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Kyle Schmidlin provides a summary of the Noam Chomsky/Sam Harris email tiff, writing that "Unfortunately for Harris, who reached out to Chomsky initially, the conversation didn't go as well for him as he seemed to hope it would when he embarked on it:"

Most of his discussion with Harris is driven by the question of intent on the part of perpetrators of terror and war. Harris charges, "For [Chomsky], intentions do not seem to matter. Body count is all." For Harris, however, "Ethically speaking, intention is (nearly) the whole story."

Chomsky's infamous comparison of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant bombing to the terror attacks ofSeptember 11 frames the bulk of the conversation. President Clinton ordered the bombing of the Al-Shifa facility in Sudan in 1998. As a result, half of the pharmaceutical supplies of Sudan were destroyed, in particular their malaria medicine, chloroquine. Although only one person was killed by the missile itself, estimations by Chomsky and others place the resultant death toll in the tens of thousands.

Thus, Chomsky drew the analogy to 9/11, though he has since retreated from the comparison to clarify that, actually, Clinton's bombing likely killed a lot more people. For Chomsky, it's instructive to note that we treat 9/11 as one of the most horrendous acts ever to take place - which it is - but regard crimes with comparable or greater death tolls, routinely inflicted by powerful nations against weak ones, as a fact of life hardly worth mentioning.

"Listening to Harris talk about the mind," writes Schmidlin, "its innermost workings, and free will can be fascinating:"

But by engaging Noam Chomsky, he only managed to reveal just how out of his league he is on crucial matters on which he fancies himself an informed commentator. In philosophical models, perhaps intent is all. But when the death toll of opposing sides is different by a factor of hundreds, it's a moral imperative to take note of body count. And when leaders' professed intentions can't be trusted, Chomsky's moral universality is a far more reliable beacon.

I read through the exchange when Harris posted it, and my initial reaction was one of dismay at how the two cantankerous commentators talked past each other. I found it interesting, but not very enlightening.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on May 8, 2015 9:40 AM.

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