The Reading List, 6/29/2014 »« Saturday Storytime: Toad Words

Congratulations, Richard Dawkins

Dear Professor Dawkins, congratulations on your new intellectual peer group–the slime pit.

For those of you not yet in the loop, on Tuesday, Dawkins suggested that “Shakespeare Schubert Darwin Einstein” should be the people chosen to represent humanity to hypothetical alien intelligences. At the time, he did suggest that other people would have other opinions and even suggested he would be interested in hearing them. On Thursday, however, when someone tweeted at him that they didn’t want humanity represented by “only old white guys”, Dawkins turned around and asked “”Old white guys”? Who then would you choose as a better poet than Shakespeare, better scientist than Einstein . . . etc ?”

After Dawkins moved his recommendations up the ladder from personal choices to “the best”, the following conversation occurred.

Screen cap of Twitter conversation. Text included in the post.

Heina Dadabhoy: Just so I’m sure I’m reading this right, are you intending to say that old white men are the best at everything?

Richard Dawkins: No of course not. But do you know a better poet / composer / scientist  than Shakespeare / Schubert /  Einstein?

No, but they are! Yeah.

That went on for a while, but someone else interjected themself at that point.

FuperSuck: @RichardDawkins @heinousdealings Pls stop responding to social justice warriors. You’re wasting everyone’s time. #CosmicTombstone

Richard Dawkins: Sorry, I thought only the SJW would see it. I certainly had no wish to waste anybody else’s time. I’ve now blocked the worst one.

And today, Dawkins tweeted, “Learned a useful new phrase this week: Social Justice Warrior. SJWs can’t forgive Shakespeare for having the temerity to be white and male.”

There are a number of problems with that statement, of course. First of all, we don’t know enough about Shakespeare to know that he was white. It’s probably, but not anything like a given in Elizabethan England. Secondly, no one’s upset with Shakespeare. People are upset that Dawkins chose all white men to represent humanity, then defended his choice as being based on merit. Thirdly, several people suggested other poets, such as Omar Khayyam or Maya Angelou as better. They’re not making their choices because they’re unable to forgive Shakespeare anymore than atheists are atheists because they’re mad at God.

The big problem with that tweet, however, is that Dawkins is proud of picking up new, demeaning terms for the people who critique him as a cultural influence, and he’s using that terms to dismiss those critiques instead of engaging with them.

Oh, yes. Also that he’s forging direct alliances with the people who use harassment to try to shut down his fellow atheist activists when they speak up about sexism and racism. FuperSuck there? He hangs out at the Slyme Pit, where he calls himself TiBo. In fact, he went there to brag about having scored Dawkins’ approval for his tweet.

Dawkins has decided that it’s appropriate to conduct discussion of cultural issues on the level of our harassers (make no mistake; the pit exists to track our movements and provide social support for harassing us) and to engage approvingly with them as he does so. In fact, he apologized to one of them for talking to us, despite the fact that they see our tweets because they monitor us and share the results with each other.

He cannot characterize our arguments honestly, but he can accommodate the delicate feelings of someone named “FuperSuck” whose Twitter icon is a Photoshopped distortion of Rebecca Watson.

Still and all, there’s something to be said for transparency. Dawkins has been headed this way for about three years. It’s about time we stop having to point out how he’s obliquely encouraging our harassers and can point to him cozying up to them and speaking our language instead. If he really wants to starting calling us “baboons” or “Peezus”, “Ophie”, “Regretta”, “Thimbledick”, and “InZvanity”, the sooner it happens, the better.

Let him take the gloves off and show us where he really stands. Maybe next he can get them to teach him Photoshop. (Don’t click on that link unless you’re either Richard Dawkins or prepared for ugliness.)

Also, my vote’s for Edna St. Vincent Millay, but I’m honest enough to say that “best poet” is a ridiculously subjective topic and that I’d want her to represent humanity because she represents me.

Comments

  1. says

    And, giving him all the benefit of the doubt that I possibly can(which is far more than he deserves), maybe these four could fairly be said to be the best representatives of their fields. I’m really not able to mount a credible challenge to his nominations, especially without an extensive explanation of his rationale.

    But all four being white guys? If I looked at those fields and I came up with all white guys, I’d wonder why that is the case. If I could credibly discount unconscious racism and sexism, and knowing that other races and genders are fundamentally just as capable, I’d get even more furious that they are given so few opportunities to shine that they can’t even get a single spot on that list between them all.

    Damnit. Even twisting myself into knots to give him the benefit of the doubt, he’s still making a total ass of himself. Can we fire him from the movement already?

  2. Donnie says

    #look-a-douche = #look-a-dawkins regarding paternalistic, demeaning tweets and general cluelessness of a priveldge, white male?

  3. karmacat says

    His choices are also Eurocentric. What about visual artists? We should come up with a list that includes other cultures. What about Chinua Achebe, Maya Angelou (as someone else suggested), Jonas Salk (I know white, European male – but I think he epitomizes what a doctor should be), Ada Lovelace

  4. says

    Why only three? With our technology we should be able put a variety of works on a DVD that can be put on a spaceship. (Which is what his original tweet was about.) Heck, even the Voyager ships were able to put more information on their discs than what Dawkins is mussing about.

  5. kellym says

    It took me a while to realize that Dawkins, and his friend, James Randi, are slymepitters. In that, they fully support they goals, and every act of harassment and misogyny, of the slime. The evidence is overwhelming, though I tried to deny it for years, especially for Randi, who I genuinely used to admire. I’m grateful that I learned of his true lack of integrity while he’s still alive. That’s the only “good” the slime has ever done. That and keeping me from wasting my time and money on other atheist organizations they’ve similarly helped expose.

    Did Dawkins ban Heina?

  6. says

    The “composer” – try Bach. Can Dawkins seriously suggest a “greater” composer in the western classical tradition than Bach?

    On a broader point, not only is trying to pick one “best” sort of silly, who’s to say that the best in whatever field would also be an appropriate representative for humanity?

    And I haven’t even touched on the “4 Europeans” point.

    If this is all Dawkins has to contribute, he’s past it and should just stay quiet.

  7. Pen says

    The feminist responses to this kind of thing are standard. On the one hand it’s true that women aren’t among the ‘greats’ because they were literally barred access to those pursuits which are considered ‘great’. A lot of research has gone into showing how this was done. Secondly, those pursuits in which women did engage are automatically relegated to low status – think embroidery versus goldsmithing. Thirdly, and this is a less common argument, most of these white men were in the employ of the elites, some of whom were women, especially under monarchies, but we have a fairly recent culture (in historical terms) which has chosen to focus on the ‘white male genius’ rather than elite male or female patron or the lower-ranking contributor.

    The arguments regarding non-Europeans are slightly different, but of the same order. But this:

    First of all, we don’t know enough about Shakespeare to know that he was white. It’s probably, but not anything like a given in Elizabethan England.

    This is just being silly because, trust me, if he wasn’t, you would know about it!

    Anyway, we all know Dawkins doesn’t really have much grasp on this kind of stuff. He’s been brought up with the myth of the ‘genius’, a status theoretically open to anyone but in practice only to white males. The alternative in which we don’t offer up individuals but collective efforts is quite beyond him. If I wanted to represent humanity’s scientific achievements I would choose the lens, an object developed over millennia by countless people and one which symbolically and practically opened our eyes to the world. In literature, I would choose a body of collected folk tales of the world, repeated so many times and in so many places that nobody knows their original author, and which are the root of much of world literature, including much that was done by Shakespeare.

  8. says

    I assume it was Heina whom Dawkins blocked, but I’m not sure.

    karmacat, I didn’t talk about the absurdity of “best scientist” because it would have taken over the post. I find the whole idea antithetical to the nature of science. Not only is it collaborative, but the people who came up with plausible ideas that didn’t pan out are just as important to the process as the theoreticians who happened to be right.

  9. says

    I’m glad I never had a high level of respect for Dawkins, bc his shit over the last few years would have dashed much of that respect to bits.
    Affiliating with the Slymepit is fucking LOW. At this points, I’d like to see conferences start refusing to invite him. He’s proving more hostile to advancements in social justice as the years go by.

  10. says

    I actually think the originating issue is kind of silly. He named four people (four men); you can’t expect a list of four to be “representative.”

    But…I do think it’s pretty tragic the way he’s reveling in the Colonel Blimp persona.

  11. aziraphale says

    I think Heina may have overreacted. I’m about the same age, sex and colour as Dawkins, and I would it hard to find anyone of any colour to beat his examples. That may be just my ignorance. I do know of some excellent scientists who were not old white men, but I would find it hard to argue that any of them was greater than Einstein. Of course he went defensive from there on – as I might very well do if accused of racism on such grounds – and said some stupid things.

    PS

    @1 if you think Shakespeare has too many cliches, does it occur to you that he’s also full of quotations?

  12. Gemma Mason says

    Much as I love Shakespeare, it’s possible that Du Fu was a better poet. I wouldn’t know, because I don’t speak Chinese and am in no position to judge.

  13. says

    Let’s game out our first contact scenario here, shall we?

    DAWKINS: Greetings, visitors from Planet X! I understand you have made great strides in learning our language.

    ALIEN: Yes, we would have done so sooner, but it is needlessly complicated. Surely your planet has more sensible languages.

    DAWKINS: I doubt it. In any case, I’ve brought you examples of the finest arts and sciences that humanity has to offer.

    ALIEN: So you have said. Please, continue.

    D: First, from the sciences, I present Albert Einstein’s paper on Special Relativity.

    A: Yes, this is mostly correct. And you learned this only two years after developing heavier-than-air flight? That is impressive.

    D: Thank you, thank you. Next, here is a musical composition, Franz Schubert’s Fantasia in F Minor.

    A: That is enjoyable, though I somewhat prefer the “Chuck Berry” from your space-probe. You say this was played by one person?

    D: No, no, it’s two people.

    A: Ah, Franz and Schubert.

    D: No, Franz Schubert was one man, he wrote the music.

    A: But then, who performed it?

    D: That’s hardly important. Next, here is a work by our greatest poet, William Shakespeare. We call it Sonnet 116.

    A: I…I don’t get it. This is your best poet?

    D: Yes, of course! Can you name a better one?

    A: But unless I misunderstand, a “sonnet” is a poem with a particular rhyme scheme, yet many of these lines do not rhyme.

    D: Well, they rhymed in the accent that Shakespeare spoke.

    A: I see. What’s this about a sickle?

    D: Oh, well, that’s a reference to a common metaphorical representation of time, as a man with a scythe.

    A: Oookay.

    D: Don’t you see how perfectly this captures basic truths about human relationships? That’s what makes it great!

    A: I guess I’ll just have to take your word for it.

    In an effort to not take up the entire comment thread, Shakespeare’s greatness is in wordplay and his representation of the human condition. That’s not likely to be something that’s immediately apparent to an alien intelligence; it’s not something that’s immediately apparent to a lot of human intelligences. I love Shakespeare, but if I were going to introduce an alien to human poetry through a dead white guy, I’d choose Dr. Seuss or Shel Silverstein (as mentioned above). The meter, rhymes, rhythm, and wordplay are a lot easier to grasp there than in Shakespeare.

  14. aziraphale says

    Alternative scenario.

    ALIEN: Our probes have been reporting on your culture for centuries. We have now decided that we must cross the hundreds of light-years between our two planets, in order to hear the beautiful language of Shakespeare. But it seems that no-one now speaks in that way. How did you go so wrong?

  15. badgersdaughter says

    My pick of the non-WMs is Adrienne Rich for poetry, Clara Schumann for music (Schumann? Really? I could stretch a point and choose Tchaikovsky as a minority representative, since he was gay, but I think Clara was a better musician), and Maria Montessori for science (Really? Yes, she did so much for children’s development, the low-functioning children in particular).

  16. badgersdaughter says

    Yes, I just realized, my picks are Western white women. Oh well, I am too ignorant and monolingual not to pick non-Westerners, since I am myself a Western white woman, so that will have to do for now, sorry about that.

  17. carlie says

    I asked my 14 year old: “You watched Cosmos, and saw the stories of different scientists, right? If someone said that Einstein was the best scientist ever, would you agree with that?” His response: “Well, he was A great scientist, and maybe the greatest one in his own field, but there were a lot of others who were great at what they did too, so no.”

    Congratulations, kid, you’ve just given a more educated response to that question than Richard Dawkins did.

  18. says

    First of all, we don’t know enough about Shakespeare to know that he was white. It’s probably, but not anything like a given in Elizabethan England.

    This is just being silly because, trust me, if he wasn’t, you would know about it!

    Not necessarily. While we hold Shakespeare in great esteem now, and he was quite well known during his time, at that time actor and playwright wasn’t a very reputable career which is why many details of his life are unknown. It isn’t outside the realm of possibility that he was of partial non-European ancestry but the truth is that we just don’t know one way or the other so people assume that English=white during that time period.

    Also keep in mind that the works of many people throughout history have been whitewashed. The one that comes to mind for me is Alexandre Dumas, I didn’t learn until college that he was the grandson of a Haitian slave.

  19. ssgranor says

    As Natalie Reed pointed out on Twitter: “Picking a SINGLE poet to represent human history is fucking hard. But don’t pick Shakespeare. Save him for the playwright category. :P”

    I’m inclined to agree. I mean, did he ever write any poem that wasn’t in iambic pentameter? It’s really not the be all and end all of English poetry, much less all poetry ever.

