Ezra Klein vs. Sam Harris: An Idiot’s Perspective Referencing Wham! and The Nuge

wham_nuge

What happened here? The comments sections where The Great Debate has been posted on YouTube suggest the Sam Harris fanboys are seriously butthurt that their Dalai Lama of Enlightenment by Pure Reason (not to be confused with Descartes) has been seriously challenged and perhaps even taken down a peg by someone (arguably) equally erudite and with the balls (and presumably uncircumcised penis) to not back down from the typical onslaught of Harris’ ballistic pedantry.

Now, let that sink in, fanboys.

Let that sink in.

“Seriously challenged!!!???!!! Well, fuck you, mrobins71, you (asshole, cunt, SJW, communist, brony) for thinking Sam was “seriously challenged” by this (asshole, cunt, SJW, communist, brony)!!!!!”

Now, relax. Breath deeply.

Doesn’t that indignation feel and taste good? Savor it for a few moments. Mmmmmm……..it’s tasty, right? Enjoy the sweetness and swirl it around as it washes away the mustiness of you’re messiah’s ballsack.

Okay. Now before you start lighting the tiki torches and unleashing the hounds and your keyboard fury, let me assure you I’ll get around to some support of your homeboy SH soon enough. But first, the criticisms, which are gonna taste a lot more like an infant’s pureed carrots than that piquant indignation you just got a mouthful of. But it can’t all be treats. Sorry.

frankenstein

Have you ever heard the one about an emotional response being appropriate to the accusation? Like if somebody accuses you of being a queer Wham! fanboy but you don’t have any Wham! albums and you don’t know any of their songs, you can slough it off as nonsense, especially if you’re a jock far more than a queen.? It doesn’t elicit an emotional response and logically it shouldn’t. But if you’ve got Wham! albums in your collection and a poster of George Michael on your wall and you un-ironically performed a choreographed lip-sync of Wake Me Up at the high school talent show in yellow fingerless gloves and a pink shirt…..but you don’t like the “queer Wham! fanboy” moniker…..you’re at least partly (if not mostly) angry that the accusation makes a lot of sense. But your upset only makes sense relative to the amount of evidence that supports the claim. Now that doesn’t mean the claim’s true. You might still like girls. But it’s a reasonable, though not necessarily true, claim nonetheless. Had you pantomimed a Nuclear Assault tune instead and that was the only evidence to support the claim, the accusation would slide off like a grilled cheese on Teflon.

(You could argue that what you’re really upset about is the insult. But in the case of the Klein/Harris debate, they’ve kept it within the realm of philosophical debate, not direct insult. Now,  if you can reasonably conclude the later from the consequence of the former, then so be it.)

So when somebody suggests the Klein/Harris debate was more than one guy squawking like a baby….that salient points were made by both sides…..a claim which makes you wanna shit the bed, then it’s gotta be asked: was that you up on the gymnasium stage acting all George Michael in pastels, regretful and hurt that, rather than garnering the respect of your peers, you’re now the subject of their mockery and ridicule? And being hurt, you react like a petulant child rather than seriously considering the facts and evidence against you? In fact, you’re instinctive infantile tact is to ridicule the evidence and messenger thereof.

Personally, I don’t give a fuck about Ezra Klein and before this didn’t know who he was. And there’s shit about Sam Harris and his ideas I admire. But if you wanna move forward, you gotta stop dismissing all the criticism. You gotta stare at it hard, no matter how ugly or frightening it is. it is. Sometimes a spectre’s the real deal and sometimes it’s just a kitchen trash bag stuck in a wire fence. But you can’t just run from it on instinct if you plan on going through the woods. Otherwise you never advance or you advance with with a head full of nonsense about ghosts.

By way of the Wham! analogy let’s a make our way through all this Charles Murray stuff. You can argue that all your George Michael mimicry is all about the song’s melody and that the whimsy and lightheartedness of it is what you’re celebrating. But nobody’s gonna buy it. They’re still going to think you’re a queer. And shouldn’t they? Should the Ezra Klein’s of the world see Harris playing patty cake with Charles Murray as an indication of,  minimally, some sympathy to Murray’s socio-political aims? Sam’s quick to defend that it’s NOT the socio-political in which he and Murray overlap, it’s in Murray’s use of science (no matter  how nefariously, let’s suppose) to support his political aims that interests Sam. And Sam’s outrage at being pegged a sympathizer for merely choosing to sift through the data for what might be false or not (i.e. useful) is completely unfounded- for the body of Murray’s work can’t be completely spurious.

wham

But when George Michael is up there in tight shorts and pastel shirt and gloves and prancing like a queen, and his collaborator is right there beside him, the latter doesn’t get to claim that he doesn’t support George’s antics. That he was unaware of all the hyper-homo innuendo and that, had he been aware, he never would have supported it. But this is Harris’ defense of his association with Murray and that people don’t buy it is understandable. Which isn’t to say it’s right. It’s to say that it’s a perfectly reasonable speculation.

