Making Sense of Encounters With Violence - Transcripts
Welcome to the essential Sam Harris. This is Making Sense of Encounters with Violence. The goal of this series is to organize, compile, and juxtapose conversations hosted by Sam Harris into specific areas of interest. This is an ongoing effort to construct a coherent overview of Sam's perspectives and arguments, the various explorations and approaches to the topic, the relevant agreements and disagreements, and the pushbacks and evolving thoughts which his guests have advanced. The purpose of these compilations is not to provide a complete picture of any issue, but to entice you to go deeper into these subjects. Along the way, we'll point you to the full episodes with each featured guest, and at the conclusion, we'll offer some reading, listening, and watching suggestions, which range from fun and light to densely academic. One note to keep in mind for this series. Sam has long argued for a unity of knowledge where the barriers between fields of study are viewed as largely unhelpful artifacts of unnecessarily partitioned thought. The pursuit of wisdom and reason in one area of study naturally bleeds into and greatly affects others. You'll hear plenty of crossover into other topics as these dives into the archives unfold, and your thinking about a particular topic may shift as you realize its contingent relationships with others. In this topic, you'll hear the natural overlap with theories of free will, political philosophy, the foundations of morality, and more. So, get ready.
Let's make sense of encounters with violence. Violence is an area of interest for Sam from several perspectives, and in this compilation, we're going to explore two main tracks. The first track will be personal contact with violence. This will look at the areas of self-defense, surviving a hostage situation, personal participation in war, and Sam's involvement with the practice of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. We will then transition to the second track, the more philosophical and political considerations of violence in general. This will take a look at Sam's critique of pacifism, along with the controversial topics of profiling, torture, and gun ownership. This section will lean heavily on Sam's strongly consequentialist moral framework. We recommend listening to our compilation on the foundations of morality to fully dissect just how Sam reaches his politically relevant advocacy. Some of this compilation will be difficult to hear, and much of it presents harrowing scenarios and situations. But thinkers like Sam often intentionally wander to these dark edges of possibility and behavior, not just out of a penchant for the macabre or for the public shock value, but to hopefully make genuine and important philosophical and psychological discoveries that have many implications for all aspects of life. Moral philosophers are fond of imagining wild, hellish scenarios that sometimes seem to spring from the mind of a troubled writer of horror films. Their imaginings fill the pages of textbooks with long, obscure titles, as well as philosophy seminars inside university walls the world over.
While detailing these thought experiments, they claim to be exploring the boundaries of moral frameworks and unearthing the decisive exceptions to previously upheld philosophies. Often, the scenarios are dismissed as too unrealistic and impossible to be relevant. I mean, you'll never really be in the dispatcher's room when an out-of-control trolley barrels towards various people tied to the tracks, right? Well, many of Sam's guess on making sense come from intellectual circles like philosophy and psychology, and they regularly explore these kinds of fanciful thought experiments. But this group doesn't constitute Sam's complete list of guess. Some of the most important and challenging episodes of making sense come from Sam's engagement with people like Chris Voss, the man in our first clip. Voss sports a thick, tough guy, Midwestern accent that sounds like it comes straight from central casting, like it belongs to a hard-boiled FBI hostage negotiator. And in fact, that's exactly what Chris Voss is. He's actually lived through some of these philosophers' wildest thought experiments. Throughout his 28-year career, Voss has negotiated a variety of hostage situations, from bank heists to international kidnappings and everything in between. He's also been tapped by the corporate world to apply his insights and teach the skill of deal-making. He co-wrote a book called Never Split the Difference, negotiating like your life depended on it, which brought those same lessons into the home, to the familiar, small stakes, commonplace negotiations that happen every day in families and relationships.
His conversation with Sam spanned the entire range of considerations when it comes to hostage situations, including the moral considerations of paying ransom. We'll revisit that philosophical aspect of moral philosophy and violence in the latter half of this compilation. But for now, we'll look to this episode for a more intimate engagement with violence. In particular, we're going to get advice on what you might want to do if you ever happen to be violently kidnapped. This is Sam with Chris Voss from episode 132,
freeing the hostages. So given what you know about negotiating from outside the crisis, what would you do if you were taken hostage
that it might not occur to the average person to do? Well, since I know the chances are I'm gonna come out, you know, it's up to me then to engage in a psychological approach that maintains my sanity as much as possible, makes me treated better. You know, make sure the kidnappers know my name. Don't resist what they want me to do. Don't be a pain in the neck. But if they grab me and they try to drag me to the other side of the room, I just look at them and I say, I'm Chris. You know, I will repeat my name to them as much as possible so that they figure out eventually, I'm gonna condition them to say, Chris, come over here and I'll go over. Right. Instead of them dragging me over because then I'm Chris. And as soon as I become Chris, the chances are that they're gonna harm me hurt. I become a person now at some point of time when they see me as a person, they're actually gonna want to make friends with me. They're stuck with me too.
You know, it was a Mark Wahlberg movie a number of years back where he was running a facility where they were using chimpanzees for science experiments and space flight. And they had all the chimpanzees numbered and he came in and he gave them names. And the guy stopped them and he said, as soon as you give them names, it's gonna be harder to walk them out to the experiments. You're gonna get attached to them. You gotta treat them better. human nature. So I'm gonna I'm gonna exploit what I know to be the case in human nature and I'm gonna sit back and I'm gonna I'm gonna develop a relationship with my captors and then I'm gonna
think about who I'm gonna sell my story to when I come out. So it is such a high probability of a successful resolution that you would view it as unnecessarily risky to attempt to escape and what are the conditions under which you would decide you should be running the risk of violent conflict
by attempting to escape yourself? Well, um, all right, so when they first grab you, they expect you to fight back. Now that's the only time you get away with fighting back. It's still a stupid idea because since they expect you to fight they're also prepared to beat you senseless. Now it's a separate issue as to whether or not you run away. The issue is not whether or not try to get away the issues, whether or not you use violence to do it. They're not gonna blame you for getting up trying to get away. They would too. They're just gonna blame if you use violence to do it. You walk away, run away, they catch you. They'll be mad at you, but they won't beat you unconscious for it. You know, we had one hostage walked away in Ecuador a couple of times because you know they let him go to the bathroom by himself.
And every time he went to the bathroom by himself. He'd stay away for a few minutes longer. He conditioned them to expect him to be away for a while. Then when he built the time period up, he walked away when he went to the bathroom. Now, when they caught up with him, their anger response was they took his clothes away for a while. That was the extent of their punishment. Other hostages who've tried to escape by the means of violence have gotten themselves killed. So, walk away or run away and they'll blame you for that. They expect you to do that as long as you don't do it with violence.
This is interesting because this advice is diametrically opposed to what I consider to be the conventional wisdom in self-defense situations that are not classical hostage situations. But if you get into your car in the parking lot and someone comes up with a gun and says, get in, the advice I've always gotten from law enforcement, from martial artists, from people who just know these situations, is to resist violently and explosively as quickly as possible and that, above all, never let yourself be taken to a secondary crime scene. You might not agree with that self-defense advice in the first place, but assuming you do, it sounds like the rules could change if you are in a situation where hostage takers just have a sufficient control that then your marshaling violence is virtually guaranteed to work against you.
Yeah. Well, there's a couple of nuances to that question. You got to be careful about generalizations, but that is a great question. All right. So, first of all, the common theme at all times is to get away. Now, your choices to how you want to get away and what you're faced with. And there's a big difference between a domestic US hostage kidnapping and an international kidnapping, massive difference. Principally, in a domestic US kidnapping, the bad guys know they're going to get caught. They assume they're going to get caught and you are the number one witness against them. So, domestic US kidnapping is a very dangerous affair.
So, let's unspool that a little more slowly. What is fundamentally different in terms of what you'd assume the outcome would be domestically?
Yeah. The domestic guys know that we've got this great, not only do we have a great law enforcement infrastructure, we've got a prison system that holds people for a long period of time. And most kidnappers still believe that you get the death penalty for kidnapping. Now, you only get the death penalty for kidnapping if your victim dies and the state has a death penalty. But the bad guys are not studying up on US history and the changes in the laws. So, they figure that at a bare minimum, they're going to jail for a very long time, if not receiving a death penalty. That is not the case in other countries where kidnapping exists. You don't go to jail in Mexico for kidnapping. If you do, you stay there just long enough to get a meal. The domestic, Brazil, same way. You don't do any jail time in Brazil and if you got jail time, there's going to be a prison break, you're going to get out anyway. So, they know that.
They understand how long they're going to stay in jail. So, domestic US kidnapping, very dangerous affair. And you are the biggest threat to their freedom as a witness and they do not want that witness to live. In the third world, the developing world, they could care less. They're more interested in getting paid. They're not worried about getting caught. Otherwise, there wouldn't be so much kidnapping in Colombia, Ecuador, Central America, South America, Mexico, Iraq. So, you got to know where you are.
But that might cut both ways in the sense that in, let's put it in Colombia for the moment, if the risk of being caught and prosecuted is so low, then I would think the life of the hostages would be commensurately cheap there too, because you're presumably you're not getting
easily caught and prosecuted for murder either. All right. So, now the question is, and you got to be careful about projecting the wrong set of values into the wrong place. So, you're in the commodities game, you're in the commodities business, it's not what it is to us. It's It's what it is to them. Any business that doesn't deliver its product, what happens? It doesn't last very long. They go out of business, and if you're a kidnapping gang and you develop a reputation for not delivering hostages, that's going to get out. It sounds insane, but it doesn't matter what it is to us, it matters what it is to them. Right. And if they don't deliver, they don't get paid, and they're much more interested in
getting paid because to them it's the business. They go out of business. Is there any frequency with which people are kidnapped for ransom in the US, or is this – I picture most hostage situations in the US to be these extremely emotional, in many cases attempts on the part of the hostage taker to commit suicide by cop. What would you expect if you heard that someone had been kidnapped in the US?
