know any Christian country that is theocracy or is visibly endangered to become one, while every single Muslim-majority country either is already a theocracy or can become one any moment. Including our NATO ally Turkey, a century after Attaturk’s reforms.

          1. Currently, I do not know any Christian country that is theocracy

            Countries don’t become refugees. People do. The question under consideration is refugees from Syria. The current US administration plans to accept a total of 10,000 such Syrian refugees. Even if every one of them was a Muslim who supported Sharia, that would probably still be fewer than the number of Christian Americans who support Christian theocracy.

      3. What percentage of Christians will be jihadists or want to live under sharia law? Zero. And this is a massive, in fact the only, concern when talking about security.

        Jihad and Sharia are the only concerns when talking about security? That would mean we have no security concerns about dealing with non-Islamic nations and people. Is it any wonder that Harris gets accused of over-simplification?

        1. Why are you assuming something that Sam Harris hasn’t said, and then accuse him of simplification?

          The subject of his conversation with Douglas Murray weren’t non-Islamic nations but the Islamic ones.

          1. Why are you assuming something that Sam Harris hasn’t said…

            Directly quoting hims is “assuming something that Sam Harris hasn’t said”? Seriously?

          2. You assumed he had no concerns about security threats posed by “non-Islamic countries and people”, when he wasn’t even discussing such countries.

            Again, don’t assume stuff you think Sam Harris thinks and then pretend you disagree with Sam Harris.

    1. And what’s exactly disturbing about it?

      Sam Harris is simply talking about the facts, are the the facts disturbing to you?

      1. I don’t want to argue with you; if you don’t find that disturbing, I doubt I could reach you at all. I thought one particular fact — that Harris had said what I quoted — might be disturbing to Jerry.

        1. I find it disturbing, too.

          I generally agree with him but think that he shouldn’t be so focused on Islam but should instead be saying, “…so you see folks, religion really does wreck things…”

          And maybe he does say that but then he goes and says something very Trumpy like this, and you can begin to see why people can dislike him intensely.

          1. But saying “religion just wrecks things”, while generally true, doesn’t really nail the problem. Jainism isn’t wrecking things, Buddhism isn’t wrecking things. Pretending Islam isn’t wrecking more things than the other religions right now isn’t going to make the truth go away.

            We shouldn’t shy away from the truth simply because it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable, we should acknowledge and deal with it.

    2. Personally I think Sam overstates the danger from Islamic terrorism, but if it really was the biggest threat to civilization (or nearly so) then I think it’s fair to say that accepting tens of thousands of Muslim refugees would measurably degrade our security.

      Of course security must be balanced against other values such as fairness and compassion, and Sam also shares those values. He’s only arguing that if you worry about Islamic terrorism, like Ted Cruz claims to, then it’s not “crazy” for Ted Cruz to express a preference for Christians.

      I heard the original conversation in which he made this argument – the text in the Salon interview seems to be a reuse of the same thoughts – and if I recall correctly it was in the context of complaining about unfair, knee-jerk criticism from the “regressive left”. He used the example of Ted Cruz to say that even an odious politician’s arguments should be treated fairly. I don’t think Sam believes we should actually establish a policy favoring Christians. He certainly hasn’t said that.

      But Sam does have a habit of making very narrow arguments that lead people to infer broader things he hasn’t actually said. He says his critics are distorting his words, and he’s right, but he does seem to say things that are easily misunderstood…

      1. (Ignore my comment about the Salon interview. I was mistaken in thinking the parent poster’s quote came from there.)

        1. Yep. Taking a little snippet of text or speech and putting it out of context to make it seem sinister is exactly the kind of thing Salon et al. do.

          Anyone familiar with Sam’s work probably realises just how unlikely he is to agree with Ted Cruz, and yet, without context, quotes like this make Sam seem like some right wing, bigoted, anti-Muslim nut.

          1. Indeed!

            I subscribe to Sam’s bl*g and usually read (or listen to, when he doesn’t provide a transcript) everything he posts in its entirety. I’ve not yet gotten around to the Salon piece, though.

      2. Adam, the last paragraph was well put. I am not sure it explains why everybody that has trouble with Sam…does, but I think you have covered most of them quite simply.

        BUT, why can you and I notice where Sam does this where others cannot. in the press, I’m going with confirmation bias, and those pricks should know better (I suspect they do). Lets see if those ‘malicious freaks blogging in their underpants’ can figure out if they’re part of a group that they always dreamed they would be.

  3. I read all of it on Sam’s site yesterday. This salon is really just a pile of garbage and should be buried in the digital landfill.

    1. I read it when it came out too, and continue to be disgusted with Salon’s dishonesty.

      The interview is well worth reading though. I thoroughly recommend it.

      1. please read it at if you have not already, although I think Jerry got all the missing stuff (not 100% on that though)

  4. Good to know Sam Harris is out there patrolling the dark waters, always moving forward, circling his prey, striking with ferocious intensity, growing row after row of fresh teeth as fast as he snaps off the old ones in the flesh of his opponent’s spurious arguments.

    1. I donno… I remember the early days of Sam Harris and his lengthy, insightful, and uninhibited speeches and debates about topics of interest. He’s still insightful, but from listening to his podcasts and interviews, I can hear that over the years he’s become increasingly weary, distraught, angry, and even a bit inhibited due to the mounting and often unfair criticism he receives.

      In his interview with Cenk Uygur, he seemed quite distressed by the end of it. And in this interview from just last month, he’s uncharacteristically upset almost all the way through. He spends more and more of his time complaining about his critics, and I almost expect every interview now to contain a vitriolic (albeit justified) digression about them. I think it’s really wearing on him. I hope he doesn’t get burned out.

      1. I hear what you’re saying, Adam, and you’ve got a point. I haven’t followed Sam as intently of late as I once did — in the early days following The End of Faith and his follow-ups, when he was a new, fresh voice calling out from the wilderness with a unique take on the problems of religion.

        You can hardly blame him for some weariness. He’s been unfairly attacked, repeatedly, and his opponents frequently seem intent on baiting him into controversial stances. (I specifically include here the woman who approached him at a book signing with a tendentious inquiry about the dearth of women at the forefront of the atheist movement. Sam offered up what seemed to me a good-faith, sincere response on a speculative topic — only to be roundly, and unfairly, vilified in the blogosphere. His answer may turn out to be wrong, but it wasn’t flippant and certainly not misogynistic. And, AFAIK, none of those who feigned umbrage at his answer have offered a plausible counter-explanation of their own.)

        These attacks seem to have left Sam on edge, always anticipating an attack, wary of any interlocutor’s motives — often bit, twice shy, you could say.

        Yet some of his wounds have been self-inflicted. I’m at a loss to see why, for example, he wastes his time with these torture and nuclear-first-strike issues. They aren’t central to the arguments he makes. Furthermore, their basis is not just speculative, but fanciful. (To my knowledge, there’s never been one of these ticking-time-bomb scenarios that Sam says might warrant the use of torture.) He sometimes seems compelled to follow every implications of all his arguments out to their logical conclusion, even ones that are hardly worth the candle.

