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Old 11-21-2018, 10:10 PM   #201
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Re: The Sam Harris interview from Salon

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What conclusion are you drawing from this? I can easily believe there's a "correlation," between a movement and one particular technique of terror. The Soviets liked a bullet in the head from behind. The Nazis used gas. Islam still has a long way to go to match any sort of terror or genocide that the world has already dished out. It still sounds like you are trying to do a back-door essentializing of religion -- and maybe especially Islam -- as evil. Islam is a special terror when it is and isn't when it's not.

I mean, religion is part of one person's suicide attack, while another person will say religion is why they don't commit suicide bombings. It is all contingent on history.
Ideas are not contingent on history. Which ideas are accepted by a particular religion are. When criticizing the characteristic ideas of a religion, you can criticize them as ideas in an ahistorical way without assuming they are an necessary aspect of that religion. My own view is that while the contingent history of a religion will act as a kind of magnet drawing its future adherents back to certain ideas, that none of these ideas are actually necessary to the practice of that religion and can almost always be cut loose.
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Old 11-22-2018, 04:39 AM   #202
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Re: The Sam Harris interview from Salon

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Ideas are not contingent on history. Which ideas are accepted by a particular religion are. When criticizing the characteristic ideas of a religion, you can criticize them as ideas in an ahistorical way without assuming they are an necessary aspect of that religion. My own view is that while the contingent history of a religion will act as a kind of magnet drawing its future adherents back to certain ideas, that none of these ideas are actually necessary to the practice of that religion and can almost always be cut loose.
What about the idea that certain Protestant sects have that hell (or at least no heaven) awaits everyone who dies thinking that Jesus was just a man?
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Old 11-22-2018, 05:00 AM   #203
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Re: The Sam Harris interview from Salon

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Yeah that's an interesting point re: the balance between favoring strategic/economic interests over trying to use influence to shape local policy in other countries. It does seem clear we almost exclusively care about the former (case study: Arabia, Saudi) but I'm also not really sure that the outcomes associated with the latter would be particularly positive, even though the goal would be admirable. I probably wouldn't object to us trying to do more of that, but I'd guess the devil is in the details and I don't think it's easy to do in a morally defensible way, let alone an effective one.

Seems like the US needs some other countries to do something similar to pressure us into changing our bad policies also :P
There is pretty much zero chance of some large-scale punitive measure against Saudi-Arabia.

There are primarily two reasons for that. One is the economy. SA is an enormous economy and it allows a lot of foreign supply of goods and services. That is the reason often touted in news and brought up in political debate "They pay us to be quiet" etc.

The big reason is more insidious and scary however. And while it isn't exactly kept secret, it is more rarely openly talked about. SA is at the forefront in the three biggest conflicts in the middle-east. The split between Shia and Sunni muslims, the split between Persian and Arab culture and the split between direct theological rule and indirect theological law. That conflict boils down to the tension and conflict between Iran and Saudi-Arabia respectively.

In later years that conflict has grown increasingly direct, with Iran and Saudi-Arabia finding themselves on directly opposite sides in both the Syrian civil war and the Yemeni civil war. Both civil wars with complex facets that spread out into international conflicts, terrorist threats and asymmetric warfare. Basically it's the biggest hornet's nest in international politics and it is very close to breaking out into direct warfare, and the fallout is too complex to properly analyze.

Basically you have a bunch of loaded guns, a stalled nuclear development program, asymmetric warfare potential of such potential that it makes the war on terror look like a kid's birthday party, the geopolitical and cultural foundation for the biggest conflict since WW2 with the potential to spill out into an even bigger conflict if the parties' respective backers come into play... and it is all dependent on two big powerful states that both struggle with factional warfare within their own borders. The end-game is a political and diplomatic house of cards that is so shaky that not even the finest political scientists in the world would claim to hold an answer to "what if?" scenarios.

SA, for all its judicial horrors, offers some key advantages as an ally when it comes to that conflict. One is that it is a western-friendly state. The primary reason, however, is that it has no nuclear weapons and has made no serious effort to develop them. The problem with both of these advantages is that they are dependent on the family of Saud and their monarchy, which again rests on an uneasy alliance with the country's religious leaders.

