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Posted by on Feb 9, 2013 in Debate, Law | 2 comments

Jason Streitfeld on Sam Harris

Jason Streitfeld has taken the trouble to write a post setting out his reasons for disagreeing with this earlier one of mine, so I thank him for that (and for the thoughtful, civil character of his post). I’m not sure, however, that it really answers my main point about the sheer emptiness and abusiveness of Ian Murphy’s piece that I was criticising.  The piece from Harris that Murphy is responding to has its own presentational faults, no doubt (as do most articles, posts, etc.), but surely on nothing like the same scale.

It might be said (and, indeed, Jason says it) that Harris has nothing very original to add to the argument on gun control, but honestly who has really had anything very original to add to this much trawled-over issue? At least Harris offers one practical suggestion – that if we’re serious about reducing the number of deaths from guns in the US we might look at ending the war on drugs and the violent criminal class that it creates and sustains. I’d like to see more research to try to estimate what effect this might have, but surely this has more plausibility than many other ideas on the table, such as tougher regulation of video games. Really, the aim has to be reduction of gun violence, not banning the use of certain kinds of guns for its own sake, and if addressing larger policy issues such as legal responses to illegal drugs might achieve this… we should be looking into it.

I do think that there is often a problem with the way Harris frames debates and uses metaphors – it can be in a way that makes his prose more vivid and accessible (and perhaps persuasive) for many readers, but which inflames others with one liners that can be read (perhaps even fairly sometimes!) as provocations.

Anyway, by all means continue the discussion of Harris and his reception on this thread.

  • Jason Streitfeld

    Thanks, Russell. I don’t have much to say about the abusiveness, at least not for now. As for the charge of emptiness, I don’t think Murphy is guilty. He makes a number of cogent, substantive points: that Harris frames his argument with a false equivalence; that Harris is ignoring key data; that Harris is not following the evidence to its logical conclusion; that Harris is self-defeating and hypocritical; that Harris obfuscates with straw men; and that Harris unfairly dismisses a legitimate alternative agenda. I think those are legit criticisms, albeit ones couched in emotionally charged vitriol.

  • I’ve written a charitable, friendly and pointed criticism of Harris on Guns: A Closer Look At Sam Harris On Guns. I’d love some feedback and criticism.