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Sam Harris: cancelling Stanford students over Israel ‘makes sense’

"There’s a certain form of cancel culture that would make some sense to me". Credit: Triggernometry

October 27, 2023 - 9:04pm

Author and neuroscientist Sam Harris expressed support for the removal of university students who support Hamas in a recent conversation with Eric Weinstein. 

“We’ve got Stanford students who are effectively [supporting Hamas], right? Not only are we kicking them out of Stanford, which I could sort of support, I mean there’s more to talk about there, but there’s a certain form of cancel culture that would make some sense to me at this moment,” he said on a recent episode of Triggernometry (55:58). “But on Douglas’s account, we could just send them to Gaza. Right? Just drop them in Gaza and say ‘Good luck, this was what you wanted. This is your worldview”.

The intellectual was referencing recent comments by Douglas Murray, who called for Hamas supporters in the UK to lose their citizenship and be deported; Harris said he could support similar measures in the US. 

“I think, yes, anyone who joins a jihadist organisation is in the business of waging jihad, right? That should be a death sentence. That should be should be suicide, right? We should figure out how to make that, within the possibilities here, we should figure out how to make that so,” Harris said (54:57). 

Harris continued by arguing that it had become an “impossible problem”. “So you can be as judicious as you want to be — and I would advocate that,” he claimed, “but I think we have to recognise, euphemisms aside, that terrorism is not our problem. Jihadism is our problem”. 

The neuroscientist is no stranger to controversial responses on contentious topics. Last year, he was criticised for claiming that Donald Trump is “a worse person than Osama bin Laden”. Shortly after Elon Musk took over the platform last year and loosened content moderation policies, Harris left after questioning the decision to reinstate the former president. He complained that “free speech absolutists” wanted the platform to publish the “malicious lies of any maniac, at scale, regardless of the consequences.” 

The incidents reflect a growing distance between Harris and his peers in what was once widely known as the intellectual dark web — a group of online influencers from the political Left and Right who opposed identity politics and advocated for free speech. Harris has grown increasingly critical of commentators to the Right of him over issues including Covid, vaccine scepticism, Donald Trump and the 2020 election. This week’s debate with another former member of the IDW, Eric Weinstein, may end up alienating him from the group further.


is UnHerd’s US correspondent.

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Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
8 months ago

It’s not just the Stanford students. According to “Forward”, after the Hamas attack on Israel an instructor at Stanford demanded Jewish and Israeli students identify themselves during a session for a required undergraduate course called “Civil, Liberal and Global Education.”
The teacher told the Jewish students to take their belongings, stand in a corner, and said, “This is what Israel does to the Palestinians,” He then asked, “How many people died in the Holocaust?” When a student answered, “Six million,” the lecturer said, “Colonizers killed more than 6 million. Israel is a colonizer.” Stanford appointed this guy, and these Jewish students’ classmates – America’s future leadership cadre – just sat and watched this happen.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
8 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

This is shocking

Benjamin Greco
Benjamin Greco
8 months ago

There are people who take such a long-time explaining something that they sound smart. But if you spend a little time thinking about what they are really saying you see that it amounts to very little and is an obvious point. Sam Harris is the king of this kind of intellectual bullshit. Eric Weinstein isn’t much better. In an hours long discussion meant to explore solutions to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Harris advocated having the CIA perform targeted assassinations of anyone they deem to be a Jihadi, and Weinstein advocated annexing land on the West Bank every time Hamas committed a terrorist act. Both ideas completely unworkable and ludicrous. These guys talk a good game but are pinheads.

Last edited 8 months ago by Benjamin Greco
Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
8 months ago
Reply to  Benjamin Greco

Ya. That podcast was pretty cringeworthy. I think Harris and Eric Weinstein mostly like to hear the sound of their own voice. I like Brett Weinstein though.

Devon
Devon
8 months ago
Reply to  Benjamin Greco

Sam Harris is a very smart man and his opinions are worth listening to. I don’t agree with you at all.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
8 months ago
Reply to  Benjamin Greco

Mostly Triggernometry excels in being very watchable. Not this episode. I gave up.
Didn’t Sam Harris write some exceedingly stupid book about God? Or is that a different guy?

Last edited 8 months ago by Dumetrius
Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
8 months ago
Reply to  Benjamin Greco

I have to agree with the substance of you all here. That was one of the worst episodes of Triggernometry I’ve ever watched.
The only bit I found vaguely interesting was when they got into Sam vs Bret in the Locals segment.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
8 months ago
Reply to  Benjamin Greco

Well they are not pinheads and while pretty floaty, I kind of enjoyed watching very clever guys having an unconstrained discussion. There is a place for this.