Consider this: The conflict is so encompassing and so big that Israel and Saudi-Arabia are now essentially allies, with Israel lending direct intelligence support to Saudi-Arabian operations. You're looking at a conflict so powerful that even the Palestinian situation is basically brushed under the carpet.

And top it all off, the world's biggest and most powerful nation diplomatic and militarily who leads the western effort to resolve it all is bogged down by incompetent leadership, arbitrary policy-making and a history of political and strategic decisions in the middle-east that makes it about as popular there as an outbreak of black plague.

And we haven't even mentioned Turkey's role in this conflict, which is basically a 3rd party with its own historic, cultural and political reasons to be involved. Oh, and it is a NATO member. We truly live in interesting times.

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Old 11-22-2018, 06:09 AM   #204
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Re: The Sam Harris interview from Salon

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What about the idea that certain Protestant sects have that hell (or at least no heaven) awaits everyone who dies thinking that Jesus was just a man?
Can it be cut loose? Obviously yes, since many Christian denominations reject this view. Can it be taken entirely out of Christianity? In theory I think yes, but probably not as long as Protestantism is as decentralized as it is now, so not any time soon. Also, since the threat of hell is probably a useful retention and recruitment tool, denominations that keep it probably have a competitive advantage over those who don't.
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Old 11-23-2018, 01:05 AM   #205
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Re: The Sam Harris interview from Salon

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The reason why you can't figure out why people who bash Christianity defend Islam when you are around is because criticizing Christianity (or Islam) isn't the same thing as bigotry, and that is what you ask for from people towards Muslims.

After all, everyone in this conversation, except for you, have criticized both Christianity and Islam in this forum. This is a thread about Sam Harris, a famous critic of both Christianity and Islam. But nonetheless, your take is that no one will criticize Muslims, so let's post some Christian propaganda and adopt the pose of a victim of unfairness.
Christian propaganda? What are you talking about?
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Old 11-23-2018, 01:10 AM   #206
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Re: The Sam Harris interview from Salon

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The reason why you can't figure out why people who bash Christianity defend Islam when you are around is because criticizing Christianity (or Islam) isn't the same thing as bigotry, and that is what you ask for from people towards Muslims.

After all, everyone in this conversation, except for you, have criticized both Christianity and Islam in this forum. This is a thread about Sam Harris, a famous critic of both Christianity and Islam. But nonetheless, your take is that no one will criticize Muslims, so let's post some Christian propaganda and adopt the pose of a victim of unfairness.
Interesting. In the history of this forum, I've never seen you accuse anyone that bashes Christianity of being a bigot, but I criticize Islam and you accuse me of bigotry. I think you've clearly made my point.
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Old 11-23-2018, 01:31 AM   #207
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Re: The Sam Harris interview from Salon

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Interesting. In the history of this forum, I've never seen you accuse anyone that bashes Christianity of being a bigot, but I criticize Islam and you accuse me of bigotry. I think you've clearly made my point.
Here is one of two threads where I claim an attack by Bernie Sanders (and the defense of it by people in this forum) on a nominee for government office for his Christian beliefs to be bigoted. In this case I was actually defending the Christian nominee against the charge that he was Islamophobic.

https://forumserver.twoplustwo.com/4...stian-1670440/
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Old 11-23-2018, 07:19 PM   #208
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Re: The Sam Harris interview from Salon

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SA, for all its judicial horrors, offers some key advantages as an ally when it comes to that conflict. One is that it is a western-friendly state. The primary reason, however, is that it has no nuclear weapons and has made no serious effort to develop them. The problem with both of these advantages is that they are dependent on the family of Saud and their monarchy, which again rests on an uneasy alliance with the country's religious leaders.
A good analysis, but I'll say three things: 1) SA not having or pursuing a nuclear weapon is more a result than cause of its friendliness towards the West. Flip the alliance networks and my guess is that SA would be pursuing the bomb and Iran wouldn't. 2) Any transfer of power in an authoritarian system such as in SA right now is a time of vulnerability for traditional alliance networks. The relationship here has always been more personal than national (the population of both countries are not friendly, nor are there many common cultural interactions as with eg Japan, Australia, Israel, etc), and MBS's recent aggressive actions have weakened their claim to provide stability in the Middle East. 3) With the rise of fracking in the US putting an upper limit on energy prices, SA attempts to leverage oil prices for political gain is not nearly as effective as in the past, nor is it nearly as important to US interests to maintain close ties to SA. Obama's Pivot to Asia policy was a recognition of this fact.
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Old 11-23-2018, 08:32 PM   #209
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Re: The Sam Harris interview from Salon

