Several weeks ago, Sam Harris had Ezra Klein, editor of the publication VOX on his Waking Up podcast. The whole story behind the events leading up to that podcast are quite involved and I personally do not want to expound upon it. However, what I will state about the events leading to that two hour long one-sided conversation, it was spearheaded by a Vox article making accusations against Sam Harris for having Charles Murray on his podcast. Charles Murray was the one of the co-authors of the controversial book 1994 book The Bell Curve. The incendiary nature of the book is derived from the cardinal sin of addressing a potential correlation between race and intelligence. Back in 2017, Sam Harris, after having read Murray’s infamous book decided to have him on his podcast to expound upon his points in the book. The rationale being that, due to the fact that academia may have unfairly condemned Murray, even though there may be some validity to his claims. Having Murray on his podcast would give him an impartial forum to defend his points. Listening to the podcast where Ezra Klein came on to explain his criticism of Sam Harris having Murray on his podcast, it was evident Mr. Klein was not receptive to Dr. Harris’s rebuttal against the slanderous claims. To such an extent that Mr. Klein seemed to be intentionally obtuse in that conversation.
However, what is significant about this background information is that analyzing the whole situation, I started contemplating the scrutiny and derision Murray has faced over the years. I remember as an undergraduate student the condemnation my professor’s levied against Murray’s work. I am in no way interested nor qualified to justify the claims in Murray’s book The Bell Curve . However, in theory if Murray’s means of data collection is devoid of sampling error and the interpretation of the results was not contaminated by racial bias, is it fair to condemn Murray? If the results of his research are accurate, is it right to defame him and obscure his finding due to the fact that his research brings to surface a potential reality that may be contrary to our societal norms of equality and political correctness? I am not expressing agreement with his findings, however, to play devil’s advocate, shouldn’t we have a commitment to present objective facts in a truthful manner even if the truth may confirm ideas we do not want to substantiate? While even if Murray was well meaning and forthright in his presentation of the correlation between race and intelligence, is it responsible for him to publish such results when this information can be manipulated by bigoted individuals for pernicious purposes? There are certainly a lot of moralistic inquires that come to surface when examining such controversial research. The balance between our commitment to truth and the potential for misuse of information, becomes a cumbersome balancing act. Jogging between the treachery of dishonesty and systemic manipulation.
Murray’s research in relation to the correlation of intelligence and race is only one example of this issue of potentially “dangerous” knowledge. Some could also, place physicist Albert Einstein into the category of researchers and theorists who irresponsibly exposed knowledge that could lead to a great deal of catastrophe and harm to humanity. Einstein’s theories related to atomic energy influence the synthesis and proliferation of nuclear weapons. In this particular example it is highly conspicuous the grave moral ramifications of having such information become common knowledge. Einstein in the post Hiroshima bombing, his regret for publishing such work. Even more so than the example of Murray’s moral quandary, it is really obvious how Einstein dilemma between truth and the abuse of knowledge can be quite conflicting. This duality between truth and the abuse of it is essentially an inverted four-dimensional puzzle with a missing piece. We have an obligation to the truth, however, we cannot control the misuse of the truth by individuals with sinister intentions. Attempting to rectify this morally dilemma is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario. Unless you can come to terms with the fact that the information itself does not have a moral character attributed to it. The morality comes into the equation when it comes to how the information influences human action. The data, information, etc. is a neutral variable until it is utilized by humans. So is it reasonable to blame Einstein for the bombing Hiroshima, no. Unless Einstein directly advised the United States government to use such force against the Japanese in World War II, he cannot be blame for the misuse of his own research.
As the old saying goes, “The truth hurts”, can be take on figurative and literal connotations. Especially in the previous example provided in regards to the Einstein Dilemma. While I feel my explanation above addresses the moralistic challenges of exposing knowledge that has the potential for harm, however, what about our undue condemnation of those who present dangerous information. Murray was far from the first and far from the last thinker to be sacrificed for espousing unpopular truths. Not all sacrifices are necessarily equivalent. Murray was figuratively crucified, by having his credibility and career tainted by his work on The Bell Curve. Which might I add even if his findings in that one book are erroneous, it is only a small portion of the entirety of his body of work. One book from 25 plus years ago, completely marring his entire career, in my opinion makes him a sacrificial lamb at the feet of the political correctness police. While Murray’s metaphorical cathartic bloodletting, is just that a metaphor. There are other thinkers who paid with their own blood in a literal sense for the pursuit of truth. Socrates in my opinion is a fine example of an individual who for the sake of pursuing truth actually paid with his own life. Socrates was executed via consumption of hemlock tea by the Athenian government, under the charges of corrupting the youth. Socrates antagonized many of the Athenian elites through a lot of his revolutionary ideas, many in ancient Athens particularly found the notion of the “Socratic admission of ignorance” particularly vexed Athenians. However, the admission of ignorance merely opens you up to intake new information, through keeping your paradigm open and malleable. Through such rhetoric, the man lost his life. While the moral concerns of the abuse of information is understandable. However, is it right to ruin the life of someone who pursues truth in a honest manner, even if the truth has a high probability for abuse, when the information in of itself is a neutral agent???????
(https://classicalwisdom.com/the-death-of socrates-and-the state-that-killed-him/)