In defense of Sam Harris

Over at Quillette, Jeff Tayler, late of Salon, has written an eloquent and well documented essay: “Free speech and Islam—in defense of Sam Harris.

I’ve often written about the unconscionable and undeserved criticism, and even hatred, that Sam Harris gets—and not just from religious people! It’s often the nonbelievers and secularists who heap the most opprobrium on him: for supposedly being “Islamophobic,” for supposedly advocating “racial profiling” and torture, for supposedly advocating nuclear first strikes on Muslim nations, and even for daring to suggest that moral judgments may be “objective.”

I say “supposedly” in the last sentence because if there’s anything that characterizes the nastiest criticisms of Sam Harris, it’s that more often than not they’re based on either misunderstanding or deliberate misrepresentation of his claims. Most of us know this, but few people who engage in Harris-bashing bother to go back and read what he actually said. It’s just too easy to demonize him by name-calling or quoting, secondhand, Harrisophobes like Glenn Greenwald, Reza Aslan, or C. J. W*rl*man. Even Sam’s neo-utilitarian views on ethics get unwarranted criticism, I think. I myself take issue with some of his views on morality, but the ways they are criticized are all out of proportion to what was, in effect, a calm ethical treatise. After all, you don’t see philosophers going after Jeremy Bentham with the same vigor, even though Sam’s views are an updated version of Bentham’s.

I’ve long pondered why people make such vicious and unwarranted criticisms of Harris, even compared to other New Atheists like Hitchens or Dennett. I think there are two reasons.

First, Sam asks hard questions, and people don’t like to think about hard questions. Should we ever lie? Is torture ever justifiable? Is it even possible to even imagine a first strike against Islamic enemies? Is it possible that religion can really be a strong motivator for bad acts, including Islamist terrorism? Is our notion of “free will”—of agency—a complete illusion? Is it justifiable to profile people at airports based on their religious beliefs?

These questions need to be asked, not dismissed by slandering the questioner. But all too often they are dismissed, and Sam gets excoriated for even raising the question. “He’s in favor of racial profiling!”, they cry. “He’s an Islamophobe!” “He favors torture!” “He wants to nuke all Muslims!” None of these characterizations are accurate: they’re simply slanders that arise when Sam tries to make people wedded to identity politics examine their beliefs. But those people would rather do anything than question their beliefs.

The view that some questions shouldn’t be asked, that some ideas are too sacred to question, is inimical to a democratic society. It’s a valid question whether we should engage (as El Al does, and they’ve never had a terrorist incident) in profiling people based on their religious beliefs. Wouldn’t that be more efficient than examining 3 year old Finnish kids, or aged Christian priests in wheelchairs? It’s not “racist” to ask that question, and to examine its moral and practical implications. Is torture ever justifiable? I don’t know, for although it works sometimes, often it doesn’t, and we haven’t had an incident yet where I consider it justified. But it’s certainly worth discussing the issue in light of the American penchant for waterboarding and other horrible practices; and it’s worth discussing whether, even if it were justified in one case, it would have a detrimental effect on our democratic system as a whole.

When people have neither the energy nor intellectual acumen to deal with hard questions, they issue smears. They turn valid questions into violations of sacred, not-to-be-questioned tenets. And when that happens, democracy and Enlightenment values fall by the wayside. If anything is essential in an enlightened and progressive society, it’s the right—and necessity—to question accepted views and mores. That is, of course, the basis of freedom of speech. When that is prevented, as the Authoritarian Left is trying to do, then demagogues like Donald Trump step in to fill the gap.

Socrates was given hemlock for making Greek youth think about questions that were deemed dangerous. Harris has been given verbal hemlock for doing the same thing. He doesn’t deserve the opprobrium he gets, and many of his critics are guilty of willful distrortion of Sam’s views. The same thing has happened to philosopher Peter Singer for daring to even suggest that we might discuss the morality of euthanizing deformed or cognitatively disabled newborns. That is a discussion worth having, but it’s been deemed A Question That Can’t Be Asked; and, like Harris, Singer has become the object of hate and scorn.

Which brings us to the second reason people dislike Harris. It’s not a reason people like to discuss, as it shows a darker side of human nature. It’s jealousy. Sam is a public intellectual and has achieved considerable popularity (and notoriety!) in his writing about diverse religious and philosophical topics. As we know from the case of Carl Sagan and his successors, academics don’t like those who become famous by writing popular tracts in areas they see as their own bailiwick. Sam has done that for religion, and he’s done it for philosophy. The Australians call this the “Tall Poppy Syndrome”: a poppy that grows too tall has to be cut back. The Japanese equivalent is “the nail that sticks up should be hammered down.”

I think it’s undeniable that many people who criticize Sam are jealous of his success. They often imply as much, pointing with scorn at his “bestselling books,” and even saying that their own works haven’t achieved that much success. But they do this to criticize Sam, not realizing that by so doing they’re showing their own hand. If asked, they would–and do–vehemently deny that they’re jealous. But of course they would! Who would admit to such a base emotion? Regardless, I think it’s undeniable that criticism of Sam from some quarters is based largely on jealousy. If you claim that can’t possibly be true, I’d argue that you don’t know much about human nature.

At any rate, Jeff’s long article is an eloquent defense of Sam, and a telling presentation of how people have distorted Sam’s views. (There are a lot of links so you can check the claims for yourself.) I won’t reprise it as you simply have to read it. Then by all means give your reactions below. I’ll just add below three paragraphs that comprise the peroration of Jeff’s piece:

One cannot escape the impression that the attacks on Harris bear the stamp of sordid identity politics, with, under the guise of multiculturalism, truth sacrificed for the respect for retrograde customs.  But perhaps what irks Harris’ detractors most of all is the methodical way in which he demonstrates the link between Islamic doctrines and terrorist violence, and disassembles the case for religion, showing, through his work, that it is nothing more than “a desperate marriage of hope and ignorance,” yet a marriage that could be annulled by “making the same evidentiary demands in religious matters that we make in all others.”  (Both these quotes come from The End of Faith’s first chapter.)  By extension, Harris’ arguments collide with the identities of people finding community in religion.  If he were not succeeding in proving the case against faith, they and their apologists would not react to him with such vitriol.

An unwillingness to recognize the link between Islamic doctrine and terrorism in particular presages seismic political changes, with Western societies, fed up with Islamist violence and the inability of progressive governments to even speak frankly about it, lurching ever farther to the right.  (This is happening in Europe today, of course.)  But libeling Harris will not stop the next ISIS attack on Western soil, or slow that group’s depredations in Syria and Iraq.

Now more than ever, we need clarity on the relation between Islam and violence.  And we need to stop denigrating those, like Harris, capable of bringing us that clarity.

I do notice that there are lots of supportive comments after Jeff’s piece, and that’s a good sign. Here’s one of them:

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 6.53.23 AM

h/t: Peter Boghossian for discussing these issues with me

UPDATE: In the comments below, reader coel called attention to a new piece in the Observer asking a related question: Why do so many western liberals hate Ayaan Hirsi Ali? That’s also worth a read. In fact, I’d add this question, “Why do so many western liberals despise moderate Muslims, or ex-Muslims, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz?”

260 Comments

  1. Posted April 22, 2016 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    The paragraph on jealousy seems especially insightful to me.

    “The Australians call this the ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’: a poppy that grows too tall has to be cut back. The Japanese equivalent is ‘the nail that sticks up should be hammered down.'”

    • Hidde Gaastra
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      The dutch also have a saying on it. “Je hoofd niet boven het malieveld steken.” Don’t stick your head above the cutting line of the grass.

    • kristina i
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      I found it also very insightful. I haven’t seen this explanation discussed anywhere before.

      I also think the jealousy is not only caused by his success but also by his intellectual superiority. It must be galling for mediocre thinkers he doesn’t need to resort to dishonesty like they seem to.

  2. GBJames
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    sub

  3. nickswearsky
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Very interesting. Thank you for posting this.

  4. reginaldselkirk
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    You are lumping a great many incidents and issues together. This will allow you to gloss over instances when Harris was clearly wrong by appealing to other cases where criticism of Harris was clearly unjustified. But I’m going to pick at a detail of one particular instance.

    First, Sam asks hard questions, and people don’t like to think about hard questions.

    Does he really? Consider the defense of torture in his book, in which he draws up a “ticking clock” scenario to justify his conclusion that there are circumstances, however obscure and unlikely, under which he would support torture. The hard question Harris never asked himself is: “Does torture work? Is it an effective means of obtaining accurate information?”

    I believe the answer is no. Torture gets information, but not necessarily accurate information. And any critic of religion ought to know this. Every inquisition, every witch hunt in human history has been built on torture-derived confessions. If Harris is to assume without question that torture is an effective means of obtaining accurate information, he lifts a portion of the burden of shame for all of those sad episodes of human history onto his shoulders.

    • Chris G
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      Sam references a couple of real-life cases where torture (or even just the threat of torture) did work: ‘The Beating’ (see link in my question to Jerry below), and the kidnap of a child in Germany.
      Sam also makes it very clear that he concludes there are only very rare circumstances where torture can ever be considered ethical i.e. where there is imminent threat of the killing of one or more people, and extracting information from an individual who is considered ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ to hold key information, may prevent the killing.

      • Jeff J
        Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:05 am | Permalink

        Harris goes out of his way to address some issues such as torture and racial profiling. While his answers may be *technically* correct *within specific impractical constraints*, it strikes me that even addressing them has questionable value.

        His academic defense of profiling lends support to racist attitudes in a real world where passengers can get other passengers kicked off planes for merely speaking in Arabic. Any reasonable utilitarian should be arguing for a *reduction* in air travel security, and security theatre.

        I really want to like Harris. I have a few of his books, and Free Will is a great primer on the subject. It is unfortunate that his uglier comments distract people from his better work.

        • Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:16 am | Permalink

          Free Will is a great primer on the subject.

          I beg to differ, it’s not a good intro to the topic since it completely fails to appreciate what compatibilism is all about.

          • Michael Waterhouse
            Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

            Jerry said a while ago, in reference to Amy Winehouse, and peoples notion that they could ‘help’ her, that
            “That, of course, is insupportable because the laws of physics dictated her end from her beginning.”
            I can’t work out how there is any room for any compatible notion of free will there.
            Only total epiphenomenalism.

          • Asker
            Posted April 23, 2016 at 3:32 am | Permalink

            Could you link to a text that, in your view, gets compatibilism right?

            • Posted April 23, 2016 at 8:23 am | Permalink

              Well I could, ahem, point you at my blog post: Compatibilism for incompatibilists: free will in five steps. 🙂

              • asker
                Posted April 23, 2016 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

                Thanks. I like your post and on a quick read I see no substantive claim that you make there in the name of compatibilism that a hard determinist (or some forms of hard determinism at least) could not also accept. I don’t have the Harris book that fresh in memory so it would help me if you say if there is some particular claim in your post that you think Harris would take issue with?

                What I take to be a key claim of the hard determinist philosophers I have read is that they deny free will in the basic desert sense i.e. the kind of free will that (if it had existed) could justify reactions to wrongdoing that cannot at any level be given a wholly forward looking justification. One example would be if a person X does something wrong Y then because X was responsible in the basic desert sense some punishment Z is justified even though Z could not be justified in wholly forward-looking terms (e.g. Z has no chance of preventing repeat offences, won’t console any victims, won’t save time or money, won’t change how X thinks about the action, … and so on.) Some retributive moral views would (assuming free will as a premise) still say that it is still fitting or just to react with Z, as a matter of principle not as a matter of bringing about good consequences in terms of welfare. The hard determinist will remove any such strictly backward looking motivated elements in the system of moral norms. If your notion compatibilism sides with the hard determinism (the form I’ve described here) then the views might only differ in name.

                I should also add that the hard determinists (the kind I’m familiar with at least) are open to reconstructing “responsibility”, “choice”, “action”, “wrongdoing” and many other everyday concepts if the reconstruction can be done in wholly forward looking terms consistent with the hard determinist view.

              • Posted April 23, 2016 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

                The problem with Harris’s book is not so much that he would disagree with any claims I made, it’s that he doesn’t realise what compatibilism is.

                Harris treats compatibilism as a hankering after dualistic, contra-causal free-will. He thus just adopts a tone suitable for a somewhat backward child, and explains that compatibilism doesn’t give you dualistic, contra-causal free-will, and so dismisses compatibilism.

                And you’re right, the difference between incompatibilism and compatibilism is largely about wording. Except that compatibilists have worked out a number of useful and necessary ways of thinking about what concepts mean in a deterministic world.

              • asker
                Posted April 24, 2016 at 3:41 am | Permalink

                You make good points! I’ll go back and reread parts of Harris from this perspective.

                “compatibilists have worked out a number of useful and necessary ways of thinking about what concepts mean in a deterministic world.”

                Interesting since my impression is that that is precisely what the hard determists I’ve read are also doing. If you would recommend me one longer book/article on compatibilism by a compatibilist that is in your view particularly good in that regard, which would it be? I’m particularly interested in reading how the compatibilist would reason concerning what elements of currently wide spread moral norms that, on the compatibilists view, would be in need of substantive revision i.e. not only a new explanation for why we should keep norm X but rather a modification in what norm X requires us to do.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:22 am | Permalink

          Sam emphasizes that in order to accomplish effective airport security with a limited resource (time and security employees), it makes no sense to spend time searching people in the same way that have not posed a threat. Sam actually argues against security theatre.

          I’ve heard the argument that people take Sam’s stance that all brown people should be subject to intense scrutiny or that, as you say, people speaking Arabic should be kicked off planes, but how is Sam responsible for the (sometimes deliberate) misinterpretation of his words. He is very clear and gives a ridiculous number of caveats when he talks about these things.

        • Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:33 am | Permalink

          Your points are exactly the problem I think most on the left have with Harris. Simply acknowledging that these are questions controverts progressive dogma.
          Torture is always wrong there is no debate to be had, the word profiling is like the N word, never to be uttered. And terrorism committed by Muslims has nothing to do with Islam it’s the result of our imperialist aggression, and the historical subjugation of people of color. OH, and given our behavior regarding Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, we should never strike first even if not doing so results in our destructions.

          Suggesting these things are debatable makes you a sadistic, genocidal racist, who’s as bad as any on the right, perhaps worst because you’re wolf in liberal clothing.

          • Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:36 am | Permalink

            I meant most on the left who have a problem with him have, not that most on the left have a problem with him. I actually think most liberals have no problem with Harris. It’s mostly only the self appointed progressive priests, and rabbi’s who do.

          • Chris G
            Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:42 am | Permalink

            Totally agree Mike.
            It’s Harris’ willingness to challenge topics at the heart of all that is politically-correct that I most admire about him – he can’t be accused of taking the easy ride, that’s for sure!
            In addition to all the topics Jerry’s listed, there’s also Sam’s take on gun-control in the US, where once again he opens himself to criticism by presenting an honest, non PC, pragmatic view.
            Chris G (in the UK)

          • Jeff J
            Posted April 22, 2016 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

            I’m willing to bite that bullet. Some questions are not worth asking in a cultural climate capable of badly misunderstanding them. It’s like debating IQ differences between races. The question has a technically correct answer. Raising it will always tell us more about the person posing the question than the *technically correct* answer. It is juvenile to ignore the cultural context and claim you’re merely trying to find an answer to a question. Reminds me of that annoying sibling who sticks his finger half an inch from your eye, shouting “I’m not touching you I’m not touching you I’m not touching you!” He’s technically correct too.

            Knowing what we know about torture and profiling, I think it is irresponsible for a high-profile thinker to raise the issue. Of course, he has every right to do so – free speech and all that – but the price is that he alienates a large number of potential allies.

            Diane said:
            “Sam actually argues against security theatre.”

            This perfectly makes my case! I’ve read most of his books, I always read his blog, and this is simply not the impression he gives. Human beings don’t have perfect reading comprehension and they will latch onto the more inflammatory bits. Harris shouldn’t be surprised by this. And to make things worse, he never ever stops defending his worst points.

            • Chris G
              Posted April 22, 2016 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

              Jeff, you say: “Knowing what we know about torture and profiling, I think it is irresponsible for a high-profile thinker to raise the issue.”
              That appears rather defeatist. And what’s more, if ‘we’ don’t address these issues, we run the risk of letting those on the right lead the debate.
              Profiling is a good example: it’s obvious the current approach is token ‘fairness’ and ‘security theater’, lacking the honesty that we know what we’re looking for at airports; we know which communities Jihadists come from.
              If we’re not honest about these issues, we lose the debate, and leave it to the right to lead the discussion.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted April 22, 2016 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

              I think the exact opposite: it’s irresponsible for a high-profile thinker NOT to raise the issue.

              You are using the little people argument. The smart people shouldn’t say things because the little people will misunderstand to the detriment of us all.

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

                I don’t think there’s a “little people” argument here at all.

                Some things are simply so beyond the pale that there really shouldn’t be any need to discuss any hypothetical merits they might have, and torture ought to be the top item on that list.

                You wouldn’t think of it as a “little people” argument if we were saying that there’s no reason to consider the so-called merits of eugenics-inspired “culling” of “undesirables.”

                You wouldn’t think of it as a “little people” argument if we were saying that there’s no reason to consider the so-called merits of Tuskegee-style medical experimentation.

                You wouldn’t think of it as a “little people” argument if we were saying that there’s no reason to consider the so-called merits of adopting DAESH’s policy of raping Yazidi girls.

                How is torture any less abhorrent than those other examples?

                All these arguments of how we should at least be willing to consider the merits of torture apply equally well to an argument of how we should at least be willing to consider the merits of, say, Sharia-insipired amputation for petty theft.

                That we can even be having this discussion at all, in this day and age…simply blows my mind.

                b&

                >

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

                No, I think that nothing is off limits for discussion. No ideas, nothing. We should talk about eugenics and we should talk about rape and we should talk about torture. Taking the position that we can’t because people will get the wrong idea, is the little people argument!

              • Cindy
                Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

                +1

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

                +2 since you stole the +1 I was going to add to Diana’s comment. 🙂

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

                But, if we’re going to discuss such things, shouldn’t we at least expect responsible people to take the blindingly obviously responsible position?

                Were Sam arguing in favor of the virtues of child rape, even restricted to some convoluted hypothetical situations, would you really be saying that’s a discussion we need to have?

                Of course Sam has the First Amendment right to advocate for anything he wants, including things as horrific as child rape, eugenics, and torture. But why, for the sake of all Ceiling Cats everywhere, should it even occur to somebody like Sam that there’s even hypothetical merit to be had in the first place?

                I’m perfectly comfortable telling Sam I really wish he’d just shut up already about torture, just as I’m equally comfortable telling Islamists I really wish they’d just shut up already about why we should be stoning adulterers and burning apostates and defenestrating homosexuals.

                But if they’re not going to shut up about such things, can you blame me for expressing my own horror and outrage at what they’re advocating?

                b&

                >

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

                “I’m perfectly comfortable telling Sam I really wish he’d just shut up already about torture”
                To my knowlege San only brought up the topic once. Every comment since has been in response to mischaracterizations, or misunderstandings of his position. I suggest you ask his critics to shut up if you really want to put the issue to bed.

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

                Then Sam needs to learn the first rule of holes: when you find yourself in one, stop digging.

                b&

                >

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

                “Then Sam needs to learn the first rule of holes: when you find yourself in one, stop digging.”
                Is that what you do when people are trying to bury you?

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

                The second rule of holes is, of course, if you don’t understand the first rule of holes, you should stop digging until you do understand the first rule of holes.

                b&

                >

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

                Actually no. The first rule of holes is being able to recognize a hole.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

                But Sam doesn’t argue in favour of even torture, let alone child rape. He asks the question if torture is ever justified and he makes a pretty strong case in the instance that he provided, that it yielded results that saved the life of a child. I don’t think it’s wrong to discuss this as it’s important to explore whether our absolute “all torture is bad” is really absolutely bad.

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

                Fine.

                Let me, then, ask the question if child rape is ever justified, and imagine that I made at least as strong a case as DAESH makes in their propaganda with respect to their treatment of Yazidi girls. I’m not arguing in favor of child rape, let alone torture; I’m just asking the question. Is it wrong to discuss hypothetical benefits to society from child rape, and is it important to explore whether our absolute “all child rape is bad” is really absolutely bad?

                We could maybe from here have a discussion on whether or not I’m being equitable in equating torture with child rape. I’m not sure how…but at least it should be clear now that, to me at least, the two are comparably horrific.

                b&

                >

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

                Yes, I think we should explore if child rape is ever just or good for society. It could lead to some pretty big questions as to the morality of that society.

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

                Well, since you actually seem to want to go there, though it’s beyond me why you would…in which situations do you think child rape would be just or good for society?

                I’ll open by simply stating that it is inconceivable to me how there could even hypothetically be any circumstance in which that could hold. I’m of course willing to consider otherwise, but I can’t even imagine the way that society could benefit from child rape.