    In English class they tell us that our language seems to be iambic naturally. I think, perhaps, they missed the fact that English is endowed with the capacity to work in many meters. It lacks creativity, using one metrical patterning – iambs again and again, never varying rhythm or emphasis – line after line always scanning the same.

    Classical poets knew how to work in many meters. Epics, for instance, fit in dactylic hexameter nicely. Latin and Greek are not that metrically different from English. Every single meter is usable if you’re clever. Dawkins, it seems, should think about widening his horizons. Maybe even stepping outside the Western tradition?

    Okay, maybe I was having a little too much fun there.

  20. Jet Black says

    Einstein?!? Smart?!? The really smart one was Mrs Thompson: After a lengthly breakfast conversation about what the electron is, the argument descended to JJ Thompson being like “The electron is a particle you little shit” and his son GP Thompson was all “no dad, it’s a fucking wave”… in steps Mrs Thompson and she says “Maybe you’re both right” and quantum mechanics was born, over breakfast. That’s how hardcore a scientist she was.

  21. nein wieso says

    I havent seen the whole debate about this but do i get this right that people rage about that einstein etc. happen to be old (or to be correct: dead) white and male?

    I do not get why skincolour, sex, age have anything to do with that they were great scientists / artists and whatever ( “best” is in my opinion a useless category -> especially in art/music etc.)

    Maybe i´m missing the point here but this discussion seems so useless….

  22. lochaber says

    picking four people to represent us?

    I’d go with:

    That dumbass who shot himself in the ass with a concealed weapon while reaching for his wallet in a wal-mart,

    Whatever the current popular celebrity douche of the day from some reality tv series

    Ken Ham (or I imagine Hovind would do just as well)

    And some over-worked single parent who is too damned busy trying to be a parent and make rent and bills through 2 1/2 jobs to really do much of anything else.

    I think that would be a more accurate representation of us (the U.S. at least). Not a good one, but well, I don’t think you can give a good representation of our society that is accurate.

  23. says

    I’m surprised there’s a lot of animosity towards “social justice warriors” in the atheist community. After all, aren’t atheists all about raging against the power structures of oppression and false beliefs?

  24. Hj Hornbeck says

    Wow.

    If Dawkins had one claim to fame over all the other “big-name” atheists that came before him, it was his “out” campaign. By encouraging atheists to stand up and be heard, at the end of “The God Delusion,” he was hoping to break through social taboos and end discrimination and the spread of misinformation against a minority that was frequently shat on.

    In other words, he pointed out to us that atheism was a social justice issue. So for him to turn around mock the concept of social justice, is, is…. self-mockery, really.

  25. lochaber says

    Travis Mamone> Only if it’s religion (preferably Islam), or something to do with bigfoot.

    Everything else is political correctness gone mad. Social Justice Warriors have become the new tyrants, through forcing self-censorship on everyone. Plus they don’t have a sense of humor.

  26. August Berkshire says

    My favorite female poets: Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dorothy Parker. Sorry, all white. I haven’t explored as much as I would like to. Any non-white recommendations similar to these? Not saying other types of poetry aren’t good as well, but this is my taste.

  27. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    This list says do much about Dawkins worldview. First, why TWO scientists? Personally I’d keep Darwin and replace Einstein with MLK, Ghandi, Harriet Tubman etc. Someone who changed the world in a different way. I suspect his choosing two scientists reflects his passion for science but it also chooses a field where minorities are historically underrepresented. And by picking classical music he’s also self-selecting for white males. If I were picking somebody to represent humanity via music I’d go with: Ellington, Monk, Miles, Mingus, Aretha, Billie etc., long before the classical guys.

  28. says

    You know what’s funny? I can’t stand Shakespeare. Yes, I’ve read him. I was always in honor and AP language arts classes because I’ve always read above my grade. I was reading to Kindergartners when I was in 1st grade, and by 2nd grade was in the 5th grade reading class.

    So I’ve read a good bit of Shakespeare and I frankly find him boring. I just don’t agree that he’s this “genius”. He was brilliant, yes… I actually love Hamlet. I think Hamlet is indeed a work of genius. But I’m not a fan at all. And frankly, my life will be better off if I never hear, see, or read any variation of Romeo and Juliet ever again.

    I actually understand his choice of Einstein. Einstein’s one of my favorite scientists, as well, and Relativity is a point of endless fascination for me, especially in relation to Quantum Mechanics and the so-called “Theory of Everything” (if only I could maths!). But what about Caroline Herschel, or Maria Mitchell, or Rosalind Franklin (I still say she was shafted the Nobel prize for her discovery of DNA), or Marie Curie, or Barbara McClintock, or Benjamin Banneker, or Ernest Everett Just, or Marie Maynard Daly, or…

    In terms of music… Schubert? I feel like someone who actually knows about that period of music should weigh in, here. I have a friend who himself is a composer and has degrees in this period of music history. He would disagree with Dawkins, and suggests Johann Sebastian Bach because he developed the chorale and the (musical) invention, and his music happens to be based on mathematical principles. He suggests, in terms of an example of Bach’s work, his Well Tempered Clavier.

    Frankly, as my friend is indeed an expert in this, I’d trust his opinion over Dawkins’s any day.

    But further than that… personally, I think Dawkins’s reach is too small.

    There’s more to science than Einstein, more to literature than Shakespeare, more to music than Schubert, more to art than Da Vinci, etc.

    Personally, I’d rather a more well-rounded representation. An I’m not even talking about race! Let’s look at music.

    Why just Schubert? I’d also want them to get a load of Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix, and Pink Floyd, and Miles Davis, and Robert Johnson, and the Beatles, and Muddy Waters, and Albert King, and BB King, and Chuck Berry… and I could go on. Shouldn’t these hypothetical ETs get a more well-rounded representations of the various diverse aspects of humanity, from science to music to art to invention to literature and so on?

    There are so many styles and genres within music alone, and there are so many examples of each one. How can a person just throw out Schubert (or Shakespeare, or Einstein) and think that’s enough?

  29. carlie says

    August – the point isn’t that it’s bad if you like white authors/creators, it’s that if you assume that those are the ONLY good ones out there, you’re not only badly exposed to the world, but you are actively discounting everyone else in that world. How much hubris does it take to declare that one person you know about (and just the most famous one at that) is objectively THE BEST at something, when you know that you haven’t explored the rest of the world? If Dawkins had said anything remotely like what you just said, he wouldn’t be getting criticized right now. But instead he threw off the most trite classic answers possible to “who are the best at this thing”, then doubled down on it when questioned, then tripled down by lambasting the people who were questioning his opinion. And he bills himself as an educated scientist, when he is here demonstrating a) a lack of education regarding the diversity of examples in those areas and b) terrible lack of noticing bias in his own sample size and collection methods.

  30. says

    @aziraphale #30: You’ll note that the vast majority of entries on that list are taken from Shakespeare’s plays, which are indeed a source of famous quotes and neologisms. Exactly thirteen items on the list are from Shakespeare’s sonnets. I like some of the sonnets, but there’s no denying that despite there being 154 of them, they’re not nearly as well-known or well-regarded as the plays.

    And, you know, I’d think we’d judge “greatest poet” by someone who could work in more than one poetic form, right? Shakespeare only wrote a handful of non-sonnet poems; even among his white male Elizabethan European contemporaries, there are better, more versatile poets.

    I’m beginning to suspect that Dawkins knows about as much about Shakespeare and poetry as he does about any topic outside of evolutionary biology and atheism.

  31. Blanche Quizno says

    I think the whole problem with the Shakespeare pick is his gross and blatant misogyny as expressed best in “The Taming of the Shrew”. Disgusting, repellent garbage. Mormons like it, though. Trivia.

  32. aziraphale says

    @Tom #30: Yes, I realised I was on thin ice there. In my defence, I was answering the implication at #1 that Shakespeare had too many cliches, and suggesting that perhaps they weren’t cliches when he first used them.

    I also agree, if we judge only by the poems then Shakespeare is not the best.

  33. aziraphale says

    Sorry. it’s late at night here and I struggle with these conventions. As is obvious, I meant @Tom #36

  34. Pen says

    noadi @ 20 –

    It isn’t outside the realm of possibility that he was of partial non-European ancestry but the truth is that we just don’t know one way or the other so people assume that English=white during that time period.

    Also keep in mind that the works of many people throughout history have been whitewashed. The one that comes to mind for me is Alexandre Dumas, I didn’t learn until college that he was the grandson of a Haitian slave.

    Hmmm… the thing is we do know quite a lot about Shakespeare. We know various addresses he lived at in London, the churches he belonged to, the dates he attended court. We can find a great many things his contemporaries said about him and his plays. Given the rarity of people who weren’t white in England at that time, it would be astonishing if not one of these many people thought to mention the fact. We also know Shakespeare’s parentage, and even the parentage of his parents. They are also more documented than you might imagine and nobody thought to mention that they weren’t white. This doesn’t fit the pattern for people living in Britain at the time who weren’t white. You might find this article interesting (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18903391) – if nothing else, it highlights the way in which people’s race in Elizabethan England is visible to posterity.

    As far Dumas is concerned, it might be possible for a college student not to know his ancestry but it’s impossible for anyone who investigates his life in any detail. It was a subject that came up throughout his life and is extremely well documented. I even have a portrait of his mixed race father in one of my books.

  35. aziraphale says

    @Uncle Ebenezer #32:

    “And by picking classical music he’s also self-selecting for white males.”

    Now that does annoy me. Most of my female friends prefer classical music to jazz and pop. There are some very good non-white performers who seem to find classical music worthwhile. And if you’re picking music to appeal to an alien it should, at least at first, depend on formal structure rather than emotion. As Lewis Thomas wrote in “The Lives Of A Cell”

    “Perhaps the safest thing to do at the outset, if technology permits, is to send music. This language may be the best we have for explaining what we are like to others in space, with least ambiguity. I would vote for Bach, all of Bach, streamed out into space, over and over again. We would be bragging of course, but it is surely excusable to put the best possible face on at the beginning of such an acquaintance. We can tell the harder truths later.”

  36. says

    @Blanche Quizno #37:

    I think the whole problem with the Shakespeare pick is his gross and blatant misogyny as expressed best in “The Taming of the Shrew”.

    Gross and blatant misogyny that was, nonetheless, a lot less gross, blatant, and misogynistic than the society he was living in (some examples here). Shakespeare’s plays, while very much a product of a more racist, anti-semitic, misogynist age, still managed to consistently treat minority and disenfranchised characters with more respect and fairness than his contemporaries. And followers, for that matter. For every Katherina, there’s a Beatrice, a Viola, even a Bianca.

    All played by (probably white) young men, so there’s certainly a limit.

    Incidentally, my college Shakespeare professor had a surprisingly positive, feminist spin on Taming of the Shrew. I can’t imagine liking it at all if I hadn’t been reading it through the lens she provided.

  37. says

    Wait, these choices were supposed to represent humanity? I didn’t realize that. I thought it was more a Desert Island Discs kind of thing. If that’s the case then his choices were silly.

  38. Al Dente says

    Schubert is a decent classical composer. However like many others on this thread I prefer Johan Sebastian Bach. I also think Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms were better composers than Schubert. But what do I know? I also think social justice is something important, a concept that Dawkins finds abhorrent.

  39. says

    @12 He’s about evenly divided between quotations, allusions, and outright plagiarism, IMHO.

    But the biggest reason I wouldn’t send out Shakespeare is that we don’t know if ‘Shakespeare’ wrote all ‘Shakespeare’s’ works.

    And in so many years, we haven’t produced anyone better than Shakespeare? Really?

    Shakespeare wrote in a fairly narrow subgenre/type. I’m willing to say Shakespeare wrote some of the best sonnets out there, but sonnets aren’t the be-all end-all of poetry for me. I’m rather fond of a lot of haiku, especially as many of them are rendered artistically as well as phonetically and poetically if you understand the language.

    If I was trying to choose art to go beyond the solar system, I’d go with –

    Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Emily Dickenson, Maya Angelou, a wide swath in languages I don’t understand because English really shouldn’t be the sole language represented, and a shit ton of work by my personal favorite, Anony Mouse.

  40. says

    In all honesty though, for poetry, I might have to go with Ogden Nash. For, when dealing with alien lifeforms, we can all benefit from his words of wisdom:

    When called by a panther
    don’t anther.

  41. says

    I wonder if Dawkins has ever actually read Shakespeare, or did he just pick Shakespeare because he sounded like the guy to pick? Even out of Western guys, I’m not sure I’d pick Shakespeare.

    But then, it’s understandable that he would pick Shakespeare over a guy who wrote:

    Scepter and crown must tumble down
    And in the dust be equal made
    With the poor crooked scythe and spade – James Shirley

    Tennyson, Wilbur, Emerson, Frost, Yeats, Woodsworth, Keats, Carroll, Poe, Franklin, Whitman, Coleridge, has Dawkins ever taken the Literature track at any school? I’m a goddamn STEM major and I can come up with a bunch of others off the top of my head, even just limiting it to Western dudes.

    Dawkins’ is a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is told no more. His statements about social justice warriors are naught but a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

  42. says

    Why does Richard Dawson even get to pick the categories? Those dudes are fine, but the finest? For importance to me and my life, I’ll take Margaret Sanger any day. Dawkins couldn’t even imagine that she would belong to a category he would consider important.

