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The Angry Mr. Harris

I don't know much about Sam Harris, one of the belligerent "new atheists" ("What is new about them?", I always want to ask). But simply from having come across bits of his writing here and there on the web I have the impression that he's a very angry man. So it was only a little surprising to read in a recent Atlantic piece that he is a devotee of a martial arts technique which apparently involves actually choking people into unconsciousness, or nearly so, as a part of normal practice.

Which casts a peculiar light on his comparison of debating to fighting:

The sort of satisfaction one hopes to achieve in intellectual debate is always elusive.... I’ve had debates where it’s absolutely clear to me that my opponent has to [surrender].... They are wrong—just as demonstrably as you’re wrong when you’re being choked to death in a triangle choke.... You rarely get the satisfaction in intellectual life where the person who is wrong has to acknowledge and grow from the experience of having been self-deceived for so long.

We all know the frustration of making an argument that seems obviously decisive to us and yet fails to convince or even impress our opponent. Narrow and rigid thinkers like Harris seem to have a tougher time with it than others: they do not readily see things outside that narrow and rigid frame, and don't understand those who do. But this has a violent edge and implication that's a bit creepy.

The writer of the piece says that the remarks above raise "the possibility that, however calm and well-spoken Harris appears onstage with, say, Rick Warren, he may be silently imagining strangling the pastor into unconsciousness." It strikes me as not just possible but probable.

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From yesterday's Obituary of Dallas Willard, the Protestant philosophy professor and spiritual writer:

'In one of his classes a student challenged him with statements that were both offensive and incorrect. Dallas paused and told the class that that was a good place to end their discussion. Somebody asked Dallas afterward why he had not countered the students' argument and put him in his place. "I'm practicing the discipline of not having to have the last word."

There's a real ascetic.

Impressive, Grumpy.

Mr Harris sounds very disturbed.

Dude's definitely got issues. But mainly he's a crank.

Not sure if I'd call Harris a crank or a huckster. Same goes for Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Maybe that's because there's just so much of the showman about each of them.

And wasn't Hitchens prone to displays of machismo in the physical sense? Which could also describe his writing style.

I think Harris is definitely a very sincere crank, but the other two certainly have some huckster in them, especially Hitchens. He was certainly given to verbal machismo. I don't know about physical one way or the other.

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