Tom Hayden

Tom Hayden

Sam Harris
Sam Harris

In contrast to all the media bunk on election eve, clear thinking was on passionate display when Sam Harris, author of a wonderful new argument against religion http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/the-moral-landscape and the venerable leader for social change, Tom Hayden, www.tomhayden.com spoke with students at UC San Diego, October 27 and 28.

Asked about a solution to what was termed the “terrorist problem,” Hayden said getting Americans out of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and 16 other Muslim countries would put an end to Islamic radical attacks on the west.   Ending reliance on the Koran, “a mediocre book,” Harris argued, would be a good start.  Harris, a fierce and articulate opponent of all supernatural constructs, urges that morality be based on what can be known about human “well-being.”
In an age when pandering office-seekers spew low common denominator political and philosophical nonsense in all directions through the media, on the campaign trail and, very often, from religious pulpits, it is inspiring and gratifying to hear back-to-back speakers expressing common sense and reminding that there are rational solutions for many of mankind’s most pressing problems.
Both the philosopher and the political organizer object to the imposition of moral values based on false patriotism and on questionable ideological dogma.  Their common solution to universal problems lies in application of social science.  For Hayden this means use of the tools of political analysis and community organizing.  For Harris, the moral path travels through science, particularly neuroscience, and the rejection of supernaturalism.

To get a sense of Harris’s profound thinking I must quote here from some sentences in his new book:

“The more we understand ourselves at the level of the brain, the more we will see that there are right and wrong answers to questions of human values.  There are ancient disagreements about the status of moral truth:  people who draw their worldview from religion generally believe that moral truth exists, but only because God has woven it into the very fabric of reality; while those who lack such faith tend to think that notions of “good” and “evil” must be the products of evolutionary pressure and cultural invention.  On the first account, to speak of “moral truth” is, of necessity, to invoke God; on the second, it is merely to give voice to one’s apish urges, cultural biases and philosophical confusion.  My purpose is to persuade you that both sides in this debate are wrong.  The goal of this book is to begin a conversation about how moral truth can be understood in the context of science.”

That is to say, for Harris, “human well-being entirely depends on events in the world and states of the human brain.”

Hayden, clearly buoyant about the prospects of a victory in the California governor’s race for progressive Democrat Jerry Brown, spoke of the possibilities for the state becoming a national engine for conservation and alternative energy and for defining an alternative to the backlash against immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

Then, getting fired up and reminding one of his history as the brilliant student opponent of the American war in Vietnam, Hayden said, “I believe today that nothing is more important than for student, faculty and universities taking up the challenge of critical analysis of the war on terrorism and the alternatives.”

He elaborated, “Much greater support is needed for an expanded program of research, undergraduate education and global dialogue with the Muslim world.  It was said in my generation that communism was a closed, monolithic system, but a Michael Gorbachev proved the Cold Warriors wrong.  Today it is said that Islam is a unique fundamentalism, but I think this generation will prove that view to be too narrow and self-serving.”

Below your reporter is seen with Tom Hayden.

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It has been said that there cannot be a great city without a great university.  Here at the end of October, 2010, one is grateful to be in the La Jolla, California environment where important, mind-expanding ideas are within walking distance of your front-door.

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