What explains this?
Dawkins has always been the heart of New Atheism, meaning its decline and his decline are linked at the hip.
Harris, probably because of his Hollywood background/connections, is much more media savvy and branched out from New Atheism, first with meditation related stuff and now, with the “Intellectual Dark Web” stuff. His most recent public decision to break with Patreon was a stroke of media savvy brilliance.
> [Sam Harris’] most recent public decision to break with Patreon was a stroke of media savvy brilliance.
Indeed. He’s been afraid of Patreon shutting down his account as it has shut down several other ‘online content providers’ with content that is deemed too unsavoury for a respectable company like theirs to be associated with or to support via their service.
Basically, he’s shut down his Patreon account before Patreon shuts his account down.
But instead of presenting it to the public as “I was afraid of Patreon shutting down my income because my own content is close enough to unsavoury for that to be a foreseeable risk”, he has presented it in The Washington Times as “Neuroscientist Sam Harris has dealt a public relations nightmare to crowdfunding platform Patreon by blasting its “Trust and Safety” team while announcing his plan to drop the platform within 24 hours.”
That’s some spin.
Patreon, I think, can safely ignore Harris’ claim that they have “a public relations nightmare” and carry on with their business as before; Harris was just one of many customers, and I suspect his ability to influence other Patreon users will be limited.
Harris has manufactured a blaze of self-promoting publicity.
Following links in my previous S2L responses I find his leaving Patreon has not been the decisive (“within 24 hours”) act of strong principle against a misbehaving Patreon which the article implies it is, it’s been in the pipeline since July or August 2017:
Yet he’s only just left. The principle guiding Harris has obviously been protection of income by first establishing a subscription model, move only when it’s established enough.
Harris “believes in Patreon and what they are trying to achieve”, yet goes out of his way to harm Patreon’s reputation and business. That’s principle for Harris.
Funny, Harris announced the closure on Twitter, which is a notoriously active banner of ‘online content providers’; plenty of people have had their Twitter accounts blocked because of Tweets (content) that people complained about: so no doubt we can expect Harris to take a principled stand and cease using Twitter. In a blaze of self-promoting publicity, of course.
Bet he closes neither.
Sometime back when Mike, you said, Dawkins Jumped the Shark. Spot on!
Right, remember, even HE’S being an “accommodationist” (favorably comparing a Church’s bells to a Mosque’s call to prayer)
Pingback: New atheism in decline? | Uncommon Descent
In Hemant Mehta’s blog post dated 19 December 2018 and entitled “The Miami New Times Shines a Light on the Diversity of Atheism in the City” he quotes that paper and its quotes, saying:
The article tells us that “American atheists remain an almost voiceless minority. In the United States, their population has barely budged — just 3.1 percent of adults identify as atheist, up from 1.6 percent in 2007.” But that’s not the gist Mehta is referring to; he quotes selectively from the much longer MNT article, drawing his readers’ attention to :
Mehta tells us that:
And the article itself examples these with:
The decline of interest in Dawkins is thus easily explained by Mehta’s post and the original fuller article; what is perhaps surprising is the increase in interest in Harris; but Harris has kept away from New Atheism for “enough time” that people evidently now think of him as just a media personality:
That’s Harris in on-stage discussion, 13 January 2018.
> Harris … branched out from New Atheism, first with meditation related stuff …
I’d say that right from the start Sam Harris was (and still is) primarily a Bodhisattva (a Buddhist evangelist who has vowed not to rest until all sentient beings are enlightened.
Let’s have a look at Harris’ last chapter, Chapter #7 in The End of Faith, his first book; it’s entitled “Experiments in Consciousness”, the section headings being: —
* The Search for Happiness
* What Are We Calling “I”?
* The Wisdom of the East
Got the message? While there’s no doubt that Harris was, and is, vehemently anti-religions, especially anti- the Abrahamic religions, the first six chapters are a preparation for the culmination [ ** ], Chapter #7 which evangelises Buddhism, Buddhist philosophy and Buddhist practice. (There’s even a eulogised quotation from the Tibetan Buddhist sage, Padmasambhava.)
