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Chris Hedges - I Don’t Believe in Atheists (merged)
Posted: 03 May 2008 03:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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rgill - 03 May 2008 02:56 PM

I was disappointed by this interview. Hedges was evasive and annoying at times and it seemed like little substantive exchange took place. It seems to me that he has a very distorted view of what Harris was actually claiming in The End of Faith. Though I think that Harris does paint a somewhat black and white cartoon caricature of religion, I would not go so far as to draw a parallel with racism. I tend to agree with people like Scott Atran that Islam is not as large a factor as one might suspect in the violence. Nonetheless, one cannot ignore the utterly violent and intolerant rhetoric in scriptures.

While Hedges points to the use of dehumanization as the main characteristic of fundamentalism, Harris would point to dogma.  Did Harris really advocate bombing the middle east? He did label pacifism as “flagrantly immoral.” I’ll have to skim back through my copy and look at the actual context of those statements.

The difference between the New Atheists and fundamentalists are that I fully expect the New Atheists to be able to change their mind based on evidence ... and I actually think Harris has softened and refined his view of religion a bit since writing that first book. I get the strong sense that Hedges has a postmodernist point of view in which there is no real progress moral or otherwise and that one system of belief is as good as any other. That’s not surprising given someone with a literary background having lived in one of the more violent and hopeless parts of the world. 

I’m glad DJ had him on the show. I only wish there are been more substance to the discussion.

Richard

Personally, the fact that he did not discuss Scott Atran at all, who provides empirical evidence for Islam not being the hinge factor in Islamic fundamentalist, discredited him in of itself.

He doesn’t want us to know about Atran’s research, he wants us to think Islam is not involved AT ALL in Islamic terrorism.

Atran’s research reveals it may not be central, but it is an ingredient.

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Posted: 03 May 2008 03:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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relevant links:

http://thesciencenetwork.org/BeyondBelief2/watch/harris.php

http://www.freespeech.org/fscm2/contentviewer.php?content_id=1665

http://thesciencenetwork.org/BeyondBelief/watch/watch.php?Video=Session 7

http://thesciencenetwork.org/BeyondBelief/watch/watch.php?Video=Session 8

We are entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts.

I am Agnostic/Atheist, I trust facts, not opinions.

Professor Atran has facts, Mr. Hedges has opinions based on his real life experience and ability to read Arabic himself.

Just like Bart Ehrman who converted to Agnosticism from Christian Fundamentalism once he read the original scripture documents, most scholars that obtain first hand knowledge of the “Other Abrahamic People”, untainted by Zionism, have a different perception of the Arabic and Persian cultures.

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Posted: 03 May 2008 03:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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Atran has real data, his findings have to be taken seriously.  But he is not the only one. I will try to find you a link for this other scientist who studies this who gave a talk at the AAI conference. I will try to find that.

You make a great point, Doc.

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Posted: 03 May 2008 03:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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Here you go Ohio Doc, here is a dissenting opinion on Atran based in empirical research.

http://richarddawkins.net/article,1710,We-Few-We-Happy-Few-We-Band-of-Brothers,Andy-Thomson-Richard-Dawkins-Foundation

Now, this is just science. It doesn’t mean either guy is right.

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Posted: 03 May 2008 03:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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traveler - 03 May 2008 01:42 PM

And like NHB, I agree with many of Hedges’ points. Unlike NHB, I don’t necessarily have a problem with someone drawing upon personal experiences if those experiences are as relevant as Hedges’ and they don’t insult my sense of reason or clash too badly with my own experiences.

Point of clarification: I wasn’t suggesting that personal experience is irrelevant. If that experience provides useful information, it can indeed be among the best sources for evidence.

My point was rather that Hedges used his self-credentialing to make thinly veiled ad-hominem attacks toward those who both lack his experience and coincidentally hold a different opinion. Think it over: There are obviously others who speak Arabic and who are familiar with Middle-Eastern cultures who nonetheless still promote Neo-Con policies. (Israel contains many of them.)

Hedges thought he could “wow” DJ with his history of intimate involvement. Instead, the effrontery of touting himself over his own argument buried the argument itself.

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People often argue over the term “god” without defining it. It is almost as if they are using the same term to refer both to a penguin and to a quiche. While both may contain eggs, that’s hardly their most salient characteristic.

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Posted: 03 May 2008 04:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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The Point of Inquiry format is just like a theatrical trailer, a teaser if you will.

There was not enough time to go into any depths.

I felt Hedges was a little Passive-Aggressive when he asked which Nation/Society was Islamofascist, DJ could not answer, Hedges should have provided a factual answer instead of something like “I know because I was there…”

Mindcore, thanks for the link!

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Posted: 03 May 2008 04:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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.

[ Edited: 30 July 2008 06:09 PM by jholt ]
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Posted: 03 May 2008 04:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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jholt - 03 May 2008 04:30 PM
mindcore - 03 May 2008 03:42 PM

Here you go Ohio Doc, here is a dissenting opinion on Atran based in empirical research.

http://richarddawkins.net/article,1710,We-Few-We-Happy-Few-We-Band-of-Brothers,Andy-Thomson-Richard-Dawkins-Foundation

Now, this is just science. It doesn’t mean either guy is right.

