Sam Harris: Media Creation

I was reading an interview of Sam Harris by David Samuels. Who is Samuels?

David Samuels, Tablet Magazine’s literary editor, is a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine and a longtime contributor to The Atlantic and The New Yorker.

So in the world of media, he is a player.

Anyway, I noticed something that caught my eye:

I first met Harris eight years ago in a Venice Beach restaurant, where we were introduced by a writer for The Simpsons. While I recall being dubious about whether the 21st century needed a new Voltaire, Harris’ first book, The End of Faith, marked him as one of the most important public intellectuals of our generation, an 18th-century Enlightenment thinker in a 21st-century world riven by 14th-century conflicts.

A new Voltaire? One of the most important public intellectuals of our generation? What kind of sappy writing is that? Why doesn’t he just get on with it and refer to Harris as Sam The Magnificent?

But then it turns out that Samuels, the media guy, is just promoting his friend:

Writing is indeed an extremely powerful and specific form of manipulation that imposes an unavoidable moral burden on the writer at the same time as it serves as a source of pleasure and income. I enjoy manipulating you, and it pays my rent. At the same time, I feel a powerful sense of responsibility to rewire your brain in ways that will have a beneficial effect on your inner life and your personal sense of connection to other people and to some larger whole that you and me and my atheist friend Sam Harris might all agree upon as a useful premise for thought and action.

But it gets much more interesting.

Samuels: I first met Harris eight years ago in a Venice Beach restaurant, where we were introduced by a writer for The Simpsons.

Eight years ago? Samuels wrote that on May 29, 2012. That takes us back to 2004. The very year Sam Harris published his first book. And who introduced Harris to the media player?

A writer for The Simpsons.

Recall what I wrote a few months ago:

Sam Harris not only comes from money, lots of money, but he also comes from media. When your dad was an actor, and your mom and step-dad are TV producers, you have not only money, but something more important…..media connections. Sam Harris, one of the Four Horsemen, is a media creation.

Well, there ya go. There’s one of the media connections. When Sam Harris first began to promote his first book (before anyone knew he would become popular) a writer for The Simpsons introduced Harris to a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine and a longtime contributor to The Atlantic and The New Yorker. They became friends.

Who might the writer for The Simpsons be? I don’t know. But here is a tantalizing possibility:

How Sam Simon helped fund atheist billboards
Alongside his television success and animal charity work, Simpsons co-creator Sam Simon was also a passionate advocate for atheism

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6 Responses to Sam Harris: Media Creation

  1. mechanar says:

    So this journalist admits he has no interest in People forming their own opinion he just wants to Form us like clay. Hmm kind of reminds me of every other authoritarian ideology that feels it has the duty to “educate” his Population.

  2. Dhay says:

    I, too, noticed something that caught the eye in the Tablet article, “Q&A: Sam Harris”, which Michael linked to :

    Q. > Does any halfway literate modern person still imagine that there is a large person with a beard who lives in the sky and is watching us?

    Harris > Ask Francis Collins. And if he believes that …
    [“Francis Collins” is linked by Harris to an article by Collins entitled, “Collins: Why this scientist believes in God”]

    So Harris is convinced that Collins believes that [presumably God] “is a large person with a beard who lives in the sky and is watching us”, and links to the evidence; let’s split up what Harris claims Collins believes, and look at that evidence:

    * … large person … — unevidenced
    * …with a beard … — unevidenced
    * … lives in the sky … — unevidenced
    * … is watching us … — unevidenced

    It is but a few days since Harris fan-boy, “nate”, attempted to persuade us in his response to the December 31 2014 blog post entitled, “Sam Harris Finally Makes Sense To Me”, that Harris is “a master orator, he’s more articulate than really anyone else I’ve ever heard”, and “has a degree in philosophy in order to gain philosophical training that he can (and does) use in debates”.

    nate said, “It is incredibly helpful to be able to see through meaningless rhetoric, but its easier said than done.” and no doubt meant by this that Harris’ philosophy course helps him see through meaningless rhetoric; whether it does or not, I don’t know, I hope it does — but it occurs to me that Harris’ philosophy training has been invaluable in teaching Harris how he himself can best get away with meaningless rhetoric and with empty sophistry. What else, I ask myself, is Harris’ claim that Collins believes that God “is a large person with a beard who lives in the sky and is watching us”.

    Personally, I find that seeing through the utter rubbish which Harris spouts, however “masterfully” he might “orate” it, is very, very easy. Harris is all ignorance, bluff and bluster.

  3. Dhay says:

    Also there in the Tablet article:

    Sam Harris: What religion has had up until this moment is a different set of rules that apply only to it, which is you have to respect my religious certainty even though I’m telling you I arrived at it irrationally.

    Actually, Francis Collins evidently reached his religious “certainty” rationally; the “leap of faith” he writes about seems to have been his decision to commit to what is sometimes called “semitic totality” — “repentance” serves well, too — where a person’s mind, body and behaviour are fully re-aligned in their totality and stay so; a Buddhist like Harris would probably refer to it as “pravrtti”, a “turning around at the seat of consciousness”, as I seem to remember the famous DT Suzuki putting it; it’s a concept Harris really ought to be familiar with.

