Michael Shermer Hearts Dinesh D’Souza

One of the people who has written a letter to the judge in Dinesh D’Souza’s criminal case asking for a lenient sentence is none other than Michael Shermer. If he really means what he says in that letter, it may be time to stop referring to him as a skeptic. Here’s the full letter:

Shermer Letter

I know all about this multiverse thing, but it’s really hard to imagine a possible universe in which Dinesh D’Souza is even hypothetically “forthright” and “honest.” No rational person, certainly no one who claims to be a skeptic, could listen to his debates, in which he consistently distorts reality because that is what is required to make the arguments he wishes to make, and conclude that he is anything other than dishonest to the core.

Nor could any rational person really believe that he is an “important voice in our national conversation.” He may once have been such a voice a couple decades ago, but he long ago realized that there is serious money to be made peddling bizarre conspiracy theories rather than serious scholarship.

Having said all that, I don’t think he should get the maximum sentence, which I believe is 16 months. I think 30-60 days in a county jail would be a reasonable sentence for the crime he committed, which he admits to committing and admits that he knew it was a crime when he did it. But 16 months seems quite excessive to me.

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  • R Johnston

    Sixteen months doesn’t seem at all excessive to me for someone who commits perjury by lying to the court about being repentant. The guy went out making money speaking to conservative morons and complaining about how he was being victimized at the same time as he claimed repentance to the court. If D’Souza had said that he’d committed the crime and considered it an act of civil disobedience against a law he finds immoral then he’d be committing an act of idiocy, but he probably wouldn’t be a perjurer. Save your sympathy for people who don’t commit perjury to try to get out of punishment for their crimes.

  • John Pieret

    don’t think he should get the maximum sentence, which I believe is 16 months. I think 30-60 days in a county jail would be a reasonable sentence for the crime he committed

    The sentencing guidelines call for 10-16 months. I can’t see 10 months in a minimum security Federal prison as being worse than 30-60 days in a county jail (like Riker’s Island).

  • http://www.gregory-gadow.net Gregory in Seattle

    Just when you think Shermer could not possibly be a bigger a-hole…. You have to admit, his being pally with D’Souza goes pretty far in explaining his attitude towards women.

  • colnago80

    See attached link from a posting by PZ about Shermer. If the allegations there are true (and PZ has posted on this subject earlier on), then Shermer is a very much less then reputable character witness.

    http://goo.gl/oO94X3

  • Alverant

    I don’t think sixteen months is nearly enough time given his behavior in and out of the courtroom. He knew it was wrong then played the victim. The man needs to have a criminal record and to be in prison long enough to have it count as a felony.

  • maddog1129

    Lying and laundering money to corrupt democracy? 30-60 days should be good for that.

    Making a sacrilegious photo with an inanimate object? 2 years.

  • http://www.facebook.com/den.wilson d.c.wilson

    I’d be willing to give D’Souza probation in exchange that from now on, he cannot make any public speeches or participate in any debate unless he’s hooked up to a polygraph.

  • Michael Heath

    I’m with Alverant.

    Mr. D’Souza has demonstrably acted in a manner since being investigated and convicted that validates he not repentant for his criminal act, but only that he was caught committing a crime. For that he deserves a relatively harsh sentence.

  • pneumo

    30-60 days seems lenient, but OK, fine, as long as he gets something.

    But what should D’Souza get?

  • Sastra

    I know all about this multiverse thing, but it’s really hard to imagine a possible universe in which Dinesh D’Souza is even hypothetically “forthright” and “honest.” No rational person, certainly no one who claims to be a skeptic, could listen to his debates, in which he consistently distorts reality because that is what is required to make the arguments he wishes to make, and conclude that he is anything other than dishonest to the core.

    I’m not sure whether I think you’re being too optimistic or too pessimistic, but I do think you’re underestimating how easy it is for a person to be self-contradictory and self-deluded. “The first rule is not to fool yourself and we are the easiest people to fool” and all that. Someone can shamelessly and fearlessly distort reality and remain convinced that they’re right. They can even tell lies and explain to themselves why it’s not technically a lie if it illustrates what’s true. And sleep at night.