                …but you’re really suggesting otherwise…?

                Again, I’m not being facetious. I really do morally equate torture and child rape. For me, they’re both one of those, “What the hell are you even thinking!?” sorts of things. But if you could convince me otherwise on child rape, you could probably convince me otherwise on torture, as well.

                b&

                >

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

                No, I don’t think child rape is ever justified but what if I were from a society that felt that some children, slaves perhaps, could be raped because they were slaves? Romans thought this and they didn’t look down on doing so. So, if I were living in that society and I asked that question, it may bring to light that perhaps slaves have feelings and shouldn’t be treated badly.

                Or take a more recent example. Is raping a woman ever justified? It used to be. She could be dressing provocatively or he could be drunk or she and he could be drunk. But we had that conversation and dismissed that justification. If rape was off the table, we’d never be able to have that conversation and no progress would be made.

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

                See, I would have thought that, as a society, we’ve moved as far past torture as we have slavery and rape. We don’t need to have a discussion about slavery and rape to ponder if maybe there’s some benefit to either after all. When I was growing up at least, torture was the sort of thing that happened in Torqumada’s chambers and KGB sites in Siberia and Idi Amin’s prisons, not something that happened in modern civilized lands.

                Yet here we are, with leading intellectuals advocating for torture with as much gusto as DAESH is advocating for Yazidi child sex slaves.

                If the whole point of the discussion is to come to the conclusion that it’s really not a good idea after all, and if we’ve theoretically already come to that conclusion long ago…why are we discussing it again, exactly? Unless we’ve been mistraken and there really is a good reason to bring back torture and rape and slavery and the rest, isn’t it enough to merely observe that we bloody well should have grown past such insanity by now?

                b&

                >

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

                Yet torture still happens as it did under GW Bush so if torture still happens, clearly we haven’t moved away from it and it’s worth speaking about.

                Further, society changes. People are born who don’t have the historical context for why things like torture are bad. It’s worthwhile to ask the question if it always is every now and again and it’s worth to challenge ideas.

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

                So why is Sam advocating for the Bush Torture Doctrine, as opposed for calling for a war crimes tribunal to prosecute him and Cheney?

                The latter would be a worthwhile “discussion” to have on the subject. The former is every bit as unconscionable as the signatures on the Bush Administration torture memos.

                b&

                >

              • Cindy
                Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

                Another example of where we might want to discuss rape is in examining it’s origins.

                *Why* does it occur.

                Rape is a form of reproductive cheating. But, we can’t talk about this, because apparently it ‘normalizes’ rape, and if we say it’s natural, this must make it ‘good’. So, the topic is off limits.

                The two researchers who advanced the hypothesis that it was an adaptation were attacked in the press for being pro-rape zealots. Which basically prevented any serious thought on the subject.

                So, I did a quick Google search and lo and behold, our own PCC offered a review!

                http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v404/n6774/full/404121a0.html

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

                But that’s not the conversation that Sam is putting forth. The parallel here would be Sam not pondering the origins of rape, but Sam arguing that rape is sometimes morally justifiable and that there are circumstances in which rapists should be lauded.

                I’d be happy to move this to a discussion of why people feel the urge to commit torture, and overjoyed to use that as a launchpad to figuring out how to stamp out this scourge from the human psyche once and for all.

                It’s just that that’s not the discussion that we’re actually having.

                b&

                >

              • Cindy
                Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

                Sorry for the confusion Ben, but I wasn’t saying that this was the conversation that Sam was having.

                I was responding to whether or not some subjects should be off-limits, period.

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

                Fair enough. And, in a similar spirit…of course, the First protects Sam’s right to advocate for anything he likes, no matter how repulsive. But that doesn’t make such speech suitable for polite conversation.

                If it is right and just for us to counter Nazi hate speech with shouts calling them to shame, it is equally right and just to counter Sam’s advocacy for torture with similar cries of horror.

                b&

                >

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

                “But Sam doesn’t argue in favour of even torture, let alone child rape.”

                Apparently Ben’s best argument against discussing torture, or supporting it in some rare circumstances is comparing it with child rape, or cutting out people’s organs for transplant. If he thinks those things are comparable on the unethical scale then I guess it’s good reason for him to hold the position he does.

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

                The fact this discussion is so long suggests the questions should be asked. But I am not sure the right question has been asked. Sometimes, perhaps, torture can increase the social good. Similarly might assassinations, suppressing free speech, or letting the government search without warrants. But, nonetheless, should we not have RULES against such policies? Is there any way to allow discretion on such actions without inviting abuse? I think we know the answer. That is why I find Harris’s hypotheticals a waste of time.

              • Jerry Tarone
                Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

                “So why is Sam advocating for the Bush Torture Doctrine…”

                I thought Sam Harris was explicit that he thinks torture should be illegal? I don’t think that’s what the Bush torture doctrine is.

            • Posted April 22, 2016 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

              Jeff, you wrote, “Diane said:
              “Sam actually argues against security theatre.”

              This perfectly makes my case! I’ve read most of his books, I always read his blog, and this is simply not the impression he gives.”

              I could not disagree more. Sam is very clear, and due to all the controversy, he has restated his thoughts in many different ways. If you still get the wrong impression, I think it has more to do with your approach, and presuppositions, than with Sam. Over and over again he says, “What I am arguing for is actually “Anti-profiling,” or spending less time searching people who clearly do not need to be searched.” How does that give you the impression that he wants more searches and more “theatre?”

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

                Over and over again he says, “What I am arguing for is actually “Anti-profiling,” or spending less time searching people who clearly do not need to be searched.”

                It’s basic set theory, for starters. Plus, eliminating people who clearly do not need to be searched, especially using the types of examples I’ve heard Sam give, would result in us having “anti-profiled” Timothy McVeigh plus 100% of those in the Irish Republican Army. The Boston Bombers probably would have been “anti-profiled” as well; as noted, they’re white Europeans.

                b&

                >

              • Heather Hastie
                Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

                Sorry Ben, bug that’s not an accurate anakysis of Harris’s position. He clearly states that he himself fits the criteria of someone who should be given more scrutiny, not less.

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

                That Sam would catch himself in his own net is irrelevant to the fact that his net would pass through uncaught a significant fraction of those whom we would have most wished to have caught.

                Again, Timothy McVeigh and the Boston bombers for prime examples. And perhaps Randy Weaver, Jim Jones, and similar folk, depending on what sort of net you’re casting.

                b&

                >

              • Vaal
                Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

                Ben wrote: “It’s basic set theory, for starters. Plus, eliminating people who clearly do not need to be searched, especially using the types of examples I’ve heard Sam give, would result in us having “anti-profiled” Timothy McVeigh plus 100% of those in the Irish Republican Army. The Boston Bombers probably would have been “anti-profiled” as well; as noted, they’re white Europeans. “

                That does not seem to bear any relationship with what Sam has actually argued.

                https://www.samharris.org/blog/item/in-defense-of-profiling

                In the above, Sam has not exempted young white men – e.g. Timothy McVeigh – from being searched. Sam includes even himself
                as one who should be “profiled.”

                It seems particularly odd that you say Sam’s conception of profiling would entail
                %100 of the Irish Republican Army would not have been profiled, when in that very article Sam states:

                ?Imagine how fatuous it would be to fight a war against the IRA and yet refuse to profile the Irish? ?

                I’m not totally on board with Sam’s profiling arguments. But we can at least properly represent them when criticizing them.

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

                Then I was giving Sam too much credit. For if all he’s proposing is that we “profile” all able-bodied adults (which would be the equivalent of “anti-profilng” all non-able-bodied non-adults, which would be the only way the sets you’re describing could fit together)…well, in that case, his profiling is worse than useless and amounts to going all Big Brother on everybody all the time.

                I’ll go this far: any profiling system which catches Sam in its net is useless at best and almost certainly evil in functional implementation. Sam is the last person who should be profiled — and, if your profiling includes him, whatever you’re profiling on is a red herring.

                b&

                >

              • Vaal
                Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

                Ben,

                Sam’s talking about standard security procedures for airports. Do you think people like Sam, you or I should be exempt from security scrutiny when boarding planes? You worried about people like Timothy McVeigh escaping security scrutiny. Should young white guys not be included in airport security searches too? Is it Big Brother for us to be scrutinized before boarding a plane?

                “any profiling system which catches Sam in its net is useless at best and almost certainly evil in functional implementation. Sam is the last person who should be profiled — and, if your profiling includes him, whatever you’re profiling on is a red herring..”

                Again, in “profiling” Sam is talking about anyone who could plausibly be a terrorist threat, and since terrorists – including Muslim terrorists – can be many races, he’d be including you, me, Timothy McVeigh, himself etc. It’s not that Sam would be “caught in a net” he’ d simply go through standard airport security, with the understanding he’d be on the spectrum of “more plausibly a terrorist” than an 80 year old woman from Miami.

                I’m not sure what you are getting at here: Is it that NO ONE should be scrutinized at airport security? If so, that seems untenable. But then, do you mean SOME PEOPLE should be scrutinized? You seem to suggest you have some profile in mind, since Sam is “the last person who should be profiled.”

                Hence, you seem to be arguing against profiling whereas profiling seems implicit in your own comments.

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

                Do you think people like Sam, you or I should be exempt from security scrutiny when boarding planes?

                If anybody is to be exempted from security scrutiny, then Sam, you, and I are exactly the people who should be exempted.

                Why?

                Because we’re not terrorists.

                When you understand that answer, you’ll understand the problem not just with Sam’s “anti-profiling” but with profiling in general.

                For profiling to actually be meaningful, it’s got to have an unattainable accuracy…it needs to be able to correctly identify 100% of terrorists, and it needs to have false positives be on the order of just a small handful per facility per year at absolute most. Any false negatives are clearly unacceptable, and any more false positives than that and you’re the boy crying, “Wolf!”

                That it’s clearly impossible to meet such standards should provide us with the obvious answer, that there’s no point in even pretending to use profiling in the first place. Rather, we should be looking to systemic fixes that stop any possibilities of terrorism succeeding regardless of how many terrorists make it onto the plane.

                And that’s trivially done. Separate entrances for pilots, inaccessible from the cabin. At that point, the aircraft itself becomes a much more difficult and much less desirable target than the pre-boarding security chokepoints…or, for that matter, movie theaters and shopping malls.

                There are, of course, all sorts of cynical reasons for the TSA and the rest. It’s a great way to launder money to selected government contractors, and a positive wet dream for all those with totalitarian instincts.

                Cheers,

                b&

                >

            • Michael Waterhouse
              Posted April 22, 2016 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

              Yep, we should keep any semblance of a sophisticated philosophical discussion behind the doors of ivory towers.
              We must shelter the rabble from ideas and thought experiments and “off limit topics” lest it drive some of them insane or make them think wrong things , cos their stoopid.

              I should be in on those discussions though because I can process nuance and positions in arguments and not shriek at the first mention of a ‘taboo’ word.

              I should choose who hears them too.

              Yep, keep nuanced ‘controversial’ topics from the masses.

              But, given the way free speech is being challenged by those ‘who must not be offended” in college, we may have no ivory towers left.

              • Michael Waterhouse
                Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

                This little rant is showing up out of context, oh well.

          • margaret jones
            Posted April 23, 2016 at 5:36 am | Permalink

            If torturing someone who had kidnapped my child would lead to my child’s release,I would do it. No discussion should be off limits.

      • Torbjörn Larsson
        Posted April 22, 2016 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

        That is a case in point then: Harris relies on anecdotes instead of data.

        Moreover, there are said to be reports (with statistics, I assume) that claims torture never works.

        You can always construct ethical corner cases. In most science, they are dismissed as too rare to count against a useful, generic rule-of-thumb.

        • Posted April 22, 2016 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

          “Moreover, there are said to be reports (with statistics, I assume) that claims torture never works.”

          It’s certainly untrue that torture NEVER works. I don’t need any statistics to say that, just personal experience.

    • Posted April 22, 2016 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      “You are lumping a great many incidents and issues together. This will allow you to gloss over instances when Harris was clearly wrong”

      Two points about that: You are implicitly accusing Jerry of writing deceitfully and claiming to know his motives; and secondly, the point of Jerry’s post is to point out the disgraceful way that Harris is routinely misrepresented — whether he is right or wrong is largely irrelevant. He is being misrepresented to such an extraordinary and extreme degree that it makes me want to add to the right to freedom of speech, the right to have your speech fairly represented.

    • Herb Hunter
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      The unreliability of torture is evident in our New England history. Certain denizens of the Salem environs preferred a painful death to falsely admitting they were witches.

  5. Chris G
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Jerry, with regard to torture and your view that “we haven’t had an incident yet where I consider it justified”, what are your thoughts on ‘The Beating’ case that Sam refers to, detailed in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (link here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/torture/#CasStuBea)

    • Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      Actually…”The Beating” is a textbooks example of unjustifiable police brutality.

      First, it’s over-the-top racist. “A heavy set Pacific Islander with a blonde-streaked Afro.” Might as well have included the eye patch, bottle of rum, scimitar, peg leg, and parrot on the shoulder.

      And then…well, the police would have probable cause to detain the suspect, but there’s far from enough to warrant a conviction. Is it a case of mistraken identity? Did the real kidnapper find somebody who looks like him to point the police to? Could the suspect be a parent caught up in a custody battle? Maybe there’s no child at all and the woman is making all this up to use the police to get revenge on the poor schlub?

      So, yes. Of course. Arrest and question. Convey the urgency of your belief of the imminent danger the child is in. Offer a plea bargain.

      But torture?

      That’s so far over the line that everybody involved should be immediately fired and charged with kidnapping and assault of the most aggravated variety.

      There’s a reason we have the criminal justice system we have. Permitting torture even in cases such as “The Beating”…what sane person really wants to bring back vigilanteism, to trust the police to also be judges, juries, and executioners?

      Hell, for that matter, the cops would be insane to advocate for torture — for the exact same reason the military wants to make damed sure they treat captured enemies superbly well. In a vigilante society, the cops are your mortal enemies from the moment they think you might be doing something they don’t like. Enemies in war will fight to the death if they think they have nothing to loose — and they’re going to do unto your captured soldiers at least as bad as you’re doing unto theirs.

      Even if torture really did work, even if, as the euphemism puts it, it “produces actionable intelligence,” the cost to society would far outweigh its use. You would hypothetically save the life of the child in “The Beating,” for example, but at the expense of innumerable people being brutalized and murdered by the police in an ever-escalating orgy of retribution.

      Sam gets it on so many subjects…which is why I’m so frustrated with him on the subjects of torture and nuclear war. We’ve already had these discussions, and both figuratively and literally beaten them to death. There are reasons Torquemada and Hitler are the most reviled figures in Western history, with torture and blitzkrieg front and center. Why on Earth should Sam, of all people, wish to re-tread that path?

      What Sam really needs is to listen very carefully to Pinker. When Sam truly understands that, though we’ve still a long way to go, we’ve already built the most peaceful society in all of history…then, perhaps, he’ll begin to let go of whatever fear it is that’s driving him to advocate for such horror.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Jayso
        Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:56 am | Permalink

        Well said on “The Beating.” Harris has a lot of interesting ideas, but the support for torture really bothers me.

      • Chris G
        Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:58 am | Permalink

        We’ve discussed this before Ben, on this site a few months ago.
        I see you’re sticking to the ‘police brutality’ and ‘over the top racist’ argument, and still throwing in every other possible obscure reason you can think of to suggest the suspect must be innocent, and that the police couldn’t possibly know ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that he was the person involved in the crime.
        In the case of The Beating, the suspect was indeed the person who took the car, and refused to say where he’d left it with the child inside.
        The escalation of (relatively minor) physical force and threat extracted the information that saved the child’s life.
        This was not ‘vigilanteism’, nor the police acting as ‘executioner’.
        I’m sure it’ not your intention, but I find your arguments very similar to those of an SJW politically-correct student.

        • Posted April 22, 2016 at 11:08 am | Permalink

          Chris, the point that you’re missing is that, in our system of justice, the police are explicitly forbidden from judging guilt or innocence — and, even more importantly, forbidden from sentencing after guilt has been established, and, most importantly, from executing a sentence.

          That division of responsibility is the dividing line between justice and vigilantism.

          Under no circumstances would any American court approve of any form of torture as part of an acceptable sentence for a convicted criminal. It unquestionably falls under the category of “cruel and unusual punishment” that the Eighth protects us all from.

          If it is unconscionable to subject somebody to such inhumane treatment even after all legal questions of guilt have been fully answered, how can you even hypothetically propose that we should inflict torture on people long before guilt has actually been legally established?

          b&

          >

          • Chris G
            Posted April 22, 2016 at 11:27 am | Permalink

            Ben, in situations such as The Beating, the police are not making any final nor lasting judgement re guilt, nor are they executing a sentence.
            The Beating is a rare situation in which the police determine, beyond reasonable doubt. that information is being withheld that if not forthcoming, would place a life in danger.
            The case regarding the kidnap of a German child is another example where just the threat of physical harm extracted essential information.
            Sam makes it clear that he concludes there are only very rare circumstances where torture can ever be considered ethical i.e. where there is imminent threat of the killing of one or more people, and extracting information from an individual who is considered ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ to hold key information, may prevent the killing.
            I agree, and think it answers your question: “How can you even hypothetically propose that we should inflict torture on people long before guilt has actually been legally established?”
            I know for sure that if it had been my child in that car, I would see matters even more clearly.
            Chris G (in the UK)

            • Posted April 22, 2016 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

              The Beating is a rare situation in which the police determine, beyond reasonable doubt.

              “Beyond reasonable doubt” has a very specific definition within our legal system, and it’s a judgement that explicitly and by definition cannot be made by the police.

              I know for sure that if it had been my child in that car, I would see matters even more clearly.

              Yes — and that’s exactly why it is the State, and not the victim, which prosecutes criminal cases. There is no doubt but that victims are not capable of dispassionately dispensing justice. Overwhelmingly, they are blinded by their own personal pain and fear. Even the most careful of them are too psychologically close to the affair to have the necessary perspective.

              We’ve run your proposed experiment. Countless times, for ages. The results are always the same. The more primitive forms we now call vigilante justice, with all the contempt that phrase connotes. The more sophisticated forms are rightly known as police states, again with all the associated horrors rightly implied.

              Proposing that torture can be civilized in certain circumstances is no more reasonable than proposing that rape, in certain circumstances, is a justifiable means of procreation. Yes, in the past there was the notion of the droit du seignor, and we continue to be plagued by rape as a war crime. And the rapists themselves have all sorts of arguments and justifications for why rape is right and proper in those “limited” circumstances — just look to official propaganda coming out of DAESH these days for why they’re compelled to rape Yazidi girls. But, as a civilization, we’ve moved beyond, far beyond, such senseless and primitive brutality.

              That we haven’t similarly moved beyond torture absolutely blows my mind.

              Oh — and there will be those who will object to my equation of rape with police torture. To those, I will refer the case of Abner Louima, and ask a very simple question. If you’re not getting the answers you need with a “simple” or “mild” beating, would you or would you not similarly justify breaking out the broken broomstick?

              b&

              >

              • Chris G
                Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

                The test ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ is applied at all levels of the criminal justice system: by police in assessing evidence when making a decision whether to continue investigation, and whether to pass a case to the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service here in the UK), and then by the CPS to determine if to proceed to court.
                I don’t see any issue with the police being able to correctly determine ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ whether a suspect they’re holding has information that could save a life. And quite frankly Ben, I think you know that too.
                You’re confusing the very clear definition of torture under discussion by expanding it to punishment, revenge, brutality, dispensing justice, oppression, horrors of a police state, vigilanteism.
                You seem determined to evade the very limited use of torture that is being proposed, starwmanning the issue.
                Your comparison to rape is ridiculous. More political-correctness and false analogy.

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

                The test ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ is applied at all levels of the criminal justice system: by police in assessing evidence when making a decision whether to continue investigation, and whether to pass a case to the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service here in the UK), and then by the CPS to determine if to proceed to court.

                I’m not a lawyer, but what you describe is at odds not only with everything I’ve ever understood about legal burdens of proof but Wikipedia’s take on the subject. Wikipedia isn’t a legal guide, either, sure…but what you’re proposing is that a prominent Wikipedia article is profoundly in error.

                Specifically, you give an example that requires “beyond a reasonable doubt” as, when “assessing evidence when making a decision whether to continue investigation.” In the States, the standard is merely “probable cause,” which is only, “a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found.” And that probability might only be as low as 30%.

                You’re confusing the very clear definition of torture under discussion by expanding it to […] brutality[….]

                If torture is not brutality, then what the hell is it?

