Sam Harris Is A Fraud
In 2004 Sam Harris published his bestselling book “The End of Faith”. In the aftermath of 9/11, the declaration of the War on Terror and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, Harris’ book hit the mark with middle class liberals. It argued that Muslims are driven to violent actions by their violent religion. Even moderate Muslims harbour dangerous and savage thoughts that make them an enemy within. He makes a few passing philosophical remarks that dazzle lay readers into buying Harris’ personal moral code – we should be willing to fight these irrational, dangerous people in order to protect Western liberal values: secularism, reason, progress. The book marked the beginning of a long and fruitful media and publishing career for Harris, who has now become a leading figure in the New Atheist movement, and one of its Four Horsemen.
Unlike the other Horsemen, Sam Harris has no pre-existing career worth mentioning. Dan Dennett is an accomplished philosopher and writer. Richard Dawkins built his atheism promotion out of his mediocre but well publicised science writing. Christopher Hitchens was a scumbag, but he was at least a successful writer. To believe Harris’ own hype, you’d think he was some kind of amalgamation of all three of these people: a neuroscientist and philosopher, the most potent Horseman of all.
Yet Harris’ claims about his intellectual bona fides are all a fraud. Sam Harris is no neuroscientist, nor is he a philosopher. Harris’ success has not been built on his abilities in either discipline. It has been built on his parents’ wealth, his connections, and a media and audience lusting after the kind of warmongering-but-liberal calls to action that he spouts, touched up with a veneer of intellectual credibility.
Behind every media darling is a pair of rich, indulgent parents, and Sam Harris is no exception. His parents, both former TV stars and producers, footed the bill for Stanford, and then a string of New Age spiritual retreats once little Sam decided to drop out of Stanford.
“ looked for answers in books about the occult and eastern religion, and then re-invented the 1960s for himself, experimenting with psychedelics and traveling to India and Nepal to study with Buddhist meditation masters.”
In an interview back in 2006 Harris mentions in passing that “at the time, he was supported financially by his mother”. As well as his family’s lavish support, connections were already developing, as he managed to swing a job in a “security detail” for the Dalai Lama. Being the child of highly connected and wealthy TV heavyweights certainly has its benefits, though what type of security a 19-year old Stanford trustafarian dropout was providing is beyond me.
Sam’s real passion during this time was philosophy. His spiritual guide at the time remarked later that:
"His passion was for deep philosophical questions, and he could talk for hours and hours," Salzberg recalls. "Sometimes you'd want to say to him, 'What about the Yankees?' or 'Look at the leaves, they're changing color!' "
Already developing his trademark narcissistic and computer-like style of discussion, Sam was compelled to indulge himself in further study. According to the same interview, after re-enrolling and completing his diploma, Sam began writing at length about his philosophical views: “but nothing was published.” Whatever Sam was producing at this stage, it wasn’t of any interest to actual philosophers. The best way to get around this problem was to bypass them and publish for a lay audience, and thankfully for Sam this wasn’t an insurmountable problem: coming from a TV family he had already developed the ability to find an audience – rubes who will buy what you’re selling.
After spending his 20s in some kind of haze of middle class ennui searching for spiritual truth Sam finally found the more fundamental, bourgeois truth: New Age spiritualism has nothing on getting filthy rich and famous. The essays he had tried to send off to philosophy journals for publications were later amalgamated into material for “The End of Faith”, and its publication opened up a whole new world of connections and media attention.
In 2004, after the success of “The End of Faith”, Harris was introduced to David Samuels, media heavyweight, who lauded him as the next Voltaire. The friend who introduced Harris to Samuels? A mysterious “writer for the Simpsons”. Atheists and libertarians began crawling out of the woodwork to latch onto this rising star. The connections begin to come thick and fast. In more recent years Harris has found equal success in enlisting the support of New Atheists like Dan Dennett & Richard Dawkins.
At this same juncture in his life Sam decided to dive into the world of neuroscience, and what a career move it turned out to be. For the broader middle class yokelry who fawn over Sam, it gives him some kind of insight into the “inner workings of the mind”, which neuroscience does not actually involve. A small aside, let me tell you what neuroscientists do: data entry. The neuroscientist title turns out to be a lie, a bit of performance art from an accomplished performer. It’s true that Harris completed a PhD in neuroscience, yet the story of how he got this qualification casts some doubt on his bona fides as a so called “neuroscientist”.
