The sooner you go to the treatment centre the better chance you have of surviving »« Let’s sit down together and discuss that proposition itself

Guest post: Feminism is full of seriously brain-stretching rationality

Originally a comment by Maureen on Let’s sit down and discuss that proposition itself.

Richard Dawkins claims to be struggling against the forces of darkness – however defined – in order to have a logical and rational discussion on sensitive subjects. In order to do that, though, you would need facts. I don’t see that he even mentions facts, let alone informed opinion, let alone research.

No-one, not even intellectual super-stars, can be expected to conduct such a discussion as a pure intellectual exercise, nor would a wise man choose Twitter as the forum. How do you have a dialogue when you don’t know to whom you are talking or what knowledge or preconceptions they bring to the imaginary table?

Curiously enough, I have been having logical and rational discussions – some intense, some more relaxed – for a good fifty years on all these “sensitive” subjects but every last one of them informed by knowledge and experience, developing knowledge and experience not 140 characters plucked out of thin air. One is tempted to ask, “Richard Dawkins, where have you been all these decades?”

To take just one example, Dawkins takes it as read (and Brave Sir Brendan in the Telegraph rushes to his aid) that, of course, a rape by a stranger who threatens with a weapon just must be worse than a rape by someone you know. Of course it must be because neither of them sees a person there – just a hole being penetrated with a degree of force. Hooray for fact-free logic!

Except that it’s not getting us very far, is it? Maybe it’s not getting us anywhere because neither of those men can see the woman, perhaps with small children, trapped in an increasingly abusive relationship without a means of escape. Nor do they see the person totally betrayed by someone they’ve grown up with, the family friend who’s always been around who suddenly turns and rapes them. Because we are not talking holes, gentlemen, we are talking people and your first step towards a rational discussion would be to acknowledge their experience, draw on their understanding. Not something you can do on a whiteboard or a computer but a necessary first step.

Do you all remember Sandra Fluke the first time we saw her, fighting to give evidence to a Congressional Committee? Then berated by all and sundry for the dastardly crime of understanding the human reproductive system rather better than Rush Limbaugh? Or the woman member of of a state legislature, thrown out of the chamber for using the word vagina when the subject under discussion was – wait for it! – compulsory intra-vaginal ultrasounds. And all the many hearings down the years where we have laughed at one row of elderly men earnestly taking evidence from a matching row of elderly men? Or watched them take evidence from celibate clerics but refuse to hear from women, even women specialists in the subject? And no matter that in all the cases I list the health and well-being of women were at stake.

We are not irrational because we are feminists or because we are women. Feminism is full of seriously brain-stretching rationality. Nor do we need to start such discussions – on bodily autonomy, on birth control, on sexual identity, whatever – from scratch. They have been going for two, three hundred years. They have involved both men and women and the literature is vast. The handful of texts I own would take even an Oxford professor a week to read. And I have read several times that amount but remain an amateur.

So the question is not will we stop reacting to wild and ill-informed Tweets which serve only to inflame. The question is, rather, will you come down off your kyriarchal pedestal and join as an equal in the logical, rational and fact-based discussions which have been going on since before you were born?

Comments

  1. Reality_based_community says

    I can certainly understand how Dawkin’s point could be misunderstood here – horribly worded, horrible examples used to illustrate his point, and I’ll agree that the character limit on Twitter makes it a particular poor medium from which to explore complex ideas.

    His point seems to be that there are gradations of evil (for lack of a better term), and one must (or should) always take care to make appropriate distinctions where applicable. He is trying to suggest that the very act of drawing distinctions between x (which is horrendously awful) and y (which is even worse) in no way constitutes an endorsement of x or diminishes x’s own level of evil.

    It is absolutely a valid point, but why the hell he used rape to illustrate this point is beyond me, particularly given his recent denunciation of rape threats and sexual harassment. I sometimes think he must not devote much thought about how to communicate what he’s trying to say…or he is trying to be deliberately provocative to generate attention (which I really hope is not the case).