                And look at the historical uses of torture; it encompasses everything else on your list. Punishment? Why do you think we need the Eighth Amendment? Revenge? Nearly every revenge fantasy includes brutal torture. Dispensing justice? That goes back to Hammurabi at least. Oppression? Too easy. Horrors of a police state? What police state hasn’t been known for torture? Vigilanteism? Where do you think the notion of tarring and feathering came from?

                And it is not at all ridiculous for me to compare torture to rape, for rape is and has always been a favorite method of torture.

                So, do you really want to get into a discussion of which forms of torture are and aren’t useful? Maybe a beating with a rubber hose is okay, but it’s too far to turn on the hose and force it in the victim’s mouth? Maybe you can force it in the victim’s mouth, but only if you don’t pinch the victim’s nose? Maybe the mouth is a problem, but the anus is acceptable? And maybe if the hose isn’t enough, if the situation is dire enough, you could move on to other garden implements, such as the pruning shears?

                Let’s be clear here: there is no polite, civilized, family-friendly way to discuss something which is, by nature and of necessity and its very essence, brutal, uncivilized, and horrific. By its very nature, torture is the infliction of that which is intolerable. If you can’t tolerate the thought of the intolerable, why are you advocating for it in the first place?

                b&

                >

              • Chris G
                Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

                You’re still confusing the issues Ben, throwing everything you can to distract, not addressing the key points, still strawmanning.
                This is about the ethical legitimacy of force/violence in a very specific scenario. A scenario where police clearly know, beyond reasonable doubt, that a suspect they’re holding has information that would save a life.
                Yes that use of violence can clearly be labelled brutal – but brutal is sometimes ethical.
                Are you against self-defense? To fight back brutally when attacked?
                Are you a pacifist, or do you accept that going to war is sometimes legitimate? Despite knowing that brutal warfare will almost certainly take innocent civilian lives?
                And do you think your support for self-defense and war makes you a supporter of all violence and brutality?
                By associating legitimate violence with every other violence you can name (rape, police brutality, hose pipes, pruning shears etc. etc.) you avoid the distinction, and the argument for limited force in very rare circumstances. You’re scaremongering, and avoiding the actual issue.

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

                A scenario where police clearly know, beyond reasonable doubt, that a suspect they’re holding has information that would save a life.

                There you go again.

                Police can’t even hypothetically have such knowledge beyond a reasonable doubt, at least not in modern judicial systems. To come to a position where you know something beyond a reasonable doubt, you’ve got to have gone through the entire criminal prosecution process, from the filing of charges to the trial to the presentation of closing arguments to jury deliberation…and then and only then at the conclusion of the deliberation can one finally be beyond reasonable doubt.

                Are you against self-defense? To fight back brutally when attacked?

                Since you’re going that direction, my position is that it is unacceptable to do unto others what they do not wish you to do unto them, save for the minimal amount necessary to prevent them from violating this principle.

                So, in your example, were I attacked, I would defend myself, but I would stop once I was reasonably confident that the attacker no longer threatened me. One can constitute scenarios in which that would come with the death of my attacker, but it would be incumbent upon me to use something less dire were the option available. Were it possible to talk the attacker out of attacking me, that would be the ideal — though, obviously, such an ideal is not always attainable.

                Police torture scenarios, of necessity, already start with the suspect in custody. And compelling a suspect in custody to submit to your will is not justifiable, any way I look at it. The suspect is a non-player at that point, effectively removed from the board. If you want to elicit help from the suspect and can convince the suspect to do so, fantastic — and, indeed, long experience, especially with the military, has demonstrated that the kid-gloves approach has a far higher chance of producing the famous “actionable intelligence” than anything reprehensible, so it’s not like you’re even setting yourself at any sort of a disadvantage.

                A lot of your own angst on this subject comes from the common fallacy that goes along the lines of, “This situation is intolerable; something must be done; torture is something; therefore we will torture.” At no point do you stop to consider if the proposal will be effective, let alone whether or not the cure might be worse than the disease. When you come to realize that the world is not perfect that that there are intolerable situations that actually can’t be rectified…then, perhaps, you will stop causing for the rest of us new intolerable situations.

                Cheers,

                b&

                >

              • Chris G
                Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

                I’ve been very specific about a scenario in which the police know ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that the person they are interrogating has knowledge which they refuse to provide that could save a life (or lives), in a situation where time is of the essence.
                You keep suggesting that this is the same as the police making a final legal judgement on the innocence or guilt of that person with regards to a criminal charge. It isn’t.
                You and I are agreed that force/violence is legitimate when used in self-defense, including killing the attacker in extreme circumstances.
                You didn’t respond to the question about supporting legitimate wars, and the inevitable killing of innocent civilians?
                With regard to your attempt to identify my angst on this issue, and fallacies I may be prone to, you’re wrong on both counts.
                For me this is a very straight-forward uncomplicated dilemma: we know (beyond reasonable doubt) that a suspect is withholding information that puts lives at imminent risk. We up the interrogation, and threats. And when all else fails, we use limited force/violence, and know when to stop if it doesn’t work.
                But we know sometimes this can work; it is not an “intolerable situation that actually can’t be rectified”.
                The cure is not worse than the disease.

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

                I’ve been very specific about a scenario in which the police know ‘beyond reasonable doubt’

                Your repetition of this insistence is every bit as meaningless as one that there really is such a thing as a circular square. Police, by definition, are incapable of such knowledge.

                Maybe you have in mind some other definition you’re applying to that term…but even that’s irrelevant, because this is a legal matter and the legal terms are relevant. And especially in this case, because the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” is required for the closest legal equivalent of torture — and, indeed, torture itself is explicitly defined as being beyond even such a standard.

                For me this is a very straight-forward uncomplicated dilemma: we know (beyond reasonable doubt) that a suspect is withholding information that puts lives at imminent risk. We up the interrogation, and threats. And when all else fails, we use limited force/violence, and know when to stop if it doesn’t work.

                Again, we’ve run that experiment. Time and again. Think of all the worst horrors of governments throughout history, and that is exactly the plan implemented by their police forces.

                For, in reality, we don’t have knowledge beyond a reasonable doubt (until after conviction at trial), and we don’t know when to stop…and we have better methods of interrogation to begin with.

                b&

                >

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

                “Beyond reasonable doubt” has a very specific definition within our legal system, and it’s a judgement that explicitly and by definition cannot be made by the police.

                Well, judgments similar to this are made everyday by the police.

                I think it’s fair analogize this to using force to prevent injury or death to innocent players threatened by a armed person. It’s not certain that the armed person (or agitated person who won’t submit to arrest) is going to harm/kill someone. There is a gradient of certainty. When these situations go well, it’s not news, not reported.

                There’s a gradient of force. Are you proposing that the police may never inflict any pain on a suspect? How closely must this be monitored? Is pulling someone off the ground by their arms and gripping them hard enough to cause some pain while doing so OK (assuming they refuse to cooperate)? Is it OK if it happens immediately after the suspect has just tried to shoot the officer and has beaten and kicked the officer?

                You position seems to be: Let the child die; no level of discomfort for a suspect, regardless of the degree of certainty the police have (never 100%), is ever justified.

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

                “Beyond reasonable doubt” has a very specific definition within our legal system, and it’s a judgement that explicitly and by definition cannot be made by the police.

                Well, judgments similar to this are made everyday by the police.

                Such a claim is laughably absurd. Police clearly do not spend their time sitting on juries deliberating the evidence and testimony presented to them at trial.

                Really, that’s the same level of absurdity as claiming that the corner mechanic at the brakes-and-lube place is every day doing design and engineering of automotive systems. I mean, sure, there’s nothing saying that a cop might not serve on a jury (though he’d be hard pressed to get past a challenge by the defense), but what the cop does in his day job has nothing whatsoever to do with jury deliberation.

                Are you proposing that the police may neverinflict any pain on a suspect?

                Once the suspect is in custody? Of course not. And taking the suspect into custody should be done with the least amount of discomfort to the suspect as possible.

                Remember: ours is supposed to be a justice system, and not a punishment system! And for the police of all, to be the ones dispensing punishment…that’s over-the-top crazy movie villain evil dictator insane.

                Cheers,

                b&

                >

            • Jayso
              Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

              It’s important to note that the situation described in “The Beating” is a hypothetical case study, not something real. The author of the Stanford Encyclopedia article (Seumas Miller) calls the case study “realistic” and says that it was “provided by a former police officer from his own experience.” I’m sure that’s true, but that’s a long way from asserting that the incident really happened exactly as given in the case study. (The police officer credited as providing it, John Blackler, served as Miller’s co-author on a book on police ethics, or so it appears from my Google research.) I just think we take extra care to distinguish hypothetical examples from real-world examples when talking about torture. But correct me if I’m wrong about this particular example.

              • Chris G
                Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

                Jayso, why does this particular scenario have to be true for us to take a view on it?
                Are you saying if it’s not historically true, then you can’t possibly imagine any scenario in which the threat of ‘a beating’ would work?
                There are other cases that actually happened (e.g. the kidnapping of the German child I mentioned before) that resulted in the suspect finally revealing key information.
                There seems to be a position some take on this issue where you reach a conclusion first (torture? never!) and then look for every possible argument to defend that position.
                I would argue it would be utterly unethical to NOT threaten force, or actually carry it out (to a very strict limit) if threat doesn’t work, to extract information to save one or more lives.

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

                I would argue it would be utterly unethical to NOT threaten force, or actually carry it out (to a very strict limit) if threat doesn’t work, to extract information to save one or more lives.

                Such is a brutally barbaric position to take. You would burn our very humanity as a sacrifice on the altar of a single child on an imagined hope that it will propitiate the child’s anger?

                I can understand the urge to help somebody in distress, especially a child. But you wouldn’t throw dozens of people in front of a bus in order to stop it from running off a cliff, even if your own child were in the bus. At least, I hope you wouldn’t. And I’d also hope you wouldn’t stab a stranger and cut out his heart to use as a transplant for your own child.

                So whence this urge to brutalize strangers to save anonymous children?

                b&

                >

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

                “And I’d also hope you wouldn’t stab a stranger and cut out his heart to use as a transplant for your own child.”

                So Chris talks about torture, and you conflate it with throwing dozens of people in front of a bus, or killing them to harvest their organs? Was that just an unthinkingly poor comparison or are you intentionally, and disingenuously appealing to people feels. Obviously no sane person would support torture if it amounted to those things, but it doesn’t.

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

                Obviously no sane person would support torture if it amounted to those things, but it doesn’t.

                Perhaps this is what’s at the heart of the whole discussion.

                I suggest all those in favor of torture stop whatever you’re doing and read this and watch the accompanying video:

                http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2008/08/hitchens200808

                If you come away from that thinking that torture is no big deal…then I would continue my argument by urging you to consider the infamous “Room 101” from 1984.

                The whole point of torture is that it’s horrific, so horrific that you’ll do or sacrifice anything to make it stop, so terrible that you’ll subjugate yourself completely to the will of the torturer. If the actual technique isn’t that bad — such as the comfy chair from the famous Monty Python sketch, then not only is it not torture but it’s not even hypothetically effective; you’ll cheerfully tolerate whatever the inconvenience is until you can go on about your business. For torture to be effective, it has to be so miserable that it literally breaks your will…and, at that point, what difference if it’s physical pain inflicted upon you or something entirely non-physical, such as a credible threat of something terrible?

                Once we’ve established, therefore, that torture is, by definition and of necessity, the worst thing you can do to somebody, at least at that moment in time…why do we really need to compare it to other really bad things that we can do to people, except by way of saying, “These other really bad things are unacceptable and so therefore torture, being worse, is even more unacceptable.”?

                b&

                >

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

                “If you come away from that thinking that torture is no big deal”

                I never said it was no big deal, and I never said it should be legal, nor has Harris. The discussion is whether in some circumstances it’s ethical.
                I can tell you a first hand experience where I believe it was.
                I was with a friend in the woods once when I was 16. My friend was playing with matches, and set the woods on fire. When running away I was caught by the cops and charged with arson because I wouldn’t tell them who had actually set the fire. When I got home my father beat my butt with a belt (tortured me?) till I told him who did it. The police went to his house, he admitted it, and the charges were dropped against me.
                The kid who did it ended up in reform school, and his life went downhill from there. My father did the right thing.
                Sure if my father had put bamboo under my fingernails, or waterboarded me he would have gone to far, but how far is too far is part of this discussion as well, and being beating with a belt on my butt is not as big a deal as child rape, or killing people for their organs.

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

                I’m sorry for your experience being beaten by your father. Such actions were clearly common in an earlier age and thus understandable and perhaps excusable in an historical context…

                …but we know better today.

                Just as we now know that people with schizophrenia are not possessed by demons and are horrified at the thought of trying to burn demons out of the mentally ill and instead at least strive to provide competent mental health care for them…we should now know that it is no more acceptable to beat a child than it is to beat a convict or especially a suspect.

                That such brutality was the norm in the past is bad enough. Why should we wish to persist in such insanity today? Have we not enough problems to deal with?

                b&

                >

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

                “…but we know better today.”

                Maybe you do, but if a kid of mine today (mine are grown)was potentially facing an arson conviction for a crime he/she didn’t commit, I would definately do what my father did to get the truth out of them. That being said I was opposed to hitting my children, and never did it, but this is a circumstance where if necessary I would. It’s the lesser evil given the potential outcome of not doing so.

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

                Have you really so little faith in our criminal prosecution system? Do you really doubt the competence of the defense attorney you’d presumably work with to defend your child? Does it not occur to you that there are other ways to attain the cooperation of reluctant children than by beating the shit out of them? Has it not reached your attention that such beatings, even when well-intentioned, come with substantial negative costs to the child that can have significant and long-lasting impact?

                In other words…do you not understand why we don’t beat children any more?

                b&

                >

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

                “Have you really so little faith in our criminal prosecution system?”

                I won’t go into details, but there is little doubt I would have been convicted if the person who actually set the fire hadn’t confessed once I gave him up.

                “Has it not reached your attention that such beatings, even when well-intentioned, come with substantial negative costs to the child that can have significant and long-lasting impact?”

                Yes it has which is why I, and my father never engaged in “beatings”, but in this specific case he decided the benefit outweighed the potential damage. In fact I think it was because he had never done it before that I understood how serious this situation was.

                Again you seem to be trying to conflate what I would consider abuse (a childhood full of beatings) with a specific instance in an extreme circumstance.

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

                My point is that, whatever the unfortunate circumstances of your own youth, in this day and age I’d expect a child psychologist (or other mental health professional) to be involved in the case, and that such people are superbly qualified to engaging with reluctant children — with a success rate that far surpasses any a parent is going to have with naked brutality.

                Were it really the case that there was nothing better than beating, one can perhaps make an hypothetical argument for it…but that’s like hypothesizing about the benefits of using slave-powered rowboats for transcontinental shipping in this, the atomic age.

                b&

                >

              • Chris G
                Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

                “Propitiate the child’s anger”?
                “Brutalize strangers to save anonymous children”?
                This is about saving innocent lives.
                Ben, your line of reasoning has completely derailed. The issue here is about the legitimate use of force/violence. Far from burning out humanity, the correct use of violence is essential to the maintenance and progress of humanity.
                I’m getting the impression you just don’t want to face up to the harsh challenges we face in the real world, but rather just dismiss any mention of legitimate violence by comparing it to every evil you can think of, described in the most emotional ways you can muster.
                We’ve come full circle: the article about Sam Harris and the review Jerry posted, praised Sam for addressing the hard questions.
                Thank goodness someone’s willing to do that, in a calm rational way.

          • Posted April 22, 2016 at 11:48 am | Permalink

            Ben, you are just ignoring a lot of pertinent information here. First of all, no one (especially Sam) is arguing in favor of making torture legal. Sam says explicitly that he thinks torture should be illegal, always and everywhere. But sometimes an action can be morally or ethically justified even if it is illegal. Sam’s question is about ethics, not the law. He says the police involved should be arrested and charged. Secondly, you insert all kinds of hypotheticals like “maybe there was no baby,” etc. But in the given example, there *is* a baby. You can make up any example you want in which beating would not be ethical, but we are talking about *this specific* example. You can’t just go back and change the facts of the case to make it more amenable to your conclusion.

            • Posted April 22, 2016 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

              But sometimes an action can be morally or ethically justified even if it is illegal.

              Only in cases where the law itself is immoral or unjust. The Civil Rights movement identified many such laws, and the act of civil disobedience became the recognized way of working to overturn such laws.

              There are two possibilities here. Either you and Sam are arguing that the law needs to be changed to legalize torture in whatever form with whatever consequences, or else you’re advocating for complete disrespect of the law. And, frankly…a society in which torture is legal might actually be preferable to the sort of lawless chaos you propose.

              If the police, of all people, have an expectation that they are potentially above the law, that they have moral permission to do even that which is most reprehensible if, in their sole judgement, there is reasonable justification for the horror…

              …good lord, man, have you any idea what sort of an hellhole such a world is? That is literally the worst, most over-the-top caricature of a repressive society imaginable. It’s Conan the Barbarian married to Dirty Harry, with all the empathy of Hannibal Lecter and power of Darth Vader.

              b&

              >

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

                “Only in cases where the law itself is immoral or unjust.”

                I disagree. There’s nothing unjust in laws against stealing, but I can imagine a situation in which it is ethically ok for someone to steal something.

                “Either you and Sam are arguing that the law needs to be changed to legalize torture in whatever form with whatever consequences, or else you’re advocating for complete disrespect of the law.”

                No. That’s wrong. I can respect the law, and think it is a good, just, morally acceptable law, and still think there may arise a situation in which it is ethical to break that law. It would not be something to be taken lightly. We are not saying the law should be ignored.

                To give one (benign) example: I don’t think laws against jaywalking are unjust. I generally wait for the light to change before walking across the street. If I saw someone having a medical emergency across the street, there is no traffic, and the DON’T WALK sign is flashing in my face, I would break the law and jaywalk across the street to help the person in distress. I would not then assume that I could just jaywalk whenever I want, with no fear of getting a ticket. I also would not lead the charge to have jaywalking laws repealed. It is not hard to see how a generally good law may on rare occasions, due to a confluence of extreme circumstances, need to be broken to achieve a more desirable outcome overall.

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

                “No. That’s wrong. I can respect the law, and think it is a good, just, morally acceptable law, and still think there may arise a situation in which it is ethical to break that law.”

                Bingo.

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

                If I saw someone having a medical emergency across the street, there is no traffic, and the DON’T WALK sign is flashing in my face, I would break the law and jaywalk across the street to help the person in distress.

                Any traffic law worth respecting will have provisions for emergencies, even up to the point of granting you implicit permission to take it upon yourself to direct traffic with all the hand signals and what-not.

                So what’s your proposal for a similar law permitting torture in emergencies? Sam has none, explicitly so — and that’s perhaps an even bigger problem than his advocacy of brutality in the first place.

                b&

                >

              • Heather Hastie
                Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

                I’m not sure that argument works simply because it’s neither practical nor possible to imagine every potential scenario when a law could be broken when it’s written and then write it in.

                I oppose torture and I don’t think we should ever do it simply because it’s wrong. It will always be possible to come up with a tiny fraction of cases where breaking a law is justifiable, and trying to imagine what they would be in advance is potentially useful I think. The reason for that though is that all the consequences of doing it, and not just the one saving the imaginary child can be discussed.

                A lot of the discussion around torture of Islamist terrorists is, for example, “They torture our people so we can do it back, and our methods are not as bad as theirs anyway.” However, in the bigger picture we’re supposedly taking the moral high ground and saying our free and open democracies are better than what the Islamists want. How can we say that if we’re prepared to throw away our values in certain situations?

                I’m with Diana McP – we do need to discuss this stuff, if only to reiterate why it’s wrong, and Sam Harris is an excellent person to lead that discussion imo. His clarity of thought and expression are things of beauty, whether you agree with him or not.

                Most people can’t think of a topic deeply without bouncing ideas off one another. I can imagine plenty of people thinking eugenics doesn’t sound so bad, and even if they naturally recoil from the idea they can’t fully articulate why. Talking about it is the best way of ensuring it doesn’t happen.

                Just look at some of the thoughtless, selfish ideas that make up parts of libertarianism. It’s no accident that young people who just haven’t experienced much of life yet are often attracted to it.

                This comment has got a bit long. I’ll shut up now.

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

                I’m not sure that argument works simply because it’s neither practical nor possible to imagine every potential scenario when a law could be broken when it’s written and then write it in.

                Fine, but then why is it being brought up only in the context of torture, and in such specific circumstances?

                We can have a discussion about the flexibility of the law, but an argument that we don’t need to always prosecute all torturers makes as much sense as one that we don’t need to always prosecute all rapists. Maybe the rapist was himself forced at gunpoint and so on or some other bad movie scenario…but what sort of relevance does that have to a discussion of the societal benefits to be had from rapist public servants?

                b&

                >

              • Heather Hastie
                Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

                Iirc, Harris said that even in the extremely rare circumstance where it might be justified, the perpetrators should still have to go through a legal process. I mentioned that bit about adding hypothetical scenarios into law only because that’s what I understood you were suggesting would need to happen to make the rare cases ok. I assume it’s the case in the US that judges have some discretion re sentencing. A person having consensual sex with their long-term partner who’s three months younger than them and still a minor should receive a lighter sentence than any form of non-consensual sex for example. That’s how I think the law should handle it.

