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Jun 26 2013

If you call yourself Tinky Winky

Wired has a nice amusing interview with Richard Dawkins. They asked him about comment moderation at RDF the website.

I’m afraid the internet is filled with people using really very intemperate language. I’m in favour of ridicule, but not abuse and I think we do a pretty good job on RichardDawkins.net of controlling the abuse.

Part of the problem all over the internet is anonymity. Because people are anonymous they would say things to other people that they would never dream of saying to their face and would never dream of saying if they had to sign their own name to it. But if you call yourself Tinky Winky or something no one knows who you are or where you are.

Exactly, and what that means is that you can say any horrible thing you like and suffer no real life consequences at all. People keep saying yes but a nym can build up a reputation over time so there can be consequences. Please. The consequences are not of the same kind or weight.

What do you think about the fact that many modern atheists see atheism as part of their identity?

I didn’t know that was the case. It’s undoubtedly true that many religious people see their religion as part of their identity, but I thought atheists were largely free of that.

Really? Good lord. That seems quite inattentive.

Do you still stand by the “Dear Muslima” comments you made about Rebecca Watson?

I’m not saying anything about her.

When was the last time you changed your mind about something?

I’ve changed my mind in science.

Ah.

75 comments

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  1. 1
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Serious pondering—-is he losing it?

  2. 2
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    He’s not saying anything about her?

    Why? Embarrassed at his actions but too proud to admit it? Sure he’s right but doesn’t want to talk about it? Something else?

    Actually… it’s probably better that way.

  3. 3
    Tom Foss

    I didn’t know that was the case. It’s undoubtedly true that many religious people see their religion as part of their identity, but I thought atheists were largely free of that.

    It’s true, atheists never see atheism as part of their identity. I mean, it’s not like we have some generally-recognized symbol to wear on t-shirts, lapel pins, and other merchandise or anything.

  4. 4
    Bjarte Foshaug

    Kind of makes you wish he would find God and be an embarrassment to theists for a change…

  5. 5
    AJ Milne

    I do find it slightly maddening that atheism is as much central* to my identity as it is. Insofar as I’d like to imagine a world in which it wouldn’t be, because it would be such a norm, no big deal, not a thing that causes stress and makes certain relationships fraught and rocky. As in: being an aunicornist or a heliocentrist or someone who doesn’t really think there are fairies in my garden placing the drops of dew on each leaf, these aren’t particularly much of my identity. Because, well, seriously, come now.

    This isn’t that world. So it’s absolutely part of my identity. If a bit resentfully so. In fairness, mind, I don’t know if it’s maybe pretty different where Dawkins spends his days.

    (*/And yes, actually, I think that’s about right. Yes, even, rather ‘central to’, not just ‘part of’. This is also that world.)

  6. 6
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    I have to say, for being so highly regarded as a Very Important ThinkerLeader of “the movement” he isn’t particularly plugged-in or remotely in-touch with his legions of followers.

  7. 7
    michaeld

    Gives Tom Foss a cookie.

  8. 8
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    I’m not saying anything about her.

    Well, that’s not really true, is it? He’s said things about her, and is letting them stand.

    The extent of his moral failure in making those comments and then refusing to retract them or even to try to stop or condemn the wave of abuse and harassment of women his comments in part unleashed is astounding. Very useful for him to try to make it about anonymity/pseudonymity rather than the fact that he helped spawn a campaign of harassment and has been too cowardly or proud to speak publicly about it or admit error.

    (And I haven’t visited the RDF site in a long time, but I don’t remember it that way.*)

    *(And he STILL hasn’t corrected the post in which he calls me “he.”)

  9. 9
    AJ Milne

    I figure an important companion step to working out there are no gods is so-called ‘leaders’, while obviously not quite as entirely fictional in nature, should be considered provisional at best. Nothing wrong with being given respect for what you’ve done, nor is there anything wrong with singling out those who’ve done exceptional things for the things they’ve done. But people are still also the whole of their acts, good and bad. And even if you’ve a Nobel prize in one field doesn’t mean you can’t be spectacularly wrong in another.

    (/… shorter: it ain’t just the gods. It’s the worship.)

  10. 10
    Ophelia Benson

    Being an atheist is slightly less central to my identity than it was a few years ago. Being a woman and a feminist (surprise surprise surprise) is more so. The graph (obviously) tracks level of being/feeling beleaguered.

    Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks can move the needle on the dial with one article. Then it drifts back again.

  11. 11
    jamessweet

    Listen. Before the whole “Dear Muslimah” debacle and all of that, I had been saying things along the lines of, “Look, Dawkins is a pernsickety 70-ish Oxford professor, and he pretty much acts like it. I love what he has to say about certain things, and when it comes to evolutionary biology he is a great communicator. But he’s also a bit of a ‘these kids today, with their hair and their clothes!’-type, and what he says should be taken with the knowledge that — zomg, he’s a pernsickety 70-ish Oxford professor. Go figure.”

    He’s all wrong about feminism, but I find that about as interesting as his opinion on popular music.

  12. 12
    tooms

    Sure he’s right but doesn’t want to talk about it?

    This, almost certainly. I’ve seen Dawkins admit that he’s wrong before- he even sometimes links to detractors on Twitter.

