Making Sense

As I’ve said before, one benefit of my job is meeting new people and encountering new perspectives. In early 2020, I was in another city for meetings (strange to think that was the last time I was on a plane!), which started with several of the attendees gathering at a pub for supper. (As all good meetings should begin.)

The host suggested that as we introduced ourselves, we could also each share a book, article or podcast that we were enjoying. As a result, I walked away from dinner with a bunch of reading and listening suggestions. 

One of the recommended podcasts was Making Sense, which I’ve subscribed to ever since. It’s hosted by an American guy named Sam Harris who has a PhD in neuroscience. Sometimes, Sam annoys the hell out of me. At other times, I appreciate his point of view. And I’m almost always impressed by the fascinating guests he brings on his show. 

I don’t care if you ever listen to another thing from Sam in your life, but his first podcast of 2021 is worthy of your time. In only 30 minutes (or 25-ish if you stop listening before he starts trying to sell you a subscription), Sam demonstrates what I’ve been trying to write about for two years: that if we pick sides and don’t regularly examine our own views, we’re headed for big trouble.

Do I agree with every word he says? No.
Is he biased because of his own life experience? Yes.
Does he criticize or make fun of things I support? Yes.
Does he criticize or make fun of things I’m against? Yes.

That is the whole point of listening. Not just the point of listening to Sam’s podcast, but the whole point of listening, period. Find some people who are different. Listen to things you don’t agree with. Listen to things you never would have imagined about others’ experiences. Listen so your own beliefs are challenged. Listen to give your brain a workout. 

We have brains for a reason, and the reason is NOT for Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook colleagues to sell billions of dollars of ads based on our eyeballs, as their algorithms keep serving us more of the things we already like…until we’re locked so far inside our own echo-chambers that we can’t find each other. 

But that’s a blog for another day. I’ll stop now. Go listen to the podcast.
Maybe there’s more than you already think you know. 

7 thoughts on “Making Sense

  1. I was a long term listener to his podcast and, like you, found myself agreeing/disagreeing a lot but continued to download and give it a try. Regardless of content, he’s more tolerable at 1.5 x speed, as are a lot of podcasters.

    However, I unsubscribed last year as he was still ploughing the “Trump is literally Hitler” rut.

    I’m no great fan of Trump, in fact I loathe all politicians almost equally, but if he is/was Hitlerian, he’s a pretty rubbish version given the almost unprecedented lack of war during his term. Jimmy Carter was the last time that happened.

    A lot of people really lost their grip on reality since 2016, Harris is perhaps the most disappointing of these.


    1. I agree Trump is not Hitler. But he certainly attracts a lot of Hitler fans, and has exacerbated division in a superbly disturbing way. At the same time, a lot of people voted for him who would not condone Hitler. And it’s worth considering why. Shortly before the U.S. election, Sam Harris had a podcast where he (finally) bothered to do that, and reached some conclusions that I would have thought were rather obvious. Better late than never? In any case, this new year’s episode is, I think, more worthwhile than the ones that would have prompted you to unsubscribe. At any rate, you may enjoy the parts where he declares that the “woke” movement is just as dangerous as the Trump one.


      1. …” But he certainly attracts a lot of Hitler fans”.

        The problem with this line of argument is it descends into an infinite circle of whataboutery. The KKK was founded by Democrats. Are all Dems klansmen?

        Scott Adams is good at parsing this stuff; “if you believe everyone in a group is defined by the worst person in the group, then you may be the worst person in your group”.

        71m people in the USA cannot be awful people. The country would have fallen apart already.

        It’ll be a while before I give Harris another chance. He had lots of more sober friends trying to help him for four years and refused their counsel.


  2. stephenhope1984

    Well, I definitely found Sam Harris irritating, mainly his voice and his general viewpoint from about a mile up his own butt. Having said that, his opinions on distribution of wealth and polarization are pretty much exactly the same as mine, but his suggestions for solving them aren’t very well thought out. I’m not even sure what “Wokeism” is, but there’s probably a lot of people involved, and we know there’s about 70 million “Trumpists”. That’s too many people to write off as being mindless cult members. To deal with political polarization we need to understand why both sides think the way they do, not start a new Harris-ism cult in the middle.

    As for dealing with excessive wealth, continuing to think we can just tweak capitalism probably isn’t going to fix things. Capitalism is working exactly as it’s intended, which is to make the rich richer. The existence of billionaires is, in fact, the problem, and getting better at begging them for crumbs is not the solution. Zuckerberg ended up with $100 billion for creating what has turned out to be an evil force for society. I’m not going to ‘celebrate’ him tossing spare change to a hospital.

    Also, I kind of disagree that his viewpoint doesn’t pick sides. Your articles actually do, which is why I like them. Maybe you could do a podcast? Your voice is probably much better than Sam’s.


    1. Hi Stephen, I’ve been thinking about this comment since you left it. I agree that Sam is “about a mile up his own butt.” And I didn’t like that he called millions of people cult followers. But I did like that he labelled two opposing sides as equally unhelpful. He usually “picks a side” in his podcasts, and it’s usually too much of a side for my liking. So I was impressed that such an opinionated (and, it must be said, arrogant) guy would try to pick the middle. You’re right that I’m usually pretty clear about my own preferences, but I hope I’m also clear that almost every issue is more complicated than it seems from a glance.


      1. stephenhope1984

        Aggh. I meant to say that your articles “actually don’t” pick sides, not “actually do”. Sorry! So I basically said exactly the opposite of what I meant and caused you to do some worried self-analysis. Maybe this kind of thing should make me rethink starting my own blog, which I was considering.


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