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The more I listen to Sam, the more disappointed I get

 
Ashiok
 
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Ashiok
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09 January 2018 14:38
 

I created this account merely to share my thoughts on Sam that I will manifest primarily via this youtube video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VmLQjdT7IA

In this video Sam is debating William Lane Craig in regards to the Foundation of Morality. I watched the whole thing from beggining to end and, despite being completely against the beliefs of Craig, I have to concede that Sam Harris was pitiful at this debate. He basically didn’t address Craig’s objections at any point in time. I was trying to see where in his argument was the basis for objective morality, and he kept dodging the question by raising the problem of evil or the problem of the unevangelized. That was not the topic of the debate, and I have to believe Sam was either being deliberately deceitful or that he is just terrible at grasping the point his opponent is trying to make.

Towards the very end, during the session of questions, I more or less understood his position. His whole basis for objective morality is grounded in the axiomatic thought experiment of: “imagine a world where everyone lives in absolute misery. That world is now defined as the worst possible world, meaning it is objectively the ‘most bad’ world. The existence of an objectively ‘most bad’ world implies the existence of an objectively ‘most good’ world of which we can move towards.” However, this HAS to be taken as an axiom, as Sam Harris himself admits, because you could just ask ‘who says that the world where everyone lives in misery is bad?’

Harris says that asking this very question is nonsensical, akin to criticizing the law of identity in logic. In other words, someone can say “A=A” and then someone else would ask “who says that A=A?” and that would sound nonsensical. Therefore you have to take as an axiom the law of identity (or ‘take it by faith’ as Craig puts it). Sam should have made very clear from the very beggining that his conception of objective morality was grounded in such axiomatic position. However, I question the need of posing such axiom. We take the law of identity as true because the conclusions we derive from it are pragmatically useful. Meaning that there is applicability in the real world for the laws of logic after accepting certain logical axioms. I don’t see the same applicability coming from the worst possible world of Sam Harris.

For instance, suppose that in this worst possible world where everyone is miserable we have someone who takes great pleasure in mutilating animals. One way to ‘improve’ upon this world is to give animals for this person to mutilate. Everyone else will still be equally miserable, with the exception of that one person who mutilates animals. That is, by Sam Harris definition, an objectively superior world. Now, if you accept that, you will understand that ‘misery’ and ‘well-being’ are subjective concepts, and are poor concepts to ground an objective account of morality. And I didn’t even address the question of free will, that is also problematic for Sam Harris position if you choose to reject free will (as he does).

My position is: there is no God and also no objective morality. I don’t see that as a problem AT ALL. I believe morality is grounded in a consensus that changes over time and that overall tries to improve upon the quality of life of people. Based on that, I can say that the subjectivity of morality doesn’t forbid me to claim that my morals are superior to the morals of the taliban, for instance. My morals may not be objectively superior, but they certainly are subjectively and, most important, pragmatically superior (meaning that people who live by my moral standars live a better life by pragmatical standards). I don’t see why we need to have this need of objectivity in morality. Let’s just do away with it.

Finally, this video is just one example of many where I see Sam Harris lauded as a great intelectual of our time showing an incredible lack of understanding and, often times, nuance. I will admit that I’ve never read Sam’s work. I started by listening to some of his videos, then his podcast, and then more videos. The impression I keep getting is that he simply does not seem to know enough of what he is talking about, and that is, to say the least, problematic. His ideas regarding consciousness for instance seem very poorly grounded on the actual literature on the subject, and that is someone who has a PhD in neuroscience. I don’t know, I’m posting this here to see if other people also get this impression from him or if there is something I’m missing.

[ Edited: 09 January 2018 14:44 by Ashiok]
 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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09 January 2018 16:12
 

I can agree about the Craig debate. I think it was a weak showing on all sides. I don’t agree with the topic however. Sam is a sort of self styled polymath who tries to engage with lots of different issues. I think given this scope he does pretty well. There are some weak points to be sure. His arguments on ethics, for instance betray a lack of background and focus. Still, I enjoy much of his work and appreciate his influence on the culture in general.

 
ubique13
 
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ubique13
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09 January 2018 16:17
 
Ashiok - 09 January 2018 02:38 PM

I created this account merely to share my thoughts on Sam that I will manifest primarily via this youtube video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VmLQjdT7IA

In this video Sam is debating William Lane Craig in regards to the Foundation of Morality. I watched the whole thing from beggining to end and, despite being completely against the beliefs of Craig, I have to concede that Sam Harris was pitiful at this debate. He basically didn’t address Craig’s objections at any point in time. I was trying to see where in his argument was the basis for objective morality, and he kept dodging the question by raising the problem of evil or the problem of the unevangelized. That was not the topic of the debate, and I have to believe Sam was either being deliberately deceitful or that he is just terrible at grasping the point his opponent is trying to make.

