I’ve been a long time follower of Sam Harris and have read most of his books. I’ve only ever posted to this forum a few other times but I felt the need to make a new topic regarding one of the most recent Joe Rogan podcasts.
I am driven to make this topic because this podcast was the first time I’ve seen Sam Harris talk in a way that seems to be the antithesis of the way in which he reacts to, and thinks through, many other topics. What I’m talking about is around the 1:50:00 mark or so and continues on for awhile. Never before have I seen Sam talk about a topic in which he has such a limited understanding while still acting as if he is hitting the nail on the head. He seemed to be drawing conclusions which he felt were “patently obvious”, as he might put it, while not taking a minute to even think that there might be alternatives.
I’m specifically talking about his discussion regarding the people who mine coal and drive for a living. It was Sam’s comments on economics and the governments roll in the economy which I found most troubling. It was troubling because it was the first time I’ve ever seen him talk about a topic without qualifying his lack of expertise while at the same time throwing out conclusions and assumptions as if there could be no other possible alternatives.
Now, I’m not necessarily saying Sam is wrong about the core concerns he was expressing. For instance, once we have robots who can repair themselves so that basic needs like food are no longer something humans need to work to produce, then food may no longer need be a good to be paid for. I can see where this argument comes from and it may be right. Although there may be some holes in it, I think it is definitely an idea worth discussing. However, Sam didn’t seem to stick on this interesting point and instead acted as if the trucking industry will disappear overnight and the only way to fix this must be some kind of basic income through government taxes.
Just to be clear, I don’t want to debate the ideas of free markets etc. here, that’s not really my point. My point is that this is the first time I’ve ever seen Sam express his ideas in a borderline, if not completely, dogmatic way about a subject in which he has very little knowledge or understanding. Now, I do want to give him the benefit of the doubt. I hope if he was sitting down to have an in depth discussion about this specific topic for a few hours he would be able to more clearly lay out his views. And if he was talking with an experienced economist he would yield to their knowledge and expertise where his is lacking. Regardless, Sam was putting forth ideas in a way that was more emotional and blind than I’ve ever heard from him before. It wasn’t as if he was saying “Here is an interesting problem in which we need to find a solution that could be something like x, y, or z,” but rather, “Here is an interesting problem in which we need to have a solution that fits along my preconceived ideas about something I don’t know or understand.”
In essence, it’s not that he was wrong per se, but that he was expressing views in a more dogmatic way than I’ve ever seen. Maybe I’m over reacting. Maybe it was just this one podcast when they are shooting the shit and talking about random stuff all over the place as Joe Rogan is wont to do. But what concerns me is the hint that once Sam steps outside of the boundaries of the things he knows very well he will become the same dogmatic ideologue he constantly rails against. I know it’s tempting to do this when you’re a prominent intellectual, but I just hope he doesn’t fall into the trap that so many others do. Again, I’ve never seen him do this before, so maybe it’s just a one off and all is well in Sam Harris land.
I haven’t listened to the episode/s in question, and I don’t usually listen to that podcast, but I suspect you hit the nail on the head about the atmosphere informing Sam’s tone.
Besides, he is human not robot. Is there not adorableness in human passion of opinion?
Anyway, I’ve just listened to Sam Harris chatting with Dan Harris on Dan’s podcast, 10% happier: episode #71
....And it might cheer you up as it did me. Sam sounds calm and reasonable - and there’s no politics, just a discussion on where to find your head.
As Ola is saying… context matters.
I actually enjoy his visits to Rogan’s podcast because he seems less guarded. He spends less time qualifying every other sentence and more time lightly touching on subjects that are tangential to his primary interests. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect the audience to modulate their expectations a bit in such a different context. If you don’t want to risk listening to him touching on a relatively eclectic variety of topics it’s best to look at the ones with more narrow focus (like meditation).
Not to rail on Harris too hard here, because I do respect his intellect and admire much of the work he has done. That said, he does have some speech patterns that I think could be misleading to oblivious or less skeptical listeners.
When Harris disagrees with a position, he often labels the opposing arguer as being “intellectually dishonest.” Or he’ll say that somebody is “lying to themselves” if they believe that. Many who take his word as gospel might confuse this rhetoric with an actual argument, thinking it has validity.
But as Ola said, we are all human, and for those who are not afraid to commit to an opinion, I could see speech like this as an almost involuntary consequence.