Harris’ desire to sleaze his way through a doctorate in neuroscience in particular was motivated by his instincts as an arch-careerist. “The End of Faith” was already on the shelves – he was already a Somebody in the public sphere, and he already had a topic that he knew would play. His PhD would investigate the differences in brain activity between Christians and non-Christian people when asked various factual or non-factual questions. The goal was to find some kind of neurological correlate of religiosity, showing how religious people think less rationally than atheists. He could then use this as a stick to beat religious people – presumably Muslims – with: “your brains work differently to ours”. These findings would tie everything up in a neat bow: Muslims are irrational and crazy, and here are the brain scans to prove it! Fortunately for Sam, and unfortunately for the credibility of neuroscientists generally, it’s pretty easy to produce whatever results you like with a little bit of methodological tilting of the scales.
Two equally interesting questions arise from the tale of Sam’s PhD thesis. Firstly, where did he get the money? MRI machines are expensive pieces of equipment, and are often rented for short periods at great expense. By now we should be able to guess the answer: Sam naturally had this covered through personal wealth and connections. Right around the time he was beginning his thesis Harris founded “The Reason Project”, later to become “Project Reason”, a “charitable foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society”. The Reason Project was apparently feeling particularly charitable about Sam, and provided the funds for his PhD, including use of facilities and an MRI machine. Once again, mum to the rescue.
The second problem was potentially more difficult. Sam had no history in neuroscience and he had never conducted an experiment in his life. It’s hard to imagine the UCLA neuroscience department accepting his PhD proposal, until you remember that Sam was by this stage highly connected, filthy rich, and becoming famous. He was given the red carpet treatment by UCLA. Sam got to pretend to do science while the professionals got to work. The various research jobs were passed to his co-authors: conducting the experiments, recruiting participants and designing the entire study were taken off Little Lord Fauntleroy’s hands. Ultimately Sam’s sole responsibility was the final write-up, which is less the account of a scientific experiment and more a screed about his personal views on religion, and a narcissistic flexing of his intellectual cred.
From the introduction:
“While there may be many Catholics, for instance, who value the ritual of the Mass without actually believing the doctrine of Transubstantiation, the primacy of the Mass within the Church still hinges on the fact that many Catholics do accept it as a metaphysical truth—a fact that can be directly attributed to specific, doctrinal claims that are still put forward by the Church.”
First of all, that’s not what “metaphysical” means, and secondly, what does this have to do with a behavioural fMRI study?
“Indeed, humanity seems to becoming proportionally more religious, as the combination of material advancement and secularism is strongly correlated with decreased fertility . When one considers the rise of Islamism throughout the Muslim world, the spread of Pentecostalism throughout Africa, and the anomalous piety of the United States, it becomes clear that religion will have geopolitical consequences well into the 21st century.”
Again, is this neuroscience or Sam’s new blog post?
The PhD predictably ended up a huge mess seeing how its lead author, Sam, was not a scientist but rather an anti-religious ideologue with no idea about how to design a study of this kind. Plenty of scientists during this period were swept up by the excitement of probing the activity in people’s brains to locate the regions or areas responsible for different mental behaviours. The emerging field of fMRI seemed to give us a special insight into the mind, but the methods involved are often rudimentary or extremely questionable.
Participants are routinely asked to “do nothing” or “think about nothing” while their “baseline” brain activity is recorded by the MRI machine. This baseline is then compared against their results during the experimental task, often in a very crude way. Researchers will simply subtract the baseline activation from the task activation, assuming that this will leave them with only the task activation, removing all the background noise. Researchers also frequently use mathematical tweaking to produce results that look good on a “heat map” by removing data that are “noisy” and don’t cluster neatly on the hotspots of activation.
In one famous example of the flaws of fMRIs, researchers used a dead salmon as their fMRI subject. The salmon was shown a series of images of various human social situations, designed to evoke an emotional response. The researchers found that, using the standard methods employed by neuroscientists and psychologists, the dead salmon responded to the images, illustrating the insanely high false-positive rate of fMRI research.
On a deeper theoretical level, it is rarely assumed anymore that discrete brain regions “do” any particular task. More and more evidence is emerging that distributed networks, graphical and topological features of the whole brain, and other kinds of non-localizable processes are what actually drive our mental life.