Nona Yubiz
Nona Yubiz
8 months ago
Reply to  Benjamin Greco

Like most public “intellectuals” these days.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
8 months ago

Geez. This is a tough one. I really don’t care for Sam Harris so it’s pretty easy to dismiss his idea. We also have to be very careful to distinguish between Palestinian supporters, even people who hate Israel, and Hamas supporters. If you actually support Hamas, its ideology and tactics, you are an awful person, but this doesn’t make you a criminal. As long as you don’t threaten anyone, you should not be punished for thought crimes. If you march down the street chanting kill the Jews, that’s illegal and should be treated as such.

j watson
j watson
8 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

We don’t often agree JV, but certainly do here. Spot on that one.

Last edited 8 months ago by j watson
Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
8 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Openly supporting Hamas is tantamount to openly agreeing with their manifesto of wiping all the Jews off the face of this Earth.

Last edited 8 months ago by Vijay Kant
Nona Yubiz
Nona Yubiz
8 months ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

Netanyahu has sent them money for years.

Stuart Bennett
Stuart Bennett
8 months ago

Sigh… for the thousandth time for everyone in the cheap seats. The IDW was never an organisation. Seems to me that what Harris was suggesting aligns with previous remarks he’s made about there needing to be consequences for people broadcasting ideological sh1te in public. A sentiment I am 100% in favour of. For instance I suggest that The Guardian announce their new on location reporter in Gaza should be the Hamas apologist and out gay liberal journalist Owen Jones. I’m sure he’ll be just fine, I mean he’s oppressed too, right? As long as he careful not to meet virulently homophobic Hamas near any tall buildings……. The left have volunteered to be the useful idiots of religious extremists. The shame of it.

Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
8 months ago
Reply to  Stuart Bennett

The woke do seem to be a slice or two short of a loaf. They seem to be incapable of inference or following through the transitive.

Last edited 8 months ago by Aphrodite Rises
Stuart Bennett
Stuart Bennett
8 months ago

The most confounding thing is neither of those are needed. Jihadis say what they believe and their actions align with their stated beliefs. It’s very simple.

John Tyler
John Tyler
8 months ago

I don’t know anything about Sam Harris, but I completely get where he’s coming from. People who publicly praise, even revere, Hamas brutality could really do with a taste of the medicine in which they believe.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
8 months ago
Reply to  John Tyler

Following on from that then, should those who condone the Israeli air strikes be forced to spend a few days living amongst those bombs falling? If it’s good enough for Palestinian civilians it’s good enough for them surely?

Last edited 8 months ago by Billy Bob
Alex Colchester
Alex Colchester
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

It’s amazing what you can get away with when simply trying to ‘defend yourself’.

D Walsh
D Walsh
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

The Israel supporters in these parts don’t know what Israel is planning to do, when the figure it out they might change their minds. well I hope so anyway

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

The difference is that reasonable intelligent people understand why those bombs are falling.

Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

What would you suggest Israel do? Let Hamas continue with its rocket and terrorist attacks?

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Many of those who condone Israeli air strikes are, of course, currently living under daily rocket attacks. Or did you forget that?

Avro Lanc
Avro Lanc
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Israel targets Hamas terrorists with its bombs and civilians are killed because Hamas hides behind them, using the civil population as human shields – I defend this because the Jews are in a war for their survival and innocent lives lost are a necessary evil to defeat monsters (see the allied strategic bombing campaign for further examples of this sad reality – Dresden was a necessary evil, as was Hiroshima et al)

Hamas targets civilians (women, children, the sick, the elderley and babies) because they seek to exteminate Jews – and you defend that. This is because you’re an antisemite and a deeply unpleasant human being. Own it.

Nona Yubiz
Nona Yubiz
8 months ago
Reply to  Avro Lanc

So, why did Netanyahu give them money for years?

