Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sam Harris Doesn't Speak For Me

I got a call today from one of my best friends, asking me if I'd read Newsweek magazine recently; specifically Sam Harris's article on Sarah Palin called, "When Atheists Attack". I told him no; that though I am an atheist, I'm not a huge fan of Sam Harris, and don't trust the stance he's taken in the dialogue on atheism - because he's another angry Buddhist - which I regard as a spiritual con, beyond weird, a sign of elitist liberalism, and - as practiced in the West - part of the NewAge (rhymes with sewage) movement that I despise.

My friend, who sits on the fence in regards to a lot of political and theological arguments, read me a few of Harris's paragraphs about Palin that he found troubling. But, while doing so, my friend also gave me further reason to dislike the elitist Harris even more.

Let me explain:

See, I'm not like other atheists in a number of ways: though born an atheist, I've always considered the battle, and taken-offense, over "In God We Trust" on money (or the phrase "Under God" in the Pledge Of Allegiance) to be silly. For me, God is not "dead" but merely outgrown his usefulness. I understand why, mostly as a response to communism, presidents say "God bless America", and why these gestures were made historically, so they don't bother me a bit. They're nothing to rail against. They're anachronisms, kitschy, and (though I'm loathe to admit it) touching, threatening my atheism not one iota. I guess I'm saying I find many atheists, and the planks they stand on, petty, laughable, and weak, and that's also how I feel about Harris's critique of Palin as well.

Harris starts off with the confession that he "was genuinely unnerved by Sarah Palin's performance at the Republican convention" because it was "the most effective political communication" he'd ever seen. Considering how much we in the general public knew about Palin at that juncture, what was Harris afraid of? Why wasn't this man, who I suspect is a feminist, overjoyed to see this "sexy" woman (Harris's word) break the glass ceiling of presidential politics? He claims it was because "if anyone could make Christian theocracy smell like apple pie, Sarah Palin could", but I suspect - as the early, and hypocritical, attacks on Palin indicated - it was mostly because this married mother of five clearly wasn't a card-carrying member of the so-called "progressive" movement. Some elitists, who appear outwardly reasonable, have even gone so far as to declare she isn't even a woman.

Ladies and gentlemen (especially the gentlemen) I ask you: is Sarah Palin not a woman?

Whatever the case for his anxiety, Harris wasn't giving this new face on our national stage a fair break, as he indicates while discussing her Charles Gibson interview.

Harris says he was "relieved to discover, as many were, that Palin's luster can be much diminished by the absence of a teleprompter" - without uttering a word on how elitist Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's celebrated stumbling without a teleprompter affected his mood. Harris adds that he "didn't much care that she did not know the meaning of the phrase 'Bush doctrine'", but as Charles Krathammer (the man who coined the term) has pointed out, that great "gotcha" moment apparently hasn't yet registered with "progressives" like Harris - or even the New York Times - as Charles Gibson's gaffe - not Palin's - three weeks later.

It should be needless to ask whether misunderstanding (or being in denial about) the correctness of Palin's answer is a really dumb way for Harris to start his condemnation, from the self-exalted position of being an educated elitist, shouldn't it? Whatever - I'm nobody to elitists - so I'm asking anyway, in my own crude street-wise fashion:

Who you think you fooling, Sam?

Which brings me to the biggest problem with Harris's paper overall - it's ham-handed attempt to defend elitism. During our current Senate hearings over the federal bailout of Wall Street, when discussing the average American, one politician said "I don't think we give our citizens credit for the smarts they deserve." Neither does Sam Harris. He says "Sarah Palin's ignorance is guaranteed because of how she has spent the past 44 years on earth" - basically spitting on the entirety of her life - before he attempts to take her to task for:

A) Sarah Palin's being a Christian (though this notoriously angry Buddhist admits "she shares this belief with mil-lions of Americans"). He also doesn't like that Palin is a confident Christian, though possessing confidence himself somehow doesn't hamper Harris from defending his indefensible position as a Buddhist - nor does it shut him up. Amazing.

B) Sarah Palin's quoting of Abraham Lincoln ("The New York Times later dubbed her response 'absurd'" Harris says, after already showing us - with their Gibson analysis - that he and the NYT can't be relied on for accurate analysis).

C) Sarah Palin as the subject of a bunch of Harris's own personal assumptions about what her religious beliefs might be, filled with qualifiers like "Palin very likely believes,..." and "Palin may even imagine,..." and "Palin seems as though,..." Honestly, this is just a collection of guesses that say more about what Harris believes than Palin. Which is just plain weird. I mean, Harris went to college, didn't he?

D) The "end time" beliefs of what seem to be members of Sarah Palin's parent's church, which she left back in 2002. People, Sam Harris appears to do lousy research, just like other meditating followers of the Maharishi cult. This is probably because of too much meditating, which tends to dull and warp the mind. It even causes some people to think they can fly but, as far as I know, Harris hasn't written Newsweek anything about that condition. I wonder why?

E) Sarah Palin's pregnant daughter.

