We have seen that two weeks after losing his email debate with Noam Chomsky, Sam Harris is still concerned about it, leading to him upload a podcast where he can have the last, last word (the first “last word” came in his postscript).
In the podcast, Harris essentially denies he lost the debate because, well, y’see, he wasn’t even having a debate. Harris tells us it was all part of experiment/project to see if people could have “conversations” with their ideological opponents.
Here are some key exceprts from Harris’s podcast:
1:27 – “I’ve been experimenting by reaching out to people to have difficult conversations.
At 2:11, he wants to “draw a distinction between conversation and a debate.”
At 2:27, he says a debate is “an incredibly counterproductive way to frame any inquiry into what is true.”
At 2:48, he says “my dialog with Maajid was not a debate, it was rather a conversation. And on the heels of that success, I decided to attempt a similar project with Noam Chomsky”
At 3:35, he complains many people misunderstood his intentions and mistakenly think the “conversation failed because [Harris ]arrogantly challenged Chomsky to a debate.”
At 4:35, Harris says, “Anyone who thinks I lost a debate doesn’t understand what I was trying to do…..I really was trying to have a productive conversation with Chomsky.”
Harris then begins to complain how mean Chomsky was and spends the rest of his time trying to win the debate after it has been over for two weeks.
Note that Harris never explicitly denies he was debating, but I think if you listen to the first 5 minutes of his podcast, and consider the above excerpts, it’s pretty clear that is indeed how he is trying to frame the incident.
One problem. Sam Harris uses Twitter. And on 4/23/15, he made it crystal clear he was out to debate Noam Chomsky (HT to Al):
I'm trying to arrange a debate with Noam Chomsky on foreign policy, terrorism, religion, etc. Please RT if you want that to happen.
— Sam Harris (@SamHarrisOrg) April 23, 2015
“I am trying to arrange a debate with Noam Chomsky.”
Not only was he trying to arrange a debate, he wanted his followers to retweet his message, apparently to create a public demand for such a debate that he could eventually use to leverage a challenge to Chomsky.
That Tweet sure makes it look like all his talk about just wanting to have a conversation was/is deception and misdirection.
What’s more, check out his first email he posted on his blog, dated 4/26:
I reached out to you indirectly through Lawrence Krauss and and was planning to leave it at that, but a reader has now sent me a copy of an email exchange in which you were quite dismissive of the prospect of having a “debate” with me. So I just wanted to clarify that, although I think we might disagree substantially about a few things, I am far more interested in exploring these disagreements, and clarifying any misunderstandings, than in having a conventional debate.
Consider just how dishonest this looks. Note how he places square quotes around the word debate, creating the impression that it was Chomsky’s idea they were to have a debate. Yet on 4/23, he encouraged his followers to help him “arrange a debate with Noam Chomsky.” Since he was the one trying to arrange a debate, why does he put scare quotes around the word debate in his email?
And contrast the ending with this tweet:
To his fans on 4/23: I’m trying to arrange a debate with Noam Chomsky ….Please RT if you want that to happen
To Chomsky on 4/26: I am far more interested in exploring these disagreements, and clarifying any misunderstandings, than in having a conventional debate.
Looks to me like he was lying to Chomsky.
Which is all the more interesting given that Harris sells a short book about lying:
HOBSON: Sam Harris’ new book is “Lying.” It argues that all lies, big or small, political or not, are bad. And Sam Harris, I want to ask you to remember a lie that you have told because we’ve all told some kind of lie.
HARRIS: When I took this course at 18, I was really transformed at the end of this, and so I – from then on I have consciously avoided lying. And I’ve done a pretty good job of it. I’m sure I’ve told lies, but they’ve been somewhat inadvertent, where I’ll just stumble upon saying something, which I then notice is not quite true, but it’s just too much of a hassle or too awkward to correct it in the flow of the conversation.
If you ask me, Harris “consciously avoiding lying” looks more like well discplined denial.