A reader below asked me to exposit in more detail what I only alluded to in my post, The scourging of Sam Harris, when it came to substantive disagreements. The reason I did not elaborate much in the post is because Sam Harris’ original contribution had more to do with the deficits of interacting on the internet, and being routinely mischaracterized and having your reputation smeared. In this area I’m in close agreement with Harris, as I’ve experienced many of the same things. I suspect part of it is that like Harris, and unlike many internet commentators, I don’t really exist within a relatively tidy social-ideological bubble. My readership spans the ideological gamut, and though I’m personally on the Right, I don’t have much of a problem posting material which those on the Left may find congenial to their self-image (which naturally results in the tendency for random conservatives to term me a “liberal blogger,” totally unaware that I’m often a token conservative in science and secular circles). I’m not a contrarian, as much as I don’t really care too much about politics. People may remember Richard Feynman 1,000 years from now. They will be far less likely to remember Bill Clinton.
One minor note: I put “perceived” in the title because I understand that I may have misconstrued Sam Harris or his acolytes. I’ve read End of Faith, but have only a cursory familiarity with his follow up work. Of course it is hard to avoid Sam Harris and his detractors if you follow debates on the internet, so I think I have a sense of where he and his critics are coming from. But I could be wrong. A major problem that people have in constructive discourse is misunderstanding the positions of those who they think the disagree with (which is why I routinely ban any commenter who attempts to rewrite my own opinion before launching into their response; if you have to rewrite what I said when I’ve already written my opinion, I don’t see that as a good sign)
A reader pointed me to this Sam Harris post, Wrestling the Troll. He asked what I thought of the post, and what I thought of Harris. In regards to Harris I don’t think much. I found The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason to be overly simplistic in the model of religion as a phenomenon which he seemed to hold, and I wasn’t really on board with the normative vision Harris was promoting. To be overly pat Sam Harris strikes me as a traditional liberal universalist. In his imagined future all intelligent men and women will bend the knee to John Dewey, and espouse liberal individualist values. Perhaps. That may be the most likely path, but it may not be a very likely path. Most of his follow up works have struck me as extended polemics and provocations. This is often necessary, but I don’t have a large appetite for that sort of material myself. In any case my faith in reason has limits. Harris’ brutally clean and crisp modernist vision is one which I can’t fully support.