I’ve gone ahead and watched the address by Andy Thompson. Where is he dissenting from Scott Atran, and what is that empirical evidence? I don’t see much of a departure from much of the literature that is already out there. Much of what he says has been published by Atran.

All of Thompson’s stuff is based on empirical research. Isn’t it?

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Posted: 03 May 2008 04:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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.

[ Edited: 30 July 2008 06:23 PM by jholt ]
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Posted: 03 May 2008 05:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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[ Edited: 30 July 2008 06:22 PM by jholt ]
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Posted: 03 May 2008 05:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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I’m a little skeptical that Hedges has even read Harris and Hitchens, but perhaps I shouldn’t underestimate cognitive dissonance. I suspect Hitchens was right to call Hedges a “mediocre pseudo-intellectual” in their debate, as his “racist” charge against Harris and Hitchens is incredibly sloppy thinking. One can easily distinguish between hating Islamic religion and hating Islamic people. If an impoverished African has a seething vitriol against American consumer culture, that doesn’t make him a racist. If Hitchens or Harris were morally against living in the desert or turbans or speaking Arabic, then Hedges might have a case, but they don’t, nor do either of them think the best course of action is to glass the whole Middle East.

I remember during their debate, Sam Harris chided Hedges for trying to override extensive polling data on the feelings of Muslims with his personal anecdotes from his time as a foreign correspondent, and I think that sentiment is especially relevant in how Hedges argued his position in this interview.

I suppose I may eventually read his book because it is mercifully short (just as I may read McGrath’s and John Haught’s anti-New Atheist books), but I gathered from what is said in the book’s preface that Hedges left his wits and his cool at the door before settling in to write this pompous essay. Hedges (as well as all the other mainstream critics of Dawkins, Hitchens et al) in his rush to show how Hitchens and Harris are just as fundamentalist, close-minded, intolerant, and out of touch as those they criticize, himself becomes as close-minded and out of touch as the caricatures he attacks. Oh, the irony!

His thoughts on progress are damn near close to moral relativism in my estimation. Does he think the only way “progress” could be real is if anti-racism and feminism and liberalism were genetically inherited? Because he states the obvious when he says modern moral sentiment vanishes and is replaced by something medieval or primeval in the absence of society. His distinction between progressing as an individual and progressing as a society reminds me of the creationist insistence on a qualitative difference between “micro” and “macro”-evolution; progress as a society (even if slower and more haphazard) follows from the singular progressions of the individuals that make up that society. It comes as no surprise that his years as a war correspondent and overall observer of the dark side of human nature have made him a dour cynic in this regard. Once again his anecdotes trump objective data (like Pinker’s data on the decrease of per capita deaths).

I see similarities in treating “the great dictatorships of the 20th century” as the falsifier of moral progress and in treating America as the falsifier of secularization. What it seems like is that Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia are anomalies within a general trend of societies to morally progress, just like all the data warrants treating religious America as an anomaly among the general imperfect trend toward secularization. Yes, it’s easy to debunk the Enlightenment notion of progress as a rhythmically steady pace (a la the quintessential test of sobriety), but that does not debunk progress altogether, as it could just be a swerving, drunken walk toward progress with frequent missteps. Unfortunately Hedges and others like him seem happy to dismiss the notions of moral progress and secularization on the basis of anomalies. Stalin disproves progress like metabolism disproves entropy.

BTW, Harris does in fact speak against pacifism in his book. In fact he has a section devoted to it. Needless to say, however, criticizing pacifism as naive does not amount to a defense of militarism, and Harris’s digression against pacifism is not discussed in the context of deconversion by force.

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Posted: 03 May 2008 06:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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NH Baritone - 03 May 2008 03:56 PM
traveler - 03 May 2008 01:42 PM

And like NHB, I agree with many of Hedges’ points. Unlike NHB, I don’t necessarily have a problem with someone drawing upon personal experiences if those experiences are as relevant as Hedges’ and they don’t insult my sense of reason or clash too badly with my own experiences.

Point of clarification: I wasn’t suggesting that personal experience is irrelevant. If that experience provides useful information, it can indeed be among the best sources for evidence.

My point was rather that Hedges used his self-credentialing to make thinly veiled ad-hominem attacks toward those who both lack his experience and coincidentally hold a different opinion. Think it over: There are obviously others who speak Arabic and who are familiar with Middle-Eastern cultures who nonetheless still promote Neo-Con policies. (Israel contains many of them.)

Hedges thought he could “wow” DJ with his history of intimate involvement. Instead, the effrontery of touting himself over his own argument buried the argument itself.

