May 25, 2012

Another #SamHarris fail: #Muslim profiling by #TSA at airport

Sam Harris is, more and more, becoming a parody of a scientist, or certainly, a parody of a social scientist. He talks about his secular liberal friends, but between his Islamophobia and his cluelessness about human nature and free will (not to mention his cluelessness about philosophy and his practicing of scientism), I'm surprised Faux News hasn't given him a gig yet; after all, his "they look Muslim and so they scare me" is the same schtick that helped get Juan Williams booted from NPR, then welcomed with open arms at Faux.

Having read his latest argument for Muslim profiling, which is largely and easily shot down by Bruce Schneier to the satisfaction of most people not named Sam Harris and his pseudo-liberal Gnu Atheist fellow travelers, I think I have to agree with Facebook friend Michael McRae:

the more I read of Harris, the more I think he develops his opinions half baked based on how he feels things should be rather than how they are.

And, I'll add that he's willing to stack the deck, too. Anybody who is supposed to be as educated as he is, and will claim with a straight face, as he did in "The End of Faith," that Buddhism is just a psychology clearly is cutting corners. (And, no, don't try to claim that I'm wrong; whether an individual soul or a "life force," if something metaphysical is being reincarnated based on metaphysical guiding principles, it's more than just a psychology.)

But, back to the argument between Harris and Schneier. First, based on previous emails, Harris seems to whine that it's bad pool for Schneier to have brought up Tim McVeigh or the Unabomber. And why? AFTER 9/11, we had the tax protester Andrew Joseph Stack in Austin, Texas, highly akin to the likes of McVeigh, fly a private plane into the Austin IRS office. Before 9/11, we had the Libyans bombing the Lockerbie plane for nationalistic reasons, albeit not while flying.

And, of course, as Harris  knows but refuses to rationally discuss, the religiously Hindu Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, not Muslims, invented the modern idea of suicide bombings. Here's his irrational dismissal:

And I am not proposing a mere correlation between extremist Islam and suicidal terrorism. I am claiming that the relationship is causal. There are many ways to see this, and not too many ways to credibly deny it (though Robert Pape keeps at it by skewing his data with the Tamil Tigers).

So, it's causal. But, it's not ONLY causal for extremist Muslims. We just happen to be the U.S., with huge numbers of airplanes, not Sri Lanka.

That said, Harris is, arguably, either clueless or deceived about the reality of American airport security in general and the Transportation Security Agency in particular, as Schneier readily points out:

 Your intuition on the efficacy of an airport profiling system is wrong.  The psychology of security is complex, and there is a great deal of of research about how our brains systematically get security decisions wrong.  This is an example of that.  Profiling at airports gives us less security at greater cost.

Harris then tries to conflate behavioral and ethnic profiling, only for Schneier to bust him again:
You can disagree, but I assure you that the Israelis understand the difference between ethnic profiling and behavioral profiling.  Yes, they do both together, but that doesn’t mean you can confuse them. 
Beyond the competency level of the TSA in general is the American idea of solving problems with technical fixes rather than spending money on human operations. We could possibly do real profiling, like Israel, but the U.S. Congress would refuse to spend the necessary money to do that intense of personal screening albeit while not profiling on religion. Let's also not forget that, again speaking of people, the NSA possibly, and the CIA possibly, could have prevented 9/11. The NSA could have done that with other cases, if it had the people to pay for all of the data sorting that's needed. Harris and Schneier both appear not to focus on this issue, but it's an additional part of the puzzle.

Anyway, back to the looking Muslim. Anybody who has followed revelations about al-Qaeda in general, and who knows that what Harris is getting at is "looking Arab," also knows that Osama bin Laden was recruiting non-Arab, non-Arab-looking Muslims for exactly this reason. And, as far as names falling under "sounding Muslim"? Jose Padilla didn't look Muslim and "Jose Padilla" doesn't sound that way. Neither does "Richard Reid."

Worldwide, off the top of my head, I'd say that a solid one-third of Muslims are of non-Arab ethnicity, to a degree that they wouldn't look Arab. I include Indonesians, Uighurs in China, Turks in Turkey and Turkic people in central Asia, sub-Saharan blacks and more.

And, because Islamophobia runs so strong and deep among A-list Gnu Atheists, Sam Harris' vapid maunderings show, or hint at, the degree of intellectual bankruptcy among Gnus. It's a long read, but, if you want to see how clearly Harris refuses to admit he's wrong, consistently moves goalposts and other things, read his whole blog post.

To put it another way,  he's engaging in what Dan Dennett has repeatedly, in other areas of human mentality, called "folk psychology." And, as Dennett also noted, folk psychology is often wrong. (Of course, Dennett himself is a Gnu who lied about why he and Richard Dawkins devised the word "bright," but that's another story altogether.)

1 comment:

Alejandro Rodríguez said...

actually, Harris did appear in Fox News, being interviewed by Bill O'Reilly, if I'm not wrong.