Sam Harris, Defender of Freeze Peach

Sam Harris, Defender of Freeze Peach January 23, 2019

Last month, Patreon banned the right-wing lowlife and misogynist Carl Benjamin, a.k.a. Sargon of Akkad, along with a raft of other conservatives with ties to racist and hate groups. According to Patreon, the specific reason they banned Benjamin was a racial-slur-laden diatribe on YouTube which violated their policy on hate speech.

In response, Sam Harris loudly announced he was quitting Patreon:

As many of you know, the crowdfunding site Patreon has banned several prominent content creators from its platform. While the company insists that each was in violation of its terms of service, these recent expulsions seem more readily explained by political bias. Although I don’t share the politics of the banned members, I consider it no longer tenable to expose any part of my podcast funding to the whims of Patreon’s “Trust and Safety” committee.

Just to be clear, Patreon is a private company. Like all private companies, they have the right to choose who to do business with. So long as it’s not for an illegal reason like discrimination based on race or gender, they can refuse service to someone for any reason they want. Being a loud-and-proud bigot isn’t protected by anti-discrimination laws, so they were fully within their rights to kick Sargon out, and I’m happy they did.

This is in line with what I said about how businesses can help beat the religious right and other bigots. Profit-seeking corporations are never going to be at the vanguard of moral progress, but when a social consensus has formed that bigotry against people of color or immigrants or LGBT people is unacceptable, business support can amplify that consensus and make it stick.

But what, exactly, is Harris so upset about? For someone who’s famous for speaking his mind, you may notice just how vague and mealy-mouthed his explanation of his actions is. He’s bothered by Patreon banning Sargon and his ilk, but does he think that decision was wrong on the merits? Does he believe that Sargon’s behavior wasn’t objectionable or that he didn’t deserve to be kicked off?

For whatever reason, Harris is unwilling to say that. He’s also not claiming that his politics are similar to theirs and that makes him the next logical target. Instead, he’s framed his criticism as an objection to the fact that Patreon has any standards at all – because that means that they might, possibly, sometime in the future, make an unfair decision to delete his account. To prevent that from happening, he’s preemptively deleting his account now.

What we’re left with is Harris endorsing the “freeze peach” mindset, the belief that free speech includes a right to access any platform you choose and to speak without facing any consequences (like other people cutting financial ties with you). You’d think a rationalist would see the fallacy in this.

Here’s something I haven’t seen mentioned in any other reporting on this story: this is the second time Harris has promised to quit Patreon. In August 2017, he made the same pledge in response to their banning Lauren Southern, a right-wing journalist who, according to this post, was encouraging the blockading and even sabotage of refugee boats crossing the Mediterranean.

Then, as now, Harris framed his objection as a mere concern over “political bias”, carefully avoiding the question of whether he thought Southern’s actions were acceptable. I haven’t found any information on whether Harris kept his first pledge to quit, or if he followed through, when he rejoined Patreon or how he excused it.

Putting both of these incidents together, there’s a pattern: although Harris professes not to share the politics of Sargon and Lauren Southern and Charles Murray, he only ever leaps to the barricades on behalf of right-wingers and xenophobes.

And it’s not in a “I disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it” sense, where he strongly disagrees with racist speech but defends its right to exist because he believes there’s value in refuting it. As in Murray’s case, he seems personally sympathetic to it. He habitually empathizes with the (usually white, usually male) conservatives who spread bigoted views, and not with refugees and minorities and others who face real and serious harm from these views.

The most straightforward explanation is that Harris stands up for these prejudiced views because he shares them, as with his atrocious argument for airline screeners flagging anyone who “looks like” a Muslim. (What does a Muslim look like?)

It just begs the question of why he would bother to deny it (“I don’t share the politics of the banned members”). If I had to speculate, I’d say it’s another example of “everyone has an ideology except me” thinking. As far as Harris is concerned, other people have “political biases”, but he doesn’t. But he retains enough self-consciousness for a vague awareness of which people’s views are more like his, and he instinctively sides with those people.

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