He sees himself as somehow immune to these impulses

Daniel Bastian on the Harris-Klein conversation:

What’s clear from the outset is that Harris’s ego is still perhaps the central problem blinding him to many of his own strong biases. This is literally how he frames the conversation from the get-go:

“I’m not saying that everyone who did the work, who listened to the podcast and read all the articles would take my side of it, but anyone who didn’t do the work thought that I was somehow the aggressor there and somehow, in particular, the fact that I was declining to do a podcast with you was held very much against me. That caused me to change my mind about this whole thing, because I realized this is not, I can’t be perceived as someone who won’t take on legitimate criticism of his views.”

Heaven forbid there is someone out there who thinks Harris backed down from a challenge. For someone so ostensibly committed to defending a person who subscribes to the intellectual inferiority of African Americans, Harris seems positively paranoid about any affront to his own intellectual standing.

And he also unabashedly puts his own precious reputation front and center, and apparently expects us to put his concern for his reputation ahead of our concern about the harm this blather about race and IQ scores does. On the one hand, millions of people; on the other hand, Sam Harris. Hmm, tough choice.

The reason this conversation never really made it off the ground is that their emphases were both in different places and, where they overlapped, were out of register with one another. Harris thinks Klein is underestimating the reputational hazards that attend participation in questions about the science of race and other precarious topics. Klein thinks Harris underappreciates the intricate social and historical context waiting around every corner of a conversation like the one he and Murray had. Harris, moreover, thinks these conversations run independently of one another; Klein thinks they’re more or less indissociable. And round and round they go.

Klein says something detailed and persuasive, Harris responds like a brick wall. Repeat, repeat, repeat. It’s funny how Harris is desperately concerned about his own reputation but can’t figure out how not to sound so obtuse.

I think we do in this conversation get a better sense of Harris’s understanding of ‘identity politics’. For him, IP is something that other people engage in to lend unjustified credence to their arguments and positions. While he describes the phenomenon as using one’s skin color or gender to gain undue leverage in debate, in practice he often uses the term as simple code for tribalism, or to describe people whose motives for engagement are suspect and unfounded.

At the same time, he sees himself as somehow immune to these impulses. He honestly sees himself as sitting above the fray, reasoning from a purely Rational™ standpoint. His position is borne of sound principles, the other side’s of ideology. His views are dispassionate, unbiased and uncorrupted, while the opposition — which must include the many well respected scientists who’ve responded to Murray’s work over the years — is contaminated by identity politics and political agenda.

When Klein offers that confirmation bias and motivated reasoning might just be at work in Harris’s own approach to these conversations and, indeed, might explain why he is so quick to ascribe bad faith and malice to his detractors, including Klein, Harris demurs and doubles down, insisting that he’s “not thinking tribally”. Rather, the default explanation is that he and Murray have been unfairly maligned by dishonest parties who happen to share all the same concerns about the social implications that he does.

He does it over and over and over again, while we all squirm in embarrassment.

The fact is that anti-social justice (what Klein refers to as “anti- anti-racism”) is its own tribe, with its own tendencies toward cognitive fallacies and moral panics and all the rest. And Harris has always seemed more concerned with defending this particular tribe (read: his tribe) than using his intellectual capital and zeal to speak truth to the injustices and abuses of power that actualize social change movements. As Klein suggests more than once, this might be because Harris sees a part of himself in folks like Murray. He feels threatened by the march of social justice, anxious that he’ll be the next Murray-esque casualty in the crusade against destructive speech.

I.e. because he’s a vain, prickly, self-absorbed man with all the affect of a lawnmower.

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