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I think there's a valid point there, but I also think there's an element of misunderstanding (or misrepresentation?) between the two sides of this argument and a certain amount of people talking past each other. I don't think (for example) that most of the people who take issue with Harris' views on Islam would disagree that religious motivations are important to understanding actions taken by Al Qaeda or ISIS members, per se. But they do generally think it's important to place religious meaning and motivation in some larger historical and cultural context. And I agree that this is important, because it's clear that trying to evaluate the causal role of religious beliefs in a superficial way can be problematic. So I'm generally cautious about arguments like this:

It's not that I think the kind of inferences being used here are completely invalid, but I think it's easy to over-extrapolate. It's like if someone tried to predict the role of religion in American politics based only on a reading of the New Testament, would they be likely to predict the alignment of evangelicals with a right-wing populist movement with strongly negative sentiments towards immigrants? I think it would be easy to pull out quotes from Jesus and symbolically important phrases ("love your neighbor as yourself") and arrive at a very different conclusion.

So I think it's important to keep in mind that the things we think of as the most important intellectual/symbolic elements of a religion can all be given pretty diverse interpretations, and to some extent I think we're reasoning backwards from the actual existence of Islamist terrorism to putting more emphasis on those elements of the religion. Which is fair enough, to some extent. The religion is what its adherents believe and do, but that gets to this point:
I agree with all of this, but I think there is a tendency among many towards sometimes treating religion as a completely malleable vehicle through which people's prior circumstances or desires are manifested. I agree that the context can tell you much of why people are drawn to religion (and some of the changes they make to that religion), but nonetheless the form of the specific religion they're drawn to is itself also subject to a prior history and theology that is often largely unrelated to whatever current issue is motivating the people drawn to it. Thus, trying to understand their actions and motivations when operating within that religion while ignoring or downplaying the specific character of that religion misses a major component of analysis.

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I think the problem with Harris' views is that he does tend to ignore all of the cultural/historical context and the variation in views and practice within the religion, for example when he says that the only true Muslims are the ones who adhere to the extremist version he thinks is authentic, as Bill mentioned. If he were only saying that members of extremist groups were influenced towards extremism by their particular version of the religion than I doubt most people would have a problem with that. The problem isn't pointing out a connection between religious ideology and behavior, it's in trying to overgeneralize from one particular version of the religion to the entirety of the religion. (And to be clear, there are other areas where I think general criticisms of Islam as a whole would be more valid, for example complaints about treatment of women)

And so my criticism of the article Bill linked was mostly that the author didn't do a good job (IMO) of pointing out this problem with Harris' views.
FWIW, Cole is reviewing Harris's first book; since then Harris has written more about Islam and I believe his current view is that Islam needs to be reformed by liberal Muslims like Maajid Nawaz. Furthermore, alt-right and New Atheist attacks on Islam have always prominently featured the treatment of women and homosexuals in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other Middle Eastern muslim-majority countries.

Here's my view of Harris. He is a provocateur naturally drawn to controversy in politics, religion, and philosophy. He is also committed to evaluating these controversies at the object level, rejecting attempts to understand, evaluate, or interact with them sociologically or rhetorically as an attack on free speech, or as "political correctness" that makes honest conversation impossible. Since he is a generalist, his object-level analysis is usually fairly limited, making his analysis of these topics facile at best and leaving him mostly blind (or just silent) to the rhetorical manipulations of those he agrees with. However, simple object-level evaluations will always be attractive to people just learning a topic (and often useful either as a foil or spur to those more knowledgeable) , so Harris is able to maintain relevance.
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Old 11-23-2018, 08:57 PM   #210
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Re: The Sam Harris interview from Salon

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Thus, trying to understand their actions and motivations when operating within that religion while ignoring or downplaying the specific character of that religion misses a major component of analysis.
Agreed.

