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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  September 2, 2020 4:30am-5:01am BST

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of kenosha during a brief visit in which he described several nights of violence there as domestic terror. mr trump ignored pleas from local democrat leaders to stay away, amid accusations that the trip was an election stunt. the president did not visit the family of an unarmed black manjacob blake who was shot and paralysed by a white police officer last month — the event which triggered the violence. mr blake's family say they need a president who will unite the country. the man known as comrade duch has died. he was one of the most notorious senior figures from the genocidal khmer rouge regime in cambodia in the late 70s. duch was the first khmer rouge commander convicted of crimes against humanity by a tribunal, backed by the un.
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now on bbc news, hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. thanks to the internet and this, the mobile phone, our ability to inform, communicate and persuade has never been greater. yet, public debate seems more toxic, more divisive than ever before. so what is happening? are intolerance and extremism winning out over reasoned debate? my guest today is the american neuroscientist, philosopher and podcaster, sam harris. he goes into intellectual territory where few others dare tread — on race and religion. he generates lots of heat. what about light?
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sam harris in california, welcome to hardtalk. happy to be here, thanks, stephen. sam, you have an extraordinarily popular podcast in which you talk with leading intellectuals across the world but you also express your own trenchant opinions in a host of books that you've written. which is more important, more meaningful to you? the conversation or expressing your strong opinion? good question. i think i split the difference there because, as you know, i don't do much in the way of standard interviews. i'm really trying to have a conversation every time i do a podcast. so i take up 40% of the bandwidth in any interview so i get to hear myself talk to my heart's content and perhaps to the exasperation of certain guests. when you choose guests
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for the making sense podcast, which is listened to by millions across the world, do you like to bring in people with whom you know you and disagree quite profoundly? occasionally. occasionally, yeah, a little of that goes a long way, depending on how profound the disagreements are. but, you know, ithink what is important is to be able to talk about substantial issues and significant differences of opinion in a way that is civil and that converges on some kind of solution. the only tool we have for making intellectual and moral progress is conversation. it's persuasion. if we can't persuade one another based on argument and evidence, in the end we have no appeal but to force, force of numbers. we shed the veneer of
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civilisation pretty quickly. so i really do view conversation as a kind of sacred tool. i'm just wondering why you have such faith in conversation and dialogue when it seems to me that we live in a era of digital communication where, frankly, exchanges of views and information is easier than ever before and everyone can put their opinion out there on a platform, and yet far from easing humanity's ability to get along it seems to be polarising, dividing and creating an ever more toxic environment. so your faith in conversation may be misplaced. i didn't say i was an optimist. i'm not...i just see no alternative. literally, it is the only tool we have. there is literally no other way to influence the thoughts
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and opinions and behaviours and intentions of other human beings. i am quite worried that we've created a kind of psychological experiment that we have run on all of humanity, or most of humanity all at once without anyone‘s consent wherein we have created the circumstance where people can be successfully isolated with respect to certain kinds of dogmas, they can pursue any crazy idea to their heart's content, for year after year, and find support for it online. the internet is having this dual function of allowing us to get access to the totality of human knowledge instantaneously, but it also allows our sense—making to shatter and our epistemology to allow for a kind of balkanisation of thought. i want to turn to perhaps one of the most contentious debates, frankly, tearing
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america apart right now — that is race and racism and how to respond to what many people appears to be clear evidence of discrimination at every level in american society including policing and the justice system. you have spoken out against black lives matter. you seem to regard it as a form of identity politics which you say is a poison, a poison in america today. why do you say that? first, let me say that i acknowledge that racism is still a tremendous problem in certain parts of american society and globally. and that racism is something that we absolutely have to oppose and criticise. it is a problem for which there is a remedy and we have been pursuing this remedy for many, many decades in the united states, but we have made a lot of progress.