Harris’ research manages to hit every single note of bad neuroscience design, and reveals an ignorance of theoretical issues on the part of the scientists involved. The statistician William Briggs, having studied the thesis, points to numerous flaws in its design. The researchers recruited a hugely biased population sample that skewed their data, and did not record whether the non-Christian participants were Muslims, Atheists, Buddhist, or whatever else (I guess the folks round Stanford are white enough to rule other religions out). They also didn’t include the details of the questions asked, and we simply have to assume that the questions were valid. Harris’ team also discarded data that did not suit their desired results: 7 out of 40 participants were not included in the results “because their responses to our experimental stimuli indicated that they did not actually meet the criteria for inclusion in our study as either nonbelievers or committed Christians”. How was this decided? They never say. In addition, since some participants didn’t answer consistently enough according to Sam’s reckoning he excluded “subjects who could not consistently respond “true” or “false” with conviction.”
“During the course of my investigation of scientism and bad science, I have read a great many bad, poorly reasoned papers. This one might not be the worst, but it deserves a prize for mangling the largest number of things simultaneously.”
Yet the thesis was accepted and Sam received his PhD anyway. Doubtless the connection to his thesis supervisor Mark S. Cohen, a pioneer in MRI scanning techniques, helped carry him over the line. And thus Sam, a man who knows virtually nothing about neuroscience, who has never conducted or designed an experiment, is the proud holder of a PhD.
Recent research on the flaws of fMRI techniques has often used theses like Sam’s as a punching bag. A 2016 paper “Cluster failure: Why fMRI inferences for spatial extent have inflated false-positive rates” provides some convincing evidence, perhaps even more convincing than the salmon, that fMRI data is often misleading or useless, which was picked up in an article in the New York Times. Harris’ supervisor, Mark S. Cohen, responded at length to the charges, but the best he seemed to do was a small act of pedantry, correcting the article author for putting full-stops in the acronym fMRI. Later on Cohen concedes that maybe scientists got a little excited about the possibilities of fMRI:
“… scientists share the same foibles as all people: we are biased by our own beliefs and by our desire for recognition. Nothing, and certainly not statistics, can really protect us from this enthusiasm.”
You said it Mark. Where was this clear-headedness when you were watching Sam cut half the participants from the study based on a gut feeling?
So Sam’s thesis and the papers he’s been publishing based on it since demonstrate his novice-level understanding of neuroscience and experimental work in general. The nerds who revere his science-cred should bear in mind what an act of fraud it is for this man to call himself a scientist of any kind. Putting “neuroscientist” on the sleeve of his books is like calling the 9/11 attackers aerial stuntmen – he tried his hand at it once and it ended in disaster.
But neuroscience was just one string in Sam’s bow. His passion, as we’ve noted, was originally philosophy. While he has dabbled in philosophy of mind and sometimes parrots the positions of his friend Dennett, Sam is primarily interested in religion and moral philosophy. “The End of Faith” launched a vicious attack on religion in general, but particularly Islam. There are plenty of other articles running through the pathetic and nasty bile that Sam levels at Muslims on the regular, and I’ll focus instead on the weakness of his philosophy, and the lame techniques he uses to fool unsuspecting readers into agreeing with his nonsensical arguments.
A sure sign of Sam’s intellectual prowess comes in the opening pages of his book:
“The young man boards the bus as it leaves the terminal. He wears an overcoat. Beneath his overcoat, he is wearing a bomb…The young man smiles. With the press of a button he destroys himself, the couple at his side, and twenty others on the bus…The young man’s parents soon learn of his fate….They knows that he has gone to heaven and prepared the way for them to follow…These are the facts…”
So far it reads like a spy novel written by a computer program. But soon we reach the grim conclusion...
“Why is it so easy…to guess the young man’s religion?”
Dun dun duuuuun! If your average middle class American yokel who picked this book up in 2004 thinks that Muslims are violent, well, it’s got to be true!
The most impressively deceitful line is “These are the facts”. Never mind that these supposed “facts” are drawn from Sam’s imagination and placed into this heavily contrived scenario that never happened in real life. They’re as good as real facts so long as they appeal to the intuitions of the reader, and give the illusion of opening your eyes to the hidden evidence of Muslim evil.
A central theme running through Harris’ work on religion is that he considers himself an expert on the inner workings of the Muslim mind – a qualified Muslim Whisperer. The Muslim Whisperer understands the Muslim – what does he want, what does he think about, what drives his actions? Normal Westerners are unable to understand Muslims in all their savagery, but luckily the self-proclaimed scholar of Islamic psychology Sam is here to fill in the gaps:
“Why did nineteen well-educated, middle-class men trade their lives in this world for the privilege of killing thousands of our neighbours? Because they believed that they would go straight to paradise for doing so. It is rare to find the behaviour of human beings so fully and satisfactorily explained. Why have we been reluctant to accept this explanation?”