Nona Yubiz
Nona Yubiz
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

People don’t like having their bubbles popped.

leonard o'reilly
leonard o'reilly
8 months ago

People who say that the atrocities committed by the psychopaths of Hamas are justified because Israel is Hamas’ enemy are behaving unconscionably. That is, they want to shock us. And we are right to be shocked. But let them say what they want. They have now revealed themselves for what they are. Napoleon said that you should never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake. Let the left, some of them, many of them, show yet again the derangement that lurks in their little black hearts. People of conscience will shun them….while Israel, with regard to Hamas, will do as it must.
I’m surprised that Murray would take the ‘strip them of their citizenship’ line because he is as shocked as the rest of us by what they say. Where would he draw that line? Schadenfreude is not a crime even as it is contemptible. And doesn’t it contravene all of the fine things he has had to say about free speech to want to draw it?
As for Harris, I’m not surprised. I have never bought his super-rationalist schtick. And he, too, has revealed his latent illiberal bent by what he would countenance in this regard, and by the anti-democratic means ( never mind macabre scenarios he imagines ), he would favour to ensure Trump would not be elected. He would like to shock us, too ( dead babies in the basement! ), but for him it is all in a good cause, you see.

Last edited 8 months ago by leonard o'reilly
Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
8 months ago

The Left dumped free speech a long time ago. The Right’s honeymoon with it has come to an abrupt end – the commitment was not genuine at all. Is there anyone remaining who will stand up for free speech?

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
8 months ago

I don’t think Sam Harris is on the right.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
8 months ago

It’s amazing how quickly free speech advocates change their position when it’s their political opponents saying things they don’t like.
Expressing support for any group (no matter how abhorrent) shouldn’t be a crime. We already have crimes against being a member of a proscribed group, or helping them financially/logistically etc and that is plenty. If you don’t like what somebody is saying then argue your case, don’t try and ban them

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Correction. Free speech does not include advocating for violence against a group of people – this is against most country’s laws.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
8 months ago

Incitement to violence is a crime though it correctly has a very narrow definition, and I haven’t seen anybody directly and specifically call for the murder of Israelis thankfully

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Hamas calls for it in their charters, I believe in both versions. Many have celebrated the murder of average Israeli citizens from the sidelines. Perhaps you’ve not seen or heard in your neighborhood, nor on regulated media. Neither have I, which is better than nothing in terms of needful restraint.
For clarification: In your view a full-throated public endorsement of deadly atrocities, if it stop shorts of financial or logistical support, is in no way worthy of sanction, let alone a crime?
I don’t claim to have a perfect or 100-percent consistent position on Free Speech. I’m far from a hair-trigger suppression advocate, but your position seems pretty close to total “speech anarchy”.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Calls for Jihad? Calls for from the river to the sea? Come on.

alejandro Martinez
alejandro Martinez
6 months ago

Most people support Palestinian civilians, not Hamas. It reminds me of those who stood against the Iraq war and were called Saddam’s apologists. What do you expect when you torture people and put them through misery? Do you want them to be happy? Many Hamas members had friends or families that were killed. Another individual, most wanted before joining, had his house bombed by Israel, resulting in the death of his entire family, including his 2-month-old son. With all the bombings in Gaza, I bet half of the people who lost family members want to join Hamas. There was also a university leader who openly called for people to buy guns and start killing Muslims, and no one wanted to cancel him due to the freedom of speech. Eventually, he got involved in a sexual scandal. There is no real freedom of speech. People expect Palestinians to leave the land because someone was there 2000 years ago (Also, it is forbidden to take a DNA test in Israel). It’s ironic that atheists criticize all religions but somehow don’t want to criticize Israel. By the way, Sam Harris’s mom is Jewish, so you’ve got to understand where his views are coming from. With that logic, there is no illegal immigration since TX belonged to Mexico.

Stuart Bennett
Stuart Bennett
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Ultimately, it is performative like everything else these days. I’m willing to bet almost none of the attendees of these rallies have ever lifted a finger for the Palestinians. Anyone who’s lifted a finger for Hamas should be in jail or expelled from the country. But ultimately it’s LOOK AT ME!

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
8 months ago
Reply to  Stuart Bennett

I agree, for most it’s performative and simply choosing a side (which is why both the pro Israeli and pro Palestinian blocs fall almost exclusively along the same domestic political divide). Logistically supporting Hamas is already a crime as they’re a proscribed group

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
8 months ago
Reply to  Stuart Bennett

Likely true. But a gathering mob is engaged in nothing more than a performance or “mostly peaceful” protest until they become rowdier, and the least cool or most decidedly-sick heads start to hold sway. Is this about to happen on college campuses or in parts of far left strongholds like Portland? Maybe not. Far from inconceivable though.