                Tortue is wrong, no matter what the circumstances – I certainly agree with you there. However, it will happen and on those occasions, some are more wrong than others.

                And btw, it’s great having you back in the discussion. 🙂

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

                I assume it’s the case in the US that judges have some discretion re sentencing.

                Within bounds, increasingly being shrunk with mandatory sentencing laws, yes. And it’s a large part of the idea why we have judges and juries in the first place.

                But…again, why do we need to tie this discussion to torture in the first place? Everybody can come up with examples of when the law should demonstrate leniency…husband of a pregnant wife speeding to the hospital (but why didn’t the idjit call 9-1-1?), starving parent stealing bread for a child (but what about food stamps?), the abused spouse who was fed up with being beaten and fatally struck back (but why let things get that bad in the first place?).

                If there really are going to be scenarios where torture is justified, or at least that we should have sympathy with the torturer after the fact, why would we expect the justice system to treat torture any differently?

                Again, even for rape, you can come up with insane hypotheticals such as the gun-to-the-head one mention I waved at earlier…but how on Earth could anybody cite such in a discussion on whether or not there are moral justifications for rape, especially by government agents acting in their official capacity?

                b&

                >

              • Heather Hastie
                Posted April 22, 2016 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

                Because talking about these issues helps clarify them. We work through them in our minds, we think about them, we develop our arguments, we decide where we stand.

                When I first started thinking about the topic my instinct was immediately torture is wrong, and that’s the position I’ve always stuck to. But there’s always someone who’ll come up with a scenario where they think it’s okay, and I need to have thought about it and worked through the issues to persuade them otherwise. I know my positions on several issues have evolved through discussion on this site, and in other cases it’s helped me develop arguments for positions I already hold.

                Unfortunately, torture happens, and I consider that we’re better able to deal with it if we’ve already talked through the issues.

                And it’s just good being able to discuss the hard questions in the sort of environment that Jerry provides with people who are intelligent and deep thinkers.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 22, 2016 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

                Yes, good having Ben back! We miss you even if you’re wrong when you argue against me! 😛

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

                “Back” is a relative term…had a refrigerator repair guy here for an while, but he’s done and I just got everything put back away…and now off to pick up some dry cleaning, with a busy weekend with Misa (as always) ahead….

                b&

                >

              • codingmonkey
                Posted April 22, 2016 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

                Ben keep in mind the context of Harris’ support for torture is the drone war the US constantly imposes on our “enemies”. In the context of the war on terrorism you still claim torture is never justified? It is a lesser of two evils argument and in this case the greater evil is being perpetrated every day.

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

                Don’t get me started on our use of flying death robots to rain terror from the sky, especially the Presidential murder orders that include instructions to kill first responders (“double tap” missions).

                And to claim that we should be committing a certain unconscionable atrocity so that we might maybe contemplate committing various other unconscionable atrocities at a lesser rate…really?

                It used to be that we justified our misdeeds by pointing out that we weren’t quite as bad as the most infamous of the reprobate nations. “At least we’re not as bad as North Korea and Saudi Arabia!” But apparently even that is too high a bar to clear these days, so all we’re left with is, “This will provide homeopathic levels of dilution of our current evil.”

                I’m way too young to play the “in my youth” card, but it really is the case that, when I was growing up, we took pride in our freedom and the fact that we did things right even when nobody else did. What the Hell happened?

                b&

                >

        • Linn
          Posted April 23, 2016 at 6:05 am | Permalink

          I think the issue here is that me and Ben immediately think of the rape and horrors inflicted upon prisoners in places like Abu Ghraib, while you and Mike Paps are seem to be thinking of mild beatings.

          That’s the whole problem with Sam’s argument in my view. He says that torture is sometimes justified and he tries to be specific, but he isn’t specific enough. What forms of torture is he thinking of as justified? Since he has stated that Abu Ghraib and the like we’re atrocities, he clearly doesn’t think those are justified.
          Which body parts can be involved? Is it alright to cut off a finger? What about a leg? Genitalia?

          If his opinion is that the only form that can be justified is a slap to the face, then that’s fine with me, but I’m not sure that is what he actually means.

          What about the family of the potential terrorist? Is it justified to hurt their kids to get them to talk? I don’t have kids myself, but I have a nephew and I know that my brother would admit to genocide if someone threatened to hurt his son. I would also “confess” and go to prison for a crime I didn’t commit in order to protect my family.

          I think Sam Harris is an intelligent man who asks good questions, but I don’t get the value of these thought experiments. If I was a terrorist and had planted a ticking time bomb somewhere, I would simply lie and send my tormentors in the wrong direction while the bomb went off. I would actually be less likely to tell the truth, because I would want to get revenge.

          I will also say that I am eternally grateful to live in a country where such horrors are illegal. If I were to live in the time of the inquisition where “witches” and shamans were beaten and raped until they made up a “confession”, I would kill myself.
          I am still afraid that such horrors could return one day and I’m prepared to move or kill myself if need be so I won’t have to face being forced to confess to something I didn’t do.

          • Linn
            Posted April 23, 2016 at 7:26 am | Permalink

            Just to clarify my last paragraph, I do know that Harris has said he wants it to be illegal. That part of my comment is meant as a general expression of my thoughts on this.

  6. Posted April 22, 2016 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    On a similar theme: Why Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Criticism of Islam Angers Western Liberals.

  7. Griff
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    I have a lot of respect for Sam. His arguments are well-constructed and he puts them forward calmly.

    I’ve never seen him lose his cool.

    People just don’t get nuance. I suspect many of his critics don’t read what he says, just what others SAY he says.

    Richard Dawkins is treated similarly.

    • Xuuths
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      Worse are those who claim to have read him, but clearly misunderstand what he’s written.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

        I think often they haven’t read him, they’ve just read what other people say he’s written. Werleman is one who has lied outright on several occasions about what Harris (and also Hitchens) has written. Others have deliberately quoted him out of context.

    • Scott Draper
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      “I’ve never seen him lose his cool.”

      He’s gotten unbearably whiny on his podcasts and articles defending himself. And when he appears on some program with a detractor, I’ve seen him take the first shot.

      Overall, I don’t think he’s dealt with criticism in a very healthy way. In contrast, Dawkins seems totally unaffected.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

        Well, Dawkins did just have a stroke. Outwardly he handled the latest ridiculousness beautifully, but I think it was pretty distressing for him.

        I think of Harris’s reactions on his podcasts as being more an expression of frustration than whininess, though I can certainly understand why anyone would think “whiny”. He’s had to address the exact same lies about what he’s said over and over again for years – he must be getting really sick of it.

        • Scott Draper
          Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

          I’m sure he does get sick of it, but at some point you just have to laugh it off. I think he’d win a lot more friends by showing amusement rather than anger.

        • Michael Waterhouse
          Posted April 23, 2016 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

          No he has not become that. You are mistaken.

    • Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      Listen to his podcast with Omer Aziz (humorously called “The Best Podcast Ever.” It’s probably one of the few times I’ve witnessed Sam lose his usual calm, and composure.

    • Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      “People just don’t get nuance. I suspect many of his critics don’t read what he says, just what others SAY he says.”

      I think most people who read him do get nuance, particularly his critics, but they don’t think there is any argument to be had regarding things like profiling, torture, or a first strike. Simply raising the question implies there could be justification for those things, and that is unacceptable position in their worldview. Such a position needs to be destroyed, and they see disingenuously misrepresenting Harris’ positions, or giving them the least charitable interpretation as an acceptable tactic.

    • colnago80
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      Dawkins is a poster child for the notion that Twitter is not for everyone. The 140 character limitation makes it difficult for nuance and Dawkins sorely needs nuance.

  8. Kevin
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Equally disturbing are the people who are not listening to Sam (let alone criticizing him).

    So many security agencies purport that they know the motivations for disaffected male youths in the middle east but refuse to present their ideas with evidence for fear that those motivations will be revealed almost exclusively as religious.

    It is this fear that is nauseating and in my view, promoted largely by Christians who fear that criticism of any religion can be criticism of their own religion.

  9. Xuuths
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    If you have the audacity to point out someone misquoting Harris, you’re labeled a fanboi. The haters really hate him, beyond all reasoning. He’s definitely a lightning rod for intense emotions.

  10. Nicolas Perraul
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Proving what is not evident has always been difficult. But Sam Harris has provided us with vivid illustrations that the obvious can be even harder to demonstrate in the face of leftist ideologies barring the way of their adherents from rational free thinking.

  11. Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    sub

  12. Scott Draper
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Could of other possible reasons:

    1) Sam is a bit of a cold fish on camera,
    2) Virtue signaling.

  13. Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    “An unwillingness to recognize the link between Islamic doctrine and terrorism in particular presages seismic political changes…(This is happening in Europe today, of course.)”
    Yes, in Europe. But is anyone as guilty of blindness to the link between Islamic doctrine-and-terror as President Obama, the Denier in Chief?

    • Hidde Gaastra
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      He isn’t, read the Obama Doctrine in The Atlantic, he refuses to use the word Islamic/Islamist Terrorism/Extremism in the mistaken belief that it would cause more friction instead of less.

  14. rickflick
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    A big factor in anti-sam is that race is such a touchy issue in the U.S. Sam has been identified as a racist. If you are seen listening carefully to something a racist says, you are labeled a racist, which is the worst possible fate. Anything that remotely could be construed as racism is dealt with by a quick condemnation. Taboo.

    • Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      And (this is not trivial) Islam is not a race. It’s a religion, and something you can either moderate or abandon.

      • rickflick
        Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:45 am | Permalink

        Of course you’re right, but anti-Sam doesn’t get that, or ignore it for their own convenience.

        • Cindy
          Posted April 22, 2016 at 11:17 am | Permalink

          The Boston bombers were white Chechnyans.

          • Posted April 22, 2016 at 11:51 am | Permalink

            Yes. Very literally Caucasians.

          • rickflick
            Posted April 22, 2016 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

            I’ll bet if you ask Trump supporters, many would deny that anthropological fact. On the left, many would call it an isolated case. You can’t win with a deeply held belief.

      • Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:54 am | Permalink

        For good or ill, language and law in America equates race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and other variations on the “protected class” theme.

        It’s a really sticky wicket. On the one hand, religion clearly doesn’t belong because, of course, you can change religion as easily as you can change political party affiliation.

        On the other hand, if religion isn’t offered certain protections, the fear is that people will be denied the guarantee of free exercise of religion.

        I think the answer lies with the same sort of nuance we tend to apply to the “religious test for office” phrase. The government itself may not impose a religious test for office, but citizens are more than welcome to apply whatever criteria, including religious belief, in choosing whom to vote for.

        As such, it is good that, for example, public schools can’t make admissions decisions based on a student’s religion. But it’s equally important that pundits should, if they think it to be true, express outrage at religious doctrines they find abhorrent.

        Cheers,

        b&

      • Scott Draper
        Posted April 22, 2016 at 11:04 am | Permalink

        “Islam is not a race”

        I think the fundamental claim is that they’re bigoted. “Racist” is often used for that concept even when it technically doesn’t apply.

        • Posted April 22, 2016 at 11:18 am | Permalink

          Moreover, very few Muslims are white European, so race and Islam get conflated.

          • Luis Servín
            Posted April 22, 2016 at 11:41 am | Permalink

            Exactly, that is why the “Islam is not a race” argument has always bothered me. The vast majority of Muslims are not white, and in the minds of most people Islam is not considered as a religion of white people (like, for example, christianity, which is clearly “multiracial”). Of course “Islam is not a race” is technically correct, but so is “Islam is a religion practiced mostly by people who are not white”.

            • Posted April 22, 2016 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

              Yes, but “not being white” is not a “race” under anybody’s definition. Hispanics, are “brown”, but they’re Caucasians. Asians aren’t “white,” but they’re not Muslims, and many Muslims are Indonesians.

              So you’re saying that “not having pure white skin” constitutes a racial group?

              • Luis Servín
                Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

                No. What I am saying is that for some white people (many Trump supporters, for example) there might be an element of racism that contributes to their dislike of Islam and Muslims.

              • Herb Hunter
                Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

                I feel compelled to point out that Hispanics can be caucasian (those in Northern Spain are indistinguishable from the French across the border), native-American (that is brown), black or of Asian descent. Most people think of Hispanics as brown because they’ve only knowingly encountered Hispanics of Mexican origin. A majority of Mexicans are of native-American descent but even in Mexico there are blue-eyed, blonde Hispanics.

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

                Mostly Mexicans? Lots of Mexicans in America, but what about Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Colombians?? Are Mexicans such a large majority of the entire American population that are called “Hispanic”?

          • Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

            I should have pointed out that there are 75 million Iranian Muslims, who are technically Caucasians. Race is a hopelessly confused means of categorizing people. Where I see one race, others may see many. JAC mentions Hispanics–don’t get me started.

            To simplify matters, I say that, politically, there are effectively two races 1) those of White Northern European descent and 2) everyone else who descend from those the WNE have offended or harmed in the past 800 years.

            Now that is off my chest, yes, Islam is a religion not a race.

            • Luis Servín
              Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

              Hispanics!!! Yes, don’t get me started on that one either. A term with absolutely no meaning whatsoever when discussing race or ethnicity, yet used in the US for precisely that.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted April 22, 2016 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

        “Islam is not a race. It’s a religion,”

        That is a distinction we can make, but I’m pretty sure many on the anti-Muslim side don’t bother to make.

        I assume ‘We’ here are anti-Islam because of its religious aspect and its worse practical aspects, but that distinction tends to get overlooked in wider discussions. Unfortunately we are almost certainly in the company of racists who dislike Muslims because they’re the wrong colour. Some of them may even borrow the ‘it’s not a race, it’s a religion’ for their own use, as a smokescreen.

        So it’s easy for the anti-racist opposition to confuse the two groups, either deliberately or simply because “if it quacks like a duck…”

        (Gosh I’m having to word this carefully, not to avoid giving offence, but simply not to give quite the wrong meaning to what I’m trying to say. Tricky subject…)

        cr

  15. Somite
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    The main criticism he received from Omer Aziz was that he co-wrote the book on Islamic reformation to get rich. This went on and on forever ruining any conversion in a podcast.

  16. Dean Reimer
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    I, too, think Sam has been unfairly demonized. I think some of his arguments may be wrong, but people are allowed to be wrong. We don’t discard the entirety of a person’s ideas because we disagree with one or two of them.

    His musings on the idea of a nuclear first strike have been so completely and willfully misrepresented by the regressive left that it is obvious Harris will never get a fair shake from that crowd.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      And his detractors fanatically believe he is a bigot so they just won’t accept any evidence that contradicts that. It’s really unfortunate because I think Sam Harris has important things to say. I really don’t know how he continues to deal with it. I would have said “screw it!” a long time ago.

  17. Christopher Bonds
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    The “Tall Poppy Syndrome” strikes me as something that Trump supporters could claim is happening to him. I don’t believe Sam Harris and Trump are comparable figures to any degree, so I need a way to justify cutting Trump down but not Sam. Any ideas there?

    • Christopher Bonds
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      Maybe this: (I’ll answer my own post)

      When Sam Harris raises unpopular ideas, he has some logic and reasoning to back him up. Same with Singer.

      When Trump claims that people don’t like him because he’s telling it like it is, he’s not backing it up with anything. It’s all theater.

      People should be judged on the quality of their thinking. Trump has displayed little in that department.

      So the Tall Poppy thing isn’t even an argument. At best it’s an observation of human behavior. The bad logic is people saying that Trump’s detractors are jealous. Perhaps some are, but I think most see him for what he is, an opportunist and outwardly a buffoon (I don’t know that he is–it’s impossible to tell.)

      Sam Harris’s detractors are offended because he is raising questions about sacred cows–torture, etc.

      It’s the ideas that matter, not the visibility of the person expressing them.

  18. Cate Plys
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Thanks for alerting us to the Taylor article, Jerry. So happy to see someone with a platform supporting Sam Harris, who basically bears the largest burden of attacks on these issues and is so seldom really defended.

    Jealousy must be a big part of the Harris vitriol. Plus, I think his End of Faith came out ahead of Dawkins and Hitchens’ atheist books (could be wrong), so he may have attracted the mob that way.

    Also, what I love about Sam Harris–his calm, completely reasonable demeanor at all times (not counting those recent podcasts) might entice more attacks than Dawkins and Hitchens. Harris’s style doesn’t inspire perhaps the same affection among those who agree. For those who disagree, who wouldn’t be more afraid of hearing themselves excoriated by the ferocious Dawkins and Hitchens, and their upperclass English accents? Much less scary to hear it from Sam Harris’s calm northern American accent.

  19. eric
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    I don’t agree with any attempts to slander Harris or win an argument against his views by ad hominem, but I think many of his views do not stand up to much scrutiny either. The religious profiling is a good example: neither the airlines nor TSA collect information on passenger religion, and they couldn’t collect high-confidence accurate information on it even if they wanted to, so its basically a stupid question. Kind of like asking if we should profile by appendix length.

    I also get tired of this claim that there is some inextricable link between Islam and terrorism. Seems historically obvious this is not the case; otherwise in the ’70s we would’ve been talking about the National Islamic Army instead of the NRA. The Islamic Underground would’ve been conducting bombings instead of the (liberal extremist group) the Weather Underground. And so on. We’ve seen terrorist extremism arise out of many causes; reach ascendancy for a few decades, then slowly fall off. Then terrorism arises in another group and we rinse and repeat. I would fully agree that ISIS and OBL are cases of religiously motivated, Islamic terrorism. But are they uniquely or differently violent such that the link is unbreakable? Well I’m sure you could’ve found some Englishman to tell you that Irish Catholicism was uniquely and differently violent such that the link was unbreakable – in the 70s. You could probably find some Spanish today who would tell you Basques are uniquely and differently violent such that the link is unbreakable. That Englishman would have been wrong; a victim of his own provincial biases. The Spaniard would also be wrong, a victim of his own provincial biases. And in the same way, Harris is wrong, a victim of his own provincial biases. And when Harris’ great-grandchildren are worriedly watching on the news about the latest GMO-liberation terrorist bombing, they’re going to think great grandpa’s nattering on about the dangers of Islam and muslims about the same way I thought about my grandfather’s embarrassing bigotry against the Irish.

    • Randy Schenck
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      I’m sorry but you seem to be missing at least one of the points that Sam and others have made regarding Islamist. Terrorizing us in the west in one part of it but what group do you go to in explaining all the killing and treatment of Islamic people within the countries they live. Or, are we to blame for all of that as well – in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and on and on to many other countries.

      Yes there are other kinds of terrorism such as the Germans in the 30s and 40s or the NRA, which was caused by another religious disagreement. However, I think terrorism today is pretty specific to the religion of Islam.

      • eric
        Posted April 22, 2016 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

        Terrorizing us in the west in one part of it but what group do you go to in explaining all the killing and treatment of Islamic people within the countries they live

        Sure. Again, not unique. Not a sign that 21st century Islamic terrorism is somehow different from anything we’ve seen before. The NRA and its offshoots didn’t just attack London, they conducted attacks in Northern Ireland too.

        Or, are we to blame for all of that as well – in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and on and on to many other countries.

        I’m going to ask you to withdraw that characterization and apologize, because I certainly didn’t say anything of the sort. Though I’ll admit its kind of darkly humorous to be straw manned for opposing Harris’ position on a thread about how Harris gets straw manned by his opponents.

        Yes there are other kinds of terrorism such as the Germans in the 30s and 40s or the NRA, which was caused by another religious disagreement. However, I think terrorism today is pretty specific to the religion of Islam.

        So, today there’s no right wing terrorism in the US? I think the FBI would strongly disagree with you. As would the families of
        Garrett Swasey, Ke’Arre M. Stewart, and Jennifer Markovsky.
        That attack was not even 6 months ago. I hate to say it, Randy, but in ignoring attacks like this you seem to have a severe case of confirmation bias.

        • Randy Schenck
          Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

          I suspect we are so far apart on this issue that continuing to discuss it will get nowhere. I did not say that you said any of that. I wrote it down as simply part of the Islamist terrorism on the people in their own lands.

          If you think the persons you named or maybe the Oklahoma bomber, as another example, are comparisons to terrorism in the same class with Islamist terrorist then we simply do not agree. I believe the terrorism going on within Islam is many times greater than the NRA or individuals who have done terrorism in the past several years.

          My general understanding of NRA would make it similar to Islamic terror but not on the same scale. It was religious war at it’s core that also included attack on England because it supported the protestants.