  43. tansy says

    kellym @ 6, Stephanie @ 9: I don’t know if he blocked Heina, but he certainly blocked Natalie Reed.
    With his “don’t read fairy tales to kids” and his support of the Edinburgh mosque vandals and now this stuff, it seems like Dawkins is turning into an increasingly outrageous parody of himself.

  44. says

    Dennett is the only one of the “four horsemen” who doesn’t advertise a crappy character and personality. I’m so glad we’ve moved on.

  45. says

    @WithinThisMind #45:

    But the biggest reason I wouldn’t send out Shakespeare is that we don’t know if ‘Shakespeare’ wrote all ‘Shakespeare’s’ works.

    Yeah, not so much. Aside from the works Shakespeare wrote with collaborators like John Fletcher and George Wilkins, and bits of a couple of plays that seem to be later interpolations, the actual scholarship on the question of Shakespeare’s authorship is pretty well consistent and settled. The “[someone else] wrote Shakespeare!” folks are mostly the literary history world’s conspiracy theorists.

  46. says

    I love Shakespeare; I actually did this Shakespeare acting camp every summer as a teen. Good fun.

    But the only poetry that has ever moved me to tears was Rabindranath Tagore’s. Two caveats: first, it was in translation, so it’s probably better in the original Bengali. Second, it was performed with music composed specifically for the occasion and that probably helped the emotions along.

    I’m also surprised that nobody has mentioned Rumi or Hafiz or Gibran so far.

  47. says

    Hi everyone,

    My apologies for such a large reply, but I had a lot to say. Also, I’m truly *not* trying to start an arguement or defend bad behaviour. This particular comment has been brewing in my mind for several months now and I thought it was about time that I finally post it. ☺

    I’ve seen a number of posts and comments that speak negatively about Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, in the last several months since I started following the FreeThoughtBlogs FB feeds. I agree with the main points of a few blog posts that I’ve read, as well as some of the comments.

    But what I don’t understand, and don’t approve, of is the vitriolic language I’ve seen used against all three. Or the condenscending, sarcastic mocking that I keep seeing in either a post regarding one or more of them, or if not the actual post, then in the comments about the post. Or in both.

    Are *some* of their views on how to keep the atheist movement alive as we all strive in our own ways, to continue to fighting on several fronts – such as equal rights for ALL people, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, socio-economic “class” or “caste,” and regardless of where on the planet one resides – and the fight to separate religion & church from state laws worldwide – now in conflict with “New Atheism” or “today’s atheist movement?”

    In my opinion, yes, absolutely! Is Richard Dawkins past his prime and increasingly more apt to make public blunders that can easily be misconstrued? Or perhaps as is often the case with seniors, despite still being of sound mind and body, his own personal prejudices are resurfacing, or “escaping” before he thinks to filter himself, happening more and more frequently.

    It could be either or both. Or for some other reason(s) I can’t think of at the moment.

    But ask yourself, do these relatively minor slips from what we might now view as the “correct” path, negate all of his decades of passionately working in the best manner he could, as an evolutionary biologist and writer, to educate the public and at the very least, plant the seed for critical thinking with countless people who have read his books?

    By using his expert knowledge of evolutionary biology and translating it into layman terms in his books – which, based on the fact that a number of his books have been reissued several times, in the years since their initial publication – such as The Blind Watchmaker and The God Delusion (as well as many others) – seems to prove that Dawkins has helped to open many minds. And I’m sure, helped to completely free them from the shackles of religion, just as he and Christopher Hitchens did fo me.

    I was never all that religious to begin with, but like a lot of other people, I was constantly pressured from people outside my family to declare myself one of the faithful and repeatedly told that I needed to accept Jesus into my heart. Because you see, not only would I stop being a heathen condemned to eternity in Hell, if I could just surrender myself to the Good Lord, surely he could take away, or at least vastly improve my ever diminishing health, if I prayed hard enough. (It would be years yet until my MS diagnosis finally explained it all.) So until I was 35, I convinced everyone, including myself, that I was Agnostic. But then…

    Then I discovered Dawkins and Hitchens. Within a few months I finally felt strong enough to be honest with myself and everyone else. I was an atheist and always had been. Within a short period of time, I “discovered” a number of other atheist writers (and devoured their books), including Sam Harris. And no, they weren’t all well-heeled white men from priviledged backgrounds.

    Do I always agree with their politics and worldviews? No. But I will always be grateful for the gift of freedom they gave me. And I’m quite sure I’m just one of many the works of these men have helped.

    So why did I write all this out just for a post Comment Reply? Well, while I doubt it will change anyone’s mind, I am posting this in hopes before you next feel the need to attack the old guard, so to speak, you will first stop and consider the all good things they have accomplished, or tried to accomplish by raising awareness of the many issues Atheism still is still fighting to rectify to this day.

  48. says

    Wow. It never would have occurred to me to consider Richard Dawkins’ past accomplishments before criticizing him for his current assholishness. Thanks for mansplaining all that complicated big-picture stuff for my fluffy lady-brain, wordsgood.

  49. Pierce R. Butler says

    Assuming that this hypothetical DVD will end up in the tentacles of Somebody Out There, Somebody with the skills and equipment to play it – why bother to put “the best” on it?

    Any such entity would probably have a good idea of curves in spacetime and biological change across populations/generations, and any other scientific concepts we know. Meeting a previously isolated people in some remote wilderness, would we stand in awe of stories of the guy who figured out clouds are made of water in a different form?

    Pack the “Meet Earth!” DVD with pics and audio of cities and coral reefs, of kids playing and farmers working, of forests and factories and museums and hospitals, of our actual lives. Save the high-falutin’ Aht for those who care enough to pursue Advanced Terran Studies, and let’s not embarrass ourselves by imagining our scientists would impress anyone beyond our still-primitive level.

  50. August Berkshire says

    Stephanie #13: “No one quotes Shakespeare’s poetry.”

    Granted, most of his sonnets are forgettable, but a few have stood the test of time and are still quoted today, in whole or in part:

    SONNET 18

    Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
    Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
    Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
    And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
    Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
    And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
    And every fair from fair sometime declines,
    By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:
    But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
    Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
    Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
    When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,
    So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

    SONNET 29

    When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes
    I all alone beweep my outcast state,
    And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
    And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
    Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
    Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
    Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
    With what I most enjoy contented least;
    Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
    Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
    Like to the lark at break of day arising
    From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
    For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
    That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

    SONNET 71

    No longer mourn for me when I am dead
    Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
    Give warning to the world that I am fled
    From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell:
    Nay, if you read this line, remember not
    The hand that writ it, for I love you so,
    That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
    If thinking on me then should make you woe.
    O! if, I say, you look upon this verse,
    When I perhaps compounded am with clay,
    Do not so much as my poor name rehearse;
    But let your love even with my life decay;
    Lest the wise world should look into your moan,
    And mock you with me after I am gone.

    SONNET 116

    Let me not to the marriage of true minds
    Admit impediments. Love is not love
    Which alters when it alteration finds,
    Or bends with the remover to remove:
    O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
    That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
    It is the star to every wandering bark,
    Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
    Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
    Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
    Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
    But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
    If this be error and upon me proved,
    I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

    SONNET 130

    My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
    Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
    If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
    If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
    I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
    But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
    And in some perfumes is there more delight
    Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
    I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
    That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
    I grant I never saw a goddess go,
    My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
    And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
    As any she belied with false compare.

  51. August Berkshire says

    Poetry is tricky. The only things we could be sure an alien would understand would be realism and literalism. That is why, although I would take the poems of Emily Dickinson with me on a space voyage, I would not send them to aliens. She is too enigmatic, cryptic, symbolic, and surreal (which, of course, is why I love her poems).

    Consider the following, one of her most famous poems, and imagine trying to read it literally:

    Because I Could Not Stop for Death

    by Emily Dickinson

    Because I could not stop for Death –
    He kindly stopped for me –
    The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
    And Immortality.

    We slowly drove – He knew no haste
    And I had put away
    My labor and my leisure too,
    For His Civility –

    We passed the School, where Children strove
    At Recess – in the Ring –
    We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
    We passed the Setting Sun –

    Or rather – He passed us –
    The Dews drew quivering and chill –
    For only Gossamer, my Gown –
    My Tippet – only Tulle –

    We paused before a House that seemed
    A Swelling of the Ground –
    The Roof was scarcely visible –
    The Cornice – in the Ground –

    Since then – ‘tis Centuries – and yet
    Feels shorter than the Day
    I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
    Were toward Eternity –

  52. Tony! The Queer Shoop says

    Travis Mamone @26:

    I’m surprised there’s a lot of animosity towards “social justice warriors” in the atheist community. After all, aren’t atheists all about raging against the power structures of oppression and false beliefs?

    Part of the problem is that some people don’t think atheism has anything to do with social justice. They think that atheism (and the movement, such as it is), should concern itself with reinforcing the separation of church and state, pointing out the atrocities committed in the name of religious beliefs, or trying to sway people out of theism. Nothing wrong with any of that, and I think those are good ideas. However, I find it problematic to stop there. Religious beliefs don’t exist in a vacuum. They influence and provide support for other beliefs. You can look no further than the ongoing battle over marriage equality in the US. For many believers, their religion says that gay people shouldn’t get married (we won’t get into whether or not there’s a passage in any holy book discussing same sex marriage). Religious belief provides tremendous support for opponents of marriage equality. If we as atheists reject god and religious belief, then one of the “strong” arguments against same sex marriage disappears. In other words, what arguments are left against same sex marriage if you reject the religious ones? I find that there are implications to rejecting religious beliefs. I don’t believe in god, so there’s no religious reason to oppose marriage equality.

    Another example is abortion. Many anti-abortion/pro-fetus believers say “god is against abortions” (nevermind the number of abortions that naturally occur, aka miscarriages). Remove that religious objection, and you should remove one big roadblock to abortion rights for all women.

    There ought to be a ripple effect to not believing in god. There’s a ripple effect to believing it after all. Belief in god isn’t simply “I believe in god”. It’s “I believe in god, and I follow these rules and proscriptions”. Well if you don’t believe in god, why should you continue to follow those rules and proscriptions?

    A segment of the atheist/skeptic community doesn’t think there are implications to non-belief. They don’t think there are any implications to non-belief, or they don’t want to analyze any of their beliefs that are influenced by religion.

    But the problem is more than just that. Since we’re all human, we’re all biased in a variety of ways. There are some people in the atheist/skeptic community that don’t want to confront those biases, or refuse to think they are biased. Some are arrogant and think that being an atheist is some intellectually superior position–some revel in this. Others share much in common with some believers e.g. not believing in privilege or Rape Culture.

    I don’t know where the phrase “Social Justice Warriors” originated, nor by whom, but it’s almost always used (at least in my experience) as a pejorative. I find that strange, bc social justice- advocating for a just and diverse society free of inequality and injustice-is such a worthwhile cause. I think some in the skeptic/atheist movement see so-called SJW as fighting for unimportant minutiae (such as supporting sexual harassment policies at conventions). These people often come across as preferring the current status quo, which is often unwelcome to People of Color, LGBTQI individuals, or women. Many of them don’t want to confront the various privileges they have (white & male being biggies, along with straight privilege, plus others) or even admit they have them.

    Then there’s the contingent in the community that is libertarian, but that’s a whole ‘nother ball of bullshit. Suffice to say their unspoken motto is “I’ve got mine, fuck you” (of course they don’t see it that way, but they’re not analyzing their beliefs and following through on their logical implications).

  53. Tony! The Queer Shoop says

    wordsgood @53:

    So why did I write all this out just for a post Comment Reply? Well, while I doubt it will change anyone’s mind, I am posting this in hopes before you next feel the need to attack the old guard, so to speak, you will first stop and consider the all good things they have accomplished, or tried to accomplish by raising awareness of the many issues Atheism still is still fighting to rectify to this day.

    The good they’ve done does not negate the shit they’ve said. One can recognize that they’ve done good things, and still call them out for the shit they’ve said. Your comments strike me as far too close to blind worship, where you think the world of these people and minimize the horrible shit they’ve said.

    Sam Harris is an Islamophobic bigot who thinks you can profile Muslims. He thinks that bc like many people in the West, he associates followers of Islam with a specific ethnicity. He isn’t thinking about the white Muslims in the world. Or the black ones. He’s thinking of the brown ones.

    Christopher Hitches was a war monger. He was in favor of invading a country, starting a war, and taking lives. He supported the destruction of peoples’ lives, their homes, their infrastructure, their entire way of life. His support of the war, like the Bush administration is what helps create terrorists.

    Richard Dawkins has a sexist blindspot your could fly a 747 through. He minimizes the sexism and misogyny women go through in West bc in his eyes, the only women that can complain are those getting acid thrown in their face. By his logic, I as a gay man cannot complain about having no protection from discrimination in the workplace bc gay men in Russia are being beaten and killed. Fuck that noise. There’s no ranking system, and there’s no way to rank oppression. How dare he tell women “shut up, you don’t have it bad at all”?

    You want to compare that stuff to the good things they’ve done? I’m sorry, I don’t see anything good they’ve done that can even balance the vile, opinions these men hold. Moreover, even *if* they did some good things that balance out bigotry, warmongering, and sexism, so what? It doesn’t change the fact that they did that shit, and they deserve to be called out for it. Moreover, in the case of Dawkins and Harris (not sure about Hitch), they double and triple down. Instead of acknowledging their mistakes, accepting their privilege or bigotry, they add to it. That’s not a sign of people I respect. And make no mistake, while I accept that they wrote some good books on atheism, I do not respect them.