Yeah, and a great question, because what type of hostage situation is it? You can't broad brush kidnapping and suicide by cop, or as different as zebras and giraffes. Yeah, but they're both from Africa. Well, they're a giraffe and a rhino. They're both African animals, right? Suicide by cop takes place principally primarily at banks, secondarily any situation where the bad guys are trying to get the police's attention. That's one of the first elements of suicide by cop. Did they create a provocation they know the police are going to show up to? Why does it happen at banks? Banks got bank alarms. Cops show up really fast. Kidnapping – completely different animal – they're not trying to get the police's attention.
They're trying to get the family's attention. Now, domestic US kidnapping, because they figured they're going to get caught, and if they get caught, the primary witness is the victim – difference game entirely. the victim is now a threat, kidnapping internationally. Who's got a robust penal system, jail system in comparison to the United States in the third world?
Nobody. Okay, so that should get your mind sufficiently geared up for some of the unpleasantness of this topic as we zoom out from the personal to the philosophical. Boss has navigated the thought experiments and discovered a raft of interesting psychological techniques geared towards de-escalation and rescue. In many ways, his job is to be a speed dating therapist tasked with hijacking whatever vulnerabilities the target might be harboring in order to bring the situation to the best possible conclusion. As we go forward, much of our examination of violence will attempt to strike a tenuous balance between moral reasoning and frantic urgency. Because in thinking about violence, we must also consider a particular emotion that's almost never absent when violence is present. That emotion is fear. Any situation that includes the following ingredients is a recipe for fear. There are many uncertain outcomes. Nearly all of them are extremely undesirable. The path towards desirable outcomes is narrowed by a high risk of failure. There's a rapidly declining timeframe before the undesirable outcomes materialize.
And there's a necessity to break moral norms to try to bring about the better outcomes. This recipe comes together when an animal is being cornered by a predator or when humans read a news report about an approaching hurricane. Fear usually isn't high on people's lists of favorite emotions to experience. But our next guest wrote a book entitled The Gift of Fear, which attempts to give fear some love. Fear, he argues, is a message from within ourselves to another part of ourselves, and it serves a tremendously important and underrated role. Evolution favors animals with a good deal of fear. All of us animals currently living are trailing a long line of the evolved behavior of fearful animals who utilized this fear to avoid death. The dead ends on the family tree are much more likely to be the animals who are most numb to the threat of something truly dangerous rather than the ones who reacted to the first rustling in the leaves as if it were a poisonous snake. But of course, there's a balance to strike. An animal who was too jumpy and ran away in fear every time the leaves rustled may have missed out on a lot of good feeding opportunities and may not have had the privilege of passing on its genes. So this evolved fear meter has been calibrating its accuracy within us for quite some time, but it's not a perfect instrument. Evolution, as always, is merely a blind process, seeking the path of least resistance suitable enough to keep the genes going.
Evolution also moves at a much slower pace than the technological and societal evolution of our modern civilization. The overwhelming majority of the fear meter's evolution took place in an environment when we were around similar looking and sounding kin and took place in the absence of technological threats like guns, bombs, and radiation. Our fear meter may therefore be calibrated to be hypersensitive to encounters with new and unfamiliar devices to make this point. Imagine plucking a human out of history from 300,000 years ago. You and this earlier human decide to go for a walk in the woods. Imagine coming across a discarded blender by the side of the path. You would recognize the object right away, and though you may have some questions as to how it ended up there, you'd be pretty confident that it posed no danger. You could see the rusted plug laying harmlessly in the dirt, but your caveman friend might be startled and mystified by it. The sharp blades on their own may scare him, and if you weren't there to encourage him to inspect it, he might take extraordinary caution towards the thing. Next, imagine that a human 300,000 years from now plucks you out from history and takes you on a walk in his world. Imagine coming across a strange device in the grass with a shape and material that made little sense to you. Your internal fear meter may be beeping and sending all kinds of fear chemicals your way to urge you to be very careful with the strange thing, even while your futuristic hiking partner assured you that the thing was harmless in this context.
Fear of the unknown may not be entirely universal or felt as strongly by everyone, but it seems to be the default for humans. The blueprint of evolution reads, better safe than sorry, but it's not just new and unfamiliar kinds of objects that can trip our fear response. Our fear meters can also be hypersensitive to new and unfamiliar kinds of people. This wrinkle is what often drives all forms of bigotry and racism. When we feel that fear of other people, it seems to spring from a mysterious source. We may experience it as just a bad feeling or something that doesn't feel quite right. So what are we to make of this? That's Gavin De Becker's area of interest. De Becker is an expert in the prediction and management of violence. He's worked in security details for celebrities and investigated stalkers. He's developed threat assessment systems for governors and US Supreme Court justices. And he's frequently been brought in as an expert witness in high profile cases.
He's also managed security for Sam's public events. Here, he and Sam will focus on fear and the mysterious concept of intuition. You'll hear De Becker give a robust defense of this inner sense and the nearly subconscious form of intelligence it represents as it has been molded through countless trial runs of evolution. This is Gavin De Becker from episode 90,
living with violence. Let's talk about intuition because we have just said that people are fairly confused about violence and tend to be bad at dealing with some of the information that's out there about it. But this point you make again and again, you've made it here and it's the very title of your book, The Gift of Fear. There's one thing that we are actually very good at. Evolution has made us experts at detecting danger and detecting shady people, feeling uncomfortable in the presence of people who are liable to do us harm. Talk about intuition here and what it means to trust it and why so many people are unaware of the validity of trusting it. The reasons given for not trusting it.
Talk about the primacy of intuition for a moment. Well, here we get to I think the biggest gift we can give to listeners and this goes for female listeners and male listeners. This goes for decisions you make in your work and decisions you make for your safety. Ultimately, the biggest decision we all make is who to include in our life and who to exclude from our life. That's choosing friends, spouse, neighbors, co-workers, et cetera. We make those choices. Those choices aren't made for us. And so my advice always is to make very slow and careful decisions about whom you include in your life and very fast decisions about whom you exclude. So if you have that nanny that you're uncomfortable about, she goes quickly. There's no reason to keep her around. I mean, I've had people through my career say, should we put in a nanny cam? Because we're worried that this nanny is doing something dangerous with our kids.
And I say, no, you should get rid of the nanny because no kid is gonna thank you in 20 years. Gee, mom, thank you for having that video of me being hit by a spoon on the head by that crazy nanny you guys hired. And so the concept of listening to intuition is what I wanna focus on for a moment. Because America particularly or Western societies, we look to government and we look to experts and technologies and corporations to solve our problem for us. And I am very glad to tell everybody here that the police are not going to protect you because they're not gonna be there during the moment that you face an intruder or you face a violent situation. And government's not gonna protect you. It can't. It tries to pretend it can, but it can't. And the only thing that's going to protect you is your own intuition, which is your own ability to recognize that something is up while it's right in front of you or while it's in your environment. And I think, as you said, Sam, it's super hard for people to accept the importance of it because intuition is usually looked on with some contempt. It's described as emotional or unreasonable or inexplicable and husbands make fun of wives for feminine intuition and they don't take it seriously. But what I can tell you about intuition, I learned from the origins of the word itself.
The root of the word, inter, means to guard and to protect. Super interesting that that's what it means. We think we're using intuition to make a thousand other decisions, but what it's built for, what it's in this system for, is to guard us and to protect us. And what it does is, and I'm really gonna quote you for a second here because you said a moment ago that evolution has really honed this. True, we didn't get the biggest claws, we didn't get the sharpest teeth or the biggest muscles. What we got is the biggest brains. And the idea that we use the expression gut feeling, well, the gut actually has more brain cells than a dog. So the gut is literally where a lot of that thought is going on. That's why you get that bad feeling in your stomach about this employee, this friend, this thing somebody said to you, this danger. And that's a very meaningful thing. Gut feeling is the perfect word for it. And it's visceral, it's in the tissue.
And it isn't just a feeling.
No, it is, it's called the enteric nervous system. Well, you've given it, you're smarter than I am. You gave it a better name. The idea is that this is a process, this process we ridicule, intuition, is a process more extraordinary and ultimately more logical. In the natural order of things, it's more logical than the most fantastic computer calculation. And it's our most complicated cognitive process. And it's also, in some ways, it's the simplest, which I'll explain. But what it does, intuition, is it connects us to the natural world and to our nature so that when we are free from judgment and we've got only perception, we say that thing in recounting what happened to us, somehow I knew. So if people will do these two things, one is to pay attention to intuition. It's, in my opinion, it's always right in two important ways. One is it's always based on something. And two, it always has your best interest at heart.
