Response to Shagbark (part 1 of 4)
|March 22, 2012||Posted by Joseph Keysor under Blog|
Last year I posted a blog entry discussing what I took to be some ominous aspects of Sam Harris’ fake rationality. This was a part of a larger series of questions for atheists.
In August, someone responded, yet somehow (to my chagrin) I missed the response and only noticed it this month. Hopefully the saying “Better late than never” applies here. Even though the poster (who goes by the name of Shagbark) has long since moved on to greener internet pastures, his response raises some important questions which I am glad to try and answer.
One point at issue was Harris’ statement that it might be necessary to kill some people for their beliefs. This raised so many questions that he was compelled to give a clarification on the internet. I thought his clarification was devious, evasive, and insincere, and attempted to expose a couple of what I took to be major inconsistencies in his soothing words.
Harris said that when he spoke of killing people because of their dangerous ideas, he was referring to people like Osama bin Laden.
I identified two problems with this. One was, that many people shared Osama’s ideas. Did Harris think they should be killed for their ideas? If the answer was “Yes,” then we have someone advocating the deaths of large numbers of people not for what they have done, but for what they have thought. This was the policy of the notorious mass-murdering atheist Lenin.
If, on the other hand, Harris were to respond that Osama should be killed but not necessarily all of the many people who share his beliefs, then he admits that it is not his beliefs that justify Osama’s execution, but some other reason (I assume the fact that he has enabled others to carry out his beliefs, in which case the problem is his harmful acts, not just his ideas).
Shagbark seems to have missed the point entirely. When I asked “Millions of people share Osama bin Laden’s ideas. Should they be killed?” he responded
This is a strange question. It implies that our role is to dispense justice, killing people who ought to be killed. That’s wrong. See http://lesswrong.com/lw/4×9/crime_and_punishment/ .
So, he thinks Sam Harris is wrong.
We want to maximize some measure of goodness in the world. And we want to survive. We have the right to kill people who want to kill us and are able to kill us. Osama was able. Most of these millions are not.
So, it is wrong for us to kill people who ought to be killed, but we do have the right to kill some people after all.
Also, Shagbark supports killing Osama not for his ideas, but for his attempts to have others put his ideas into practice. This is very different from what Sam Harris initially said.
My second problem with Harris response is that he frequently points to Christian beliefs as dangerous to the survival of humanity – so, conceivably, Christians might also have to be killed to save the human race: “Christians, not just Osama bin Laden, might be included among those whose dangerous ideas require their elimination. Do you think Christians should be killed? If you answer ‘No,’ how do we know this is a truthful answer?”
No, but I get the feeling you’re not going to believe me anyway.
If Shagbark is willing to concede that killing Christians for their beliefs is the wrong thing to do, I find that possible to believe. But it is common for people to say one thing when they are out of power, and do something else when they are in power, so I see no need to automatically believe everything a public figure like Sam Harris might say.
If I were living in 16th century Spain, and were forced to attend mass, and forced to mouth platitudes I didn’t believe, made to renounce reason at the whim of the Catholic hierarchy, and threatened with torture and death for questioning any of the above, then I would say, Yes, the Christian ruling class should be killed, like any other undeserving, self-interested, tyrannical ruling class. But I’m living in the 21st century, and Christians are now capable of tolerating other religions and separating Church and State.
I was not asking what Shagbark thought, but what Sam Harris thought. He says people with dangerous ideas might have to be killed, and indentifies Christians as people with dangerous ideas. Maybe he really does think they should be killed, or at least sent to labor camps or prisons for the benefit of humanity. If he denies this, who is to say he is telling the truth? This has nothing to do with the 16th century, it has to do with Christians being identified as a menace today. The response was not relevant.
I also asked if, in Harris atheist value system, “Wouldn’t it be justified to kill some people to save humanity?” Shagbark’s answer:
Of course. Society already agrees it’s justified to kill some people because they killed some other people, or because they defied military orders, both of which are much less important reasons than saving humanity. It’s even considered justified to put people in jail for 20 years, which is not very different from killing them, for selling other people recreational drugs.
Here we see the mentality that in different circumstances has been used to justify the deaths of millions – it is for the future benefit of humanity. We also see an illogical response that refers to the death penalty for murder, and for military disobedience, or for socially destructive crimes like selling drugs, which have nothing at all to do with the point at issue – killing people for their ideas.
He adds: But you’re not talking about saving humanity. You’re talking about a temporary political/cultural struggle, in which humans will continue on pretty much the same as before no matter which side wins.
Again, a confused response. It was Harris, not me, who speaks of the dangers of religion, and of the possible need to have people killed for their ideas. He also spoke in his book The End of Faith about religious belief being “antithetical to our survival.” Isn’t it justified to kill in self defense? Maybe Harris would like to set up the machine guns and start mowing Christians down, but is too clever to say so at this time.