    My guess is that he still thinks he’s right, still dislikes Rebecca Watson, but just doesn’t want to poke the beehive.

  13. 13
    Alex2

    Reading your post I thought that RD answered that second question with just the sentence you copy (just like the other question) but I was wrong. This is the full answer:

    “I’ve changed my mind in science. One theory that I pretty much ridiculed in The Selfish Gene was the Handicap Theory, which was put forward by an Israeli biologist called Amotz Zahavi, which said that the reason why peacocks are so brightly, gaudily-coloured is because it is a handicap. Nobody denied that it was a handicap, but Zahavi was suggesting that it was favoured because it was a handicap. So a peacock is advertising “look how strong, fit, clever I must be because I’ve managed to survive in spite of carrying around this ridiculous ornament on my back”. The theory was pretty much universally ridiculed in the 70s and I have since admitted that I was wrong. That was because of an extremely clever colleague of mine called Alan Grafen who produced a brilliant mathematical model which, contrary to all intuitive expectation, showed that the handicap principle could work. So I had to climb down over that and was very glad to do so. It’s one of the virtues of science that we do change our minds when the evidence warrants it. “

  14. 14
    daniellavine

    1. His point about anonymity/pseudonymity makes perfect sense to me. Although I think pseudonymity is great in some contexts it creates some problems as well (no surprise there, everything is a trade off). Some communities will have more tolerance for it than others and if Dawkins wants pseudonymous users to be more heavily moderated that’s perfectly respectable.

    2. Considering all the work he’s done directly on fostering atheism as an identity — he wrote a book about how sensible it is to be an atheist — that sounds like flat-out cognitive dissonance.

    3. On Rebecca Watson — he doesn’t want to back down but he also doesn’t want to touch off any more shitstorms or long-standing personality conflicts. While I don’t agree with him I can respect his right to his opinion and the fact that he doesn’t want to make a stink over it (which is an improvement from the last time he commented on the subject).

    4. That last answer establishes the only subject on which Dawkins’ opinion should be taken seriously.

  15. 15
    daniellavine

    My number 1 should have the caveat “on his own website” somewhere.

  16. 16
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    He’s all wrong about feminism, but I find that about as interesting as his opinion on popular music.

    His opinion of One Direction does no damage.

  17. 17
    AJ Milne

    Adding to #9, it’s a thing I’ve often thought in noticing that nonsense theists like to claim about unbelievers: to disbelieve is to make yourself a god.

    It’s a real tell that you’re dealing with an authoritarian way of thinking. There must be leaders, so if you’re dethroning the god, you’re enthroning yourself. Someone must be ‘in charge’…

    And no. No one need be. Or in no absolute sense. This is the whole fucking point, and if you missed this, you missed the whole fucking point. Heads of democratic organizations, whether states or communities or whatever it may be are not meant to be ‘rulers’; they are meant to be representatives of as much of a common intent as a community can put together.

    For a lot of people, I think this is the part they really can’t handle. They’ve got to be in charge, or someone else does. Everyone’s either following or leading or oh dear, there will be chaos. If no one else ‘steps up’, they will. For the greater good, see, honest. It just has to be this way, they’ll say.

    It isn’t so. It doesn’t need to be. But it’s apparently a pretty hard notion to shake. I give a little nod here to work that seems to suggest it’s ingrained, built into the mind, that maybe our species is to some degree naturally hierarchical, but even there, I’m naturally suspicious. Is it really? Or is it just so ingrained in culture that it’s incredibly hard to find minds not so imprinted?

    And regardless of that result, I think it’s clear enough: even if it is ‘natural’, it’s a tendency we can subvert, work around, with effort. And, I think, generally should. You can have organized and orderly and prosperous groupings that have no absolute leadership, obviously.

    (Mind, what’s tricky is when those run up against other groupings that are run by authoritarians looking to do away with such ‘bad examples’… And that’s a hard one to handle. I suspect it’s pretty easy to become what you fight, when that’s the outside challenge. Autocrats making war upon us? Set up an autocrat to run the defense, and this, naturally, can lead to trouble of another sort. But I digress. As always.)

  18. 18
    screechymonkey

    NateHevens@2:

    He’s not saying anything about her?

    Why? Embarrassed at his actions but too proud to admit it? Sure he’s right but doesn’t want to talk about it? Something else?

    Actually… it’s probably better that way.

    Perhaps he’s obeying the First Law of Holes. Probably unintentionally — I doubt he sees himself as having said anything wrong, especially given what I’m hearing now about his refusal to be on the same stage as her — but it works out fine anyway. Of course it’s not as good as a change of heart and an apology.

    I’d be pretty happy if more people would follow that lead — say your piece, then let it drop, and if you don’t want to associate with other people in the movement any more, just ignore them rather than chirping at them constantly about how awful they are.

  19. 19
    Anthony K

    but I thought atheists were largely free of that.

    Yeah, they keep buying your books about god and interviewing you about atheism because you’re just a really, really, popular biologist.

  20. 20
    leftwingfox

    Seconding Ibis3′s statement @14.

  21. 21
    machintelligence

    screechymonkey @ 16
    You said what I was thinking, but did a better job of stating it.

  22. 22
    sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d

    Yeah, they keep buying your books about god and interviewing you about atheism because you’re just a really, really, popular biologist.