Towards the very end, during the session of questions, I more or less understood his position. His whole basis for objective morality is grounded in the axiomatic thought experiment of: “imagine a world where everyone lives in absolute misery. That world is now defined as the worst possible world, meaning it is objectively the ‘most bad’ world. The existence of an objectively ‘most bad’ world implies the existence of an objectively ‘most good’ world of which we can move towards.” However, this HAS to be taken as an axiom, as Sam Harris himself admits, because you could just ask ‘who says that the world where everyone lives in misery is bad?’

Harris says that asking this very question is nonsensical, akin to criticizing the law of identity in logic. In other words, someone can say “A=A” and then someone else would ask “who says that A=A?” and that would sound nonsensical. Therefore you have to take as an axiom the law of identity (or ‘take it by faith’ as Craig puts it). Sam should have made very clear from the very beggining that his conception of objective morality was grounded in such axiomatic position. However, I question the need of posing such axiom. We take the law of identity as true because the conclusions we derive from it are pragmatically useful. Meaning that there is applicability in the real world for the laws of logic after accepting certain logical axioms. I don’t see the same applicability coming from the worst possible world of Sam Harris.

For instance, suppose that in this worst possible world where everyone is miserable we have someone who takes great pleasure in mutilating animals. One way to ‘improve’ upon this world is to give animals for this person to mutilate. Everyone else will still be equally miserable, with the exception of that one person who mutilates animals. That is, by Sam Harris definition, an objectively superior world. Now, if you accept that, you will understand that ‘misery’ and ‘well-being’ are subjective concepts, and are poor concepts to ground an objective account of morality. And I didn’t even address the question of free will, that is also problematic for Sam Harris position if you choose to reject free will (as he does).

My position is: there is no God and also no objective morality. I don’t see that as a problem AT ALL. I believe morality is grounded in a consensus that changes over time and that overall tries to improve upon the quality of life of people. Based on that, I can say that the subjectivity of morality doesn’t forbid me to claim that my morals are superior to the morals of the taliban, for instance. My morals may not be objectively superior, but they certainly are subjectively and, most important, pragmatically superior (meaning that people who live by my moral standars live a better life by pragmatical standards). I don’t see why we need to have this need of objectivity in morality. Let’s just do away with it.

Finally, this video is just one example of many where I see Sam Harris lauded as a great intelectual of our time showing an incredible lack of understanding and, often times, nuance. I will admit that I’ve never read Sam’s work. I started by listening to some of his videos, then his podcast, and then more videos. The impression I keep getting is that he simply does not seem to know enough of what he is talking about, and that is, to say the least, problematic. His ideas regarding consciousness for instance seem very poorly grounded on the actual literature on the subject, and that is someone who has a PhD in neuroscience. I don’t know, I’m posting this here to see if other people also get this impression from him or if there is something I’m missing.

Yeah, this is probably one of the more disappointing realizations in regards to Sam Harris himself that you are likely to reach (at least in conversational/debate situations), and the sentiment is similar among many of the active forum members. From my perspective, he’s used the fact of his credentials as a magic carpet of sorts to ascend into something of a post-academic, and it is highly problematic that he uses nominal expertise in a field like Neuroscience which is still so relatively young as a platform to advance all of his other pet causes.

 
 
Ashiok
 
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09 January 2018 16:39
 
Brick Bungalow - 09 January 2018 04:12 PM

I can agree about the Craig debate. I think it was a weak showing on all sides. I don’t agree with the topic however. Sam is a sort of self styled polymath who tries to engage with lots of different issues. I think given this scope he does pretty well. There are some weak points to be sure. His arguments on ethics, for instance betray a lack of background and focus. Still, I enjoy much of his work and appreciate his influence on the culture in general.

