SIO64: No, Progressives Aren’t Embracing Hate

But first, I give a little book review of The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. The book illustrated some vital concepts that are often missing from our conversation on race. I share some highlights. Then, it’s a voicemail segment during which I talk at length about a column a lot of people have been sharing lately. It’s called When Progressives Embrace Hate and it talks about the leaders of the Women’s March and their ties to some questionable people.

Hollywood Harris Hit Piece; Article with Anti-Semitism Poll

Leave Thomas a voicemail! (916) 750-4746, remember short and to the point!

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20 Replies to “SIO64: No, Progressives Aren’t Embracing Hate”

  1. On the topic of racism, I think it’d be worth looking into whether the recent surge in incidents of racial hatred that arose with Trump have affected the claims made about the overall decline in overt racism. It may be too soon to tell, but I think it’s something to be aware of.

    Additionally, while I’m sure I’ve posted about this before, I think it bears repeating that focusing on individual acts and actors (e.g., “bad apples”) not only shifts focus from the systematic ways racial inequality exists in society, but it also implies that to whatever extent there is “systematic racism,” it exists as the aggregate effect of those individual bad actors. This gives well-meaning people the sense that all they have to do to combat racism is not be personally racist and to call out only extreme examples of unrepentant bigotry.

    On Sam Harris being taken out of context… I get that it’s a thing that happens to him, and I agree that it’s a problem, but it should also be said that he and his defenders are quick to dismiss criticism as being “taken out of context” even when the context only affirms or strengthens the argument being made by the criticism.

    Last month, I heard blowback from a segment someone did on him, in which they quoted him as saying “what is the fucking point of having more muslims in your society?” People were quick to defend Harris by noting that he was posing this question in the voice of a hypothetical person, but listening to the conversation in its entirety, as well as other statements Harris has carefully and cautiously made, despite the fact that he’s asking this as a hypothetical, it isn’t out of line with his expressed beliefs and lines of inquiry.

    Similarly with the nuclear weapon comment mentioned in the episode, or his statements about the moral permissibility of torture. It is absurd to say “Sam Harris advocated for nuking the middle-east, and torturing the survivors” but less absurd to critique the fact that he was having these public “thought experiments” in a cultural moment when our country was engaged in a war with significant religious undertones, when anti-muslim bigotry was a daily occurrence for many Americans, and when many institutions (including the APA, shamefully) were implicitly and explicitly endorsing, condoning, or participating in torture programs and extrajudicial killings. Again, it’s not fair to say “Sam Harris argued for torture and nuclear annihilation,” but it seems entirely valid (to me) to criticize the way he waded into a national conversation with genuine and horrible consequences that wouldn’t affect him, all the while claiming that he was “just asking questions.”

  2. I think on LGBTQ issues you are right that the right is more at fault but with antisemitism I think it’s pretty on par. It is a long known fact that a lot of left thinking has antisemitic undercurrents and that has been true for a very long time as well. It just so happens that right wing antisemitism is more noticable and open and less flowery in language. But even what is usually called right wing antisemitism is not always only right wing oriented. Even the actual Nazis talking were talking about “Jewish capital” and “Jewish capitalist oppressors” – those are left-wing ideas and today you just replace Jewish with Zionist and you have the same thing just more tasteful to the modern eye.
    There have been studies that tested whether people recognize antisemitism as such when presented as coming from the right and the left and apparently people view antisemitic tropes when they come from the right but perceive “legitimate criticism of Israel” or something of the sort when the source is presented as left or Muslims.
    On the LGBTQ issue I would completely agree but with antisemitism, things are more complex.

  3. So Harris isn’t a bad guy, you just take issue with him talking about important events that you’ve ruled have no effect on him? I don’t see that as a persuasive criticism, nor a reason he was wrong for talking about things. I think people asking tough questions is a good thing because it either makes us confront possible weaknesses in our position or it makes us adopt a better position. SoI disagree with you.

  4. Posting the link to the “Sam Harris hit piece” seems to put you in the Greenwald camp, Thomas. The article excoriates Sam for coming from “Hollywood royalty” while repeating the lies of the Greenwalders and accepting the “validity” of the ridiculous, ignorant “Gross! Racist!” argument which Sam and Bill Maher endured from that vastly over-rated actor on “Politically Incorrect”. It is a good thing that Sam has lots of money because he needs it to provide security to protect him from assassination by the Islamists whose hatred is being fanned by ctrl-left hypocrites who claim to support Social Justice and human rights for everyone except Muslims and ex-Muslims and critics of the religion of Islam. It is amazing to me that so many cannot recognize just how bigoted these ctrl-left folks are against ordinary Muslims while defending the power of Islamist CONservatives!