        Still, as I said above, it does a body good to know he’s out there fighting the worthy battles, casting his light upon benightedness in its many manifestations. I continue to find his writing worth reading, his ideas and arguments worth the effort expended in their engagement.

        1. “To my knowledge, there’s never been one of these ticking-time-bomb scenarios that Sam says might warrant the use of torture.”

          Check out the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on torture. If you cant be bothered to google it, I will briefly summarize: A guy steals a car with a baby in the back seat on an extremely hot summer day in Australia. He ditches the car and is picked up in a train station by police. They know he stole the car because he has in his possession objects from the car. He denies stealing it. They tell him the baby is going to bake to death in the car. He wont tell them where it is parked. They try bargaining, etc. He wont budge. Time is running out and the child is baking in the car. The detective starts beating the shit out of him and he tells where the car is and they find the child who is alive and may or may not have suffered brain damage. Was it morally wrong to beat him? Would it have been less wrong to let the child die?

          1. My understanding of Harris’s opinion is very close to this story. He is, in fact, attempting to alert people to the difficulty of holding a blanket prohibition against torture(as some politicians have said) when there are hypotheticals like this encyclopedia case. His example usually involves the case of a terrorist with a nuclear bomb.
            In my view he is providing an important contribution to the discourse on terrorism, whether you lean one way or the other.

          2. What principle do you derive from the encyclopedic case? How would you propose to encode that principle in law?

            Such scenarios, it seems to me, are sui generis; we know ’em when we see ’em (or, rather, when we conjure them in our imagination, if our imagination is vivid enough). But any rule I can think of that allows for torture in such scenarios is likely in the long run to foment more mischief than it forestalls.

            Similarly, I can conjure particular cases where the rawest form of vigilante justice looks (and, to the victim no doubt, feels) like true justice. But that doesn’t justify enshrining vigilantism in the law.

          3. Sam Harris recommends torture should be illegal, but sometimes it’s going to be justifiable to break the law and it should be reviewed on a case by case basis. If a police officer decides to torture someone, he should be prosecuted and they can decide in court if it was justified.

          4. Yes, I understand that. It was also Clint Eastwood’s point in Dirty Harry.

            Anglo-American law has long recognized “necessity” as a defense in a criminal prosecution. It is a defense to the crime of “trespass,” for example, that one had to enter upon the property of another without the property owner’s consent to prevent a greater harm from occurring. It’s similarly a defense to a battery charge that one had to knock another on his ass to keep him from getting hit by a street car.

            There is nothing new here, and little of interest. Moreover, the whole ticking-nuclear-weapon scenario is fanciful in the extreme. By focusing on such topics, nonetheless, Sam provides grist for his critics to malign him as “pro-torture,” which distracts attention from his important arguments.

          5. “If a police officer decides to torture someone, he should be prosecuted and they can decide in court if it was justified.”

            If torture is at all a possibility, and if time possibly allows, seems to me there should be the equivalent of a standing grand jury or panel of jurists, in several round-the-clock shifts on duty, to review the circumstances and make a prior determination of whether torture is justified, as opposed to a single police officer having to bear that responsibility.

            Is it within the realm of possibility that a lone police officer, having declined to torture, would be prosecuted for dereliction of duty for having so declined?

          6. IICR there were U.S. POWs in Hiroshima and/or Nagasaki. Seems quite a sui generis. Don’t know if Truman was aware of it. Should his awareness or reasonable anticipation and contemplation of that reasonable likelihood, of that specific factor, have had any bearing on his decision?

            Seems to me that thinking about “what-ifs?” and potential unexpected consequences, and contingency planning, is better than no thinking/planning.

          7. There were any number of operations during War 2 (and pretty much every other war) where friendlies were knowingly sacrificed for the sake of the mission. So, yes, HST would doubtless have proceeded even knowing American POWs would perish in Fat Man & Little Boy.

            Indeed, war is all about sacrificing lives to further the perceived national interest. That’s why it must be undertaken only as a last resort, under none but the most dire and extreme circumstances.

            Your round-the-clock juridical-torture-determination panel is hardly a practical solution.* But even assuming it were, pray tell, by what standard would you have it render its decisions?

            *Given that the nation has never yet had the need for such a panel’s services, would you suggest we lock the panelists in a room with No Exit, there to view an unending staging of En attendant Godot? 🙂

          8. ” . . . pray tell, by what standard would you have it render its decisions?”

            I’ll have to think about that. I’m not seeking for anyone to be tortured. Again, if torture there must be, seems the decision should be made at a quite high paygrade. In the interim, by the same after-the-fact Monday Morning Quarterback standard(s) Ruan Jacobz’s policeman would be judged by a judge and/or jury? What say ye, Ruan Jacobz?

          9. The alternative to the atomic bombing was the mainland invasion, in which case the Japanese promised to execute all POWs.

          10. There are two inherently contradictory views — traditional and revisionist — regarding the necessity of dropping The Bomb to end War 2, okoun. I’ve tried to read up on them to figure out which has the better of the argument, but both sides seem to have settled on their conclusions first, and only then scoured the enormous factual record for ammunition to support their respective positions.

            I will say that the traditionalist view I grew up hearing from my father and his buddies of the so-called “greatest generation” (many of whom, like my dad, were serving in the Pacific theater at the end of the war) seems to have itself undergone a bit of revisionism in the war’s immediate aftermath. By the time I came of age to discuss it with them, to a man they were convinced they would have all been slaughtered on the beaches of Japan during a land invasion had The Bomb(s) not been dropped.

            Maybe so, but I remain open to arguments either way.

        2. Yeah, I’m also glad he’s still fighting the good fight. I just hope he doesn’t suffer too much for it, in the end.

  5. Poor Sam Harris. I think he is abused and misinterpreted more than anyone among the NA. His clarity and eloquence in the interview will solidify and enhance his reputation with any objective reader of Salon. It’s clearly worth it to reach that audience.

  6. Salon should not have edited out those comments, but that doesn’t change the fact that Sam Harris is nothing but a neocon ‘America firster’ dressed unconvincingly in philosopher’s clothes. His style of argument is particularly obnoxious, always reflexively claiming that anyone who disagrees with him, including Pulitzer prize winning journalist Glenn Greenwald or PZ Myers, is a liar and / or is taking him out of context. He would do better to address the actual justified criticisms his wild provocations provoke. Yes, it really is OK to object to some of the disturbing statements he has made about torture, nuclear first strikes on Islamist countries and profiling, among others.

    1. When he makes claims about Greenwald, etc., being liars he has provided evidence. Just as he has done in this case. Something I fail to observe in your comment, I might add.

      1. Not really, he usually just whines that he has been quoted ‘out of context’. As if you have to read all of his horribly-written books in order to form an opinion about his despicable and infamous ‘nuclear first strike’ or ‘torture’ statements. Or to object to his latest agreement with Ted Cruz on religious tests for immigrants.

        1. “As if you have to read all of his horribly-written books in order to form an opinion about his despicable and infamous…..”

          So you form your opinion about his views without actually having read what he says?

          I rest my case, your Honour.