    Perhaps he could have said something like murdering an individual is really fucked up and depraved, but committing genocide is worse. Involuntary or negligent manslaughter is bad, but first degree murder is worse. Was this tweet in response to some particular exchange? Does anybody know?

  2. Reality_based_community says

    It also occurs to me that he himself has said that he was a victim of “mild pedophilia” (whatever that is), and that he didn’t think it was a “big deal.” Could the tweet have something to do with that? Or am I confusing him with somebody else?

  3. Reality_based_community says

    Read a bit further. Apparently in response to an earlier tweet about Israel, which very obliquely seems to defend Israel’s current bloody assault on the civilian population in Gaza. And, counter-intuitively, utterly fails to make relevant distinctions. But it’s hard to know given the character limits of twitter. That’s why I’m not on twitter.

  4. says

    He’s actually blogged the hell out of it if you care to read up “Reality_based_community”…

    It wasn’t a misstep…it was carefully chosen.. He says so himself.

    Can people PLEASE stop NOT reading what the Man said to defend something he didn’t say.
    And start actually taking his critics seriously by READING what he said first?

  5. Reality_based_community says

    “Cityzenjane,” I wasn’t defending either what he said or didn’t say. But thanks for the heads up, I’ll see if I can find his blog.

  6. Reality_based_community says

    ok, CJ, having just read his blog, it actually leads me to believe his intentions we of a better grade than I originally thought. The rape analogy is still horrendously awful, though, and draws invalid distinctions to illustrate a point about distinctions.

    More importantly, this was all sparked by what must have been at least a somewhat courageous stance against indiscriminate mass murder of a civilian population (even for a tenured professor) – viz. “The extent of destruction in Gaza is obscene. Poor people. Poor people who have lost their homes, their relatives, everything.” So that is exactly the opposite of what I initially took him to mean in the relevant tweet. It’s most unfortunate that he chose a language in follow-up that has now completely overshadowed his original humanitarian concerns by virtue of the choice of language. In the ensuing maelstrom re such language, let’s not forget the underlying humanitarian crisis that is unfolding as we speak. Dawkins, for his part, should let go of all this twitter nonsense. He is in a position from which he could highlight and draw attention to such humanitarian concerns. Unfortunately, he spends the vast majority of his blog defending his rape analogy.

    Here’s the blog, if anybody is interested:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/richard-dawkins/richard-dawkins-rape-tweets_b_5633885.html

  7. Reality_based_community says

    Thanks John. I think that must be the same blog cross-posted on my link at Huff Po.

  8. John Morales says

    Reality_based_community @10:

    Yup. His opinions accrue wide dissemination.

    It is utterly deplorable that there are people, including in our atheist community, who suffer rape threats because of things they have said. And it is also deplorable that there are many people in the same atheist community who are literally afraid to think and speak freely, afraid to raise even hypothetical questions such as those I have mentioned in this article. They are afraid – and I promise you I am not exaggerating – of witch-hunts: hunts for latter day blasphemers by latter day Inquisitions and latter day incarnations of Orwell’s Thought Police.

    He speaks almost as if those who suffer rape threats because of things they have said and those who are literally afraid to think and speak freely are disjoint sets, no?

    (There are apples, and there are pears)

  9. Pen says

    @1

    His point seems to be that there are gradations of evil (for lack of a better term), and one must (or should) always take care to make appropriate distinctions where applicable.

    You need a criterion for evil and you have to justify it and get others to accept it. Ideally, if you want it to gain widespread acceptance, it needs to be measurable. Dawkins doesn’t have such a criterion and probably doesn’t have much experience in selecting one.

    He is trying to suggest that the very act of drawing distinctions between x (which is horrendously awful) and y (which is even worse) in no way constitutes an endorsement of x or diminishes x’s own level of evil.

    True, but it minimises the importance of x with respect to y, based on the author’s unsupported assertion. That’s bad enough.

  10. Reality_based_community says

    John, agree re mutually exclusive sets comment.