Thanks NHB,
I see what you are saying - and I have no problem with it. It seems clear that Hedges has a reputation with which I am unfamiliar. I’m just trying to discover the interview points people disagree with. I guess I’ll just have to poke through all the links that have been posted and filter through it myself. That’s ok, I’m not lazy. cool smile

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Posted: 03 May 2008 09:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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I was pleasantly surprised the PoI invited Hedges on, and have listened to this a couple of times now.

Knowing Hedges through hearing other debates (i.e. with Harris) rather than through his writings, I found the interview revealing more of his weaknesses than his strengths.

Right up front, I think the one thing he gets spot on is the raw imperial racism truly animating people like Harris and Hitchens. If anything Hedges is too polite in understating the severity of this aspect. He seems to accept at face value DJ’s repeated suggestion that that these ‘New Atheists’ are really seriously interested (any more than Bush, Cheney or the Likudniks) in bringing ‘secular values’ to the Muslim world. Again, their ‘secularism’ is the thinnest of pretexts, a kind of renaiscent “white man’s burden” mythology—it remains a lie even if some secular idiots really believe this is what their cluster-bomb cluster-f**k wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and their nuclear threats against Iran are really about.

That said, I find many of the criticisms that people have made above about Hedges are also useful.

He certainly expresses a special kind of arrogance througout the interview. I don’t think, though, that it’s really as he would have us believe, about his profound life experience or the ‘values’ he has supposedly learned to cherish from first-hand knowledge of human ‘evil’. Not only do his philosphical/literary musings come straight from the dictionary of received ideas (‘Heart of Darkness’? give me a freaking break!), but his politics do not rise above the self-serving bromides of Clintonite ‘human-rights’ imperialism. 

What really comes accross in Hedges self-important, pompous manner is the attitude one would expect from a celebrated imperial journalist who ‘knows’ the empire’s subject peoples, and has nothing but contempt about commentators who have not bothered to learn their language and cultures with intimacy.  And 99 times out of a hundred he can count on his experience trumping the insular, racist ignorance on the part of the people he is arguing with about the broader world. This time the stand-in for predictable American parochialism was DJ, who was rendered speechless as soon as Hedges b-slapped him a few times with his ‘name a country, any country - which theocracy? They’re all different’!

Others have commented above on Hedges’ cultural relativism, even post-modernist tilt ... What is ‘cultural relativism’ of the pc liberal left, but imperialist racism inverted on itself - in the form of blanket patronizing and pandering toward all forms of social backwardness? ‘Who are WE to judge?’ asks the guilt riddled liberal, still clinging to the imperial ‘we’ (the operative concept). His dismissive sneering against ‘utopia’ - by which he means Marxism, is actually a straight out rejection that there is any such thing as class solidarity across national and cultural boundaries established by the rulers (who he never mentions), and nothing in our common humanity worth struggling for. This is where his reactionary shit about ‘evil’ comes in. What is that supposed to mean? It’s nothing but primitive supernaturalism dressed up as cliched ‘moral’ profundity.

Interesting that Hedges idolizes none other than the utterly impotent Socialist Party of Norman Thomas. So much of the same sanctimonious liberal nonsense on display in this interview was already pretty long in the tooth when Trotsky polemicised against John Dewey in the delightful pamphlet ‘Their Morals and Ours’ (1938).

Moralists of the Anglo-Saxon type, in so far as they do not confine themselves to rationalist utilitarianism, the ethics of bourgeois bookkeeping, appear conscious or unconscious students of Viscount Shaftesbury, who at the beginning of the 18th century(!) deduced moral judgments from a special “moral sense” supposedly once and for all given to man. Supra-class morality inevitably leads to the acknowledgment of a special substance, of a ’’moral sense’’, ’’conscience’’, some kind of absolute which is nothing more than the philosophic-cowardly pseudonym for god. Independent of “ends”, that is, of society, morality, whether we deduce it from eternal truths or from the “nature of man”, proves in the end to be a form of “natural theology”. Heaven remains the only fortified position for military operations against dialectical materialism.

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Posted: 04 May 2008 12:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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Chris Hedges continually accused the “new atheist” superstars of racism and of attacking Muslims and Christians etc.  He seems to overlook the point that what they are by and large critiquing is Islam and Christianity, not Muslims and Christians.  If there is a logical inconsistency in a belief or philosophy and that is brought to light, it does not necessitate that those who ascribe to that point of view are being attacked does it?  I mean, I don’t like most TV, but if I complain about the vacuity of “American Idol” it doesn’t mean I’m racist toward those who watch it.
Harris et all do have their faults, but I find it dubious listening to Mr. Hedges that he has a clear unbiased grasp of them.  I’ll reserve judgement till I read his book.

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Posted: 04 May 2008 05:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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I also think its interesting that he talks about them being racist but never offers a race as the victim of their racism. Muslims are prominent among arabs, persians, western chinese (I’m not sure of the ethnic groups), blacks, slavic peoples, etc.

I think Ibn Warraq who, I think, is an Arab, might find the notion that these guys are racist totally silly since he’s cited in nearly all their books.

His book is called “Why I’m Not a Muslim” and it is echoed in the works of the 4 horsemen.

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