          1. I read enough of it to know that the guy has no compassion or decency whatsoever, and is in fact a disgrace to atheists everywhere. I hope I never have to read another word he writes again, especially after his latest Carson-Chomsky idiocy.

          2. You’re dead wrong; I know Sam quite well and can attest to both his compassion and his decency. One bit of evidence: his fund-raising and campaigning to keep Ayaan Hirsi Ali from being murdered. And your rudeness is a disgrace to commenters on this site.

        2. Speaking of whining.

          I have read his books. The End of Faith was the first of the “Gnu Atheist” books, and I’ve read most of them since that one first came out.

          Which ones have you read and on what basis do you conclude they are “horribly-written”?

        3. Sam Harris’s books are hardly “horribly-written.” He is clear and precise prose stylist. Of course, you’d have to actually read his books to know that, which you quite clearly have not done.

          There are certainly grounds to disagree with Harris. I take issue with his arguments regarding torture and nuclear first strikes (although, even here, his arguments are much more nuanced than his critics give him credit for. Too often, these points are sideshows to his main arguments, which too often get lost in the muddle made by his critics pouncing unfairly.)

          Those critics — you included — never engage with the arguments Harris actually makes; they hurl labels at him instead (foremost among them the odious “Islamophobe”). In support, as Sam has noted, they invariably wrench quotations from him from their context, the better to strawman his positions. This makes it difficult to credit his critics with good faith.

        4. If he said you had to read all his books first, you’d be right in considering that unreasonable. But from what I’ve seen, the most controversial things he’s said are very small pieces of his overall work – two paragraphs here, a page there – and he has made this clear almost every time he’s mentioned people taking him out of context.

          You don’t need to read all his books, but you should be willing to read a few paragraphs, especially given that he usually quotes the relevant text in its entirety (or provides a link to a quote) when he writes about people taking him out of context. You may not agree that he’s being misquoted, but it would take very little time to see for yourself.

      2. Likewise, when people accuse Harris of over-simplication, lengthy thought experiments based on faulty assumptions, and accusing his opponents of insincerity rather than sincere disagreement, they provide evidence.

    2. I’m a Glenn Greenwald fan. He is brilliant. He is resourceful. He is principled. I am also of the view a sub-sect of atheists exhibit reflexive in-group tendencies that psychologically likewise underpin jihadist movements. You may not see it much on Jerry’s site but head on over to Pharyngula and there’s no shortage of pimply keyboard warriors invoking tormented visions of scientism and accomodationism to render Chris Mooney or a De Grasse Tyson an outsider. To wit, it’s the same mental mechanism a Jihadi employs to cast the sufi or ismaili muslim a kaffir.

      Greenwald is not imagining things. But never have I heard anything from Greenwald against Harris that is persuasive. Never has Greenwald refuted Harris. Their interaction was once amiable. But Greenwald has stick up where the sun don’t shine and it’s likely to stay there. Some of his tweets, like his portrayal Harris’ torture comments, have been simply dishonest and mendacious.

      One need not agree with Harris (…anything he’s said of guns is scatter-brained). And if that’s the case it does not justify going on a character assassination rant, as Greenwald is clearly guilty of. I think it is laudable people think torture is horrid. What is not so laudable is when one bends reasons to steer one to a pre-conceived position. So torture does not work? But what if you came up with an innovation that did make it work? What if we water-boarded multiple individuals and statistically vetted output for reliability? Harris has merely pondered about difficult issues at a theoretical level. He is the furthest one can be from a neo-con. If he makes one think hard about things that are uncomfortable, he deserves a medal for it.

      1. Greenwald’s problem with Harris is quite simple. Harris is not a member of Greenwald’s Israel bashing marching and chowder society.

    3. “His style of argument is particularly obnoxious…”
      and there is nothing particularly obnoxious about throwing gays of a building?
      Obnoxious? I think it is more direct, no nonsense and as it should be if we are to move on as humanist civilised beings.
      More to the point, it is Greenwald and Salon for that matter, “that would do better to address the actual justified criticisms that Sam Harris’s provocations provoke”

  7. I like the “blogging in their underpants” line (in spite of realizing i usually READ the Hili dialogues here in my own).
    I infer that the remarks of Sams attackers on colonialism come from their colon.

  8. Salon is a very strange website. It is clearly liberal in orientation and several of its regular contributors I respect, e.g. Heather Digby Parton and, of course, Jeffrey Tayler. They also post extended excerpts from books. Sean Illing himself has written several pieces on the economy, which I thought insightful. Yet, more than a few of its postings are inane, including pointless sex ones. Often, the titles have little to do with the actual subject matter of the articles. My guess is that the editors are trying to attract anyone who can be loosely described as on the left of the political spectrum. Thus, perhaps, to attract both atheists and liberal theists, they will post articles reflecting both points of view. Apparently, the editors think this is a winning strategy.

  9. Disgraceful treatment of Sam by an unethical organization aiming to be little more than middle brow click bait. I’ve avoided the site ever since they allowed that idiot Curtis White to print an extract from his stupid book “The Science Delusion” in which he accused Hitchens of lying — without identifying a single lie. (Some people obviously consider the world a safer place without Hitch around.)

  10. I find it very dishonest how Harris is often treated by some sections of the media but I think a lot of it has to do with sloppy journalism. Once a narrative about his views is put out there (which it has) it becomes the accepted truth. That is why he gets framed as pro-nuclear first strike in the middle east (through selective quote mining) and pro-Iraq invasion (he never was*).

    What makes the Salon debacle particularly egregious is the fact it seems to be on purpose. The editors want Harris to come across a certain way. They know Harris will publish the content they left out and they don’t care. They must be very certain their readership won’t bother digging any further

    No one has to agree with Harris on any of his positions. But it would be nice if people disagreed with positions he actually held.

    *Dawkins, another person who opposed the invasion, often gets labelled as being in the “pro” camp. My suspicision is that too many people conflated Dawkins and Harris with Hitchens (who was in favour of it). The whole “New Atheists all think X” type of lazy reporting.

  11. …. I have yet to hear the blame-the-West crowd explain ….

    I am a proud and loud part of the blame-the-West crowd, and I was ready to come out swinging after the author of this freakin BTW crowd deal, but….. Nah.

    Arguing with anti-Islam atheists is probably worse than, and as useless as, arguing with radical Islamists themselves.

    So I will fast forward to my usual blame-the-West crowd closing:

    Hey you, West, GTFO out of the Middle-East!

    It is YOUR war, but MY dead.

    1. I’d very well agree, the moment when you propose a way for people derived from Mideast AND still sticking to Mideast mentality to GTFO out of the West.
      This reminds me of a discussion with a guy who wanted Europe to take back the Jews who moved to Israel (and their descendants). I said that Europe will be very happy to return to an earlier demographic distribution, i.e. many Jews back to Europe and many more Muslims back to Mideast and North Africa. He, as one of these Muslims, didn’t like the idea.

    1. So you say that Jerry shouldn’t praise Sam Harris for his 100% spot-on interview for Salon only because you happen to disagree with something Sam said elsewhere?

      1. Apparently so. It’s Oh Professor Ceiling Cat, do shut up now. And I have no idea what Brayton wrote about. I was discussing the Salon and the piece on Harris’s site, but I guess I’m supposed to shut up because something else is going on that I don’t know about. Jebus.