And so, give you a fast example. You're in an airport and you get that feeling, I shouldn't get on this plane. And millions of people have had this feeling. This plane's gonna crash, something, they get anxiety about it, and I shouldn't get on this plane. So what I ask people to do is look introspectively for a moment at where that feeling's coming from. And if it is coming from a news story, you saw two weeks ago on television of an ugly plane crash in Peru, that is not based on your environment or your circumstance, it's based on your memory or your anxiety, and that's not actual fear. If, however, the feeling is based on seeing the pilot stumble out of the bar at the airport and make his way slowly down the jet walk, now you've got something that's in your environment. And the question to ask always, this is how, you tell the difference between true fear, like I'm afraid of getting on this plane, and unwarranted fear, worry, anxiety, et cetera. This is how. True fear will always be based on something in your presence, and will always be based on something you perceive. The signal comes from your perception, from your senses. Unwarranted fear will always be based upon memory.
And so it's something you remember, something you recall, something you're worrying about, or something you're thinking about. But something based on your actual environment is a gift, hence the title of that book. There's not an animal in nature that would say, oh, I don't want that gift. Don't tell me when I should be worried about my safety. It's so much trouble. There's no antelope that suddenly is filled with fear and says to itself, it's probably nothing. But human beings every day are engaged in the constant prosecution of their own feelings. And the most vivid example I'm aware of is a woman alone in a building late at night. She's working late in the office and she goes to the elevator. The elevator door opens and there's a guy inside who causes her fear. She's afraid of him. And so what does she do?
Most women get into a steel soundproof chamber with someone who causes her fear. Something no animal in nature would do. And why does she do it? Because she says I don't wanna be the kind of person who makes a decision because of the guy's race or because his clothes look shabby. I don't wanna be like that. Or I don't wanna offend him or I don't wanna make him angry. she talks herself out of what I call prosecutes her own jury's conclusion. And she talks herself out of it and gets into the elevator. And as I say, these are things that no animal in nature would ever even remotely contemplate. And human beings do it every day,
participating in their own victimization. The elevator example brings up some other issues here that are hugely important. And this is the other side of the balance that causes people to not value intuition or to prosecute their feelings, as you say. And it's that these moments of negative intuition can be in contradiction to a variety of social norms that well-intentioned people want to adopt. And so you just named one. You don't wanna be racist, right? So if you're a white woman and the elevator door is open and the man on the elevator who makes you uncomfortable is black, well, you may just get on that elevator perversely to prove to yourself and to him that you're not racist, right? You override your intuition. And in fact, I know someone who was in a circumstance like this and it didn't end well. And we can make it even more provocative than that. There are certain circumstances where the race of the person is obviously relevant information. It is in and of itself a pre-incident indicator or a statistically relevant fact, regardless of any other messages that are coming.
There are places where it's more surprising or less surprising to see a person of a certain race. And people feel very bad. We've all been trained to ignore those facts, which again, we can, in many cases, just instantly and intuitively surmise.
So what are good people to do with that? We're going to let that question from Sam hang in the air for a bit, because you must be hearing how unafraid Sam is to take the logic of fear and poke at some strong societal taboos. Sam's line of questioning takes us directly toward one of the most precarious moral and political tightropes out there at the moment, the topic of profiling. We'll be taking a little time to walk that tightrope now. So let's see if we can keep our balance. Our sense of evolved, intelligent intuition sometimes mixes with other forms of embedded biases that are unhelpful or immoral. And that can create a jumbled emotional brew within us. The elements of this concoction are sometimes hard to distinguish and differentiate. That's why when fear is felt, De Becker encourages a moment and method of introspection. It's invaluable to sharpen our internal tools so as to better heed the strange alarm bells that sound from our guttural, enteric nervous system. So when we get a bad feeling about someone who's walking toward us on the same side of the street, what's really happening there? Well, in a generic sense, we are engaged in profiling.
If we allow ourselves to drain the political ugliness from this term, we can simply define it as the process of gathering information about a potential threat in our environment so as to inform our interaction with it. What kind of information can be gathered from seeing a figure on the same side of the street as us? Well, there's the likely sex of the person to start. There's the height and build of the person, which may be easier to track depending on the clothing they're wearing, which can itself reveal important information. Are the clothes appropriate for the weather? Do the clothes look expensive? Does that signal that this person has a lot of money and likely isn't thinking about robbing someone? Or are the clothes extraordinarily trendy and expensive, which makes you suspect that they're more likely to target you and your very trendy shoes? Are they wearing a suit, a torn and stained T-shirt? Is the stain fresh? Are they stumbling? Does that indicate intoxication?
There's information to gather about their hands. Are they holding something? Do they have pockets that could be concealing anything? Does the person have tattoos? Are they on the forehead or on the forearm? There's even non-visual information to gather, like the odor that might be coming from the person. Is it alcohol or cologne? And there's contextual data to incorporate regarding the time of day, year, and the neighborhood. This data colors the previous data points. A tank top at 3 a.m. in winter is very different from one at noon in summer. You can keep gathering more and more nuanced data down to non-obvious things, like seeing the logo of a specific sports team on the person's hat.
Did that team just lose the Super Bowl in the final minute? Does that data combine with other pieces of data, like being on a street in Las Vegas and raise the likelihood of your guess that this person is very drunk and maybe just lost a big bet? Does that raise the threat level for you? All of this internal activity is building a kind of profile. There's a famous cliche delivered to children everywhere that reminds us not to judge a book by its cover. And of course, there's some wisdom in that quote. Warning against being too certain of our judgments, given just surface-level information. We should always remain open to the possibility of being surprised and be wary of writing people off with limited information. But this doesn't mean the cover of a book doesn't provide some useful information about its contents, right? A book cover is actually not a terrible bit of information to scrutinize when making a prediction of what's inside. Of course, reading the whole book is always better. And to truly judge something, one likely needs more information than can be gleaned from the cover.
But often we don't have the time or resources available to do that. We only have so much time in the bookstore. And when people are walking down the street in our direction, we're seeing something like human book covers rather than a whole life story. As Debekker points out, much of the response in this situation happens at a gut subconscious level that simply delivers a signal to you in the form of an emotion of calm or anxiety and fear. We have incredibly active detective agencies working in our guts all the time, trying to constantly avoid dangers. And as Debekker reminds us, they're pretty good at keeping us safe. But as Sam also throws into the mix, there's also data to gather about the race of the person. This of course is where the political landmine usually explodes and the tightrope snaps. But let's see if we can cling to it and avoid the fall. Race and ethnicity are just other pieces of data in the profile. And it's possible to simply downgrade their weight significantly or ignore them entirely. And nearly all data on crime rates would encourage that downgrade if you had data on much more relevant factors, such as poverty level, education level, distraction level, political leanings, et cetera.
But if you don't have access to this kind of information or other physical indications of it, one must grapple with the reality of correlations that inform probabilities. This is a very good moment to pause and repeat the common refrain that correlation does not equal causation. Of course, there is nothing inherent in a level of skin pigmentation, which causes one to be more likely to commit violence. The causes of the likelihood of violence are much more related to the aforementioned factors of environment, education, poverty, substance abuse, parenting, belief, societal treatment, and so on. But given the political and historical inequalities and the unbalanced realities on the ground, it's undeniable that different ethnicities have clustered in such a way which also aggregates some of those unfortunate causal factors for violence. This, of course, does not justify any of the inequalities themselves. In fact, it ought to alert us to the absolute emergency to rectify as many of those as we can as quickly as possible. The predicament is horrendous, grappling with this reality where it's useful or informative to incorporate any accidental genetic feature while building a danger profile. The usefulness itself, though, can quickly become a vicious, self-fulfilling prophecy where the very act of engaging in this kind of profiling increases one of the causal factors for violence by increasing ostracization and negative societal treatment. This is what could be called the profiler's dilemma. Now, most times, the profiling conversation is centered around security screenings where we also have to layer in the factor of limited resources. Security only has so much time and energy to devote to careful screenings.
So who should they focus on, if anyone, to put ourselves in the profiler's dilemma? Let's imagine that we've been hired to run security for a folk music festival in a small New England town. We're tasked with selecting attendees every so often, checking bags and patting them down to ensure the safety of the event. The vast majority of attendees at this folk music festival pose very little threat. But before the event, your small security team is alerted to a potential threat by the local police force. They've received some intelligence that a local group of neo-Nazi skinheads have made some threats directed at the festival because of a particular band that will be performing pro-immigration folk songs. Now, you're standing at the front of the line as a string of harmless people stream through. You find and confiscate the occasional glass beverage container or a marijuana pipe that's a little too obvious. It's nearing the end of your shift and you have time to do a thorough check on a few more patrons who are standing in the line. You scan the line. You see an old woman with a Joni Mitchell t-shirt, a black man with dreadlocks and a floppy red and green hat, a young Asian woman with a peace sign tattoo on her shoulder, and a white man with a bald head and a leather jacket. Even in this fictional story, you are likely filling in these verbal descriptions with stand-in mental images of these people.
You're profiling their likely danger and you're making guesses as to what's in their pockets. As evolved humans, we simply can't help but engage in this tenuous process, hopefully with care. In the context of the folk festival, would it make sense to pay closer attention to the white man with no hair than to the other three? He could just be a bald man who likes to ride motorcycles. In fact, he probably is. But in this particular scenario, his race actually is an indication of the profile that correlates with heightened danger. If he were a bald brown man in leather, his odds of being a neo-Nazi skinhead plummets. Again, it's not the whiteness of the man's skin per se which causes this likeliness. It merely correlates with it. But what now? What do we do with that correlation? Considering the self-fulfilling prophecy aspect of profiling, especially racial profiling, do you pull this man aside and pat him down?
