The flaw in Sam Harris’s argument is that he is a racist, not that his readers are idiots

Sam Harris posted a blog last week suggesting that Muslims be racially profiled at airports because they’re more likely to be suicide bombers. Heck, they look like them Al Qaeda lot – so why not, right? In 900, unrelenting words of spurious, paranoid horseshit, Harris outlined his argument and, after a few days, added an addendum in order to clarify bits that were misunderstood (as racist) because “it seems that when one speaks candidly about the problem of Islam misunderstandings easily multiply”.

“In any case, it is simply a fact that, in the year 2012, suicidal terrorism is overwhelmingly a Muslim phenomenon,” Harris says. Reasonable point. Not ‘Muslims’ but ‘a minority of Muslims’ would have been more accurate, but OK. Now, don’t extrapolate wildly, will you? Oh, hang on…

“If you grant this, it follows that applying equal scrutiny to Mennonites would be a dangerous waste of time.”

It ‘follows’ does it? How does that ‘follow’? If you think Muslims are more likely to commit suicide via bomb-based explosionary fun it must mean that it would be ‘dangerous’ to waste your time giving equal treatment to other groups or minorities? ‘Dangerous’ because white people and Christians don’t do mass murders? What about Breivik or McVeigh? Enormous leaps in reasoning do not cover Harris’s racist assumptions that one group of people deserves harsher treatment because of the colour of their skin, their religion or the temerity to bring both of those foul characteristics to an airport.

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The human touch: why studying history will make you more enterprising

Here’s an article for the lovely folks at Telescope, a blog for graduate start-ups and entrepreneurs. This is one of a series on graduate skills and enterprise.

For the recent graduate and young entrepreneur, approximately 65702% of your time will be spent repeatedly smashing your laptop closed on your face like a crocodile’s jaw, searching endlessly, applying endlessly for jobs, funding, internships, contacts, interviews – anything. It has never been harder for young people to find work. (Hemingway wrote about the ‘Lost Generation’ and, while they had two World Wars, the Great Depression, housing crises, and the flagrant animal horror that is jazz, I can assure you that our plight is worse.) Having a good degree will definitely help. And the best degree for this is History. Here’s why.

When you first set up a business, so much of your early work will be figuring out what you’re good at. Why are you different? What skills do you have that set you apart? And this is why History is the ubermensch of all subjects. Aside from all the shiny prospectus stuff about reasoning skills, analysing factors, communication, arguing from evidence, writing persuasively, yada yada, zzzzz, you’ll also pick up one really amazing skill that no other subject can hope to give you: understanding of human experience.

Sure, that sounds lofty and weird, but let me explain. Almost all of the collective and individual experience of all human beings, societies and civilisations that have ever existed is stored in the past. In history. What your degree in History allows you to do is engage with this experience, to really understand and relate to figures from Napoleon to Seti to Churchill, and to grasp the desires, beliefs, wishes, hopes and worries of the millions of people affected in the histories you have read. You think Lenin’s New Economic Policy isn’t applicable to your business? What you have learnt from that is like an iceberg: the information, the facts, the plot – this sticks out above the surface. But what is submerged, what you don’t often realise you’ve learned, is the ability to rationalise the human as an agent, as a magnificent dynamo of feelings, actions, resentments, joys and aspirations. This unique understanding of the human makes historians brilliant, attractive graduates.

The next time your client sends you a difficult e-mail or a strange request, I’d bet that you’re empathetic, that you’re better than most at pulling out what they want, quicker than most at meeting their expectations. And when you’re filling out your next job application or funding request, when you’re asked to describe your skills and experiences, don’t just put ‘meeting deadlines’, or ‘working under pressure’. Think about what studying History has meant for the way you communicate and relate. Selling experience is the meat and drink of smart enterprise. Selling yourself well is just as important.

Huh?

My girlfriend bought me a book in which to write book reviews which was jolly nice of her.

Well, each review in the book gets just one small page – one page in which to try to fence in all thoughts on what has just been read. But one page is a rather manageable length for both reviewer and reader. Especially to write/read in one comfy sitting. A good length. Almost, well… blog-length.

I know what you’re thinking straight away. For some books, this may be easy. ‘What about The Lovely Bones?’, I hear you ask. ‘There are only two words suitable to describe it, and you can’t just blog the words “unfathomably shit”‘. For other work – say Ulysses, or In Search of Lost Time – it may be rather tricky.

But I figured it a worthy endeavour to post them online, anyway. My meandering thoughts on some of the greatest, most popular and most important books ever written.