    From what I’ve seen and read of D’Souza, I don’t think he is dishonest “to the core.” That means he knows he’s lying from the beginning and all the way through. I believe he’s intellectually dishonest but for the most part sincere. That, by the way, usually makes someone more dangerous, not less.

    As part of the public skeptic movement, Michael Shermer and his organization places a lot of emphasis on the distinction between lying and self-delusion. Skeptics should guard against demonizing the enemy. Sure, con artists are out there — but they’re not that easy to pick out. Most psychics, dowsers, alties, creationists and conservatives genuinely believe in themselves and think they’re right even when given what ought to be the most convincing evidence that they’re wrong. They spin and rationalize not to deceive the public, but to figure out what went wrong.

    So I read Shermer’s letter as one which carefully stayed off the merits of the case and supported an opponent who has apparently been deemed worthy of dealing with. They might even like each other and get along personally. I don’t have a lot of problems with that.

  • gshelley

    Hmm, maybe I should watch “Obama’s America” if DeSouza is honest. I had somehow got the impression it was full of distortions, outright untruths and paranoid fantasies.

  • eric

    So, Shermer argues that D’Souza is a good guy that committed a crime. So what? He should pay the same penalty as a bad guy that committed that crime. If Ghandi and Manson both illegally contributed $10k to a political campaign, guess what – the penalty for both should be the same.

    You know those statues of Justice, Michael? You know, the ones with the blindfold? Take two seconds to think about it, and then please describe for the crowd what that blindfold represents and why we think it’s a very good thing.

  • alanb

    @ Sastra,

    I have no doubt that the way D’Souza presents his core beliefs is honest. And those beliefs, like everyone’s beliefs, will distort his view of the world and lead him to honest error. But he also says things that he has to know are wrong. I don’t think that lying for Jesus, or lying for one’s political ideals, is any more justified than lying for profit.

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    Sending it on letterhead listing the editorial/advisory board, makes it almost as if Jared Diamond, Napoleon Chagnon, Richard Dawkins, Julia Sweeny, Eugenia Scott and the others listed are in agreement with Shermer. Is that the case? Or is he just hoping their lustre will rub off on D’Souza?

  • nichrome

    Has anyone explored the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of using Skeptic magazine letterhead for his letter? Did the Board approve of this?

  • nichrome

    I see Marcus Ranum was having the same thoughts as me about the letterhead!

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    Did the Board approve of this?

    At the very least one could start asking Dawkins, Scott, etc whether they agreed with it.

  • Dave Maier

    I read his (DD’s) first book, which was tendentious and self-serving, and I saw him speak at about the same time, and thought him to be an insufferable pr/ck, but in both cases he said some things which were in the vicinity of actual, decent points. Since then, as Ed says, not so much. (He’s still an insufferable pr/ck, though).

  • Phillip Hallam-Baker

    The Skeptics Society has 55,000 members, a crappy website that can’t be read using Chrome and a dead tree newsletter. The only significance Shermer can claim comes from the fact that he is executive director of what styles itself as one of the largest atheist organizations.

    We have the Internet and we have way more than 55,000 supporters.

    If Shermer is going to behave like Gerry Healy, lets do what the Trots did and split. Skeptical Tendency has a nice ring to it. I just registered the domains.

    The thing about organizations is that they tend to be really good at ignoring facts and information that could be a threat if they recognized them. They do respond to existential threats however.

  • Sastra

    alanb #13 wrote:

    But he also says things that he has to know are wrong. I don’t think that lying for Jesus, or lying for one’s political ideals, is any more justified than lying for profit.

    Granted, but I’m just not as sure as you are about that “has to know.” Spend enough time with True Believers in anything and it’s very discouraging. Sometimes I think it would be somehow easier if they were simple scoundrels interested only in money or power. Instead they are complicated scoundrels interested in a Higher Cause (and money and power.) It isn’t justified, no. But are they justifying it to themselves? Do they know they’re the Bad Guy?

    The point above about the letterhead is a good one. Shermer is not Skeptic Society (if he were I wouldn’t have been subscribing to Skeptic Magazine since the 90’s.) Personal letters like this should clearly be marked personal.

