Some things are so messed up that you just don't know where to start.

Some things are so messed up that you just don’t know where to start.

 

Friends, I have on a few occasions mentioned that I read Sam Harris’ book ‘The Moral Landscape’ and rather enjoyed it.

I would have preferred if Harris had provided more argument or evidence in support of his point of view instead of simply stating it with a ‘come at me bro!’ attitude. But still, I felt there were many ideas in the book that were worth considering and he tackled the more ‘sciencey’ parts of it rather well.

But then I found out a few troubling things about our dear mister Harris.

And they have left me to convinced that he is a perfect example of what happens when intelligent people start commenting on things about which they are utterly ignorant.

In ‘The Moral Landscape’ Harris argues that it should be possible to create a completely objective morality that is based only on evidence and driven only by SCIENCE!

He believes that if we did this it would be completely possible to remove human bias from the process.

Amen brother.

Amen brother.

So here are a few things that Sam Harris believes are supported by the evidence.

1. Israel is in more danger from Palestine than vice versa.

2. The Palestinians get treated too kindly by the media, and Israel gets treated too harshly.

3. In fact you know what? Harris has so many messed up, unsubstantiated and indefensible beliefs about Israel/Palestine that I’m going to leave the issue and just link to an excellent article by Theodore Sayeed that completely demolishes Harris’ position, far more effectively than I could.

4. He thinks that the US invasion of Iraq was a good idea.

No, really.

He thinks that the war was necessary because ‘Muslims are comin’ for our democracy!’ (or something) and that pretty much the only thing that went wrong was that there weren’t enough other countries involved. He feels it needed yet more military force, to really kick the slaughter up a notch, to bring in the “freedom” ‘Murica -style. And that not doing this is the reason why ISIS is currently dominating the country.

He is of course ignoring the fact that the reason why other countries didn’t get involved is because that war had “train wreck” written all over it before it even started.

5. Lastly he feels that the ‘civilised’ Western world is currently engaged in an immense struggle for the soul of humanity with the ‘primitive’ fundamentalist Islamic countries.

*sigh*

Friends, number 4 is so stupid (and so obviously so) that I’m not going waste much time on it. I am simply going to point out that if Harris is sad that ISIS is tearing up Iraq then he should really direct his rage at the people responsible: the United States of America.

 

Nor you Sam Harris. Nor you.

Nor you Sam Harris. Nor you.

The US invasion of Iraq left the country without adequate infrastructure, with no means of defending itself, and with a starving, slaughtered population that got so desperate that supporting a group of loonies like ISIS started looking like a sweet deal.

The problem with Iraq is not Islam. It’s George Bush.

Number 5 however gives one pause. It is sadly true that there are oppressive theocracies in the world today. And it is likewise true that they and ‘Western’ culture put themselves in opposition to one another.

It is also true (and this may annoy some of my fellow liberals) that on our good days our culture is superior to theirs.

When we are at our best we believe in the right to live one’s own life the way one chooses to. We believe in understanding the world, thinking critically but being open minded, in defending the fundamental human rights for all people, and promoting Democracy as by far the best political system the world has ever seen.

The cultures with which we are contesting believe in the blind subservience to authority, individual sacrifice (often involuntary), anti-science, ignorance, the systematic subjugation of women (and others) and the belief that you can rob people of their rights if the little book in your pocket says it’s ok.

Our culture, on those occasions when it lives up to that high standard, is superior to their culture, on those occasions when it sinks down into that pit of stupidity.

I'll just leave this here.

I’ll just leave this here.

But does this mean that Harris is right? That his conception of the world containing this conflict between cultures is accurate?

Nope.

It means he is a fool whose utterly ignorant and ahistorical  viewpoint would get a stoned freshman laughed out of a Sociology 101 lecture.

Let’s take a few choice examples shall we?

If Harris is pissed at Iran (and he is) then he would do well to remember that Iran used to have a Democracy. A real one! That was until their government was overthrown by a coup requested by the British and carried out by US America.

Let me be unambiguous: the United States government destroyed a functioning socialist democracy and put a dictatorship in its place, because the dictator in question (The Shah) was willing to sell them and the Brits cheap oil.