Get your chin scratching finger ready. Where did Sam get this exhaustive explanation of the 9/11 hijackers’ psychology? We will never know – the Muslim Whisperer keeps these things to himself. He just knows, and if he says it confidently enough and it agrees with the readers’ intuitions then it’ll be accepted as truth.
Sam has a list of divinations about Muslims: “Muslims hate the West in the very terms of their faith”. He knows that they are all devoted to “the literal word of the Koran”, they believe “modernity and secular culture are incompatible with moral and spiritual health”, and most damningly “the reality that the West currently enjoys far more wealth and temporal power than any nation under Islam is viewed by devout Muslims as a diabolical perversity” The average Muslim man “…will feel that the eternal happiness of his children is put in peril by the mere presence of such unbelievers in the world”. As someone who, unlike Sam, regularly talks to people of Muslim faith, I find his insights pretty surprising. Little did I know that hidden behind the façade of everyday life was a seething, roiling mass of black hatred for me and everything I stand for.
“All are in perverse agreement on one point of fundamental importance, however: “respect” for other faiths, or for the faiths of unbelievers, is not an attitude that God endorses.”
If Sam had bothered to speak to a Muslim person he’d find that virtually all of them regard Christianity and Judaism as related faiths. Jesus was a prophet much like Mohammed, and Christianity is incomplete but basically acceptable. The number of mixed-faith marriages and relationships I’m acquainted with also seems to put the lie to Sam’s credibility as a Muslim Whisperer – then again, maybe Australia is just a bubble of religious tolerance, where people leave Muslims alone and don’t attack them or their sites of worship.
But Sam thinks that Muslim people’s beliefs shouldn’t be taken at face value, unless they support his arguments. He claims that ” one of the problems we have is that many Muslims, for understandable reasons and some for really deplorable reasons, are playing hide the ball with the articles of faith, and are eager to have the conversations of the sort you have had from a very cynical and manipulative perspective.” A-ha! Only a true Muslim Whisperer could identify such a thickly woven conspiracy. Muslims are “playing hide the ball” – is that a game you learned at spirit camp Sam? – with their true beliefs. While they may marry Christians and atheists and Jews and act like normal people, what they really want is chaos and war with the West.
Sam has more recently dabbled in the broader topic of moral philosophy. His 2010 book “The Moral Landscape” puts forward what he grandiosely calls an entire framework for thinking about morality. Harris argues that decisions that produce the greater happiness or comfort are “better” decisions. Hence we can live a “better” life by acting as utilitarians, trying to maximize happiness and minimize misery by our actions. Right from the start he fumbles basic terms of his debate. A strategically “good” decision that leads to the best possible outcome is not the same as a “good” decision morally. We could make a good move in chess, but this doesn’t say anything about whether this would be a good decision to make morally.
This book has spawned a devout internet following of extremely credulous believers, and either indifference or criticism from proper philosophers. The philosopher Thomas Nagel pigeon-holes Harris’ philosophical efforts: “Since Harris skips over the hard substantive questions of right and wrong that occupy moral philosophers, the book is too crude to be of interest as a contribution to moral theory.” In other words, stick to your day job.
Patricia Churchland hits the nail on the head when it comes to Sam’s approach to philosophy:
“I think Sam is just a child when it comes to addressing morality. I think he hasn’t got a clue. And I think part of the reason that he kind of ran amuck on all this is that, as you and I well know, trashing religion is like shooting fish in a barrel. If Chris Hitchens can just sort of slap it off in an afternoon then any moderately sensible person can do the same… Morality: how hard can that be? Religion was dead easy. And it’s just many orders of magnitude more difficult.”
The ease of Sam’s life has led him to thinking that philosophy and debate is just as easy as schmoozing your way into the media. He breezed into college, writing, science. While it’s straightforward enough to fool a bunch of liberals with anti-Muslim drivel, get the ear of publishers, and even fool some bumbling scientists, doing serious writing in philosophy requires you to make strong arguments and know what you’re talking about. Sam has never published an article in any peer reviewed philosophical journal. This above all things demonstrates the weakness of his philosophy.
The most difficult part of getting published is proving that you have something original to say – something even professional philosophers sometimes have trouble doing. Sam’s moral philosophy rehashes ancient positions on utilitarianism, and only innovates by tortuously suggesting that utilitarianism provides a means for neuroscience to answer moral questions. As we know, Sam isn’t the best person to take advice from when it comes to neuroscience. Sam Harris is neither a philosopher nor a neuroscientist. Sam Harris is a media showboat, a layabout, a spoiled and well-connected rich kid with a high opinion of his own profoundness.