I will need to hear more of him on these matters to see where I fall in. It may be the case that I focus too much on what I perceive as clear mistakes. For example, in recent podcast conversation with Ben Shapiro he said that rationality works in such a way that, after someone hears a rational argument, they can’t help but be compelled to agree with it (i.e. they have no choice on the matter). I’m paraphrasing here, but that is completely wrong. You can read articles on ‘atitude polarization’ or in ‘what works when trying to convince someone’ to see that people do not act as computing machines of rationality. You are incredibly likely to discount information that goes against your beliefs, and that is pretty well established. If you show pieces of conflicting evidence to someone, instead of taking the middle ground position, they will jump right to the extreme of their position, scrambling to look for all sorts of justifications as to why they did so. This is the A-B-C of academic literature on the topic, and Sam making a mistake like that just shows me how out of his depth he might be on many topics.

ubique13 - 09 January 2018 04:17 PM

Yeah, this is probably one of the more disappointing realizations in regards to Sam Harris himself that you are likely to reach (at least in conversational/debate situations), and the sentiment is similar among many of the active forum members. From my perspective, he’s used the fact of his credentials as a magic carpet of sorts to ascend into something of a post-academic, and it is highly problematic that he uses nominal expertise in a field like Neuroscience which is still so relatively young as a platform to advance all of his other pet causes.

I certainly agree with the assessment that jumping from our current understanding of the neural systems to moral judgments is very ill-advised, and it does seem as if Sam used his initial fame when speaking about religion to branch into areas he is not well equipped to argue about.

One thing that worries me when detecting mistakes that Sam makes is the following: I have particular interests in life and in my studies. It is for this reason that I get frustrated when Sam talks about a topic that I’m at least moderately comfortable with in a poor way. However, Sam talks about a lot of topics, many of which I never delved too deep to try and understand. I may take his word as informative, but if I see his mistakes on the topics that I know, what’s to say he is not mistaken about the ones I don’t know? That’s the issue of trying to ‘embrace the world’ covering every possible topic of contention in the human experience. You need to be very intelectually responsible to do that properly, and I feel like Sam isn’t knowledgeable enough to do what he is doing.

 
ubique13
 
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09 January 2018 16:59
 
Ashiok - 09 January 2018 04:39 PM

One thing that worries me when detecting mistakes that Sam makes is the following: I have particular interests in life and in my studies. It is for this reason that I get frustrated when Sam talks about a topic that I’m at least moderately comfortable with in a poor way. However, Sam talks about a lot of topics, many of which I never delved too deep to try and understand. I may take his word as informative, but if I see his mistakes on the topics that I know, what’s to say he is not mistaken about the ones I don’t know? That’s the issue of trying to ‘embrace the world’ covering every possible topic of contention in the human experience. You need to be very intelectually responsible to do that properly, and I feel like Sam isn’t knowledgeable enough to do what he is doing.

This is a frustrating dilemma without a doubt. I’ve reached the point where if I’m listening to someone speak and some part of it doesn’t seem right, I generally stop listening. Do not take anyone at their word or on blind faith alone, unless you know their word to be good and they’ve personally offered it to you. There is no harm in listening to a conversation if you understand the context of it, and the respective biases of those individuals who are speaking, but a big problem with conversations like this is that it is its own kind of echo chamber, as the conversations are typically not representative in the way that one might argue that they ought to be.

 
 
GAD
 
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09 January 2018 20:03
 

There is no objective morality, only moral relativism, that is the problem. The argument against moral relativism is that any consensus of right and wrong is as good as any other, this creates a dilemma for the morally righteous, how can they force their consensus of right and wrong on others if all consensuses are equal? Thus the never ending quest to find or claim an objective morality to justify bludgeoning anyone who disagrees to death with and call it righteous.

 
 
sojourner
 
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09 January 2018 21:24
 

I am kinda interested in the fact (so far as I know,) that Harris has really not pursued this train of thought for the past few years. I wonder if his sentiments here are still the same?


In my opinion, fwiw, the ideas in TML are more understandable if considered in a larger context, as a counterweight to the total moral relativism that Harris describes encountering, via anecdote, in various places. That said, I still think they contain all the problems of utilitarian nightmares, with the vocabulary slightly altered. To my mind TML is a very different proposition depending on what factors you assume ‘well-being’ rests on. At one extreme end, if you think it is a mix of hedonism and passing subjective whims, then you have the groundwork for a nightmare. If you have a sort of prescription for optimizing well-being in mind, then it depends a lot on that prescription (in Harris’s case, I would assume contemplative practices.) I think there was some reference to meditation in TML, if I recall, but at the time the idea was still left very open (if I remember correctly, when asked what would happen in this framework if traditionally immoral acts increased well-being, he kinda laughed and said “then it wouldn’t be a particularly moral landscape”, but didn’t abandon the idea that this would still be the way to move forward). Again, as he’s been relatively silent on this the past few years, I am curious as to whether or not he holds the same views or if they have changed somewhat.