After that the US-backed Shah was so good at keeping power that it took an army of religious zealots under the Ayatollah Khomeini to kick him out.

It is one of several cases in which the US of A destroyed a Socialist Democracy so that they could replace it with a Capitalist Dictatorship.

That’s right kiddies. Iran has a religious oppression problem because the USA didn’t want them to have a democracy.

Well, shit. Unfortunately, they succeeded.

So trying to frame this as a battle between democracy and theocracy is simply, factually, incorrect because ‘our’ democracies have destroyed ‘their’ democracies on several occasions.

And then there is Saudi Arabia, a country that Human Rights Watch basically summarises as “oh for fucks sake, not you again!?” Locking people up for no reason. Beatings. Executions. Misogyny. Antisemitism. Heck, all they need is to steal land from an indigenous people and they’ll be able to yell “Bingo!”.

That's their problem! That's their problem right there!

That’s their problem! That’s their problem right there!

Both Harris and I dislike this country’s oppressive rulers.

The difference is that I know that those oppressive rulers are still in power because they are backed and supported by the United States, which is a pretty common theme with many oppressors. The dictator Hosni Mubarak was the absolute darling of Washington until his people finally gathered enough strength to throw his ass out and try and make their own democracy.

And let’s continue that line of history.

As we all know Somalia has been fucked for a long time. But briefly in the mid 2000s things became slightly less fucked because a group of local leaders calling themselves the Islamic Courts Union got together and started imposing Sharia law in the country.

I’m sure it will surprise no one that I am not a fan of Sharia law.

But here’s the thing: it’s still better than no law at all, and that was the only available alternative.

The ISU went into a situation where local warlords were doing whatever they wanted. By calling on the people’s common religion they gained the ability to force everyone to obey at least some generally accepted law. This was something that the so-called ‘government’ of Somalia was unable to do.

And things in the country got a bit better.

Unfortunately, the ISU was not backed by the US. So it had to go.

The US backed the same warlords who had left the country in chaos. They even supported an invasion of the country from Ethiopia, in spite of the fact that the two countries hate each other and all this did was piss people off more.

It worked. The ISU largely collapsed.

And when it did the more militant members went on to form Al-Shabaab. Which is also known as ‘Al Qaeda in East Africa’.

So by refusing to let an Islamic group regain control of Somalia the US intervention ended up creating a franchise outpost of their most bitter enemy.

Of course a lot of what has been happening down there is unclear and it is impossible to predict what would have happened to the country if the ISU had gained full control.

But the trend remains unmistakable: the Western powers think they know better than local people, and they think they have the right to rob other countries of the ability to make their own decisions.

Saddam Fucking Hussein was practically spooning with George Bush the First’s lackey Donald Rumsfeld even though he was massacring his own people (with US weapons by the way). He only became “a brutal dictator” when he dared threaten Kuwait, another US ally.

"Why are you selling me chemical weapon components?" "Why AREN'T I selling you chemical weapon components!"

“Why are you selling me chemical weapon components?”
“Why AREN’T I selling you chemical weapon components?!”

So when Sam Harris tries to paint the world as a battle between Western civilization and extremist theocracy one has to ask: which Western civilisation? The one that helps dictators like the Shah, Saddam Hussein, Pinochet, Ceausescu, Mubarak, and the Saudi royal family stay in power? The one that battles so hard to make sure that democracy does not spread, because they know that they won’t be able to control a democratic country as easily as an absolute ruler?

That Western civilisation?

Because if that is what Harris is so cluelessly and credulously pushing then he badly needs to stop brown-nosing the Likud Party and stick his nose in a history book instead.

And in case anyone is thinking of whipping out that old chestnut of “yes we’re bad, but they are so much worse” I’ve only got three words for you:
False dichotomy, biatch!

*drops mic*

*storms off*

-TTB

Would Western civilisation be a good idea?

Would Western civilisation be a good idea?

[Standard Disclaimer: this post was entirely my own opinion and was not paid for in any way, directly or otherwise, by anyone or anything that stands to gain in any way from the ideas expressed herein.]

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