    Dawkins only wrote about atheism because religious people tried to interfere with biology teaching. He probably identifies himself as a biologist with being an atheist as a consequence of that.
    Is Dawkins a “leader”? Does he think he is a “leader”? I don’t think he does, in fact; he seems to keep being surprised that people take his casual remarks as seriously as they do. More important, there’s something frightening about the desire for atheist “leaders”- I don’t know which frighten me more, the people who want leaders or the people who want to be leaders.

  23. 23
    seraphymcrash

    @20 – I don’t want a leader, I want a spokesperson. Atheism is an idea being expressed in a battle of ideas, and I want an effective communicator who can spread that idea around. People are social by nature and having a few higher profile people pushing these ideas is a good way to spread them and organize around them.

    But I certainly don’t need anyone telling me what to do.

  24. 24
    Anthony K

    Is Dawkins a “leader”? Does he think he is a “leader”? I don’t think he does, in fact; he seems to keep being surprised that people take his casual remarks as seriously as they do.

    He really should probably start refusing to give interviews then.

  25. 25
    AJ Milne

    … there’s something frightening about the desire for atheist “leaders”- I don’t know which frighten me more, the people who want leaders or the people who want to be leaders.

    While I figure you’re right to worry, and even wise to worry about both, I don’t think you should be especially surprised. Both do seem to be pretty common tendencies.

    The spokesperson thing is a bit… bedevilling, though. Perfectly good reason to give a damn what he says, at the end, whatever you make of lhis eadership, or even leadership in general, though. As that’s how so much of the world works. You can see the newsroom. It’s: we need an ‘atheist’ viewpoint; someone get Dawkins.

    (/Movie aliens too, I’ve noticed. What’s with ‘take us to your leader’? What if I say ‘I recognize none’?*)

    (*/Scratch that question. Having watched those movies, I think I know. They ray-gun me. Accordingly, I think I’ll refer them to Harper.)

  26. 26
    Jadehawk

    People keep saying yes but a nym can build up a reputation over time so there can be consequences. Please. The consequences are not of the same kind or weight.

    indeed they are not. which is why pseudonymity needs to be treated as something people have a right to unless a)they, as individuals, are doing a lot of harm; b)revealing their meatspace name will either stop them, or allow their victims to protect themselves; and c)revealling their meatspace name will do less harm to them than they have been doing to their victims.

    You get rid of that bit of “nettiquette” and the result will be no more marginalized voices on the internet (or at least, as few of them as there are in meatspace). Pseudonymity has maybe made the internet a less civil place, but it has also made it a place where oppressed voices can be heard and communities of marginalized people created without people having to risk very serious meatspace consequences b/c of bigotry.

  27. 27
    Jadehawk

    if Dawkins wants pseudonymous users to be more heavily moderated that’s perfectly respectable.

    because that won’t at all fall hardest on those who use pseudonyms because they’re marginalized in meatspace and being outed would do them serious harm.

  28. 28
    Ophelia Benson

    So you’re saying people have a right to pseudonymity as along as they are doing only some harm but not a lot of harm?

  29. 29
    Jadehawk

    aside from that, pseudonymity-policing will result in harassment and bullshit for those with unusual names (see Violet Blue’s nightmare experience with g+ decision that clearly she’s a pseudonym)

  30. 30
    Jadehawk

    So you’re saying people have a right to pseudonymity as along as they are doing only some harm but not a lot of harm?

    yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Because “harm” can easily be defined to include thing every single one of us is doing; because it’s a really shitty idea to do more serious harm (by normalizing the outing of pseudonymous ppl) in an attempt to punish those who’ve done some harm, esp. when outing them won’t even stop them.

  31. 31
    Ophelia Benson

    Well that’s easy for you, Jadehawk, isn’t it. No one can do you any harm, because you are pseudonymous. Not everyone hast that option. (This is one of those privilege things. You’re indifferent because you have no idea what it’s like.)

  32. 32
    rorschach

    What jadehawk said @26. We may ask for a levelling of the playing field by banning or restricting pseudonymity, but there will be a very significant tradeoff when it comes to marginalised people being able to join a movement, or make their voices heard.

    I’m even fine with considering pseudonymity as a privilege, but one that a community may revoke if there is abuse of it.

    You’re indifferent because you have no idea what it’s like.

    I’ll let her answer that, but can I just say that you are wrong, she knows perfectly well what it is like, and she is not indifferent.

    What do you think about the fact that many modern atheists see atheism as part of their identity?

    I didn’t know that was the case.

    That answer just does not compute.

  33. 33
    Ophelia Benson

    I’m not suggesting banning pseudonimity. I am disputing the claim that there’s a “right” to use pseudonymity to do harm as long as it’s not a lot of harm. I don’t think there’s any “right” to do harm.

    And it’s no good saying you’ll let Jadehawk answer when you instantly go on to answer yourself. And how do you know she knows what it’s like to be harassed and libeled under her own name?

  34. 34
    Ophelia Benson

    And when are you leaving?! I thought it took about 3 days to fly that distance…

  35. 35
    changerofbits

    Well, being the privileged male I am, his comments equating wearing baseball hats and chewing gum with the common bourgeoisie upset me the most! Mark my words, he’ll be going after muscle cars and hooligans next!