Do you do that to every hairless white man in the crowd? This may not seem like such a big deal at this folk festival with a specific threat. But would enough of these instances actually cause the danger they purport to keep at bay? When they're scaled up to entire national policies? When they're happening at several international borders? When they're stretched over decades such that it eventually sows sufficient resentment in the targeted population? This illustrates why enough reasonable instances of racial profiling can actually become a causal factor for violence. Hence the absolutely wicked problem of the profiler's dilemma. This complication is not a mystery to security experts. There are mitigation efforts like randomization that can be folded into the strategy. And if security can glean non-physical profiling data like the biographical and environmental factors we mentioned before, these would be favored over weaker correlations like race. If you had a quick scan of the resume and travel history of the person walking towards you on the street, this would tend to be more useful than what you could gather from their appearance alone.
And it would likely inform the visual data. The hairless condition of the white man waiting in line changes quite a bit if you know he had recently traveled to the alopecia treatment center. The kind of profiling based on data trawling carries its own dangers of course. Our compilation on social media and the information landscape looks a bit at some of those concerns. But in any case, regardless of anything we've looked at here, the personal treatment of those subjected to profiling does not need to be as inhumane and heartless as it often is. This helps absolutely no one, but the thorny ethics of profiling remain. We could swap out the variables of our folk festival story with policing the streets in America, security checkpoints in Israel, detention camps in Asia, and just about every airport on earth since 9-11, and the deep pitfalls of profiling amplify exponentially. We'll recommend two episodes of making sense that go deeper into profiling. One of them is a solo episode called What I Really Think About Profiling, where Sam echoes the position laid out here, but also attempts to clarify a run-in he had on social media which flared up after a Muslim boy was sent home from school after he brought in a homemade clock that a teacher mistook for a bomb. In that audio essay, he describes his view as anti-profiling in that it's not focused on singling out any particular kind of people, but instead emphasizes the logic of not wasting time and scarce attentional resources on targets who are exceedingly unlikely to pose a danger, like the Joni Mitchell-loving grandmother waiting in our line. The other episode which explores the practicalities of profiling in depth is with a security expert named Juliette Kayyem, and it's called What Keeps Us Safer. We aren't going to listen to those episodes here, but we'll recommend them in our outro, along with plenty of other essays and audio pieces.
Sam certainly recognizes the paralyzing nature of the profiler's dilemma, but as he'll continue to reiterate in these clips, ignoring a very bad and difficult situation doesn't help us understand it any better. Phew, so hopefully we made it over the profiling tightrope in one piece, but this compilation isn't going to get any easier or less precarious for us. We're about to talk about guns. We're going to episode 25 with a guest named Scotty Reitz. Reitz is a 40-year veteran of policing, but he's speaking in this episode in his capacity as a gun usage and self-defense instructor. Sam has been training with Reitz for decades. After this exchange, we'll get into Sam's view on gun ownership and the politics that go along with it. But first, we'll hear from Scotty Reitz as they open up the topic of guns and the disturbing thought of being in the presence of someone who seems to justify their necessity. This is Sam with Scotty Reitz from episode 25,
Behind the Gun. Okay, so let's talk a little bit about guns and the civilian ownership of guns and gun control. And I'm tempted to just start with just kind of an open-ended question for you here. What is it that people, do you think, most people don't understand about firearms and what should they understand and what's your general view of the current situation in the US with respect to the ubiquity of guns and the justification people have
or can't find for owning them? Okay, well, great question. I think we let off kind of touching on that subject initially at the outset of this conversation. And you have, yes, the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms. You have the right to self-defense. I will tell you that from my standpoint, having been a policeman, having worked the streets, having seen victims, having very intimate knowledge of victims, in most cases, the police are never going to be there when you need them the most.
So you need to start with that premise. Okay. So just to spell that out, a person who thinks that they don't need to think about self-defense or don't need to think about home defense in particular, or don't need to think about owning a gun because they can always dial 911 and summon a police officer, Why is that unrealistic? I mean, there's certainly situations in which it's potentially realistic. If you can always put a locked door between you and the problem, barricade yourself in your bedroom, which understandably, most people can't do. Imagine you've got kids in other bedrooms in the house and suddenly someone's in your house. Tactically speaking, that's unrealistic. But let's just say that someone can assume that, listen, I can lock my bedroom door. It's no one's getting into my bedroom. Why on earth do I ever have to think about this? I can just dial 911. Would you acknowledge that there's somebody for whom that is a realistic self-defense plan or even that seems?
Well, it's pie in the sky. It's not necessarily realistic. By the time the police get there, most of these events are over. Police now are so inundated with calls for service that crime suppression is very low on the order. It's basically just racing from one call to another taking reports, damage control. I think a classic example, if you remember, I believe it was the doctor with his two daughters and his wife in Connecticut. That's a classic example and it's tragic. But classic example, you have to understand, these are two bad guys from out of nowhere. And this is what I heard referred to once by a neurosurgeon as a trivial, pivotal event. And wonderful phrase. And what that means is that's where you have a number of different seemingly independent indices floating around in space. But suddenly for no apparent reason, no logic, they all coalesce together at one point in space.
Well, here you have two suspects that are kind of looking around for something to do and they just happen to see the wife go into the bank and then one thing led to another and another. You know, the whole police response, as I understand, was ineffective and there's a lot of controversy over that. I got it. But the bottom line is a lot of times you're on your own and some people say, well, I could never shoot another human being. Then fine. I understand that. One thing I tell people is imagine, and this is to me, one of my worst nightmares is having a person that's a real bad guy and you have to understand there are bad people out there that you cannot negotiate with. There is no negotiation with these people. You can't reason with them. There's no logic. There's no morality. There's no empathy.
There's no compassion. There's nothing. We're talking about people that will kill you, people that will hurt you, people that don't care about the outcome, they don't care of the results, they don't care about the ramifications, they simply don't care and having a person like that threatening your sons, your daughters, your wife, your loved ones and you have no ability to counter that,
that to me would be an absolute living nightmare.
The reason without the outdated nightmare. So let's just linger there for a second because I think there is skepticism among some people about whether that's even true, for whether even such people exist, I think. Maybe I'm walking this far back too far to the precipice and it's not interesting, but there are people who are skeptical about just the concept of evil can be applied to anyone accurately. In some people's mind, there's always hope that you can get through to anyone. People have spent very little time thinking about just the phenomenon of what you're calling bad guys. And then there's the additional truth, which is, in fact, statistically true that you are very unlikely to have someone like this show up at your door. This person's gonna show up at someone's door, but it's very unlikely to be yours.
Well, guess what? Maybe I'm walking this person.
Oh my God, well, guess what? Go back, if your readers want an interesting read, go pick up In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. And it's absolutely fascinating. I've read it probably three or four times. And it is a wonderful read. He's a brilliant writer. What you're looking at are the clutter family in the middle of... Holcomb, Nebraska, what folks out there are called,
way out there.
And folks out there are called way out there. Was it Kansas or Nebraska State? Kansas of Nebraska State.
Holcomb. Kansas of Nebraska State, Holcomb. And here are Smith and Hickok, two ne'er-d'allos who drive over 460 miles, I believe? And on the erroneous assumption that there's money in a safe and there is no safe and end up killing the entire family. this is the 1950s, this is literally shocked the nation back then, you're talking about the randomness of something like this happened. I'm not saying you have to be paranoid. In other words, the next time you go to the movie theater you don't have to low crawl to the concession stand and flash bang the popcorn machine and have your kids cover you from the rear. I'm not talking about that, I'm talking about being aware of your surroundings but understanding that bad things can happen. Brett and I live in a nice neighborhood, there've been home invasions, there have been shootings, There have been rapes and just random at the most inopportune of times. So the ability of somebody to defend themselves, you just don't know when it's gonna come. You don't have to be paranoid, but I think you do need to be aware. You can have a pie in the sky.
I wanna be nice and soft and warm and friendly to everybody and nurturing. There are people out there that are not going to respond to that, that all they wanna do is hurt you. And because we live our lives in a certain manner, we tend to ascribe our moral values and ethics unto other people. Why aren't you understanding what I'm saying? Why can't you feel the empathy for me? When those suspects rape those two girls, tied into a bed and burned them alive, do you understand that you can't reason with all people?
There's only one method of dealing with these people, Dan. And the irony is you bring up the Pettit case, which I happen to know a lot about. I wrote about it briefly in my book, Free Will. I mean, the irony there is these were not particularly scary guys. I mean, they did this horrible thing, but you can find much scarier people in the annals of criminology. I mean, these guys were not hardened criminals who had killed people before. Things escalated in a strange way for them. And I mean, one thing I would point out, just as a matter of from the point of view of self-defense there, these people were living with their doors unlocked. The father, the only survivor, was woken up being hit with a baseball bat because someone was actually standing in his house having gained access through an unlocked door. I mean, obviously the first line of defense in a situation like that is not to have a house that someone can easily enter silently.
