Guest Post By Paul Keating, @thepaulosophy

Key Takeaways

  • “Conversation is the only tool we have for making progress”
  • “As a society, we simply can’t afford to find and condemn racism where it doesn’t exist”   
  • “Your capacity to be offended isn’t something that I or anyone else needs to respect. Your capacity to be offended isn’t something that you should respect. In fact, it is something that you should be on your guard for. Perhaps more than any other property of your mind, this feeling can mislead you.”
  • “This feeling of not liking, this feeling of outrage, this feeling of disgust … this feeling is not an argument” 


Sam Harris (@SamHarrisOrg) is a neuroscientist, philosopher, New York Times best-selling author, host of the Making Sense podcast, and the creator of the “Waking Up” App.

Problems in Today’s Society

  • Information is becoming weaponized, while communication is becoming performative. 
  • Social media is a major problem. It’s an experiment for which no one gave consent. 
  • We’re increasingly unable to distinguish between fact and fiction. Our actions against each other may be based on falsities but we are blind due to our confirmation biases.
  • If we can’t agree on what’s real, how are we supposed to agree on how to live?
  • People often publicly say what they think is politically correct, but think, say or behave differently in private. Like in a voting booth.

On Racism in 2020

Sam Harris felt saying something profound is dangerous during this time and acknowledged the risk he was taking by speaking up. 

  • There is a legacy of racism in the United States that we’re still struggling to outgrow.  Slavery was the country’s founding sin along with the eradication of Native Americans.
  • “We should condemn it (racism) wherever we find it. But as a society, we can’t afford to find and condemn racism where it doesn’t exist.”  It has high costs. 
  • “We have to ask, how much of current wealth inequality is due to existing racism and to existing policies that make it harder for black families to build wealth? And the only way to get answers to those questions is to have a dispassionate discussion about facts.
  • The more progress we make on issues of race, the less racism there will be to find, and the more likely we’ll find ourselves chasing after its ghost.
  • We have undeniably made huge racial progress.

On the ‘Woke’ or Radical left. 

  • We’re seeing prominent people speak and act as though the breakdown of civil society is a form of progress. And that any desire for law enforcement is a form of racist oppression. 
  • The rich are supporting this movement because it promises a perfect expiation of their sins.
  • “There is a kind of ecstasy of ideological conformity in the air. And it’s destroying institutions”
  • The general hysteria that the cult of wokeness has produced—I think this is all extremely harmful to civil society, and to effective liberal politics, and to the welfare of African Americans.

On George Floyd

  • “That video was absolutely sickening, and it revealed a degree of police negligence and incompetence and callousness that everyone was right to be horrified by”.
  • “Does the killing of George Floyd prove that we have a problem of racism in the United States?.. In other words, do we have reason to believe that, had Floyd been white, he wouldn’t have died in a similar way?”
  • “I find it very unlikely that he was intending to kill George Floyd. Think about it. He was surrounded by irate witnesses and being filmed. Unless he was aspiring to become the most notorious murderer in human history, it seems very unlikely that he was intending to commit murder in that moment.”
  • “These videos can be hard to interpret, even while seeming very easy to interpret”
  • Compare the case to the killing of Tony Timpa. A white man who called the police on himself  due to a mental health breakdown and cocaine intoxication. The police restrained and eventually killed him whilst telling jokes among colleagues. “If the only thing you changed about the video was the color of Timpa’s skin, then that video would have detonated like a nuclear bomb in our society”

Statistics to Ponder

  • Roland Fryer found that there is a 25 percent greater likelihood that the police would go hands on black suspects than white ones (NYC) 
  • 2019 marked a 30 year low for for police shootings in LA
  • Cops kill about 1,000 people every year. Of this about 25 percent are black and about 50 percent are white. 
  • Around 95 percent of the murders are committed by members of the African American community
  • Black cops and Hispanic cops are more likely to shoot black and Hispanic suspects than white cops are.

On Police and Protests

  • Looting isn’t protesting or social justice. It’s a crime. People are seeing this almost exclusively through the lens of social politics.
  • “The problem with the protests is that they are animated, to a remarkable degree, by confusion and misinformation”
  • Having a police force that can deter crime, and solve crimes when they occur, and deliver violent criminals to a functioning justice system, is the necessary precondition for almost anything else of value in society.
  • Unfortunately, the process of police reform isn’t straightforward—and it is made massively more complicated by what’s happening now.
  • We still need to understand that there are very likely always going to be videos of cops doing something inexplicable, or inexplicably stupid, that results in an innocent person’s death or a not-so-innocent person’s death
  • Fryer has also shown that investigations of the cops, in a climate where viral videos and racial politics are operating, have dramatic effects, many of which are negative.

Difficult Questions

  • How does racial difference become uninteresting? Can it become uninteresting by more and more people taking a greater interest in it? Can it become uninteresting by becoming a permanent political identity? 
  • Can it become less significant by being granted more and more significance? By becoming a fetish, a sacred object, ringed on all sides by taboos? Can race become less significant if you can lose your reputation and even your livelihood, at any moment, by saying one wrong word about it?
Waking Up with Sam Harris :
Notes By Mr. Podcast Notes

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