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and now we live in a moment where we are having a kind of moral panic advertised to us and black lives matter is one of the names of this movement and one of the groups, it is a very loose group but one of the groups that is making the most noise on this topic at the moment. and it is as though we have made no progress, as though this moment in american history exemplifies the worst symptoms of racism. and that is quite delusional. obviously we have made a tremendous amount of progress and obviously this is one of the least racist moments in human history, generally, globally, and in american history. but... may i stop you here, just to point out the obvious, that you sit with me, we're both, let's be honest,
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white middle—class comfortable educated people who represent perhaps the dominant grouping in our respective societies. and who are you, in the end, to tell black americans how they should feel right now? because so many of them look around the reality of their own lives, their children's lives and see a system that is systemically racist, not least when it comes to the police and they feel it is their right and their duty to express a level of anger, frustration and an unwillingness to accept that, which is surely understandable. well, it's in part understandable. but what is really understandable is that there is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding being amplified. if you're going to be outraged over the racist behaviour
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of racist cops or the racist consequences of systems that promulgate racism, whether there is any actual living racist around to implement those systems... but it is not a choice, is it? we are, surely, duty—bound to be outraged. and i'm as concerned and outraged as anyone is about those things but i am doubly, or additionally concerned that we not find racists where they don't exist. if you're going to find racists everywhere you will find the real racists nowhere. and you will do immense harm in the process. and so, take the variable of police violence. it's very important, if you are going to worry about the consequences of racism and the way it's causing black men, preferentially, to be shot and killed in america, you have
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to find out whether in fact that's happening, whether black men are being shot in greater numbers, in proportion to the numbers of encounters they have with police officers and whether they're. . . if they are having more encounters with police officers per capita, there's any explanation for that other than racism. my concern currently in america is that any disparity you find, whether it's in respect to police violence or wealth or employment or any variable of interest and of great social importance, currently, on the left, anywhere you go left of centre politically, the only explanation that is acceptable, and this really does have the quality of a kind of blasphemy test in a religion, the only explanation that is acceptable at this moment is white racism or systemic racism. now, on the point of police violence, itjust so happens that the only data we have suggests that while, while african—americans have more encounters
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with the police, and i think there are obvious reasons for that, and they're actually roughed up by the police more than white americans are, they're not killed more. in fact they're killed less than white americans are per encounter. if you come to the attention of the police in america and they draw their guns on you, your chances of being shot appear to be slightly higher if you're white, at the moment. and that breaks everyone's expectations. but, hang on, this is fascinating because it gets to the heart of your intellectual approach to lots of things. you are, i think, a self—proclaimed rationalist and say you are determined to be driven by the evidence, by the data, by science and not by emotion and still less by things like religion or any other faith—based
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belief system. so evidence does matter. but if you look across the piece, you have alighted on one piece of evidence but surely there's an overwhelming tract of evidence about incarceration rates, what happens to black kids in school, what happens to black people in employment, how many jobless black people there are. there is clearly a story in america of systemic discrimination which black people are saying, right now, they will no longer tolerate without expressing their anger. and when you make the point you've just made, it does sound to some like you're lacking a level of compassion or even emotional intelligence or ability to empathise with the situation of the other. well, no, first of all it shouldn't, because i'm concerned about the real suffering of real people. but we must acknowledge that we compound that suffering when we give false notions about its actual causes.
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so if you're going to look at, and, again, i'm on record every time i touch this topic, acknowledging that we still need criminaljustice reform and the war on drugs in the united states in particular has been a disaster and especially a disaster for the black community. all those things should go without saying and there are changes that need to be made there. but, again, if you are going to ascribe the status quo across the board, the fact that there is the kind of wealth and inequality in respect to crime and violence in american society that breaks along racial lines, if you're going to ascribe that to white racism or policies that white people are not changing because they advantage them, you will continually stumble upon errors of great consequence. it's simply not the case that there are white racists with their racism producing the level of violence we see
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in the black community in the inner city, in a place like chicago. the point that many black americans are making right now and i will quote you the words of one, sincere kirabo, who works as the social justice co—ordinator at the american humanist association. he's addressed your podcasts on this issue and your interviews with others on this issue and he says that "sam harris‘s definition of racism places an underlying emphasis on intention," and he says "that is how sam harris defines the number of racist white people as a tiny, tiny minority. "however," says mr kirabo, "when discussing racism it is important to remember it isn't about intent, it's about impact and in that sense it involves a far greater proportion of the white community. " as stated, i would not necessarily disagree with that. intention is not the only thing that matters. if there are policies that, in effect, create racist