 
 
Brick Bungalow
 
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09 January 2018 22:31
 
Ashiok - 09 January 2018 04:39 PM
Brick Bungalow - 09 January 2018 04:12 PM

I can agree about the Craig debate. I think it was a weak showing on all sides. I don’t agree with the topic however. Sam is a sort of self styled polymath who tries to engage with lots of different issues. I think given this scope he does pretty well. There are some weak points to be sure. His arguments on ethics, for instance betray a lack of background and focus. Still, I enjoy much of his work and appreciate his influence on the culture in general.

I will need to hear more of him on these matters to see where I fall in. It may be the case that I focus too much on what I perceive as clear mistakes. For example, in recent podcast conversation with Ben Shapiro he said that rationality works in such a way that, after someone hears a rational argument, they can’t help but be compelled to agree with it (i.e. they have no choice on the matter). I’m paraphrasing here, but that is completely wrong. You can read articles on ‘atitude polarization’ or in ‘what works when trying to convince someone’ to see that people do not act as computing machines of rationality. You are incredibly likely to discount information that goes against your beliefs, and that is pretty well established. If you show pieces of conflicting evidence to someone, instead of taking the middle ground position, they will jump right to the extreme of their position, scrambling to look for all sorts of justifications as to why they did so. This is the A-B-C of academic literature on the topic, and Sam making a mistake like that just shows me how out of his depth he might be on many topics.

ubique13 - 09 January 2018 04:17 PM

Yeah, this is probably one of the more disappointing realizations in regards to Sam Harris himself that you are likely to reach (at least in conversational/debate situations), and the sentiment is similar among many of the active forum members. From my perspective, he’s used the fact of his credentials as a magic carpet of sorts to ascend into something of a post-academic, and it is highly problematic that he uses nominal expertise in a field like Neuroscience which is still so relatively young as a platform to advance all of his other pet causes.

I certainly agree with the assessment that jumping from our current understanding of the neural systems to moral judgments is very ill-advised, and it does seem as if Sam used his initial fame when speaking about religion to branch into areas he is not well equipped to argue about.

One thing that worries me when detecting mistakes that Sam makes is the following: I have particular interests in life and in my studies. It is for this reason that I get frustrated when Sam talks about a topic that I’m at least moderately comfortable with in a poor way. However, Sam talks about a lot of topics, many of which I never delved too deep to try and understand. I may take his word as informative, but if I see his mistakes on the topics that I know, what’s to say he is not mistaken about the ones I don’t know? That’s the issue of trying to ‘embrace the world’ covering every possible topic of contention in the human experience. You need to be very intelectually responsible to do that properly, and I feel like Sam isn’t knowledgeable enough to do what he is doing.

I suppose it just depends on what the expectation is. Not being an academic philosopher myself I can only opine casually on what I consider to be mistakes of structure.

I do absolutely concur with your central concern. I think people in a public spotlight have a serious obligation not to overstep their specific expertise and credentials. In general I don’t think Sam does this. I don’t often hear him making arguments from his own authority. I feel that I can detect the change of tone when he goes from a topic upon which he is formally educated to one he merely cultivates a casual interest.

Finally I will also agree that if the expectation is to hear rigorous philosophical argumentation Sam is probably just not your man. He’s more of a populizer. His lectures, debates and podcasts are not thesis level work. I think he does a decent job of disclaiming this and recommending that people follow up on topics with their own independent research.

 
Ashiok
 
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Ashiok
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10 January 2018 04:10
 

@ubique13: The point you made regarding ‘stop listening to someone’ is very interesting. It reminds me of the nonsensical notion that you should listen to everyone to form your opinions, as if everyone had equally valid points to make. It is such a naïve view of the world. If time was infinite, then sure, by all means, listen to everyone. Given that the opposite is true (time is a precious resource that we have to wisely allocate) I find myself abandoning some speakers right from the get go. As my handle says I’m on the left side of the political spectrum, and I’ve tried to find ‘honest conservatives’ to listen to, mainly on youtube because I can listen to what they say while doing something else. Unfortunately, the figure heads of the right like Ben Shapiro, Steven Crowder and Paul Joseph Watson work in the most intelectual dishonest way. They have a conclusion that they need to reach and they will twist evidence, cherrypick facts and skew data to reach such conclusion. And that’s when they bother doing some research, instead of relying on anecodtes and outrage politics. That’s why I try to sift through the mud to try and find people that express challenging and differing views with a good basis for doing so, and also the reason why I appreciate listening to Sam’s podcast from time to time where I sometimes see guests that can properly defend their positions.