          I do not ignore any acts of terrorism and neither does Sam Harris that I know of.

          • eric
            Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

            Yes LOL we appear to be far apart. For example, I think the statement “I do not ignore any acts of terrorism” is shown to be false given the claim “I think terrorism today is pretty specific to the religion of Islam” and the documented, known instances of terrorism today not specific to the religion of Islam.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted April 22, 2016 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

            What’s this ‘NRA’? Do you (and Eric) mean ‘IRA’? 😉

            I can quite believe the NRA might start to wage a terrorist campaign, given how well-armed they are (almost by definition), but I can’t help feeling they’d soon end up shooting each other over doctrinal differences.

            cr

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

      That’s a very interesting point, eric, and I think you’re probably right. I certainly hope it’s just a phase that Islam is going through.

      Certainly Islam (like Xtianity and Judaism) is capable of being interpreted in innumerable ways, some of them violent. But if Islam is uniquely predisposed to terrorism, one would have to ask, ‘where was the Islamic terrorism of the past’? The religion has been around for a thousand (?) years.

      Now, possibly terrorism is a artefact of the last hundred years, since transport became so effective that local wars and insurrections against big powers were no longer feasible. In which Islamism and terrorism might hypothetically be claimed to be uniquely well suited to each other. (Is this what Harris does?)

      But in that case, looking back in history, one would have to ask ‘where were all the Islamic wars of the past’ – or, more relevantly, did Islam cause proportionately more wars than other religions or causes did? I don’t know the answer to that.

      cr

      P.S. In your listing you forgot the radical-left Red Brigade type gangs of the 70’s.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted April 22, 2016 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

        ‘in which *case* Islamism and terrorism…’

        Bah!

        A fatwa on WP’s (non-existent) Edit function.

        cr

    • Jerry Tarone
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

      People keep suggesting that Harris is saying only Islamists should be profiled for, that is not what he is saying. He is saying groups that present a credible threat should be profiled. Those who are most likely to be a terrorist. Period.

      He does not state only Islamists should be profiled. He specifically mentions the IRA as an example. He specifically mentions that little old ladies shouldn’t be having to have their crotch grabbed, because little old ladies are not bringing bombs and guns onto planes.

      One doesn’t need to know a persons religion to profile them, what’s needed to be known is who the typical airplane terrorist is. Harris does not get specific, he leaves that for the professionals who do have profiles of various terrorist organization members.

      Your arguing a position Harris hasn’t made.

  20. Posted April 22, 2016 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    There are two main things Harris has and uses; logic and philosophy. Sometimes it’s as if his detractors have never heard of these things.

    For instance he uses philosophical thinking in the “torture” debate, which is very much along the lines of the well-known “trolley problem” which I would imagine every philosophy student has encountered at some point.

    There is a philosophical question of “If the pet cat of a lady dies of natural causes, is it okay for her to eat it?”
    If Harris used something like that, his detractors would be shouting “SAM HARRIS ADVOCATES EATING KITTENS!”
    This is where they miss the point.

    In the three hour interview with Cenk Ugyur, Harris had to point out to him that some thinking *might* seem strange at face value, but would not be out of place in any philosophy class on the face of the planet.
    Even that explanation floated over the interviewer’s head.

    He used pure simple logic in his debate with Maryam Namazie, regarding profiling. She either didn’t get it, or refused to. Then, when her own logic went out of the window, and Harris pointed it out, she simply wanted the conversation to end. She was beaten, and she knew it.

    Harris cuts through and awful lot of crap, and as the article states, asks hard questions. Some just can’t handle it.

    • Posted April 22, 2016 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      Yes, that Maryam Namazie conversation was telling. Right when Sam began to uncover the flaw (hypocrisy) in her logic, she said they should just move on and change the subject, as they weren’t getting anywhere. Sam said, “No. We’re just starting to get somewhere interesting.” But she refused to go any further. I’m sure she could see where it was leading.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 22, 2016 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

        That whole conversation was infuriating. I think when Sam talks to such people, he needs a moderator that is agreed on by the two of them because I got so tired of Maryam telling Sam he was constantly interrupting her, when he was just trying to understand her point so was asking a clarifying question. She wanted to dominate the whole conversation then claim Sam was being unfair if he stopped her from her soliloquy.

        • rickflick
          Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

          I notice a strange parallel between Namazie’s argumentation and that of aggressive Islamists. The technique is to talk over, abruptly shift topic, harangue loudly, etc. The technique is very dishonest. It does not recognize the legitimacy of the other side. It’s really not an exchange of views. This is how her opponents treated her in a video where she tried to give a presentation and was interrupted by several opponents in the audience. Is she borrowing the tactics of her true enemy?

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

            It seemed to me that both her tone and her assertions were taken to suggest Sam was bullying her. I got really sick of hearing her pleading tone and her almost sing-song way of saying things. I found all this obfuscated her arguments and really did her a disservice because I really wanted to hear what she had to say.

            • Heather Hastie
              Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

              I felt the same. I’ve always been an admirer of Namazie and was very disappointed in her conduct. She was making an argument for a position that she hadn’t fully developed herself, then blamed him when he identified the holes in her argument. There were positions she could have taken, but she didn’t seem to have thought the issues through properly.

        • Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

          I heard someone else comment that Maryam treated it as an interview, in which Sam was supposed to ask her questions and then sit back and let her answer without interrupting. Sam wanted it to be a conversation. Seems a good point, but still doesn’t excuse her behavior. She often talks about how “it’s all politics; everything is politics.” She was trying to use Sam’s podcast to score political points and make a political argument, while Sam was trying to have an honest conversation to discuss their disagreements. Her reaction afterward on Twitter only made her look worse. She retweeted an article which basically called Sam a white supremacist.

  21. Randy Schenck
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    The point I get from this post is that Jeffrey Tayler did a pretty fine job of putting the criticism where it belongs – directly on the Glenn Greenwald’s and Reza Aslan’s of this world who make their living lying about other people. Once these types of people are properly exposed for what they are and how far off the mark they are we can go on to discuss the finer issues in a real world.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      Yes. Tayler’s article was excellent imo, and so was Jerry’s follow-up (which was beautifully written).

  22. colnago80
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    In addition to those named, PZ Myers should be listed amongst Harris’s most fervent detractors.

  23. Posted April 22, 2016 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    I am veryifying whether this comment is actually by Sam Harris; I doubt that it is. If it isn’t, I will take it down.

  24. Alex
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Great to see support for Sam. I agree with the jealousy argument, but would add that many on the regressive left are not only jealous of his success, but also of his intelligence. Pound for pound, there are few who can hang with Sam once the discussion goes beyond superficial sloganisms.

  25. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t read or heard much of Sam, but the things I have looks soundly analytical. (But I hear of his tendency to rely on anecdote and construct extreme corner cases in ethics to claim exceptions to general rules such as no torture. That means he has his problems, as have we all.)

    The referenced article was good, except I failed to understand the TSA case. Harris refers to a person ‘cleaning up’ (his looks, I assume), yet he is claimed to somehow refer to his interests in Islam!? Also, ‘cleaning up’ is an unfortunate subjective description in this case.

    it’s certainly worth discussing the issue in light of the American penchant for waterboarding and other horrible practices;

    Or penchant of arrogantly opt out of international agreements – being susceptible to ICC – in order to rely on the same type of anecdotal ideas of efficiency of torture as Harris does.

    • eric
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      …his tendency to rely on anecdote and construct extreme corner cases in ethics to claim exceptions to general rules such as no torture.

      This. Sure I can construct a scenario in which torture is warranted. I can also construct a scenario in which the government’s converting of dead bodies into solyent green is warranted. The fact that I can do that philosophical ‘corner’ construction doesn’t mean I think real-world governments are justified in doing it.

      • Jerry Tarone
        Posted April 23, 2016 at 12:18 am | Permalink

        I can show historical examples of when humans ate human meat, the equivalent of soylent green, to survive. The making of soylent green wasn’t unethical, it was murdering people and feeding their remains to others unaware that was unethical.

        If billions of people are dying of starvation, would it be unethical to use the protein, or at least use the bodies of the dead as fertilizer? I’d suggest it would be unethical not to. I suggest burying people who have been pumped full of chemicals so they never rot is unethical, as soil is constantly eroded from farms to support burgeoning human populations. Considering so many on this planet refuse to use contraception, we may be faced with far more dire choices than eating soylent green.

        There are over 7 billion people on the planet. strange situations happen. As pointed out by Harris the example he gives “The Beating” 3.1
        http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/torture/#CasStuBea
        Is a true life case. Not just a “corner” construction. A criminal was beaten, a child’s life was saved. You can claim perhaps it never happened, but to suggest that out of 7 billion people such a thing doesn’t happen is to beggar belief.

  26. Posted April 22, 2016 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  27. Raj
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    The regressive left has very small testicles herniated by moral confusion and rabid multiculturalism. These cowards cant face, let alone answer, questions on battle of ideas, just raising a hypothetical question amounts to racism and bigotry. Regressive Leftism is a dangerous doctrine on par with religion and communism.

  28. Scote
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    I simply have found many of Harris arguments to be unavailing. His utilitarianism that he claims isn’t utilitarianism I find disingenuous, especially when he is unable or unwilling to acknowledge that science doesn’t eliminate the judgment aspect of ethics, rather Harris merely hides the judgment (which tests and metrics chooses to use, and what weight to give them, for example).

    Harris reasoning simply isn’t as rigorous as he would have us beleive. In his podcast, he favored government authority to force Apple to create new software to cripple Apple’s security and let the government search a phone. Harris certainly has a right to that view, but he *misstated* the facts of the case to make his argument – that is, he was making a straw man argument to support his political leanings.

    I’d rather read someone who’s reasoning I can trust, such as PCC, rather than someone who will make straw arguments.

    • Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      But would you rather read Reza Aslan, Glenn Greenwald, and C. J. W*rl*m*n? Do you think their take on Islam is more accurate than Sam’s? If not, do you criticze them even more?

      I do think the objectivity of ethics that Sam promotes is very problematic, and he knows that and I’ve written about it. But we’re still friends, and I can’t really see a reason to demonize a man because we disagree on something like this. It’s not a reason to hate him, or even say, as you do, that his arguments are “straw arguments.” Surely you don’t think that’s the case for ALL his arguments, right?

      • Scote
        Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

        “But would you rather read Reza Aslan, Glenn Greenwald, and C. J. W*rl*m*n? Do you think their take on Islam is more accurate than Sam’s? If not, do you criticze them even more.”

        The leftist schizophrenia around Islam and its many inherent human rights issues is horrible. Reza Aslan C. J. W*rl*m*n? Blech. I only know them for their wishy washing thinking on this issue. Glenn Greenwald, though, is a disappointment. He has done some great things in promoting citizen journalism.

        Although I consider Islam to be a religion built from the ground up for totalitarianism and deserving of much criticism, I’m wary of giving anyone blanket approval of anyone’s position on Islam. That includes Harris.

        I think you are right to defend Harris from knee jerk authoritarian left opprobrium. Your liberal criticism of authoritarian leftism is yet another one of the areas that make me really appreciate WEIT. You take on the the positions and challenges that don’t necessarily have a handy echo chamber to back you up, or convenient, self-satisfying black and white thinking.

        As to Harris, no, I certainly don’t think all of his arguments are straw arguments, but I find it pretty disappointing that he would use *any* – not something I would expect for someone touted for his rationality and post graduate education. I certainly don’t hate him for it. Rather, I just don’t find his arguments that compelling even if I may agree with him on a number of issues.

    • Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      Harris reasoning simply isn’t as rigorous as he would have us beleive. In his podcast, he favored government authority to force Apple to create new software to cripple Apple’s security and let the government search a phone.

      And he was really specific about his reasons for advocating it.

      And he has later essentially reversed his position on it after hearing from some experts in the computer HW/SW world (and some other inputs).

      You can hear that here.

      • Scote
        Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

        “And he was really specific about his reasons for advocating it.”

        It is good that Harris can revisit a position, but my criticism of his take on Apple vs. the FBI wasn’t of his position, but his *straw argument* he used to support it. “Really specific” reasons are irrelevant when applied to false premises.

    • Jerry Tarone
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 12:33 am | Permalink

      Did he misstate the facts to make his argument, or did he state the facts as he knew them? You understand the difference? One is an uncharitable view, the other recognizes we are not only fallible, but can get information from fallible sources.

      He also stated he wasn’t entirely sure on the facts and he hadn’t spent a much time considering it.

      If I recall on the next podcast Harris restated his clearer understanding of the facts and modified his position. I think he visited this particular story three times.
      A story many people still disagree on. On the facts as well as the ethics.

  29. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that for a long time Sam Harris dealt with his critics with equanimity. Over the years, however, he has shown an increasing wariness and exasperation, owing to how so many of them have intentionally or recklessly (because they haven’t actually read what he’s written) misconstrued and/or mischaracterized his arguments.

    There are nevertheless areas, I think, in which Sam can be legitimately criticized, and he has to an extent unnecessarily invited some of that criticism on himself, particularly on questions such as the use of torture and potential nuclear first strikes. Sam seems to be driven by an academic’s desire to follow all of his arguments out to their absolute logical limit, even where the effort isn’t worth the candle. The hypotheticals presented in these situations are so fanciful (and where not fanciful — where they are based on some real-life example — so sui generis) that no meaningful normative standards can be formulated (or at least none that I’ve ever seen, although I remain open to persuasion, if anyone wishes to propose some).

    As to the use of torture, as a society our position must be that we oppose it in all cases, under all circumstances. The fact of the matter is, however, that so long as cases arise that present emotional, wrenching, exigent circumstances — and so long as there are human-beings conducting investigations — those investigators will sometimes cross the line of acceptable interrogation techniques, perhaps even engaging in what constitutes “torture.”

    But there are only a handful of consequences that flow from law-enforcement investigators decision to cross this line and that act, accordingly, as restraints on such conduct. First, all statements elicited from a suspect by such means are inadmissible at a suspect’s subsequent criminal trial. Second, the officer(s) involved may be subject to a lawsuit for money damages by the suspect (or, in extreme cases, subject to criminal prosecution for such conduct). Third, the officer(s) may be subject to internal discipline by the law enforcement agency that employs them.

    As to the first consequence, the constitution’s Fifth Amendment prohibits compelled self-incrimination, so such statements should never be admitted against a suspect in a criminal prosecution. As to the second, suspects who have planted time-bombs or buried abducted children alive make very unsympathetic plaintiffs, so are unlikely to succeed in a civil lawsuit against an investigator. (For similar reasons, prosecutors would be chary to exercise their discretion to bring criminal charges against investigator(s) involved in such circumstances. And were an investigator so charged, he or she would have the legal defense of “necessity,” and much jury sympathy, available to them at trial). As to the last consequence, I don’t see why the law-enforcement agency involved (in conjunction with an appropriate citizens-review board or advisory council) wouldn’t be able to achieve an appropriate outcome regarding officer discipline.

    Beyond this, I don’t know what more needs to be said, or what good it would do to try to formulate normative standards for such conduct (although, as stated, I remain open to persuasion on the topic).

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

      I think you have excellently summarised the practical position on the use of torture. It must remain – always – illegal in any civilised society.

      The law cannot cover every possible contingency and shouldn’t try. The exceptions where it might be justified are so rare that the law should not try to accommodate them, lest that loophole be exploited. In the very, very rare exceptions, as a practical matter, judges and juries would take the ‘justification’ into account – as they are supposed to.

      cr

      • DiscoveredJoys
        Posted April 23, 2016 at 5:03 am | Permalink

        I think we are getting closer to the point of the debate about torture. It is quite possible that torture should *always* be illegal but in very rare situations it may be more ethical to use torture than to allow a greater ethical failure to happen. Committing a small crime to prevent a larger crime.

        My analogy is that in the UK the emergency services (ambulances, fire engines, police cars) are not routinely prosecuted for breaking road traffic laws when they are on an emergency call. The laws still apply and drivers may still be prosecuted if they harm another road user.

        If you require ‘the law’ to be observed in all situations then some people will die when they might have been saved.

        • Posted April 23, 2016 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

          “I think we are getting closer to the point of the debate about torture. It is quite possible that torture should *always* be illegal but in very rare situations it may be more ethical to use torture than to allow a greater ethical failure to happen. Committing a small crime to prevent a larger crime.”

          I suspect a majority of people have such an attitude towards torture right now. If a police official were discovered to be regularly engaging in torture to no avail, everyone would support the prosecution, and conviction of the perpetrators. If however a case came to light where an officer beat a suspect to locate a kidnapping victim where time was of the essence to save their lives, and was successful in saving them, almost no one from the prosecutor to the public, or jury if he were prosecuted would be out for blood. Also if, in the unlikely event he were ultimately convicted the sentence would likely be light, particularly if the beating of the suspect wasn’t severe.

  30. Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    The most difficult questions, such as the ones Sam asks, are the very ones that most need discussion. All of the “sacred cows” need to be dissected intelligently and philosophically.
    Sam Harris is a brave man who, in the past, has had to travel to lectures with bodyguards. I don’t know if this is still true, but it should never have been required for asking questions and talking. There should be more people like Sam Harris who are willing, and able, to ask and talk about hard questions.

    Raising a question and expecting thought and discussion should not cause a knee jerk response in which it is assumed that the person asking the question is a proponent of
    what’s asked.

    I wish we could stop indiscriminately using terms like “race”. There is no such thing as race, and skin color differences are not racial characteristics. Ditto about the term, “human”. Even in science articles, some science journalists use the term “human” in re Homo Sapiens, but not for Neandertals and Denisovans. All were enough alike to interbreed and produce fertile offspring. Then weren’t they all human variants? Why are we so adamant about making these distinctions? Why is it so hard to see the relationships as well as the differences?

    It seems inappropriate to view Islam as a religion of colored people and Christianity as a religion of white people. Populations have moved so much throughout history that the religions carried with them were superimposed on the people living where they moved. When Islam spread to Europe, there were many “white” Muslims. When Judaism and Christianity spread to new continents by various means, yellow, brown and black people became Jews and Christians. That mixing continues today. Religion is colorblind.

    If my country depended on me to torture individuals for information, we’d never get it, because I couldn’t do it. The notion of torture makes me sick. But, there may be times when using it is justifiable. I don’t know. But, I don’t think turning the other cheek is an answer to terrorism. Promoting Apocalypse and the End Times by certain believers for their benefit after death should not be acceded to by those of us who hold no such beliefs.

    The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were terrible. I am against the use of nuclear weapons. However, traveling to Japan, learning more about (and seeing) the extreme measures taken by the Japanese to defend their homeland during WWII, helped me understand more about what the potential death toll might have been if H-bombs hadn’t been used. And, yes, I’ve been to and seen Hiroshima, met people who were there during the bombing, and read a lot about the experiences of the Japanese people during and afterward. I want that for no-one.

    Despite the fact that we have laws against certain kinds of misbehavior by our policing agencies, we all know that abuses have existed from the first and continue to exist. We also
    know that such abuse is distributed more liberally to people of color than to their white siblings. And, we know of the disproportionate numbers of people of color in prison in our country.

    All such issues need to be questioned and discussed rationally until potential solutions can be found. Disregarding them is dangerous.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 5:09 am | Permalink

      Agreed. Curiously the fire-bombing campaign against Japan in WW2 which preceded the nuclear bombing is rarely mentioned although it probably killed as many people and did more damage. It is unnerving to contemplate that nuclear bombs are not some special category of weapon but merely one that is more efficient (if mass destruction is your goal).

  31. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    IMO, one of the most bizarre slanders against SH was when he said Malala was one of the best things to come out of Islam in a long time and he was then accused of attacking Malala.

    Sam harris’ original praise of Malala here.
    https://www.samharris.org/blog/item/no-ordinary-violence/
    Quote “Malala is the best thing to come out of the Muslim world in a thousand years. She is an extraordinarily brave and eloquent girl who is doing what millions of Muslim men and women are too terrified to do—stand up to the misogyny of traditional Islam.”

    Claim that Sam Harris slurred Malala here.
    http://www.salon.com/2013/10/19/sam_harris_slurs_malala_famed_atheist_wrongly_co_opts_teenagers_views/

  32. Denis McDaniel
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    One of the weirder ways in which I’ve seen Harris dismissed (numerous times) is to refer to his writings as “middle brow.” Which, what the hell does that even mean? That his prose is not a dreary slog, that he writes clearly enough that you don’t have to constantly reread sentences to get his meaning? I gather we’re meant to understand that it’s not “sophisticated/complicated/opaque” enough to be worthy of the notice of deep thinkers, or something like that.

  33. Roan Ridgeway
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if another factor prompting overreaction to thingsSam Harris says is fear, fear of not being able to adequately counter-argue a highly intelligent, extraordinarily articulate man regarded, perhaps unfairly, as arrogant.

