SIO70: WTF Sam Harris

Sam once again had Douglas Murray on his show and they both said some incredibly ignorant things, in my opinion. The worst was Sam’s condemnation of Black Lives Matter. He provided absolutely no facts about it or insights into his reasoning, something I would think you’d want to do before making a claim like that. I play a few clips and try to get to the bottom of this “Identity Politics” bogeyman.

Identity Politics Interview; Douglas Murray – Gentrified Xenophobia; Criminal Justice Fact Sheet; WaPo on Incarceration; ACLU and Guns

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

Support the show at!

Follow us on Twitter: @seriouspod


For comments, email

Direct Download

11 Replies to “SIO70: WTF Sam Harris”

  1. The Sam Harris podcast featuring Glenn Lowry contains some discussion of BLM, if I recall correctly.
    I have mixed feelings about BLM. But it’s hard to take seriously your quoting of stats about black incarceration and the like when you don’t mention the statistically higher rate that black Americans commit crimes. One can accept that there is some level of racial bias towards blacks in the criminal justice system but also acknowledge that the overrepresentation of blacks in police shootings & incarceration is primarily due to a higher percentage of blacks choosing to commit crimes. More black suspects means more interactions with police.

  2. Are you suggesting black people commit five times the amount of crime that white people commit (I mean… where do they find the time)? Black people are committing 6 times more drug-related crimes than white people (despite the statistics, and anecdotal evidence from any liberal arts campus, showing similar rates)? And how about sentencing disparities… (I’m not even sure how to hypothetically frame that as the result of black people choosing to be more of a danger to society for committing the same crimes, but fortunately for me, that’s not my side of the argument)?

    Or, more broadly, how about the fact that despite a steady, independent decrease in crime rates since 1980, US prisons have grown from housing 500,000 people to housing 2.2 million?

    Now, couple that with decreased funding for social/housing programs, and corollary increases in investment in prisons/private-public partnerships, the growth of for-profit-prisons, which incentivize and increase the likelihood of those in poverty facing imprisonment (often for minor offenses), and the detrimental effect a prison record has on people’s ability to obtain gainful employment and escape poverty. Regardless of whether the criminal justice system itself is racially biased (which, it is), the fact that it exists in tandem within a larger society that criminalizes poverty, the effects of which are particularly borne by people of color, and financially incentivizes incarceration, should make it clear that rates of black incarceration are not determined solely, nor even necessarily significantly, by specific choices black individuals are making.

    I don’t mean to belabor this point, but I think it’s important. 1 in 3 black men in the US will spend some time in prison. No matter the specific, incidental causes, this is unjustifiable in a nation as wealthy as the US.

  3. I wrote a comment addressing some of the ACLU topic on the last show, but I spent some time thinking about your question this morning, so here’s a few thoughts.

    1. I don’t really see any reason to doubt the ACLU when they say their decision was made to prevent them from inadvertently endorsing actions that ultimately suppress speech. Whether or not we accept that as a valid argument, it seems to me in line with their mission statement. Moreover, while I’m mostly basing this on inference, I don’t get the sense the ACLU is looking to shy away from controversial topics. What happened in Charlottesville was a tragedy, and all the white supremacists who enabled it should all be condemned, but it’s not the first tragedy nor the first hate-group the ACLU has seen and chosen to represent.

    2. This might be more of an OA thought, but I’m wondering if there’s room to interpret, with legal basis, that “speech while assembling with assault weapons” is distinctly different from “speech while assembling without assault weapons,” despite open-carry laws or assumptions we have about second amendment protections. Is there any way in which behavior and armedness, even if both are protected by law, when combined can meaningfully transform the action to make it something unlawful (e.g., speech + guns = intimidation).

    Also, tangentially, I’ve heard people criticizing these militias for showing up in military style outfits and acting as unofficial “peace-keepers,” on the grounds that there are laws relating to impersonating police officers and military officials. I’m wondering if there’s a potentially similar case to be made about demonstrating with guns.

    3. Reading the ACLU’s policy on the right to bear arms, it occurred to me that I’ve been assuming the ACLU is compelled to accept the court’s decisions and interpretations and cultivate their case-loads accordingly. It seems that the ACLU does not share the court’s interpretation of the 2nd amendment put forth in DC v Heller, and as such, may not have an interest in defending cases involving an individual’s rights to bear arms, but rather cases that are more aligned to their interpretation, based on US v Miller.

