Atheist Sam Harris Made Himself Look Like an Idiot in a Email Exchange with Chomsky and Has Shared It with the World

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Atheist Sam Harris Made Himself Look Like an Idiot in a Email Exchange with Chomsky and Has Shared It with the World

Post by barrysoetoro » Thu Feb 16, 2017 9:51 pm

http://www.alternet.org/belief/sam-harr ... d-it-world

The popular atheist and torture-supporter Sam Harris recently tried to "engineer a public conversation" with radical linguist Noam Chomsky "about the ethics of war, terrorism, state surveillance, and related topics." Harris shared the exchange publicly, chalking it up as an "unpleasant and fruitless encounter."

Readers might disagree.


April 26, 2015

From: Sam Harris
To: Noam Chomsky


Noam —

I reached out to you indirectly through Lawrence Krauss and Johann Hari and was planning to leave it at that, but a reader has now sent me a copy of an email exchange in which you were quite dismissive of the prospect of having a “debate” with me. So I just wanted to clarify that, although I think we might disagree substantially about a few things, I am far more interested in exploring these disagreements, and clarifying any misunderstandings, than in having a conventional debate. 



If you’d rather not have a public conversation with me, that’s fine. I can only say that we have many, many readers in common who would like to see us attempt to find some common ground. The fact that you have called me “a religious fanatic” who “worships the religion of the state” makes me think that there are a few misconceptions I could clear up. And many readers insist that I am similarly off-the-mark where your views are concerned.

In any case, my offer stands, if you change your mind.



Best,

Sam



April 26, 2015

From: Noam Chomsky
To: Sam Harris

Perhaps I have some misconceptions about you. Most of what I’ve read of yours is material that has been sent to me about my alleged views, which is completely false. I don’t see any point in a public debate about misreadings. If there are things you’d like to explore privately, fine. But with sources.



April 26, 2015

From: Sam Harris
To: Noam Chomsky

Noam —

Thanks for getting back.

Before engaging on this topic, I’d like to encourage you to approach this exchange as though we were planning to publish it. As edifying as it might be to have you correct my misreading of you in private—it would be far better if you did this publicly. It’s not a matter of having a “debate about misreadings”; it’s a matter of allowing our readers to see that conversation on difficult and polarizing topics can occasionally fulfill its ostensible purpose. If I have misread you, and you can show me where I’ve gone wrong, I would want my readers to see my views change in real time. It would be far less desirable for me to simply report that you and I clarified a few things privately, and that I have now changed my mind about X, Y, and Z.

Beyond correcting our misreadings, I think we could have a very interesting conversation about the ethical issues surrounding war, terrorism, the surveillance state, and so forth. I’d be happy to do this entirely by email, or we could speak on the phone and have the audio transcribed. In either case, you would be free to edit and refine your contributions prior to publication. My only request would be that you not go back and make such sweeping changes that I would have to totally revise my side of things.

While you’re thinking about that, I’d like to draw your attention to the only thing I have ever written about your work. The following passages appear in my first book, The End of Faith(2004), which was written in response to the events of 9/11. Needless to say, the whole discussion betrays the urgency of that period as well as many of the failings of a first book. I hesitate to put it forward here, if for no other reason than that the tone is not one that I would have ever adopted in a direct exchange with you. Nevertheless, if I’ve misrepresented your views in writing, this is the only place it could have happened. If we’re going to clarify misreadings, this would seem like a good place to start.

Best,
Sam


Leftist Unreason and the Strange Case of Noam Chomsky
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Post by barrysoetoro » Thu Feb 16, 2017 9:53 pm

Nevertheless, many people are now convinced that the attacks of September 11 say little about Islam and much about the sordid career of the West—in particular, about the failures of U.S. foreign policy. The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard gives these themes an especially luxuriant expression, declaring that terrorism is a necessary consequence of American “hegemony.” He goes so far as to suggest that we were secretly hoping that such devastation would be visited upon us:

