In Defense of Reading Controversial Books

I’ve been making noise on social media lately about how I deliberately read problematic books. By problematic, I mean that they are deemed, justly or unjustly, toxic or bad by people I usually agree with. I’ve noticed some palpable discomfort when I bring up the topic, so I thought I would take some time to explore why I think reading problematic literature is helpful. 

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Sam Harris and the Great Untruth of Us vs. Them

In their book The Coddling of the American Mind, Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff spelled out three great untruths that they believe are infesting our culture. While I’m ambivalent about the book, these three great untruths have stayed with me. They are:

  1. The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.
  2. The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: always trust your feelings.
  3. The Untruth of Us Vs. Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.
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Satanism, Meditation, and the Tyranny of the Self

Several days ago, I was meditating with Sam Harris’s Waking Up app. During the meditation Harris instructed me, quite simply, to find the “I” who is doing the meditating and to look for the self within consciousness. I did as instructed and, just like that, my sense of self was obliterated. As simply as a candle being blown out, my feeling of being a self within my head was extinguished, and all that remained was the vast sky of consciousness.

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My Complicated Feelings About Sam Harris

Last week in my Sunday Curiosities series, I posted a fiery video in which Steve Shives explains why he thinks Sam Harris is a douchebag. Of all the interesting things I posted in that article, I was dismayed to see my item on Harris get the most attention. People on social media were aggrieved that I would post such an “unfair” portrayal of Harris.

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