    4. Similarly, I don’t think the ACLU is beholden to defend any individual claiming that their freedom of speech is being threatened. To some extent, there seems to be this argument that the ACLU is like a copyright holder who has to issue cease and desist letters to anyone discovered to be using their intellectual property, lest they inadvertently set a precedent that others might cite later as evidence that they are giving implied permission to print Mickey Mouse t-shirts.

    I’m sure there are potential cases in which a freedom of speech argument could be put forward but would ultimately fail, or would violate internal ACLU policies (e.g., somebody publishing erotic videos of underage models, somebody disseminating detailed information on weaknesses in Secret Service procedures, a political activist misrepresenting facts to sue the city for financial gain, et al.).

    5. I think I made this point in a previous post, but just briefly, to some extent, “trying every case regardless of content” rings similar to “fighting racism by striving to be colorblind.”

    There’s no such thing as apolitical political action. If the ACLU has reason to believe that defending every possible case is the best way to strengthen 1st amendment rights, then that’s great, but if they have determined that arguing a certain particular type of case will ultimately erode that freedom, then that’s reasonable too.

    Or, maybe they just feel that if the Koch brothers and the Mercers can afford to heavily subsidize all the Dave Rubbins and Milos out there, then the ACLU’s money can be more effectively put toward less well-funded clients (he said, wishing it were true).

  4. “But it’s hard to take seriously your quoting of stats about black incarceration and the like when you don’t mention the statistically higher rate that black Americans commit crimes.”
    You’re an idiot. Yes, you try the “most black suspects mean more interactions with police”, but you’d think that you shooting your mouth off would mean more interaction with reality and you looking stuff up and reading articles and accounts and such. Or hell just listen to what BLM says. I follow police brutality and know the stats. The black community doesn’t know if a broken tail light will lead to their death. There is no reason to lay out all the facts and accounts and arguments here for a willfully insipid ignorant person like yourself. Anyone who brings up crime stats needs to be punched, seriously, you just contribute nothing, in fact, you contribute a negative number, it’s not even a zero.
    Do you know that RATES are stupid? So if I start a religion right now, and you join right now, we just because the fastest growing religion in the world, doubling our numbers. We have increased at a spectacular rate!!!
    Did you also know that black communities are TARGETED and treated more harshly at every step and contact with the justice system? White kids smoke pot, they don’t get pulled over and harassed every time they walk out of the house. These are all things you could know like the rest of us, but you CHOOSE not to. You don’t have “mixed feelings”, you hate BLM. Nobody serious about this topic brings up crime stats. Look up DEA admits Black Communities targeted. There are not enough harsh words for you, when you shoot your ignorant mouth off on this important topic. You are patently stupid.

  5. In addition to crime, the Bureau of Justice Statistics also keeps track of witness, victim, and report data and it’s not white people calling the police on black people. Overwhelmingly it is other black people who are the victims of those crimes and they happen to report those crimes at the same rate black people are arrested for those crimes.

    But since you’re into wacky conspiracy theories, it could have been a masterful plan by Barack Obama to appoint Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch to manipulate and synchronize crime statistics for 8 years.

  6. I was mildly disappointed by the fact you conflated Mark Lilla, whom you really should now if you are going to seriously talk about politics and reactionarism–he literally wrote two books on it–with the reactionaries making equations because you seem to think that your answer is substantively different from Lilla’s point. You point is that you can’t talk about colorblind solutions to identity driven problems, and this is true. But that wasn’t Lilla’s point: “No, what you say is that every citizen should be equally protected by the law. Certain people shouldn’t get special protection, and other people shouldn’t have to bear certain burdens. It is simply an outrage when some of our citizens are singled out in this way.” Nothing in this implies that race can’t be mentioned in the context correcting that problem, but the problems of history and privilege denunciation don’t make an effect positive politics that appeals to groups who frankly benefited from the policy. Nor, honestly, does it seem to even get out the vote, because if it did, 60% of the electorate would not be sitting out elections. Even the candidate that WON the popular vote still had LESS than 20% of the possible voters (if you take out the 30-something percent that no longer vote, and the 30 percent that literally can’t vote). Furthermore, Lilla’s point is that class plays key roles in this situation too, and that progressives continue to have little real answer to what the politicians they support did the Unions, which effects both the black and white communities. You have to appeal to common interest even more than common decency because what is done to black people of all classes is done to poor people, and poor people largely don’t vote.

