Sam Harris Making Sense Podcast 163, with Ricky Gervais
I make no effort to hide the fact that I think Sam Harris is brilliant, and I’m more than happy to bend anyone’s ear about why if they’re unsure. To me, his podcasting and writing efforts represent what intelligent discourse should aspire to: he has a clear point, he constructs it logically, he “steel-mans” any counter arguments, and he delivers it all wrapped in a calm, stoic, prose.
Ricky Gervais, on the other hand, doesn’t come across like that at all. As a comedian, he ostensibly plays loud, obnoxious characters that people love to hate. But the sleight of hand - and his own personal brand of genius - is that when you spend a little time paying real attention to his characters and his jokes, they’re not what your first impressions lead you to believe.
Take The Office, for example. Two glorious seasons of David Brent being an insufferable man-child. And then the Christmas Special followup which subtly revealed to us that actually he’s not all that bad and, hang on a minute, could we have been led to dislike him through clever editing and partial reporting from the mockumentary team?
As social commentators, Sam and Ricky couldn’t differ any more - and the meeting of minds here is well worth the listen.
Sam uses this episode as a sort-of light-hearted relief from some of his more serious guests. But that’s not to say they don’t cover serious topics, just that Ricky brings his self-deprecating irreverence and ridiculous laugh with him and so it’s hard not treat this as a comedy special with a bit more structure than usual.
Their approaches to social media and “offence culture” take centre stage here - comparing Sam’s efforts to generally avoid it and Ricky’s efforts to use it to stir up reactionary idiots who don’t fully understand what’s been said, but who are certain it’s something they should be protesting. The contrast of Sam seeking to stay off this radar with Ricky who’s happy to stay on it - and yet both having similar opinions on its value is nice to explore.
My own experience of social media, and part of the raison d’etre of my blogging here, is the same. Facebook is an unhealthy echo-chamber - whatever views you share, everyone there shares them1, whereas Twitter is a parody of people disagreeing with each other. And it’s easy, as is mentioned in the podcast, to come to view social media as “the world” and think everyone’s constantly foaming at the mouth over every little thing. Look outside - for the most part people are still basically getting on with normal, sensible lives2. If Facebook’s lens were true, we’d all be backslapping each other over our virtue signalling. If Twitter’s lens were true we’d be living in Mordor.
The best of it though was Ricky walking through some of the “offensive” things he’s supposedly done - his comments on Sex and The City 2’s airbrushing and Caitlyn Jenner’s driving. Both perfect examples of social media lynch mob fodder - and the types of comments that on the surface might cost other commentators their livelihoods - but here dissected to demonstrate how if you took offence then you’d clearly missed the point, if not the bandwagon.
A light-hearted change of pace for Sam’s blog. Still managing to cover a lot of ground - and all ground that needs covering - but done with more of a sense of fun.
Listen to it here.