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Sam Harris
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Jon Stewart interviews Sam Harris.

1.  I’m always impressed with Stewart’s insightful interview questions, and he is brilliant here as usually.  Early on, Harris characterizes all contemporary moral discourse as either simplistic religion demagoguery or impotent nihilism.  Stewart responds:  What about the people who would treat moral issues with more complexity, who would fall under Harris’s second category not due to lack of moral conviction but simply because Harris only recognizes immature ethics as real ethics?  Harris follows this with a string of simplistic moral judgments, proclaiming how obvious it is that certain behaviors are evil and science proves it.  Stewart then asks:  Don’t many oppressed people get into bad situations when they are faced with the complexity of lived morality?  This is a brilliant question that I think is worth deeply considering.

2. The first half of the show was dedicated to Rick Sanchez’s anti-Semitic remarks directed at Stewart.  Harris, who already comes across as the cartoonishly smug atheist, does not include this juxtaposition in his decision to heap derision upon the Jewish Scriptures.  I’m very impressed by Stewart’s restraint in the face of Harris’s glib, ill-informed sleight.  (Does Harris not see how dependent his commonsense morality is on the Ten Commandments he dismisses?  That the Jewish experience as an enslaved people led to its revolutionary treatment of slaves as human beings with rights who could, hopefully, be freed one day?)

3. I am especially impressed that rather than criticizing Harris on his own terms Stewart turned things in a different, more fruitful direction.  On Harris’s own level, Stewart could have pointed out that even within this brief interview Harris demonstrated considerable ignorance of the history of science, ethics, religion, and culture.  But Stewart takes the more constructive route by emphasizing the importance of moral seriousness, which Harris is right to do, while turning away from Harris’s own simplistic demagoguery.  In other words, in a few minutes Stewart exposes the poverty of Harris’s own project and points toward a superior alternative.  This is what journalism could be.

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