    The fact that you’re willing to dismiss the problems the three of them have/had speaks volumes about you as well.

  54. says

    SallyStrange, funny that jump to the assumption I’m a man. I’m a woman and was giving my opinion. I’m not making excuses for the man, just trying to explain that I think people are being too hard on him. I think someone who has devoted his entire career into demonstrating how and why gods are manmade creations, deserves a little less venom chucked his way and maybe a bit more compassion.

    You don’t have to agree. But nor is necessary to get snippy with me. Or make assumptions about someone’s gender.

  55. atheist says

    Dawkins is teaching us a lesson: you can be brilliant at science but a complete idiot at politics.

  56. says

    aziraphale

    I think Heina may have overreacted.

    *sigh*
    Every.
    Single.
    Time.
    Every single time minorities point out that they’re being excluded, that they’re being vanished from history, they are accused of “overreacting”.

    I’m about the same age, sex and colour as Dawkins, and I would it hard to find anyone of any colour to beat his examples. That may be just my ignorance.

    Yes it is.
    It’s the fact that those people are those who get taught as the pinnacle of human(!) science* and culture which leads everybody to the belief that there was actually nobody else.
    *Even if we stay within the reals of white guys, Darwin wasn’t even exceptional. There were more people working on the same idea at the same time.
    As I wrote on Twitter, my new novel: Shakespeare shrugged: How Bitish colonialism never happened and he did it all himself. The reason everybody knows Shakespeare is because the British shoved it down everybody’s throat.

    ++++
    BTW, Dawkins with his apparent PhD in Early Modern English Literature still believes the “it was not actually Shakespeare who wrote Shakespeare” conspiracy theory….

    ++++
    nein wieso

    I do not get why skincolour, sex, age have anything to do with that they were great scientists / artists and whatever ( “best” is in my opinion a useless category -> especially in art/music etc.)

    Maybe i´m missing the point here but this discussion seems so useless….

    Do you honestly think that who gets to do science, who gets recognized for what they did, who gets promoted, who gets celebrated is due to their individual merit?
    Ever heard of Ilse Meitner?
    Heard of Otto Hahn?
    Read somebody called James Tiptree Jr.?

    ++++
    Uncle Ebeneezer
    That’S another point: He completely ignores those whose biggest achievements were to advance human dignity and freedom, whose work was justice. As if Einstein would have done us any good without those who struggled before to create a world in which Einstein could do science.

    ++++
    Withinthismind
    Again, AFAIK nobody in academia believes in “it wasn’t actually Shakespeare”. It’s more like a popular myth that never dies.

  57. Great American Satan says

    You know what’s been more culturally relevant, enthralling, and historically significant than Schubert for like 30 years? The Super Mario Bros franchise. What’s had a deeper effect on more human psyches than anything on the list? Tetris.

    What image do you want to advance to the aliens? The notion of high and low art, aside from being classist, is a cultural construct that would be less than meaningless the the squidoids. Assuming they’ve any interest in us at all, it’s probably more about who we are than who a sliver of the population with too much money wants us to be. They’d get more truth out of our TV commercials, or the representatives lochaber picked.

    Also, isn’t the work probably more important than the mind behind it, once the mind is gone? Shakespeare is like a magic word in our culture, evoking ideas and feelings that might be as much at variance with the reality of his work as the bible is from the thoughts of the laity. Aliens don’t know his ass and maybe they are so much more collectivist than we are that it would be as meaningful as giving a screen credit to a projectionist in Ohio to them, advancing examples of “great people.” Show them the art and the work, ask ‘em if they give a shit about names later.

    Wordsgood – I’m going to pretend this is Pharyngula for a moment & let my heart off the leash. Get bent, assface. “Someone who has devoted his entire career” to anything deserves as much respect as they show themselves to deserve. Simply: Don’t respect those who show you disrespect. I don’t expect you to like or respect me and I sure as fuck wouldn’t expect Stephanie to like or respect Dawkins, for reasons she made abundantly clear.

  58. Pen says

    @ 53 wordsgood – the one thing about Dawkins I think people aren’t doing ‘right’ is that they’re treating him as an autonomous individual independent of the culture he’s been embedded in.

    Everybody – the cult of genius which is driving this conversation is a cultural phenomenon typical of Europeans and the European diaspora, especially the elites. A lot of it had to do with competition between them to ‘own’ and appreciate geniuses. The geniuses tend to be white for the same reason that Catholic saints tend to be drawn from.Catholic cultures. Genius is not a ‘real’ thing. Dawkins cultural centrism goes far beyond his choice of candidates – it began when he chose the type of ‘event’ we were going to send to the aliens. And lots of you aren’t seeing it either…

  59. aziraphale says

    Giliell @62

    I’m wholeheartedly on the side of those who have been ignored because they belonged to minorities. I would add Emmy Noether (author of one of my favourite theorems) to your list.

    But it’s possible to overreact even in a good cause. Einstein not only created special and general relativity, he also made major contributions leading up to quantum mechanics. That’s two of the major advances in physics of the last century. If any comparable physicist has been “vanished from history” I would dearly like to see some evidence for it.

    Yes, there were other people who had the same insight as Darwin about natural selection. Darwin’s importance was that he spent 20 years collecting evidence, considering objections to his theory and answering them as best he could, and put the whole into a coherent form. I “invented” the rain-sensing windscreen wiper in an idle moment about 30 years ago, but I claim no credit for the fact that they are now appearing in cars. It was not I who did the hard work.

  60. says

    Tony, until this post and the comments in it, I can honestly say I have heard next to nothing about Dawkins misogny. I live in Canada and he’s not exactly big news here. I don’t follow him in any kind of media except for book news and the occasional documentary. I naively believed *until now* that since he so widely known as an advocate for women’s rights in Islamic countries, that he wouldn’t be a misogynistic pig to women everywhere. This is also the first I’ve heard about him being homophobic. In that, you’re right. I didn’t know and I should have.

    As for Harris, I’ve never agreed with a lot of his political view, but it won’t stop me from enjoying his books about atheism and neuroscience. I read a lot of books from authors I probably couldn’t stand to be in the same room with. I see no reason why I shouldn’t read books I enjoy – fiction or non-fiction – just because I find their personal beliefs and bigotry repugnant.

    As for Hitchens, he was most definitely not homophobic. Yes, he was for the war on Iraq post 911, as were a lot of otber folks. But I still don’t see him as having been a war monger. There are several other issues he wrote about that I was firmly on the other side a out. As to why I so admire his work, see my above respone to SallyStrange.

    And for where I stand regarding LGBT rights, I have long been a a 0

  61. says

    If “Just so I’m sure I’m reading this right, are you intending to say that old white men are the best at everything?” is “overreacting”, what the hell is the “appropriate” response?

  62. Al Dente says

    I wonder if Dawkins has ever heard of Mahakavi Kalidas, who flourished in the 5th Century CE and is considered to be one of the greatest Indian poets and playwrights. His poem “Meghadūta” and his play Abhijñānaśākuntalam are masterpieces of Sanskrit literature.

  63. says

    @51

    You misunderstand my point.

    Shakespeare made plays. They were eventually written down. What we have written down and what was often performed on stage are likely different things. We don’t know that it was Shakespeare who put down his plays in their currently existing polished state. He essentially had a copyist/editing staff going over his work. While in essence, Shakespeare wrote his plays, it’s possible some of the best turns of phrase were really a random draftsperson.

  64. aziraphale says

    @68

    Dawkins named four people (who happen to be old white men) as representing the best we could show to an alien. You can certainly argue with his choice of fields (which I take to be literature, physical sciences, biological sciences and classical music). However, to my mind no-one here has made a case that Einstein and Darwin are not the best in their respective fields. That leaves literature and music where his judgement might be thought to be racist. Judgments in both are subjective (I would have chosen Bach rather than Schubert, but that wouldn’t save me as he’s also an old white man) and in literature one can only talk about what one knows. Du Fu may be a better poet than Shakespeare but I can’t read him in the original, nor I suspect can most people here.

    It’s not clear to me, therefore, that Dawkins thinks old white men are the best at everything. It’s an accusation which, if not true, is bound to be hurtful.

  65. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    So why did I write all this out just for a post Comment Reply? Well, while I doubt it will change anyone’s mind, I am posting this in hopes before you next feel the need to attack the old guard, so to speak, you will first stop and consider the all good things they have accomplished, or tried to accomplish by raising awareness of the many issues Atheism still is still fighting to rectify to this day.

    Good thing we have people like wordsgood around to talk to us like we’re all fucking five years old, otherwise we might think we were adults who’ve been involved with movement atheism/skepticism for years and have reached an informed decision that the harm Dawkins does is beginning to outweigh the good.

    I think someone who has devoted his entire career into demonstrating how and why gods are manmade creations, deserves a little less venom chucked his way and maybe a bit more compassion.

    And at what point does poor, dear Mr. Dawkins have to show compassion for people who aren’t either exactly like him or who live in far away places so he can vocally oppose their oppression but never have to modify his own behavior as well as use their oppression to bludgeon the rest of us into silence?

  66. says

    No, aziraphale. Dawkins named four people with the implication that it would be reasonable to name others instead. Then, when it was pointed out to him that they were all white guys, he got huffy about it and started treating subjective judgments as obvious points of fact. At that point, it is reasonable to ask whether he is defending his choices or the idea that white guys are just the bestest.

    And yes, we have both substantively critiqued the idea of people being “best” in any field of science and offered other names if, for some reason, we have to turn science into an individual rather than group activity. If you don’t care for those arguments, engage with them. Don’t just say we didn’t make them “to your mind”.

  67. says

    Hi wordsaregood –

    Sorry for misgendering you. But I will be as snippy as I see fit. That whole post you wrote was condescending in the exreme. As if nobody who criticizes Dawkins had ever thought to balance his past achievements against his current mistakes. Very insulting. If you actually paid attention to the history of people criticizing Dawkins, you would see that over and over again, people mention that Dawkins has done great things for atheism promotion, that he is a great science communicator (though I’m starting to have my doubts on that one; denying the validity of the social sciences kind of ruins it for me), etc.

    It’s only now, after years of carefully qualified and caveat-ed criticisms of Dawkins, that people are starting to get fed up and leave off the conciliatory nods towards the good things he’s done.

  68. says

    Within This Mind

    He essentially had a copyist/editing staff going over his work. While in essence, Shakespeare wrote his plays, it’s possible some of the best turns of phrase were really a random draftsperson.

    Which is more or less how publishing works nowadays, minus “random”. Authors often get quite angry when readers think that editors and such are a waste of money, probably because authors know their value.

    aziraphale
    Now tell me, how far would Einstein and Darwin have gotten without the work other people put in before. At least Newton had the decency to admit that he was “standing on the shoulders of giants”. It’s the western obsession with “genius” that coulds our perspective. It’s like when rich Randians claim that they made it “on their own”.
    No, you didn’t built that.

  69. says

    Haha he has been the butt of internet jokes since the whole “honey” fiasco awhile back. Someone should take away his twitter before he becomes more of an embarrassment.

  70. says

    @Withinthismind #70:

    We don’t know that it was Shakespeare who put down his plays in their currently existing polished state. He essentially had a copyist/editing staff going over his work. While in essence, Shakespeare wrote his plays, it’s possible some of the best turns of phrase were really a random draftsperson.

    Actually, we know it wasn’t Shakespeare putting down his plays in their current polished state. Common practice for plays at the time was to make a single copy for the theater, with all the stage and special effects directions in it. I’ve heard that Shakespeare’s fellow actors often had what amounted to note cards with their lines and stage directions, but I can’t immediately find corroboration of that, nor can I tell how those would have been made.

    But while there were some quarto editions of Shakespeare’s plays published during his life, they were likely copied from those theater editions of the plays, and were certainly not authorized. The first ‘definitive’ edition of Shakespeare’s works, the First Folio, was assembled by two of the guys from his acting company. They (and the modern editors) are the editors you’re talking about.

    It’s possible that they developed some of those clever turns of phrase, but they weren’t the first or the only ones to produce copies of Shakespeare’s plays. We know that a lot of the quartos match up with what’s in the First Folio and other early productions, so unless they were taking great lines from the quartos they dismissed, or unless the insertion of great lines came in the earlier versions that copies were made from, that’s somewhat unlikely.

    But as Giliell said, that’s how most good works of literature become good, or at least as good as they can be. Editors are there to tighten and punch up the prose, and to call out authors on their nonsense and egotism. Woe betide the readers of authors who have eschewed editors.

  71. says

    @78

    Yes, that’s more more or less what I meant by ‘Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare’s plays’.

    In some ways you can liken the written works to canon fanfic.

    Alternately, you can take something like, oh, Star Wars. I last saw Phantom Menace about 3 years ago, but I’ve seen it a bunch of times. If you handed me a pen and a notebook and told me to write it down, I probably could. But, given that Lucas kind of sucks at dialogue, it’s possible my rewrite could be significantly improved. Or it could be a lot worse. Or, it could just be different.

    We also don’t know how prevalent things like ad-libbing and the like were during Shakespeare’s time, but if what I learned in my classes was correct, it was rare for two performances to be identical. If that’s true, then Shakespeare essentially had a full on staff when it comes to his writing and his works were thus somewhat collaborative.

    I’m not talking about just tightening up and fixing spelling. I’m pointing out that we don’t know how dramatic the alterations might have been.

