Quote of the Day (Andrew Brown)

Quote of the Day (Andrew Brown) January 7, 2013

Myths have a power that should never be ignored and no one is more helpless against them than the man who supposes he has overcome them with reason.

— Andrew Brown, “Sam Harris's dangerous faith in guns” in The Guardian.


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  • I don’t agree with all of Sam Harris’s conclusions in his blog piece, “The Riddle of the Gun.” http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-riddle-of-the-gun

    But it is thoughtful and reasoned, provides ample well-researched evidence, and demands a rational follow-up discussion. In over 6000 words of careful argument, Sam Harris offers important challenges to gun-control advocates. And I say that as one who considers himself a gun-control advocate.

    Sam Harris isn’t nearly the “gun nut” that Andrew Brown paints him to be. In fact, Harris states in the article:

    “We could do many things to ensure that only fully vetted people could get a licensed firearm. The fact that 40 percent of all guns in the U.S. are legally purchased from private sellers without background checks on the buyers (the so-called “gun show loophole”) is terrifying. Getting a gun license could be made as difficult as getting a license to fly an airplane, requiring dozens of hours of training. I would certainly be happy to see policy changes like this. In that respect, I support much stricter gun laws.”

    And in the entire essay, Harris never once mentions religion, God, or religious ideology as a factor in the debate.

    Andrew Brown, on the other hand, in his little 800 word diatribe that you’ve quoted, descends to an essentially ad hominem attack of Sam Harris based on his brand of atheism (something the Harris article never brings up). Brown pulls out every Harris quote that could possibly be abused for a sneer, but never once addresses Harris’s substantive arguments with any remotely useful counter arguments.

    The “Myths” reference that you pull out of the Brown tirade: that’s Brown supposing the influence of the “John Wayne” myth on Sam Harris – a supposition that Brown pulls entirely out of his ass.

    Sam Harris presents a well-reasoned argument that demands a well-reasoned answer. Andrew Brown does little more than demonize.

    I’m surprised you found Brown’s harangue worthy of quotation.

    • Well, on the one hand, I thought that the quote that I excerpted was insightful and potentially of broader application than its original context.

      But on the other, not only from my own perspective, but more so having lived in the UK, I understand Brown’s sense that the desire of any private individual to own and fire guns seems bizarre to people in other countries, and the conclusion that it perhaps owes something to our Wild West heritage in North America.

      I understood Brown to be asking about the deeper roots of the desire of private individuals to own and fire guns in some parts of America. And since that desire is not universal even in the United States, I do think that it reflects a particular culture. And there is no culture without myths, even for those of us committed to reason and critical thinking. And that point is what made me find Brown worth quoting, because I think the point is an insightful one, whichever of these two authors one happens to find more persuasive on the issue of guns.

      • I don’t agree about the quote. It doesn’t make sense. It tries to imply that reason somehow makes us ignore other “myths” in our lives. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Those who believe and promulgate myths are far more helpless against them, than those who overcome myths with reason. Even if you parse it out to specifically some straw man who “supposes” he has overcome with reason (but really can’t see the “true” myths in his life); you can’t convince me that such a man is more helpless or delusional than those who wear their myths on their sleeves like a badge of honor.

        As far as your gun control perspectives, I generally agree with you; but have your read the Sam Harris piece to which Brown is attempting a response?

        Read it in full. Then read Brown’s response. Who is actually making a reasonable argument?

        • I do not really disagree, inasmuch as Harris does indeed make a reasoned case for responsible gun ownership. But I took Brown to be getting at a deeper question, namely what leads people in some parts of the world but not others to desire to be responsible owners of firearms.

          It may be that interacting with mythicists and creationists has influenced my thinking on these topics. In both cases, those it is hardest to reason with are those who do indeed think critically about some other topic, perhaps most others, and so they do not realize that they are not doing the same in this particular area. Typically such individuals think that they are being more skeptical of others, being willing to challenge even the experts, and not realizing that they have not critically examined the claims of those who claim to be challenging the experts to the same extent. But that said, your point is a good one that being selectively uncritical in this way is arguably not as bad as being uncritical across the board! 🙂

          • Yes, I see and understand your application to creationism and mythicism, I guess. But Harris’s article is not an example of this kind of blind critical thinking. And Brown’s response to Harris is thoughtless and foolish by comparison.

            In fact I would say that Brown’s article is the better example of an individual who thinks he is being a good skeptic, but completely failing to examine his own claims.

          • Touché!

  • steven

    Happily, many liberal Christians have replaced a myth of a man becoming incarnate as the Son of God, having overcome that by reasoning that the myth must be false, and there was instead of a myth an apocalyptic preacher who failed miserably.