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Walking away from Sam Harris

- - - - - sam harris new atheist philosophy war ethics

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#1
Frozenwolf150

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I've maintained that it's important to think for oneself, rather than adopt a label, choose a political party, or place an author or public figure on an elevated pedestal and then hang on their every word.  I used to read the new atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, and I used to defend the ethical arguments they made.  However, as I've often said, calling oneself an atheist does not make one intelligent or rational.  People who have no religious ideology can still be obstinate about a political or moral ideology that they adhere to regardless of evidence or logic.

 

Sam Harris is someone for whom I've lost a lot of respect over the years, due to his hypocrisy, his deplorable analogies, and his thought experiments that revolve around the justification of violence to combat religious extremism.  In this video, Ron Placone breaks down one of Harris's more recent statements during an appearance on Joe Rogan's podcast.

 

 

Harris strikes me as coming from a place of privilege, and ignoring all historical context surrounding the War on Terror.  I had once agreed with him in part on how military force is sometimes justified, such as when it comes to defending the country from violent extremists.  However, we've seen 17 years of waging the War on Terror that has cost trillions of dollars and millions of innocent lives, strengthened and emboldened Islamic extremist groups, and ignored right wing domestic terrorism.  It has not worked, and it was never going to work.  The US has long been responsible for funding, arming, and training Islamic extremists, whether as part of a failed Cold War strategy, or through its alliance and investments with Saudi Arabia.  This is not self-defense, it is damage control, and an endless war for profit at the very least.  The US simply does not care about how many civilian casualties it causes, because it had actually stopped trying to keep track at one point.

 

I've had war apologists tell me, the countries that the US is bombing should be grateful that the coalition strikes were not intentionally targeted at civilians, because the innocent death toll would be much higher if the intent were to cause civilian casualties.  Oh, so just because the US didn't bomb those countries into radioactive glass (the way some neocons like Ted Cruz suggested) that somehow justifies the other war crimes the US has committed?  By that logic, one could justify any war crime in history.

 

The question of intent vs. consequences frequently comes up in debates with Sam Harris, and this is something I remember him clashing with Noam Chomsky about numerous times, including in the books by Harris that I read years ago.  Harris oft comes across as arguing that intent is the principal determinant of the morality of an action, far more important than consequences.  If one's intentions are good, such as the US waging the War on Terror to stop AQ and ISIS, then that makes the US morally superior to those groups with respect to killing innocent civilians.  The US did not intend to kill those civilians, therefore it's not the equivalent of terrorist groups directly targeting civilians to make a political statement.  However, it seems very irresponsible and dishonest to me for one to ignore the consequences and focus so heavily on intent.  Consequences matter, and to someone whose entire family was destroyed by a US bombing in Iraq, there's no difference from if their family was murdered by ISIS.

 

Furthermore, Chomsky did not say that intentions don't matter, he said that both intent and consequences matter.  His argument was that one can't simply presume the US has better intentions, because history has shown otherwise.  The US has overthrown leaders of foreign countries to install puppet dictators, supported some of the most brutal regimes in recent history, and waged wars for the petrodollar.  Kyle Kulinski of Secular Talk goes over this with respect to the debate between Harris and Chomsky that took place in 2015.

 

 

I recall Harris arguing that pacifism, as expounded by Chomsky, is inherently immoral because it would give a free pass to all the psychopaths of the world to run rampant and unchecked.  Harris used an analogy along the lines of how a single psychopath with a knife could conquer an entire city of pacifists.  Yet Harris is once again ignoring the context of the moral arguments in favor of pacifism: In this day and age, the United States is the world's most powerful military, and everyone around the world knows this too.  The US has the capacity to wipe out all life on Earth with the push of a button.  It can destroy entire civilizations, deploy troops wherever it wants, kill whomever it wants, and take whatever resources it wants.  The notion that the US is seen as weak and defenseless is laughable; the US is seen as a bully, a terror state, and the biggest threat to world peace today.  It is completely unnecessary for the US to use excessive force to deter attacks, and I would argue, completely unnecessary for the US to resort to violence at all.

 

We could use the military to carry out humanitarian aid, to help the poorest people in the world instead of dropping bombs on them.  We could achieve world peace by ending world hunger, which would cost only a fraction of the bloated military budget.  We could change the definition of military service to mean building roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, water filtration and power plants; instead of destroying them like we always do.  Nobody in their right mind is going to attack the country that ended world hunger.


  • Ungodly and Cousin Ricky like this

The new Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy: Massacre a crowd of civilians, draw a target around them, and declare they were all terrorists.


#2
Ungodly

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I agree about Sam Harris, he is a real ideologue. The fact that he does not believe in sky monsters does not mean I will or should agree with him on other matters.

 

I've had war apologists tell me, the countries that the US is bombing should be grateful that the coalition strikes were not intentionally targeted at civilians, because the innocent death toll would be much higher if the intent were to cause civilian casualties.  

 

Clearly this begs the question of whether we should be killing anyone.

Imagine a burglar breaks into your home, steals your stuff, and gets away with it. Should one be grateful to the perp that he did not kill anyone in the home?

 

It's clear to me that wars begin most often after prolonged economic injustice. Creating a just world economy would remove that incentive.

 

Peace and prosperity, may everyone living have it.  Except Tweety.


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Join our religion of love and peace or burn in hell!


#3
JadeBlackOlive

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I never was much of a Harris fan.


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#4
Joe Bloe

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Over the years I heard or saw many speeches and debates with Sam Harris and they seemed OK to me. I have to admit though, that if the speech went on for too long I would often use the fast forward button or switch off altogether, so my opinion doesn't really count.

 

Then a few years ago I started hearing people complain about Sam Harris, but I still assumed he was one of the "good guys".

 

I'll have to check out some of his more recent work and see what he's up to these days.


  • JadeBlackOlive likes this
Believe nothing you hear and only half what you see.

#5
Ungodly

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I had gotten the impression recently he was a bit too happy about about being white.  It's not some sort of an accomplishment to be proud of any more than being right handed.


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Join our religion of love and peace or burn in hell!


#6
Frozenwolf150

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I had gotten the impression recently he was a bit too happy about about being white.  It's not some sort of an accomplishment to be proud of any more than being right handed.

Being proud of the way you were born is essentially taking credit for the accomplishments of others rather than your own.  I doubt many of the same people with ethnocentric pride would say that all of their own achievements in life are owed to random chance circumstances of birth, as opposed to their hard work.


The new Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy: Massacre a crowd of civilians, draw a target around them, and declare they were all terrorists.




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