  72. aziraphale says

    Stephanie @74

    I see the point that science is often a group activity. If instead of Einstein we were to offer a group (Einstein, Lorenz, Fitzgerald, Thorne, Wheeler, Hawking?) or just the crucial publications without names, that might be better. But it would be a different exercise.

    I still haven’t seen any argument that if we are picking one person for the physical sciences, Einstein would be the wrong choice. Caroline Herschel, Rosalind Franklin and the others mentioned are way above me in achievement, and I have the greatest respect for them, but that does not put them on a level with Einstein. Similarly,if we are picking one person to represent the biological sciences I have a hard time seeing why it wouldn’t be Darwin. It’s not Dawkins’s fault that they are both old white men. I would be huffy if, having come up with that list, I was instantly accused of racism.

  73. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    aziraphale, which part of “representative of humanity” are you not clear on? A group of white men is not representative of humanity because, as has apparently escaped your notice, humanity is composed of more than white men. This is not rocket surgery.

  74. aziraphale says

    Seven of Mine, just how would you choose a group to be representative of humanity in your sense? Do we need:
    Male, female, transgender
    Gay, straight, bi
    Caucasian, Asian, African, Native American, Native Australasian…
    and in addition, each one has to represent the best of humanity in some field of endeavour?

    Personally I am able to take pride in the achievements of others, and to think that they represent the humanity which we share, even if they differ from me in all those respects.

  75. says

    Which these choices don’t. I do not believe that if a “best of humanity” selection were made that contained entirely Japanese women, you would feel it represented you in any way.

  76. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    aziraphale @ 84

    just how would you choose a group to be representative of humanity in your sense? Do we need:
    Male, female, transgender
    Gay, straight, bi
    Caucasian, Asian, African, Native American, Native Australasian…

    You say that like it’s unreasonable.

    and in addition, each one has to represent the best of humanity in some field of endeavour?

    Much of this conversation has been about how silly it is to even try to define a best person at anything. It’s not about who is best it’s about representative. It didn’t become about “best” until Dawkins was challenged about choosing a group of western white men to represent all of humanity.

    Personally I am able to take pride in the achievements of others, and to think that they represent the humanity which we share, even if they differ from me in all those respects.

    Stop trying to spin this as us being unable or unwilling to take pride in the accomplishments of others. Apart from being passive aggressive and obnoxious, it’s completely idiotic. Dawkins is the one who, when he “challenged” himself to name some people he’d choose to represent humanity, only chose people more or less exactly like himself. That’s kind of what this whole conversation is about, pumpkin.

  77. says

    How about we go with Khalil Gibran, Sayed Darwish, Averroes, and Al-Asma’i? Since everyone can take pride in the accomplishments of others, these four highly accomplished men, arguably the best at what they did, can stand in for all of us, right?

  78. Pierce R. Butler says

    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk- @ # 63: BTW, Dawkins … still believes the “it was not actually Shakespeare who wrote Shakespeare” conspiracy theory….

    Got a cite on that?

  79. aziraphale says

    Averroes is an impressive man, I admit. It would be good to find a place for him in the list. I’ll even give him Darwin’s place if you insist. However I can’t help feeling that if we want to impress the aliens as being their intellectual equals, relativity and quantum mechanics is the way to go (superstring theory being still in a state of flux). We just know more now than it was possible for anyone in Averroes’ time to know.

    I don’t myself think Khalil Gibran is comparable to Shakespeare, but of course I only know him in translation. The others I can’t really comment on.

  80. says

    aziraphale, the practice of science by individual scientists has nothing to do with being right. It is every bit as important, maybe more important, to figure out when we’re wrong.

    Ophelia, Dawkins is soliciting for a (hypothetical) “cosmic tombstone” for humanity. An unrepresentative tombstone isn’t much of a tombstone. And Dawkins refocused the question on “best” when he suggested that someone would have to give choices “better” than his in order to critique his choices and that this was unlikely in his estimation.

  81. aziraphale says

    I can’t think of four Japanese women who would be comparable to Dawkins’s list. I also have no feeling for Japanese music. My loss, no doubt.

    I would feel at home with a list that contained Hideki Yukawa, Haruki Murakami, Akira Kurosawa, Basho and Kazuo Ishiguro. And yes, I would feel that they represented me. Their minds have enough in common with mine.

    However..

    I do see that if we were actually choosing people to represent humanity we would want to have as diverse a group as possible. I cannot defend the direction that Dawkins took with this issue, but I don’t blame him for producing, as his initial list, people whose work he was familiar with.

  82. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    And there goes aziraphale, studiously avoiding answering the actual question. Bless his heart.

  83. says

    I don’t blame him for reaching for the familiar on his first try either. I do blame him for getting so defensive when it was pointed out that he made common cause with the people who harass his critics.

  84. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    I don’t blame him for producing, as his initial list, people whose work he was familiar with.

    This is exactly the problem. People who aren’t western, white, male aren’t even on his radar.

  85. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    re: my #95 aziraphale must have been composing # 94 at the same time. Thanks for actually answering.

  86. aziraphale says

    Damn. I was agreeing with Stephanie, not with Seven of Mine. There is ample evidence that people who aren’t western, white, male are on his radar. For instance his debate with Lynn Margulis – he disagreed with her, of course, but he definitely took her seriously.

  87. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    There is ample evidence that people who aren’t western, white, male are on his radar.

    Sure. They just don’t occur to him when he’s trying to think of people to represent humanity.

  88. says

    Which is an incredibly common failing, thoroughly reinforced by our culture. And this is why we need to be able to take it well when someone points out that we messed up.

  89. A Minor Correction says

    Einstein wasn’t really white, you know. He was an ethnic Jew. Ashkenazi Jews are a genetically distinct group comprised of individuals all over the eastern half of Europe. After the diaspora, the Ashkenazim settled in eastern Europe. Despite settling in areas as far away as Russia and Germany, they still maintained a great deal of genetic similarity, because, like the Amish in North America, they maintained close-knit communities with very little marriage outside the ethnicity. DNA tests can actually be used to found out what percentage of your ancestry is of the Ashkenazim.

    Since the Ashkenazim originate from the diaspora, and since they managed to maintain a unique genetic ethnic identity and culture even today, I don’t see how they count as white, especially given how much hatred they’ve had to face from “white” ethnicities. All of a sudden, they count as white when it’s convenient for you guys to bash someone you don’t like, or maybe the Jews who contributed MASSIVELY to modern physics, chemistry, medicine, biology, etc. count as “honorary Aryans” according to you people.

    And yes, there are other distinct groups of ethnic Jews besides the Ashkenazim. I’m just mentioning them because Einstein was one of them and they are the group of Jews that mostly settled in Eastern Europe.

  90. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    A Minor Correction @ 103

    That really doesn’t help Dawkins’ position. He was challenged on picking 4 white men and didn’t respond with “Einstein wasn’t white” so I’d say it’s reasonable to think Dawkins thinks of him as white and therefor doesn’t get diversity brownie points for including him.

  91. A Minor Correction says

    You’d be surprised at the amount of anti-Semitism which still exists. I was surprised when I learned about how much anti-Semitism progressives can sometimes have.

  92. says

    That’s an author field, not a title-comment field. I’ve changed it so your comments make some modicum of sense. Stick with an identifiable ‘nym if you want to comment here.

  93. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    A Minor Correction @ 106

    You said we were only counting Einstein as white because it gave us an opportunity to bash someone we don’t like. That strongly implies you think the criticism of Dawkins is invalid.

  94. says

    I think someone who has devoted his entire career into demonstrating how and why gods are manmade creations, deserves a little less venom chucked his way and maybe a bit more compassion.

    wordsgood @ #54 and #61: The thing you seem to not understand is that this is not our first time at the rodeo. This is very, very, very far from the first time Dawkins has said sexist and racist things, and then doubled down and lashed out when called on it. The first time it happened — and indeed the second and the third — I did cut him slack. I replied calmly, gave every benefit of every doubt, made it clear that I had great respect for his other work. But this keeps happening, again and again and again and again and again. At what point do we get to say, “Enough is enough”?

    And I do not regard these as “relatively minor slips.” This behavior does does great harm. It reinforces the public image many people have of atheists and of organized atheism — that we’re a movement of cranky old straight white guys. It makes atheists and organized atheism look hypocritical — we expect believers to seriously consider the possibility that they might be wrong, but when one of our leaders has his errors pointed out to him, he lashes out with hostility. (Dawkins loves to tell the story of a professor he greatly admired, who embraced and thanked the people who proved his long-held theory wrong — but he is a total hypocrite when it comes to his own errors. And can I ask why we should discount Dawkins’ venom against social justice advocates. but excoriate social justice advocates’ venom against Dawkins? Why is it always the marginalized people and their defenders who are expected to play nice?) It helps people within the movement justify their own sexism and racism — “hey, if Dawkins agrees with us, we can’t be that bad!” (You’d think atheists would be more resistant to the argument from authority, but we are still human, with human cognitive biases.) And, very importantly, it keeps women and people of color out of the movement. I can’t tell you how many atheist women and atheists of color I’ve talked with who want nothing to do with organized atheism, in large part, because organized atheism treats these sexist, racist jackasses as our greatest heroes.

    And the fact that Dawkins has such a large platform and is heard by so many people doesn’t mitigate these harms. It amplifies them. When some random atheist jackass on YouTube says racist and sexist things, that’s bad enough. The fact that a whole lot more people listen to Dawkins than to some random atheist jackass on YouTube means that a huge audience, both inside and outside organized atheism, hears it when he says racist and sexist things. That does great harm.

    Social justice advocates within organized atheism care about making organized atheism welcoming to a wider variety of people. A big part of that involves speaking up, with the biggest megaphone we can muster, when people in organized atheism — especially leaders — behave badly. We want to make it as clear as we can that these people do not represent all of atheism, and that many of us find their words and actions vile. That’s how you make cultural change — by making it clear that certain ideas and behaviors are not acceptable, and will not be accepted.

  95. says

    @Withinthismind #79:

    I’m not talking about just tightening up and fixing spelling. I’m pointing out that we don’t know how dramatic the alterations might have been.

    Except that, in a lot of cases, we do. We have independent sources for about half of Shakespeare’s plays, between the unauthorized quartos and the ‘authoritative’ First Folio (and a few other publications). For most of the plays that we have multiple different sources of, the sources agree very closely. For others, there are major departures, which could be due to a variety of factors (King Lear, for instance, is thought to have been heavily revised and edited by Shakespeare himself between different productions). Your Phantom Menace example is pretty close to the way some of those quartos are thought to have been produced, not so much with the Folio (and if it were, we’d expect to see a lot more differences between the quartos and the Folio than we do). We know more about Shakespeare’s works than you seem to think.

    @Aziraphale #80:

    I still haven’t seen any argument that if we are picking one person for the physical sciences, Einstein would be the wrong choice.

    What makes him the right choice? Why would we pick someone whose work was almost entirely theoretical in nature? Why not an experimentalist, or someone who made great strides in both avenues? Why not Michael Faraday, who invented the Bunsen burner and the electric dynamo, and discovered benzene and electromagnetic induction? Why not Isaac Newton or Galileo or Archimedes? Even among dead white guys, there are choices that are arguably better than Einstein. Broadening our look, why not Avicenna, who described the notion of uniformitarianism almost a thousand years before Lyell, discussed the speed of light, and also wrote some well-regarded poetry? Why not his contemporary, Al-Biruni, who worked to disprove Ptolemy’s cosmos five hundred years before Copernicus, introduced the experimental scientific method to studying mechanics, and invented hydrodynamics? What of Alhazen, father of optics? Shen Kuo, who first described the compass and processes of land formation?

    Einstein made great contributions to physics, but given the barriers to people working in the distant past, and the huge strides they made, I think there’s a wealth of choices better than Einstein for single greatest physicist.

    By the way, why would relativity and quantum mechanics be more impressive to an advanced alien race? Presumably they’d look on that the way we look on Newtonian mechanics or Dalton’s atomic theory (or worse, Aristotelian mechanics and Democritus’s atomic theory). Wouldn’t the production of the foundational knowledge, especially given the context, be more impressive? Newton invented a version of calculus just so he could solve some problems in an unrelated work. Pingala described binomial theorem and Pascal’s Triangle a thousand years before the invention of algebra. Surely those are more impressive feats than imagining the mechanics of light in a Swiss patent office.

  96. aziraphale says

    @Tom Foss #111:

    All I can say is, look at a serious textbook on general relativity. Then at one on special relativity. Then at Einstein’s work on the photoelectric effect. Then his work on Brownian motion. Then his contributions to quantum mechanics. Then ask yourself whether “imagining the mechanics of light” is a fair description of that.

  97. Tony! The Queer Shoop says

    wordsgood @67:

    Tony, until this post and the comments in it, I can honestly say I have heard next to nothing about Dawkins misogny.

    It’s something that one could google if one were interested in having an informed opinion.

    I live in Canada and he’s not exactly big news here. I don’t follow him in any kind of media except for book news and the occasional documentary. I naively believed *until now* that since he so widely known as an advocate for women’s rights in Islamic countries, that he wouldn’t be a misogynistic pig to women everywhere. This is also the first I’ve heard about him being homophobic. In that, you’re right. I didn’t know and I should have.

    I re-read my comment, but I don’t see where I made the claim that he’s homophobic.