    *adjust baseball hat and chews intently on gum*

    But seriously, either is own ego is so large that he can’t admit to himself that he’s not perfect OR he really thinks that women are second class human beings… Disappointing thought; it might be both.

  36. 36
    rorschach

    And when are you leaving?!

    Now..:-)

  37. 37
    Ophelia Benson

    Bon voyage!

  38. 38
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    But seriously, either is own ego is so large that he can’t admit to himself that he’s not perfect OR he really thinks that women are second class human beings… Disappointing thought; it might be both.

    I think it is.

    ***

    As I suggested above, his shifting the focus to pseudonymity is quite convenient for him. Ophelia, many if not most of your “documenting the harassment” posts have concerned people using their real names. This isn’t to say that some of the anonymous/sockpuppeting/pseudonymous people haven’t been extremely harmful, but they’ve been helped along greatly by some named individuals (and many of the most persistent feminist voices have been people using pseudonyms).

    Dawkins’ comments at Pharyngula (and later on Twitter) had an immensely harmful effect because he posted them under his name. If he’d used a pseudonym, they would have blended into the sexist/misogynistic noise. Because he posted as “Richard Dawkins,” he gave the thugs and abusers good reason to believe they had the approval of Important People, and he’s done nothing to dispel that belief. He can’t take responsibility for his own acts or their consequences and so he tries to distract people from them. He’s in no position to suggest that using your real name means taking responsibility for what you say online.

    He’s someone who uses his name recognition (including sex, race, nationality, class, education, celebrity) for instant credibility and respect, without needing to earn it by the substance of his arguments. I’ll take a pseudonymous writer with solid arguments over that any day of the week.

  39. 39
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Well now, don’t let’s you and Jadehawk fight, Ophelia. I think she has a good point that pseudonymity is a moral right that should not be violated unless the circumstances warrant it. I imagine that you agree, since you were so reluctant to name Eliza Sutton and you don’t normally out all of your harassers. While I think that your slymey harassers are all well over the line, and I’d totally support you outing every last one of those shitlords, one can still reasonably debate exactly where the line is to be drawn.

    “No harm” is too harsh a line, I think. I mean, the rabid right is all screeching about the terrible terrible harm of same sex marriage right now. To which I say: bullshit! Your bruised feefees and your imaginary friend’s broken clubhouse rules do not count as a harm worth addressing.

  40. 40
    carlie

    That was because of an extremely clever colleague of mine called Alan Grafen who produced a brilliant mathematical model which, contrary to all intuitive expectation, showed that the handicap principle could work.

    And I would think hope also Marion Petrie, who did the classic experimental research with peacocks starting in 1987 and published it the next year right after Grafen’s paper (which came out in 1990).

  41. 41
    Ophelia Benson

    Alethea – well the reason I don’t out all my harassers is not because I think they have a “right” to their pseudonymity. I don’t think that at all.

    And of course I don’t mean “harm,” I mean harm. I don’t mean things that people choose to call harm for nasty reactionary reasons, I mean real harm. Obviously there would be arguments about what fits, but I’m just making the (abstract) claim that people don’t have a “right” to protect their real selves and reputations from the consequences of doing real harm.

  42. 42
    Jadehawk

    Well that’s easy for you, Jadehawk, isn’t it. No one can do you any harm, because you are pseudonymous. Not everyone hast that option. (This is one of those privilege things. You’re indifferent because you have no idea what it’s like.)

    that’s very cute, but I’m not pseudonymous; I use a pseudonym, but it’s linked to my meatspace name. you can find it in under 3 minutes with a simple google image search. Anyone who’d like to attack me in meatspace can very easily do so, just as easily as they can attack you.

    Other than that, yes, actual pseudonymity grants protection. That’s a good thing, since as you just said, it can protect from harassment, too. It’s why for many marginalized people the internet is the only place they can really feel like they can be themselves and be open about it to others. That’s extremely valuable. The taboo on outing pseudonymous posters is valuable. Consequently, I’m against violating that taboo except in very serious (AKA potentially dangerous) situations.

    I am disputing the claim that there’s a “right” to use pseudonymity to do harm as long as it’s not a lot of harm. I don’t think there’s any “right” to do harm.you do know that those are two separate things, right? I think there is a right to pseudonymity, not that there is a right to doing harm. The taboo against outing pseudonymous people should only be violated when not doing it will have clearly worse consequences (i.e. put people in danger, or the pseudonymous person causes individually a lot of harm to a lot of people), because the more often you violate that taboo, the less of a taboo it will be.

    And how do you know she knows what it’s like to be harassed and libeled under her own name?

    at a guess, it’s a)because he knows about me being harassed at the Copenhagen conference, where I was under my meatspace name for at least part of the event, and b)because he knows I have a cyberstalker who harasses me on my blog (well, the latter he might have forgotten about, but he knew about it once)

    I imagine that you agree, since you were so reluctant to name Eliza Sutton and you don’t normally out all of your harassers.

    BTW, I consider the skep tickle thing not a real outing; her meatspace name was even more connected to her handle than mine is. I have problems with calling her names other than skeptixx/skep ticle in places where she chose those names for other reasons (there’s a psychological powerplay involved in allowing yourself to chose what to call someone, instead of going by what they chose. it’s largely the same shit with the Steph and Ophie nicknames), but connecting handles and meatspace names that already are linked is not the same as providing information that’s not immediately available or available only through offline channels and putting them online.