    By the way, I recently wrote a similar letter to a judge on behalf of my friend’s boyfriend. I said the truth — he’d always been fair and honest with me in his work as a plumber and he seemed to take good care of my friend (who is disabled.) This all had nothing to do with the charge, which involved a vehicle accident. But I was assured that yes, it is the sort of thing judges consider when sentencing.

  • Sastra

    Phillip #19 wrote:

    The only significance Shermer can claim comes from the fact that he is executive director of what styles itself as one of the largest atheist organizations.

    What — Skeptic Society? ?

    I’m skeptical. AS far as I know the organization has both theists (minority) and atheists (majority) — and the debate rages in the magazine and is encouraged to rage.

  • Phillip Hallam-Baker

    @21 I really don’t think Shermer is making that distinction when he is out touting himself as a representative of the modern atheist movement. It is certainly the only reason he might be mistaken for any sort of leader of the atheist movement.

    As for the theism thing. Yeah whatever floats people’s boat. I certainly don’t exclude theists from skepticism. We can’t describe let alone explain consciousness and the fact that the universe is so finely balanced on not being able to prove or disprove the existence of free will is arguably suspicious.

    However, even if you do believe in a divine being of any kind, I don’t think someone can call themselves a skeptic and also buy into the notion that said divine being is in need of the likes of Billy Graham or the previous two popes or the Rev. Ian Paisley to act as their intermediaries.

  • Sastra

    @Phillip #22

    But the Skeptic Society doesn’t “style itself as one of the largest atheist organizations,” whatever Shermer might or might not imply about his role in the modern atheism movement.

    We can’t describe let alone explain consciousness and the fact that the universe is so finely balanced on not being able to prove or disprove the existence of free will is arguably suspicious.

    “Suspicious’ in the same way as the photographs of Bigfoot and the testimonials of Reiki are suspicious, yes. Something to examine with a critical eye.

  • http://zenoferox.blogspot.com/ Zeno

    “Honest”? D’Souza? This is obviously some strange use of the word “honest” that I wasn’t previously aware of.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    In fact, of all the people I have debated (dozens of prominent public intellectuals) Dinesh is the most formidable, forthright, and honest.

    Does someone know where I can get a hold of that list? I have a fresh batch of irony meters I need to calibrate.

    I share criticisms made of the use of letterhead for this. Although since the Skeptic Society is basically Michael Shermer, Inc., with Michael Shermer serving as president for life; I suppose he has that authority.

  • Phillip Hallam-Baker

    @Reginald 25

    Really? Skeptics are so naive in their organization skills as to put someone in that sort of position for life?

    Do Skeptics society members get any say in the board composition? What is the excuse for it?

  • Michael Heath

    Sastra writes:

    From what I’ve seen and read of D’Souza, I don’t think he is dishonest “to the core.” That means he knows he’s lying from the beginning and all the way through. I believe he’s intellectually dishonest but for the most part sincere. That, by the way, usually makes someone more dangerous, not less.

    I don’t find it difficult at all to avoid making false assertions by merely not making assertions unless I’m confident those assertions can be independently validated as objectively true. We liberals and skeptics are far too forgiving with liars who make false claims and defame others merely because they’re posing as sincere in their false beliefs.

    When a preacher argues in the pulpit, “God loves you!”. He’s lying, and worse yet, he’s lying to children who don’t realize this assertion has no basis in fact on a number of levels. He’s lying by presuming that there is a god in spite of no evidence. He’s lying by presuming that this god’s nature is to love you in spite of there being no evidence this is true. He’s lying by basing his belief that the Bible claims this when in fact the Bible contradicts itself on this issue. He’s lying by framing this as true rather than resting on mere faith whose premises are logically incoherent. I’m sure I’ve missed a few other ways he’s lying.

    A more honest rendition while honest, reveals why Christians lie to each other and others. A truth argument reveals the absurdity of their beliefs. E.g., I have faith, in spite of the fact there is no evidence, that a god exists. I have faith, in spite of the fact there’s no evidence this is true, that this god loves you. I have faith the Bible is the inerrant word of God and that when it asserts that God loves you, it’s true. In spite of the fact the Bible also claims God doesn’t actually love everyone and in somes arbitrarily hates some people, so much he plans to punish them for all eternity. Doesn’t exactly slide off the tongue like “God loves you!”. Imagine the difficulty in writing an honest book of hymns.

