Sam Harris Battles a Meme

Atheist activist Dan Arel posted the following on Twitter:

 

Activist Sam Harris replied:

This half-quote amounts to a defamatory lie. I have NOT defended LK—and generally believe accusers in these cases—but I think we should be slow to destroy a person’s reputation on the basis of a Buzzfeed article. I’ll say more in my next AMA. https://t.co/yqy1fcDThU

— Sam Harris (@SamHarrisOrg) 3 March 2018

In case you can’t read the quote in the meme, here is what Harris said:

This is a very serious business. We have a friend and a colleague and a person with a much cherished scientific reputation under assault now.

Let’s analyze the claims in Harris’s tweet.

This half-quote amounts to a defamatory lie.

So quoting Harris is now considered a defamatory lie because it is supposedly a “half-quote.” If you listen to him talk immediately before and after that point, there is nothing there that should have been included. This quote has the ability to stand alone because of the highly significant choice of one word – “assault.” What Harris does in this sentence is to frame his friend and colleague as the victim and this is what the meme highlights. Look, Harris is supposed to have this reputation as being extremely logical and careful with his wording. As such, he could have said “We have a friend and a colleague and a person with a much cherished scientific reputation that is in question now.” Or, “We have a friend and a colleague and a person with a much cherished scientific reputation who is embroiled in controversy now.” But he didn’t. He chose to frame it as Krauss being “under assault.”

Sam, that comes across as “a tell.”

I have NOT defended LK

The meme itself, and even Arel’s introduction, doesn’t state that Harris has defended Krauss. Arel (who shared the meme on Twitter) simply wrote: Women accusing Lawrence Krauss of sexual abuse are assaulting Krauss.

—and generally believe accusers in these cases

Whoa. He “generally believes?” Since when does the Famous Skeptic approach a dispute with pre-conceived beliefs? Shouldn’t he have said, “I generally withhold judgment until I can survey the evidence?” That’s the skeptic’s position. Yet Sam abandons the skeptics position and has, as his default position, a general belief. How odd.

Of course, not so odd if Sam Harris is simply virtue signaling to the #metoo movement. It would help if Sam could provide examples where this “general belief” was more specific. Just when did he believe the accusers? What criteria did he use to uphold this belief?

—but I think we should be slow to destroy a person’s reputation on the basis of a Buzzfeed article. I’ll say more in my next AMA.

I would fully agree with this. But the Buzzfeed article can be read and digested in a rather short period of time. You can’t just dismiss it because it is a Buzzfeed article. Instead, Sam should use his intellectual superpowers to employ critical thinking when reading the article and see if it leads to a tentative conclusion. Then, share his enlightened insights with his fans. I’m not so sure what’s so hard about this.

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This entry was posted in atheist wars, New Atheism, Sam Harris, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Sam Harris Battles a Meme

  1. unclesporkums says:

    How dare they use his own words against him..

  2. TFBW says:

    A pox on Dan Arel for making me defend Sam Harris.

    I agree with Sam that the quotes are, in fact, half-quotes and misrepresentations. They are most certainly half-quotes in that they are paraphrases (at best) of things that Sam has said. Arel’s second paraphrase says that “women … are assaulting Krauss,” whereas Sam’s original statement says, “a person with a much cherished scientific reputation under assault.” The “under assault” in that statement could be understood to apply to the person or the reputation. Interpreting it (quite reasonably) in the latter way eliminates the contradiction. Krauss’ reputation is under assault by a Buzzfeed article. Under that interpretation, the “assault” is metaphorical violence against an abstraction (a reputation), not literal violence against a person, and there is no contradiction between the two statements. The principle of charity demands, ceteris paribus, that we accept the interpretation which does not lead to a contradiction. Arel’s complaint is founded on an uncharitable interpretation.

    Given Arel’s uncharitable attitude, I grant him no benefit of the doubt that his first paraphrase is a fair representation of Sam’s position either, but that’s a separate matter.

  3. TFBW says:

    What sort of timeline is this where a Fundamentalist Christian is defending a New Atheist from another atheist? Will someone please find the world’s “nonsense” control and dial it back a notch?

  4. unclesporkums says:

    Well, there is the whole “unconditional forgiveness” aspect.

  5. Kevin says:

    The only time I’ve ever found myself agreeing with New Atheists is against Atheism +, which is even more toxic – but that’s just because I find progressivism to be a hideous ideology.

    Regarding Harris, the progressives would point out that even if we interpret the “assault” as against Krauss’ reputation, he still deserves his reputation to be destroyed due to his treatment of women. So for Harris to say that Krauss’ reputation is “under assault” would be for Harris to be more worried about Krauss’ reputation than justice for the women Krauss mistreated.

    Notice how I did not say “allegedly mistreated”, because despite the vast majority of people commenting on the matter not having any actual knowledge of the events in question, it seems that “believing women” means slandering whomever women accuse. If you are a member of an “oppressor” group, you are automatically guilty.

  6. Dhay says:

    TFBW > A pox on Dan Arel for making me defend Sam Harris.

    Well done for your principled stand.

    *

    I note that Harris didn’t appear with Krauss this last, but in his next he’s still scheduled to appear with Michael Shermer.

    I guess for Harris it’s not a matter of principle, but who’s the current hot potato.

  7. Ilíon says:

    TFBW:Arel’s second paraphrase says that “women … are assaulting Krauss,” whereas Sam’s original statement says, “a person with a much cherished scientific reputation under assault.” The “under assault” in that statement could be understood to apply to the person or the reputation. Interpreting it (quite reasonably) in the latter way eliminates the contradiction. Krauss’ reputation is under assault by a Buzzfeed article.

    Not only is that the charitable understanding of what he said, but it’s the only grammatically reasonable understanding. After all, he didn’t say “a person with a much cherished scientific reputation [is] under assault”

  8. TFBW says:

    @Ilíon: In the context of the full sentence, the application of “under assault” is ambiguous. You can interpret it as “we have [a friend] and [a colleague] and [a person with a much cherished scientific reputation] under assault now,” or, “we have [a friend] and [a colleague] and [a person with a much cherished scientific reputation under assault] now.” Both work, and it’s entirely possible that Sam meant it in the former rather than the latter sense. Even if he did, though, it’s clear that he means an assault on the man’s reputation and social standing, not a physical attack, so Arel’s implication that it stands in contradiction to “words can’t be violent” is still dubious at best.

    Mind you, it’s possible that Arel has misunderstood precisely because the attack on Krauss’ reputation and social standing is intended to be punitive. Words can have real-world consequences, and Leftists use that as part of their arsenal. It just gets a bit bizarre and twisted when they imply that a statement like, “I’ll kill you,” actually causes damage to someone’s person without the speaker carrying out the threat. Maybe they mean psychological damage rather than physical damage — they don’t like to make such a distinction, evidently — but you’d need to be psychologically damaged already (pathologically mentally fragile) in order for that to be strictly true.

    I can’t find a charitable interpretation of Arel’s behaviour. I’m open to suggestions.

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