    “No harm” is too harsh a line, I think. I mean, the rabid right is all screeching about the terrible terrible harm of same sex marriage right now. To which I say: bullshit! Your bruised feefees and your imaginary friend’s broken clubhouse rules do not count as a harm worth addressing.

    that’s exactly what i was getting at. the #FTBullies crap already shows that the pitters and their allies already consider what people here do as harmful. if anything that’s considered harmful by someone makes outing fair play, we lose a valuable social taboo that protects a lot of marginalized people and that in turn would mean losing a lot of voices that need to be heard.
    So the harm that invalidates one’s right to remain pseudonymous must outweigh the consequence of contributing to that loss. Threatening to approach someone in meatspace is such a thing; singlehandedly running a sexual-harassment-promoting and performing subreddid is such a thing. Being part of a large mob of assholes… not so much. Because outing a single member of the mob won’t do shit to stop them, and outing them all would completely obliterate the pseudonymity-outing-taboo (and it would still not necessarily stop them. Do Mayhew, Vacula, Porter etc. harass ppl less because you know their meatspace names?)

    I mean harm. I don’t mean things that people choose to call harm for nasty reactionary reasons, I mean real harm.

    except that this isn’t how it works. of course it would be wonderful if social sanctions only befell those who are actually guilty, and social protection only protected the innocent. In reality, when we’re dealing with social rather than legal issues, every sanction we use against others will also be used against us. So we have to make sure that the cost of doing that is worth it.
    It was worth it with the kickstarter thing, freeze peach whining notwithstanding, because it’s unlikely that similar appeals by e.g. the religious right against gay-supportive projects, or MRAs against feminist projects are going to work in any way close to the way the feminist appeal worked (because the appeal basically asked that kickstarter obey their own rules about promotion of violence); it’s not worth it in the case of individuals who are part of a harassing mob, because a)it won’t necessarily stop the individuals, b)it won’t stop the whole mob, and c)it will erode a useful ethical code on the internet that protects marginalized voices.

  43. 43
    carlie

    What is the point of “more heavily moderating” pseudonyms? The first problem is in identifying what they are – in addition to unusual names being targeted, someone could easily pick a pseudonym that’s indistinguishable from a “real” name. That’s a middle ground that I don’t understand at all.

    No one can do you any harm, because you are pseudonymous. Not everyone hast that option.

    It’s also true that being yourself with your legal name is a privilege and an option that not everyone has. I know that you know all of the reasons why pseudonymity is important.

    I’m just making the (abstract) claim that people don’t have a “right” to protect their real selves and reputations from the consequences of doing real harm.

    True, as long as it is laid out right at the beginning. If there’s an explicit policy that statements of x, y, and z types will result in outing, and those types are clear and easy to define, then people can go into the discussion knowing that would be a consequence.

  44. 44
    rorschach

    Thinking again about Dawkins’ comment that atheists don’t think their atheism part of their identity so much, I can come up with one charitable explanation. Maybe he was thinking of this grotesque de Botton suggestion from a while ago of atheist churches and worship and all, and wanted to express that that’s not part of being an atheist. And with that statement I guess most people could probably agree.

  45. 45
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Dawkins makes some harmful, sexist public statements under his real name in 2011, which feed a long and vicious campaign of harassment against various women/feminists. In 2013, he does an interview in which he’s asked about his statements and can’t even muster a response. How is this about pseudonyms?

  46. 46
    Tom Foss

    To all the people suggesting that Dawkins doesn’t want to poke the beehive or create unnecessary drama: have you seen his Twitter account? These days, poking beehives is apparently his number one hobby. Because then he gets to make snide remarks about the intellects of his dissenters and have legions of sycophants laugh along and tell him how smart he is.

    The guy was defending eugenics a few months back. He’s not going to shy away from something because of controversy.

    @22: I think Dawkins said otherwise in an interview or statement after that whole debacle with Bill Maher getting the Dawkins award supposedly meant to honor people for promoting science.

  47. 47
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Perhaps “right” is the wrong term, though I did think calling it a moral right rather than a legal right helped qualify that. I think people do have a right (of some kind) to use a pseudonym, at very least because the mere act is harmless. It’s like owning a hammer: it’s a good tool, very handy for some uses, there’s nothing wrong with it. If you drop it on someone’s foot (a small harm), then you should apologise and take more care in future. But if you deliberately use it to beat someone, then it should at very least be taken away from you.

    But if you don’t think it’s a right, then why don’t you out all your harassers? I’m sure you do know more than you have actually named. Why were you so reluctant to name ES? Is is fear of blowback or escalation?

  48. 48
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    I’ve changed my mind in science.

    So, he’s perfectly willing to change his mind on thigs he’s an actual expert in but thinks his positions are above criticism in fields where he just makes shit up (say, sociology, feminism, linguistics…)?

    +++

    that’s very cute, but I’m not pseudonymous; I use a pseudonym, but it’s linked to my meatspace name. you can find it in under 3 minutes with a simple google image search. Anyone who’d like to attack me in meatspace can very easily do so, just as easily as they can attack you.

