Marek Sullivan Needs Help

Marek Sullivan wrote a piece in Counterpunch: Sam Harris’s Quantum Universe (or, How to Say One Thing While Meaning Another)

The title should be Sam Harris’s Quantum Universe (or, How to Say One Thing Harris says and have people like Marek read another)

On Cruz …

Like many others on the Cruz and Carson comments from Harris, Marek is trying to find more than is there. Harris slates Cruz, but says he gets one point right. It’s easy to see in what Harris writes and says on Cruz (and Carson), but not so easy for Marek to see.

Here’s Harris on Cruz in simpler terms:

Cruz thinks and says A, B, C, D, E, …, Z as part of his political opinion. All are some mix of xenophobic racist political nonsense, except X. Cruz on X is spot on. Harris says this, that Cruz is crazy on all points, but right on X. Harris is either taken to endorse Cruz totally, or to reject everything he says – therefore Harris is as crazy as Cruz or self-contradictory.

What’s X? That Christians arriving from Syria will not be Islamic Jihadists. It seems so obviously true. So how does Marek distract us from that truth?

Hang on a minute. I thought Cruz was ‘completely crazy’, and that the idea we should only let Christians in was evidence of political strangeness, silliness and demagoguery.

Well, if Marek hasn’t got the nouse to be able to distinguish between an overgeneralising invective and a precisely perfect statement of truth, then perhaps he shouldn’t be given the responsibility to write articles that maliciously damn people with feint praise and a few fake ‘gotchas’.

Marek quotes Harris (my emphasis):

it is totally unhelpful to treat him, though he actually is religious maniac, like a bigot on this point

A person could be ‘totally’ delusional about ‘all’ aspects of their lives, but if it started to rain and they said, “Look, it’s raining” they would be right on that point.

Is it so difficult to parse specific points from generalising rhetoric of ‘totally’ and ‘all’? Is Marek Sullivan so ‘totally’ stupid?

Israel …

On the Israel issue the two paragraphs from Harris that Marek quotes contain not his contradictory position, but the complexity of how the issue is.

It is ridiculous that a piece of land that has been the home of a some people is given over to other people, and the basis for that, the defining nature of this new state, is the ethnic-religious nature of the new owners of the new state. That’s a pretty straightforward position for a liberal person to take: don’t displace people to give preference to someone else – and, I’d add, particularly in a region known for sectarianism where the two parties have history.

But set against that are other facts of reality: Jews were driven out (part of ‘that history’), to become the diaspora, and were so thoroughly persecuted around  the world, and very specifically 20th Century pre-Israel, that, as Harris says, there are reasons for creating a Jewish homeland, a state even, and those reasons are in themselves understandable.

This is the way the world is, and Harris was stating that. But Marek, like others, wants to shoot the messenger.

It seems commenters on Harris are unable to detach his personal desires, intentions and philosophical and political views from how he describes the world. In fact Harris tries to focus more on the philosophical than the political, and that alone is enough for his opponents – “He doesn’t condemn US and Israel enough, so he must be a Zionist neocon Islamophobe!” Well, he does, within the context of his main interests, but the regressives don’t want to hear it.

The world is complicated. You’d think Marek would have encountered the trolley problem and would recognise what Harris is saying for what it is: an expression of the complex dilemmas we face in the crazy world that is the Middle East. Does Marek write articles like their whenever a professor discusses the trolley problem? “Our professor told us the trolley problem! He’s self-contradictory, or a fatsist killer! I say he’s a fatists killer!”

ISIS means all Muslims …

When I put it the way I did in that sub-heading it seems obvious that Harris does not mean that. Especially given the number of times harris spells it out NOT ALL MUSLIMS!

But as we see here, that’s what Marek, like many others (and her links to Cenk “Mr Logic” Uygur) , want to spoon feed the gullible as being what Harris means.

And here we have it: the re-attachment of Muslims and ISIS.

That’s not precise enough. Harris performs a re-attachment of ISIS to Islam where others had detached them. But ISIS being Islamic does not mean ALL MUSLIMS.

Although Harris begins with a weak caveat (‘most Muslims do not support ISIS’)

That’s not a caveat, it’s a premise based on experience of what we see of most Muslims. That’s a most important premise. It should prevent the failed logic that Marek goes on to produce – but Marek isn’t up to it.

the force of his logic compels the opposite conclusion: if ISIS’s core doctrines are the very essence of Islam, if a hatred of infidels is the ‘central’ message of the Qur’an, and if ‘horrific footage of infidels and apostates being decapitated has become a popular form of pornography throughout the Muslim world’

That isn’t a forced opposite conclusion. It’s another fact about the texts. It’s another premise, derived from experience of reading the texts and listening to what ISIS and many conservative Muslims say.

I’ll return to the ‘conclusion’ later, but on with Marek:


in what sense is being Muslim any different to supporting ISIS? Though Harris does not say it, there is only one logical conclusion to be drawn from this massive fudge: Islam = ISIS

And so Marek seems incapable of drawing a simple Venn diagram to help sort out his thoughts. Here’s one – a very simple one that misses a lot of detail, but good enough to correct Marek’s error.