( ** Harris’ Afterword, which Wiki says was added a year after first publication, refers to what’s obviously Chapter 7 as “the last chapter.”)
The problem is the targets, not the tactics, right?
It’s a small detail, I know, but that eulogised quotation from the Tibetan Buddhist sage, Padmasambhava, was introduced with:
Yep, Sam Harris did write that: that, with eyes closed, he went to his ‘Buddhism’ bookshelf, selected just any old book from the “scores” there, eyes still closed, opened that book at a random page, eyes still closed … and on opening his eyes he found he had selected a classic passage of Dzogchen teaching. That’s rather like socially aware me opening the Bible, eyes closed, and putting my finger straight on Ezekiel 34.
Reading between the lines, Harris seems to be trying to convince his readers that the Sutras (etc) are nothing but pure gold, he can confidently expect to find that pure gold on opening any book on Buddhism whatsoever. (Or any of the books on that particular shelf of his, anyway.)
Now it’s not impossible that Harris did indeed carry off this extremely improbable feat — and first time, too — but my experiments with my own twenty-five or so books of on Buddhism (which are what’s survived successive clear-outs after youthful enthusiasm waned) tell me I’m more likely to find a passage about hungry demons, about the vast numbers of jewels in vast numbers of Buddha-realms, the magical ‘Gate Gate’ mantra at the end of the Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra, and other dross, mostly dross.
It’s not impossible that Harris did indeed carry off this extremely improbable feat, no, but it is extremely improbable; so improbable that my ‘incredible story’ detector has gone off. On previous occasions when it has gone off the storyteller has generally turned out to be a scoundrel.
Is Harris a liar?
> Harris, probably because of his Hollywood background/connections, is much more media savvy and branched out from New Atheism, first with meditation related stuff and now, with the “Intellectual Dark Web” stuff.
That’s prescient: up to the OP date all of Sam Harris’ podcasts — he’s effectively stopped blogging this while — were announced as “In this episode of the Waking Up podcast…”; between 20 December 2018 and 16 January 2019 inclusive that changed to “In this episode of the podcast…”; the next was announced as “In this episode of the Making Sense podcast…” and the last two to date — and I suspect future podcasts — have a big red banner saying “MAKING SENSE” and “SAM HARRIS”; and the web page for podcasts is now headed “MAKING SENSE PODCAST”
I have no doubt that Harris will continue to be a hater of theists, especially of Muslims (who are very resistant to Harris’ Buddhist evangelism); I have no doubt that he will continue to evangelise Buddhist philosophy and practices; I do see Harris has re-positioned himself (now openly, whereas before it was de facto) as a chat show pundit.
Or “intellectual”, as he likes to style himself.
The other half of ‘Dawkins vs Harris’ (the thread title) continues to decline. Jerry Coyne, in his 05 February 2019 blog post entitled “A discussion between Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins” tells us that:
Damned by faint interest, eh. And:
Yes, the video is dominated by Fry, completely dominated; it’s notionally a conversation, but Dawkins says very little and much of that is asking questions of Fry; the moderator says more in his introduction than Dawkins does throughout: looks like nowadays when Dawkins has equal billing he is but a minor player.
Having observed (above) how Richard Dawkins’ conversation with Stephen Fry was dominated by Fry, I wondered how Sam Harris’ 28 January 2019 podcast conversation with Stephen Fry went; the answer is, on the evidence of the bits I listened to it’s far more balanced.
(The podcast is two hours long, and while I would be perfectly happy to read through a transcript of a two hour conversation — which can be done relatively quickly, and I can easily find, analyse and quote any passage which catches my interest, enabling interaction with the text and ideas — I balk at the idea of stream-of-consciousness listening for two hours.)
What I did get out of it is found in Harris’ introduction to the changes (at 01:40+): Harris doesn’t now know why he had linked the podcast to the title of his Waking Up book — perhaps he should ask the Why Evolution is True and Friendly Atheist bloggers, it’s evidently a New Atheist brain infection and infectious; he’s most certainly not given up on Buddhist evangelism — he’s now got six, that’s six people working full-time on the Waking Up App and he says that team is growing, so it’ll be more than six before long.