    2. I would suggest that the readers of this site read the comments on the Brayton post. In particular, the comments by the estimable Michael Heath, one of the most thoughtful commentors I have encountered on the Internet, who provides an eloquent defense of Sam Harris. I reproduce a portion of a comment that sums up his position well. I apologize to Prof. Coyne for the length of this quote but I think it states the case for Harris well.

      My motivation here is to encourage this forum to consider Harris in totality beyond his verbal arguments or a handful of his points. As I’ve noted before here before, I’m a Harris fanboy for two major reaons. He takes on difficult subjects head-on and publishes beautifully written arguments. As anyone cares about the argumentation craft well knows, it’s far easier to construct written arguments that verbal unrehearsed arguments.

      I’ve long argued we need to be more tolerant and forgiving of public figures misspeaking or not being precisely consistent verbally when those verbal exchanges are not credible and not consistent with what they write. My motivation is simple. I think it’s prudent to consider people’s verbal arguments in good faith in order to encourage more speech, not attempt to suppress it with pedantic condemning dismissals that appear motivated to avoid having to deal with the larger argument being made.

      That doesn’t suggest I think we shouldn’t criticize verbal arguments that are worthy of condemnation. Instead I think we should compare what’s being argued verbally to what the advocate writes.

      Having said all that, here’s what I object to that Sam Harris verbalized:

      What percentage of Christians will be jihadists or want to live under Sharia law? Zero. And this is a massive, in fact the only, concern when talking about security.
      [Heath bolded]

      Ed’s on solid ground with his argument that the case to suspend Syrian refugees from immigrating to the U.S. doesn’t withstand credible scrutiny. Sam Harris’ argument here is absurd for reasons I’ve recently argued beyond Ed’s arguments. That we need to consider the minute benefits of suspension with the short- and long-term costs of not being liberal in our refugee policy. Harris idiotically seems to ignore all the beneficial factors to drive home his obvious and very true point that jihadists are our enemy. Idiotic because he appears to infer his security concerns apply to the Syrian refugee crisis when that is not only far from being validated, but most likely not in any way a concerning threat given our current screening processes.

      But these defects in Harris’ arguments are relatively small compared to all the solid points he also makes. Points that far too many liberals are too cowardly to even confront, let alone argue for public policy that considers the damage Islamic fundamentalism wreaks. So from this perspective I would argue it’s more productive to challenge Mr. Harris on his point of idiocy rather than feebly attempt to use it to justify an attempt to ignore Sam Harris broader arguments. That’s a type of epistemic closure the right practices, and unfortunately, the left when it comes to threat of Islamism in general and Muslim terrorists specifically.

      1. I have been trying to sort out this back and forth about Sam Harris, and I find this posting helpful.
        We have taken the position elsewhere that a person can be right about some things and wrong about others, but the wrong things do not mean we should throw out everything. Christopher Hitchens comes to mind as a person who can be held to this consideration, for example.

        As for anyone who says that we should oppose the Syrian refugees for fear that some may be wolves in sheeps’ clothing, I can only say this:
        As far as I have heard, more Muslims have recently entered this country by conventional means (work visas, student visas, etc., than the #s of planned refugees from Syria. Those refugees are screened over many, many months, and although this screening may not be perfect it is clear that the easiest way for a jihadist to enter this country is thru more conventional routes. So I do not at this point agree with Sam if he thinks that we should be concerned about certain individuals among the refugees. Heck, we are pretty good at rearing our own terrorists according to recent history.

        1. Yes! I don’t understand how the critics of Syrian refugees are thinking, when the regular immigration of religious groups (say) outnumber them.(Such as here in Sweden.)

          Especially with the background of WWII and how the analogous behavior of accusing people who flees from genocide played out, sorry to say.

          1. The difference is that there is now a public discussion about accepting / non-accepting Syrian refugees, while nobody seems to know when, where and by whom decisions about regular immigration are taken.

    3. “The odds that one of those 10,000 refugees is going to become a terrorist once they’re here is, I’m quite certain, a whole lot lower than the risk that one or more of them will be victims of bigotry and prejudice in this country by some tobacco-chewing, heavily-armed American “patriot.”

      How can you even take this writing seriously? First, we already know that 2 of the Paris attackers were refugees.

      Second, is this person really trying to say that suffering some bigotry and prejudice is just as bad or worse than suffering terrorism?

  12. Cool, I learned two new words: perfidy and digestif.

    And I’m greatly amused by the occurrence of butthurt , which was a childhood favorite.

    More digressively, oh, the predictable shaming that would come my way were I to utter it as a woman in the company of the social-engineering Lego withholders in Seattle! Ironic, right?

  13. Way to go, Sam Harris! I respect most of your thoughtful and cogent statements about a number of issues, especially non-religiously based morality. We need to understand clearly that morality is not exclusively a god-given human trait.

    Some secular groups I know tend not to elaborate a positive set of “beliefs”/goals, but focus primarily on local secular community-building (however important) and/or discussing the best ways of using reason to convince religionists of the error of their ways (highly unlikely). Not all religious believers are far-right evangelical christians who want a theocracy, or muslim jihadis. I abhor the extremists. I want people of all religions, and none, to be able to coexist peacefully. No forcing us all to share the same belief system, whether accomplished intellectually, politically or by the sword. Pollyannaish, I know. Not here so far, I know. Nonetheless, I would hope that most secularists could continue to take the high road, constructing a pathway that all could travel. We need positive secular agendas created, enunciated and enacted.

  14. I’ve been perplexed by the colonialism –> terrorism argument for a while. Have the people making it not considered that Islamic countries weren’t the only part of the world that was colonized?
    The north-east of Brazil (Bahia, for example) has a population that is by a large majority descended from African slaves (80% or so.) That case is more than colonization. Enslaved, transported, forced to work, forced to convert to Catholicism- and yet no terrorism. There’s certainly crime, poverty, violence, drug trafficking, but no ideological/religious terrorism. The same is true of a number of other post-colonial societies; so at some point reasonable people must ask what role religion has in this game.

    1. Think of this one a little closer to home maybe. I don’t know their history well before 1939 but since, Poland has been worse than colonized. So where are all those polish terrorist, as Sam Harris would ask? They should be all over Germany and Russia at least.

      Colonial repression is just a lame excuse for Islamist behavior. The central American terrorist should be all over the United States.
      How would the people of Hawaii vote to become a State after what we did to them?

      We have no need to ask what role religion has play, it is the lead player.

    2. Indeed. After making this point several times (with other examples) in various fora my provisional conclusion is that most people simply don’t have a broad enough grasp of history to realize this contradiction. They only ever learn the history they need to fit the position they’ve decided to take.

  15. Sometimes these issues go off course a little and the real issue gets left behind with this turn. Sam Harris, as most know is perfectly capable of handling his detractors and while he may not always be right on every single thing, he is most of the time.

    The big issue here is the so-called journalism of Salon. Websites like this should be called out when they operate in the manor they have done so here. All they really can have is their integrity and when they lose it they will fade away. They become just another crummy tabloid, like something you once picked up at the check out counter.

