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Here's What Happened When Professional Atheist Sam Harris Tried — and Failed — to Embarrass Noam Chomsky

April 14, 2018 in Blogs

By Denny Taylor, AlterNet

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Chomsky's self-appointed antagonist is more off-base and offensive than many realize.

In April 2015, Sam Harris—an author, neuroscientist and self-appointed provocateur—persuaded Noam Chomsky to participate in a private email exchange. Chomsky had refused any other form of interaction with Harris and, for reasons not made public, he agreed. Then when the email exchange was finally over Harris cajoled Chomsky into letting him publish.

“If you’re so sure you’ve acquitted yourself well in this conversation,” Harris writes, “exposing both my intellectual misconduct with respect your own work and my moral blindness regarding the actions of our government, why not let me publish it in full so that our readers can draw their own conclusions?”

“The idea of publishing personal correspondence is pretty weird,” Chomsky responds, “a strange form of exhibitionism – whatever the content.  Personally, I can’t imagine doing it.  However, if you want to do it, I won’t object.”

“Understood, Noam,” Harris replies. “I’ll let you know what I do.”

So Harris publishes and the exchange goes viral. Talking heads on the left and right give their interpretation of the to-and-fro between Harris and Chomsky, finding some aspect of the interchange to shine the light on their own intellectual prowess. The media response to the emails was gendered marksmanship, a male game of one-upmanship, with audios of Harris from interviews and podcasts interspersed with analysis of his email interchange with Chomsky.

Today, as in the past, men control all forms of information presented to the public, and like most women academics and public intellectuals, I am used to listening, watching, and reading accounts of events presented by men.

“You read history, great literature, Shakespeare, its all fellows you know,” Meryl Streep said on a Women in the World panel on International Women’s Day. Given the evidence, few would disagree that in the U.S. …read more


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