A Prayer for Sam Harris
I didn't think I could still be stunned.....
“…a left-wing conspiracy to deny the Presidency to Donald Trump, and it was absolutely warranted.” —Sam Harris, author of Lying
John Irving’s masterpiece, A Prayer for Owen Meany, is about a special boy who became an heroic man who died too soon. Owen’s best friend, Johnny, begs God to give him back, seeing that the world still needed Owen’s goodness, heroism, and integrity even after he was gone. The novel ends with Johnny crying out, “O God—please bring him back! I shall keep asking You.”
Johnny believes in God. I do not. But his impassioned plea was fully present in my mind when I witnessed Sam Harris’s final unraveling as a thinking, principled human being.
Learning to Tell the Truth
One of my ongoing tasks in therapy, where I am working to overcome the consequences of a childhood full of severe and long-term trauma, is to learn to stop lying to myself.
Abused children grow up keeping secrets and telling lies, and carrying those habits into adulthood is unavoidable. When you are a kid whose urinary tract infections and bruises are explained away with lies—lies you are not allowed to contradict—there are many senses in which the truth ceases to matter at all. Fidelity to the narrative you were given by the adults is all you prioritize. Evolution shaped child brains to trust adults because trusting adults was the best way to ensure survival, and dealing with the cognitive dissonance between reality and what you must say to keep the adults off your back is often accomplished by compartmentalizing reality. Principles and facts exist here. The story you must tell yourself, and others, exists there. You fragment yourself to go back and forth between the two, and over time you can stop noticing that you’re doing this.
In my journey to choose for myself what sort of adult I want to be, there is a book that has been a north star of sorts: Lying, by Sam Harris. He makes a brilliant argument against lying, even in the usually socially acceptable ways.
But a lifetime of defensive maneuvers against trauma, of course, included learning to lie very effectively to myself, which is the main thing my therapist and I are working on these days. He challenges me to the point of frustrated tears in almost every session, but when he’s done, I do understand where I can be confident of self-honesty, and if I ever become the person I want to be, it will be mostly because he cared enough to be a bastard.
Sam Harris Has Lost His Soul
Triggernometry dropped an episode wherein Francis and Konstantin interview Sam Harris. Some good clips in this Twitter thread.
In that episode, he says that a conspiracy was fully warranted to keep Trump from getting re-elected. He, a father of two little girls, says that he wouldn’t have cared if Hunter Biden’s laptop had evidence that he had a basement full of the corpses of children. He expresses a utilitarian view that all previous moral limits no longer apply to the task of keeping Trump out of office. Stopping Trump from winning a second term justifies any moral offense, including the one he published a book-length argument asserting we should all wholly reject as a baseline principle.
I recognize my bias, from having been deeply and painfully disappointed by Sam Harris on multiple occasions, so I checked with several people who have no such emotional baggage. They affirmed that I did not misinterpret or shade the interview. Sam Harris really did argue, in total earnest, that a massive conspiracy of lies was entirely justified to keep a politician he hates, for what he says are non-partisan reasons (and I think that much is probably true) out of office.
This takes “Trump Derangement Syndrome” from a pejorative shorthand and makes it quite literal. This is a man embracing a narrative based in the conscious and deliberate hiding and denying of reality, and arguing that everyone else should embrace it too, justified by the political aim of keeping a bad man out of office.
He justifies this by saying that Trump was so bad that he constitutes a special case, and stopping him is an objective to which moral principles no longer apply.
I shivered, watching this, thinking about all the times in my childhood when I witnessed men commit domestic violence who were absolutely certain that this woman, in this instance, had it coming; excuses from cops who beat suspects but only when they deserve it; fellow students who cheated but only because this professor was so unreasonable that nobody could expect them not to cheat in this instance.
Anyone can make an argument that their principles don’t have to restrain them in this one, special instance.
This is human nature.
That we stick by them when they’re hard is why we call them principles.
Sam Harris will likely never see the full extent of his derangement, but everyone else should.
The author of a brilliant, inspiring, book-length argument against lying has become deranged to the point that he sees widespread lying, to a level even he is willing to admit does in fact constitute a conspiracy, as warranted—if it stops the guy he hates from winning an election.
If I believed in any god, I would end this by asserting, without drama, a wish for that god to have mercy on his soul.
But there is no god, and Sam Harris has fully surrendered whatever integrity he once possessed.
No political consideration, not even avoiding the gulags or the death camps, is worth this.
All the rest of us can do is watch, learn, and do our damnedest to never emulate him.
Sam Harris remains a north star of sorts, but in a way nobody should ever, ever want to be.
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Yes I've seen this happen a couple of times in my life now. A great figure whom I respect espouses an argument for X as a principle, sometimes their whole research program is based on it. Then later they make an argument about a specific thing that is the result of believing not-X.
I just shrug my shoulders and chalk it up to being human. If we were perfectly logical beings how boring would that be? :)
Well said. I, too, have been listening to Sam since before Trump. I still hold out hope that one day he will see the error of all this.