    From this perspective I agree with Ed. I observe Dinesh D’Souza continually lying. He’s continually attempting to misinform others where his lies are on matters that harms others. So I find his character failings manifold. The first is not having the integrity to validate what he claims is true is in fact, true. And in spite of those claims, if false, causes harm to other people, just like it does when a preacher tells his flock that God loves them.

  • jesse

    @Michael Heath —

    you got me thinking about what we mean when we say someone is lying.

    Usually the connotation is a deliberate falsehood, told with malicious intent. Your framing of a preacher touches on that.

    But when you tell your child you love them unconditionally, well, there’s not a lot of evidence for that either, strictly speaking. I have known more than one parent to stop speaking to their kid over any number of issues, you know? So did you lie to your son or daughter when you told them you loved them unconditionally? (An old reporter’s joke: If your mother says she loves you check it out with at east two other sources).

    False claims by themselves aren’t always all that harmful. And sometimes they can be quite useful. After all, the very notion of being “American” is rife with demonstrably false claims. The United States being a democracy is one. (I’d describe it as more along the lines of the Roman Empire, an oligarchy in which the common people get to ratify the oligarchy’s decisions periodically). Yet that false claim is one that allows us to try and make it a true (or truer) one.

    Either way, it gets into the hundreds of falsehoods we lead ourselves into believing just to get through the morning. There aren’t many Vulcanlike rational reasons not to shoot yourself on most days, you know?

    D’Souza and his ilk aren’t lying in the sense of saying things they know are false like you did when you were 10 and denied breaking the window with that baseball. It’s more self-delusion. But can we call that lying in the sense that we usually mean it?

    After all, if you tell someone they lied that is usually taken as an insult, or at the very least impugning their character.

    Yet the lies you describe on the part of a preacher are not the reason he tells them. I’ve brought it up before — Churches and the like serve important social functions and the truth claims are often the least part of it. This doesn’t mean that all churchgoers are closet humanists or anything, but the point is that the theology isn’t the point.

    Heck, think of Cubs fans. You bond over your shared love of a team that might well be a demonstration that God exists and he hates the North side.

    Anyhow, with “scholars” like D’Souza, and “true believers” the problem is that there’s an entire social network they have built around this, and the truth claims in and of themselves don’t matter much in the face of that. For authoritarian mindsets this stuff matters — not the truth claim itself but the sense of being together with other like minded people.

    I say this as someone who’s been to Yugoslavia, where neighbors started killing each other for what looked like no apparent reason — there is simply no way to tell who is who there, at least not by looking (and the language differences are like those between Britain and the US). Plainly the truth claims weren’t important, and it wasn’t like you were dealing with ignorant, irrational people. They were highly educated, multi-lingual, western folks who, if you spoke to them in 1984, would have echoed many ideals you’d find familiar. Yet somehow a few years later it all came apart. Calling the Bosnians “Turks” is demonstrably false. But that didn’t matter, did it? What mattered was who was in-group and who was out-group.

    Among liberals I think this can happen but it’s less acute. The very premise of many liberal-minded progressive people is that commitments are negotiated, not handed down. That means being “in-group” is a much more fluid and ambiguous concept.

    For D’Souza, though, the in-group matters more. And if I may be permitted a bit of armchair psychologizing, he’s a PoC in a room full of white people who won’t ever see him as fully human to begin with. He’ll never please them fully. And so he does what he does, a living example of the colonization process.

    Sorry if that’s a bit meta but you got me thinking about this. So some of this is just out-loud processing. I haven’t thought it all the way through yet.

  • http://mostlyrational.net tacitus

    For D’Souza, though, the in-group matters more. And if I may be permitted a bit of armchair psychologizing, he’s a PoC in a room full of white people who won’t ever see him as fully human to begin with. He’ll never please them fully. And so he does what he does, a living example of the colonization process.