@NL.: I feel this is a serious issue that I have with Sam Harris - from the initial contact I have with him I don’t see when he concedes that his opponent made a good point, or that he may have to reconsider some aspects of his view. He enters a conversation or a debate apparently willing to listen, but rarely changing his views even in the face of contradiction. I vaguely recall some parts of a 3-hour interview he had with Cenk Uygur from The Young Turks that looked more like a debate than an interview. In it, if I recall correctly, Ugyur quotes a passage from one of his books where Sam considers that a preemptive strike against a muslim nation might be the correct thing to do. I find this position, if he indeed holds it, indefensible. Uygur made good points as to the consequences of such thinking and Sam still didn’t budge an inch from what I recall, he basically kept saying the interviewer was missing his point. I also saw the same problem with him in the question of Israel vs Palestine. His ‘go-to’ argument is: “imagine if the roles were reversed, what would have happened”. That is such a poor argument in my view. You can’t argue that if the Palestines had more resources, a superior military force and the support of the most powerful nation on earth that they would think and act in the same way they do now. It is pointless to say that many muslims want the complete obliteration of jews now and sustain that they would still want that if they weren’t the absolute underdogs in that situation. Despite this rather obvious point, I didn’t see Sam ever changing his thoughts on the matter.

@GAD: a consensus is forced precisely because it is what the majority agrees with. Of course this may raise concerns for the ‘tiranny of the majority’, but I think that is too simplistic of a view. Overall I believe that societies will course-correct and shift their consensus to what is mostly benefitial to themselves and to individual humans. I think this process is too slow to be properly perceived during the lifetime of a person, but I do think it happens, and I think it happens based on a sort of ‘natural selection’ of cultural behavior that selects for the most adaptive behavior (which I believe to be generally the equivalent of the behavior that ‘promotes well-being’, as Sam puts it). I can see some signs of this change even in the theocratic governments of today, albeit it seems they move at glacial pace (Saudi Arabia allowing women to drive, for instance).

@Brick Bungalow: I would like to hear your suggestions of who do you think is a more ‘rigorous’ speaker, for lack of a better term. I was very pleasantly surprised with the discovery of Michael Shermer, the founder of skeptical magazine. I think his views are very interesting and I intend to acquire one of his books soon. He seems to know what he is talking about and to be careful with the statements that he makes. The only problem I have with him is that he is sometimes too lenient with the BS of others. I saw a Dave Rubin video (something I rarely do) where he is sitting with Dennis Prager who is mostly just spouting nonsense and Shermer lets it slide way too often (in the name of ‘civil conversation’, I presume). I would really be interest in seeing what your suggestions are. As an extra note: I’m not an academic philosopher, I’m an academic biologist. I’m currently on my masters, and I must admit that my scientific training has significantly shortened my patience for speakers that do not provide any evidence or references.

P.S.: is there a way to multi-quote in this forum? I didn’t quote the individual members one by one because that would be too convoluted.

[ Edited: 10 January 2018 04:20 by Ashiok]
 
ubique13
 
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ubique13
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10 January 2018 06:09
 
Ashiok - 10 January 2018 04:10 AM

@ubique13: The point you made regarding ‘stop listening to someone’ is very interesting. It reminds me of the nonsensical notion that you should listen to everyone to form your opinions, as if everyone had equally valid points to make. It is such a naïve view of the world. If time was infinite, then sure, by all means, listen to everyone. Given that the opposite is true (time is a precious resource that we have to wisely allocate) I find myself abandoning some speakers right from the get go. As my handle says I’m on the left side of the political spectrum, and I’ve tried to find ‘honest conservatives’ to listen to, mainly on youtube because I can listen to what they say while doing something else. Unfortunately, the figure heads of the right like Ben Shapiro, Steven Crowder and Paul Joseph Watson work in the most intelectual dishonest way. They have a conclusion that they need to reach and they will twist evidence, cherrypick facts and skew data to reach such conclusion. And that’s when they bother doing some research, instead of relying on anecodtes and outrage politics. That’s why I try to sift through the mud to try and find people that express challenging and differing views with a good basis for doing so, and also the reason why I appreciate listening to Sam’s podcast from time to time where I sometimes see guests that can properly defend their positions.