    As for Harris, I’ve never agreed with a lot of his political view, but it won’t stop me from enjoying his books about atheism and neuroscience. I read a lot of books from authors I probably couldn’t stand to be in the same room with. I see no reason why I shouldn’t read books I enjoy – fiction or non-fiction – just because I find their personal beliefs and bigotry repugnant.

    You must have missed what I said. Here:


    The good they’ve done does not negate the shit they’ve said. One can recognize that they’ve done good things, and still call them out for the shit they’ve said.

    I never said anyone should stop enjoying the works of Dawkins, Hitchens, or Harris. I just said that those works do not negate the shit they’ve said.
    I did say that I think the harm they’ve done is greater than the good they’ve done though.

    As for Hitchens, he was most definitely not homophobic.

    Um, I checked one more time and I never even claimed *any* of them were homophobic. No idea where you’re getting this from.

    Yes, he was for the war on Iraq post 911, as were a lot of otber folks. But I still don’t see him as having been a war monger. There are several other issues he wrote about that I was firmly on the other side a out. As to why I so admire his work, see my above respone to SallyStrange.

    I don’t care why you admire his work. That does not diminish the horrible things he said.

    Christopher Hitchens argued the case for the Iraq War in a 2003 collection of essays entitled A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq, and he held numerous public debates on the topic with George Galloway and Scott Ritter.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_hitchens#Iraq_War_and_the_war_on_terror

    This certainly reads to me as a warmonger.
    Or you can read this three part series by Hitch’s friend Denis Perin who initially agreed with Hitch about the war in Iraq, but came to his senses.

    And for where I stand regarding LGBT rights, I have long been a a 0

    I have no idea what this means.

  98. says

    @aziraphale #112:

    All I can say is, look at a serious textbook on general relativity. Then at one on special relativity. Then at Einstein’s work on the photoelectric effect. Then his work on Brownian motion. Then his contributions to quantum mechanics. Then ask yourself whether “imagining the mechanics of light” is a fair description of that.

    I have a physics degree, Aziraphale. I’ve read large parts of Einstein’s annus mirabilis papers. Einstein did great work, but again, his work was almost entirely theoretical in nature, and he was working in a time where the technology, mathematics, and basic physical underpinnings were already there for him to work from. As impressive as his work was, I find it far more impressive what people were able to accomplish in earlier ages, when less of the foundational work had already been accomplished.

    Now go back and read my actual comment and ask yourself whether “imagining the mechanics of light” is a fair summary of what I actually wrote.

  99. aziraphale says

    I cannot read “imagining the mechanics of light in a Swiss patent office” except as unduly dismissive. What difference does it make where he did this thinking? And, as I’m sure you know, general relativity is central to our understanding of gravitation and therefore of cosmology, not only of light.

    I cannot see Pingala’s work as in any way comparable. Avicenna does seem to have made major contributions to Earth sciences, and I would find it harder to balance him against Einstein. I don’t know what to think of Alhazen – he had a lot of bright ideas about optics but several that were wrong or weakly argued.

    Still, I don’t wish to nail my colours to Dawkins’s mast. It’s clear that he responds very badly to criticism, and as such is (now) a poor example to follow.

  100. says

    @Greta Christina #110: In addition to those excellent points, one that bears mentioning as well is that a lot of us started out with a great deal of affection for Dawkins. I own several of his books and have quite enjoyed some of his programs. Consequently, I care a lot more when he goes out and makes himself look like a bigoted ass than when someone whose work I haven’t invested in does the same. He’s a racist, sexist, egotist who says inflammatory things on Twitter because he likes the attention and likes to stir the pot, but he’s our racist, sexist, egotist, and I think a lot of people hope that he can have his own consciousness raised a bit.

    @Aziraphale #115:

    I cannot read “imagining the mechanics of light in a Swiss patent office” except as unduly dismissive.

    Gee, it’s a shame that that was all I wrote about Einstein then, and didn’t write anything else to give further context.

    And, as I’m sure you know, general relativity is central to our understanding of gravitation and therefore of cosmology, not only of light.

    Sure it is, but equally central are works by Newton, Hooke, Galileo, Kepler, Maxwell, Lemaitre, and lots of others. Einstein didn’t come up with general relativity in a vacuum.

    I cannot see Pingala’s work as in any way comparable.

    Then you don’t understand what you’re talking about. Pingala’s work prefaced algebra and underpins some of the most fundamental ways in which we work with numbers beyond simple arithmetic and geometry. You don’t get Newton’s equations or Maxwell’s equations without algebra, and you don’t get Einstein without Newton and Maxwell.

    I don’t know what to think of Alhazen – he had a lot of bright ideas about optics but several that were wrong or weakly argued.

    So did Einstein, who was dead-set against quantum entanglement and invented the fallacious cosmological constant as a fudge factor to counter the growing evidence against a steady-state model of cosmology. With Alhazen, we have almost a millennium of progress by which to judge his contributions; do you think Einstein’s are likely to fare significantly better in a thousand years? Science proceeds through falsification and convergence; Einstein’s equations are more accurate than Newton’s, and Newton’s were more accurate than Galileo’s, but as our ability to measure such things grows, it’s likely that Einstein will be supplanted just as Newton and Galileo and Aristotle were. Don’t let the fact that Einstein was recent blind you to the general theme of science, which is that everyone is wrong but hopefully we get less wrong as time goes by.

  101. says

    My phone died while finishing my last response, hence the last sentence that made no sense. All I was trying to say is that I have long been an adamant supporter of LGBT rights. I don’t understand the homophobic mindset and never will.

    And again, I did not intend to be condenscending and I’m sorry it came across that way. Obviously I was grossly uninformed about the many sexist antics by Dawkins. Yes, I absolutely should have done some research before commenting. Mea culpa.

    Tony, just as you appear to have misunderstood my intent, I apparently misuderstood yours. I did get the impression you were lumping Hitchens with Putin in terms of homophobia.

    Look folks, it was never my intent to offend anyone. Nor am I in any way attempting to justify or excuse the bad behaviours, words or works of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris. I was not expecting my initial comment to be taken so badly. All I can offer is one final apology and a brief explanation. I generally do *not* leave posts like that one and *do* attempt to research stories I’m only hearing of for the first time, but here’s the thing, when I made that first post I hadn’t slept at all for a few days and was not really thinkng that coherently. Exhaustian was fogging my brain and about all I was percieving was what – at the time – seemed to be unprovoked attacks on an author who’s work I greatly admired. Then I proceeded to dig a deeper hole for myself. I’m human and I make mistakes. I’m sorry.

    I still don’t see how personal attacks on each other are at all useful or productive. I love reading the various Freethought blogs and have learned quite a bit in my short few months here. If someone has an issue with anything I or anyone else says in the comments section, why not just assume the best and respectfully call them on it? Which, Tony, you did do and I thank you for not making it personal.

    And to everyone else, I hope you’ll just forgive my case of foot in mouth disease and let me move on with no hard feelings? I promise I will try to not react and post again when my brain is on vacation. I can’t promise you a 100% success rate, but I will try.

    On a happier note, I hope everyone is having a nice weekend. ☺

  102. shari says

    Oscar Wilde – Literature
    Leonardo Da Vinci – Science
    Anne Bradstreet – Poetry
    Yo Yo Ma & Cesare Evoria – Music
    Ghandi – Humanitarianism

    My complete lack of knowledge on Eastern contributions to culture are really showing…

  103. Daniel Schealler says

    The whole notion of ranking them as better or worse is flawed to begin with. They’re not neccesarily better or worse. At the elite ranks, they’re just different.

    But if I were going to suggest non-white contenders, I’d throw up Eihei Dōgen for a poet, Satyendra Nath Bose as a scientist, and Srinivasa Ramanujan as a mathematician.

    Dogen was Japanese studying Buddhism, which has origins in India. In a sense, all three of these have roots in Indian thought… So in a way, this selection is just as blinkered as Dawkins’, as I can only offer names of individuals with whom I am familiar.

    Difference is that I don’t pretend this is a comprehensive list.

    Dawkins is great with the biology, and great at snarkily addressing the obvious flaws of religion.

    But outside of those areas of expertise, he’s just another cranky old white guy with no more expertise than whoever he may happen to find himself next to when on the bus.

    And just like me too, for what that’s worth.

  104. Ian Thorpe says

    I came around just about when “Dear Muslima” was breaking news, so I never acquired the taste for Dawkins’ work. If I have any hero worship, it’s for Neil deGrasse Tyson.
    Count me as another vote for J. S. Bach over Schubert.
    I share the opinion of Tom Foss (#111); aliens who travel the galaxy, with the attendant technology, would probably regard all of our science as “cute” at best or primitive and violent at worst.
    Anyway, if I were recommending a poem to include in the “Cosmic Tombstone” (for imaginary English-speaking aliens that appreciate metaphor) I would choose this one by Alice Walker:

    We have a beautiful

    mother
    
Her hills 

    are buffaloes 

    Her buffaloes 

    hills.
    We have a beautiful 

    mother
    
Her oceans 

    are wombs 

    Her wombs 

    oceans.
    We have a beautiful 

    mother
    
Her teeth
    
the white stones 

    at the edge
    
of the water
    
the summer 

    grasses
    
her plentiful 

    hair.
    We have a beautiful 
mother
    
Her green lap 

    immense 

    Her brown embrace
    
eternal 

    Her blue body 

    everything we know.

    I think it would be a wonderful eulogy for our long-dead blue marble. (Apologies for the failed paragraph breaks.)

  105. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    wordsgood @117

    If someone has an issue with anything I or anyone else says in the comments section, why not just assume the bes[1]t and respectfully call them on it[2]? Which, Tony, you did do and I thank you for not making it personal.[3]

    [1]FTB and pretty much any pro-feminist community are under constant attacks from anti-feminist trolls. Once you’ve spent any significant time involved in those communities, you run out of benefit of the doubt to grant people who saunter into conversations, admit that they have no idea what they’re talking about and then start telling the regulars they’re doing it wrong.

    [2]Such as the respect you showed us by assuming we’d never considered anything Dawkins had said or done prior to this twitter exchange? I think many of us are pretty damn tired of constantly being expected to set aside our own feelings in order to protect the feelings of people who refuse us the same courtesy.

    [3]This business of calling out one person for behaving according to your standards of civility and setting them up as the standard everyone else should aspire to? Not well received around these parts.

  106. says

    understand that, Seven of Mind. As I’ve tried to say a few times now, I came in with no bad intentions.

    Only after finally getting some sleep, seeing another reply by Tony – which I viewed as respectively worded and even though it was clear he was still a bit upset, he still managed to not make it a personal attack – and with the benefit of hindsight, was I able to see what I said could be taken the wrong way. Though I must admit, it didn’t occur to me that anyone might think I’m a troll.

    I’m not asking anyone to conform to my views of civilty. I just personally fail to see how assuming the worst about another person’s intent based on their comment, then automatically going off on them in a deliberately insulting manner – without first attempting ask for clarification – is at all productive – or condusive to a meaningful conversation. If someone comes into a conversation and is very clearly being a troll, or just a jerk because they get off on it, then fine have at them.

    But unless they come in flaming or outright attacking the post or it’s author, or the other commenters, I think it’s a mistake to jump to conclusions about the person or their intent, even when you have had the unfortunate experience of dealing with heaps of trolls.

    Seven, again, I do see where you’re coming from. But now can I ask you a question? I thought the whole purpose of the Freethought Blogs was to expose people to other ways of thinking, provide a place to discuss aspects of other cultures and aspects of our own Western culture, to educate and enlighten people by sharing articles and media stories about important topics like international human rights, politics, feminism, violence, and a host of other topics highly relevent to today’s world on a global scale.

    Also, many of the bloggers also promote atheism, which is what initially drew me to this site. (To borrow a line from Tony’s reply to me, I don’t think all the good things religion has done in the past, and continues to do in the present, outweighs the harm it has historically caused and continues to do inflict on the world today. More specifically, what humans do in the name of their religion.)

    So am I mistaken in believing the main goal of the FreeThought Blogs site is to inform, educate and provide an environment that fosters and encourages discussion on important topics that affect us all as technology is fast morphing us into a global community? To promote understanding, tolerance and acceptance? To achieve equality and social justice for everyone, everywhere?

    If so, then naively or not, I stand by my assertation that assuming the best of anyone joining a conversation and not immediately going for their jugular, is the best way to go about the above stated goals. To do otherwise risks alienating anyone new to the site and possibly chase away long standing readers and paying supporters of the site. It also reinforces the already widely held stereotype by many religious people about atheists…that we are nothing more than a group of angry, bitter, social malcontents with low morals and who have nothing of value to say or contribute to society.

    I ask these questions sincerely and really hope that this time around, people who don’t like my writing style or tone, will stop a moment and see that I am trying to communicate my thought in the best way I am able to.

    As my username indicates, I love words. What you wouldn’t know unless you clicked on my profile, is that I have MS. A disease that has seriously affected both my verbal and written communication skills. My ability to say what I want, in a clear and concise manner, *with* my intended tone being very clear, is not what it used to be. (Not by a long shot. At one point, long before it affected me this way, I spent nearly a decade working in a professional communications office.) I don’t share this to seek sympathy. But rather to reinforce my point about not always assuming the worst of people based on one or two comments that may strike you as possibly being troll-like or deliberately condenscending, etc. In other words, don’t snap judgements. You know, like *I did* in my inital comment for this post…

  107. Great American Satan says

    I’m an angry, bitter social malcontent who wants to finish this ripping asunder of society that the right wing started and show they asses that the world works better without their “values” turning everything to shit. What you’re getting into now is a tone argument, which was the cause of Deep Rifts 1.0: Is it better to be civil and respectful with theists and charlatans, or mock them cruelly?