  16. I’m going to disagree with Harris (and Jerry) one one point, with which I would have agreed a short time ago. But I’ve learned a fair bit since.

    Women are not oppressed in Islamic nations. People are oppressed. Women and men face different burdens and limitations, but neither is really better off than the other overall. More precisely, men have all the burdens, and women the limitations (almost always traceable to the burdens on men).

    For example, in nations where women aren’t allowed to get a job, or not allowed without the permission of their husband/father/brother/etc., that’s not due to oppression of women. It’s due to the fact that under Sharia, men are 100% responsible for all financial support of the family – themselves, their children, and any unmarried adult female relatives (daughter, sister, niece, etc.). In a poor country with limited employment opportunities, letting women get jobs would mean men not getting jobs, which means those men couldn’t support their families. The women who did get jobs would have zero obligation to provide any support to either themselves or their families. In less poor countries, where the woman needs to get permission first, it’s because all of the expenses that ensue are on the man – he must see to her transportation to and from the job, pay for any child support services, etc. Every penny she earns is hers alone – she is under no obligation to support herself or her family.

    Even when it comes to apparently clear-cut cases like how women are forced to dress in a particular way (almost entirely by other women, it should be noted), it’s not out of hatred, but an overdeveloped sense of protection. Women are infantilized, not despised. Much as you place restrictions on what your children do to protect them from themselves, Sharia places restrictions on women to protect them. Because as with every society in human history, women are valued more than men.

    While much ado is made about Saudi women not being allowed to drive, no one ever seems to point out that the overwhelming majority of them don’t want the right. They like leaving the responsibility of their transportation to the men. Those pushing for the right are also pushing for separate roads entirely for women, so they shouldn’t be mistaken for people pursuing equality.

    And every place they mutilate the genitals of little girls, they do likewise to little boys. While it’s worse for the girls in roughly 85% of cases (the rest are homologous to a standard circumcision), it’s rather like saying it’s worse to lose your arm at the shoulder than the elbow. Both are barbarisms that should be outlawed (note that only one is in the West).

    It’s a bad system, of course, and I wouldn’t want to live under it as either sex. It’s paternalistic and deeply sexist, but not misogynistic.

    1. WtF? Where to begin, hmmm,
      By any measure that I can muster, women are singled out for being ‘special’ in numerous ways that look exactly like repression. At least you coulda fooled me.
      1. Opportunities. You say that most women in S.A. do not want to drive. Assuming that is true, what about the ones who do want to drive? I guess they are just supposed to grin and bear it. And having a job let alone a career? If a woman aspires to work, to get a higher degree in education, and, hell, in some areas to learn how to read, her life can be put in mortal danger. You assume that b/c some like to stay covered and stay at home and be ignorant that they all do? No. Women are people, and people want different things.
      2. The veil. I have heard the argument that they like it, and that it is an expression of their specialness. To those who do, well, ‘more’ power to them, but many do not like it. What about them? Again, I guess they should just shut up b/c all women are alike, right?
      3. Rape or other crimes involving a woman. A woman cannot on her own accuse a man of rape. The accusation must be corroborated by men (in the plural), like that will happen very often.
      4. Wanting a divorce. Fat chance.
      5. Protection from an abusive spouse. Fat chance. She could go to prison for trying to create trouble like that.
      6. Oh, and if a woman comes under suspicion of having been seen with boy, then it’s off to the honor killing for her!
      But maybe you are a Troll. Hard to tell.

        1. “Thanny is not a troll, but I think he/she has been misled and is very confused.”

          His her rhetoric reminds me of what I hear from men’s rights activists who will argue women haven’t had it any worse than men historically because they got to stay in their cozy houses raising the children while the poor men had to suffer the elements, and risk their lives fighting bear to feed their families.

          1. MRAs have actually argued that only men have been oppressed, and that men are in fact enslaved as they are forced to, as you said, keep the wife all cozy in the house.
            And the fact that she has to have as many children as he wants, cannot refuse sex, and can be beaten with impunity is clear evidence that women are valued more than men in Islamic society. Oh yeah.

          2. I bet Martin Luther is their patron saint, he having declared to the effect, regarding women dying in childbirth, “Let them die of it; that is what they are for.”

      1. Mark, I think we all know that Egyptians 50 years ago found the idea of the hijab bizarre. Well, here’s your evidence. Nasser, for whom I hold no particular torch, in 1958 coming over all urological on the Muslim Brotherhood’s ass: I think this may be the last time an Arab leader made a genuinely funny speech. 2 minutes. x

          1. Diane, Saddam, contrary to popular assumptions, wasn’t secular. In a majority Shi’a country, it was initially advisable for the Sunni Saddam to appear secular in establishing power.
            But by the late 80s his Islamization was definitely in full swing. In 1989, he established the Saddam University for Islamic Studies: in 1990, the Saddam centre for reciting the Koran; in 1991, the phrase ‘Allahu Akhbar’ on the flag; in the same year Islamic banking; again in 1991 the building of 10 madrassas per year; the 1993 Faith campaign to fuse Ba’athism with Salafism. I could go on, but you get the drift.
            It may have begun cynically but by the end Saddam appears really to have been an out-and-out Islamist and believer. After all, he did say that feared only Allah in his final speech at his trial.
            I have seen several comments describing it as the greatest speech ever made. Presumably those people come from the Saddam Fedayeen crack troops who later used Saddam’s execution methods as members of ISIS.
            Incidentally, we all know of the meme that the US and UK, through their arms sales, created Saddam. Rather astonishingly, the facts don’t bear this out. Between 1973 and 2002, the figures for deliveries of major conventional weapons to Iraq are these:
            USSR (and ex-USSR) 57%
            France 13%
            China 12%
            The US comes in equal 10th with 0.46%: the UK is 17th with 0.18%. In fact if any state propped up Saddam’s wars, it was the USSR and ex-USSR. x

          2. Thanks so much for the corrections and the information, Dermot! Now to commit that to memory.

            I guess I was mostly going by some of the pictures of women in…Baghdad, I think…in western garb with not even any headscarves. I don’t remember the date of those, though.

            Great weapon-supply statistics, too. I’d never have thought our contributions were so tiny!

          3. “Great weapon-supply statistics, too. I’d never have thought our contributions were so tiny!”

            That get’s me to wondering why Reagan troubled himself to send Rumsfeld to Iraq to shake the hand of Saddam in the early 80’s, as documented on film. Just how substantially did the U.S. support (its proxy?) Iraq in its war with Iran in the 80’s?

          4. Rumsfeld went to Iraq in 1983 in order to re-establish diplomatic relations after a 16 year freeze following the 1967 Israeli war. And in order to support Saddam in however half-hearted a fashion in his war against Iran. The subsequent 1980s US-Saddam relationship was bumpy and often fraught. x

      2. First, you’re simply mistaken about many of your claims.

        For example, women under Sharia can get a divorce. They just need cause, and the causes they have at their disposal are not hard to come by. Spousal abuse is one of them.

        Second, you’re completely misreading what I wrote. I did not argue that women aren’t oppressed under Islamic culture. I argued that both men and women are, in different ways.

