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.