    Some FtBloggers were on the mock them cruelly tip, though in fairness the originator of the Sleazepit was as well. There are a variety of positions in the middle. I appreciate the wisdom of “many approaches” – that some bloggers can tempt theists with honey while others expose the weakness of those beliefs with scorn – but I don’t have any choice about where I fall in practice.

    Because I’m mega super triple pissed off, like a quasar made out of inflamed assholes. You have trouble expressing yourself concisely due to a disability, I have trouble expressing myself reasonably because my suck-ass life is turning me into a rage case.

    But for what it’s worth, the fact you admitted to a snap judgement on entering the fray does mean something to me. I rescind my statement that you should get bent, and while I’ll be more slow to take back the “assface,” I will hereby state for le record that I -with a greater degree of certainty- am a giant assface.

  108. says

    Oops. Forgot to address one last point.

    Seven, I did *not* assume none of you were aware of Dawkins achievements previous to his Twitter antics. I was, as I said earlier, just trying to clarify why I felt – AT THAT MOMENT IN TIME, before knowing how vastly under-informed about his character I truly was – the way I did. I am a feminist and by the same logic that others here used to point out my own folly, if anyone had thought to click on my profile and follow the link to my personal blog, a quick look around my site would have clarified that pretty quickly. It’s strictly a personal blog where I discuss whatever is on my mind, but there are several articles I have reblogged from this and a few other sites that highlight my views. *With* full attributions to the site and author for each reblog, of course.

    I do know how much feminist forums come under fire by a**holes and assorted other vermin, but as much as I would sometimes responding in kind, I feel it only gives them more power by reinforcing the negative stereotype of feminists.

    I seldom attempt to actively participate in most cites partly due to such invasions. But also partly due to the reactions I’ve encountered here this weekend…women lashing out, even once it’s clarified the target is a woman who has the same goals, even if their methods differ. To me, fighting each is the wrong way advance the cause.

  109. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    wordsgood @ 121

    he still managed to not make it a personal attack

    What exactly about what Sally or I said are you considering to be a personal attack? You said a thing (that you hoped we would consider Dawkins’ past work before criticizing him in the future) which was clearly predicated on the assumption that we had not already considered his past work. You showed up and simply assumed that none of us had thought to consider the things you’d considered. That’s condescending by definition, whether you meant it to be or not.

    Though I must admit, it didn’t occur to me that anyone might think I’m a troll.

    I didn’t say I thought you were a troll necessarily. It’s just that we get a lot of them and they often talk exactly like you did. You set off our pattern recognition.

    I’m not asking anyone to conform to my views of civilty.

    You praised Tony for being respectful and not resorting to personal attacks. Clearly implying that he behaved in a manner you approve of and Sally and I didn’t.

    I just personally fail to see how assuming the worst about another person’s intent based on their comment, then automatically going off on them in a deliberately insulting manner – without first attempting ask for clarification – is at all productive – or condusive to a meaningful conversation.

    I didn’t assume anything about your intent. I responded to your words which, as I said above, were clearly based on the assumption that none of us had previously considered the things you were telling us to think about. Your words were straight forward; there was no clarification needed.

    Regarding being deliberately insulting? I’m sorry (not sorry) you were insulted by a couple people pointing out how condescending you’d been. I didn’t call you names; I simply said you’d spoken to us as if we were five years old and hadn’t previously considered the things you brought up. Which is exactly what you did. Which is insulting, if unintentional.

    If someone comes into a conversation and is very clearly being a troll, or just a jerk because they get off on it, then fine have at them.

    Intent is not magic. That’s a phrase you’ll get used to if you spend any time around here. I get that you weren’t trying to troll or be a jerk, but you were a jerk we told you about it.

    But unless they come in flaming or outright attacking the post or it’s author, or the other commenters, I think it’s a mistake to jump to conclusions about the person or their intent, even when you have had the unfortunate experience of dealing with heaps of trolls.

    You said what you said. I didn’t jump to any conclusions about you or your intent.

    If so, then naively or not, I stand by my assertation that assuming the best of anyone joining a conversation and not immediately going for their jugular, is the best way to go about the above stated goals.

    It is naive. And nobody went after your jugular. We objected to a thing you said and told you so.

    To do otherwise risks alienating anyone new to the site and possibly chase away long standing readers and paying supporters of the site.

    If being called out for saying something condescending is all it takes to alienate those people, they weren’t allies to begin with.

    But rather to reinforce my point about not always assuming the worst of people based on one or two comments that may strike you as possibly being troll-like or deliberately condenscending, etc. In other words, don’t snap judgements.

    Again, nothing was assumed. I responded to what you said. The words meant what they meant. It wasn’t a snap judgement; it was a judgement based both on your words and years of experience with people making very similar comments.

  110. says

    It’s time for Dawkins — and his fellow bigoted blowhard Sam Harris — to follow Madeline Murray O’Hair to the rubbish heap of history. The atheist movement already has better leaders and organizers who are perfectly capable of doing all the good things Dawkins did, and more. We don’t need Dawkins — and anyway, he was never really present at any of the movement’s most crucial battles, and was never on the ground when atheists were facing real persecution and needed leadership most.

  111. says

    Yes, he was for the war on Iraq post 911, as were a lot of otber folks. But I still don’t see him as having been a war monger.

    Seriously? Being for a war — especially one as unjustifiable as our war in Iraq — is kinda part of the definition of the word “warmonger.”

  112. says

    Note to Everyone here:

    I am not using block quotes to address specific points made by specific people, because I am using my phone and can’t figure out how to make it work on this site, with this device. That mean I keep losing focus on specific points as I scroll up and down to check and see what I need to address. If you care, please see my reply to Great American Satan for more details about why I lose focus so easily. It may help explain why I can’t seem clearly communicate with a couple of other people commenting on this post. Now, onto my actual reply post.

    Okay, Seven of Mind, I surrender. We are not going to see eye to eye, that much is obvious. I’ll stick to just reading this and similar FreeThoughtBlogs. It is abundantly clear that these are not areas of the site where I can participate without feeling constantly misunderstood and somehow offending others despite my best efforts.

    Yes, from my point of view, a few of the commenters, including yourself, seem determined to dissect every word I write then ascribe the worst possible interpretation to them. I mentioned Tony’s not making it personal despite what I percieved his feelings to be, simply as a way to try and explain my thought process. You keep alluding to my perception of what’s said as being wrong, yet you do the same thing by percieving my mention of Tony in that reply as some kind of silent accusation against you and SallyStrange. It was not. And around and around we go.

    I have admitted to being wrong in just about every way in my initial post. I’ve apologized a few times now, in a few different ways. I’ve stated several times that I fully support the cause. I tried in a number of different ways to explain both my thought process and why I feel your way of talking to newcomers might not be the best approach. I asked you outright in my last reply directly to you, if you felt the main purposes behind the existence of this site were as I described in detail a place to foster communication, tolerance, new ways of thinking and enlightenmen, which you did not address. I’ll take that non-reply as agreement about the goals, just not how to achieve them.

    While I was composing a draft for my reply to Great American Satan, you had written and posted your last one to me. For all I know, you may have now seen and commented on that one to the same person, during time it took me to compose this draft. In that reply and my previous one to the same commenter, I went so far as to reveal a disability has had a significant, accumulative, negative impact on my ability to effectively communicate verbally and in written form, and to do so with any kind of speed.

    I have no clue if you’ve seen either reply or not, or if it would make any difference in how you view my words, thought I doubt it. I’ve done everything I can think of short of falling on a sword or worse, beg for the very compassion and tolerance that I think is at the very core of the what we *do* seem to have in common – the support of big, important causes like human rights, equality fo all, atheism and feminism.

    It seems nothing I say will ever be good enough, at least not in your eyes. I do get that this is your sandbox, so to speak, and that you have a lot more experience at participating in forums like this. Frankly put, you can think much faster on your feet than I can. At least as I am nowadays.

    I will still enjoy reading the posts and reblogging the ones I feel eloquently express my own feminist and poltical views (again, with full credit to the site, blog and author), but I’ll do my best not to comment.

    I wish you, Seven, SalkyStrange, and everyone else, all the best. And Happy Canada Day (a day early) to any fellow Canucks that might be here.

    p.s. Stephanie Zvan, I’ve been reading your articles for a few months now and just wanted to give you a shout-out to say that I greatly admire your great work! Please do keep them coming!

  113. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    @ wordsgood

    Words mean what they mean. When you say “before you next X, I hope you will first stop and Y”, you’re implying that we did not do Y this time. Whether that’s the meaning you wished to convey or not, that’s what you said.

    So, fine. You didn’t mean to imply that. Fine. However, it’s not unreasonable of me to interpret it that way because that’s what those words mean. There was no “dissecting” involved.

  114. Pierce R. Butler says

    Giliell… @ # 89 – Thanks for the confirmation.

    Though for the sake of fairness, I have to point out that Dawkins apparently accepts the legitimacy of the controversy over Shakespeare’s identity, but doesn’t seem to “believe” the alternative hypotheses.

    Looking at the thread you cite mostly vindicates what many of us say about Twitter as a piss-poor medium for anything beyond lame one-liners.

  115. Tony! The Queer Shoop says

    wordsgood @122:

    understand that, Seven of Mind. As I’ve tried to say a few times now, I came in with no bad intentions.

    It would take a mind reader to know what your intentions are, so all we can judge you by are your comments. That’s where the saying “Intent is not magic” comes from. We can’t know the intent behind a given statement, and as Seven of Mine mentioned, after a while of dealing with anti-feminists, the threshold of tolerance can be quite low.

    Only after finally getting some sleep, seeing another reply by Tony – which I viewed as respectively worded and even though it was clear he was still a bit upset,

    Please don’t make the assumption that I was mad. You’re assuming that the words on the screen represent a particular mood I was in. That’s not the case. I was not mad in the slightest.

    he still managed to not make it a personal attack – and with the benefit of hindsight, was I able to see what I said could be taken the wrong way. Though I must admit, it didn’t occur to me that anyone might think I’m a troll.

    I try to be aware of where I’m commenting at when I respond to people. Most of my comments are at Pharyngula where the commenting policy is [obviously] different than here at Almost Diamonds. As such, when I’m not in my regular stomping grounds, I comport myself slightly different. That said, even at Pharyngula I don’t generally launch into personal attacks unless and until a commenter is just an out an out asshole, troll, or says something so egregiously vile that I don’t feel like being nice (and even then, I try to stay within the commenting rules that PZ has established).

    I’m not asking anyone to conform to my views of civilty.

    I can see how someone would think that’s exactly what you were silently stating though. You thanked me for interacting with you in the manner that you prefer, but the manner in which I respond to you is not yours to dictate (this being Stephanie’s blog, she’s the only one who gets to set the rules for discourse). You can control how *you* respond to others, not the other way around. You can of course refuse to interact with people that aren’t civil, but you ought to think twice about expecting people to hold the same standards.

    I just personally fail to see how assuming the worst about another person’s intent based on their comment, then automatically going off on them in a deliberately insulting manner – without first attempting ask for clarification – is at all productive – or condusive to a meaningful conversation. If someone comes into a conversation and is very clearly being a troll, or just a jerk because they get off on it, then fine have at them.

    This is a good point. That’s one of the reasons I try to give people the chance to clarify their intent before I rip into them. Unfortunately, there are times when commenters may say something that is so reprehensible, that I will go off on them automatically.
    And that’s just me.
    That doesn’t apply to anyone else.
    You should know that a lot of people around FtB (and Skepchick) have been beaten down for years and years by anti-feminists, so-called Mens Rights Activists (MRAs), Pick Up Artists (PUAs), and Slymepitters. Dealing with these people–a great many of whom I’d characterize as some truly awful human beings–has resulted in some people not wanting to grant benefit of the doubt. Sometimes that’s resulted in misunderstandings, and I often see apologies when that happens. Many times though, that no benefit of the doubt turns out to be justified. It’s a risk that is up to each individual to take (or not take) as they choose.

    Seven, again, I do see where you’re coming from. But now can I ask you a question? I thought the whole purpose of the Freethought Blogs was to expose people to other ways of thinking, provide a place to discuss aspects of other cultures and aspects of our own Western culture, to educate and enlighten people by sharing articles and media stories about important topics like international human rights, politics, feminism, violence, and a host of other topics highly relevent to today’s world on a global scale.

    All of that, but also I see this blog network as a place where the use of reason and logic, in conjunction with evidence is promoted as the ideal way to formulate our opinions. I’ve seen many a commenter whine about people rejecting their ideas (such as fetus worshippers who are shot down after their first comment) on the grounds that this is Freethoughtblogs. Their idea of what freethought actually means is wrong.

    Also, many of the bloggers also promote atheism, which is what initially drew me to this site. (To borrow a line from Tony’s reply to me, I don’t think all the good things religion has done in the past, and continues to do in the present, outweighs the harm it has historically caused and continues to do inflict on the world today. More specifically, what humans do in the name of their religion.)

    I honestly don’t think the benefits of religion come close to the costs of it. I think religion is a harmful idea and that humanity would be somewhat better off without it.