  34. Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    This post on Sam’s blog pretty well summarizes what I dislike about his critics: They mainly just distort his views because they don’t have the arguments or data to counter them.

    I particularly like:

    Reza Aslan tw**ts: “If you’re constantly having to explain the horrid things you’ve written, don’t write them in the 1st place.”

    On which Sam comments: “That’s an interesting line for a scholar of religion to take -— especially one who never tires of disparaging his opponents for their lack of ‘sophistication’ and ‘nuance.'”

  35. Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    I’m unconfortable with the habit to make statements over the totality of a person. Even the common hedge, “I don’t agree with everything”, only reinforces the notion that it was normal to assess people in total.

    Sam Harris is often unfairly reduced to topics mentioned above, when he actually started out as the spiritual or as some detractors suggested, most “woo-ish” of the four horsemen — more Zen than (allegedly) Neocon. I liked that aspect. But I also like freethinkers like the late Robert A. Wilson, another one but who not just flirted with New Age, but frequently embraced it, more or less seriously. I’m still a rationalist and still critical of woo, though I can accept such people because the totality of their being is not important. Bob Wilson himself summed this up when he said to “never fully believe anyones B.S.” (belief system) — not even your own. Sadly, this seems a lost idea in our times.

    I wish Sam would not define himself too much with the more recent kerfuffles, and also be more mindful with the unconfortable fact that impressions created by detractors attracts a type of follower that in turn defines his newer self, whether he wants it or not. Even though annyoing and imposed by others, we New Atheists should not forget that when we get applause from the wrong side (e.g. right wingers in case of Islam criticism), that this applause begins to become the background of our words. We cannot only argue on topic, but have to use the attention to restate other values (which we maybe share with momentary on-topic detractors).

    Last point, Sam Harris is mistaken about Noam Chomsky. His more recent statements where he deemed Chomsky’s views crazy are not good. Chomsky is one of those people who both seems well informed and smart enough, that it is unwise to dismiss what he says too casually. When people of his league seem crazy, I would first assume I got something wrong – especially when everything Chomsky says on topic is teeming with footnotes and facts, and especially when he’s quite an expert on propaganda (and thus has a legitimately different view on intentions of nations, which strike me as accurate). Chomsky is also an anti-postmodernist, whereas the Authoritarian Left is an offshoot of the postmodernist movement, in my view.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

      Indeed Sam has a lot of really interesting things to say; I’m enjoying his recent discussion of consciousness. It’s a loss to us all that he must spend so much time and energy defending himself.

  36. Vaal
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Good article, thanks.

    I think Sam is “going places” in his questioning that many others refrain from in the public forum. And I agree with many that Sam is often mischaracterized, and unfairly demonized along the way.

    Sam is often far more careful than his critiques give him credit for.

    But I also think that Sam does bring *some* of the criticism on himself. He has a tendency toward hyperbole and eye-catching dramatic statements, that, in defending, he has to nuance back into something much more mundane. And along they way it can be tough to decide what Sam is actually saying, leaving the issues unresolved or still open to interpretation.

  37. Roo
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    I guess I just don’t get the mystery surrounding this one. Some people think some of the things he says are awful. He doesn’t. It’s a subjective difference of opinion, and people have them. After a point, there’s no logic to decree what a repugnant opinion is – that’s why they’re opinions. I might get it more if Harris was anti-thinking-opinions-suck period, but the whole point of this discussion is that he is *also annoyed because he thinks *other people’s opinions suck. At some point all debates end in something like “Because this is what I value”. People think talking about euthanizing infants or un-egalitarian acts like profiling are simply wrong in the way that Harris thinks Greenwald’s views are simply wrong. Values, not facts. I find it kind of perplexing that Harris thinks it’s harder to understand why people would be mad when he talks about profiling vs. understanding why people aren’t *more mad when Glenn Greenwald isn’t nice to him. Profiling has huge societal implications at deep levels for millions of people. Glenn Greenwald acting like Stitch from Lilo and Stitch mostly just pisses of Sam Harris and people who think Glenn Greenwald is a dick. I am sorry, at a personal level, if this has been a really difficult experience for Sam, being in the public eye and all that. I sympathize as a human, but at a big-picture level, I think some perspective is important.

  38. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Sam isn’t advocating for that at all. And what’s more important is he’s willing to ask the question. I bet the Romans thought raping boy non citizens wasn’t something that needed talking about either but they hardly lived in a socially progressive society compared to ours so maybe they should have.

    • Posted April 22, 2016 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

      “I bet the Romans thought raping boy non citizens wasn’t something that needed talking about either”

      Exactly. I’m sure the regressives of the time would be no-platforming people who would dare to suggest anything was wrong with it. That question was settled. People who were suggesting good upstanding loyal Roman citizens were doing anything immoral shouldn’t be heard, in fact they should be shamed, and fired from their jobs.

  39. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    I generally approve of Sam Harris. (I’m sure he’ll be delighted to hear that 😉 He boldly goes where many fear to tread, led by logic.

    If I have a criticism, it’s that he sometimes seems ‘tone deaf’ to the public reception of his arguments. That his views on e.g. torture, no matter how carefully he circumscribes them, will inevitably be taken out of context and used as justification by proponents, way beyond his context.

    Also, having raised a question, he is obliged to make the best arguments for both sides, even if one side is so weak that the arguments have a strained or ‘straw-man’ look to them. That ‘best argument’ for the weak side is then remembered as ‘what Sam said about it’ (e.g. pro torture) while his argument for the other side is overlooked.

    Intellectually, there is no question that should never be raised. However, just raising the question implies that there’s some argument to be made for it, and it may well be that the heat generated is such, and the benefits of airing it so minimal, that the question would be better not asked. (I can think of three, right off).

    cr

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 5:21 am | Permalink

      On the other hand you could make an argument that efforts not to be ‘tone deaf’ could be accepting ‘soft censorship’.

      It’s a tough question to decide where the line should be drawn. Clearly inciting violence is illegal in many jurisdictions but speaking out is often shouted down.

      If you believe in the worth of free speech then you should say what you think. How you deal with the pushback is a different issue.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted April 25, 2016 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

        “On the other hand you could make an argument that efforts not to be ‘tone deaf’ could be accepting ‘soft censorship’.”

        I think most of us engage in that all the time, in judging how a comment is likely to be received or how best to put it to convey the point. In Sam’s case I wonder if he realises the reception his ideas will get, or whether he could phrase them better. (That’s a speculation and I’m not sure he could).
        I have the impression that, having specified carefully exactly what he means, he doesn’t feel obliged to try and correct people’s misinterpretations. I could be quite wrong about that.

        “If you believe in the worth of free speech then you should say what you think. How you deal with the pushback is a different issue.”

        Ah yes, but there are a multitude of different ways to say it. ‘You’re completely wrong’ means essentially the same as ‘With respect, I totally disagree’ but is likely to be received quite differently. Being too blunt can be counterproductive. I wouldn’t say something I don’t believe but I don’t always feel obliged to say everything I think.

        cr

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted April 25, 2016 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

          Oh, and in order not to be ‘tone deaf’, that last paragraph was a f’rinstance, it doesn’t mean I’m saying you’re completely wrong, DiscoveredJoys 😉

          cr

  40. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    “That his views on e.g. torture, no matter how carefully he circumscribes them, will inevitably be taken out of context and used as justification by proponents, way beyond his context.”

    And, of course, similarly used by his critics to slam him.

    (Forgot to say that)

    cr

  41. Randy Schenck
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    Regarding the subject of torture and interrogation, it is likely that no experts on the matter are commenting here. For a much better understanding, particularly on the fine art of interrogation I would recommend the book, The Black Banners, by Ali Soufan. The CIA managed to redact some parts of his work but that only shows that some people do have trouble with the truth. And the truth, according to Soufan is that torture is not something you want in good interrogation where you want the facts and the truth.

    I have no idea if Sam Harris had read this before talking about the issue but I wish that he had.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      That looks like a really interesting book. I’ve added it to my ridiculously long “to read” list on Good Reads.

  42. Posted April 22, 2016 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

    Ben, you have spent a lot of time and space here misrepresenting Sam’s (and other commenters) views, attacking straw men, and performing the Gish Gallop. It would be helpful if you would address the actual arguments and positions of Sam and his defenders instead. Here is a list of some of the ways you have misrepresented positions in this thread (Ben’s words are in quotes):

    “Yet here we are, with leading intellectuals advocating for torture with as much gusto as DAESH is advocating for Yazidi child sex slaves.”

    –No. We are not there.

    “So why is Sam advocating for the Bush Torture Doctrine”

    –He isn’t and never has.

    “If you come away from that thinking that torture is no big deal…”

    –As noted above, no one is saying it isn’t a big deal. Quite the opposite, in fact.

    “…an argument that we don’t need to always prosecute all torturers”

    –Again, Sam says the exact opposite of this.

    “what sane person really wants to bring back vigilanteism, to trust the police to also be judges, juries, and executioners?”

    –No one. No one said this.

    On profiling:

    “Plus, eliminating people who clearly do not need to be searched, especially using the types of examples I’ve heard Sam give, would result in us having “anti-profiled” Timothy McVeigh plus 100% of those in the Irish Republican Army.”

    –It was pointed out to you that this was completely wrong and you repeated yourself with:

    “Again, Timothy McVeigh and the Boston bombers for prime examples.”

    –Again, it was explained to you that you were misunderstanding or misrepresenting Sam’s position, and you responded with:

    “Then I was giving Sam too much credit. For if all he’s proposing is that we “profile” all able-bodied adults “

    –At this point it’s clear that you have no idea what Sam’s argument is, only that whatever it is, it’s wrong.

    “I’ll go this far: any profiling system which catches Sam in its net is useless at best and almost certainly evil in functional implementation. Sam is the last person who should be profiled — and, if your profiling includes him, whatever you’re profiling on is a red herring.”

    –At this point it seems that you don’t really understand what the rest of us are talking about in regards to profiling.

    –There’s more, but I’ll stop here. The entire back and forth about the legal definition of “beyond a reasonable doubt” was unbearable.

    I think you have a lot of valuable thoughts and insights and that you are a great contributor to this website, Ben, but in this thread you appear to have gone a little bit sideways.

    Apologies for the length of this comment.

    • Chris G
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 4:58 am | Permalink

      Morning pacopicopiedra, Ben, and all.
      I just re-read the comments Ben posted, and collated a few choice quotes, but you beat me to it, saved me the effort of documenting further.
      I think we should note an irony here: the article by Jeff Tayler, and Jerry’s review of it, highlighted how opponents of Sam Harris often use slander, issue smears, and misrepresent his positions; something I think Ben and others have done on the issues of torture and profiling.
      In addition, the very issue of open discussion has been brought into question, fear that it may be irresponsible to raise these issues as ‘the little people’ won’t understand, they’ll be co-opted into extreme abuses of positions we may otherwise argue for.
      Jerry wrote “Sam tries to make people wedded to identity politics examine their beliefs. But those people would rather do anything than question their beliefs.”
      When I first noticed Sam’s article ‘In Defense of Torture’ (https://www.samharris.org/blog/item/in-defense-of-torture) I was convinced it would not change my view that torture is, and always will be, flat wrong. He changed my thinking. His discussion on the justifiable force/violence in other contexts, particularly the issue of inevitable killing of innocent civilians at times of war, undermined my long-held beliefs. I often go back to the article in the hope of reverting back to my more comfortable position; not happened.
      As someone else commented here, Ben’s arguments appear to start with a firm conclusion, and he works backwards from there, misrepresenting Sam’s arguments, conflating his scenarios with more extreme examples. As Mike Paps said: “So Chris talks about torture, and you conflate it with throwing dozens of people in front of a bus, or killing them to harvest their organs?”
      Unfortunately, Ben’s arguments and style remind me of those of the regressive left, elements of white male guilt, anti establishment, the authorities should never be trusted, all police are racist thugs, defeatist, idealistic, miserable and misanthropic.
      Even in an ideal world, shouldn’t we assume we’ll still have police, crime, law enforcement, incarceration – even at a vastly reduced level to those of today? We’ll still be faced with the kinds of dilemma detailed in The Beating.
      I propose a thought-experiment here: let’s imagine The Beating scenario in some future ideal society. The police are holding a man who clearly matches the images on the CCTV when the car was stolen, and he has items in his pockets he took from the car.
      The police have questioned him, he’s still refusing to say where the car is.
      The police turn to a panel of civilians that include myself, Ben, Jayso, Mike Paps, pacopicopiedra, Heather Hastie, Jerry, and anyone else who wishes to volunteer to be on the panel too. We’ve been party to all of the interrogation, and had access to all the evidence gathered so far i.e. each of us is clearly able to form a view re. ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ concerning the suspect.
      The police ask the panel to vote as to whether they should now resort to force/violence (we can argue about the limits of that violence, but in principle for now, assume it’s along the lines of ‘a beating’).
      Just focusing on this very specific scenario, with the time-pressure given the child’s life is possibly at risk if he/she is still in the car on a blisteringly hot day – how would each of us vote?

      • DiscoveredJoys
        Posted April 23, 2016 at 5:29 am | Permalink

        +1.

      • Linn
        Posted April 24, 2016 at 7:31 am | Permalink

        Like I wrote further above, I think the problem is that no one has set the limits of the violence. In your example you assume it’s a beating, but what if that doesn’t work?
        Where does the limit go then? Like I mentioned above, is it alright to cut off a finger? Does the limit go at the broomstick that Ben mentioned? What type of equipment can you use? Is the limit at Abu Ghraib or is it somewhere before that? Can you involve the prisoners’ family?

        I just think that the sentence:”Torture can sometimes be justified” is useless without being extremely specific.
        It’s like the 10 commandments. Many Christians say that they are great guidelines for life, but I find them useless because they are extremely non-specific.

        Unlike Ben I think it’s great that Harris talks about such subjects, but like Ben I think that history has shown us that it will always be abused. I would not want to live in a country where it’s legal (just a general statement again, I know that you and Sam Harris haven’t said that it should be legal).
        I’m happy that prisoners in my country are mostly being treated well.

        My question to you is, what type of police officer or prison guard would you hire to do the torture? Maybe another prisoner would be able to do it? Would you ask the panel of civilians if any of them are sadists and want to volunteer for the job? I guess, if it’s just a light beating, you wouldn’t need sadists for it. If however, you have to pull out the hoses and water boards, I think you will need a sadist to do the job, or end up turning people into sadists (and they will end up as sadists if theyre asked to torture prisoners often enough. Alternatively, they’ll end up with PTSD like many soldiers do). I don’t like the thought of having sadists in positions of power. I don’t want to meet them on the streets in uniform, I don’t want them to arrest my (hypothetical) son/daughter smoking weed. You might call this the slippery slope fallacy, I simply call it human nature. If you start hiring sadists and psycopaths, abuses will happen.

        I have a friend that works in one of the most secure prisons around here. He meets with the most horrible child abusers and murderers in the country. Guess what, they are all polite and nice to him and the other guards because they are actually treated like human beings. And since prison guards and police officers aren’t allowed to torture or beat people up, the psycopaths and sadists rarely apply for such jobs. It makes me feel safer when walking the streets, knowing that there are probably fewer sadists among our police officers than in most countries.

        When it comes to your question about the vote, I would vote no. Simply because I believe the prisoner would be less likely to comply after a beating.
        I work in health care, I’ve seen victims of beatings. I promise you, they’re rarely able to remember their name, much less talk. And they certainly wouldn’t want to help their tormentors. If the beating you’re suggesting is milder than the ones I’ve seen, we come back to my first question: “What if it doesn’t work? How far are you willing to go?”

        And like Randy wrote, a little above your comment, violence is not the answer if you want the truth.

        Apologies for the essay. I think I’ve gotten all my points across now so won’t write such long posts again in this thread. 🙂

        • Chris G
          Posted April 24, 2016 at 10:26 am | Permalink

          Hello Linn.
          I agree we need to be very clear with the definitions involved here, for both ‘when’ force/violence may be used, and ‘what’ level of force/violence.
          I think the ‘when’ is clear. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy lists ‘The Beating’ under a section called ‘One-off Acts of Torture in Emergencies’, scenarios where there is imminent threat of the killing of one or more people, and extracting information from a suspect who is considered ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ to hold key information, may prevent the killing.
          It seems to me evidently clear that we’re therefore talking about extremely rare ‘emergency’ situations where lives are at risk, and acting fast is crucial. Furthermore, we’re clearly excluding the use of force/violence as any form of revenge, punishment, political oppression, vigilanteism, deterrent, or sadistic fun.

          With regards to your assertion that “history has shown us that it will always be abused”, doesn’t that continue to be the case whether or not we agree for the ethical use of force in some situations? If the police/military are abusing their powers today, why would the arguments being proposed here for limited use of force/violence in very limited scenarios make that any worse? Particularly given the insistence that it must remain illegal, all police actions will be fully accountable in a court of law, and every police officer will know that?
          And why would this proposition make it any more (or less) likely that sons and daughters will be arrested for smoking weed?
          I’m not sure of the relevance or your concern about hiring sadists to conduct interrogation by force/violence, nor your suggestion that maybe another prisoner could do it. I’m assuming existing police officers would continue to conduct interrogation of suspects.

          On to the issue of ‘what’ force/violence may be used – I agree, this is very difficult.
          But I think we already have a problem with setting limits for any type of interrogation even prior to escalation to the use of force/violence.
          In your previous post, bemoaning Sam Harris’ lack of clarify on the ‘what’, you state: “If his opinion is that the only form that can be justified is a slap to the face, then that’s fine with me”. But you don’t explain why you’d draw the line there, nor why you think that act of violence would be permissible? I think slapping faces would be illegal in both the UK and US today.
          And what about more general techniques that we take for granted: sleep-depravation; making suspects stand for long periods of time: withholding food and water; leaving them in the cold; bright lights in the face; banging tables; shouting at them; verbally threatening the suspect? Some would label these actions as ‘violent’. Don’t we already have an ethical problem knowing where to draw the line in today’s ‘regular’ interrogation?

          You say you’d vote no in the ‘thought experiment’ I posited “Simply because I believe the prisoner would be less likely to comply after a beating.” Do you mean even if he/she provided the crucial information required to save the threatened life, they wouldn’t comply beyond that point, and that’s a problem? Or that force/torture could never extract the information being sort?
          Your claim that “violence is not the answer if you want the truth”, is simply not true. We know that just the threat of violence has prompted suspects to reveal vital information.

          What level of violence would be ok? Well, I think we draw a line at anything that would cause irreparable physical damage. So cutting-off fingers, the use of Ben’s broken broomstick, knocking out teeth, blinding an eye, pulling off finger-nails, would be forbidden.
          And I think it would have to be fully understood that, when all action has failed to obtain the information required, force/violence must come to a stop once a defined limit is reached. And of course, we need to accept that that the suspect may lie. There’s no guarantee we’ll extract the required information – but we might.
          It seems to me that the argument as to whether force/violence/torture could EVER be justified needs to be resolved before we go on to define at what level. Then we can decide if threatening violence, or face-slapping, or pushing a suspect off a chair on to the ground, or more, would be an acceptable limit.

          Linn, I truly share yours and Ben’s concerns about this issue.
          As I stated in my comment above, I wish I could find a way to revert back to my previous, more comfortable position: that torture is, and always will be, flat wrong.
          Even Sam writes in his article: “I hope my case for torture is wrong”, and: “I would be sincerely grateful to have my mind changed on this subject”.
          I think we should all really admire Sam for tackling this issue, questioning whether force/violence of any sort is every justified in a civilised society. As with self-defence and legitimate war, I think the answer is clearly yes.
          And, unfortunately, in very limited ‘emergency’ situations, I genuinely think torture can be ethically justified too.
          Chris G (in the UK)

          • Linn
            Posted April 24, 2016 at 11:20 am | Permalink

            I think I have to come back my original thought on this topic: That Sam Harris and you think about different things than Ben and me when you hear the word torture.
            A simple slap in the face isn’t torture in my mind and wouldnt get someone to talk either way. Being forced to stand for days or being left in the cold would be though. I would still want slaps in the face to be illegal, but if you think a slap in the face is torture, I will agree that it can be ethically justified to save a life. I would volunteer to get slapped in the face daily if it would save a child every time.
            I will always think of rape and cut off fingers when I hear the word torture though, and that is probably why people misunderstand Harris on this.

            My point about hiring sadists is that someone has to do the torture and throughout history those people have been the worst humanity has to offer. I don’t want those people in uniforms. And my comment about kids smoking weed was a point about how likely sadists are to abuse other prisoners when in power.

            My point about the prisoner not complying comes from my thoughts about what I would do as a psycho kidnapper in such a time sensitive situation. I would simply think “screw these bastards” and send them in the wrong direction.

            I’m glad to hear you say that the violence must come to an end once the limit is reached.
            I was creeped out at the thought of police officers being in charge of the torture until the prisoner “confesses”. That would remind me of the inquisition.