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FWIW, Cole is reviewing Harris's first book; since then Harris has written more about Islam and I believe his current view is that Islam needs to be reformed by liberal Muslims like Maajid Nawaz.
That seems reasonable to me. I confess I was playing a little fast and loose as far as characterizing his position, mostly just following what others have said. I've never read any of his books.

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Furthermore, alt-right and New Atheist attacks on Islam have always prominently featured the treatment of women and homosexuals in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other Middle Eastern muslim-majority countries.
I wouldn't tend to take alt-right criticisms along these lines as being made in good faith usually, but other than that I think it's pretty fair game.

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Here's my view of Harris. He is a provocateur naturally drawn to controversy in politics, religion, and philosophy. He is also committed to evaluating these controversies at the object level, rejecting attempts to understand, evaluate, or interact with them sociologically or rhetorically as an attack on free speech, or as "political correctness" that makes honest conversation impossible. Since he is a generalist, his object-level analysis is usually fairly limited, making his analysis of these topics facile at best and leaving him mostly blind (or just silent) to the rhetorical manipulations of those he agrees with. However, simple object-level evaluations will always be attractive to people just learning a topic (and often useful either as a foil or spur to those more knowledgeable) , so Harris is able to maintain relevance.
Yeah, that sounds similar to my view. I recall my first exposure to Harris involved arguments between him and Dennett about free will and compatibilism (an RGP classic :P). My complaint at the time was just that it seemed clear that Harris didn't really understand the arguments at all. I've often felt that way about little bits and pieces of his views that I encounter.
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Old 11-24-2018, 01:25 AM   #211
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Re: The Sam Harris interview from Salon

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Here's my view of Harris. He is a provocateur naturally drawn to controversy in politics, religion, and philosophy... However, simple object-level evaluations will always be attractive to people just learning a topic (and often useful either as a foil or spur to those more knowledgeable) , so Harris is able to maintain relevance.
Has he actually maintained relevance? Not to say that he's completely disappeared, but he doesn't seem to be anywhere near the figure he was a decade ago. It seems that he has taken the identity of being a provocateur and is mostly running it into the ground. I actually hadn't heard much of anything from or about him over the last few years except for this Vox article that didn't exactly paint him in a positive light for his position on IQ and race.

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-polit...ast-bell-curve
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Old 11-24-2018, 09:35 AM   #212
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Re: The Sam Harris interview from Salon

I feel all of the four horsemen (although this isn't being fair to hitchens) have declined fairly substantially in relevance. Or maybe it is just shifted in some sense. As in, this isn't the same time in which End of Faith, God Delusion, or God is Not Great were written, where books about atheism were really part of a shift in acceptance (or so it felt) of these kinds of ideas. If you think about some of the topics in between like the free will book that Harris has taken up, they might sell (I don't know) but don't seem to really be part of a major cultural moment. I do think how the west should think about islam is a more relevant topic and he has definitely gotten a lot of attention for his views about that.
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Old 11-27-2018, 04:11 PM   #213
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Re: The Sam Harris interview from Salon

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Has he actually maintained relevance? Not to say that he's completely disappeared, but he doesn't seem to be anywhere near the figure he was a decade ago. It seems that he has taken the identity of being a provocateur and is mostly running it into the ground. I actually hadn't heard much of anything from or about him over the last few years except for this Vox article that didn't exactly paint him in a positive light for his position on IQ and race.

