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I Don't Speak German

Jun 26, 2019

Another departure for the show as Daniel and Jack chat about Sam Harris, inexplicably popular professional atheist, Intellectual Dark Webber, thought-experimenter, devil's advocate, mysteriously perennial victim of malicious context-removal, and definitely not a member of the far-right.

Seriously... Sam Harris is not a nazi.  The fact that we're talking about him on a podcast in which we normally talk about nazis (and fascists and white supremacists, etc) doesn't mean we're saying he is one.  We're not.

Nevertheless, we think he's relevant to our discussion.

Something of a cathartic experience for both of us.  We had fun.

Content warnings.


Show Notes:

Sam Harris website:

Sam Harris podcast, "Making Sense."


SPLC: McInnes, Molyneux, and 4chan: Investigating pathways to the alt-right

"The “skeptics” movement — whose adherents claim to challenge beliefs both scientific and spiritual by questioning the evidence and reasoning that underpin them — has also helped channel people into the alt-right by way of “human biodiversity.” Sam Harris has been one of the movement’s most public faces, and four posters on the TRS thread note his influence.

"Under the guise of scientific objectivity, Harris has presented deeply flawed data to perpetuate fear of Muslims and to argue that black people are genetically inferior to whites. In a 2017 podcast, for instance, he argued that opposition to Muslim immigrants in European nations was “perfectly rational” because “you are importing, by definition, some percentage, however small, of radicalized people.” He assured viewers, “This is not an expression of xenophobia; this is the implication of statistics.” More recently, he invited Charles Murray on his podcast. Their conversation centered on an idea that lies far outside of scientific consensus: that racial differences in IQ scores are genetically based. Though mainstream behavioral scientists have demonstrated that intelligence is less significantly affected by genetics than environment (demonstrated by research that shows the IQ gap between black and white Americans is closing, and that the average American IQ has risen dramatically since the mid-twentieth century), Harris still dismissed any criticism of Murray’s work as “politically correct moral panic.”

For posters on TRS, Harris’ work blended easily into that of more overtly racist writers like Paul Kersey, whose popular blog, “Stuff Black People Don’t Like,” is reposted on American Renaissance. The site “really gets the noggin joggin and encourages you to search for answers,” one user wrote. Their “biggest stepping stone” was from Harris’ work to Kersey’s blog: “It was there I learned about race realism, IQ, genetics, bell curves, and the economic/political drivers behind the pushing of ‘diversity.’”"


Sam Harris on Recode/Decode:

HARRIS: "But it’s a larger problem that worries me that real liberals are vacating the space of rational conversation on certain topics, race and sex and gender and wealth and power and religion and immigration. Huge topics that a lot of people care about.

And into that vacuum come right-wing nut cases, opportunists and grifters and narcissists like the president of the United States, and in the extreme, actual Nazis and white supremacists and, you know, populists of that flavor, who we shouldn’t want to empower and we’re empowering them, not just in the States, but I mean it’s even worse in Europe. This is a global problem.

This is a point that David Frum has made, which I think is right, whatever you think about David’s politics. If liberals won’t defend specific ideas like secure borders, people will elect fascists to do the job. Enough people care about these things that if you’re going to call everyone a racist who’s concerned about immigration, eventually only a racist who doesn’t care about his reputation anymore will be elected to do that job."


Sam Harris "What Do Jihadis Really Want?"

Dabiq 15, referenced heavily in "What do Jihadis Really Want?"


Sam Harris: "To Profile or Not to Profile," with Bruce Schneier:

SCHNEIER: "Security is a trade-off, and requires some sort of cost-benefit analysis.  What is the cost of your security system?  What are the benefits?  What, exactly, is your correlation?  (TSA screeners can’t sort based on religion; they have to sort based on something they can detect.  And since there’s no such thing as “looking Muslim”—it’s a belief system, not an ethnic group—they’re going to sort on something like “looking Arab,” whatever that ends up meaning.)  Then, you’re going to have to analyze the resulting security system.  How does it work, and how does it fail?  What’s the false-positive and false-negative rate?  (You’ll have to do some theoretical analysis, at the very least refuting current research.)  Can your system be gamed?  (You’ll need some experimental data with real-world TSA agents in real-world conditions.  The last thing we want is a security system that can be defeated with a bottle of blonde hair dye.)  You will need it to relate to other security systems.  We only have a limited security budget.  Is your security system better than other airport security options?  How does it affect the other security systems already in place at airports?  Would we be better off spending that money on some other aspect of airport security?  Or something more general than airports?  In my book Beyond Fear, I proposed a five-step process to think through some of these questions.  There are other, more rigorous models.  But security engineering requires something more than intuition."