            There have been a few cases where officers have simply interrogated the prisoner until they get the answer they want. I remember a case (dont remember the name of the documentary unfortunately) where a group of teenagers were accused of murdering two boys. One of the teenagers was somewhat mentally handicapped and the police took the chance to interrogate him. They simply told him that he had killed the boys, and after a day of interrogation, he finally agreed with them. Voila, a confession. Of course, after many years in prison, it was found out that the teenagers were innocent but it was too late then. Their lives were already destroyed.

            To end this (I think my comment is slightly shorter than the last at least), the disagreement here seems to come down to definitions. I think of Abu Ghraib and the racks of the inquisition, you think of slaps in the face. That’s why we come to different conclusions.

            I’m glad for the discussion and thank you for answering. 🙂
            As a side note, I do share Bens hate of thought experiments. They seem to support a binary way of thinking. It’s always: “Would you kill person A or person B?” Me:” How about killing neither.” “Sorry, not allowed”.
            Sigh.

            • Posted April 24, 2016 at 11:40 am | Permalink

              “I think I have to come back my original thought on this topic: That Sam Harris and you think about different things than Ben and me when you hear the word torture.”

              I think that may be true in your case, but given Ben’s conflation of torture with throwing numbers of people in front of a bus, or cutting people open for their organs, there’s more to it. I think his is a stand on principle where a slap in the face would be torture in his mind.

              “A simple slap in the face isn’t torture in my mind and wouldnt get someone to talk either way.”

              I would consider that torture, and do think it would get someone to talk in certain circumstances. It would get me to talk, if for no other reason than the fact it would make it clear to me that these guys are willing to break the law to get me to talk, and that they might go further if I didn’t. Just the threat of torture I suspect would get many people to talk.

              • Linn
                Posted April 24, 2016 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

                I’ll let Ben speak for himself yes.
                I certainly don’t get images of people getting slapped in the face in my head when I think of this topic. I always think of something far worse. That’s why I think it’s great that Chris G bothered to answer me and clarify things. 🙂

              • Posted April 24, 2016 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

                “I certainly don’t get images of people getting slapped in the face in my head when I think of this topic. I always think of something far worse.”

                Which is why many of us think this is a discussion that should be had. So what we mean by torture, and what types of torture we might find acceptable, or unacceptable in certain circumstances can be debated, and clarified.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted April 24, 2016 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

                “It would get me to talk, if for no other reason than the fact it would make it clear to me that these guys are willing to break the law to get me to talk, and that they might go further if I didn’t.”

                Which leads to the paradoxical conclusion that if it was legal, it *wouldn’t* get you to talk?

                Although paradoxical, it is a quite valid point psychologically.

                cr

              • Posted April 25, 2016 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

                Which is why many of us think this is a discussion that should be had. So what we mean by torture, and what types of torture we might find acceptable, or unacceptable in certain circumstances can be debated, and clarified.

                Torture is, and of necessity must be, that which the victim considers unacceptable, intolerable.

                It doesn’t even have to be remotely physical. For nearly everybody reading these words, being shown a live surveillance feed of an oblivious loved one would be overwhelmingly more than enough to be broken. Even if the torturer didn’t even hint at awareness of the video (or even actively dismissed concerns of its significance) and simply calmly and politely and unthreateningly asked questions.

                Or, for that matter, a policeman in New York could do nothing more than have a small handheld toilet plunger as a desk ornament that he starts fiddling with. Many here would be broken by that, as well.

                Examples such as these should demonstrate why even Sam’s proposal that we give after-the-fact dispensation to torturers if we agree with them that the victim’s skin was dark enough…these examples demonstrate why, no, Virginia, torture can’t even hypothetically be tolerated. Not even a little bit, not even if you really want to.

                If somebody can be tortured, then anybody can be tortured.

                Besides which, to paraphrase Lincoln, as I would not be tortured, so, too, I would not be a torturer. Not even indirectly as a tacitly-consenting “benefactor” in a friendly police state that had the strictest guidelines on whom the State would terrorize.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted April 25, 2016 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

                “Torture is, and of necessity must be, that which the victim considers unacceptable, intolerable.”

                So you’re saying what constitutes torture is subjected, and based on how an individual reacts. So simply being threatened with arrest would amount to torture if the person being threatened finds it unacceptable, and intolerable? Sorry not buying it.

              • Posted April 25, 2016 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

                If you think that my objection would extend to normal arrest, then you’ve not read a single thing I’ve ever written on the subject of morality.

                Because practically every time I do, the first principle I lay out is that one must not do unto others that which others do not wish to have done unto them, save for the minimal amount necessary to prevent them from violating this principle.

                A typical arrest is obviously distressing to the suspect, and the suspect obviously does not wish to be arrested. However, police are also required to use minimal (even if substantial) force in detaining suspects, they’re only permitted to arrest people when certain well-defined circumstances present, they’re forbidden from mistreating prisoners once arrested, and so forth. And the overarching principle is that suspects are those whom we as a society have good reason to believe represent a further threat and so must be quarantined until the gears of due process can ensure a satisfactory outcome.

                Torture is the exact opposite of that sort of civilized approach to societal self-protection. It is the doing-unto of a person exactly what is most wished not to be done unto, and the torture, of necessity, must escalate at least until the torturer is satisfied that the victim’s will has been completely broken.

                So it should be obvious that my objection isn’t to doing that to people which they find objectionable; rather, my objection is to the perversion of the open feedback loop that blows away all limits to what people find objectionable, even on paper at least to the point that they’ve become enslaved to the will of the torturer.

                b&

                >

              • Posted April 25, 2016 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

                “If you think that my objection would extend to normal arrest, then you’ve not read a single thing I’ve ever written on the subject of morality.”

                First of all I never said a normal arrest I said the threat of arrest which is something police often do during interrogations of suspects, they go even further than that tell them if they give them the information they need it will go easier on them, that they could be spared the death penalty.
                What if the suspect found this so intolerable that they killed them self, would it then amount to torture?

              • Posted April 25, 2016 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

                The death penalty is every bit as unconscionable as torture, and every formal definition I’ve ever encountered of torture includes credible death threats and mock executions.

                So, obviously, threatening to use the state-run murder machine to extract information from somebody is clearly torture.

                If you really want to know if something is torture or not, ask yourself what you yourself would be willing to do to escape. Many here would admit to all sorts of crimes they didn’t commit if they thought it was the only way to escape death row — just as most would admit to crimes if that’s what it would take to save a limb about to be cut off by pruning shears.

                b&

                >

              • Posted April 25, 2016 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

                “The death penalty is every bit as unconscionable as torture, and every formal definition I’ve ever encountered of torture includes credible death threats and mock executions.”

                Well in that sense torture is legal. Prosecutors regularly offer plea bargains where a person pleads guilty to avoid the death penalty.

              • Posted April 25, 2016 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

                …and I’ve repeatedly argued against plea bargaining.

                And against drone strikes, for-profit prisons, Gitmo, corporal punishment, the War on Terror, and all sorts of other related obscenities you might also care to dredge up with similar nonsense of, “Well, we do this-and-that that’s similarly horrific, so why do you have a problem piling on even more horror?”

                Why is the answer to evil always to revel in more evil, rather than to work to make the world a better place? Why is one sort of evil always an excuse for another, rather than a pointer for even more shame we should strive to free ourselves of?

                b&

                >

              • Posted April 25, 2016 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

                I wanted to add that I think that makes my point I began with that the discussion should be had. If you think such practices as plea bargains amount to torture how are you going to make the case without discussing torture.

            • Chris G
              Posted April 24, 2016 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

              Hey Linn.
              The word torture does indeed have horrible connotations. But we’ve agreed definitions are very important, and I think the ‘when’ criteria I outlined is very specific, and clearly excludes use of rape and the cutting off of fingers. It also excludes the extraction of ‘confessions’ – we’re talking about obtaining information only where that will prevent imminent death of innocent lives in a time pressured situation.
              I understand what you say about ‘thought experiments’, but the question I posed was based on a very realistic situation that actually happens.
              I wonder if one aspect of the difficulty in this conversation, is that we’d all rather we never had to consider the use of force/violence in any situation – we wish we lived in a world that never required it.
              As I said in an earlier comment, even in some future ideal society, situations like the one in ‘The Beating’ will still occur (but hopefully far less frequently) and we will still have to face the same dilemma.
              Part of the problem here is that the vast majority of us never have to face the issue – which is why I proposed the idea of a ‘civilian panel’ that HAS to vote on the escalation to force/violence in a police interrogation; so we can imagine what it might be like to be in that time pressured position.
              I’m sure none of us would wish to be a police-officer faced with a situation like ‘The Beating’.
              Maybe the police deserve more respect for having to deal with these situations on our behalf – and the military for fighting the wars we wish we never had to fight.

              • Linn
                Posted April 24, 2016 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

                I’m glad we agree that the definition is of utmost importance and that there has to be a strict limit that no one is allowed to cross, no matter the situation.

                I am glad we have the police, but that doesnt exclude them from criticism since we see that a lot of police officers are unfortunately abusing their power.
                It’s just like with doctors. I may get annoyed with all the criticism we get, but I’m still glad that someone is reporting all the doctors abusing their patients.

                On a happier note, this video shows the type of police officers I love and the type I’m used to:

                View on YouTube

              • Linn
                Posted April 24, 2016 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

                Damn. Im bad at making links. The “View on YouTube” link takes you to the right video, but I was unable to embed a description. It’s just a video showing police officers dealing with a drunkard (nothing sketchy, I promise).

    • Posted April 25, 2016 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      I’ve addressed all your objections above, or at least significantly. For example:

      “…an argument that we don’t need to always prosecute all torturers”

      –Again, Sam says the exact opposite of this.

      In that case, Sam is advocating either for contempt of the law or that torturers should be above the law. As those are the only remaining alternatives, it should be obvious that I was giving him the benefit of the doubt in suggesting that he was angling for legal amendments to carve out special, controlled circumstances in which torture could be considered acceptable.

      But to explicitly leave torture outside the law entirely and still argue for it as an occasional moral imperative?

      Seriously?

      b&

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted April 25, 2016 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

        “But to explicitly leave torture outside the law entirely and still argue for it as an occasional moral imperative?

        Seriously?”

        Yes, Ben, and I agree with him.

        The law cannot cover every conceivable situation and shouldn’t try. One cannot guarantee perfect justice by legislation. That’s where the role of jury trials and judicial discretion comes in, to (hopefully) ensure that an injustice is not perpetrated by inappropriate enforcement of a law.

        As soon as you make a tiny loophole by authorising torture in certain cases, no matter how circumscribed, people will try to misuse it. There’s always some bastard who will try to push the limits.

        cr

        • Posted April 26, 2016 at 11:18 am | Permalink

          We’re again retreading the same ground. Nobody ever open discussions about murder, rape, or arson with claims that they are righteously required at times. And everybody understands that we have judges and juries to consider when leniency might be called for in extenuating circumstances.

          If you’d be upset at somebody saying that we as a society sometimes need to have our police rape babies if their own judgement at the time determines it’s really necessary, you should understand why we’re just as upset when “torture” is substituted for “baby rape.”

          Cheers,

          b&

          >

          • Posted April 26, 2016 at 11:50 am | Permalink

            “If you’d be upset at somebody saying that we as a society sometimes need to have our police rape babies if their own judgement at the time determines it’s really necessary, you should understand why we’re just as upset when “torture” is substituted for “baby rape.””

            Here you go again comparing things that aren’t even close to being comparable. If police raping babies sometime resulted in saving dozens of lives, it is a discussion we’d be having.

            • Posted April 26, 2016 at 11:59 am | Permalink

              If police raping babies sometime resulted in saving dozens of lives, it is a discussion we’d be having.

              ORLY?

              You asked for it; let’s go ahead and have that discussion.

              You’ve got a ticking time bomb a la all the weekly TV series fantasies.

              You’ve got the terrorist who planted the bomb in your interrogation room, strapped to a chair. The proverbial Louima broomstick hasn’t worked, but the call just came in that you’ve got the terrorist’s six-month-old baby in custody after raiding his home.

              Do you bring the baby in the interrogation room in front of the terrorist, and use the broomstick on the baby? After all, it’d save not only dozens of lives, but maybe even millions if the time bomb is nuclear.

              When you understand why baby rape is off the table, even in such circumstances, then you will understand why all other forms of torture are also off the table in all other circumstances.

              b&

              >

              • Posted April 26, 2016 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

                “Do you bring the baby in the interrogation room in front of the terrorist, and use the broomstick on the baby? After all, it’d save not only dozens of lives, but maybe even millions if the time bomb is nuclear.”

                That’s an entirely different question. What you’re asking is should we give in to terrorist demands, and my answer is no because it would encourage more terrorism. What the demand is is irrelevant. Try to come up with a better scenario, that’s consistent with the torture question.

              • Posted April 26, 2016 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

                What you’re asking is should we give in to terrorist demands

                No. Re-read what I wrote.

                You’re clearly willing to torture the terrorist in order to learn where the big bad bomb is so you can become the hero by disarming it and thereby saving the city.

                So, when the broomstick isn’t enough torture to make the terrorist reveal his secrets, are you willing to use the broomstick on the terrorist’s baby to see if that’ll convince him to talk?

                Torture apologists have no logically-consistent moral objection to torturing the baby. If it’s okay to torture a terrorist to save a million lives, it’s just as okay to torture the terrorist’s baby to save a million lives.

                But in the world of sanity, we realize that all torture is unjustifiable and inexcusable and horrific and senseless and ineffective and counterproductive and harmful to society, so that kind of “how crazy do you feel today?” calculus never even arises in the first place.

                b&

                >

              • Posted April 26, 2016 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

                “So, when the broomstick isn’t enough torture to make the terrorist reveal his secrets, are you willing to use the broomstick on the terrorist’s baby to see if that’ll convince him to talk?”

                If it were certain to save a million lives I don’t see how I could not torture the baby. I would rather have torturing a baby, even killing it on my conscience than a million lives. And to dovetail on your other comment I suspect a jury in the aftermath would suggest leniency in my sentencing. Particularly after thousands of parents children siblings, and spouses of those who would have died horribly from the blast, and radiation poisoning testify on my behalf.

              • Posted April 26, 2016 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

                I would rather have torturing a baby, even killing it on my conscience than a million lives. And to dovetail on your other comment I suspect a jury in the aftermath would suggest leniency in my sentencing.

                And I would rather live in a society in which the police would refuse to torture babies even if they had overwhelming confidence it would save millions of lives.

                And, fortunately for me — and, incidentally, also for you — ours is a society much closer to my ideals than yours. Indeed, go through a laundry list of the most infamous societies of modernity — Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, today’s North Korea — and you’ll find overwhelming instances of your ideals predominating. Indeed, Hitler was happy to torture and execute millions of Jews and other undesirables just to improve the state of sanitation for Germans — never mind their lives.

                As to your claim of jury support…we have overwhelming precedent of people whom nobody doubts committed of all sorts of really nasty crimes who were either found not guilty by a jury or whose convictions were overturned on appeal — and merely for such minor trivialities as procedural errors in evidence gathering and processing.

                That is, we’ve decided that we’d rather see vile scum walk the streets as free men than compromise our principles with respect to bureaucratic minutiae…

                …and here you are suggesting we violate our most sacred principles on nothing more than a beat cop’s hunch!?

                Whatever world it is you think you want to live it, you have no idea how happy you should be that that’s not the actual world you really do live in.

                b&

                >

              • Posted April 26, 2016 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

                “And, fortunately for me — and, incidentally, also for you — ours is a society much closer to my ideals than yours.”

                I don’t think that’s as true as you would like to believe. Imagine if it became public that torturing the baby of a terrorist would be certain to save a major US city from a nuclear explosion. I suspect polling would show a majority in support of it, and I suspect that any government that allowed the explosion would quickly be voted out of office, if not overthrown. We haven’t had sufficient test cases for you to be so certain where society stands. It’s easy to stand on principle before New York city is a pile of rubble. Let’s see how many people would the next time.

              • Posted April 26, 2016 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

                Perhaps Donald Trump’s success really is an indication that Americans would welcome a return to Aztec-style child sacrifice and all the rest you suggest.

                Then again, Trump has only gotten about 15% of registered Republicans to vote for him — and registered Republicans represent about 20% of the population at most. Meaning only low single digit numbers of Americans actually actively support the sort of at-any-costs over-the-top hyperbolic overreactions to imagined threats you’re hyping.

                My mind is boggled that our system is so fucked up that he and his ilk even rate an offhand comment on a news-of-the-weird segment, let alone a serious shot at the Presidency. But, then again, similar minority factions have seized power in previous until-then-civilized societies, so I suppose anything is possible.

                But, again again, why on Earth would you yourself wish to have anything to do with such insanity!?

                b&

                >

          • Posted April 26, 2016 at 11:57 am | Permalink

            I wanted to add we’d be discussing the effectiveness of baby rape in saving lives, how violent the rape is. As horrific as it may seem to you I suspect if police raping babies was 100% effective in saving dozens of lives many people would support it.

            • Posted April 26, 2016 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

              As horrific as it may seem to you I suspect if police raping babies was 100% effective in saving dozens of lives many people would support it.

              Is that really the world you want to live in? One where the cops rape babies whenever they can come up with enough of a claim that it’s for sufficient greater good?

              Even if so, we know with as much certainty as we know anything that the harm to society from a single cop raping a single baby far outweighs whatever fantasy fears you have that the baby-raping-cop is somehow saving you from. We know this because we’ve repeatedly in the past given police such powers in the name of safety and security…only to fall victim to far worse horrors from the police themselves than any criminal has ever perpetrated.

              There’s a reason why “police state” is synonymous with the worst evils of modernity.

              b&

              >

              • Posted April 26, 2016 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

                “One where the cops rape babies whenever they can come up with enough of a claim that it’s for sufficient greater good?”

                No, it would be one where we agree as a society that a cop raping a baby DID serve the greater good. Again, as with torture, I would say it should be illegal so it isn’t abused, and it would be up to a judicial system to determine whether the means justified the end.

              • Posted April 26, 2016 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

                “One where the cops rape babies whenever they can come up with enough of a claim that it’s for sufficient greater good?”

                No it would be one where as a society we agreed it WAS for the greater good. Again, as with torture, I think it should be illegal, and it would be up to the judicial system to determine whether the means justified the ends.

              • Posted April 26, 2016 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

                “Good luck with that,” as they say. Go ahead and campaign for the right of cops to rape babies for the greater good, and see whether you get any more respect than Sam has with his campaign for the moral imperative of the government to torture suspected terrorists for the greater good.

                b&

                >

              • Posted April 26, 2016 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

                “Go ahead and campaign for the right of cops to rape babies for the greater good”

                Again, and repeating this getting tiring, no one is campaigning for the right of cops to torture, or “rape babies”. We’re discussing whether in specific circumstances it might be the lesser of two evils.

              • Posted April 26, 2016 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

                …and you think that strengthens your position? “America, land of the secure and home of those who rape babies when we think it’s the lesser of two evils”?

                b&

                >

      • Chris G
        Posted April 26, 2016 at 2:36 am | Permalink

        Ben, with regard to the illegal status of torture and the case for its use “as an occasional moral imperative”, don’t we have exactly this issue with other laws? Aren’t we in agreement that there are situations where we’d support the breaking of some laws: killing (self defense, war), trespassing (Greenpeace), theft (Edward Snowden)?
        In a comment further above, you state: “The death penalty is every bit as unconscionable as torture”. I disagree. Nobody can recover from execution, but everyone will recover from the level of force/violence we’re talking about here, more so given your definition of torture as “It doesn’t even have to be remotely physical”.
        You seem overly concerned about the possibility of a slippery slope. You say “If somebody can be tortured, then anybody can be tortured.”
        The continued abuse of police and military powers does not hinge on whether we use force/violence in the very rare circumstances we’ve outlined.
        As much as we all wish the world was fundamentally different, we have to face up to the hard-questions of our reality – and accept that even in civilised societies, there are occasions when force/violence is justified, legitimate, and ethical.
        As I’ve stressed a couple of times, even in some ideal future society, we will still face the occasional situation described in ‘The Beating’.
        I think it would be really helpful if you were more specific about what you do and don’t support. So, you’re the police-officer in some future ideal society, who has to lead the questioning of the suspect that has been brought in, as described in ‘The Beating’. Knowing that all available resources are desperately looking for the car with the child inside, knowing that as the minutes tick by the car is turning into an over, tell us: what would you do as the lead officer with the suspect sat in front of you?
        Chris G

        • Chris G
          Posted April 26, 2016 at 2:38 am | Permalink

          Sorry: ‘oven’ not ‘over’.

        • Posted April 26, 2016 at 11:28 am | Permalink

          Nobody can recover from execution, but everyone will recover from the level of force/violence we’re talking about here, more so given your definition of torture as “It doesn’t even have to be remotely physical”.