        As for honor killing, that’s most properly viewed as an example of the brutal system of justice that is Sharia. You can killed for quite a few other things as well, as both man and woman.

        And again, since you seem to have completely missed this part, I don’t like the system. I think it’s quite bad. So it would be quite bad of you to respond as if I’m defending it.

    2. There is truth to what you say. Many of these practices (including FGM) are supported, enforced, and defended by (and often primarily by) the majority of Muslim women. And men aren’t living like kings with women as slaves; they also have a hard life.

      But there are real inequities. For instance, consider how a woman’s testimony is worth less in court. Is there a good reason for that? And even if most women say that women shouldn’t drive, why shouldn’t the ones who do want to drive (on the same roads as everyone else) be allowed?

      We protect children because they are vulnerable, but parents are expected to stop running their children’s lives as they grow up. Women there are never allowed to “grow up”. If women in those countries need constant protection, what do they need protection from? Those same men that claim to value women highly? Or if they don’t really need constant protection, then this is overprotection, and overprotection is oppression.

      I’m always wary of people who use force to “protect” adults against their will…

      1. I thought I made it clear that I don’t approve of the system in any way. I just don’t think the rhetoric of misogyny serves any real purpose.

        Something I didn’t make clear, mostly because I didn’t want to turn out a novella, is that once such a system is in place, side effects can easily occur that don’t have any direct utilitarian motives behind them.

        For example, the practice in the past of our own culture of keeping women out of dangerous and difficult jobs (again, to protect them) lead some to conclude that women were incapable of doing difficult and dangerous jobs. While that’s certainly true of many physically demanding jobs (which women should still be able to apply for, so long as they have to meet the same standards as men do for those jobs), the attitude was carried well beyond that. Fighting against those attitudes needed to be done, and is one of the few good things that can reasonably be credited to feminism.

        So there isn’t necessarily a logical reason behind any practice or attitude that is especially detrimental to women or to men. It’s just not reasonable to blame systematic misogyny or misandry for such cases.

        The overall reason why societies had a habit of putting all the burdens on men and protecting women (excessively so) boils down to our reproductive biology. Women are simply more valuable than men in reproduction, for what should be obvious reasons.

        And no, I’m not advocating any kind of group selection. The drive to protect women at the expense of men gets rooted into the culture when populations are small and the problem is obvious. There might be room for a genetic basis, but the selection scenario is pretty fuzzy. Close-knit communities of largely related adult males might make that easier, but it’s hard to avoid what could be a just-so story.

        1. And what makes you think that women were prohibited from doing dangerous jobs because men wanted to protect them due to their reproductive capacity?..

          That is your first mistake.

          A faulty premise.

          Methinks that you have bought into naive ideas about chivalry.

    3. In Pakistan, 1000 women die each year in honor killings. You got raped? They stone you to death. Watta religion!!

    4. Women are infantilized, not despised. Much as you place restrictions on what your children do to protect them from themselves, Sharia places restrictions on women to protect them.

      That, my dear, is misogyny.

      1. No, it isn’t. That just isn’t what that word means. Misogyny is hatred of women.

        You can no more claim that overprotective attitudes towards women is misogyny than you can claim that overprotective attitudes by parents for their children is misopedy.

        Not without abandoning any right to call yourself reasonable.

    5. Which is why women are treated as actual property and no crime is considered to have been committed after a father or Imam literally rapes a 9 yo girl to death.

    6. I get the impression that you think Sam doesn’t go far enough, he may or may not agree with your extra (and valid imho) points

    7. “In a poor country with limited employment opportunities, letting women get jobs would mean men not getting jobs, which means those men couldn’t support their families.”

      I don’t think this is true from economic point of view. The more people are employed, the more goods are produced, the more real purchasing power people have, the more demand for more goods and services, the more jobs. E.g. in countries with lower retirement age, you typically find more unemployment, not less.

    8. “Women are not oppressed in Islamic nations. People are oppressed.”

      So umm.. let me see if I get this straight. Your argument is that women aren’t oppressed because men are oppressed too?

      1. So your argument is that you don’t understand rhetorical points. Either that, or you don’t count women as people.

        1. “So your argument is that you don’t understand rhetorical points. Either that, or you don’t count women as people.”

          Or what’s more likely as evidenced by the response to your comment is that you made no sense. Something you unsurprisingly still don’t recognize.

    9. No, sorry, this same argument was advanced by anti-feminists when women started to move into the workforce in the West and it does not hold water. It has been proven over and over again that women joining the ranks of the employed stimulates and strengthens the economy. There is no excuse for anyone not understanding in the 21st century that women working is good for everybody.

      And no, I’m not going to buy the lazy false equivalency that the men who have/earn *all* the money and control *all* the property and assets and make *all* the decisions about everything are “just as oppressed” as the women who are not allowed any of these privileges, who cannot even refuse sexual intercourse with the males who are for all practical purposes their owners. No. Just no.

      1. I’ll only say that you clearly don’t understand the various economics involved, and also don’t understand that much of the Islamic world is not living in the 21st century.

        Nor do you understand, despite my clearly stating so, that I don’t support the Islamic system. Unlike you, however, I like to understand that which I criticize.

        1. “I’ll only say that you clearly don’t understand the various economics involved”

          Oh yes clearly you are much more enlightened than the rest of us as you made a point of saying at the beginning of your initial comment. You need not tell us repeatedly.

    10. “It’s paternalistic and deeply sexist, but not misogynistic.”

      Where to even start with this ridiculous comment. I can’t even begin to unpack.

      1. I suggest you look up the meaning of the words first, since your characterization can only come from a place of ignorance.

    11. A quick look at Wikipedia yields the following four sources, and others, which refute your claim that misogyny is limited to its strict etymological meaning, Thanny:

      In his book Popular Islam and Misogyny: A Case Study of Bangladesh, Taj Hashmi discusses misogyny in relation to Muslim culture (and to Bangladesh in particular), writing:

      [T]hanks to the subjective interpretations of the Quran (almost exclusively by men), the preponderance of the misogynic mullahs and the regressive Shariah law in most “Muslim” countries, Islam is synonymously known as a promoter of misogyny in its worst form.


      According to sociologist Allan G. Johnson, “misogyny is a cultural attitude of hatred for females because they are female.” Johnson argues that:

      Misogyny …. is a central part of sexist prejudice and ideology and, as such, is an important basis for the oppression of females in male-dominated societies


      Sociologist Michael Flood, at the University of Wollongong, defines misogyny as the hatred of women, and notes:

      Though most common in men, misogyny also exists in and is practiced by women against other women or even themselves. Misogyny functions as an ideology or belief system that has accompanied patriarchal, or male-dominated societies for thousands of years and continues to place women in subordinate positions with limited access to power and decision making.

      And finally:

      Dictionaries define misogyny as “hatred of women”[6][7][8] and as “hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women”.[9] In 2012, primarily in response to events occurring in the Australian Parliament, the Macquarie Dictionary (which documents Australian English and New Zealand English) expanded the definition to include not only hatred of women but also “entrenched prejudices against women”.[10]

  17. While this article and comment thread is mostly about the dishonesty of Salon and Sam’s critics, I have to recommend that people read the actual interview. (You can read it on Sam’s website if you want to avoid giving Salon any traffic.)

