I’ve spent a bit of time listening to and reading Sam Harris and become ever more disappointed with his view on human free will to the point I now consider his position to be one of the most destructive positions to take if one values a free society. Hence, this open letter to Mr Sam Harris.
I’m nothing to you, no publicized intellectual gems to share with you and your followers, no public following of my own, and really nothing to label me as a bonafide intellectual meriting attention. No, I’m just someone on the periphery looking in and seeking a bit of wisdom for myself. It’s in that vein that I offer this brief critique.
I’ve listened to a number of your podcasts and even enjoyed some of them but I’ve never provided any financial support for your work. And that’s why I’m writing, to let you know the reason why.
Briefly, I admire your goal, the civil discourse of ideas and I like both your emotionally-controlled style and your visible respect for both your guests and audience. When the subject matter is of value to me, I enjoy listening to your presentations. Even when you broach the subject with which I strongly disagree, I’ve sometimes kept listen because of your manner of interviewing, contrary to many other public ranters that cause me to look for the off button.
I can honestly say it is your demeanour that I admire and fully endorse. As well, your podcast opening, with your solicitation for funding from those who can afford it, with the clearly stated caveat that you urge those who lack funds to listen but keep their money. I also agree that politics follows from our culture and it is only by improving the culture that we will improve politics. That you clearly recognize the role that the restriction of force has in determining the civility of a society, and the role of freedom to produce human flourishing are more traits of yours that I compliment you on.
That said, the critique … free will, and some serious tongue-in-cheek.
Since you insist that we lack free will, I cannot contribute to your cause as I have, by your description, no previous cultural or inherited clues to guide me in said direction. You say something deep inside each of us is the root of all our decisions but I’ve never socially interacted with anyone that’s donated to you before. I just can’t see making such a decision on my own, without previous culture signals. If anything, I should have inherited a frugal trait as both my parents saved money, though prolific saving doesn’t appear to be part of my makeup, possibly due to a bit of Neanderthal throwback. My donating traits do differ from their’s as they appear to have been more inclined to take rather than pay, and I believe money was invented somewhat after they failed in their challenge in the human race. Strange though, lacking free will, how could money come about? Or anything new for that matter? How could one sit down and write a book? Particularly, if we lack free will, how could one write a book about not having free will?
And ending on a serious note, should you answer my questions to my satisfaction, I’d be able to exercise my free will to open my wallet. In truth, should you alter your view on free will, you would gain my support. Until then I’ll keep hoping you rethink your position, but not contributing nor listening. Because I see responsibility as the flip side of freedom, I see your position to be destructive of civilization, something I could never fund.
When one claims the ‘actor’ cannot control the ‘action’, that all of us are driven by incomprehendible forces that stem from such diverse factors as culture, upbringing, illness etc. that we are not agents of our own action, you are saying no one can truly be held responsible for their actions. Yet civilization hangs on the fact that we choose to be peaceful with each other and those who do not are penalized, with the stipulated goal that they change or their freedom of action will be drastically curtailed. To be civilized means that one recognizes that actions are personally generated and one is responsible for such actions as one initiates. Without such a constraint, the resulting anarchy would soon reduce the human population to match the carnivore animal population.
A critique, gs