In general I agree with your assessment. There are very few “honest” conservatives left, and my point was more that when you hear someone say something that is literally revolting to you, then it’s probably fucking with your head in the wrong kind of way (if you know something to be factually true and it’s upsetting, this is a different story).

P.S.: is there a way to multi-quote in this forum? I didn’t quote the individual members one by one because that would be too convoluted.

Yes. There may be a simpler way, but if you add a “close quote” bracketed thing prior to where you want to reply and then “open quote” before the next bit of text that you’re responding to it should work (use preview post to get an idea of how it looks).

 
 
sojourner
 
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10 January 2018 07:16
 
Ashiok - 10 January 2018 04:10 AM

@NL.: I feel this is a serious issue that I have with Sam Harris - from the initial contact I have with him I don’t see when he concedes that his opponent made a good point, or that he may have to reconsider some aspects of his view. He enters a conversation or a debate apparently willing to listen, but rarely changing his views even in the face of contradiction. I vaguely recall some parts of a 3-hour interview he had with Cenk Uygur from The Young Turks that looked more like a debate than an interview. In it, if I recall correctly, Ugyur quotes a passage from one of his books where Sam considers that a preemptive strike against a muslim nation might be the correct thing to do. I find this position, if he indeed holds it, indefensible. Uygur made good points as to the consequences of such thinking and Sam still didn’t budge an inch from what I recall, he basically kept saying the interviewer was missing his point. I also saw the same problem with him in the question of Israel vs Palestine. His ‘go-to’ argument is: “imagine if the roles were reversed, what would have happened”. That is such a poor argument in my view. You can’t argue that if the Palestines had more resources, a superior military force and the support of the most powerful nation on earth that they would think and act in the same way they do now. It is pointless to say that many muslims want the complete obliteration of jews now and sustain that they would still want that if they weren’t the absolute underdogs in that situation. Despite this rather obvious point, I didn’t see Sam ever changing his thoughts on the matter.


This is going to sound mean, so I will add the context that I have been a fan for many years so obviously, overall, really appreciate what Harris does, warts and all. Now for the mean part - yeah, I think he can definitely come off as a bit of a prick and / or as having a bit of a persecution complex. I bemoaned all the things you are bemoaning now (in general - I didn’t listen to the specific interview you are talking about) but at some point I was just like “I’m over it, I’m not listening to Harris talk about anything involving religion or Israel / Palestine anymore” (as it’s often fairly specific to those topics,) and instead started listening to his many podcasts on other things. Because yes, I think he is uncharacteristically biased on anything that has to do with the topic of religion, and it does seem like he’s stretching to make the facts fit his theory on that particular topic. (One example is his example of Orthodox Christians as being sort of obviously more pacifist because of their beliefs, as they occupy the same space as Muslim Palestinians - but this clearly doesn’t hold if you look at Orthodox Christianity in other contexts [look at how different the dynamic has been in Russia, where the Church was mixed with political power - if I remember correctly, the Orthodox Church in Russia actively supports Russia’s war activity in Syria, for example, they’re not quoting ‘Put away your sword’ in that part of the world - so it’s difficult to say that ideology clearly trumps circumstances in Palestine but circumstances clearly trump ideology in Russia, if you see ideology as being consistently a cause and not an effect], and if you zoom it out to ‘Christianity’ in general, you’ll find a ton of violence and warfare.)

 
 
ubique13
 
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10 January 2018 10:19
 
NL. - 10 January 2018 07:16 AM
Ashiok - 10 January 2018 04:10 AM

@NL.: I feel this is a serious issue that I have with Sam Harris - from the initial contact I have with him I don’t see when he concedes that his opponent made a good point, or that he may have to reconsider some aspects of his view. He enters a conversation or a debate apparently willing to listen, but rarely changing his views even in the face of contradiction. I vaguely recall some parts of a 3-hour interview he had with Cenk Uygur from The Young Turks that looked more like a debate than an interview. In it, if I recall correctly, Ugyur quotes a passage from one of his books where Sam considers that a preemptive strike against a muslim nation might be the correct thing to do. I find this position, if he indeed holds it, indefensible. Uygur made good points as to the consequences of such thinking and Sam still didn’t budge an inch from what I recall, he basically kept saying the interviewer was missing his point. I also saw the same problem with him in the question of Israel vs Palestine. His ‘go-to’ argument is: “imagine if the roles were reversed, what would have happened”. That is such a poor argument in my view. You can’t argue that if the Palestines had more resources, a superior military force and the support of the most powerful nation on earth that they would think and act in the same way they do now. It is pointless to say that many muslims want the complete obliteration of jews now and sustain that they would still want that if they weren’t the absolute underdogs in that situation. Despite this rather obvious point, I didn’t see Sam ever changing his thoughts on the matter.