    The questions are good and thoughtful all the way through, and most of Sam’s answers are as well. I don’t understand how anyone can read it and come away thinking Sam is crazy and bigoted, but of course some people will…

  18. Not much to criticize on Sam’s responses to Salon’s critique, he handles that beautifully. However when it comes to his own pet projects he doesn’t fair so well.

    Ironically, one of the consequences, which I have focused on more than my atheist colleagues have, is that it bars the door to rational and modern approaches to getting what religious people claim to want out of life. We can’t develop truly rational and nonsectarian approaches to spirituality, …

    Is that why Sam is so enthusiastic about “spiritual-like” actions such as mediation and alternative foundations for morality as per below. Interesting if that would be the case.

    Responding to utilitarianism below, here I can note that Sam is – unduly in my opinion – enthusiastic about mediation despite that taking a nap is equally effective medically for (IIRC) every beneficial effect of mediation.

    Well then, we don’t need ‘spirituality’. And Sam has certainly not demonstrated any need or reason to coddle the religious.

    I’ve written and spoken a fair amount on these topics, because I share the sense that there really is something that religious people are right to want out of life and fear to lose under the glare of scientific rationality. It’s understandable that they’re afraid to lose an objective foundation for morality, because many overeducated people will tell you that morality is a fiction—we just make it up to summarize apish preferences that were etched into our brains through evolution. Notions of good and evil have no grounding in truth, because they are just culturally derived ways of talking about emotions like shame and disgust. Thus, to say that something is “good” is not to say anything about reality. As I argued in The Moral Landscape and elsewhere, I think this is utterly false. There are perfectly rational ways to think about moral truth.

    Sam’s preferred rationality to think about ‘objective’ morality is apish founded utilitarianism. A cat would found morals on how well it gets served.

    Religious people are also right to worry that many scientists and secularists believe that spiritual experience is synonymous with psychopathology or conscious fraud. Again, this is untrue.

    Now Sam is the one cherry picking the context to project a lie. The objective – well – DSM-V claims that religious behavior *is* on the psychopathological spectrum if observed de novo. It is only the historical fact of already having established religions that means such behavior should be diagnosed as non-pathological.

    It is perfectly rational and objectively a fact when it is claimed that (de novo) spiritual experience is synonymous with psychopathology!

    1. Sorry, _fare_ so well. (I haven’t fared well, been in an accident and is functioning on painkillers and too little sleep, so if I comment it will be jumbled at times. :-/)

    2. Is that why Sam is so enthusiastic about “spiritual-like” actions such as mediation…

      My understanding is that Sam meditated extensively when he was younger and had experiences that greatly changed and enriched his life. He feels that religious people likely have some of the same profound experiences and wouldn’t be satisfied replacing them with mere philosophy (or naps). He proposes meditation as a completely non-faith-based practice that can lead to transformative improvements in people’s lives without the divisiveness and dogma of religion.

      I also spent a few years meditating and it significantly improved my life as well. If it’s done right, it’s not the same as napping. It can completely change your typical emotional responses, making you calm and collected where you would otherwise be anxious, angry, or fearful.

    3. “…about mediation despite that taking a nap is equally effective medically for (IIRC) every beneficial effect of mediation.”

      I’d love it if you could point me to the research and journal articles that investigate this. I find it extremely difficult to believe.

  19. “original version”
    – oh, PCC(E), after your post a while back on annoying phrases, here is another of mine. So is it the original or a version ?! The first is the original, the first amended example is a version of it. Now you could loosely refer to the first version as the ‘original version’, but of course you used ‘original version’ to refer to the original.
    I say this more to highlight my gripe with this incorrect yet ubiquitous phrase, than to scold you, sir

  20. Is “blogging in their underpants” going to become the new “living in mom’s basement”?
    I was about to go for lunch … but I feel the need to scrub an image from the inside of my eyeballs.

  21. I like how Sam makes it so easy to donate to support his work by posting a QR code right on his donation page. It took me like 30 seconds to send him some scratch that way. (I use an app called Mycelium.)

  22. Loved the Jeff Taylor piece in Salon, a man after my own heart, I have a visceral dislike of Religion after having mine beaten out of me by those paragons of Education the De la Salle Brothers.

  23. It’s even worse than that, Jerry. I was reading the comment section when the interview first came out, and several commenters were pointing out Salon’s dishonesty… and I saw a lot of them get deleted before my very eyes. They think they can make their dishonesty disappear down Winston’s memory hole or something.

  24. I’m a huge fan of Sam and that was a mighty response in the Salon interview.

    However, as to the war of Sam vs his critics, while Sam tends to dismiss many of his critics as dishonest and reprehensible, frankly I tend to agree with some of their points.

    Sam and in particular his followers (and I’m one in most aspects) are currently excoriating Cenk Uygur’s criticism of Sam’s
    slipperiness, as if it is utterly dishonest and beneath responses. But I find Cenk is raising some fair points about Sam’s style of

    I do find Sam to be somewhat slippery here and there, in terms of answering criticisms of his writing. He does tend to make splashy, hyperbolic-sounding or challenging statements, and then when people challenge him on it, he’ll start laying on caveats to the point that whatever he’s saying become nebulous.

    Really, at some point when you are giving so many people the wrong impression, you have to start looking at your own part in the process. Sam can’t seem to find anything wrong with how he writes, and so critics must simply be of nefarious character to continue to criticize him given he’s “already explained to them how they are wrong.”

    (It feels strange to write that, since I’ve spilled many, many pixels defending Harris against criticisms).

    1. I disagree with you about that. Perhaps I’d be dismissed by critics of Sam Harris as a “Fanboy” or some such thing, but I have yet to read anything by Sam (and I’ve read everything he’s published), or hear anything he’s said, that is in any way not completely rational, logical, clear and concise.

      His critics, on the other hand, have time and time and time again CLEARLY misrepresented Sam’s statements. Their intentional dishonesty and smearing is appalling. They ARE, as you say, “of nefarious character”. Yet you would lay the blame for this on Sam? Why?

      I would argue that when you say he is “giving so many people the wrong impression” it is largely a direct byproduct of the work of his dishonest critics. There are many more of us who read Sam’s words and clearly understand them, whatever our level of agreement (or disagreement) with the issues might be.

      If, for example, you say “Islam contains problematic ideas and these ideas have consequences”, then your critics turn around and claim you’ve lumped all Muslims as terrorists, how is it your fault they got it wrong? How can anyone say you weren’t clear?

      1. ToddP,

        I would generally agree with you, that many people, certainly including the gang Harris regularly clashes with, have mischaracterized Sam, and his views. (Especially the whole racist/bigot thing).

        However, I also think that much of what they write about Sam, they actually believe, even if they are utterly wrong. I really think the “dishonesty” thing is tossed around to liberally these days. When you think you’ve corrected someone over and over, but they still persist in their belief, it’s natural to think the other side is being dishonest because “now they surely know what they are saying is wrong, but they are still repeating it!”