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-polit...ast-bell-curve
I think so? He is still a popular public speaker with a successful podcast. New Atheism has been submerged into other intellectual fads, so he probably isn't as culturally relevant as he used to be (although a similar demographic to NA fans still seems interested in his work). He doesn't have Hitchens' Oxbridge veneer, but seems to have learned well from him how to keep himself in the public eye, so I don't know about running his shtick into the ground. He is also one of the most prominent among the secular spirituality (non-New Age version) people because of his experience and knowledge of some Eastern meditation traditions (and their Western variants).
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Old 11-27-2018, 11:28 PM   #214
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Re: The Sam Harris interview from Salon

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He doesn't have Hitchens' Oxbridge veneer, but seems to have learned well from him how to keep himself in the public eye, so I don't know about running his shtick into the ground.
Being "in the public eye" and being relevant are not the same thing in my view. But that might be a quibble of definitions, and the point is understood.

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He is also one of the most prominent among the secular spirituality (non-New Age version) people because of his experience and knowledge of some Eastern meditation traditions (and their Western variants).
Non-new age secular spirituality seems to me to be a rather niche group. But I have to admit to not having looked that closely at it. A quick google search really doesn't give me a lot of relevant links that look recent. His podcast does appear to be popular, so it's fair to say he still has a voice of some sort. Maybe the way he's relevant is just different now than what it used to be.

Random data points that arose when trying to figure out if there is some useful metric of his public perception:

https://today.yougov.com/topics/arts...ter/Sam_Harris

https://www.reddit.com/r/samharris/c...ar_and_losing/
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Old 11-28-2018, 07:03 AM   #215
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Re: The Sam Harris interview from Salon

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A good analysis, but I'll say three things: 1) SA not having or pursuing a nuclear weapon is more a result than cause of its friendliness towards the West. Flip the alliance networks and my guess is that SA would be pursuing the bomb and Iran wouldn't. 2) Any transfer of power in an authoritarian system such as in SA right now is a time of vulnerability for traditional alliance networks. The relationship here has always been more personal than national (the population of both countries are not friendly, nor are there many common cultural interactions as with eg Japan, Australia, Israel, etc), and MBS's recent aggressive actions have weakened their claim to provide stability in the Middle East. 3) With the rise of fracking in the US putting an upper limit on energy prices, SA attempts to leverage oil prices for political gain is not nearly as effective as in the past, nor is it nearly as important to US interests to maintain close ties to SA. Obama's Pivot to Asia policy was a recognition of this fact.
1.) I don't disagree with that, but when it comes to nuclear weapons it's always a matter of realpolitik. It doesn't really matter what led up to pursuing them or not pursuing them, because the consequences are so drastic. We're quite literally talking about "shoot first and ask questions later"-style scenarios.

2.) I think any key to any kind of amicable resolution between these regimes and "the west" lie in their populations. That of course also relies on an understanding of their respective cultures and its facets, something we have sorely missed for a long time. Something as basic as learning what is construed as insulting and what is acceptable is something we rarely bother to learn, even if those things might differ a lot from our own cultures. And no, I'm not talking about tacitly approving things that our cultures view as gravely unethical - I'm talking about simple things like what constitutes acceptable courtesy, politeness, what are the dos and donts of everyday interaction, how does a speech sound to a person from that culture and so forth. If you know how to say something in an acceptable manner, you will often find that you can find much larger understanding (if not necessarily agreement) for your position.

3.) Certainly and I think that is a wise decision. But there is also this notion that once "the west" starts having less geopolitical investment in the middle-east that the troubles will ease up or matter far less. Your basic "we stirred up the hornet's nest, and now pay the price".

Very little indicates that this is true. It's a region that has been at the center of local and international tension for thousands of years. It's not only naive to think that this is merely the result of foreign meddling, it's grossly arrogant and a huge underestimation of the people there. If we're going to stick to short narratives I think it would be far more correct that to say that it is a region plagued by enormous cultural, religious and geopolitical conflicts that certainly has a tendency to bite those that involve themselves, but that it is also more than capable of involving external players by the respective parties' own accords.

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Old 01-08-2019, 09:50 PM   #216
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Re: The Sam Harris interview from Salon

i'm split on religion.

but, i loved this quote from the Thorn Birds, one of the greatest modern novels

Belief doesn't rest on proof or existence...it rests on faith...without faith there is nothing.”
― Colleen McCullough, The Thorn Birds

i like the 1st half better than the 2nd half

EDIT: i should have mentioned that this is a response to the OP, not to the rest of the thread.
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