Harris makes a comparison between Bristol Palin's pregnancy and the circumstances - and conservative condemnation - of Jamie Lynn Spears (above) and her family. But there is no comparison because, if I'm not mistaken, Bristol Palin and her sisters were never Mouskateers, the stars of children's T.V. programs, teen icons, prime examples of decadence in our time; nor has Sarah Palin appeared to be heading an out of control family in front of the American public and the world. And I can assure Harris that if one of Barack Obama's daughters eventually decides to shave her head, publicly come apart at the seams, and starts attacking cars with umbrellas before a sea of photographers, "the dysfunction in the black community" will be all anyone will be talking about. Well, next to what a lousy parents Barack and Michelle Obama turned out to be. Which, actually, might come first after all.

I mean, we thought we knew them so well.

F) Sarah Palin "didn't have a passport until last year."

This last one is rich. We're talking about the very definition of elitist now!

Look, except for during slavery and World War II, I'm the only member of my family to have traveled the world, and all it did was confirm for me that average "common sense" Americans can be brilliant, and someone like Sam Harris can be a pampered ignoramus. Or as Samuel Johnson put it:

"What I gained in France was learning to be better satisfied with my own country."

Seems to me Sarah Palin knows this already.

What I'm saying is, Sam Harris and I have both been to France - big whoop. Let's look at a few other famous quotes about France to see what we learned:

"[France is] a relatively small and eternally quarrelsome country in Western Europe, fountainhead of rationalist political manias, militarily impotent, historically inglorious during the past century, democratically bankrupt, Communist-infiltrated from top to bottom."
-- William F. Buckley, Jr. (that doesn't sound good.)
"France is the only country where the money falls apart and you can't tear the toilet paper."
-- Billy Wilder (no wonder they switched to the Euro.)
"I would have loved [France] - without the French."
-- D.H. Lawrence (I can concur.)
"If you want [the French] to like you, you have only to spend a little money."
-- Ernest Hemingway (he shot himself after the experience.)
"To the French, lying is simply talking."
-- Fran Lebowitz (who also doesn't sound enthused.)

Yesiree Howdy! By hanging out amongst the simple honesty of the American people of Alaska, "Our Sarah" appears to have really missed out on a lot, huh? Spending a few days with people practiced in the art of lying probably would've done Sarah Palin a world of good!

Or so says the self-important (and quite possibly lying) Mr. Harris.

Which makes me want to ask my poor, average, public school-educated American readers something:

How often have you had to suffer working under some jackass with a college degree who wouldn't know his head from a hole in the ground? Someone who you knew you could top in the same position? It happens to this particular black guy (with just a couple of years of college) all-the-time. If anything, I think one of the biggest problems today isn't those of average intelligence taking over important positions (Harris's fear) but those of the so-called "educated classes" ruthlessly protecting positions they don't exhibit the common sense to hold. (Look at the current financial crisis.) As James Randi is fond of saying, today, a Ph.D. is just a license to shoot your mouth off - usually about things you know nothing about - hardly proof of competence or wisdom.

And they're the people in charge.

Harris says, referring to the conservatives in fly-over country, "When it comes to politics, there is a mad love of mediocrity in this country." Well, right you are, Sir. But I would like to add that the same terrible affection for the not-too-bright permeates the elitist Left on the coasts to a greater degree.

And, if you ask me, Sam Harris fits the bill perfectly.

If you also think this is so, don't forget this is:


  1. Great post! How refreshing to find another secure atheist who doesn't get his panties in a twist about every mention of "God".

    I too was raised an atheist. Have you read Thomas Paine's "The Age of Reason"? *Hilarious* book. Worth a look.

  2. Interesting post, reminds me of an article I read online recently about the new conservative emphasis on "anti-elitism," the point was something along the lines of this: what modern (i.e., post-Buckley) conservatives resent is not money or power (that's not what they mean when they say "elite") but education, achievement and perceived sophistication - "fancy talkin' professor types, eggheads and snooty scientists," in other words.

    I don't agree that's who the real "elite" in the US is right now here, but it's obvious that her resentment of technocrats and Ivy League types is a big part of Palin's appeal (and yours too) - which may make you part of the problem in the larger sense, but still an interesting and fun read once in a while too.

    Well, enough of my rambling, don't let the smarty-pants get you down!!!!

  3. That sounds about right - people with money don't bother me, but putting on airs will get your butt kicked. And why use a hundred $50 words, when 10 well-chosen ones will do? (Or why say, "after dilution, homeopathy doesn't contain a single molecule of the original substance" when you can merely say "It's water"? Which is more likely to sway the most people?)

    We don't need snootiness in America. It's not who we are.

  4. I think that Sam Harris is a well-known contemporary critic of religion, along with evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, philosopher Daniel Dennett, physicist Victor Stenger, and writer Christopher Hitchens.

  5. maybe you need to read Sam Harris's article "Killing the Buddha" so you can stop misrepresenting him.

  6. sam harris is a narcisist with a strange passion for mysticism... A false atheist.

  7. So what I just learned from this article and it's comments is that many Americans are insecure about their intellect and vocabulary. Well crafted words and their use can help create an idea that can take lessor men a dozen words...or in the case of this page sentences to convey.

    I'm hardly an intellectual or have any writing skillz, but even I know that it's just insecurity if you feel people who speak smart (and say great things) are a problem for the blue collar masses!