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Free Speech via Debate

I may talk about this Ezra Klein/Sam Harris debate more, because it’s really interesting and rewards close reading. However, quickie before work: this is exactly how I want to platform controversial ideas. I believe strongly that free speech is important. That doesn’t mean you get to completely control your context.

In this piece, Sam Harris gets a big platform to make his case. He just has Ezra Klein sitting there debating him in good faith every step of the way. Compare this to the Milo tour of college campuses, in which Milo has no interest in defending his views. He’s just there to whip people up with a big megaphone. Context matters, and if you’re interested in advancing ideas that are reprehensible, you maybe need to deal with some pushback in real time.

One detail from early in the Klein/Harris debate:

Ezra Klein
I think you should quote the line. I don’t think that’s what the line said.

Sam Harris
The quote is, this is the exact quote: “Sam Harris appeared to be ignorant of facts that were well known to everyone in the field of intelligence studies.” Now that’s since been quietly removed from the article, but it was there and it’s archived.

[I went back and looked into this and, as far as I can tell, the original quote that Harris is referring to is this one: “Here, too briefly, are some facts to ponder — facts that Murray was not challenged to consider by Harris, who holds a PhD in neuroscience, although they are known to most experts in the field of intelligence.”] (This is Ezra Klein writing.)

That’s gold. In other contexts, Sam Harris gets to recount his version of events as filtered through his aggrieved ego, and people hear him, and sure, it sounds likely. Here, he gets called on it and fact-checked post facto.

Much of this is better expressed in an editorial by Michael McFaul, on the topic of a Francis Fukuyama/Charles Murray debate at Stanford.

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