While I was half-listening for something interesting on the podcast I browsed PZ Myers’ blogroll and came upon the 04 February 2019 A Trivial Knot post entitled “Atheist movement postmortems”, which briefly summarises five ‘atheist postmortem’ articles and blogger posts — “it seems this is a bit of a genre” — and his own from 2017. It’s interesting to analyze a young atheist blogger’s thoughts.
He didn’t like Tom Gilson’s recent “laughable” Stream article:
Ah, so intellectual respectability doesn’t matter. That’s just as well, because:
Damning, huh. So much for the “intellectually respectable thinking” of Harris, that shining “intellectual of the dark web”. (Is Dawkins supposed to be another such “intellectual”?)
And you’d never hear about it, because intellectual rigor is fundamentally boring and does not get read by the people who clamor for it.
Intellectually rigorous stuff just doesn’t get read by the ‘Science and Reason’ and ‘Evidence and Reason’ crowd — ooh, this blogger’s scathing indeed. They clamor for it but do not then read it.
There’s also the implicit claim that the atheist bloggers who do get read (or their podcasts listened to) are not intellectually rigorous, they are second rate at best — again, that’s scathing.
And what stops those alleged intellectually rigorous atheists (or, more generally, intellectually rigorous scholars) from publishing articles; and nothing stops even intellectually challenged atheists from linking to them, indeed why would they not? Where are the articles, where are the links!
Intellectual rigor is fundamentally boring, says the blogger. Sounds like when Harris says he won’t go into a subject because his readers/listeners will find it tedious or boring, that’s a euphemism for ‘I’ve gotta shut it down, this discussion is getting intellectually interesting, they won’t cope!’
The thing that stood out to me in Dhay’s comment above was the snippet from Jerry Coyne, “the most laughable remark is about atheists’ ‘failure to gain traction in academia.'” It’s true to say that atheists have traction in academia, mostly in the form of neo-Marxists, and mostly in the form of political traction rather than academic traction (they dominate through administrative control, not through academic excellence). However, if you do a little bit of closer analysis, you find that (a) Coyne is just being a dolt as usual, and (b) it’s a small world.
The actual quotation from Gilson, which Coyne brutally truncates, is as follows.
So let’s be clear: the “failure to gain traction in academia” is not something that Tom Gilson said, but rather was Tom Gilson quoting our very own blog-host, Michael. Tom’s preferred way of phrasing it is, “failure to produce any intellectually respectable thinking on their side.” Second, note that this isn’t about the failure of atheists in general to make headway in academia: both Gilson and the original Shadow To Light autopsy speak specifically of the New Atheist movement, which is a quite specific sub-genre of atheism. New Atheism spawned numerous conferences and rallies, now all moribund at best, but had no perceptible impact on academia (where the neo-Marxist strain dominates). Apparently Coyne does not want to recognise or allow such distinctions within atheism, but it means that his criticism, even after it’s been corrected for misattribution, rests on an obtuse misinterpretation of what’s being stated in the article he criticises.
Shocking, right? Who would have supposed that a man like Coyne, who wrote an entire book premised on a tendentious definition of “faith”, would perform such shoddy analysis?
H/T PZ Myers, in his 08 January 2021 ““Cheap Talk” skepticism”, reveals that Sam Harris, a self-styled “intellectual” and member of the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ has announced on his website (in Podcast #225, at about 03:40) that he has resigned his IDW membership — handed in his “imaginary membership card” of “this imaginary organisation”, that for him was always joined “tongue-in-cheek”:
Funny, Podcast #225 was dated 18 November 2020, but Harris is still listed as a “Leader”:
No rush to leave, then, and anyone deterred by the reasonable expectation that Harris will, as usual drone endlessly will not get to know he’s “left” — actually, this one is more interesting and is only half an hour long, though it tells the educated layman nothing he won’t have heard from numerous sources already, or decided for himself.