At a pinch we can say that they did it, but we wished for it. . . . When global power monopolizes the situation to this extent, when there is such a formidable condensation of all functions in the technocratic machinery, and when no alternative form of thinking is allowed, what other way is there but a terroristic situational transfer. It was the system itself which created the objective conditions for this brutal retaliation. . . . This is terror against terror—there is no longer any ideology behind it. We are far beyond ideology and politics now. . . . As if the power bearing these towers suddenly lost all energy, all resilience; as though that arrogant power suddenly gave way under the pressure of too intense an effort: the effort always to be the unique world model.40

If one were feeling charitable, one might assume that something essential to these profundities got lost in translation. I think it far more likely, however, that it did not survive translation into French. If Baudrillard had been obliged to live in Afghanistan under the Taliban, would he have thought that the horrible abridgments of his freedom were a matter of the United States’s “effort always to be the unique world model”? Would the peculiar halftime entertainment at every soccer match—where suspected fornicators, adulterers, and thieves were regularly butchered in the dirt at centerfield—have struck him as the first rumblings of a “terroristic situational transfer”? We may be beyond politics, but we are not in the least “beyond ideology” now. Ideology is all that our enemies have.41

And yet, thinkers far more sober than Baudrillard view the events of September 11 as a consequence of American foreign policy. Perhaps the foremost among them is Noam Chomsky. In addition to making foundational contributions to linguistics and the psychology of language, Chomsky has been a persistent critic of U.S. foreign policy for over three decades. He has also managed to demonstrate a principal failing of the liberal critique of power. He appears to be an exquisitely moral man whose political views prevent him from making the most basic moral distinctions—between types of violence, and the variety of human purposes that give rise to them.

In his book 9-11, with rubble of the World Trade Center still piled high and smoldering, Chomsky urged us not to forget that “the U.S. itself is a leading terrorist state.” In support of this claim he catalogs a number of American misdeeds, including the sanctions that the United States imposed upon Iraq, which led to the death of “maybe half a million children,” and the 1998 bombing of the Al-Shifa pharmaceuticals plant in Sudan, which may have set the stage for tens of thousands of innocent Sudanese to die of tuberculosis, malaria, and other treatable diseases. Chomsky does not hesitate to draw moral equivalences here: “For the first time in modern history, Europe and its offshoots were subjected, on home soil, to the kind of atrocity that they routinely have carried out elsewhere.”42

Before pointing out just how wayward Chomsky’s thinking is on this subject, I would like to concede many of his points, since they have the virtue of being both generally important and irrelevant to the matter at hand. There is no doubt that the United States has much to atone for, both domestically and abroad. In this respect, we can more or less swallow Chomsky’s thesis whole. To produce this horrible confection at home, start with our genocidal treatment of the Native Americans, add a couple hundred years of slavery, along with our denial of entry to Jewish refugees fleeing the death camps of the Third Reich, stir in our collusion with a long list of modern despots and our subsequent disregard for their appalling human rights records, add our bombing of Cambodia and the Pentagon Papers to taste, and then top with our recent refusals to sign the Kyoto protocol for greenhouse emissions, to support any ban on land mines, and to submit ourselves to the rulings of the International Criminal Court. The result should smell of death, hypocrisy, and fresh brimstone.

We have surely done some terrible things in the past. Undoubtedly, we are poised to do terrible things in the future. Nothing I have written in this book should be construed as a denial of these facts, or as defense of state practices that are manifestly abhorrent. There may be much that Western powers, and the United States in particular, should pay reparations for. And our failure to acknowledge our misdeeds over the years has undermined our credibility in the international community. We can concede all of this, and even share Chomsky’s acute sense of outrage, while recognizing that his analysis of our current situation in the world is a masterpiece of moral blindness.

Take the bombing of the Al-Shifa pharmaceuticals plant: according to Chomsky, the atrocity of September 11 pales in comparison with that perpetrated by the Clinton administration in August 1998. But let us now ask some very basic questions that Chomsky seems to have neglected to ask himself: What did the U.S. government think it was doing when it sent cruise missiles into Sudan? Destroying a chemical weapons site used by Al Qaeda. Did the Clinton administration intend to bring about the deaths of thousands of Sudanese children? No. Was our goal to kill as many Sudanese as we could?
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