    I find that very hard to believe. D’Souza’s been part of the in-crowd in conservative media circles for years. I really don’t see why he should need any more motivation to please his circle of friends and adherents than people like, say, Alex Jones or Sean Hannity.

    These people live in a bubble of adulation. They are constantly having their efforts supported and praised by their audience, who are also ready to defend their champions from any criticism or attack on their credibility. Over the years the bubble grows thicker, leaving them ever more insulated from reality, and making the prospect of the bubble bursting an even more horrific event, something which would bring their entire world crashing down, and something to be avoided at all costs.

    As for D’Souza’s character, cheating on his wife with someone else’s wife speaks volumes, but I suspect it never even gave Shermer pause when he was considering writing that letter.

  • Ichthyic

    this buddy buddy with D’Souza reminds me of the relationship between Michael Ruse and William Dembski.

    They went on speaking tours to make cash.

    D’Souza is the faux foil of Shermer. He MAKES MONEY OFF OF D’SOUZA.

    It’s actually not surprising he comes to his defense, though, like a lot of Shermer’s exposed behavior, it does rather disgust me.

    The man’s a fraud, exactly in the same way Michael Ruse is.

    It’s time for Shermer to be forgotten, just like Ruse.

  • Ichthyic

    grr. by “speaking tours” I mean “debate tours”.

    they were staged debates. one even made it to TV IIRC.

    all fake.

  • Michael Heath

    Jesse writes:

    Usually the connotation is a deliberate falsehood, told with malicious intent. Your framing of a preacher touches on that.

    But when you tell your child you love them unconditionally, well, there’s not a lot of evidence for that either, strictly speaking.

    Your example is not analogous to my pointing out that it’s a lie to assert an empirical claim without first validating that empirical claim is objectively true.

    In my prior post I should have more fully described the set of lies I was referencing by using the term empirical. But the lie I’m describing here is first and foremost, the lie that the asserter has validated the claim when in fact, they’ve done no such thing. They may believe God loves them, but to presume a god and his nature prior to validating that when promoting this to others, that’s the big lie here that liberals and skeptics too often fail to note and condemn.

    So if I were to claim that consuming 500 mg of Vitamin C daily would reduce the odds of getting cancer by 30%, my first lie here would be that I researched this subject and found this to be true. The next lie is the we typically focus on, that it’s not true. But it’s the first lie that is the most insidious, lying by claiming we know a fact when in fact, we’ve never even bothered but present our facts as if we did and they were independently validated.

    By focusing on the last lie we focus on the mere symptoms of a systemic failure, rather than the more reprehensible root cause systemic failure. And that’s falsely posing as if someone’s done the work to collect a sufficiently framed set of facts when they’ve done no such thing and if they had, they wouldn’t be misinforming others like my Vitamin C or ‘God loves you’ examples.

  • jesse

    @tacitus — he’s been part of the in-crowd for years yes. But the point is staying there, and it’s the same dynamic that happens when guys like Allen West pal around with the Tea Party. The psychological mechanism was outlined a bit by Frantz Fanon. The bubble of adulation you speak of wouldn’t happen if, for example, he didn’t let it slide the next time one of his compatriots at the local right-wing cocktail party brought up the ways that non-whites are just, you know, culturally unable to make capitalism work or something.

    @Michael Heath — the bit about checking out your claim is interesting though, because to many people who believe in God(s) their existence is as indisputable as that of the universe itself. It is an empirical fact. I’ve spoken to many religious people who say their entire lives are proof of Gods existence. We can call them self-deluded, but that doesn’t mean they are malicious, and they have, as far as they are concerned, checked the claim. I would not say they did so sufficiently, nor you. But you and I aren’t living in their heads either.

    And is it a lie if you are mistaken? You and many many other people probably say publicly that citizens have the right to vote in the US, and that we live in a democracy. Were you telling lies? Ask a back guy if any of the rights you take for granted are in fact rights, and not privileges we offer to certain classes of citizens.

    I’m going over this because as I noted, I have been thinking a bit about how we refer to untruths, or false claims, and the term “lying” connotes malicious intent. But that isn’t the way we conduct ourselves.