Absolutely great, great. Reitz mentioned two very unsettling true crime cases in that clip. The Pettit murders and the Clutter murders will be recommending an HBO documentary about the former. And of course, Truman Capote's famous account of the latter in our recommendation section in the outro. Many people are surprised to learn of Sam's defense of gun ownership given his other political and moral arguments. We recommend our compilation on free will and our compilation on the foundations of morality to see just how these kinds of positions could align. And perhaps how Sam would rejoice at the invention of reliable alternatives to guns that would achieve the same ends. But we're going to let Sam explain himself by way of a solo episode revisiting an essay he wrote called The Riddle of the Gun. He wrote the original essay in 2013 and he was prompted to revisit it in 2017 after a gunman and professed atheist shot and killed 26 people in a rural Texas church. In the episode, Sam rereads the entire essay but adds some direct responses to questions from listeners and readers. We're going to jump into the episode at that point where he's attempting to clarify and defend his view. We'll start with Sam discussing his appetite for entertaining the possibility of these truly dark encounters and how that informs his stance.
He also expresses understanding that this mentality is not for everyone and even understands the rationality of avoiding these kinds of topics altogether. This is Sam from episode 19,
The Riddle of the Gun Revisited. Having read many hundreds of responses in my recent article on guns and hundreds more to an earlier post on self-defense, I now realize there are differences in temperament across which it may be impossible to communicate about the reality of human violence. Many people simply do not want to think about this topic in any detail. I concede that given the relative safety in which most of us live, this can be a reasonable attitude to adopt. Most people will do just fine walking the streets of London, Paris, or even New York oblivious to the possibility that they could be physically attacked. Happily, the odds of avoiding violence are in our favor. Those readers who were appalled by my article on guns seem to recoil at the suggestion that we might want to prepare for an unlikely encounter with evil. What is the best way to respond to a knife attack? How do home invasions actually occur? Such questions can seem the product of an unhealthy imagination. There are people who consider using a burglar alarm at night or even locking their doors to be debasing concessions to fear. I've heard from many people in the UK who claim to be greatly relieved that their police do not carry firearms.
Encountering my lengthy ruminations on violence and self-defense, these readers have begun to worry about my sanity. Although I might find a few useful things to say to such readers, let me concede that the bar is probably set too high. Thinking about violence is not everyone's cup of tea. Again, I did not consider ignoring the whole business to be necessarily irrational, depending on where one lives or one's responsibility for the security of others, et cetera. It is irrational, however, to imagine that such insusions can pass for an informed opinion on how best to respond to violence in the event that it occurs. I have now heard from many people who have never held a gun in their lives and are proud to say that they never would, but who appear entirely confident into claiming upon the limitations of firearms as defensive weapons. Before proceeding, perhaps there's a general rule of cognition we might all agree on. It would be surprising indeed if avoiding a topic as a matter of principle were the best way to understand it. Because beliefs about violence can directly impact people's safety, I feel a special responsibility to address some of the questions and criticisms I've received in response to my writing on this topic. Here I will gradually build an FAQ on self-defense, guns, and related matters, revising my responses as needed. Comments can be submitted through the contact page on this website. So, and I did that, and it's been a while since I've revisited that FAQ.
I'm not aware of anything that I recommend being controversial among people who know more than I do about self-defense and firearms and law enforcement. And in this FAQ, I deal with some of the objections that were raised and very likely some of the objections that might have occurred to you while listening to my original article. I talk about the countries that have much stricter gun laws and much less gun violence. But I'd like to read a few of these questions because I think they're important and some of this material probably should have been in the original article. Here's one. You seem inordinately concerned about violence. As you must know, you are far more likely to die from cancer or heart disease than you are to be the victim of a home invasion. And by keeping guns at the ready for the purpose of self-defense, you seem guilty of the very reasoning bias you describe in the beginning of your essay, wherein one's perception of danger has been distorted by rare dramatic events. If the statistics tell us anything, they tell us that by owning guns, you impose greater risks on yourself and your family than you mitigate. Hence your own behavior should strike you as both dangerous and irrational. I think you'll agree that's a great question. Okay, here's my answer.
I do not believe that it is irrational to prepare for very low probability events, which, should they occur, would produce the worst suffering imaginable for oneself and those one loves. And as I pointed out in my essay on self-defense, the actual probability of encountering violence, even in the relative safety in which most of us now live, is not as remote as many people think. And again, I would have you consult that essay, but yes, the probability of being the victim of a violent crime, even if you live in a very nice area of a very nice city, is not as low as many people think. It is certainly not as low as getting into a plane crash. Here you are talking much more on the order of a risk of one in several hundred each year, not one in a million or not even one in tens of thousands. Back to the text. There are also several psychological and social benefits to self-defense training, which offer further reasons to engage in it. If I thought, for instance, that practicing Brazilian jiu-jitsu made people more fearful and neurotic, I wouldn't recommend it. Or I would tell people to do the absolute minimum to familiarize themselves with the problem of grappling on the ground. But I think BJJ makes people much more confident in the world and for good reason. The art is so extraordinarily useful in the unlikely event that one needs it. And it also brings many other benefits.
Thus preparing for violence in this way need not be justified by a narrow focus on statistics. Whatever the likelihood of needing to use it for self-defense, BJJ is a good thing to learn. I would extend the same reasoning, albeit less emphatically, to owning and training with firearms. I sleep much better knowing that I'm prepared for certain low probability but worst case scenarios. And I find the process of training for them more empowering than onerous. Of course, I realize I am much more likely to die of heart disease than I am to be the victim of a home invasion. I also realize that handling guns and keeping them in my home increases the risk of being accidentally injured or killed by them. I'm also aware that other gun owners occasionally commit suicide or murder members of their families, or both. And it could be that guns are more often used this way than they are to defend against crime. But reliable information on the defensive use of firearms is very difficult to come by. But I don't think that these broader statistics apply to me, and I don't think this judgment is the product of a reasoning bias. Just as I can say to a moral certainty that I'm not going to open a meth lab or start a dog fighting ring, I can say that I'm not going to commit suicide or murder my family.
There are people who experience much more chaos in their lives who can honestly not say the same. Such people should not own guns. Let's see if there's anything else here. Many other questions. But this entitlement to firearms puts you on a slippery slope. Why not own a tank or a surface-to-air missile? Once again, the fault lies with an unwillingness to think about how violent crime actually occurs. No one has a legitimate need to destroy whole buildings or city blocks in self-defense. I view the question of gun ownership as primarily an ethical one. A couple of sociopaths break into your house for the pleasure of killing you and your family. And the police cannot arrive in time to stop them. What should you be permitted to do in self-defense?
That really is the core of it for me. There are certain rare situations, and again, they are rare but not rare enough, where a peaceful, honest person finds himself in the presence of murderous lunatics who may or may not be armed, but very likely are. What should he or she be able to do to protect himself and his family? That is the core case. That is the situation where if you say people should not ever be able to have access to guns, you have said this person should not be able to have access to a gun. And that I think is a very hard argument to make even in a society without guns. Ethically speaking, I think this is a hard case. If you have an island nation where no guns have arrived yet. It's something like the UK, although I'm sure that's broken down somewhat, but you have a society that has no guns and has strict regulations against them. And the question is, would it be ethical to allow people to have guns along the lines that I have described here? You have to get training analogous to getting a pilot's license to get a gun. That is a hard case for me.
I think the societal benefit of not having guns anywhere available because you have totally stopped the influx, that may outweigh any individual's personal right to have the best weapon available to protect himself or herself. I don't know, I could be argued either way on that topic. And again, the emergence of truly non-lethal alternatives to guns would make the case moot because then you would give that to the woman who lives alone
and who's worried about self-defense either way on that topic.
And again, and here's a question that just goes to the point of my craziness. You say that you own, quote, several guns. This makes you sound like a collector or a fanatic. Why would a person need more than one gun for the purpose of home defense? Okay, again, these are the kinds of questions that come from people who just have not been in contact with this issue, have not thought it through. Think about the ways in which, and here's my answer here, think about the ways in which a violent encounter in your home might occur. If you spend most of your time in your downstairs office, a gun in your bedroom will be of little use to you if you have to fight your way to it in the event that an intruder comes through your front door. The goal from my perspective is to be able to move away from a threat and arm oneself in the process for the purpose of safely leaving the house with one's family or defending them in place. Thus, the number of guns I own directly relates to the architecture of my house. And I added a note here. Contrary to the bizarre conclusions that many readers draw here, this does not require that I keep a gun in every room. Once again, if thinking about details of this kind strikes you as a symptom of pathological fear, the whole topic of home defense is probably not for you, that you may rest assured that you are unlikely to ever be the victim of a violent crime.
And I don't know if there's more to say about that. It's just, you do encounter people who think that this whole area, I'm sure many of you listening, who think that this whole area of interest is perverse and a symptom of pathological fear. And in my case, it's, I don't know how anyone really thinks that. I mean, you actually know that what I do has raised my security profile to a significant degree. You know that I receive death threats. It's by no means frivolous for me to think in terms of security in my life. But I don't think it's frivolous for an ordinary person with no public profile to think about it either. The numbers, the statistics on violent crime are such that it is a low probability event, but it is not so low that you are crazy to take some measures to prepare yourself for a crime. And again, the act of preparing for it is not this onerous burden. It is, in fact, a kind of guilty pleasure. It is, there's a lot of fun that comes in training in any of these relevant disciplines, with firearms, in martial arts. It's a, you know, dealing with this area of life, taking some responsibility for it.