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outcomes whether anyone intends it or not, we should figure out what those policies are and change them. right? that is what people tend to mean by systemic racism or institutional racism. and i'm completely on board with the project of discovering that and correcting for it. right. but what we have now in american society are allegations of racism or the experience that people are having, millions of people are having of watching simultaneously of watching a video of, let's say, a police shooting, you know, in the prototypical case it will be a white cop shooting a black suspect. yeah, we don't have to imagine it, sam. we see it. right now we're watching over and over, jacob blake being shot in wisconsin. you know, we don't have to use our imagination. i would tell you that that video is not evidence — in and of itself, that video is not evidence of racism. right. you can see videos of white people being shot in precisely the same circumstances. and, i mean, we have a massive problem of guns in our society,
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we have a massive problem of poorly trained cops. i mean, that video in particular evinced several of these problems, one is that, well, when someone rushes to their car in defiance of police commands and opens the door and reaches in, in american society, unlike in the uk, it is only rational for the cops to assume that that person is retrieving a gun so he can turn around and start shooting cops in the face, which happens, right? and every cop knows this. to move on from race to religion, you're very well—known for having written a book, end of faith, that espoused your belief that religion was essentially preposterous. but there amongst your views on religion is a clearfeeling that islam is a more malign, a more dangerous set of beliefs than many other religions? and i just want to quote to you something you said, actually a number of years ago, almost 14 years ago, where you talked about muslims in europe, and you said, "muslim immigrants show little inclination to acquire
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the secular and civil values of host countries. they exploit the values of those countries to the utmost, they demand tolerance for their backwardness, misogyny, their anti—semitism and their genocidal hatred preached in their mosques." ijust wonder, again, if you're looking for calm, considered rational conversation, do you think your own words there are helping? yeah, well, as you acknowledged, that had the kind of top spin one wrote with in the immediate aftermath of september 11. right. i mean, this is — my conversation, most style of conversation about islam has moved on from there. i wrote a book with maajid nawaz, a fellow brit, who used to be a muslim extremist, who is now a rational and secular person as you could ever hope to find. and we had a kind of debate that, um, uh, converged on a — really a happy conversation and a friendship that became this book: islam and the future of tolerance. so you can get my most recent framing of the issues there.
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but, you know, to your fundamental point, yes, it's taboo to say — wherever you happen to stand in culture, whether you're secular or whether you're religious, that religions are different with respect to almost any variable that we care about. you know, they claim different things, they emphasise different things, they have different points in their history and their engagement with modernity. and yes, islam is — it's not an accident that jihadism is a phenomenon in islam, and it's not a phenomenon in anglicanism or mormonism or scientology. i mean, these are different belief systems. i just want to know — i want to know in the real world what this means for you, sam. does that mean when donald trump, back in 2017, imposed that travel ban, which was quite clearly aimed at muslims, and he listed i think it was seven muslim—majority countries, which, for "security reasons", he said, could no longer travel to the united states, were you cheering him on? on my blog... but my point is... no, i thought it was an idiotic ban. ..that you characterised muslim
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immigrants as a group of people, within which there will be a small minority, you say, who are statistically going to be jihadists? which is precisely what donald trump would say. yeah, well, ok, but the prob... yes, hence the need to vet immigrants and refugees and have, you know, honest conversations about what we're looking for. we're looking for people who believe specific things about martyrdom and apostasy and blasphemy and the rights of women and whether it makes moral sense to hurl homosexuals off of rooftops, right? i mean, people who are recruiting for isis or happy tojoin isis, or people in your own country will drop out of medical school for the pleasure of going to live in syria so that they might be able to martyr themselves for isis, right? this is a phenomenon of contagious ideas that we have to speak honestly about, and it's only happening in one religion. now, in addition to — and the reasons why i didn't agree with donald trump's travel ban is that one, it was completely incoherent because it wasn't even targeting the countries that
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pose the greatest ideological risk, at that point, or the worst reservoirs of this kind ofjihadism, but two, i have long said that the most valuable people on earth, with respect to dealing with this problem, the people we most want in our societies, are secular muslims and moderate muslims and people who can actually bridge the gap between the non—muslim community and the secular community and the religious extremists, who are, albeit a minority, but still a problem within the muslim community. so we need people like maajid nawaz and ayaan hirsi ali and, you know, dozens of other secularists and moderates and apostates, who i've supported, and we need them to figure out how to midwife this renaissance within the muslim community, where something like enlightenment values take hold in the widest possible way.
