Episode 30

Published on:

30th Oct 2021

Special: Interview with Sam Harris on Gurus, Tribalism & the Culture War

Sam Harris probably needs no introduction in our neck of the info-sphere as he is seemingly never far from the spotlight... or the occasional controversy.

We’ve had some nice things to say about Sam, but we’ve also made some harsh criticisms, particularly regarding a short episode he released which seemed to suggest it was necessary to practice introspective meditation in order to fully understand why his political and culture war views were correct.

Although we’ve never done a ‘proper’ episode on Sam, we have always stated that anyone we discuss is welcome to come on the show and discuss (or dispute) our charges – which is exactly what Sam is doing here!

This interview is split into two sections. In the first, we discuss Sam’s app and whether it might encourage guru dynamics and the role of meditation and (non) self-awareness in forming an accurate political outlook. We put some of our criticisms to Sam especially regarding guru dynamics, issues of introspective verification of truth claims, and the potential for abusive practices and manipulation by gurus.

In the second section, we turn to some of the more controversial topics that have sprung up around Sam over the years. Sam responds to proposals that he might be as tribal as the rest of us suckers, and he defends himself against accusations that he might have selective empathy and blind spots towards the rightish side of the political spectrum. We talk about tribalism and the potential distorting effects of personal relationships, as well as anthropologists, Islamism, wokism, right-wing extremism, and how political biases manifest themselves on the left and right.

Although the format is an interview, it does get quite ‘debate-y’ at times. And it’s probably true that we don’t come to a grand reconciliation of views at the end. However, nobody storms off, so what you get is a frank and friendly but robust exchange of views.

We hope you enjoy it.


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About the Podcast

Decoding the Gurus
A psychologist and an anthropologist try to make sense of the world's greatest self-declared Gurus.
An exiled Northern Irish anthropologist and a hitchhiking Australian psychologist take a close look at the contemporary crop of 'secular gurus', iconoclasts, and other exiles from the mainstream, offering their own brands of unique takes and special insights.

Leveraging two of the most diverse accents in modern podcasting, Chris and Matt dig deep into the claims, peek behind the psychological curtains, and try to figure out once and for all... What's it all About?

Join us, as we try to puzzle our way through and talk some smart-sounding smack about the intellectual giants of our age, from Jordan Peterson to Robin DiAngelo. Are they revolutionary thinkers or just grifters with delusions of grandeur?

Join us and let's find out!
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About your hosts

Christopher Kavanagh

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A Northern Irish cognitive anthropologist who occasionally moonlights as a social psychologist. Chris has long standing interests in the psychology of conspiracy theorists and pseudoscience. His academic research focuses on the Cognitive Science of Religion and ritual psychology. He lives happily in Japan with his family.

Matthew Browne

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An Australian psychologist and numbers-guy. He does research on all kinds of stuff, but particularly enjoys looking into why people believe the things they do: religion, conspiracy theories, alternative medicine and stuff. He's into social media in the same way people slow down for car accidents.