I’m not saying Sam lost the debate. I’m saying it was a reasonable debate, with salient points presented by both. And the degree to which you can’t see or are unwilling to digest that is mostly proof of your bias. There’s a robust debate to be had here and it seemed both guys put a decent, perhaps even honest, “good faith” effort into explicating their views. But much of the internet’s reaction is to condense the debate into: The guy I don’t agree with is stupid or hypocritical because………..

To untangle part of what seems to be going on with Ezra and Sam, let’s work through a parallel argument using Ted Nugent. Ted is unquestionably a rock God. He’s also by most reasonable accounts an intolerably obnoxious, if not repugnant, human being whose ideological fanaticism has led to calling President Obama a “subhuman mongrel” and telling the President to “suck on my machine gun”, calling CNN Nazi propagandists, and, most recently, accusing teenage shooting victims of having “no soul”. Yes, this is the tone of the Motor City Madman’s hyper-inflammatory rhetoric.

ted_nugent.png

But you can’t deny his body of work in music. And I’m committed to his getting in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame regardless of his politics (now a criminal offense might be different, like Judas Priest’s pedophilic drummer who’s been exiled from rock history completely). But a personal or political distaste isn’t grounds for exclusion or dismissal.

I argue that from Klein’s perspective there’s (at least) two points of attack on my “support of” The Nuge:

Argument 1. the lyrics to Stranglehold (a song I’ll unapologetically claim is fucking awesome) are overtly violent and misogynistic: I don’t think Ted even denies this anymore. Here’s evidence, taken out of order for effect:

Here I come again now baby
Like a dog in heat

And if a house gets in my way baby
You know I’ll burn it down

You remember the night that you left me
You put me in my place
Got you in a stranglehold baby
You’re gone, I crushed your face

So there you go. Air Supply lyrics, they’re not. But the song rocks your fucking balls off. It’s one of the most iconic guitar licks in rock. Guitar Magazine places it 31 in the greatest guitar solos of all time. It’s been used to sell Volkswagen Jettas. Used in countless films and TV shows and video games. It’s been used as the walkout music for baseball players and fighters. Voted 24th best classic song by Ultimateclassic (don’t know who did the voting). The album featuring Stranglehold is double platinum.

Klein’s argument might be: if you’re a decent human being committed to non-violence against woman – if you’re anti-misogyny – then you MUST reject/denounce this song. It’s the only logically consistent position. And to hold forum with Uncle Ted about the merits of the song rather than explicitly rejecting him for his misogyny speaks to your tolerance of misogyny. Now this argument holds special weight to the degree with which I identify as a non-misogynist.

My defense is: it’s about the song and it’s structure and what about it rocks your balls off. It’s not necessarily about the ideological content of the song. That it rocks the way it does suggests there’s something fundamental about its construction – its formula within the musical structure – that’s fundamental. As much as I may hate Uncle Ted’s politics/misogyny, I’m committed enough to the music get beyond the former to want to understand what’s at the core of THE SONG. I’m must less interested in Ted Nugent the person…his beliefs…..than I am the song. And who better to query about it’s essence than its creator (actually, co-creator).

But if I try to couple that with an anti-misogyny/pro-feminist stance, that shit starts to fall apart pretty quick. See, I don’t really get to have feet in different pools.

Argument 2. The Nuge’s disgusting/combative/hyper-obnoxious public persona: Personally, the Nuge’s slanderous and incendiary comments about his ideological opponents is a form of political discourse I find thoroughly counterproductive and abhorrent. In this regard, I have a tremendous dislike of Ted Nugent. Do his songs still rock? Absolutely. Are Strangelhold and Cat Scratch Fever and the vastly underrated Queen of the Forest tremendous songs? Absolutely. Does Ted belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame based on his music? Absolutely.

Does this make me an apologist for his behavior and ethics? Absolutely not.

But it makes sense that somebody might think that.

Sam’s a scientist and knows about bias. And knows that a study coming out of the discipline of evolutionary psychology or a Marxists school that explains a controverssial and complex behavior according (almost exclusively) to evolutionary psychology or pure Marxism respectively, to the exclusion of equally robust biological or economic explanations, should be a red flag to the scientific or philosophic integrity of the study. Charles Murray is a fellow at American Enterprise Institute. Murray’s studies mostly reflect the policies of the institute, counter to reasonable criticism from other “disciplines”. As a committed scientist, this should, minimally, raise red flags to Harris, if not send him into a cognitive meltdown or tattering scientific soul like a open newpaper in a hailstorm. But it doesn’t. He glosses over it. So it begs the question, what’s Sam’s true commitment to, if anything?