Sam’s heavily controlled public image would be the envy of other careerists. Philosopher, neuroscientist, expert of morality and religion. He’s even got a signature self-portrait: the dead-on photograph which makes him look like a body laid out on a morgue, fixed with a vaguely shit-eating grin. He picked this photograph because it suggests openness, forwardness, honesty, none of that limp liberal handwringing about PC. The public intellectual label, however, carries with it the possibility of debate, which Sam seems to approach with excitement which typically turns to pettiness, anger and rejection once the easy victory he was hoping for fails to materialise.
Sam’s debates with other thinkers have revealed how poor a combatant he is when actually faced with adversity or conflict, with anything other than comfort and ease. Forced to directly provoke an encounter by email after years of being snubbed, Harris managed to contact Noam Chomsky and challenge him to a debate. His sparring with even as mediocre a person as Chomsky demonstrates just how much of a poser Harris is.
For starters the page on Sam’s website hosting the debate transcript is called “The Limits of Discourse”, in his classic faux-Spock style of superior delivery. I understand the limits of discourse better than this guy, Sam is hinting narcissistically. In fact everything he does is narcissistic and tacky. The picture accompanying the piece is a brick wall. What a lame, passive-aggressive way to shit-talk your opponent. Classic careerist, classic narcissist, classic Harris.
He reminds Chomsky pre-debate that “It’s not a matter of having a “debate about misreadings”; it’s a matter of allowing our readers to see that conversation on difficult and polarizing topics can occasionally fulfill its ostensible purpose.” This kind of petulant uber-liberalism endears Sam to the kind of people who watch the West Wing – we can rise above it all, we can disagree but still be civil at the end of the day. This is the height of insincerity, since Sam’s entire goal here as evidenced by the way he presents the debate now is to show how Chomsky is at the “limits of discourse” and simply can’t be reasoned with, even making up the word “unreason” to describe Chomsky’s stance. It’s about showing off his cred, but Sam bites off more than he can chew. It’s like the coward who picks a fight with an old bum only to get his teeth smashed in with a trash can lid.
Harris commences the debate with a lengthy, pre-written essay that made me feel a pang of pity for him. He was so keen for the debate that he came all prepared. With the laziness of a spoiled brat Harris criticises Chomksy without every bothering to quote or make reference to a particular argument Chomsky has made. Instead, Harris quotes Baudrillard to pump up his cred as an intellectual. He criticises very broadly Chomsky’s claims about US imperialism being the cause of terrorism, and its posturing as “well-intentioned giant” that pretends to only inflict global death and horror unintentionally.
“We have surely done some terrible things in the past. Undoubtedly, we are poised to do terrible things in the future. Nothing I have written in this book should be construed as a denial of these facts, or as defense of state practices that are manifestly abhorrent. There may be much that Western powers, and the United States in particular, should pay reparations for.”
At the end of the day though, “we are, in many respects, just such a “well-intentioned giant.””
Let’s unpack this lazy argument: Chomsky has alleged in the past that the USA is at least partially responsible for the rise of Islamic jihad due to its imperial warmongering in the Middle East. Harris responds with a characteristic hand-wave – sure we’ve done bad stuff, but that doesn’t excuse terrorism! Is it possible to miss a simpler point by a wider margin? Chomsky’s purpose here is to show how US foreign policy is the cause of terrorism, not coincidental to it, yet Harris somehow construes this as the claim that US imperialism is just as bad as terrorism, so we can’t criticise terrorism. For someone so apparently concerned about quality debate and discourse, Harris functions at the level of a high-school debater, unable to do anything but talk past his opponent.
When gentle rhetorical pressure is applied by Chomsky, Harris fumbles basic philosophical concepts – misunderstanding simple claims within Chomsky’s arguments, making bizarre and barely coherent use of the concept of “moral equivalence”, and then quickly denigrating the entire exercise as “going off into the weeds” once he is put on the back foot. It is in every way an extremely weak performance from a man who portrays himself as a “public intellectual”.
Eventually Sam cuts off the exchange in typical style, citing some vague and self-serving concerns about the quality of the discourse:
“I’m sorry to say that I have now lost hope that we can communicate effectively in this medium. Rather than explore these issues with genuine interest and civility, you seem committed to litigating all points (both real and imagined) in the most plodding and accusatory way. And so, to my amazement, I find that the only conversation you and I are likely to ever have has grown too tedious to continue.”