    This.
    My pseudonym serves to keep my online identity apart from my meat space name in one direction: prospective employers will not see my position on religion, feminism and abortion by googling my RL nym. It doesn’t work the other way round: people who know my online identity and want my RL one can easily find it.

    +++

    I am disputing the claim that there’s a “right” to use pseudonymity to do harm as long as it’s not a lot of harm.

    Think about drivers licenses: They don’t get revoked because you parked your car illegally once. Harm, real actual harm can be caused accidentially, or by not knowing better. Many of us have said shitty things at some point or other. The goal is to stop and end harm. If you don’t need to out somebody, which in turn can cause them harm, why do it or even consider it acceptable?
    I know Jadehawk’s ethics are consequence-focussed and I agree largely with her here: If the result of the action is only more harm (and a lot of that on people who need pseudonymity to speak up about marginalization and injustice) then a culture of outing along a “any harm counts” line is bad.

  49. 49
    yahweh

    I suspect that whether people see atheism as (a significant) part of their identity depends on personal circumstances.

    In the UK, being an atheist is no big deal and for many years I’ve practically forgotten about such matters. (After a particularly long gap, I went to my brother’s church wedding, with Nuptial Mass, and found myself hardly believing that anyone still did that sort of thing. It seemed as anachronistic as a Christian Union debate on sex before marriage).

    On the other hand, when I was actively involved in sacred music – still one of my passions – being an atheist was significant. Many colleagues had no issue with this but others I spared the discomfort and absented myself if the conversation got around to matters of belief.

    My wife has been an atheist since a teenager but this is no big deal to her either. I did not find out until we had been married some years.

  50. 50
    yahweh

    Dawkins summarised from this thread:

    1. Embarrassed at his actions but too proud to admit it

    2. Kind of makes you wish he would find God and be an embarrassment to theists for a change…

    3. .. for being so highly regarded as a Very Important Thinker Leader of “the movement” he isn’t particularly plugged-in or remotely in-touch with his legions of followers.

    4. The extent of his moral failure in making those comments and then refusing to retract them or even to try to stop or condemn the wave of abuse and harassment of women his comments in part unleashed is astounding.

    5. Dawkins is a pernsickety 70-ish Oxford professor, and he pretty much acts like it.

    6. He’s all wrong about feminism, but I find that about as interesting as his opinion on popular music.

    7. .. either is own ego is so large that he can’t admit to himself that he’s not perfect OR he really thinks that women are second class human beings

    8. He’s someone who uses his name recognition (including sex, race, nationality, class, education, celebrity) for instant credibility and respect, without needing to earn it by the substance of his arguments.

    9. Dawkins makes some harmful, sexist public statements under his real name in 2011, which feed a long and vicious campaign of harassment against various women/feminists.

    10. These days, poking beehives is apparently his number one hobby. Because then he gets to make snide remarks about the intellects of his dissenters and have legions of sycophants laugh along and tell him how smart he is.

    11. The guy was defending eugenics a few months back.

    12. So, he’s perfectly willing to change his mind on thigs he’s an actual expert in but thinks his positions are above criticism in fields where he just makes shit up (say, sociology, feminism, linguistics…)?

    Time for SC to revise her article on how to report Gnu atheists?

  51. 51
    Nomit

    I am with Dawkins that it seems strange for atheism to be a part of your identity. Isn’t that a bit like taking your position on string theory as part of your identity? You would still be you if you became agnostic on god or took up zen buddhism, wouldn’t you? I suppose if you are very active and belong to groups that organise as atheists that community can give some sense of identity, but it’s not really the same thing, is it?

  52. 52
    Nomit

    There is, obviously, a danger in identifying with what are (or should be) intellectual positions because it makes it very difficult for you to adapt your position according to evidence. An attack on the idea feels like an attack on you. You see this all the time in politics, especially extreme politics, and it can have bloody consequences. I think we ought to try to hold our beliefs more lightly.

  53. 53
    carlie

    I am with Dawkins that it seems strange for atheism to be a part of your identity. Isn’t that a bit like taking your position on string theory as part of your identity? You would still be you if you became agnostic on god or took up zen buddhism, wouldn’t you?

    Speaking as someone who was formerly very religious, it is absolutely a critical part of my identity. For people who are religious, that religion colors everything they think and everything they do. If devout, there is nothing that is not pushed through the meat grinder of religious apologia before being digested. My identity was a religious one; having it not be means that the “not” is an important part.

    There is, obviously, a danger in identifying with what are (or should be) intellectual positions

    Atheism isn’t just an intellectual position; it also sets the parameters on ethical positions in a similar way to religion. It frees you to have any type of ethical position that you want to, which again is its own statement (that there are many ways to act, not just one “correct” one).

  54. 54
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Nomit

    I am with Dawkins that it seems strange for atheism to be a part of your identity. Isn’t that a bit like taking your position on string theory as part of your identity?

    Bullshit.
    A) Certainly coming to a conclusion that is central to my take on the world is important about my identity
    B) Even if I wouldn’t give a flying fuck, I am aware that people treat me differently because of my atheism.
    This week I went to the first parents’ night at my daughter’s primary school. Not to bore you with my personal problems, it’s not certain yet that she’ll be accepted. And when her prospective teacher told us all about the school service and about religious eduction I kept my fucking mouth shut because I didn’t want to risk her chances because I’m an atheist. Tell me one instance where your stance on string theory does somethig similar.