          So we’ll add perfect ignorance of PTSD to the list of reasons why you’re not qualified to have an opinion on such matters.

          Hell, never mind the permanent mental scars torture often leaves its victims…the torturers themselves generally have their lives ruined. Especially if they start out as basically decent people.

          As I’ve stressed a couple of times, even in some ideal future society, we will still face the occasional situation described in ‘The Beating’.

          Again again again. “The Beating” is an absurd fantasy that projects perfect third-person narrative omniscience onto an horrific act of racially-motivated bigoted violence. Even if it’s loosely based on actual events, at the time events were unfolding, no such certainty as the faery tale asserts could even hypothetically have presented. Even at its best, the entire narrative is Monday Morning quarterbacking — and even in its presentation, it’s a very transparent attempt at justifying that which even the storyteller realizes is unjustifiable.

          You’d do much better to get your morality plays from Harry Potter or Star Wars than from “The Beating.” At least they don’t glorify brutality nearly as much. “The Beating” reads much more like a Bible story, in which it’s a good thing that Moses and his Merry Men raped all the children after murdering their parents, because YHWH told them to punish the evildoers. I mean, YHWH is all-knowing and all-loving, so we don’t have to wonder if he got the facts right, do we?

          b&

          >

          • Chris G
            Posted April 27, 2016 at 5:16 am | Permalink

            Ben, clearly you haven’t given much consideration to the feedback myself, Mike Paps, and pacopicopiedra provided regarding your approach and line of reasoning in this discussion i.e. misrepresenting views, conflating issues, attacking straw-men, cherry-picking issues whilst evading others, avoiding questions directly asked of you, performing the Gish Gallop.
            You now claim I’m “not qualified to have an opinion on such matters”, and introduce ridicule in suggesting I would do better to get my morality from ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Star Wars’.
            I’m starting to wonder if you’re really capable of constuctive discussion on this issue – but I haven’t quite given up hope. Yet.

            I think there’s a couple of key points you’re missing here: 1) Whether we like it or not, there are emergency situations even in a civilised-society where force/violence is legitimate and ethical e.g. personal self-defence. 2) To justify such cases of force/violence is NOT to advocate that all violence is ok – there’s clearly a crucial distinction between types and circumstances of violence.
            You’re wrong to suggest I should understand why you are “Just as upset when ‘torture’ is substituted for ‘baby rape'”. The strictly limited force/violence we’re talking about here, is in no way comparable to ‘baby rape’.

            I agree PTSD is an important consideration, one we should take very seriously. For folk involved in any of the roles that involve traumatic experience, we should provide as much preparative training as possible, and all the support and care we can, should they suffer with this condition.
            But we should note that the risk of PTSD for those required to conduct the limited level of police interrogation-force/violence we’re talking about here, is much lower than other situations/roles we often take for granted.
            However, I freely admit, I wouldn’t wish to be the police-officer having to face a situation like ‘The Beating’.
            But nor would I want to be an infantry soldier on the front-line of a legitimate war, nor the pilot flying bombing raids; I wouldn’t want to be fire-fighter having to pull the charred bodies of children out of house-fires; or a traffic-medic dealing with horrific car accidents. I wouldn’t want to be a doctor performing abortions either – but I recognise that ALL of these roles play an essential part in maintenance of a civilised-society. And we should be extremely grateful that there are men and women prepared to conduct those roles on our behalf.

            You’re right to question whether murder, rape, or arson could ever be ethical. But what about my question (which you chose to ignore) about other legalities? I’ll ask again: do you agree there are situations where we’d support the breaking of some laws: killing (self defense, war), trespassing (Greenpeace), theft (Edward Snowden)?
            It would also be really helpful if you could answer the two other questions you ignored: are you a pacifist, or do you accept that going to war is sometimes legitimate, despite knowing that brutal warfare will almost certainly take innocent civilian lives?
            And again, what would you do as the lead-office in a case similar to ‘The Beating’, where you are as sure as anyone can ever be (based on robust comprehensive evidence) that the suspect holds information about the whereabouts of the car? (To make it easier for you, assume all the police, the suspect, the mother/owner of the car, and the child, are of the same race).
            I’ll go away and think it through too, then summarise in a further comment what I’d do, so we can compare.
            Chris G.

            • Posted April 27, 2016 at 10:22 am | Permalink

              The strictly limited force/violence we’re talking about here, is in no way comparable to ‘baby rape’.

              Then we’ll add perfect ignorance of current affairs to your list of lack of qualifications.

              Abu Ghraib. Guantanamo Bay. CIA black sites and extraordinary rendition to Saudi Arabia.

              You know why you keep banging on your absurd (yet still horrific) made-up fantasy faery tale from the philosophy comic books? Because, even though it’s fiction, it’s still the only example you have of something that isn’t over-the-top Torquemada-level evil.

              Whatever limits you think you’re imagining would somehow magically apply…they don’t; they never have; and they never will.

              And how could they? Even torture advocates typically realize that torture only even theoretically works when the victim understands the torture to be intolerable. So, obviously, you have to keep ramping up the torture to whatever level is intolerable for the victim. As I noted, that could be something as “mild” as a surveillance image of a loved one.

              Torture is psychological, not physical. The pain is simply a means of communicating to the victim that there is no escape save complete submission to the will of the sadist.

              I’ll ask again: do you agree there are situations where we’d support the breaking of some laws: killing (self defense, war), trespassing (Greenpeace), theft (Edward Snowden)?

              I’ve been quite clear on all those subjects. You just don’t like my answers because I’m not embracing your bloodthirsty and brutally barbaric fantasies.

              Laws should only be broken when the law itself is unjust or otherwise in error. And lawbreaking in such instances should be openly embraced for the purpose of fixing the broken law. Judges and juries should exercise judgement and compassion in sentencing and take into account extenuating circumstances — some of which are reasonable and some of which are irrelevant.

              Doing unto others as they do not wish to be done unto is only permissible to the minimum extent necessary to prevent them from violating this principle. Though that sometimes might include killing, it is incumbent upon societies to strive to minimize such necessities — and, indeed, we ourselves have done so to a great extent. And, obviously, even incarceration itself is highly problematic, though it’s typically our least-worst option these days. We need to reform our criminal justice system into a rehabilitation system, not giving up hope on anybody — and, even more importantly, we need to fix the societal ills (lack of education, financial security, healthcare, etc.) that drive people to crime in the first place.

              And again, what would you do as the lead-office in a case similar to ‘The Beating’, where you are as sure as anyone can ever be (based on robust comprehensive evidence) that the suspect holds information about the whereabouts of the car?

              I would carry out the duties of my office with the utmost professionalism and dedication to the principles society holds most dear that I could muster. First and foremost, I would make sure that my own frustration did not compromise my integrity. And I would keep in mind that we do not live in a perfect world, that I’m not a superhero who can magically save the day, and that actively making the world an even more evil place is the exact opposite of what I was hired to do.

              And I’d fire on the spot any idiot who even hinted at getting his operations procedures from a philosophy comic book. Fools like that are mentally unsuited to police work and have no business being on any force in the first place. Hell, I’d probably lodge an official complaint against whoever was stupid enough to hire the schmuck in the first place for failing wash him out before he was hired.

              Might the child die? Perhaps.

              But — and this is the point you keep missing in your superhero save-the-day fantasies — at this point I don’t even know that the child even exists in the first place! Again, the “mother” could have made up the whole thing to use the police to extract revenge on the victim — not to mention all the other potentialities that you persist in pretending couldn’t possibly present. We know for a fact that, especially in super-emotional cases such as the one you describe, police are particularly prone to error, which is why police are legally incapable of arriving at a burden of proof rising to the level of, “beyond a reasonable doubt.” And, for that matter, why, even when a judge and jury have established the facts to that standard, they’re still forbidden from inflicting cruel and unusual punishment.

              At this point, I have to ask what is is you’re so terrified of that you’d sell our most sacred founding principles as a society up the river just on the laughable-were-it-not-horrific chance that it might work this once when it’s never worked before?

              b&

              >

              • Chris G
                Posted April 27, 2016 at 11:43 am | Permalink

                And the show goes on …
                Further to your hitherto astute observations of my character flaws, I’m now delighted to learn I have “perfect ignorance”, “lack of qualifications”, and a love of “bloodthirsty and brutally barbaric fantasies”. Gosh, I’ve clearly got much to improve.

                I’m impressed you at least pretended to answer my role-play question, putting yourself in the shoes of the lead-officer in ‘The Beating’ case. The mother of the child in the car will me most impressed, I’m sure, with your “professionalism”, ensuring “frustration did not compromise my integrity”, your commitment to “fire on the spot any idiot” who may threaten the suspect, and she’ll jump with joy at your intention to “lodge an official complaint against whoever was stupid enough to hire the schmuck in the first place”.
                Bravo. Let’s hope your restraint helps the mother, and her family, through the funeral of the child.

                Nobody here has come remotely close to defending Abu Ghraib.
                The emergency circumstances in which some limited force/violence should be considered, will be very rare.
                So yes you’re right, there does appear to be very few cases publicised. But here’s one for you to tear-apart: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/10/world/kidnapping-has-germans-debating-police-torture.html

                With regard to “sacred founding principles as a society”, I was including: doing all we ethically can to save innocent lives. Silly me, will I ever learn – I’ll strike it off the list of principles we should live by.

                So. As promised, here are my thoughts if I were the lead police-officer in ‘The Beating’ case.
                Just to clarify, I am not, nor have I ever been, a police officer.
                And I have never endured an interview, nor interrogation, by the police on suspicion of a crime.
                But I can still clearly imagine what it might be like to be in the shoes of both a police-officer and the suspect in this situation.
                Clearly there’s a wide range of techniques to try, starting mild, then increasing in severity:

                – Despite all kinds of possible hypothetical conclusions (e.g. the woman’s lying, the suspect is a look-alike etc.) assume the worse-case scenario: a child is stuck in a makeshift oven.

                – Start by trying to reason with the suspect: explain that if the child dies the crime and sentence will be much worse.

                – Appeal to their ‘better nature’: it’s an innocent child, imagine if it were your child, or a niece/nephew.

                – Consider bringing in a member of their family to speak with them: so they can try reason and appeal, and guilt-trip.

                – Use a combination of ‘good cop’/’bad cop’: have the ‘good cop’ having to hold-back the ‘bad cop’ who’s faking losing his temper.

                – Wear the suspect down with torture-lite techniques: sleep deprivation, minimal food/drink; promises of sleep and hot food if he provides the information now etc.

                – Try to trick them with another ‘fake’ prisoner: periodically place the suspect in a cell with someone acting the role of another criminal who’s highly skilled and experienced in getting other prisoners to talk, maybe he can obtain the whereabouts of the car.

                – Ramp up the threats: try to scare the suspect psychologically, suggest it won’t be possible to hold the ‘bad cop’ back much longer etc.

                – Tell the suspect we now have no choice but to call an expert interrogator. Bring in the biggest meanest looking officer available, the other officers act (fake) visibly scared of him. Have this interrogator explain in vivid detail what he’s going to do to the suspect if he doesn’t speak NOW!

                – Have the mean-interrogator interrupted and called out to deal with another prisoner. Fake an enactment of torture next door so that the suspect can hear it, violent crashing sounds, screams of pain that then go silent. The suspect hears someone call for medical backup. Later, fake the mean-interrogator going back, and have the suspect hear the other ‘prisoner’ break, shouting “Ok, ok, I’ll tell you …”

                – Have the mean interrogator come back to the suspect: hot and sweaty, fake-blood on his shirt, and fists. Threaten the suspect again.

                – Get physical: pushing, slapping, knocking the suspect to the floor, kicking to the legs only.

                – The mean interrogator orders all the other officers out of the room: tells the suspect he could easily stage ‘an accident’, drags the suspect out to a flight of stairs, threatening to throw him down if he doesn’t speak now … then ‘interrupted’ by other officers who stop the act and return the suspect to the interrogation room (all planned and staged in case they have to try this technique again later).

                – If all of this fails to obtain the required information, repeat the stages: wear the suspect down more, try to reason and appeal again, threaten, call in the big man for another session.

                – As lead-officer directing matters, I will ensure AT ALL TIMES that physical violence NEVER increases beyond the limits described.

                – If, during the interrogation, the car has been located by search parties, then of course all this will stop. Otherwise, no reason why fresh officers can’t be brought in to keep going round the cycle.

                As Mike Paps has said, given we all know some police are more than capable of ignoring the law and taking matters into their own hands, the suspect may well fear that the violence will ramp up when in fact, unbeknownst to the suspect, there’s a clear limit as described here.
                Chris G.

              • Posted April 27, 2016 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

                Oh, good lord.

                Your fantasy revolves around a child in immediate danger of death from heat exhaustion by being locked in a car…and you’re going to use multiple rounds sleep deprivation to torture the location out of your victim?

                So, you also know nothing of human physiology. In summer, that child would be in serious danger after about ten minutes, long since dead after an hour. Sleep deprivation isn’t even going to rise to the level of annoyance until at least 24 hours.

                Do I really have to take this nonsense seriously?

                Your whole detailed daydream is nothing more than a really bad TV script. There’s not one slightest bit of it that has any more bearing on reality than this nonsense of using sleep deprivation to save a kid locked in an overheating car.

                b&

                >

              • Posted April 27, 2016 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

                “And the show goes on …
                Further to your hitherto astute observations of my character flaws, I’m now delighted to learn I have “perfect ignorance”, “lack of qualifications”, and a love of “bloodthirsty and brutally barbaric fantasies”. Gosh, I’ve clearly got much to improve.”

                It makes me wonder when the roolz, particularly #8 come into play. I’ve managed to engage in this discussion without once mentioning Ben’s “bleeding heart”, or other character flaws I perceive. OH, and I’m not suggesting our host should do other than he’s inclined to do, (Rool #6) I’m just pointing out that I’ve seen people warned for less. Maybe I just don’t understand what constitutes an insult.

              • Chris G
                Posted April 27, 2016 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

                Oh, I thought you said there was no child in the car, all made up?
                Yes, a child in a car with all windows up could die very quickly. But what if he opened all the windows? Best keep interrogating him. What if he took the child out of the car and placed the car-seat in a shaded area? Best keep interrogating him. What if he took the child to a relative who’s caring for the baby, too scared to contact the police? Best keep interrogating him.
                But most importantly, do NOT let any of this distract you from making that complaint report about the hiring of the schmuck.
                Priorities Ben, priorities!

              • Posted April 27, 2016 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

                In other words, you’re now waaaaay beyond your previous declarations of certainty of the situation “beyond a reasonable doubt” to the point that you don’t even know if the child is in a car in the first place, let alone if the child is in imminent danger.

                But you’re still all hot and bothered to make the life of your victim a living hell, just so you can free your inner Torquemada.

                If the child’s life isn’t in imminent danger, your own justification for torture goes out that opened window — along with the child himself, of course. What child is unable to climb out an open window, or to shout from help through it, or so on?

                So now you’ve got some hypothetical in which it’s been several days, weeks perhaps, and the child is still missing but you’ve been torturing your victim non-stop…

                …and you’re wondering why I’m making comparisons to Abu Ghraib and Gitmo and the rest?

                We haven’t even left the realm of the hypothetical, and you yourself just turned your very own “limited” fantasy into a carbon copy of what the rest of us consider textbook examples of the horrific unacceptability of torture!

                Are you trying to make my arguments for me!?

                b&

                >

              • Chris G
                Posted April 27, 2016 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

                Yes we clearly know ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that: this suspect took the car (CCTV, he has possessions from the car in his pockets); that there was a child in the car (confirmed by other customer at the gas-station who walked by the car just before it was driven off); the child is fastened in a car-seat (can NOT climb out of any window).
                I think it’s important to assume the worse-case when interrogating the suspect: that the child’s life is in imminent danger, and the car may be somewhere very remote where screams won’t be heard.
                I do no think the suspect is a “victim”, he is not put through “living hell”, and I do not have an “inner Torquemada”.
                But yes I agree the interrogation would not go on for days.
                As I’ve stressed all along, there must be strict limits.

              • Posted April 27, 2016 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

                But yes I agree the interrogation would not go on for days.

                Then we’re right back to your ignorance of human physiology, what with your position that you would use sleep deprivation before you “got physical.”

                Sorry, but I’m going to leave the discussion here. You’re doing nothing now but repeatedly making my points, especially with your own detailed recreation of Abu Ghraib in your fantasy for rescuing a child trapped in an overheating car. It couldn’t be more clear at this point that you’re only interested in excuses to torture people, and that the whole point of the exercise for you is the torture.

                Which is exactly what most horrifies me and the rest of us exclaiming in horror that we should never, ever, commit the heinous act of torture for all the same reasons we should never rape babies and the like.

                Cheers,

                b&

                >

              • Chris G
                Posted April 27, 2016 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

                Yes good point about sleep-deprivation – that would need to come later. See, now we’re working as a team Ben, we’re improving the process (high five!)
                Your accusation that I’m “only interested in excuses to torture people, and that the whole point of the exercise for you is the torture”, is beyond despicable. You think that’s the main motivation for Sam Harris too? Really, what are the chances that you, or anybody else, genuinely believes that?
                You’ve made it clear that you consider many non-physical interrogation techniques as ‘torture’.
                So do this one final thing Ben: given all my assumptions above about the case (CCTV, possessions in pockets, child in the car etc. etc) explain what you would do with the suspect for the first two hours you have him in front of you?

  43. Edward Duggal
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 5:37 am | Permalink

    Many of the criticisms of Harris are overblown. He’s not racist, and he’s not advocated for atrocities as his opponents have argued.

    Nevertheless, although he has become better on the issue recently, perhaps after having talked to Maajid Nawaz who has a more nuanced view of Islam and foreign policy, I still think that Sam Harris overlooks the role of Western foreign policy and other sociopolitical circumstances in the Middle East far too much, and that he holds an idyllic, benign view of the United States (and Israel) in which anything disastrous carried out by the United States or Israel is simply a “mistake” or “collateral damage”. Harris, thus, completely overlooks the countless occasions on which the US has supported genocidal regimes, engaged in wars over resources, and so on. Chomsky called him out on this in their online debate, yet Harris continues to think that Western powers are humanitarian actors.

    People often compare the reaction to Harris with the reaction to Peter Singer’s views on some issues, but Singer is a much more sophisticated ethical thinker. When the controversy over the Muhammad cartoons flared up in 2006, Singer didn’t join in the chorus praising the West’s values; instead, he pointed out the dishonesty of a West which had imprisoned David Irving for questioning the Holocaust. And, unlike Harris, Singer has stood explicitly against the Western wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, Israel’s illegal occupation and annexation of Palestine, as well as Israel’s war crimes.

    • Vaal
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      “I still think that Sam Harris overlooks the role of Western foreign policy and other sociopolitical circumstances in the Middle East far too much,”

      Yes, but it occurs in a way that is sort of understandable and in a way, unnoticed by Sam.

      It’s understandable that Sam could be motivated by the idea that there is so much argued for sociopolitical and other factors for conflict/violence, that he wants to bring balance by emphasizing the role of religion that people aren’t giving enough credit for. Certainly, to show he’s not blinkered he’ll often say “I’m not dismissing other sociopolitical causes for unrest and grievances…” But he doesn’t really explore the other causes so much as to raise them in a sort of “Yes, BUT” way, just what he criticizes his opponents for doing. The end result is nonetheless to end up sort of like those he criticizes – looking like he’s just paying lip-service to important causal factors, with an unbalanced emphasis on religious factors.

    • peepuk
      Posted April 24, 2016 at 4:28 am | Permalink

      I think Sam Harris and Peter Singer are very similar utilitarians, I don’t see much difference. Of course, like everyone, they have their personal preferences.

      Both are sometimes thought-provoking and it’s almost inevitable that they occasionally dig holes for themselves. But that’s exactly why I like them both.

  44. Posted April 23, 2016 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I am a big fan of Sam Harris, though I do not agree with him in every respect. I’m glad some very wise men have come so thoughtfully to his defense.

  45. Posted April 23, 2016 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    P.S. Those who ask hard questions are always excoriated. Just ask Ralph Nader or any child in Sunday school who asks questions challenging the prevailing mythology or dogma.

  46. Bo
    Posted May 6, 2016 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    I say the following as an atheist who appreciates how Sam Harris challenges my own assumptions and, on one occasion, convinced me that I was fundamentally wrong about something.

    My instinct is that one of the reasons people hate Sam Harris, or at least react to him so forcefully, is that he appears to utterly lack a sense of humor. I’ve listened to dozens of his podcasts, and I’ve never heard him even chuckle about something. He admits to having a droning voice and deadpan delivery, but he also appears to take everything so seriously that humor is an impossibility. That has never made for an endearing personality.


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