Does this guy have abandonment issues or something? “The only conversation you and I are likely to ever have”? Is he trying to criticise Chomsky or be his absentee father? In classic Sam Harris style he avoids an unpleasant confrontation that could damage his precious image by appointing himself the arbiter of what makes good debate, what makes for high-level discussions.
In another shameful display, Harris challenged the writer Omer Aziz to a debate after a hit-piece Aziz had published in Salon attacking him. Harris, clearly enraged, but with Quaker-like passive-aggressive composure, tried to invite Aziz to a weird bullying session:
“I’d like you to just read , line by line, and I’ll stop you at various points so that we can discuss specific issues.”
Not a debate, not a discussion, not his beloved “discourse”, but a self-criticism session where Aziz would have to sit there and be excoriated by Harris for as long as he deemed necessary. The Spock mask slipped for just a moment, revealing the narcissistic urge to defend his projected image as violently as he could. Sam still tried to make it seem like he wasn’t just defending himself, but instead the very ideal of public discourse, decency, and all that:
“I want to hold you accountable for every word in your essay. You took the time to write it, and nearly every sentence exemplifies what is wrong with our public conversation on these topics.”
The arbiter of debate would not relent from this proposal, and Aziz eventually accepted, but Harris’ proposed format quickly broke down and turned into a free-ranging debate that lasted apparently for four hours. I don’t think I could last four minutes before swallowing my own tongue in that context, so full credit to Omer Aziz for his will of iron. Afterwards, Harris abruptly refused to post the debate online, claiming that it wasn’t interesting enough (though it has since been released). He signed off to Aziz:
“Better luck next time…
And yet in spite of his love of censorship and utter failure in any unscripted debate Harris’ media friends crow that he is “the new Voltaire”. The new Voltaire! Hold that description in your mind while you read this passage from “The End of Faith”:
“What does it feel like to see three thousand men, women and children incinerated and crushed to ash in a span of a few seconds…to have watched the World Trade Center absorbing the jet planes, along with the lives of thousands, and to have felt, above all things, disbelief, suggests some form of neurological impairment. Clearly, there are limits to what the human mind can make of the deliverances of its senses…”
As Mark Ames once said, I hope you’ve got your chin-scratching oil ready.
When ambushed by Ben Affleck on the Bill Maher Show, Harris was taken aback, his usually couched style unprepared for an actual human being tearing into him for being a racist fraud. Affleck accused him of being a racist, and Harris could only lamely write after the fact that “I suspect that among his handlers there is a fan of Glenn Greenwald who prepared him for his appearance by simply telling him that I am a racist and a warmonger.” Greenwald, who wrote a criticism of the New Atheist movement and accused it of being fundamentally reactionary and war-hungry, is Harris’ Goldstein, the eternal enemy who pops up in his dreams to torment him.
For all his talk, Sam’s real fears when faced with criticism are manifestly not to do with the effects that debate have upon the world. Conversely, he seems to believe that criticisms of him are secretly attacks on his person – or directed by the malign spectre of Glenn Greenwald. He responds to criticism with vitriol, claims that every critic simply doesn’t understand his arguments, and attempts to bully and demean his opponents. Despite the dull Quaker image he presents of a public intellectual concerned only with creating quality discussions in the public sphere, in truth this means that anyone who disagrees with Sam is irrational, misguided or malicious; to be treated with scorn and suspicion.
Aside from his sensitive narcissism surrounding his self-image of the Enlightenment man, Sam’s second-biggest fear is that staunch criticism of his arguments will ruin his not-so-hard-earned career, and affect his income. This was best captured by the blogger at Shadow to Light, who listened to Harris’ interview with Omar Aziz.
“At 33:40, he complains that accusations of him being racist are closing off other opportunities for him to make money, at 34:00 he clearly states that being called a bigot and racist isn’t good for his career (and his “career” is to sell books and get paid for speeches), at 38:30 he complains about the “cost” of dealing with this issue, from 38:40 to 39:30 he makes it clear accusations of racism/bigotry interfered with his ability to promote his meditation book, and at 43:15 he complains about the “reputational costs” associated with such accusations”
For someone supposedly concerned with the highest principles, in truth Sam is concerned only with the basest ones: making money, and the image he projects to his gormless fans.
In the second installment, I’ll be making the case that Sam Harris is not only a fraud, but also a white supremacist. See you then!