I listened to Sam Harris and Ezra Klein debate because I'm kind of dumb

You can too, if you’re so inclined: https://samharris.org/podcasts/123-identity-honesty/. If you’re not, please ignore this whole thing; I kind of wish I had all this time back. However, maybe it helped me crystallize some of my thoughts around the issue.

Why care?
I care about the issue of “this white guy’s life got ruined by Political Correctness!” because I feel like I am one of the people who should be most sympathetic to it (white/male/every privileged status you can imagine, and very much into logic and clear thinking), and I’m not very sympathetic to it. As a result, I feel like I have a nonzero obligation to talk about it. (Kinda like how the onus is really on the sane “never-Trump” conservatives to speak up these days. Your fellow GOPs (and members of congress!) who enjoy the Trump garbage fire will never listen to a bike-riding techboi from San Francisco, but they might listen to you if you have historically cared about things like “fiscal responsibility” and “acting like adults.” But I digress.)

Anyway, yeah, I got to it through Harris’s podcast, which I recently started listening to, because he talks about interesting things. But man, he sounds really bad here.

Background: Sam Harris had Charles Murray on his podcast like a year ago. Charles Murray wrote a book like 20 years ago in which he talked about how maybe white people and black people just have different IQs. His, uh, career has suffered because of it; he’s still (sometimes violently) protested when he comes to give a talk on college campuses. Ezra Klein wrote some articles excoriating Harris for having him on. Feud, etc, and they eventually got around to having a discussion on each of their podcasts. Like, props to them for getting to that point.

Harris’s take: yes, racism is still happening and we need to fix it, no arguments there. But Murray’s book is just science. Maybe the fact about IQ is true, and just by bringing it up, Murray got his life ruined. This is not good; we need free speech, not “politically correct” mob justice.

Klein’s and my takes, and I credit Klein with articulating most of them better than I could have:

1. Science is usually not a “disinterested list of facts.” That is almost never the case. Sam, you’re a philosopher and a PhD, you should know that. Even choosing what facts to research is not disinterested. (To Harris’s credit, he apparently grilled Murray on this - “why even study racial differences in IQ?” He doesn’t agree with Murray, he just thinks Murray shouldn’t be so vehemently shunned.)

2. Murray is not a disinterested observer who wrote down disinterested lists of facts and got his life ruined. He’s a longtime conservative think-tanker. After arguing “black people have lower IQs”, he went on to argue “well, black people are poor, nothing we can do about it, oh well; cut all these social programs.” Casting him as this unlucky fact purveyor is far too generous.

3. White people through the ages keep studying stuff like this, finding “huh, white people are just better than black people, it’s just science.” Obviously, every time, they’re being idiots, and attributing things to innate genetics that are better attributed to the fact that white people forcefully subjugated black people and installed hundreds of years of laws to ensure that they remained second-class citizens. Therefore, if you’re going to argue “huh, white people are just better, because science”, it’s on you to prove why it’s different this time.

4. Harris gets very frustrated whenever anyone resorts to “identity politics”, but doesn’t realize that he, too, plays identity politics. Why does he care about Murray? Murray’s in his tribe: white men who might say “politically incorrect” things. Klein kept bringing this up, Harris kept denying it.

5. “Political Correctness can go too far, but it probably isn’t this time.” - My Law of Political Correctness I Just Made Up. Corollary: if you’re going to argue “PC has gone too far”, you have to hold yourself to a very high standard. You have to be incredibly pure of motive and strenuously consider that you might be wrong. Murray doesn’t and isn’t. Furthermore: every time you argue “PC has gone too far” but you’re actually being a goon, you make it harder for the next time someone has to argue “PC has gone too far.”

So, similar to that time I got in an argument with other people I listened to on a podcast, my conclusion remains “Yes, I’m sympathetic to the argument that Political Correctness might go too far, and cause real harm. But this guy is not your poster child!”

Did I read Murray’s book, listen to Harris’s podcast, or read Klein’s articles? Nope. Feel free to take this blog post with as many grains of salt as you like. Anyway, whew, got that out of my system; still wish I had my time back, but what can you do.


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