Here’s another in Helen Pluckrose’s series of interviews with humanists and rationalists, presumably intended to bring attention to her new site Counterweight, part of whose mission is to defend those unjustly accused or mobbed. This interview is 17 minutes long and Sam is, as usual, extremely eloquent. The guy speaks in publishable paragraphs.
You should listen to it; it will hearten you.
The discussion begins with free speech, which Sam defends along John Stuart Mill-ian lines: as a general principle, not just as adherence to the First Amendment. Free and untrammeled speech is, he says (as did Mill), the only way we have of winnowing truth from falsehood, though sometimes it can’t do the job.
Here are a few of Sam’s quotes I’ve transcribed from the interview.
“Apparently we now have a generation of people who think that their capacity for outrage, their capacity to feel offended, is itself evidence for the rightness or wrongness of any given principle or idea or a set of values. The “Ick Factor” is ruling our epistemology now, and it’s getting so finely calibrated that we terms like ‘microaggressions’ and ‘speech is violence’ and this reconception of harm that has made everyone as thin-skinned as they can possibly be, and as performative as they could possibly be. . . “
On the effect of social-justice “mobs” in quashing speech:
“Grownups should be able to talk about more or less everything with a cool head and not endlessly castigate one another for merely thinking out loud.”
“One of the things that’s so pernicious about this silencing effect is that it creates an illusion of consensus where you have the most voluble and hysterical activists taking up most of the oxygen and successfully cowing other people into silence for fear of the reputational damage that awaits them if they open their big mouths on any number of topics, race being only one.”
He further discusses the “asymmetric advantage” of woke activists: it’s far more costly to be accused of being racist and transphobic acts or statements than to say the sensible things that “run counter to this moral panic.”
At 9:34 the discussion gets into race. Sam of course admits the existence of racism, but argues that our goal should be to eventually make skin color equivalent to hair color: a trait that nobody cares about and that needn’t be the object of “equity.” That day, I suspect, will be a long time coming.
Finally, there’s this quote:
“Racism exists in some places, but doesn’t exist everywhere, and it is being claimed to exist everywhere and is being found everywhere in what is clearly a mass hallucination. And this hallucination is being defended by people who are highly incentivized to defend it; and the level of dishonesty and callousness that surrounds this whole enterprise is just appalling. Genuinely good people, who everybody knows are not racist or sexist or transphobic, are being sacrificed to this new religion.”
In the end, he holds out the possibility that lawsuits against companies or institutions may be powerful ways to put the kibosh on the “mass hallucination” of the new religion.
After hearing this talk, I keep wondering why Sam is so demonized by a certain segment of the Left. Yes, I think he was wrong about objective morality, but he’s eminently sensible and surely does more good than harm. Yet he, and that other paragon of eloquence, Steve Pinker, are among the most demonized members of the anti-woke Left. Perhaps it’s just because they are anti-Woke, and won’t truckle to the mob.