    So am I mistaken in believing the main goal of the FreeThought Blogs site is to inform, educate and provide an environment that fosters and encourages discussion on important topics that affect us all as technology is fast morphing us into a global community? To promote understanding, tolerance and acceptance? To achieve equality and social justice for everyone, everywhere?

    No, I don’t think you’re mistaken. Sort of. There isn’t a company line here. The various bloggers set their own ground rules for why they choose to blog. Yeah, most of them share similar values, hence grouping together; but there aren’t rules that apply from one blog to the other.

    If so, then naively or not, I stand by my assertation that assuming the best of anyone joining a conversation and not immediately going for their jugular, is the best way to go about the above stated goals. To do otherwise risks alienating anyone new to the site and possibly chase away long standing readers and paying supporters of the site. It also reinforces the already widely held stereotype by many religious people about atheists…that we are nothing more than a group of angry, bitter, social malcontents with low morals and who have nothing of value to say or contribute to society.

    I ask these questions sincerely and really hope that this time around, people who don’t like my writing style or tone, will stop a moment and see that I am trying to communicate my thought in the best way I am able to.

    As my username indicates, I love words. What you wouldn’t know unless you clicked on my profile, is that I have MS. A disease that has seriously affected both my verbal and written communication skills. My ability to say what I want, in a clear and concise manner, *with* my intended tone being very clear, is not what it used to be. (Not by a long shot. At one point, long before it affected me this way, I spent nearly a decade working in a professional communications office.) I don’t share this to seek sympathy. But rather to reinforce my point about not always assuming the worst of people based on one or two comments that may strike you as possibly being troll-like or deliberately condenscending, etc. In other words, don’t snap judgements. You know, like *I did* in my inital comment for this post…

    One thing that helped me when I first started at FtB was lurking. I initially lurked at Pharyngula. As I did, I got a feel for the commenters, the commenting rules, and the way people interacted with one another. It took me several months of lurking at Pharyngula before I worked up the courage to comment, and even then, it was largely in The Lounge (a social area where any discussion is on topic, as long as we’re kind; we’ve formed a loose knit social community there). From there, I worked up the nerve to start commenting in other threads that PZ posted. After that, I began branching out to other blogs, such as here, Butterflies & Wheels, Lousy Canuck, Dispatches, Mano Singham’s blog, and Greta Christina’s (as well as others, but there’s only so much time in the day).

    Given everything you’ve said since your first comment in this thread, I’m glad I didn’t rip into you. To be honest, when I read your first comment it came across as condescending, and I did initially feel like responding in a far less civil manner. I chose not to in part because this is Stephanie’s blog, but also in part because of what you’ve tried to argue. In this case, I’m glad I responded in the way I did, but I can understand why others did not. In another time or place, I might have responded with less civility*.
    Also, I second Great American Satan @ 123.

    *I’d also like to state that I find civility to be of value in the right context. Around FtB, I’ve seen far too many calls for civility when the discussion is about human rights. I’ve seen waaaaaaaaay too many people arguing against abortion rights, while using civil language, and watched as they got responses that were loaded with coarse language. The thing is, when one is arguing against human rights, it doesn’t matter how civil you are–you’re denying the human rights of others, and harsh/coarse language is warranted IMO. Moreover, I’ve found that most of the time, the coarse language is accompanied by reasons and evidence to support opinions. Tone trolls will often whine about harsh language and completely ignore the arguments. They focus on the tone, rather than the substance. That’s one reason that calls for civility are often rejected.

  116. says

    I was the one Dawkins blocked, and that he was primarily directing it towards. I had about three days worth of dozens and dozens and dozens of dudes coming at me with “You think it’s racist to like Shakespeare?!?!” strawmen. And OODLES of mansplaining to me about how I must not know anything about literature. Despite my, y’know, English degree and all that.

  117. Great American Satan says

    Natalieeee! You are awesome for even having engaged with the dude in the first place, knowing what kind of attention would come of it. You are a titan yo. I love your work. :-)

  118. lochaber says

    Natalie Reed> I had seen a link to a couple of the tweets where he blocked you (may have been this thread, I can’t remember). I thought it looked rather immature/over-reactive for what it’s worth. Congrats on getting blocked by Dawkins for being a SJW, that’s like an achievement of some sort.

    Nice to see you around these parts again.

  119. doubtthat says

    Such a strange place to dig your trench.

    Why didn’t he say, “Yes, but those white guys were really awesome at what they did. Let’s see what you guys come up with.”

    He didn’t even need to backtrack. It’s a goofy game. Dawkins’ pissy response took us immediately into freshman philosophy land: “What do you mean by “represent?” “Why only four?”

    If we’re sharing what we’ve accomplished as a species, we’d probably want to pick an educator in each of those subjects rather than just an exemplar. I think Bach is the most important Western musician, but he wouldn’t be able to explain jazz to these aliens, and that would make me feel sad for the aliens. There’s no greater scientist than Newton, but I’m sure these folks that crossed galaxies would be more or less familiar with the laws of thermodynamics, however expressed. A good teacher armed with voluminous examples would serve us much better.

    I think the more enjoyable game is to pick your topics: music, visual art, literature, biology, physics, engineering, architecture, philosophy…whatever, and list the 4, 5, or 10 people that would best express what we’ve accomplished.

    4 humans will never be representative of anything.

  120. says

    Yeah, the conversation basically went like this:

    Dawkins: “Who do you think would best represent all of humanity in a space monument thingy? My picks are Shakespeare, Einstein, Schubert and [i forget]!”
    Heina and Natalie: “Um… those don’t work very well as representations of all humanity. They’re all white men”
    Dawkins: “Yeah, but, who would you think is better? They’re the ones you know of, and who first come to mind, right?”
    Natalie: “Well OF COURSE they’re the ones we most know of. We’re all westerners. a) We’re all westerners ourselves, and were consequently educated in the western canon, which has its biases, b) They had better opportunities then less privileged thinkers / artists / achievers, and were actually ALLOWED to live up to their potential, c) Thinkers / artists / achievers of privileged backgrounds received better recognition FOR their achievements, d) History is biased in terms of who it remembers, e) Privileged identities are perceived as more “universal” and “representative”, f) Westerners are better versed in understanding and appreciating the aesthetics of western art, also a cultural bias, g) Literature is inherently contextual.
    …[Then I told a story Cornel West once had about a black man with a GENIUS mind for mathematics who was only ever able to become a bookie]….
    …So, “the ones you know of” does not work as any kind of argument
    Dawkins: I wasn’t saying anytihng about white men being superior. You’re the one who said white men.
    Natalie: Shakespeare was a white man. Why do you think him being the one we know about makes him superior?
    Dawkins: Shakespeare’s identity is disputed. Maybe “he” is really a black woman! I’d support him anyway.
    Natalie: You’re citing silly Shakespeare-was-Bacon conspiracy theories to wriggle out of dealing with any of my points? Please stop derailing and respond to my points about cultural biases.
    Dawkins: I’m not going to continue responding to an illogical person. Blocked.

    And then… well… “I learned a new word today…”

    One argument, btw, that I don’t think has been discussed in this thread is the fact that we can’t help but read Shakespeare through the lens of our contemporary standards of aesthetic beauty in Western literature, which HAVE BEEN SHAPED BY SHAKESPEARE, so pointing out that Shakeseare’s writing is beautiful within our standards of written-English-aesthetics is practically tautological.

    Someone storified my tweets about that but I can’t find it… grrr… thought I bookmarked it…

  121. aziraphale says

    Natalie Reed: Dawkins shouldn’t have blocked you, and his subsequent remarks are just embarrassing to those of us who still admire his earlier work.

    I think he could have replied in this way:

    Your points(b), (c) and (d) are valid, and show that there probably were people who could have equalled or surpassed my examples if they had been given the chance. But given (d) especially, we may not know of them at all, or if we do know their names, we don’t know what they could have done. The point of my choices was to show what the human race did in fact achieve, not what we might have achieved if things had been different.

  122. says

    @Natalie Reed:

    They’re the ones you know of, and who first come to mind, right?

    This really makes it patently obvious how circular the reasoning is. “These are the best because they’re the first to come to mind, and they’re the first to come to mind because they’re the best.” Add in a heaping helping of argument from ignorance (“I can’t imagine any better, can you name anyone better?”) and some Dunning-Kruger, and you get a particularly embarrassing Dawkins fail.

    The nice thing is how this also exposes the stupidity of the “why isn’t there a [PRIVILEGED GROUP] history month?” argument. The fact that we have such a hard time naming non-white-male examples as representatives of humanity shows how insular our general education, and standards of “greatness,” are. I mean, shit, I have an English degree, I’ve read Chinua Achebe and Alexander Dumas and Arundhati Roy and Octavia Butler and others I can’t think of right now. But the only conclusion I can draw from all that is that I don’t know nearly enough to be able to pick a representative for human literature. The vast majority of my reading is still dead white people, in part because that’s what was on the curriculum, and in part because that’s what I sought out. It’s not a representative sample, so there’s no way to draw representative examples from it.

    If Dawkins had had more self-awareness, maybe he would have restricted his argument to examples of European achievements, and suggested others contribute their own cultures’ examples. It would still have been problematic (two Brits and two Austrians represent all of Europe?) but at least it would have shown some awareness of his sampling bias.

  123. says

    Actually, thinking about it again, the whole setup is stupid and the inclusion of the scientists especially. So this “tombstone” is sent into the vast universe hoping that someday somewhere some sentient beings get it and then remember us pathetic bags of goo.
    Obviously our aliens belong to the good old Star Trek alien populations where everybody speaks English (and where you can fly each and any spaceship of alien races you only met 5 minutes before while most of us lowly real humans are totally confused for days if we get a new mobile).
    So, apparently in order to read our message, this alie race must be a hell lot of advanced. Decoding a new language and writing system without any handy Rosetta Stone lying around. And you give them: Darwin and Einstein. Do you think you’re telling them anything fucking new? You’re not bragging with your genius here, you’re like a cute kid who wrote “gut moaning” and is very proud of it minus the cute part.
    And then Shakespeare. Yeah, we have kind of magically translated his works. Now, everybody who speaks more than one language knows how difficult it is to get something from one language to another when you have to take care of metre, rhyme, collocations and such. Even translating everyday stuff can get really complicated because different languages conceptualise different things in different ways.
    This is already an issue when switching between languages and cultures as closely related as British English and German. The further apart languages and cultures become, the more difficult this gets.
    Now do this for a gap of space, time and fucking different planets. Why would Shakespeare mean anything to them? What on earth planet X are “rough winds that shake the darling buds of May?”
    Music might be the most universal medium, but still there are vast cultural differences with a definite bias towards western music. Music is an acquired taste. For many westerners, their first encounter with Indian music is “WTF?” It takes time to learn about it, to appreciate it. Their musicians don’t spend less time, work less hard on mastering the specifics of their craft than celebrated violinists. Brahm, Mozart, Bach are not objectively best of music any thing. They are examples of a very specific tradition. And just like Shakespeare wasn’t The Bard during his time, Mozart wasn’t MOZART during his.

    So, in short, the whole premise is just a hypothetical scenario set up to show everybody else (especially those not like those white guys) how superior these people really were. They ae the representatives of humanity.

  124. Great American Satan says

    Hm, Giliell at 141 somehow has me thinking, Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. The walls fell!

  125. aziraphale says

    Giliel at 141: people have thought about communicating without a Rosetta Stone, in the SETI project and also in SF such as H Beam Piper’s “Omnilingual”. You start with our words for numbers, shapes and arithmetic operations. Then for the chemical elements, identified by the electronic shells. Then simple compounds…
    It would be a long project, but I don’t see why we couldn’t in the end convey our knowledge of the physical sciences. You definitely have a point about Shakespeare.

    But I think the point isn’t to say “Look how clever we were”. It’s to say “We were here, and this is as far as we got”. If nothing else, it’s one more data point for how long intelligent races last.

  126. says

    Actually, thinking about it again, the whole setup is stupid and the inclusion of the scientists especially.

    I agree, mostly because each generation of scientists builds on their predecessors’ work; and many of our great white scientists’ predecessors were NOT WHITE. White scientists made the most progress when white nations gave them the most opportunities — after Arab scientists made the most of the opportunities their empire gave them.

    Another disgraceful thing about Dawkins’ “white scientists are the greatest” bullshit is that it undermines the vitally important message that science is supposed to be OBJECTIVE and uniformly valid everywhere. IF we want all peoples to accept the same scientific truths, without bogus exceptionalism or cultural relativism gumming things up, then scientists like Dawkins need to tone down the racism.

  127. maddog1129 says

    I might nominate concepts or ideas, like liberty or democracy, or discoveries, like agriculture or medicines.

  128. says

    I like the point Adam Lee makes here:

    Of course, this isn’t just a thought experiment. We have sent something of ourselves to the stars: the golden record carried by both Voyager spacecraft. And I’m happy to say that Carl Sagan, the record’s creator, appreciated the importance of diversity in a way that Richard Dawkins clearly doesn’t. The record has greetings in many languages, music and images from many cultures: not just Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, but Indonesian gamelan music, Australian Aboriginal folk songs, Japanese shakuhachi flute melodies, Peruvian panpipes, Indian and Chinese songs, Navajo night chant, black American jazz, and many more. That’s the kind of message you should send if you wanted to tell other worlds who we were as a species.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>