In Defense of Profiling : Sam Harris.

Okay – it’s official – Sam Harris is out of the skeptics club.  I have read and listened to very little of him, really.  I suppose I’m being a big meanie by kicking him out, but this is not a unilateral decision at all.

[Update: Other freethinkers continue to weigh in on this one…and more.]

[Update: To be clear, I mean “out of the skeptics club” figuratively.  If he wanted to sit down for a drink, I would not say no.  However, I’m not sure he would accept such an offer from PZ but I certainly hope he would.]

Sam has decided to put himself in the same category as such luminaries as Ann Coulter who expressed the notion in a debate with Al Franken that terrorists could be found by using a paint chip and comparing it to someone’s skin; although he does half-heartedly acknowledge that he shouldn’t be profiled out of the terrorist picture – well, not entirely – it’s not like he “looks Muslim” or anything.

Instead, he asserts that others should be profiled out of scrutiny because they are very old.  He goes as far as characterizing a couples’ risk to others as being the same as if they were dead.  (I have no idea if he realizes how painfully offensive that is to older people.)  I can admit that I, at one time, allowed myself to dismiss an older person for no other reason than her age.  There was once a “little old disabled lady” who lived in my apartment complex until which time I finally realized that she was orchestrating a drug ring and was being used by the local gang as a daycare provider as she sold crack and heroin from the home.  My prejudice made me ignore what would otherwise be obvious signs of what was actually going on – that is NOT a good thing.

He also wants to make immune the very young.  “Needless to say, a glance at the girl’s family was all one needed to know that they hadn’t rigged her to explode.”  Well, according to Sam apparently no religious terrorist has ever used terrified children as suicide bombers or drug mules.  I suppose he thinks the Children’s Crusade is just ridiculous – never happened.  I mean “NEEDLESS TO SAY” – he might as well have said, “By the way, I’m talking out my ass.”

Sam’s biggest complaint – of course – is that he had to stand in line longer waiting to get on his plane that transports him across the entire country in a matter of hours.  I weep for his sacrifice.

…and here is his analogy…

“No doubt it would be frustrating. But if someone who looked vaguely like Ben Stiller were wanted for crimes against humanity, I would understand if I turned a few heads at the airport.”

So, apparently profiling entire segments of the world’s population is the same as “turn[ing] a few heads” because you sort of look like an individual who is being actively pursued?!

But there is more!

“But there are people who do not stand a chance of being jihadists, and TSA screeners can know this at a glance.”

Yeah – sure.  What Sam apparently hasn’t figured out is that criminals (not just terrorists) many times understand the psychology of law enforcement and use it to their advantage.  It makes NO sense to play the part of the stereotypical criminal and be the ones holding the drugs or carrying the bombs.  Perhaps low-level pot-peddlers sometimes neglect to get a $50 haircut and a suit on their way back from Canada with a few bails of B.C. bud; but if suddenly the old, the young, the well-groomed and the white were off-limits to scrutiny, you better believe that’s exactly who is going to be employed to do that job.

So, here it is, when Sam Harris starts actually channeling Ann Coulter:

“We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it.”

Beside the painful break with reality that Sam seems to have had concerning the nature of religion – you know, being a set of beliefs and rituals and not a race – the infuriating part of his post is simple.  He ignored the research.

In the same breath as asserting the self-evidence of his painfully naive opinion on the topic and accusing the current TSA policies as being “infernal stupidity” that invites attack, he did not, at any point, refer to any of the various model-based studies on the subject that appear to agree with one another but not with him, or any sort of reasoned debate.

The entire basis of his opinion – his feelings.

So, there you have it.  That guy who did a TED talk, who sells tons of books – who essentially makes a living out of being a “thinker” – made a blog post about a serious civil rights and security issue, basing his entire opinion on his feelings of being inconvenienced, privileged and prejudiced.

Sorry Sam – you’re fired.