So, no, Sam. You don’t get to climb up on stage and prance around in your loose “CHOOSE LIFE” shirt with Charles Murray as the prancing George Michael to your Andrew Ridgeley and have people ignore that the two of you might see eye to eye on some things…if not sexually then at least musically. And as one scientist to another, one under the influence of a particular political agenda or ideology, and another sharing the stage, ignoring all that with a wink…you don’t get to pretend that ANY suspicion of collusion is unreasonable. You just don’t.

wham_2

Andrew Rigeley doesn’t get to have it both ways. He doesn’t get to say “I never agreed with George’s homosexuality”, while he stands there on stage, prancing like a queen in pastels. And saying, “it was all about the music. I wasn’t up on gay culture to know anything about the rest.” C’mon, Sam. You’re too smart for that. And those of us who aren’t ideologically tethered to your nuts are too smart for it too.

So then you gotta ask, what lands a guy as intelligent as Harris at that point? Well, I throw this out for consideration, though the fanboys don’t wanna acknowledge any chinks in the armor so what’s the point, right?

Well, I’ll put it out there that Sam’s commitment to pure reason flies in abject contradiction to the way the world works. You might want people to be absolutely reasonable. And if they were, maybe they wouldn’t peg Sam as a Charles Murray apologist as they wouldn’t paint me (potentially) as a Ted Nugent apologist. But they will, for fuck’s sake, and you can bash you’re head against a wall over it or try to somehow acknowledge and accept that it goes along with the way the world and people work. Work now as they’ve likely worked forever. And you can beat the gavel of absolute reason until the handle busts but all you’ve done is created a bunch of noise and wasted energy. You’ve gotta accept the rules of the game whereas Sam’s walking a fine line at the edge, insisting that the rules need to be changed and at times even breaking them beyond the boundary.

We see a man on stage prancing like a queen in pastels and blow dried and feathered hair and swishing around like that succulent dose of indignation in your mouth and a sensible person thinks, “homosexual” without knowing all the details. Well, who the fuck’s to say that that’s not biologically reductive. We’re incline (socially or biologically) to make snap judgments without thorough and calculated reason….at least maybe, right? We can reason ourselves out of it. Tell ourselves, “don’t make that judgement without considering the facts.” But where and when does it end? When do we overstep the biological necessity of making snap decisions? Reasonable decisions without all the facts and context? When Sam sits in the sandbox and plays patty cake with Charles Murray, when do we decide to analyze all the context and facts of Sam and Charles’ work and history and careers, to make the perfect judgement. Or do we just make a reasonable judgement over the suggestion of the most obvious evidence? Isn’t that reasonable?

I was once accused of being too smart but I think was just a subtle insult getting at, “you overthink things beyond common sense.” The notion that we have a capacity for reason and reason is better than emotion is sound. But to extend that to: if reason is good then absolute reason will be even better…to insist on that in the face of a history that provides no evidence for an ability to function (individually or collectively) by pure reason might be an example of reasoning to the point of stupidity.

So, in this sense, Ezra’s Klein’s criticisms aren’t necessarily unreasonable. And you gotta understand that if you’ intend to progress. You gotta deal with that.

People are stupid and irrational. Perhaps Sam and many of you aren’t. But that doesn’t mean you’re going to change the majority by shame or example or force. And that’s not to say you throw up your hands and abandon reason all together either. What I’m saying is you gotta understand where the boundary is. And play to it. You gotta execute your agenda within their rule book. Sam’s gone on the boundary and that may be why you’re seeing this backlash. You can learn from it or just cry about it. The former’s probably the better game plan. This insistence on absolute reason only works in a world where absolute reason’s gonna work for the majority. And to the degree that your lips remain attached to Sam’s ballsack – an acolyte of pure reason in a world of, at least marginal, irrationality – well, enjoy the hang and the taste.

I admire y’all’s commitment to reason. But like many things, maybe it’s not the absolute solution to everything. It SHOULD BE the principle by which people see Sam as a non-racist. But it’s not. It’s probably evidence of their bias and ignorance. And you can keep playing with that fire that is people’s bias and ignorance to the point that it bites you. But when it does, don’t go crying about it. Cause your knowledge of it was there all along. And it’s sad and shameful that it exists but you gotta ask, “am I the one that’s gonna change it?” Or am I simply gonna get burned by it by pushing them too far?

We can agree that reason’s a virtue. But so is acceptance and open-mindedness and inclusion. But taken to far, those virtues got us accepting people as cats and dogs and fairies and bronies. That virtue taken to its extreme lead us to absurdity –  to accept that the nutcase who claims he’s Howard Hughes or Jesse James or Tarzan might really be any or all of them. After all, if that what he thinks or wants to be, what harm can it to allow it. To non-reality. And there comes a backlash to it that might prove dooming to the cause. An instance on reason…an instance that eventually undermines its own cause.

You can try to force it to be, just like you can try to force people not to behave emotionally and irrationally and stupidly. But it seems to be programmed within us. Nature hasn’t yet worked out that kink out of the programming. In millions of years nature hasn’t forced it out of us. So why do we think we can?

Peace.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.