Last edited 8 months ago by AJ Mac
Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

In that regard, I was glad to see the ACLU wake up from their slumber and reject the gag order imposed on Donald Trump by federal judge Tanya Chutkan. No one can accuse the ACLU of being Trump supporters, but they know when free speech rights have been abridged.
Too many other free speech advocates have defended the indefensible just because they want to gag Donald Trump.

Emmanuel MARTIN
Emmanuel MARTIN
8 months ago

So hating white peope is fine, and should be praised; But hating jews is an unforgivable sin ?

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
8 months ago

Mr Weinstein has some very interesting perspectives on the Middle East having spent a lot of time in Israel.
Yes, students are the most appropriate radicals to punish because here we are dealing with the grooming and corruption of youth in these institutions.
It reminds me of the online grooming of Isis brides, the teenage girls who flew out to Syria. Rather than take passports or deport, this corruption of higher education needs to be nipped in the bud.

Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
8 months ago

Like most issues in geopolitics, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is a complex one. Take Hamas, for instance. Hamas has a political wing and a military wing, and they have different leaders and, in some cases, different objectives. Polls show that most Gazans do not support Hamas, particularly the military wing, and would prefer to live alongside Israel in peace.
The terrorist attack on Israel on October 7 was horrific. Nothing justifies terrorist acts like beheadings, rape, killing of babies in their cribs, and taking hostages. Nothing. No matter how great your cause, terrorism is not a weapon you can wield to advance it.
That said, Israelis are not without blame for their own actions. They are bombing and killing civilians as well. They continue to settle illegally in Palestinian land, with over 10% of Israelis living there. They trample on the rights of Palestinians to live their lives in peace.
We should debate these topics. Attempts by people like Sam Harris and Alan Dershowitz to use legal means to shut down some with extreme views on one side are misguided. Let them speak. Their voices don’t have the power to physically hurt anyone. Words are not actions. Shut down actions, for actions speak louder than words.
Our goal should be peace, not vengeance. The best way to do that may be two states, Israel and Palestine, separated along the lines before the 1967 war, living in peace. Neither terrorism nor war gets us any closer to that.

Last edited 8 months ago by Carlos Danger
Walter Schwager
Walter Schwager
8 months ago

These ideas are legally and politically so unworkable they are just unadulterated moronic

George Locke
George Locke
8 months ago

It appears that in times of conflict the first casualty is common sense. There is absolutely no practical or legal way to just drop people who support Hamas in Palestine, let alone determine if they are actually jihadis or just naïve sympathisers with the Palestinian people.
As much as I think the so-called ‘intellectual dark-web’ was great for pushing against the orthodoxies of online discussion, one of the greatest tragedies to come out of it is that a lot these people really don’t seem to do much except appear on podcasts and go on emotional tangents.

Last edited 8 months ago by George Locke
Emma Davies
Emma Davies
8 months ago

I understand Douglas’ position on Hamas supporters through his strong support for Jews and his distrust of Islam. He has been particularly outspoken on Islam in the past (so has Sam) and was supportive of the UK government removing Shamima Begum’s citizenship after she turned up in a Syrian refugee camp post Isis adventure. So I think he has form taking a very hardline on Islamism but I feel he is allowing his emotion to overtake his usual rationale thinking by advocating for Western Hamas supporters to lose their citizenship. Free speech has to go both ways for it to be truely free, we must defend the rights of those whose speech we find abhorrent. I also agree with other commenters that allowing abhorrent speech exposes the speaker. If you give them enough rope they hang themselves and the mask has truly slipped for many woke progressives.
Where we cross a line is the incitement to cause harm. The protesters who were chanting Jihad on the streets of London recently should be held to account and the London Met response was cowardly. This is what I find very disturbing. I lost respect for Sam Harris long ago. I stopped listening to his podcasts after finding him too intellectually smug, particularly when he would lambast participants at live recordings for asking weak questions. He completely lost me after his Trump comments.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
8 months ago

Harris has been playing in Charles Murray’s corner of the playground for years, so he has found his natural level with Douglas of that Ilk. What is Douglas Murray, anyway? He was in is early twenties, armed with a newly minted 2:2 in English plus a posh boy accent and a condescending manner, when he emerged as a go-to expert on foreign policy, rapidly expanding to the totality of human knowledge.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
8 months ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

What do you think Douglas Murray is and why is he so offensive?

N Forster
N Forster
8 months ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

What does the first sentence mean?

Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
8 months ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

I am not sure having a 2:2 in English is relevant. Cathy Newman has a first in English from Oxford and demonstrated profound ignorance (and arrogance) when interviewing Jordan Peterson.