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Sam Harris: ...we have made tremendous progress. I mean, there is in fact less racism and sexism, and transphobia at this moment in America, and in particular in our institutions than there has ever been anywhere on Earth. And not to acknowledge that is becoming increasingly perverse.

Source: Making Sense podcast #253 by Sam Harris

Does "that" refer back to "racism and sexism, and transphobia"?

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  • Harris seems to enjoy shocking people. That last sentence seems to deliberately be difficult to read, and the word "perverse" isn't what a normal person would use there. Jun 22 at 1:33
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No, that refers to the fact that there is less racism and sexism, and transphobia at this moment in America, and in particular in our institutions than there has ever been anywhere on Earth.

Sam Harris wants to point out that it is not good to ignore this achievement.

That here is a pronoun and Cambridge says:

We also use that to refer back to a whole clause:

A: We’re having a few friends round for dinner. Would you like to come?

B: That sounds lovely. (that = the fact that you're inviting me)

Why don’t you come at around 8? That’ll give me time to get ready. (that = your coming at around 8)

A: Can you tell Kat to hurry up? We’ve got to leave at 11.

B: I’ve already told her that. (that = to hurry up)

I have put between parentheses what that refers back to.

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    Nit-pick: Cambridge gives those examples but doesn't offer exactly what that refers to except 'the whole clause'. In the first example IMO that refers to "coming round to dinner" and in the second one, that could be either "told her to hurry" or "told her we leave at 11". Jun 21 at 18:51
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    Certainly that could refer to the whole clause. But it could more simply refer to just the single word "progress", with the whole "I mean" clause defining what the writer means by "progress".
    – Kirt
    Jun 21 at 19:56
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    @WeatherVane: Yes you are right to split hairs for the sake of clarity. In fact, in the second example, that could refer to both "told her to hurry" and "told her we leave at 11".
    – fev
    Jun 21 at 21:01
  • @Kirt Yes, very correct. The "I mean" clause could be considered a sort of "apposition" of the word progress. In fact, I don't think it's wrong to consider that this that includes both "progress" and the explanation of that progress.
    – fev
    Jun 21 at 21:04
  • The best antecedant for "that" is probably the first sentence "we have made tremendous progress". Before we can say "and you have to acknowledge that" we need to explain what sort of progress it is. Jun 22 at 1:26

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