Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Religion

A Critique of Sam Harris

Over at Current Affairs, Nathan Robinson and Eli Massey have written the critique of Sam Harris. Robinson offers a magisterial, detailed overview of the rhetorical sleights of hand Harris uses to give relatively weak, unoriginal positions the imprimatur of “science” and “reason”. I want to add something to this discussion–something Robinson touches on but which I want to stay with for a minute. There is a core problem with the way Harris thinks which necessarily generates bad takes on Islam and the Muslim world.

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Migrants Don’t Destroy Traditional Values–The Market Does

The other day I ran across a survey–apparently 40% of British people feel that “having a wide variety of backgrounds has undermined British culture”. When people say that western culture has been undermined, they are implicitly saying that at one point in time western culture was better. Many socialists, liberals, and progressives don’t agree with that–they think traditional values are wrong and moving past them is good. But today, instead of relitigating social issue debates about changing values, I want to make a case to our socially conservative friends on their own terms. To be clear, this doesn’t mean I agree with traditional values. I merely want to show that the values social conservatives treasure are not threatened by migrants–they are instead threatened by the very markets many on the right so deeply prize.

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Why Churches Aren’t Good at Pursuing the Good

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how some left-wing organisations act like churches–they are communities in which people come together to develop and refine their understandings of the good rather than strategic operations for achieving discrete political goals in the world. A few people wrote replies to my piece. The most interesting and recurrent counterargument I saw alleges that it’s fine for the left to be a church because people enjoy the sense of community churches provide and like the opportunity to come together with like-minded people to develop their understanding of what it means to be good to one another. These people deny that we ought to prioritise strategic efficacy, that it’s at least as important to become good people, and that left-wing organisations facilitate this personal growth. I disagree with this priority on the personal because I think it’s egoistic. But today I want to make an additional, larger argument–I want to argue that churches and other communities are not good devices for pursuing the good, and that the conclusions communities reach about the good are very likely to be deeply wrong.

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The Church Left is Proving My Point

A couple days ago, I wrote a piece about the tendency for left wing organizations to behave like church communities rather than strategic political organizations. I told a story about an upcoming election at the East Bay DSA branch in California, criticising one of slates for taking unstrategic positions and using church tactics–shunning, shaming, perhaps expulsion–to target those who publicly do not embrace their platform in every detail. Anxious to prove everything I said correct, this slate and its supporters have immediately begun coming after me in precisely the ways I anticipated. They have begun personally targeting me, attempting to depict me as some kind of heretic or sinner. If I am not a true lefty (a heretic) or if I am someone who sometimes takes wrong positions or says wrong things (a sinner) then I am bad and should be shunned, shamed, and drive out of left-wing discourse.  The trouble is, I’m a lone wolf on the internet. I don’t tend to join organizations–my influence, such as it is, has always come from the ability of my writing and arguments to draw attention and support. I don’t rely emotionally or psychologically on the acceptance and approval of a church community which they can turn against me. This limits their leverage over my behavior. Churches can try to shun and shame the people who don’t go to church, but it doesn’t work so well.

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The Left is Not a Church

I want to talk about the DSA. If you haven’t heard, the DSA is the Democratic Socialists of America. It’s a left-wing organization that’s been around since 1982, but it’s become politically more significant over the last couple years. Inspired by Bernie Sanders, DSA’s membership has expanded from 6,000 to about 35,000 over the last couple years. The DSA is committed to lots of nice things, like a Medicare-for-All Single Payer system. I heard a story about two DSA branches this week–the San Francisco DSA and the East Bay DSA. It’s a local story. A small story. But it tells us a lot about the condition of left-wing organizing today.

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