There are other violent Islamic groups, and there are Muslims that believe the bad bits are valid but would not enact them, …, blah, blah, …, and there are ‘reforming’ Muslims that reject the bad bits ‘totally’ (being wary of Marek’s interpretation of ‘totally’) – but I don’t think Marek could handle a more complicated Venn diagram.

So, Islam = ISIS is wrong factually and not what Harris thinks. It is precisely what Marek wants you to think Harris thinks. It’s more complicated than ‘equals’ conveys. Let’s be clear what Mark wants you to get: Islam = All Muslims = ISIS.

ISIS is following a subset of Islam – quite a large subset of literalism. Many Muslims only take the nice stuff literally. I think it would be fair to say all Muslims follow a subset of Islam – a necessary conclusion from the claims that Muslims are diverse in their following of Islam, and that it would be impossible for someone to follow every letter, even if it was all literal.

Now let’s turn to Marek himself

So, Marek misrepresents Harris as shown above, and then tries to drive it home.

I would suggest Harris’s ‘vaccinated polemicism’—a polemicism that incorporates a moderate dose of self-reflexive critique—is in fact a dangerous form of ideology control.

I’d say this slippery piece of failed logic from Marek is just the sort of rhetorical device that sneaks under the skin of the unwary. Even simple logic can be difficult for some, and wrap it in cute language and you’ve got yourself Marek’s dangerous form of ideology control.

It’s what enables him to say one thing while meaning another, to give the impression of reasonableness while endorsing the most noxious ideas of the right.

See what I mean? Marek has already accepted Harris does not endorse the noxious ideas of the right – he did quote and accept what Harris said in that respect, right? Marek even quotes the words of Harris that show that’s the case – where Harris explicitly says he does not support the crazies of the right. But by playing this game Marek has mistakenly or intentionally come across this dilemma:

a) Harris is self contradictory but DOES NOT support the noxious right


b) Harris is self contradictory and DOES support the noxious right

Now, see how Marek has chosen to go with (b) rather than leave it an undecided mystery to be answered by Harris?

And, notice how in fact neither is correct, because this is:

c) Harris IS NOT self contradictory and DOES NOT support the noxious right

See how tricky Marek is being here? Basically ‘totally’ dishonest (FYI Marek: when Marek tells you it’s raining it might be, so that ‘totally’ is mere rhetorical flourish to emphasis the depth of his dishonesty in this article, not a totality of dishonesty in everything he says).

Gone are the days when people simply said what they thought and meant.

So true Marek. You’ve presented a fine example: your own article. You are right on this point – but don’t take that as an endorsement.

Marek, you are the one that isn’t saying what you thought you meant. I think you’ll find on closer inspection, if you’re up to it, that Harris mostly means just what he says, and that it’s people like you who take what he says to be what they want it to mean.

Hope that’s not too difficult to parse, Marek.

It’s all there—not exactly between the lines, but buried in the narrative enough that a casual reading will yield a reasoned picture of reality, not one of paradox and contradiction biased toward the right end of the political spectrum.

Finding this piece of choice greasiness at the bottom of Marek’s article is a fine example of irony, if he believes it, or deception, if he doesn’t.

Inevitably, I will be accused of misrepresentation.

Let me paraphrase: “I misled you and some of you will call me out on it, but hopefully most of my readers are dumb enough not to spot it if I imply I will be falsely called out on it.”

If Marek implies that there will be lies told about him, you’ll hopefully believe him.

Where did Marek learn this trick? Could it be from holy scriptures: “This is the word of God, because it says so in these words.” Or, the Liar’s Bible: “This book is written by an honest person, and I say that honestly, so you know it’s true.

This was on an article that ended with:

Marek Sullivan is a PhD student at Oxford University.

In what, I wonder. Please don’t tell me philosophy or logic. Please tell me it’s theology, then I’ll better understand the causal nature of this piece.

Islam is a puzzle …

Here’s a reasonable conclusion from those earlier premises plus a few other things that we hear from various Muslims (given how diverse their opinions are):

Most Muslims don’t take all prescriptions of the Quran literally, despite claims by some Muslims that the Quran is inerrant and applicable for all time. Many decent Muslims pay lip service to the literal words, or employ tricky moves like ‘context’ (where they can claim they would hold to them if they lived in a genuine Caliphate) or ‘interpretation’, ‘scholarship’. But some Muslims take more of it literally, and a subset of those are ISIS, and they throw gays off buildings and rape slaves.

I’ll finish with this one puzzle: How do Muslims manage to take the peace and love from the Quran literally, while needing far greater nuance, context, scholarship, not to obey some of the nastier prescriptions. An even greater puzzle when you take into account ‘abrogation’, if that is taken to mean what it appears to mean. 

Over to you to explain that Marek.


Well, Marek didn’t think much of this review of his article:

I wonder why Marek isn’t so keen. Just a reminder of Marek’s agenda.



Holy cow! University of Oxford, Faculty of Theology and Religion!

No wonder Marek is resistant (or is it immune) to criticism.

I think I’ll let him know I think he’s biased … oh, wait:


Yet another stunning rebuttal of criticism.

4 thoughts on “Marek Sullivan Needs Help

  1. Googled and came up with this after reading Marek’s original hatchet job. Thanks for taking the time to break it down so thoroughly. Excellent work!

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