Being your own bodyguard is not starkly motivated by fear in each moment. I mean, you're not feeling fear every time you put on your seatbelt when you get in your car, presumably. You just put it on because it's the wise thing to do,
and you understand the physics of a car crash. In that clip, you heard Sam's interest and personal involvement with martial arts as well. Sam has championed the benefits of the practice of Brazilian jiu-jitsu for its role in self-defense grappling, but also for its psychological benefits. We won't be hearing directly about his practice in this compilation, but we'll recommend some other Making Sense episodes that focus on that. We're going to gradually shift this compilation from the personal to the philosophical in order to find our exit, but this next clip is going to mix the two. The clip is with the retired United States Navy officer and Navy SEAL, Jaco Willing. Jaco served in Iraq and has written about his experience in several books. His books, predictably, emphasize the importance of discipline, responsibility, and ownership to hone one's leadership and self-growth. But we're going to start this clip with Sam taking a step back and challenging the philosophy of pacifism before Jaco supports the argument with personal anecdotes from the battlefield. Pacifism is the commitment to nonviolence in all cases. On its face, it can sound like the purest moral position to take, and you'll often find it heralded as the state of peacefulness and political enlightenment which every liberal should aim to achieve. But Sam attempts to pull the rug out from under that illusion at the start of this clip.
For context, this episode comes from January 2016 while much of the Middle East was still dealing with ISIS's rampage. This is Sam with Jaco Willing from episode 26,
The Logic of Violence. So let's just zero on the notion of pacifism here because I find it very frustrating to encounter pacifism in these kinds of conversations because many people seem to think that it's a morally impregnable position. It may not be practical, but if you're a pacifist, if you say, listen, I'm just against the use of force, I'm against violence, I would never want to kill someone and I would never want to delegate the killing of anyone to anyone. So I'm just not gonna get my hands dirty. People look at that position and they think, well, that is, again, it's probably good that we have people like Jaco and not everyone's like Gandhi, but I can't say anything bad about the pacifist. It's essentially vegetarianism across the board, but let's drill down on the ethical implications of pacifism because from my point of view, pacifism is simply a willingness to let others die at the pleasure of the world's thugs. And it's worth remembering what Gandhi's remedy was for the Holocaust. Gandhi suggested that the Jews should just have gone willingly into the gas chambers so as to arouse the conscience of the world to the enormity of Hitler's crimes. But then you have to ask, what is the world supposed to do once its conscience has been aroused if the world is filled with Gandhi and pacifists? Gandhi and pacifism only works in the presence of an enemy that has enough of a conscience like the British empire at that point that they will just say, you know, this is too much trouble and we're starting to feel bad about ourselves, so we're gonna leave India to you pacifists. That's not what the Nazis were up to
and that's not what ISIS is up to. Affirmative, you're right. That there's, it seems very clear to me, I don't even have any questions to what you've just said. It's very clear.
It's been a while since you're worried
about whether or not you should be a pacifist. I mean, are there people that have legitimate arguments
with you about this? Oh yeah, for instance, I've written some on the ethics of torture and focused it down to the cases where you have, I mean, everything's on a continuum and torture's on a continuum and I think torture should be illegal but I think there are cases where, clearly, making someone deliberately uncomfortable is the ethical thing to do and you would have to be a moral monster not to do it in those cases. If you're gonna say, no, no, I'm not gonna get my hands dirty. Even if I know I'm in the presence of a serial killer who's got my daughter in a box somewhere and he's not telling me where. And analogous cases like that have actually happened, right? There's one case in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy which I keep going back to. It's a case in New Zealand where there was a carjacking and so a guy steals a woman's car at a gas station and it's 100 degrees out and he disappears and he then gets caught without the car and they know that there's a baby in a car seat in the back of the car on this sweltering day who's quickly being asphyxiated in the back of the car and this person isn't telling the cops where he left the car. He's claiming innocence now, it just so happens he's like a 300 pounds Samoan guy with a blonde Afro, he's like the most recognizable person in the world and they have security camera video of him taking the car, right? So, they know they have the right guy and he's not cooperating. So the end of the cop smack him around and he quickly tells him where the car is the kids saved. That's such a pristine case where the ethics are clear and I will happily admit that the moment you start smacking someone around, you are beginning to torture them. But I have been in dialogue with people in a situation like this on a podcast where the person will say, no, no, no, I would not be able to lay a hand on that guy and I would hope nobody would.
Or if they did, I wouldn't want to know about it. Then you make even clearer cases. And I've had people tell me that you could put a thousand girls being asphyxiated in a warehouse somewhere by an evil genius and I would not sanction the torture of this person, or the waterboarding of this person, or the prolonged sleep deprivation of this person. And again, my argument with respect to torture is not that it should be legal. I just think that there are clearly cases where you would have to be a monster not to break the law when push comes to shove and that if you did break the law in those cases no one's going to prosecute you because you believe yourself to be in a pristine ticking bomb case or say you've got the person who you know had nukes and because you've got his laptop too and he even claims that there's a bomb ticking in Times Square or whatever. People are acting like there's nothing like these cases that would ever happen but worse I meet people who say that even in the presence of such a clear case that they think that the morally enlightened position is never to make another person deliberately uncomfortable
no matter how diabolical even he thinks he is. You go far enough into the American bubble where the closest thing you get to understanding what violence is, is hearing Sam Harris talk about it on a podcast through your iPhone. I mean, that is legitimately the closest thing to violence that many people have is listening to it, listening to a guy talk about it on an iTunes podcast. So when you're that disconnected from it, it can be very easy to say, look, why would we have any violence at all? We just need to stop that. And I think that's again why people that have served in the military that have gone overseas and that have actually with our own eyes seen and looked into the face of evil and understand it. That's why we look at the world and say, yes, you do need to use violence against evil in many cases. And I have seen evil people, I have seen them. And it's almost, I remember the first time I experienced it it was my first deployment to Iraq and we went and captured these bad guys and it was actually a mixture of people. So there's some bad guys and some not bad guys but it was in a hotel situation. So we just grabbed all the military age males. And then we went and sorted them out and figured out who's who and let the innocent people go.
But there was a guy and we knew his name but we didn't know what he looked like. But as soon as I saw this one guy who was a murderer of innocence and he was just an evil person, but as soon as I saw this guy, I didn't know who he was But I looked at this guy and I said, that is an evil human being, right there. I've never even seen a person like this. I've never seen a person. I've never seen that look in someone's eyes. And sure enough, as our interprets came in or Iraqi counterparts came in and started talking to him, they figured out who this guy was and he was the foreign fighter and he was an evil person. And you could see that. You could feel it, you could feel it. And then in Ramadi, same thing, now we were dealing with, we were seeing bodies in the street. People skinned alive. People's heads, the father of a family's head being left on the doorstep of the homes. That's evil.
And that is a real thing, it is a real thing. Evil is a real thing. And it cannot be stopped through debate, it cannot. Be stopped through charity, it cannot be stopped through hugs. These truly evil people have to be stopped with violence.
One story you have in your book that I wanna ask you about, because again, I think we'll puncture some illusions about just what it was like to be you over there. And again, this is true whatever one thinks about the legitimacy of the whole war in Iraq. You tell a story of an actual hostage rescue where your SEAL team along with Iraqi fighters working in concert with you, go to rescue a single Iraqi teenage hostage and under some significant threat that members of your team are going to suffer casualties if not be killed in the process. And you're told as you're more or less walking out the door, you receive more intelligence that there's very likely an IED in the front yard of this building and there's a bunkered machine gun position in the building. And so there's every reason to expect that your lives are on the line going to get an Iraqi, a single Iraqi hostage. I think most people would be very surprised to learn the sheer fact of such an operation that you would be putting your lives on the line to get an Iraqi hostage. I don't think they'd be surprised to know that you do it for blonde haired Jessica Lynch and so she can wind up on Fox News and we can congratulate ourselves that our SEALs are so good, but the idea that you would do it
for a single Iraqi hostage will surprise people. It's unfortunate that it surprises people, kind of shows you what people's mentality is, if they're surprised by the fact that the American troops are over there and there's a kid that has been kidnapped, taken from the city of Fallujah, brought to the city of Ramadi, held by these known terrorist insurgents, and that when this, because what happened was the mom went to the gate of the American compound in Fallujah and said, hey, my son has been kidnapped, they left me this note, I don't know what to do, they gave me this phone number, help me, can you help me? And of course, that's what we do. That's what we do, we help people, and in this case, we rescued this kid. And also, there's always a threat. If you're gonna only go on missions where there's no threat, you're not gonna go on any missions. So you're always weighing what the threat is and you're mitigating that threat as much as possible. There was also some strategic value to helping this kid get rescued, because the army force that we were working with was predominantly Shia, and they were rescuing a Sunni kid, and they knew that, and we knew that, and they put it in the local paper. So there was bigger strategic reasons that also led us to do it, but the main reason we did it was because there was a young Iraqi kid who had been kidnapped by terrorists, and they were saying they were gonna behead him, and his mom wanted help, and we gave it to him, and I'm disappointed to hear
that people would be surprised by that. As you heard, Sam's counter to the philosophy of pacifism props up his careful position on the ethics of torture. This, again, is a topic nearly as precarious as profiling and guns. Sam has written elsewhere on the topic of torture, and it's important to reiterate that his attitude towards torture, and the collateral damage of war, for that matter, is rather strict. He expressly writes that torture should be illegal, but he also points out that an illegal practice may sometimes be ethically necessary. This should not be too difficult to comprehend or imagine. Simply picture being in the presence of a person who has knowledge of the location of a ticking nuclear bomb somewhere in a city. Even if there's low probability of the success of torture to elicit the location, it's easy to see how ethical people would be tempted to use it. Of course, the debate over the morality of deploying violence towards this person to attempt to extract the life-saving information is rendered moot if torture never works, as is often parroted. But Sam disputes that far too convenient reply. He references several cases where it undeniably has worked, and a well-known kidnapping case in Germany where the mere threat of torture elicited the confession and information of the whereabouts of a body. Sam also stresses that an ethical argument which would allow for torture in extreme circumstances also does not address the complications of practically implementing such a law.