  5. That’s okay. We don’t have to agree.

    I take your point that I was wrong to say the consequences wouldn’t affect him, because obviously we’re all affected by world events. The point I was trying to make, maybe too succinctly, was that as a non-muslim, and someone who does not live in the Middle-East, Harris has considerably less skin in the game when it comes to the topic of the moral permissibility of torturing muslims and/or detonating a nuclear missile in the Middle-East than someone who is muslim and/or does live in the Middle-East.

    That’s not to say he’s not allowed to discuss those issues, that doing so makes him a bad guy, nor even that there aren’t compelling moral reasons to have this discussion despite valid concerns about the implications of having this discussion. However, if he has that discussion in a way that ignores the potential harms, doesn’t make efforts to reduce harms that can be anticipated, or ultimately fails to deepen our understanding or strengthen our position, I think he can be criticised, regardless of whether it’s generally beneficial to ask challenging questions.

    And, I want to be clear, I’m not trying to make these criticisms, or present them as settled conclusions. What I was trying to say, and I apologize for not being clear enough, is not that Harris was categorically wrong for having those discussions, nor that my comment was a complete and thorough criticism, but that there are grounds on which people could make a more thorough criticism that doesn’t require taking Harris out of context or mischaracterizing his statements. That’s the point I was responding to.

    That said, I don’t want to feel like I’m weaseling out of this discussion though, so I will say that I do think an area in which Harris often does deserve criticism (but not total condemnation) is his tendency to approach challenging and controversial discussions with a sort of faux-objectivity (e.g., relying on statistical analysis of crime reports), failing to acknowledge relevant contextual factors (e.g., collection methods in which reports are made or withheld at the discretion of police departments), and then having “challenging” discussions about these poorly substantiated implications (e.g., the data suggests people are wrong to claim racial bias in police use of force).

  6. Either criticize him or don’t, or post a link to a criticism you find compelling. I don’t understamd writing paragraph after paragraph of milquetoast contradictions. ‘It’s valid but it’s not, but other people could criticize but that doesn’t mean I do…’
    Take your own advice and leave the reader with something more than they had before reading your take.

    To that point, I totally agree with your actual criticism of him, his faux objectivity. For all his posturing to the counter he’s just as emothional and irrational on some subjects as anyone else.

  7. Allright, well, I’m not your personal assistant, so you can do what you want with my comments, and I’ll try to be more mindful of your personal preferences in the future.

    I didn’t post my initial comment to criticize Harris, but to respond to the suggestion that his critics take him out of context and misrepresent his claims, speciffically citing his statements involving nuclear weapons and torture. My goal wasn’t to hijack the episode’s commentary with my personal views on Harris, but to pointedly respond to something Thomas noted.

    Moreover, I don’t think it’s milquetoast to acknowledge complexity, nor do I think it’s my job to winnow my thoughts on complex issues to fit a single interpretation.

    I’m glad we see eye to eye on faux objectivity.

  8. Too much complexity is not my criticism of the vast quantity of words comprising your ‘it wasn’t a critique’ critique, or whatever you’re claiming/not claiming it was from one post to the next (or even between paragraphs in any single post).
    I don’t think you said anything that wasn’t self evident, and which couldn’t have been better said in 5 words: ‘People disagree about Sam’s intent.’
    Your bringing up a wholly different, novel point (and stating it succinctly, nice work) I perceive to be evidence of at least subconscious admission that I’m right. Write like that from now on, not because you’re catering to me, but because my criticism is valid, based on your own advice to make comments that give an audience something they didn’t already have. It’s good advice.

  9. I guess I’m not sure how I’m supposed to intuit what, to you, seems self-evident, especially when your summation of my comment is “people disagree about Sam’s intent.”

    My comment was not an observation about people’s opinions on Harris’s intent, except maybe for the implicit suggestion that focusing on Harris’s intent allows people to avoid discussing the context and effect of the things he says.

    I grant that my writing is nothing near succinct, but if you read my comment, and your interpretation was that I said nothing more than “people disagree about Sam’s intent,” I’m not sure that’s all on me.

    Also, as a (non-armature) mental health professional, I would be careful about discerning meaning from your interpretation of other people’s subconscious processes. Particulars and misconceptions about the subconscious aside, I explicitly offered that example, very much cognizant of my actions, because you seemed to be dismissive of the fact that my comment wasn’t a specific critique of Sam Harris (which was not the point of my comment). As such, I offered a specific critique, because I thought it might add context and help you to understand my earlier, more general points.

    I’ll be honest, you really seem to be coming at me hard for not making the comment you seem to think I should have made in the way that you seem to think I should have made it. I’m not going to make any accusations or pretend to know what that’s about, but it’s a thing I’m seeing.

  10. I’m coming at you hard because you are doing something and then pretending not to do it. I fon’t need a degree in psychology to be put off by that.

    [[[[[[[[[it seems entirely valid (to me) to criticize the way he waded into a national conversation with genuine and horrible consequences that wouldn’t affect him, all the while claiming that he was “just asking questions.”]]]]]]]]]