    However, you are absolutely right about Harris’s strawmanning of the situation in regards to BLM. BLM is a diverse movement: it’s varies according to the particular community it is emerging from, and you will find that Baltimore and Furgeson BLM sound quite different in phrasing and frankly concerns from campus BLM groups even if both essentially want to fight racial injustice. If intersectionality is to mean anything class has to be accounted for, and the fact that shaming is a shitty political strategy even if you are right needs to be internalized. If you are going to complain, rightly, about strawmanning, you probably should read Lilla more charitably.

  7. Is it really more ‘black suspects’ or is that Blacks are often targeted as suspects? When Whites were lynching Blacks did the police go around targeting Whites as suspects? It is a well-established fact that Blacks do not involve the use of illegal drugs any more than their white peers, yet Blacks are the ones being imprisoned and getting a bad wrap at a far higher rate than Whites. This fact is even more evident today with the ‘opioid crisis’. We do not see the authority going after Whites as criminals. The media and the government frame the situation as a HEALTH ISSUE (which I totally agree with). But the reality is that when Blacks had a similar problem with crack, they were framed as evil criminals to be thrown in prisons.
    Therefore, for you to make a case without considering the disparity in justice speaks to your bias. A bias which is seen from your opening sentence. Yes, there is a high rate of Black-on-Black crime, but what does that have to do with Blacks, in general, being discriminated against by the police? It is not that Blacks are more disposed to violence any more than Whites; the issue speaks to a socioeconomic matter and NOT race. Criminal activities tend to occur in poor inner-city communities and Blacks tend to be the major group in these areas. Russia has a higher murder rate than America, are Blacks committing those killings in Russia?
    Your position is why America will continue to have a race problem and why groups like Black Lives Matter will continue to be relevant. The experience of Blacks in America has been one of injustice and inequality and YOU inside your cozy bubble dare to argue as if Blacks and Whites have historically been on the same footing.

  8. Sam Harris has lost every shred of credibility by making such an irrational statement. It is clear he is no longer guided by the principle of truth but one of personal bias.
    Am I to believe the Civil Rights Movement was dangerous because they organized around race? Has Sam ever invited a BLM’s member and discuss with them their cause and motivation? The last time I checked, BLM came about out of the high number of UNARMED Blacks being killed by the police. But it appears Sam shares the sentiment that Blacks have a high crime rate so that gives police a right to shoot them out of fear for the safety of their lives as was the case made by the killer of Philando Castile.
    Sam Harris as an atheist or freethinker or secularist should be the last person condemning identity politics. Nothing is wrong with identity politics. What is wrong is people politicizing an irrational cause.
    Black Lives Matter has a firm ground on which to protest and persons who go about condemning this group because they don’t like the discussion of race are persons who have yet to deal with their personal biases concerning race.

  9. The difference between an experiential comment and identity politics is the same difference between the following statements:

    “As the mother of a child with autism, I can tell you that finding an appropriate education program has not been easy for us.”

    “As the mother of a child with autism, I have unique insight and expertise into the dangers of vaccines and complexities of childhood development.”

  10. Yes, I agree with this.

    I agree with your interpretation of Lilla. I have only recently become aware of him and haven’t read his books. I just read interviews and heard some short interviews.

    His major point is that liberals need a new vision to win more elections. The vision should be built upon citizenship with a focus on the idea that everyone is treated equally under the law (SJW are hyper sensitive to this) and solidarity (SJW are horrible at this).

    In one book review this was an exert

    “They [liberals] must offer a vision of our common destiny based on one thing that all Americans, of every background, share. And that is citizenship. We must relearn how to speak to citizens as citizens and to frame our appeals for solidarity—including ones to benefit particular groups—in terms of principles that everyone can affirm… Black Lives Matter is a textbook example of how not to build solidarity.

    By publicizing and protesting police mistreatment of African-Americans, the movement delivered a wake-up call to every American with a conscience. But its decision to use this mistreatment to build a general indictment of American society and demand a confession of white sins and public penitence only played into the hands of the Republican right…”

  11. I noticed Sam Harris’s jab at BLM (completely unsubstantiated) and it did trouble me. I thought maybe he was purposefully trying to be edgy, and show his ‘cred’ as someone willing to take a heterodox position. But the thought that he would carelessly condemn a movement with noble goals like BLM in such a way just to gain ‘cred’ troubled me even more.. He always talks about how a lot of his most fervant fans are Trump supporters, and while he has been adamantly against Trump I worry he is drifting in a bad direction. He has never (in my memory) talked about BLM on his podcast, but out of curiosity I did a Google search on it. It turns out he explains his way of thinking here (I’m not saying I agree with it), as an interviewee on a different podcast:

Leave a Reply