    After all, if your kid says “My significant other left me and I want to shoot myself” you aren’t going to say “Hang on let me check the factual claim that you loved your SO so much and that you won’t feel better if you hang on ’til tomorrow.” Are you lying to that person? You made a factual claim: you might feel better tomorrow so it is worth not killing yourself. But you haven’t checked that out. You have no idea. Factually speaking, we should close down every suicide hot line, you know? Because we are lying to every one of those people in your definition.

    At the same time I think you’d agree that prevention of suicide is a worthy goal, right?

    I’m not trying to be flip here, I am thinking through how we describe these things and why. Words have connotations, after all, that don’t always strictly fit their “dictionary” definition. And that connotation is what people hear and react to, unless you’re a Vulcan or a lawyer. :-)

  • http://giliellthinkingaloud.blogspot.com/ Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    So, that basically boils down to “he was nice to me, don’t be hard on my buddy”

    Critical Posture, critical posture…

  • Mike Griffin

    I don’t believe we humans are primarily motivated by ideology, religious or otherwise. That includes people doing helpful, good things also. We do what we want to, based on human need and emotions, hate, or empathy, fear or compassion and reason, etc. and then justify it with some ideology. Good people gravitate toward humane beliefs, and are not fanatics because they have enough reason and empathy to not take harmful beliefs to their conclusion. They won’t injure or deceive people for the sake of beliefs. You don’t need a justification when we do something helpful or skillful. Fanatics are always about controlling and using others, so they need a justification. What we do is who we are, it’s really that simple. People who are dishonest, like DD, are simply dishonest. Arguing whether they are sincere is pointless.

    Fear can make us go tribal, or adopt a belief system to justify our fear and hatred of the other. Young men and women want to belong to something bigger than themselves will buy into beliefs that give them a place and status in their social world. Scott Atran writes about “Muslim” young men. who become radicalized because of alienation and a need to belong to a community, not because of religious dogma. Islam is just the story they tell each other to justify who they are.

    Conservatism in America today is all about justifying privilege and power. Shermer looks down at religion, but that’s not as important as protecting a fellow authoritarian with a record of misogyny and .dishonest statements. Gotta protect the tribe. Shermer’s ideology is the “Free Market”, which he seems to believe is a higher power, which magically allocates reward and value to the right sort of people. as opposed to a human social construct with rules that we humans make. That is simply how he justifies his status. What he does is who he is, and the women have been clear on that. Arguing about ideology is a waste of time. We stop getting drawn into pointless arguments about what a True Believer is, and simply point out what people like Mr. Shermer and his fanatic, self-serving pals do.

  • doublereed

    Maybe Shermer has been doing the same things as Souza.

  • Michael Heath

    jesse writes:

    It is an empirical fact. I’ve spoken to many religious people who say their entire lives are proof of Gods existence. We can call them self-deluded, but that doesn’t mean they are malicious, and they have, as far as they are concerned, checked the claim.

    Making arguments from ignorance while posing as if one has knowledge is itself an insidious lie.

    Empirical facts are independently validated by relevant experts after being run through the peer review process and conceded and cited by other relevant experts. Our confidence increases with a high number of lines of different evidence.

    What you are describing is mere faith and belief, it is not empirical evidence. If a Christian were to claim what you describe as empirical fact they would be lying from a handful of angles. First they’d be lying about claiming it’s an empirical fact without first insuring they presented an empirical fact by being careful enough to understand what is and what is not an empirical fact. Mere observation that’s not independent and not validated is not considered an empirical fact.

    When Andrew Sullivan debated Sam Harris on God a few years back, Mr. Sullivan was left only with an argument of faith from his own personal experience. Sullivan was honest enough to concede that his conclusion was based on mere faith.

    Sullivan’s argument was the best argument I’d ever encountered for God. Not because it was convincing or compelling, it wasn’t even remotely compelling given he had no evidence at all nor is there a very rational reason to believe in God, where believing in the Christian god is almost wholly irrational. But instead, because his argument was the first honest one I’d ever encountered where the advocate was asserting a theistic god. Having said that I don’t seek out these sorts of debates, because all the ones I’ve encountered besides the Sullivan-Harris debate had the God advocate making fundamentally defective and absurd arguments.