  55. 55
    Dan L.

    Jadehawk@27:

    Hence the qualifier: “at his own website”.

    Yes, Dawkins gets to decide how to treat pseudonymity on his own website. Just like Google gets to decide how to deal with it on G+. You may not like their policies but not every website is obligated to provide exactly the sort of community you want.

    In case you haven’t noticed the RDF forums as a community isn’t exactly focused on amplifying marginalized voices in the first place.

  56. 56
    Anthony K

    I am with Dawkins that it seems strange for atheism to be a part of your identity.

    It’s absolutely ludicrous for Dawkins to believe this. Again, why the fuck does he think he’s being interviewed if not for his identity as an atheist? Why the fuck does he think anyone who isn’t a biologist even knows his name if not for his identity as an atheist? Does he think everyone gets interviewed and ferried from conference to conference? If he’s aware that he is somewhat different than most people in that regard, does he ever stop and wonder what exactly makes him different?

    If he honestly does find it strange then he’s one of the most clueless and incurious human beings ever.

  57. 57
    Ophelia Benson

    Well to be fair Dawkins was getting interviewed well before TGD. I saw him at an intime little book tour reading at the University book store right here in Seattle in I think 1996, when Climbing Mount Improbable came out. He was interviewed on the local NPR station (affiliated with the U of Washington) a couple of hours before that.

    He was writing for the Guardian etc before TGD, too. He was already a moderately conspicuous public intellectual type well before TGD. Don’t forget the Simonyi Chair – that came long before TGD.

  58. 58
    rosiebell

    In RD’s kind of milieu, that of the scientist and academic in the UK, being an atheist would not be part of his identity as it would be pretty much the default setting, as being a white male was 100 years ago was. It’s the religious person who stands out. An identity will be taken for granted – not even though to be an identity – until under threat. In Iraq and Syria being a Sunni or a Shi-ite was no big deal – just a matter of heritage and habit – and people intermarried quite comfortably. Then sectarian preachings and killings and cleansing began, and the identity became a matter of life and death. If atheism came under attack in the UK, it would become an identity all right.

  59. 59
    A. Noyd

    Nomit (#51)

    I am with Dawkins that it seems strange for atheism to be a part of your identity. Isn’t that a bit like taking your position on string theory as part of your identity?

    Only if your position on string theory is constantly made relevant to your life, like your position on the existence of god is (in America, at least).

    You would still be you if you became agnostic on god or took up zen buddhism, wouldn’t you?

    Really? Would I? I mean, yeah, in one sense, because I can’t not be “me.” But, on the other hand, the “me” that I am now is not the same “me” that existed two years ago. Or ten years ago. Or twenty. I’m an atheist because I have an understanding about the world that doesn’t allow for a) needless uncertainty about the existence of supernatural stuff, or b) belief in it. Thus, to become agnostic or Buddhist, I would have to go through a change that shattered the epistemological foundations of my beliefs. That would not make for a minor, inconsequential difference!

    I suppose if you are very active and belong to groups that organise as atheists that community can give some sense of identity, but it’s not really the same thing, is it?

    I think you’re getting causation backwards. Those with a stronger sense of atheism being part of their identity would—if they’re social, anyway—tend to seek out other atheists to be active with. But there’s also folks like me who don’t socialize much but still strongly identify as atheist.

    (#52)

    There is, obviously, a danger in identifying with what are (or should be) intellectual positions because it makes it very difficult for you to adapt your position according to evidence.

    Except, like many atheists, my atheism is a consequence of a larger commitment to form intellectual positions based on evidence.

    An attack on the idea feels like an attack on you. You see this all the time in politics, especially extreme politics, and it can have bloody consequences.

    Speak for yourself. Also, sometimes attacks actually are on the holder of the idea rather than on the idea. Like, when someone says that I’m amoral and going to hell because I’m an atheist, that’s not an attack on the idea of atheism. It’s a judgment about me and a wish to see me punished.

    I think we ought to try to hold our beliefs more lightly.

    No, we should hold our beliefs with a firmness in proportion to how well they’re supported by evidence and reason. Treating all beliefs as if they’re equally in danger of being overturned is foolish.

  60. 60
    Jadehawk

    Yes, Dawkins gets to decide how to treat pseudonymity on his own website. Just like Google gets to decide how to deal with it on G+. You may not like their policies but not every website is obligated to provide exactly the sort of community you want.

    of course they have that right. doesn’t mean it’s not a bullshit attitude with negative consequences that i wish to criticize because i’d rather not see those negative consequences happening. d’uh.

  61. 61
    Nomit

    “It’s absolutely ludicrous for Dawkins to believe this. Again, why the fuck does he think he’s being interviewed if not for his identity as an atheist?”

    Presumably he thinks people are interested in his ideas and how he expresses the, I think he would be right if he thought that, it is why I watch interviews with him. I really don’t care much about his identity. There are many, many people with very similar identities to Dawkins who live in complete obscurity because they have not done or said interesting things.

