What tripe… Where to begin? First off, I just wanna say that I don’t give two shits about Harris or his books, and I’m not here to agree with everything or anything he has to say, especially about Islam, but Lears’ diatribe has about as much intellectual honesty as my left nut. Just ask my right nut, who’s a lying bastard.
First off, using the old eugenics line to sum up the history of positive progress via science is something Ben Stein or Glenn beck would do (would do and have done). And when they use that it’s to promote young earth creationism. For Lears to pull out the Khan Noonien Singh card to represent what science has given us is to pull out the Justin Bieber card to represent music.
Lears’ use of Christopher Hitchens support for the war in Iraq is incredibly selective, and the way this is written instantly followed by his list of other atheists infers that Dennet, Dawkins and Harris supported the invasion of Iraq. Completely dishonest—not to mention, wasn’t this supposed to be about Harris?
Lears goes on to suggest that the backlash to 9/11 is practically the sole cause for the uptick in the public presence of atheists in the last decade. Dead wrong, the recent atheist surge in culture has been a result of two things. One, a counterbalance to religion’s invasion of science (creationism in school, the Dover trials, bans on stem cell research, denying climate change etc.). Much as MSNBC is a counterbalance to Fox News, people with facts have to even the scale when misinformation becomes popular. Second, the expansion of the Internet, especially places like youtube where many professors and scientists spend a great deal of their unpaid time countering creationist claims.
Lears goes on to selectively quote Harris,
“Neuroscience, he insists, is on the verge of revealing the keys to human well-being” then the very next sentence is, “To define science as the source of absolute truth, Harris must first ignore the messy realities of power in the world of Big Science.”
Wow, he went from from science is revealing things we don’t yet know, to absolute truth. Shameless. Then he says,
“Harris treats the recognition of legitimate moral differences as a sign of moral incompetence, and it is this sort of posturing that has cemented the New Atheists’ reputation for bold iconoclasm.”
Again, wow. First off, he sticks the Harris flag, yet again, as a representation of all atheists, but more importantly he draws the notion that the progress of some cultures contrasted with others is almost by definition a display of intolerance. Two pages later he talks about Christine Walley’s work with victims of genital mutilation and her work with people there to end such cultural practices as a noble act. Double standard much? Sure it’s easier to ride your high horse when it’s another country, but what about here? What about those 12- to 14-year-old “wives” that were removed en masse in Utah from their single Mormon “husband” by the feds and social services? Should the magic of the words “culture” or “religion” have kept them there? If your response was, “Well, where do you draw the line?” then that is the beginning of a real debate, but what Lears does here is far too simple, and purposefully self-serving. I know many people are not fans of Bill Maher and I certainly don’t agree with everything he says, but one quote of his has always stuck with me, “Don’t be so tolerant that you tolerate intolerance”.
The way he hold’s Harris’ views on torture up on pedestal gives the not-so-subtle impression that he’s rebuking some presupposed tenant of atheism. Had I read this with no knowledge of Dawkins or any like-minded people I would by default be under the assumption that torture was accepted by atheists in general, which is a ridiculous notion.
Lears then goes off on the “verbal overshadowing effect” concluding,
“…research had been run aground by the baffling “decline effect” that scientists have struggled with for decades, a result (or nonresult) that suggests that there may be disturbing limitations to the scientific method, at least in the statistically based behavioral sciences.”
Jeez, where to begin? Comparing statistical research to the scientific fucking method of using a control and variable to reliably prove if a hypothesis is demonstrably true and repeatable. Somebody skipped fifth grade lab.
It gets particularly annoying when Lears defines pragmatism as though it were Scientology. I’d consider myself a pragmatist but would agree with little if anything concerning his definition of what a pragmatist would think or do, probably because no one can. It’s not a system, for fuck’s sake. It’s not a dogma with set rules, it’s using your own judgment for what you believe to be the most likely realistic outcome regardless of your most fervent ideals; there’s no way anyone could arbitrarily assert the future actions of a so called pragmatist. Unless of course you were a pompous ass, like my right nut, and Lears.
Then boy genius tries to quote Harris again,
“…he points out that the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), which records feelings of reward and “self-relevance,” also registers the difference between belief and disbelief. When research subjects are presented with a moral dilemma—to save five people by killing one—the prospect of direct personal involvement more strongly activates brain regions associated with emotion. As Harris observes, “pushing a person to his death is guaranteed to traumatize us in a way that throwing a switch will not.” We do not need neuroscience to confirm the comparative ease of killing at a distance: Bauman’s work on the Holocaust, along with many other studies, demonstrated this decades ago.”
Un-fucking-believable. Merely one page prior, Lears warns how the scientific method can be faulty when it comes to observational statistics, as opposed the harder-core obviously demonstrable sciences, then in the next breath casts aside directly readable results from neuroscans for sixty-year-old observations in a comparatively uncontrolled environment. The level of hypocrisy here is brain-melting.
The final rant about what will science lead to if we use our newer techniques in lie detectors and Fifth Amendment implications etc. is right out of an episode of Glenn Beck… Just because we invented guns doesn’t mean kids stealing candy will die by firing squad anymore than legalizing marijuana will allow surgeons to operate stoned. If he’s that worried about future advances for moral reasons, then maybe he should give up some old ones like planes and smallpox vacines. Oh yeah, and writing on a scary computer! Muhahahaha!
In his final two paragraphs he rants about how folly Harris is to think advances in science translate to genuine progress in the developed world. For that I have a big example I would like to shove up his ass. The Arab Spring. You could easily say that no one thing allowed the ongoing spring to happen and you would be right, but frankly one matter tipped the scale so much that it’s pretty much the ace in the hole, and that’s transparency. By transparency I mean cheap cell phones that average people can afford that shoots video they can upload to youtube and facebook without owning a computer. Cheap cell phones that allow people to send locations and information to congregate on mass in ways that they previously could not.
Lears chides while quoting Harris,
“Ultimately his claims for moral progress range more widely, as he reports that “we” in “the developed world” are increasingly “disturbed by our capacity to do one another harm.” What planet does this man live on?”
One with awesome cheap cell phones thanks to science, motherfucker!
P.S. Since his lopsided list of atheists influencing culture consisted of Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins and Dennet, here’s my list.
Neil deGrasse Tyson
Susan B. Anthony
& 95 percent of science-based Nobel laureates who were clearly working on eugenics the whole time ;-)