The complications of doing that may outweigh its extremely rare and limited deployment. That word outweigh points to Sam's strong consequentialist moral framework. We again will recommend the compilation on morality to fully explore his navigation of these truly difficult and disturbing topics. In that compilation, we reference the now-famous trolley problem, where you're given the choice of flipping a switch to divert an out-of-control trolley to a track where it will kill one person tied to the tracks, rather than the five people tied to the tracks if you do nothing. How would a pacifist answer the trolley problem? Let's go back to the clip and underline Sam's point about pacifism and Gandhi's particular version of it being helpless to the pressing practicality of the reality of violence. Here's a telling quote from 1938. Gandhi wrote, if there ever could be a justifiable war in the name of and for humanity, a war against Germany to prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race would be completely justified. But I do not believe in any war. A discussion of the pros and cons of such a war is therefore outside my horizon or province. And the full Gandhi quote that Sam was referencing in his exchange with Jaco goes like this. Hitler killed five million Jews.
It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher's knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs. As it is, they succumbed anyway in their millions. It's a bit difficult to reconcile how an act of mass suicide, which Gandhi suggested would be an act of heroism, still fits into a conception of pacifism. But this may be the kind of absurd outcome that a true commitment to pacifism would entail. To be fair to Gandhi, he was vague about the details, but he insisted that all of these nonviolent, sometimes suicidal responses to violence eventually deplete the will of the perpetrators to inflict violence, and that somehow this would eventually subdue the evildoers and defeat them. It's clear that Scotty Reitz would be highly skeptical of this strategy's success for an unfortunately large number of people. But to lay off Gandhi a little bit, let's go to the flip side of pacifism, which might be something like the notion that certain behaviors actually deserve to be met with violence. How do we address that end of the spectrum? Is this psychologically healthy or philosophically sound? How would one decipher the line between meeting out justice in the form of returned violence without falling into pathological vindictiveness?
This is what our final clip is going to address. The guest is Tamler Summers, who's an author and philosopher at the University of Houston. Tamler has spent a lot of time studying free will and moral responsibility, which he addresses at the top of his conversation with Sam. Eventually, this obsession led him to take a closer look at what's come to be called honor and honor societies. This term is slippery and hard to pin down, but in the clip, he attempts to characterize honor and ultimately to provide a fresh look and genuine defense of it. In some ways, he took on this task because no one else was, and as a response to what he feels may have been drained from certain post-enlightenment Western societies that have come to delegate justice and retributive action to third-party entities and abstract systems. That delegation may sound like a good thing, and Sam provides that predictable pushback, especially regarding the infamously shocking norms that honor societies can generate. But Tamler's thesis and argument does surface more of the constant tension between philosophy and psychology that we've been tracing in many of these compilations. And it does seem to hit on some important aspects of honor cultures, which can hijack our evolved thirst for retribution in order to prevent situations from spiraling out of control. To mention Gandhi's thoughts on violence just one final time, he famously warned that, an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. But Sam begins this clip by pointing out that an eye for an eye certainly seems to at least deliver a sense of satisfaction. We'll listen in on Sam's conversation with Tamler Summers from episode 126, which carries the same title as Tamler's book,
In Defense of Honor. So before we get into the details of honor culture and its application to justice in particular, what is honor and how does it differ from its counterfeits like dignity or self-esteem, which really anchor more of our modern liberal values?
That's unfortunately for me, not the easiest question to answer. I think that part of the problem with honor, one of the reasons that people don't talk about it that much even to criticize it, is that it's very hard to pin down exactly what it is. And let me just at least try to give some characteristic features of communities that are honor oriented. So one of the things you find across various honor communities is a heightened concern for personal reputation and a heightened concern for group reputation. We all value our reputation to some degree, but in honor cultures that is ramped up quite a bit. And along with that comes a heightened sensitivity to insults and a heightened sensitivity to slights or challenges to your reputation. Because if somebody challenges your reputation and you back down, then that's a source of shame in most honor communities. So there is this strong conviction that people should handle their own business in honor cultures, that they should stand up for themselves when they're challenged and not turn to third parties to resolve their own conflicts. And so that's why you have like stop snitching campaigns in the honor culture of the inner city and urban gangs. And you know, baseball and hockey players, I talk a lot about baseball and hockey because those I think are the most honor oriented sports. When they get into their beefs or feuds, they don't speak to the media, they don't speak to the league. They try to, there's a strong code that you have to handle any offenses against or challenges or insults to the team themselves.
You keep it all in house. I don't know enough about baseball. I was surprised in your account that the beaning of a batter by a pitcher, the intentionally throwing the ball at him is part of the culture of baseball to a degree that I didn't realize.
I mean, baseball is a lot more like hockey than I realized. That's right, it really is. And it's kind of fascinating the all the unwritten rules. And this is another feature of a lot of honor cultures is there's just a lot of unwritten norms and codes that go along that are part of what governs the way people behave in these cultures. And they're constantly evolving, they're flexible, but they're very internal. And so from an outsider's perspective, they can be difficult to understand. But yeah, I mean, you can hit a home run in baseball and walk a little too slowly, run a little too slowly around the bases, and then that will make you a target for the next time you come up to the plate. There's just so many, it's a pretty Byzantine kind of, and dramatic and kind of fascinating set of rules that govern when you're supposed to get payback, when you're supposed to just accept that you're being hit by the pitcher because you understand that they have a grievance and they need to get their revenge and then get it over with and you can move on. And that's very typical of honor cultures. And I think baseball and hockey are examples, in my mind, of successful honor communities because they're able to contain the conflicts
and not let them spin out of control. There are two examples that come to mind that really crystallize what is attractive about honor and what is obviously pathological about it. And I guess I'll just float both of those to you because they seem to articulate psychological extremes for me, and there's one you reference in the book, you might reference both, but I saw one. You talk about the satisfaction that awaits anyone who watches YouTube videos where bullies get pounded by the people they were targeting. There's actually a site or a thread on Reddit called Justice Porn, which wraps up some of these videos. So if you watch these, especially if you're a guy, being a guy, I only know what it's like to actually see it with the brain of a man, but I imagine women feel some of the same, if not the same satisfaction here. So the prototypical case is there's some thug on the sidewalk who is harassing people as they pass and eventually he picks the wrong person who turns out to be a professional boxer or MMA fighter and just gets destroyed. Is it perfectly encapsulated moral circumstance? It's really like just a mini morality play in like two minutes because this person's culpability is absolutely clear. There's no question that this guy, if anyone deserves to get pounded unconscious, it's this guy, and then it happens and it seems like a perfect result morally. And again, so it has the feature of, there's no appeal to a third party. The person who was threatened is defending himself.
In some cases herself, okay, there's some great videos where women wind up destroying the guy who's harassing them. Those are especially satisfying. And it's hard to see what's wrong with it except when you scale it to the rest of society. If you're going to run a society this way, you have to acknowledge that the full chaos and dysfunction of vendetta and vigilantism is the result. And civilization, as you mentioned Pinker, as he's pointed out again and again, in large part depends on our outsourcing the use of force to the state. And yet these videos would be very different if they just entailed somebody getting on the phone and calling the police and watching the police show up and arrest the guy, which is how it has to work in an orderly society. As a counterpoint to this, I would say that almost the reductio ad absurdum of honor as a force for good is that the concept of honor killing, which you see in, it's very widespread. In the Muslim world, it's not only there, but in traditional societies, it's often imagined that the honor of the family is fatally threatened by any sexual indiscretion on the part of any of the women in the family. So if a man's daughter refuses to marry the person he's chosen for her or has sex out of wedlock or just is caught holding some guy's hand to whom she's not married, in these societies and in these communities, even within our own societies, you often hear about a father or a father and a brother killing a young woman for the imagined offense to the family's honor that has been given here. And so, if you could see a YouTube video of that, there'd be none of the satisfaction for anyone standing outside of that circumstance.
I'll just give you both of those examples to react to. Yeah, okay, so let me take the justice porn one first and then I'll address the honor killings. I mean, certainly nothing in this book is anything but horrified by honor killings and I take it really seriously as a problem. But let me first go back to what makes those videos so satisfying. I think the way you framed it is that it's perfect justice because this bully gets exactly what he deserved. I mean, assuming that it is a guy which it almost always is. And I think that it's even a little bit more than that or it's significantly more than that because you could imagine just a stranger punching the bully, just kind of a bystander or an impartial bystander punching the bully. And then that's not as satisfying. What's especially satisfying about those videos is that a person who was going to be a victim, who's going to be bullied stands up for themselves, and the sense of respect that comes with that. Self respect, respect from the community, respect from the people who are watching, I mean, it's palpable and you can see it and it actually, it's tangible and sometimes it even comes from the bully. Sometimes even the bully respects the person that just knocked them out because they stood up for themselves. That's a very common dynamic.