    “Why the fuck does he think anyone who isn’t a biologist even knows his name if not for his identity as an atheist? ”

    Maybe because he wrote very famous best-selling books on evolutionary biology read by millions of non-biologists?

    The problem is, as I said above, if we confuse an idea or a world view with our identity (as religious believers do) we may logically take an attack on that idea or world view as an attack on us. That happens with religious believers all the time with dire consequences, and I think that example should show us why this is a very bad idea (as well as being completely irrational as we so often explain to the religious).

  62. 62
    Nomit

    “And when her prospective teacher told us all about the school service and about religious education I kept my fucking mouth shut because I didn’t want to risk her chances because I’m an atheist. Tell me one instance where your stance on string theory does something similar.”

    I have been in a very similar and similarly uncomfortable position, so I sympathise. But, not to be to make too light of it, a similar position would be a young physicist looking for work in a physics dept run by someone with strongly anti-string-theory views. And that does happen in all walks of academic life.

  63. 63
    Stacy

    On Rebecca Watson — he doesn’t want to back down but he also doesn’t want to touch off any more shitstorms or long-standing personality conflicts. While I don’t agree with him I can respect his right to his opinion and the fact that he doesn’t want to make a stink over it (which is an improvement from the last time he commented on the subject).

    No, it has nothing to do with not wanting to set off any more controversy. It’s personal for him. Last year I had the opportunity to ask him about her. He said, and I quote, “Don’t speak to me of her. She has offended me grievously.”

    I am not a journalist; I approached him person to person. I was intending to ask him if he was aware of all the harassment, but I didn’t get that far. He was furious at the mere mention of her name.

  64. 64
    Nomit

    That’s the problem Stacy: once it’s personal, there is no room for debate.

  65. 65
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Nomit

    I have been in a very similar and similarly uncomfortable position, so I sympathise. But, not to be to make too light of it, a similar position would be a young physicist looking for work in a physics dept run by someone with strongly anti-string-theory views. And that does happen in all walks of academic life.

    No, it’s not
    Unless the poor physicist canoot apply to any other department in the country.
    Unless there’s government sponsored anti-string theory education
    Unless the person who gets fired/not hired isn’t him but his child.
    So, no, it’s not fucking remotely alike.
    And you’re making light of it.

  66. 66
    rorschach

    It’s personal for him. Last year I had the opportunity to ask him about her. He said, and I quote, “Don’t speak to me of her. She has offended me grievously.”

    There was also the dustup over Lawrence “she looked 19″ Krauss, in which Rebecca took a clear position. That would not have endeared her to Dawkins either, to come out swinging against his pal like that. As you say, it’s all personal.

  67. 67
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    Offended him?

    Why?

    Because she was creeped out by a dude hitting on her in an elevator at 4am in the morning? which is… let’s be honest… entitled and creepy.

    Wait…

    Is Dawkins Elevatorguy?

    (For those with broken sarcastimeters, I’m being sarcastic. I do not actually think that Dawkins was Elevatorguy. So if you want to quotemine that, be my guest… but this post, and this disclaimer, are here to show you as the liar you are if you do decide to quotemine it.)

  68. 68
    Wowbagger, Designated Snarker

    Fascinating how when we’re ‘emotional’ about an issue, the straw-vulcans can’t shut their mealy mouths about how unskeptical and irrational about it we’re being, but if it’s Dawkins you don’t hear a peep out of them.

  69. 69
    Eamon Knight

    @67: You do know the actual story, don’t you? About “Dear Muslima” and Watson’s reaction to it?

  70. 70
    Silentbob

    @ 67 NateHevens

    Nate, if your opening question was serious just google “The Privilege Delusion” and read, in particular, the last two paragraphs.

  71. 71
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    69 & 70…

    Do you really think I don’t know that? I was actually there when it unfolded in real time.

    I used snarky language on purpose… because I think Dawkins is being inane. Even if I were on Dawkins’ side on this (and to be very clear, I’m not: and have been, and always will be, on Rebecca’s side on this), it would not be a reason to be “grievously offended”.

    What Elevatorguy did was nasty and creepy and Rebecca was not only right to call it out, but right in how she called it out and in the point she used it to make.

    Dawkins’ response was sexist, sad, and pathetic. The only one between those two who has any right to be “grievously offended” is Rebecca, and I’m guessing she’s over it. Dawkins’, on the other hand, apparently holds grudges like kids did back in elementary school.

    Rebecca showed him up… and he’s “grievously offended”? That says nothing of Rebecca and everything of him.

  72. 72
    Anthony K

    Nate, I got your point. And I think your question is still a good one.

    What, exactly, does Dawkins have to be offended about? It’s like somebody criticised his religion or something.

  73. 73
    Silentbob

    @ 71 NateHevens

    Do you really think I don’t know that? I was actually there when it unfolded in real time.

    It was ambiguous, at least to me. I hope you’re not grievously offended. ;-)

  74. 74
    Nomit

    “So, no, it’s not fucking remotely alike.
    And you’re making light of it.”

    It is alike, it just isn’t the same. It is alike in the essential aspect we are discussing. I am not making light of it, as I say I have been in a very similar situation and know what it is like.

  75. 75
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    Silentbob… naw, we’re cool. I was rather ambiguous with that. Could have worded it a lot better… :D

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