    That is a critique. It’s shoddily couched in what I guess you perceive to be some kind of nonsensical device for deniability ghat you are making a criticism, which if true can only be interpreted as your permission to others who will never see it to criticize Sam. Nobody needs your permission. You’re not the thought queen who knights others’ ideas as valid. Honestly the only other possible reason I perceive for you to couch criticism in such a way would be because subconsciously (used colloquially not clinically) you don’t really even stand by your own criticism. Which leads me back to my original criticism that I still stand by: either criticize, or don’t, but don’t dance around with your hand on our ass all night and not make a move.

  11. Okay. I’m having a lot of trouble tracking your complaints. You’re accusing me of equivocating and failing to stand behind the things I say, but then you offer as evidence something that seems like a pretty straightforward claim.

    The claim you cite is me saying “I think it’s valid to criticize someone if they make an argument in an irresponsible manner, time, or place which, as a result of their making said argument, heightens danger faced by others.”

    That’s the claim I’m making, and your response is “either attack Sam Harris better, or shut up.”

    There’s no “nonsensical device for deniability,” and I’m not giving anyone permission to do anything. I’m expressing a thought that I stand behind. You are continuously disregarding the things I write, criticizing me for failing to make points I wasn’t making, and implying that any effort I make to disagree with you, or even just further explain my own position, is proof that I “subconsciously” agree with you.

    I hope it was good for you, because as far as I’m concerned, this conversation was pretty unfulfilling.

  12. It was not, because you’re still doing it. Hell, you’re doubling down on equivocation by pretending that you fail to comprehend I’ve made a very straightforward observation/criticism that you have made a criticism of Sam, and if not, you have added nothing to the topic. Nobody needs your blessing to criticize his stance, that adds nothing to the discourse.
    You’re either an equivocator or a blowhard. Neither is valued, appreciated, or helpful.

  13. What would you have him speak and write about? Farming practices in the 1600s? Isn’t the entire point of his speaking and writing career to address topical issues that are on everyone’s minds given the social and political climate? You think the timeliness of his podcast and writing topics are suspect, because those topics themselves are timely?

  14. I take your point, and I do agree that as a social commentator, topical issues are Harris’s focus, and he has relevant insight on a whole host of topical issues. There is value to what Harris does, and in many ways, it’s probably better that he’s not teaching us all about bygone agrarian rituals.

    I’m not saying Harris shouldn’t be talking about topical issues. I’m saying that it’s fair to criticize him if he’s talking about topical issues in a way that is irresponsible.

    If he’s making claims from shoddy or biased statistics, if he’s presenting only part of a conversation as if it were the complete conversation, or if he’s stepping into a tense situation, posing a challenging and controversial argument as if it were just a thought experiment, and failing to acknowledge that the ramifications and potential harm of having that conversation are going to affect others, it’s fair to criticize the fact that he did those things.

    The point I was responding to was Thomas’s acknowledgment that some of Harris’s critics can be dismissed as taking his quotes out of context or misinterpreting his statements (e.g., there are people who cite Harris’s statements on the moral permissibility of torturing Muslims or using nuclear missiles in the Middle East, as if Harris had come out ardently in favor of those actions).

    The point I wanted to add is that it’s possible to criticize those specific statements, in the context of “Harris wrestling with big topical issues,” in a way that doesn’t misrepresent his statements.

    Saying “it was reckless of Harris to make those particular arguments in that moment, because whatever value came of them was not enough to justify endangering others, and as such, he should not have published those statements at that time” is potentially a valid criticism. I’m not saying it’s a settled matter, I’m not saying there aren’t valid objections, and I’m certainly not saying that due to his actions, he’s no longer allowed to discuss anything topical or controversial. What I am saying is that an argument like this can’t be dismissed by claiming Harris was taken out of context or misrepresented in some way.

    As a non-Harris example, Trump recently gave a speech in front of a bunch of police officers in which he made jokes encouraging the police to rough up suspects in custody. The White House’s defense has been that the president was joking, and since he was joking, any criticism of Trump for encouraging police violence is invalid. There’s something kind of true in there, in so far as anyone who says “Trump was not joking” is technically incorrect, because he did deliver it in a way that was clearly meant to make people laugh. It would be valid, however, if someone criticized him for joking about police violence, arguing that the president joking about police violence can lead to harmful outcomes for others, and he has a responsibility to anticipate how his statements will affect the danger other people face.

  15. TLDR:
    ‘Criticism of Harris’s statements are valid to the extent that they are valid, but I am forsure not making such a critique’

  16. Public Service Announcement, in hopes of saving poor Dee the slog.
    Is it wrong? I consider it true to the source material and stylistically more persuasive. The latter point particularly rings more true when the former is put briefly, as opposed to dozens of paragraphs regarding how imminently valid criticism of Harris is (though again, you can’t stress this enough, you are forsure not making one).

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