Prominent bloggers are picking on Sam Harris again.
First there is P.Z. Myers,
There he [Ed Brayton] goes again, picking on the distinguished and august Thought Leaders of Atheism, in this case Sam Harris. It’s easy to do; there are a lot of buzzwords that trigger my rage, and Harris is fond of trotting out indicators of inanity like “identity politics” and “politically correct” and, of course, “divisive”.
I’m not on board with everything I read by PZ so of course I waited till I read Ed Brayton’s post myself:
I am not going to accuse Harris of being a white supremacist, as many have done. I’m going to take his argument at face value and presume, for the sake of argument, that he means well by it. But he’s still utterly, flagrantly, dangerously wrong. A quote from that podcast:
“My tweet was actually fairly carefully written. I mean, it starts with ‘In 2017 all identity politics is detestable.’ And of course I’m thinking about the West, and I’m thinking primarily about America, I was commenting on Charlottesville. And I believe this, you know, I think Black Lives Matter is a dangerous and divisive and retrograde movement, and it is a dishonest movement. I mean, that’s not to say that everyone associated with it is dishonest, but I find very little to recommend in what I’ve seen from Black Lives Matter. I think it is the wrong move for African Americans to be organizing around the variable of race now. It’s *obviously* the wrong move, it’s *obviously* destructive to civil society.”
Ed proceeds to dissect the details of the above but I quote and comment on just one point:
Second, why is “divisive” a bad thing? Can you name a single example of progress in our society or any other that was not “divisive”? The push to end slavery was divisive, so much so that it sparked a civil war in which hundreds of thousands died; does that mean we should not have pushed to end slavery? The fight for women’s suffrage was divisive. The fight to end segregation was divisive. The fight for LGBT equality is divisive. Every single movement that resulted in a more fair, just and equal society was divisive. So why do people make such an accusation, as if it was somehow a strike against movements for social progress rather than a point in their favor? This is just lazy, sloppy thinking, and once again the use of buzzwords in place of serious argument.
Authorities do not change their actions because of opposing arguments and certainly not because of appeals to morality. Activism, to be effective, needs to find ways to impose mounting costs on authorities while they continue an objectionable course of action. Remember Vietnam.
Without divisiveness we leave the way open to unchallenged tribalism. We allow injustices, crimes, to go unchallenged.
To bring it back to a pabulum level, I sometimes read of the “need” for atheists to stick together for the sake of the “atheist movement”. If I had ever thought that the only alternative to religion was to join another movement I don’t know if I would ever have stepped out as an unbeliever.
One person once objected to the way other “Christ myth” proponents were critical of the work of Acharya S / D.M. Murdock. He tried to argue that “mythicists” should stick together. I could not think of a more certain way to making them an easy and justifiable target.
The very concept of free speech was from the beginning based on the conviction that the best and true ideas would win out if all could be openly expressed.
Or must free speech be allowed only within the confines of a nonthreatening, even docile, filter?
When living in Singapore I read an article in a local newspaper boasting that a meeting between a member of the government and a local community demonstrated that Singapore is indeed a free society. The article described the polite way people posed questions to the government member and how he had an opportunity to hear all viewpoints before explaining to them the reasons for a government action. It was all a very “open” and “free” exchange, demonstrating “democracy” in action. It reminded me of what I have seen of similar “freedoms” in action in interviews with persons who were once part of Hitler Youth. They said that there were encouraged to ask questions about what they were taught, but they always had to ask in “a good attitude”. That is, they were free to raise criticisms of the Nazi party so long as they demonstrated that they were keen to understand and submit to the “correct answers” to such criticisms.
That’s how to avoid divisiveness while maintaining the “right of free speech”.
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