And that is exactly what is lost when you marshal out these kinds of conflicts to some impartial third party. That's why I say in the book, it's not justice porn. It's not even remotely justice arousing to have the bully be taken away by a security officer or the principal and get suspended or even expelled. At that point, it's like, well, maybe the bully, maybe the school needed to do that because of the harm that he was causing, but that's sort of the lesser of evils rather than an assertion of self-respect. Now, sometimes that's not possible and that's the problem. That's the problem with honor cultures is sometimes the power imbalance is too great and you can't stand up for yourself and you need third parties to come in and prevent great injustice. And that's where this idea of containment comes in, but we shouldn't lose, and this is one of the things I feel like we've lost, we shouldn't lose or reject the value of standing up for yourself, of being willing to take a risk that maybe you will get your ass kicked or something, but at least you are showing that you can't be pushed around and you're not immediately turning to a third party to handle a conflict that directly involves you. Okay, so that's the justice-born one. That's the easier example for me. Honor killings, I think, are an extreme example of one of the problems with honor, which is that there is very little restriction on the content of honor norms. So all honor groups have norms and codes that determine how honor and dishonor are allocated within the community. And there are some commonalities, but there are also a lot of differences, and there's nothing within the sort of honor morality that constrains what those codes are.
So if you have a community like certain cultures where just the suspicion or the reality of extramarital sex on the part of a family member will reduce the honor of the family, that will make the family dishonorable, and you called that imaginary, and it's imaginary, it's not imaginary for them. They are dishonored, and they are treated poorly by the people in that community. Now, that's a fucked-up, are you allowed to swear on this podcast? Yes indeed, you are. That's a fucked-up norm, right? That's a fucked-up way of allocating honor and dishonor, and especially dishonor or shame in this case, but that's what happens in these communities is that the family honor and all the privileges that come with being an honored member of the community and all the the shit that comes with being a shamed member of the community. That will happen to the family unless they act in the way that they feel they need to act. And often they don't wanna do it. Often if it's like a duty, it's like some sort of weird perverse duty, moral duty that they feel like they have to kill the sister that they love or the daughter that they love in order to preserve the family's honor for generations. And so this is a huge problem with honor that we don't have those kinds of restrictions about what the norms will be that determine how honor and dishonor are allocated. And that's another goal of containment is to make sure. So, you know, in my world, if you find an honor community where this is their way, this is their value, this is their way of allocating honor and dishonor, then you just, then you don't allow that.
So you do need some kind of higher authority that will enforce a minimal respect for human rights in a way that would rule out honor killings. But again, that doesn't mean you throw out the baby with the bathwater. That doesn't mean that you, the fact that there are honor killings in the vast minority of honor cultures across the world and throughout history, I mean, it's a tiny, tiny percentage of cultures that find this to be morally acceptable or not dishonorable to kill a family member. The fact that that exists doesn't mean we should throw out honor
and all the motivational benefits that come with it. Tamler's exploration of honor brings our compilation to its outro, but it really only begins to pry open the door to the entire question of the proper role of violence, if there is any. In a well-functioning society and a healthy individual psychology, violence clearly is a potent current in our species and is woven into the functional tools of evolution. But we must be careful about giving undue moral deference to a force simply because of its status as having natural utility. This trap of reasoning is otherwise known as the naturalistic fallacy. But violence makes for a particularly tricky issue to grapple with. The 16th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes may have delivered the most well-known description of the natural state of violence and a view of man in his work Leviathan. This is where he completed a passage deriding an anarchic state of man where life would be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. In that book, Hobbes was controversially making an appeal for a strong authoritarian leader and for rather brutal forms of totalitarian governments as necessities to keep us from his description of the rather raw and exposed state of nature. Whether you love or hate the Hobbes argument, it points to the horrendous darkness of the prospect of violence and the way it can force our hand into moral and political nightmares. As Sam noted throughout, he knows that this whole area can be rather difficult to engage with, and he understands the logic of noting the low probability of actually encountering violence in one's life as reason enough to simply ignore the topic altogether. But as he also notes, the probability is unfortunately not quite as low as we would all like to think, and there may be genuinely important and enriching aspects of growth to experience by preparing for it.
If this compilation has frightened you enough, intrigued you enough, convinced you enough, or simply given you enough new courage to look closer at this subject, we will strongly recommend a 2011 essay by Sam entitled, The Truth About Violence. The essay goes through Sam's recommendations and advice to be safe and respond to the prospect and reality of violence. We'll end this compilation by reading his closing paragraph of that essay, which may be as close as Sam has come to uttering a prayer. It is unpleasant to study the details of crime and violence. And for this reason, many of us never do. I am convinced, however, that some planning and preparation can greatly reduce a person's risk. And though there are exceptions to every rule, I don't believe that there are important exceptions to the advice I have given here. May you never have occasion to find it useful. Here is suggested reading, listening, and watching on the subject of encounters with violence. The episodes of Making Sense featured in this compilation were episodes 132, 90, 25, 19, 26, and 126. Jaco tells heart-pounding stories from the front lines of war and De Becker, Reitz, and Voss are all full of potentially life-saving advice. Tamler Summers explores the concept of honor in depth and finds examples of it in some surprising places.
All of the guests have published recommended books on this subject. Here are the relevant titles. Gavin De Becker's The Gift of Fear, Chris Voss's Never Split the Difference, Scott Reitz's The Art of Modern Gunfighting, and Tamler Summers's In Defense of Honor. Sam's concluding essay contains two fantastic book recommendations from Rory Miller. One is called Meditations on Violence and the other is Facing Violence. In 2013, Sam conducted a roundtable conversation with Rory Miller, Steven Graff Levine, and Matt Thornton, which is hosted on samharris.org and titled Self-Defense and the Law. The dialogue is certainly worth a read and has a focus on the legal lines of violence. Sam also recommends two books by Jeff Thompson. One titled The Fence, The Art of Protection, and the other is called Dead or Alive, The Choice is Yours. These two books focus on self-defense techniques. We mentioned some episodes of Making Sense that we didn't include clips from here, which we'll recommend now. Sam's conversation with Juliette Caim from episode 36 entitled What Makes Us Safer?
is a thorough examination of profiling and practice and lets Sam parse and define his stance further. We also recommend episode 17, a solo episode called What I Really Think About Profiling. Sam has written about police violence many times. We didn't tackle that subject directly in this compilation. We figured it had enough exposure already, but we absolutely recommend Sam's conversation with Glenn Lowry from episode 42 entitled Racism and Violence in America. It's also the subject of a solo episode that Sam recorded entitled Can We Pull Back from the Brink? That one is episode 207 and was released in the midst of social protests and civil unrest in the aftermath of George Floyd's death. Truman Capote's In Cold Blood was referenced in this episode and remains a literary classic, having sold more than 100 million copies with translations in over 30 languages. We also recommend a book called Machete Season by Jean Hattsfield, which is comprised of interview transcripts from participants in the Rwandan genocide. Sam gave a one sentence review when he said, if you want to see what it's like when things go about as wrong as they can go, read this book. Sam and Reitz also referenced the case of the Pettit Murders. Sam wrote about that case in his book Free Will.
The case was also chronicled in an HBO documentary called The Cheshire Murders, released in 2013. We recommend two runs at Gandhi's pacifism. Shmuly Boteach wrote a scathing opinion piece on Gandhi for the Jerusalem Post in 2016 called Reputiating Gandhi and Pacifism in the Face of Mass Murder. The other is by the author Norman Finkelstein, who published a book in 2015 entitled What Gandhi Says, which tries to pinpoint Gandhi's approach and provide a bit of defense for some of the eyebrow raising quotes we shared in this compilation. When it comes to films, the 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes starring Mark Wahlberg got a mention in this episode. But we'd be crazy not to know that the original 1968 version is the must watch in the franchise. And we'll let you know that the forgotten sequels from 1970 and 1971 aren't bad either. They take the moral dilemmas to some surprising places, which are relevant to our compilation devoted to nuclear war and existential risk. Hollywood famously loves making films about violence, sometimes being accused of glorifying it or desensitizing audiences to the true depths of its horrors. We hesitate to recommend anything too specific here, but we'll point listeners to Quentin Tarantino's infamous catalog of violence-laden films, with Reservoir Dogs being as fine a place to start as any. Stanley Kubrick also explored violence in his adaptation of A Clockwork Orange and his Vietnam War classic Full Metal Jacket. Martin Scorsese's exploration of mafia cultures and violence in films like Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, and The Departed would be a fascinating trio to watch in light of Tamler Summers' careful defense of honor cultures.
We highly recommend two films from 2007 that are forever linked by their shooting locations and themes of violence, vengeance, honor, and pride. Those films are the Coen brothers, No Country for Old Men, based on Cormac McCarthy's novel of the same name. In Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood, loosely based on an essay titled Oil by Upton Sinclair. We could recommend a visit to any history or art museum for a stroll through endless stories of violence and countless allegories of violence being depicted on artifacts and in religious iconography. We'll recommend a survey of the stunning works of 19th century French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme, who rose to fame with his representations of the immediate aftermath of human violence throughout history. We'll point you to our favorite piece of his, which is an 1857 painting entitled The Dual After the Masquerade, which seems to capture the expansive range of human emotions after engaging in violence. Its foggy, mysterious, absurd, bloodstained clearing sets the mood for a somber and serious meditation on violence, something which we hope we've helped you embark upon during this compilation. This episode was edited, compiled, and written by Jay Shapiro and read by me, Megan Phelps-Roper.