        But, unfortunately, that’s what stubbornness, and “not agreeing” can look like from the other side. It help explain why the charge of “dishonesty” is always thrown about by both sides in these types of conflicts.

        1. vaal,

          You are right about the stubbornness and about the fact that Sam’s usual critics are firmly entrenched in their own viewpoints/positions. I agree they appear to have a steadfast belief that they feel they are in the right. Ego might be part of the mix as well, surely no one enjoys being exposed as a liar. They are certainly entitled to believe whatever they want.

          But at what cost to rational discourse? At what cost to the open exchange of ideas?

          Making insinuations (or outright accusations) of bigotry and/or racism where there is no evidence for such things is a conversation ending maneuver. These critics are constantly demanding that Sam defend positions he never took. I can only imagine the sheer exasperation and frustration he must feel at times.

          In my opinion, the root of the conflict lies in the fact that most of the usual suspects who criticize Sam have very obvious agendas of their own (anti-capitalism, anti-USA foreign policy, religious apology, etc.) which they attempt to disguise as humanitarian concern for oppressed people. And they do it using very emotionally based language and tactics. It’s always been my impression that Sam tries to get beyond the emotions and instead deal with the pure logic of an argument. Some people seem unable to leave aside their emotions. This appears to be happening more and more on our campuses and universities in recent days.

          A very important point that Sam makes quite often is that when rational discussion between people who largely share the same ideological turf is shut down, then it unfortunately creates an opening for the true bigots and racists to be the only ones left speaking about these issues. If rational people can’t manage to resolve things, we leave room for the irrational players to enter the game.

      2. As to some specific examples where Sam seems to be a bit slippery, it generally comes when he is pushed to explain what exactly he means *in practice,* not merely as a general idea or thought experiment. For instance, his “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them” is I think one such example – an inflammatory sounding statement, seemingly meant to catch attention, but to which he adds a caveat that seems to make it more mundane, and if pressed further, as to what it would mean in practice, it seems that what was supposed to sound shocking tells us very little.

        So pressing the statement, one would ask “What would be an example? What would killing someone only for what they believe look like in practice?”

        Sam tries to elaborate in his “response to criticism” that he was speaking in the context of beliefs and behavior and that “The fact that belief determines behavior is what makes certain beliefs so dangerous.”

        Right there I see something worrying implied by the wording. In one sense beliefs determine behavior – in the sense that minute to minute, aside from non-conscious reactions – our beliefs will drive our behavior. But in another sense, beliefs certainly don’t DETERMINE behavior. Not everyone acts on something they believe: in fact very often people don’t. On-line I’ve seen people pile on about someone in the news accused of a crime, and everyone is saying “that guy needs to be made dead” but none of them are going out and trying to act on their belief. (That includes those who boast out of anger they’d do the deed themselves). Plenty of times we even believe of ourselves how we might act in one circumstance, but when we encounter that circumstance, we act differently. There are no doubt numerous scary-sounding people in Islam giving voice to beliefs that it may be easy to think in one context, but which they don’t actually act on given the chance. So is it ethical to just kill someone for what they purportedly know…just in case? I think our standard application of law recognizes this is a dangerous path; we don’t execute people for thought crimes, simply thinking an immoral or dangerous thought.

        There are missing components here: track record of actual behavior, and “intent.”
        But once you bring these in, it really seems to blur what Sam is saying. For instance, as a practical example Sam gives this:

        “When one asks why it would be ethical to drop a bomb on Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of al Qaeda, the answer cannot be, “Because he killed so many people in the past.” To my knowledge, the man hasn’t killed anyone personally. However, he is likely to get a lot of innocent people killed because of what he and his followers believe about jihad, martyrdom, the ascendancy of Islam, etc.”

        But…the reason for dropping a bomb on al-Zawahiri isn’t simply based on “what he believes,” but on his previous actions: a track record of organizing all manner of terror attacks. So was already responsible for grievous actions, and this combined with his role in al-Qaeda
        gave good evidence of his actual INTENTION to act, causing future mayhem. So the example of al-Zawahiri can not be reasonably reduced simply to “what he believed,” making the example a red-herring. If he had only ever espoused the belief that the USA ought to suffer terrorist attacks, but never showed any action or intent towards this, then surely we would not go bombing him. If simply holding a violent or immoral belief were enough to kill people, without their ever displaying intent to act on the beliefs, where would we start? Aside from all of people on all sides of conflicts espousing violent beliefs without acting on them, the internet itself is FULL of people espousing inflammatory violent-sounding beliefs who have never acted on them. We can worry about such people…but killing them?

        So the problem is, Sam’s defense doesn’t seem to me to have untangled the problem.
        If what Sam actually means by “beliefs” that are worth killing for are actually more “intentions to act” with evidence supporting an intention to act, then Sam is actually making a mundane statement that was muddied by an inflammatory, and misleading appeal only to purportedly dangerous “beliefs.” In which case he seems quite responsible for the confusion and for people getting the wrong idea.

        But if Sam really DOES mean that it could be ethical to kill someone for simply BELIEVING something – without evidence of intent to act on the belief – then not only has he not supplied a relevant example to accept this claim, it does indeed seem quite a sinister

        I’d think Sam means something closer to the former vs the latter, but as I said, this still means his lack of precision/clarity leaves a misleading or ambiguous message.


    2. I find I tend to agree with Sam, even on his more controversial remarks, but I think the difference here is that his detractors are just out and out right lying about his position. I think if they honestly disagreed, there would be an opportunity for discussion even if no agreement was reached but it’s just crazy rage at this point and it’s pretty scary. Every time I witness what happens to Sam, I think “this is why I could never say such things publicly”. And that is the power of silencing bullies. They may not succeed in shutting up Sam Harris, but they’ll certainly silence other voices.

      1. Sam’s very directness and clarity are what, I think, trigger the response we see from his critics. He violates the politeness standard we on the left hold for conversation about religion and he does it consistently and ruthlessly.

        When The End of Faith was published my reaction was something like “Wow. Someone’s come out and spoken so clearly on this? He better have body guards.” It’s turned out like I feared, although most of the assassins use keyboards and video. I don’t know if he’s had death threats, but I would guess so.

        I disagree with him on some issues, most notably the availability of guns where I think he’s gone off the rails by ignoring some very important consequences of freely available weaponry. I suspect death threats have something to do with his position.

  25. I just want to register, despite being very late to the post, that I love that part about “blogging in their underpants” and intend to use it in the future. Although I’m sure Sam wasn’t intentionally being funny, it is an amusing (and probably accurate) image and I’m so glad he shared it with all of us.

  26. My view of Harris is mixed. I think he too often makes philosophical arguments in political contexts with (hopefully) little understanding of how those arguments can be appropriated for neoliberal aims. He also relies much too heavily on the idea that “our” intentions are supposedly pure (which works to absolve “us” of the negative consequences of actions, even when we know in advance that our actions are likely to result in those negative consequences).

    Check out the interview between Sam Harris and Dan Carlin (Common Sense podcast; Carlin treats Harris very fairly, but very pointedly illustrates some of the weak points in Harris’s stance.

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