I am a big fan of Sam Harris. I think he speaks intelligently and lucidly on many volatile topics, and this is extremely valuable. I tend to agree with the vast majority of what he tends to say, but this is not a result of some sycophantic obsession I have with him, or a tendency to view him as some sort of authority figure. No, I tend to agree with him because I find his positions to be extremely reasonable, and I am often unable to find fault with his logic. I am always open to valid criticisms of his work, though most of what I read others say about him is nothing short of blatant misrepresentations of his views. This often results in me defending Harris and other New Atheists, and I sometimes get accused of bending over backwards to exculpate them of blame. This is not the case.
This blog post is highlighting a very big problem I have with Harris that resulted from his interview with Douglas Murray on his podcast, Waking Up. This podcast started out as an interesting discussion between Harris and Murray regarding their opinions of what has been named the Regressive Left. I sympathize with both of their views on this topic. However, Murray then (at around 30:15) segued into a rambling rant regarding transgender issues that was disturbing, mean spirited, and ignorant. While Harris did not contribute any commentary himself, his silence and encouraging laughter during Murray’s tirade did not indicate any sort of disagreement. I wrote a letter to Sam Harris through his Contact the Author link on his blog, and I have reproduced the letter in its entirety below.
I’m a big fan of your work, and think what you’re doing is immensely important. You are quite often a bastion of clear thinking on so many topics, and it’s a pleasure to hear you speak and think.
Because of my high opinion as you as a thinker, I was a bit shocked to hear part of the conversation you had with Douglas Murray in your last podcast episode. I agree with him a lot regarding the regressive left, etc., but then he decided to go on this ignorant and angry tirade about transgender issues. He mocked the idea of letting people identify themselves as transgendered, made fun of the fact that a transgendered person may or may not decide to undergo sex-reassignment surgery (as if that would somehow illigitimize their identity) and thought people coming out as transgendered was all due to politics. This was quite disturbing to hear, but even more disturbing–to me–was the fact that you just sat by and laughed with him, and seemed to sympathize with what he said. This was shocking to hear. Granted, you didn’t say any of those hateful things yourself, but silence on your part seemed to speak volumes in this case, especially given your reputation for fearlessly confronting what you perceive to be bad ideas. You certainly didn’t seem to object to anything he said, and thought his comments were, in your words, “hilarious.”
Perhaps you did not want to be combative with your guest early on in your podcast, and instead wanted to move on to other things. But, if you disagreed with him, you could have simply stated “I don’t agree with much you said on transgender issues, but I would like to switch our focus to another topic.” Or something similar. But you made no indication that you disagreed with anything he said. I would really like you to clarify your position on transgender issues, and let us know whether you were in large agreement with Douglas Murray in your podcast when he ranted against transgendered people. This is very concerning to me, as I constantly defend your views from distortions, and this would be more difficult for me to do should you in fact hold such a disturbing position.
I don’t let bad ideas slide, no matter how much I admire the person professing them. Bad ideas should be criticized everywhere and anytime they arise. Nobody is above this treatment, including Sam Harris, a person I hold in very high regard. I hope he responds, if not directly to me (which is unlikely), than in some public manner. I can’t imagine he hasn’t received a flood of similar emails.
Sam Harris has added an addendum to his podcast interview with Douglas Murray to clarify a slew of things many people tried to demonize him for. This was helpful for a variety of reasons but, sadly, he did not add any clarifying remarks regarding any criticisms about his position on transgender issues. I will keep you all posted if he ever addresses these criticisms.