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it's obvious that i'm not going to accomplish that. it requires somebody who is in the community to do that. generally, people, ithink, associate you particularly with a very strong brand of atheism, and there was that famous time you debated with chris hitchens and richard dawkins, and all of you said religion is extremely corrosive and damaging. somebody then asked about spirituality. and while the others didn't really bite, you said, actually, no, there is room for spirituality in my life. but i'm just wondering what that means for you. ultimately, despite everything you say about the science and evidence and rationality, do you believe in some sort of higher power? some non—human force at work? well, it's not a matter of believing in a higher power, it's a matter of experiencing the fact that consciousness is intrinsically mysterious. and it's the context in which all of our most wonderful experiences
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appear, right? and it's also the context of all of our suffering, and the mechanics of that is something we can understand more and more and change our lives for the better. but it's also the context in which human life can get better and better, and i think some classically spiritual values like self transcendence and unconditional love, right, are at the core of any movement in the direction of greater and greater human wellbeing. and it should be at the core of any ethics we use to talk about those possibilities. so, yeah, i have no doubt that it's possible to become something like the historical person of jesus, whoever that was, or buddha, or any of these great patriarchs and matriarchs of our religions. so, there's a baby in the bathwater there that i think we don't want to throw out as atheists. but the question is, do you ever have to believe anything irrational in order to explore those possibilities in yourself or in society, i think the answer to that is
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quite clearly no. i'm just remembering at close to the beginning of this interview, you gave a hollow laugh and said i'm not telling you i'm an optimist. so when you tell me you believe in transcendence and you believe that we can all turn ourselves into better beings by looking within and pursuing love and all of that, we're not doing it, are we? i mean, that is just as we look around the world and our around societies right now, that is not happening. well, we're not doing it well, i would certainly agree. yeah. many of us are trying, and that's all we can do, is try both personally, and i think, most importantly, protect norms that allow us to live by our deeper wisdom, even when we are personally liable to fail. right. so we want laws and tax codes and norms of discourse that anchor us to our better selves or our better possible selves, to make it easierfor even mediocre and conflicted people
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to behave better and better, right? and what we have, rather often, are systems of incentives that are set up to make even very ethical people behave unethically, right? or even fairly honest people, to behave dishonestly, and just to anchor back to the beginning of our conversation, what i'm most worried about in our style of discourse around these charged issues like race is that it is causing even fairly scrupulous and honest people and well—intentioned people to be dishonest and sloppy and actually practice a kind of politics of personal destruction, where they effectively behave like psychopaths. on social media, and in print, and in various journalistic encounters, where they never would do this if the incentives weren't aligned that way, right? so i would like to change our incentives around conversations
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of the sort we have today. and we have a lot of work to do, to do that. i would agree with that. and sam harris, in the spirit of a strong belief in conversation, i thank you for being on hardtalk. thanks very much. yeah, a pleasure. thanks, stephen. hello there. the first day of september was dry for most of us, but the second day of the month looks a good deal wetter. we'll see some outbreaks of pretty heavy rain moving eastwards through the day and with that, it will be fairly windy. now, if we look at the recent satellite picture, we can see
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this area of cloud heading in our direction. this is a frontal system which is going to bring some outbreaks of rain. it's all tied in with an area of low pressure drifting to the north—west the british isles. you can see quite a few white lines, quite a few isobars squashing together on the chart, that shows that it will be fairly windy, and we will see a break of rain pushing from the west toward the east. now, the rain will be moving quite erratically eastwards. it will be quite sporadic, quite on—and—off in nature, but some of it will be pretty heavy, particularly across some parts of south—west scotland, where there is the risk of some localised flooding. brisk winds, particularly up towards the far north—west, those are the average speeds — we could see gusts of 45—50mph for very exposed spots in north—west scotland. it will be a little bit warmer than it has been lately, 15—20 degrees. and it looks as if the rain won't get into east anglia or the south—east of england until quite late on in the day. but we will see some splashes of rain here as we go through wednesday night and into thursday. the outbreaks of rain increasingly becoming confined to england and wales.
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some clearer skies developing, still with one to two showers for northern ireland and scotland, and it will be milder than some nights we've had recently. so we head into thursday, and our frontal system will still be in place. this front is going to take a little while, i think, to clear away from england and wales. so, we're going to see a lot of cloud here. it could be quite a murky start in places, and there will be some outbreaks of rain moving quite slowly south—eastwards. but the further north and west you are, there will be sunnier skies, some showers, some of which will be heavy. another windy day, and another slightly warmer one than we've had lately, 17—21 degrees. now, by friday, it looks as if our weather front will still be lingering across southern england in south wales. so, further pulses of rain here — but for north wales, northern england, northern ireland and scotland, it's a day of sunny spells and heavy showers, and those temperatures start to come down once again — things turning cooler as we head towards the weekend. for the weekend itself, there will be some showers at times, a fair amount of dry weather, but some rather cool days and some fairly chilly nights.
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this is bbc news — with the latest headlines for viewers in the uk and around the world. i'm samantha simmonds. in paris — the trial begins in connection with the deadly attack on satirical magazine — charlie hebdo. president trump visits the troubled city of kenosha — he calls the riots and looting there domestic terror. life after tragedy — we talk to the father of the little syrian boy — alan kurdi — who drowned trying to reach europe. and — paying for news — why a new law in australia could change the way people there use facebook.


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