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Atheist Philosopher Sam Harris Supports Online Political Censors

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Recently, neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris came out in favor of Big Social Media censorship in a Triggernometry YouTube podcast. His comments, as reported in a partial transcript, supported acknowledged BSM efforts to stifle public awareness of of compromising material found on the laptop of Present Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden just prior to the U.S. 2020 election:

‘At that point, Hunter Biden literally could have had the corpses of children in his basement – I would not have cared,’ began the best selling author, who specialises in religion, rationality, and ethics…

‘Now, that doesn’t answer the people who say that it is still completely unfair to not have looked at the laptop in a timely way or to shut down the New York Post’s Twitter account. Like, that’s just a conspiracy – that’s a left-wing conspiracy to deny the presidency to Donald Trump.

‘Absolutely, it was. Absolutely. Right? But I think it was warranted.’…

Flat White, “We need to talk about Sam Harris” at Spectator Australia (August 19, 2022)

Some think that this open support for Big Social Media censorship harms Harris’s career as a cool modern philosopher:

But maybe not. There is an increasing demand for censorship from both media and universities, alarmed by the growing gulf between progressive and mainstream opinion. Here, for example, is a classic appeal for more:

I’ve wondered recently if, like school violence, misinformation is becoming part of the culture, if it persists because some of us actively partake in it, and some merely stand by and allow it to continue. If that’s the case, then perhaps we ought to worry less about fixing people’s false beliefs and focus more on shifting those social norms that make it OK to create, spread, share and tolerate misinformation. Paluck shows one way to do this in practice – highly visible individual action reaching critical mass; another way could entail tighter regulation of social media platforms.

Elitsa Dermendzhiyska, “The misinformation virus” at Aeon (April 16, 2021)

What about the way political or other pressure defines “misinformation”? In big corporate and social media, demands for censorship fall on eager ears. John Daniel Davidson noted last year,

Last week, YouTube removed videos of former President Donald Trump’s speech at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, citing violations of its rules about “misleading election claims” under its “presidential election integrity” policy.

Also last week, Ebay blocked all sales and purchases of the half-dozen Dr. Seuss books recently deemed unfit for children because they allegedly “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” Amazon blocked access to a documentary about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Twitter suspended the account of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Facebook continued its purge of QAnon-linked accounts, which began back in October. And the cable network TCM announced a program to reframe classic films like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “The Searchers,” and “My Fair Lady,” which it considers “problematic” and “troubling.”

John Daniel Davidson, “Big Tech Thinks You’re An Idiot Child Who Can’t Govern Yourself” at The Federalist (March 8, 2021)

In the real world, the surest way to strengthen rumors about election fraud or other high-level misdeeds is to censor those who make the claim.

And here’s another underdiscussed fact: Book, video, and opinion banning creates many new jobs in censorship. Jobs in censorship, unlike those in arts, literature, and science, require submissiveness rather than creativity or good judgment. That greatly broadens the pool of qualified applicants.

Adobe Stock Censorship peace cage Adobe Stock 22001967

As censorship grows, three things may be expected: 1) It becomes indispensable to those who depend on it even as it stifles society. 2) It broadens into areas in which it enjoys little public support. And 3) It is inevitably used by government to suppress knowledge of scandals, injustices, and high-level crimes.

Tech innovators are currently looking at methods of furthering online censorship. In one example, “The researchers when on to recommend roadblocks when it comes to sharing news and information online, thereby reducing the chance that an inaccurate story slips past the reader’s internal censor.” (Gizmodo, March 19, 2021)

Really? In the hullabaloo around misinformation about COVID-19, much of the information that required correction turned out to come from official or officially trusted sources. Censorship, among other things, prevented more correct information from alternative sources from getting through.

Davidson views the trend as “the single greatest wholesale rejection of liberal democracy, civil society, and the ideal of self-government in American history.” But then social media moguls may think that we have advanced beyond democracy.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, mentioned above, noted in a legal opinion in a case before him that “We will soon have no choice but to address how our legal doctrines apply to highly concentrated, privately owned information infrastructure such as digital platforms”.

If he finds himself on that judicial panel, he’ll have his work cut out for him. Currently, there are active efforts to censor information about CLINTEL, a Netherlands-based anti-climate emergency science group. When Big Social Media go along, matters like that could well be litigated in the U.S. because most of them are domiciled there explicitly in order to gain the First Amendment protection that they would deny to the rest of us for, they believe, our own good.

It comes down to whether you think you should know what they don’t want you to.

You may also wish to read: Why misinformation comes from the top as well as the bottom.

Denyse O'Leary

Denyse O'Leary is a freelance journalist based in Victoria, Canada. Specializing in faith and science issues, she has published two books on the topic: Faith@Science and By Design or by Chance? She has written for publications such as The Toronto Star, The Globe & Mail, and Canadian Living. She is co-author, with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul. She received her degree in honors English language and literature.

Atheist Philosopher Sam Harris Supports Online Political Censors