This is going to sound mean, so I will add the context that I have been a fan for many years so obviously, overall, really appreciate what Harris does, warts and all. Now for the mean part - yeah, I think he can definitely come off as a bit of a prick and / or as having a bit of a persecution complex. I bemoaned all the things you are bemoaning now (in general - I didn’t listen to the specific interview you are talking about) but at some point I was just like “I’m over it, I’m not listening to Harris talk about anything involving religion or Israel / Palestine anymore” (as it’s often fairly specific to those topics,) and instead started listening to his many podcasts on other things. Because yes, I think he is uncharacteristically biased on anything that has to do with the topic of religion, and it does seem like he’s stretching to make the facts fit his theory on that particular topic. (One example is his example of Orthodox Christians as being sort of obviously more pacifist because of their beliefs, as they occupy the same space as Muslim Palestinians - but this clearly doesn’t hold if you look at Orthodox Christianity in other contexts [look at how different the dynamic has been in Russia, where the Church was mixed with political power - if I remember correctly, the Orthodox Church in Russia actively supports Russia’s war activity in Syria, for example, they’re not quoting ‘Put away your sword’ in that part of the world - so it’s difficult to say that ideology clearly trumps circumstances in Palestine but circumstances clearly trump ideology in Russia, if you see ideology as being consistently a cause and not an effect], and if you zoom it out to ‘Christianity’ in general, you’ll find a ton of violence and warfare.)

NL., you have no idea how grateful I am to you for opening up this segue into what (where/when?) the broader problem facing modern civilization is. This should be entertaining.

Prior to creation of the “British Mandate of Palestine” (or “Mandatory Palestine”) following the fall of the Ottoman Empire, there is no historical documentation whatsoever which suggests that there had ever been a sovereignty known as ‘Palestine’. This is not to suggest that there is no distinct ethnic group who are Palestinian, nor does it suggest that the Palestinian people have not lived in the Holy Land for as long as anyone else. The modern, manufactured conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is a direct result of forced migration, pogroms, and one of the worst genocides in recorded human history.

In 1948, the same year that the Vatican granted forgiveness to all the world’s Jews for killing their god (“deicide”), the modern State of Israel was formed. Prior to this brave gesture of compassion, the Vatican had also been aiding high-level Nazi officials in their attempts to escape justice at Nuremberg using a system known as the “Rat Line,” which was something like the Underground Railroad, except it was above ground and no one seems to object much to anti-Semitism.

To make matters even more convoluted, the United States OSS/CIA began “Operation Paperclip,” which involved our own frenzied attempt to get the best Nazis that we could before they were executed. Werner von Braun was probably the most notorious of the bunch, and all were relocated in the United States and placed at disturbingly high levels of influence within our government.

The State of Israel is of military importance to the United States. If one is to assume that the US does have some religious affiliation toward Israel, it is strictly in an extremist Christian capacity. The pretense of religious importance that is regurgitated by the media is directed toward the useful idiots.

I can go on, but I really have no desire to delve more into the history of the cretin (that word is actually derived from Christianity) at the moment.

[Edit: the Vatican forgave the Jews in ‘46]

 
 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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10 January 2018 15:23
 

@Ashiok, Truthfully Sam is about my speed on most of the issues he touches upon. I don’t have a background in physics or chemistry so talks that revolve around hard sciences usually need to be diluted for me. I’m better with classical western philosophy but still no scholar. Most of the material I digest is written for the curious amateur in mind.

If you are specifically looking for more rigorous philosophy in the public domain Yale and Stanford both offer an array of lectures for free public use. Right now I’m going through some works by Christine Korsgaarde, a Kant scholar with some friends. She writes articles at both scholarly and pedestrian levels as do many other professors. Daniel Dennett, Shelly Kagan, Peter Singer et cetera.

 

 
sojourner
 
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10 January 2018 19:13
 
Brick Bungalow - 10 January 2018 03:23 PM

@Ashiok, Truthfully Sam is about my speed on most of the issues he touches upon. I don’t have a background in physics or chemistry so talks that revolve around hard sciences usually need to be diluted for me. I’m better with classical western philosophy but still no scholar. Most of the material I digest is written for the curious amateur in mind.