Sam Harris "The Limits of Discourse" with Noam Chomsky

Digest of the Harris/Chomsky debate


Ezra Klein "Forbidden Knowledge," (includes links to much of the Klein/Harris material)

KLEIN: "He ultimately refused to have me on his podcast on the grounds that a conversation between the two of us would be “unproductive,” pivoting to a demand that I instead publish an op-ed supporting his views (you can read that piece here) or that he publishes all our emails to each other. [Update: Harris has now published our email exchange, and I recommend reading it. I don’t know why he thinks it helps his case, but I think it shows just how resistant to actual dialogue he is on this subject.]"


Sam Harris/Ezra Klein emails:

HARRIS: "Throughout this exchange, you’ve dodged every substantive point I’ve raised. What’s more, you continue to ignore the context in which you published that defamatory piece. Nisbett et al. say that Murray “was recently denied a platform at Middlebury College. Students shouted him down, and one of his hosts was hurt in a scuffle.” This is an obscenely euphemistic way to describe what actually happened. Hurt in a scuffle? A professor received a neck injury and a concussion. The car in which she and Murray fled was smashed with a stop sign still attached to part of the sidewalk from which it had been wrested. Murray was set upon by a mob—at Middlebury."


Addison Independent report on the (Murray / Middlebury) event:

"“The protesters then violently set upon the car, rocking it, pounding on it, jumping on and trying to prevent it from leaving campus,” he said. “At one point a large traffic sign was thrown in front of the car. Public Safety officers were able, finally, to clear the way to allow the vehicle to leave campus."


The Atlantic report on the event:

"One [antifascist] took a large traffic sign, attached to a concrete base, and placed it in front of the car to prevent it from leaving."


Middlebury professor on the incident:

"Although they made it into the car, the crowd prevented them from easily leaving, with people leaning on the hood and climbing on top. Eventually, after nearly running over a stop sign someone had displaced in front of the car, they managed to break free and head toward the campus location for dinner."


Politico, "How the Middlebury Riot Really Went Down":

"Behind the vehicle, the security guards pushed protesters aside, clearing a path for the vehicle to slowly inch backwards. The group reformed quickly, allowing the car to move only a couple of feet at a time. Every time a security guard pushed her, said one of the anti-fascists, she steadied herself, planted her feet in front of the car’s path, and waited for her turn to be pushed again. She and her comrades, as she calls them, had trained for moments like these. Their goal wasn’t violence, but the anti-fascists did want to make life hard for Murray. Almost out of the parking lot, Burger sped up to take a left turn onto the street, but he wasn’t yet completely free of the crowd."


Sam Harris/Ezra Klein debate:

HARRIS: "Let’s take this off race and IQ for a second, because this is something that would’ve been probably just as radioactive and it just happened to break the other way and nobody noticed.

I think it was three years ago, or four years ago. I think it was 2014 where there were some, there were reports about Neanderthal DNA. I think it’s David Reich whose op-ed in the New York Times kicked off our latest skirmish, I think it’s based on his work. It was found that most human beings are walking around with around 2.7 percent Neanderthal DNA. At the time, but it was found that the only people who don’t have Neanderthal DNA are black people, people who directly descend with some isolation from Africa, from the rest of the human community.

At the time I tweeted, this is now 2014, I tweeted, “Attention all racists, you are right. We are special, or whites are special. We’re part Neanderthal. Blacks are just human.” It just was a trolling of the world’s racists."


Matthew Drake, "Are Africans a Different Subspecies? | Tara McCarthy"

Superior, The Return of Race Science, by Angela Saini


'Being Mr Reasonable' - excellent, caustic overview of Harris by Nathan J. Robinson at Current Affairs

Sam's entry at RationalWiki

Mehdi Hassan's epic Twitter thread, listing "bigoted/offensive remarks... [Harris] never apologised for"

Essential piece by actual expert on Islam and the Middle East, Professor Juan Cole: 'On How Everything Sam Harris Says About Islam is Wrong', Part 1 and Part 2

Why Is Sam Harris So Bad At Talking About Islam? - article parsing what Harris said in discussion with Maajid Nawaz

Good article on Harris and 'New Atheism' by Glenn Greenwald

Majority Report and Michael Brooks Show videos about Sam Harris - lots of good stuff here.

'Sam Harris, Uncovered' - Mondoweiss article

Article about The Bell Curve, including Harris' support for the book's co-author Charles Murray

'Same Old New Atheism': On Sam Harris - Nation article

Salon: 'How "new atheism" slid into the alt-right'

Source of Karen Armstrong quote: interview about her book Fields of Blood - Well worth reading in full