    Let’s compare that with Jerry Coyne, who proudly proclaims he arrived at his life-changing certainty — his “conversion”, he calls it — via a long “moment” of shaking and sweating, and with not a trace of rationality reported except Sgt Pepper album lyrics, if they count as rational; if we accept what Harris says, why should anyone respect Coyne’s life-changing certainty, when Coyne is telling us he arrived at that certainty irrationally.

    Or there’s Harris himself, whose life-changing certainty was reached in a fug of MDMA (Ecstasy) — how rational is that; why should anyone respect Harris’ life-changing certainty, when Harris is telling us he arrived at that certainty irrationally.

  4. Michael says:

    Typical Sam Harris. He masterfully slays the straw man while clad in hypocrisy.

    BTW, I think nate left us.

  5. Dhay says:

    Also there in the Tablet article:

    Sam Harris > It’s possible to feel overwhelming love for all sentient beings and an overwhelming gratitude for being here in this moment, and to no longer feel separate from the universe. You’re riding around in your head looking at the world that is other than what you are, and that disappears.

    That’s a typical exposition of Harris’ core spiritual experience, in nutshell form. It continues:

    > It’s around that phenomenology [the study of consciousness and the objects of direct experience] that you get ejaculations of the sort that created our religious literature. So, you have a Jesus who speaks like Jesus, and a Buddha who speaks like Buddha, and then you have their followers. And not all of the religious traditions are equipped to conceptually deal with that experience or to guide people toward it.

    And from Chapter 1 of “Waking Up”:

    > It would take me many years to put this experience into context. Until that moment, I had viewed organized religion as merely a monument to the ignorance and superstition of our ancestors. But I now knew that Jesus, the Buddha, Lao Tzu, and the other saints and sages of history had not all been epileptics, schizophrenics, or frauds.

    To a guy with a hammer, everything is a nail. To a neo-Buddhist like Harris, heavily steeped in and heavily influenced by traditional Buddhist thought and practice, every religion’s founder – except Muhammad? – was sort of another Buddha, a meditator, someone who felt overwhelming love for all sentient beings and an overwhelming gratitude for being there in the moment, someone who no longer felt separate from the universe. They were riding around in their heads looking at the world that was other than what they were, and that disappeared.

    Thanks to his neo-Buddhist conversion, Harris now just knows that Jesus, the Buddha, Lao Tzu, and the other saints and sages of history had not all been epileptics, schizophrenics, or frauds, and he knows this is so because by methods unspecified he somehow just knows that they were all of them really closet Buddhists, practicing local substitutes for Buddhist practices, leading to their experiencing Buddhist experiences, experiences which they then misinterpreted into the terms of their local culture, and which terms their followers misunderstood.

    Much though Harris would like to co-opt Jesus into Buddha-hood, it seems to me to be wishful thinking, or sophistry, quite unevidenced by Harris, to claim that Jesus’ teachings derived from any experiences similar to those the Buddha and Harris have had: if you want to explain Jesus teaching love of neighbour, of stranger in your midst, and of enemy, you need not imagine Jesus had unevidenced Buddhist-type experiences, you need instead look no further than the relevant teachings in Leviticus and Proverbs – it’s all there in the Old Testament.

    Harris therefore looks rather like those clueless loopies who sometimes appear on Christian forums insisting that Jesus was an Avatar, or was one Ascended Master in a long and still continuing line of Ascended Masters, or was a Gnostic teacher of a few realised initiates. Unlike them, he doesn’t proof-text; he doesn’t even proof-text; Harris provides no evidence whatsoever, and that he thinks he can get away with such wild clueless loopy assertions speaks volumes about the ignorance of his target audience.

  6. Dhay says:

    Here’s a similar account of the conversion of a scientist from atheism to Christianity, found in the ‘On-Screen Scientist’ article dated July 21st, 2008, entitled, “On the Breaking of Bad Habits Acquired in One’s Youth: Smoking and Atheism”.

    Evidence can be material or circumstantial. The law recognizes that circumstantial evidence can lead to certainty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Perhaps there is circumstantial evidence to be considered in the question of God’s existence? There is. A book that made a strong (decisive, really, coming when it did) impression on me was by John Polkinghorne (a theoretical physicist turned Anglican priest) entitled Belief in God in an Age of Science. It is of course written from a Christian standpoint, but the main arguments are for a Creator God without reference to scripture but only to the observable facts of the universe. Polkinghorne is a prime example of a “truly smart” theist. …

    Will strong circumstantial evidence satisfy you? There’s no way to answer that question in advance. From my own experience I can say that becoming convinced intellectually can lead to an opening of the heart from which certainty comes.

    My own evolution from atheist to theist took many years, and I was not consciously open on the question until near the end of that time.

    http://onscreen-scientist.com/?p=28

    This echoes Francis Collins’ conversion story: years of slowly increasing intellectual convincement based on reason and evidence preceded final emotional commitment.

    And these two stories of intellectual commitment preceding emotional commitment contrast sharply with the conversion stories of Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne, where the emotional commitment happened in a fug of irrationality, and where rationality — insofar as it was added — was added later.

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