If you are specifically looking for more rigorous philosophy in the public domain Yale and Stanford both offer an array of lectures for free public use. Right now I’m going through some works by Christine Korsgaarde, a Kant scholar with some friends. She writes articles at both scholarly and pedestrian levels as do many other professors. Daniel Dennett, Shelly Kagan, Peter Singer et cetera.


This is an aside, Brick, but I think you are being a bit hard on yourself in drawing such a stark line between Experts and Amateurs, at least in my reading. Go to your doctor or dentist - incredibly bright, highly trained individuals with years of formal education - with even a mildly esoteric concern (I’m not talking about something ‘out there’ like your chakras being out of wack, I mean something well documented but not the stuff of everyday checkups.) I’ll say that there is an 80-90% chance that on some levels at least, you actually know more about it than they do, if you’ve personally researched it.


That’s not to say there isn’t an extreme where ‘Armchair Quarterback Expert’ mentality gets out of hand. That said, there is a big push in some parts of my field for family education, and I am continually surprised when incredibly bright people assume that they and I can’t possibly read the same research article and comprehend it in the same way, because I must have reams of secret understanding in my mind that they just don’t have access too. I think working in a given field does give you access to certain things that outsiders would not have. You know what anyone in your field would be expected to know, and what would be considered esoteric knowledge (this in and of itself is not insignificant, I think, as for any topic, there is a fairly infinite amount of knowledge available - so ‘knowing what everyone is supposed to know’ is quite key in job interviews and such.) You have some kind of benefit of experience - either through real world work or through seeing academic tides come and go or coming into contact with various ideas and becoming acquainted with their typical strengths and flaws and so on. But outside maybe some of the hard sciences, I do think that’s very different than saying simply understanding ideas as a non ‘expert’ involves actual ‘experts’ operating at exponentially higher levels of complexity. I think this is something of an important point in helping people to feel empowered by education, which is why I bring it up - but apologies for any derailing.

 
 
ubique13
 
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ubique13
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11 January 2018 06:52
 
NL. - 10 January 2018 07:13 PM
Brick Bungalow - 10 January 2018 03:23 PM

@Ashiok, Truthfully Sam is about my speed on most of the issues he touches upon. I don’t have a background in physics or chemistry so talks that revolve around hard sciences usually need to be diluted for me. I’m better with classical western philosophy but still no scholar. Most of the material I digest is written for the curious amateur in mind.

If you are specifically looking for more rigorous philosophy in the public domain Yale and Stanford both offer an array of lectures for free public use. Right now I’m going through some works by Christine Korsgaarde, a Kant scholar with some friends. She writes articles at both scholarly and pedestrian levels as do many other professors. Daniel Dennett, Shelly Kagan, Peter Singer et cetera.


This is an aside, Brick, but I think you are being a bit hard on yourself in drawing such a stark line between Experts and Amateurs, at least in my reading. Go to your doctor or dentist - incredibly bright, highly trained individuals with years of formal education - with even a mildly esoteric concern (I’m not talking about something ‘out there’ like your chakras being out of wack, I mean something well documented but not the stuff of everyday checkups.) I’ll say that there is an 80-90% chance that on some levels at least, you actually know more about it than they do, if you’ve personally researched it.

NL. raises an extremely valid point. The only difference between “amateur” and “professional” is getting paid to do something. Considering how most Americans view higher education, expertise seems to matter very little aside from how it appears on an individual’s Cv.

To use doctors as an example, most physicians know next to nothing about addiction. I would even go a step further and add that most medical professionals know very little about addiction. When I speak with my own doctor, he often poses questions to me regarding behavioral tendencies of individuals suffering from addiction in order to compare what he knows and has observed with whatever insights that I may have to offer.

 
 
Nhoj Morley
 
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Nhoj Morley
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11 January 2018 07:30
 

Ashiok:
P.S.: is there a way to multi-quote in this forum? I didn’t quote the individual members one by one because that would be too convoluted.

Selecting ‘quote’ in another poster’s box will generate a quote frame that includes the posters name. That’s handy but not the only way to it.

You can make a quote box and put the poster’s name in it yourself and make several quotes in a single post. Copy and paste the quotable text and surround it with (quote) and (/quote) (use the square brackets instead of parentheses). Add the name at the beginning as in, Ashiok: or whoever. The quote above was made without using the ‘quote’ button.

Keep your text out of the brackets and add as many quote boxes as you want. It takes some practice. Use the ‘preview’ function to make sure it looks right.

 
 
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