Back to Myers, who starts:
So, the alleged “foremost” member of the Intellectual Dark Web — the self-puffing Travis Pangburn, who set up a rival version a year or so ago that anyone could be part of (if sufficiently pretentious, and upon paying per article submitted for admiration) claimed so — namely Harris, thinks (like Pangburn) that the (other) Intellectual Dark Web members are lightweights; or as Myers and Rabinowitz put it, “Cheap talk skeptics”.
The levels of self-awareness (the lack thereof) exhibited in these accusations of “cheap-talk skepticism” is so mind-boggling that I don’t even want to know the details.
The last half-decade has witnessed a very sudden transition in what counts as respectable behaviour in what we might call “thought leadership in the skeptosphere”. The seeds were planted during the 2012 Reason Rally, but the Trump era accelerated the reactions to warp speed. Once upon a time, or so I like to imagine, ideas were held in esteem because they were supported by good arguments. In the New Atheist era, ideas were held in esteem by association with Science, and held in contempt by association with Religion. Now we have entered an era in which the ideas themselves dictate whether you are good or evil: the Progressive Left has a monopoly on Good, and everyone else is an Evil Fascist. Judgement is now passed (on the Good; the Evil Fascists are predestined for the Wrong Side of History) on whether one is being a sufficiently effective activist for the Progressive cause. The so-called Intellectual Dark Web contains elements of scepticism towards Progressivism, so of course renouncing it is the Right Side of History thing to do, but it isn’t enough, because it isn’t sufficiently activist.
The trend is towards “mindless ideology”, which is ironic, given that’s essentially how New Atheists characterised religion.
Bringing this back to the original topic, the above is one of the reasons that Dawkins no longer gets any respect: he’s no good at Woke Activism. Peak Dawkins was November 2006, according to Google Trends, with a long, slow decline ever since. The Trump era did nothing to halt the decline. If you conduct the same analysis now, you’ll see that peak Harris was October 2014, and although he did trend upwards beyond that spike, the height of sustained interest was between February 2017 and February 2019, beyond which the trend has been downwards, so he made much more capital out of the Trump era without strictly making it the basis of his brand. Some of Harris’ endurance has to be attributable to his association with Jordan Peterson, who dwarfs both of them on this chart starting in 2018. Harris was clearly ahead of Dawkins from June 2016, but still significantly less popular on the whole time-frame since 2004.
Having said that, add Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers to the comparison if you want a laugh.
I wonder how many of the non-woke New Atheists are starting to realise that Christians might have a point when we argue that without God there is no foundation for moral values or duties. Science certainly doesn’t have the authority to provide it.
H/t Private Eye #1539. One ‘vanguard member’ of the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ intelligensia is Maajid Nawaz, founder of the “world’s first counter-extremist organisation”, the Quilliam Foundation; also co-author of a book with Sam Harris; also radio host on Britain’s LBC channel…
…who there repeated and promoted Trumpian conspiracy theories that “the election was being stolen”, repeated and promoted Sydney Powell’s still unsubstantiated claims — we’ll see what evidence (if any) she actually has when Dominion Voting Systems’ case against her hits court — and other claims of the same standard.
Some years back I had the misfortune to be related to a convicted paedophile, whose children told their granny, then my wife, that he had said that the killer in the infamous Dunblane Primary School Massacre (of 16 children and one teacher dead, 15 wounded) did no wrong, he was perfectly entitled to kill them, The parents made the killer kill the children. Why so? Because the parents had no right to deny him — deny because they strongly suspected him of being the paedophile he in fact was — deny him the post of Scout Master and with it free, unsupervised access to their children.
I see similarities between that twisted paedophile’s words and:
Seems Nawaz reckons the various electoral officers, plus others in the electoral system — presumably including State Courts and even the Supreme Court, perhaps including the Senators and VPOTUS who were to formally count and declare the final result — made the invaders of the Capitol invade, violently; seems he reckons that, like the killer of sixteen kids at Dunblane, they were perfectly entitled to do so.
Anyway, that’s a taste of the piss-poor intellectual standard that Nawaz, an IDW ‘vanguard member’, has risen to.
I’d wonder what the other vanguards in this branch of “thought leadership in the skeptosphere” (h/t TFBW) have risen to — I know there’s a number of articles critical of them — but I really can’t be arsed.