    Well, Dawkins must surely be aware that following the statement “and I promise you I am not exaggerating” with items that are extreme exaggerations is not a valid exercise in reasoning. I mean, I seriously doubt he’s going to wind up in Orwell’s Room 101 for his tweets, with all of the starving rats and such.

    It’s most unfortunate that he undermined his original moral concerns re Gaza with this nonsense largely of his own making.

  11. says

    I’ll agree that the character limit on Twitter makes it a particular poor medium from which to explore complex ideas.

    It’s not a good tool, don’t use it.

    It’s great for marketing, snappy comebacks, and content-free witticisms. If you want an endless feed of that, it’s a good tool. For a debate? No. To explain something? Ask Dawkins. To look like an idiot? Again, ask Dawkins.

  12. Reality_based_community says

    Marcus – It’s a horrible tool. Perhaps the exception might be when it’s in the hands of those exceptionally gifted at language. Perhaps Ricky Gervaise (sp?). But not many others. As I said, I don’t use it, and am not subscribed to anybody’s twitter feed.

  13. Reality_based_community says

    The “c word,” of course, has quite a different meaning among the Brits than it does across the pond. It primarily arises from the context of class rather than gender, and is employed primarily as a proud kind of “fuck you” among the British working class. Very few of my friends from across the pond fail to use it regularly, both genders. It just really doesn’t have the same misogynist meaning as is often the usage among Americans.

    Not that I’m defending it, but perhaps just to provide some context. Also, I realize this is way off topic.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/hetpat/2014/05/12/how-to-confuse-an-american-the-politics-of-the-c-word/

  14. Al Dente says

    Friendly word of advice, RBC. Don’t try to justify using the slang expression for female genitalia. It won’t fly here. Just apologize for bringing it up and shut up about it.

  15. Al Dente says

    No but you tried to justify it. Again, I strongly recommend you just drop it as a topic of conversation. Unless you want to prove you’re a clueless, fuckwitted misogynist. Your choice.

  16. Reality_based_community says

    I tried to put it in context and explain some cultural differences. I don’t use the word myself, but I will occasionally use the word “dick,” as in “dick move,” “dicked up,” “dickering,” “dicking” etc. Not that I’m trying to imply anything by that….But, I agree, I have no desire to pursue this line of inquiry. It’s a little off topic and of no significant import. And thanks for your “strong recommendation,” I will certainly take it under advisement.

    Anyway…what were we talking about before we were sidetracked by another pointless flamewar?

  17. John Morales says

    RBC @21,

    Anyway…what were we talking about before we were sidetracked by another pointless flamewar?

    You were lauding Ricky’s mastery of language and how he could properly employ Twitter, unlike Dawkins or many others.

  18. Reality_based_community says

    Yes, I mentioned Ricky as a random aside within the broader point about twitter, which itself was addressed in the original post to which I was commenting. By doing that, I really had no intent of making this about Ricky. Much more in the forefront of my mind is the horror show that is on my tv machine at this very moment depicting the carnage in Gaza, Which, not so incidentally, was what started off the whole Dawkins fiasco. Not that inappropriate use of language is not unimportant, but somehow nobody seems to want to say a word about the underlying issue that Dawkins addressed re mass murder occurring at this very moment. Because that’s probably not relevant to atheism or feminism. We should just probably stick to monitoring the language used to describe it, but say nothing about the reality the language was employed to describe in the first place.

  19. says

    In principle there is nothing wrong with exploring the severity of suffering. I can think of a good reason to want to explore the general phenomena of the impact of rape on different people, how do those who are resilient and deal with the experience successfully do so on specific terms? It’s a thing that can be used to help people.

    But the key is that you MUST be extremely careful about how and why one explores things like that. You absolutely have to take into account the spectrum of experiences of people or you end up being casual about things that are intensely personal to others and this can do damage.

    You also MUST leave room for people with direct experience to respond to what you are saying and take what they say seriously. Let them disagree. Respect the disagreement. You can still disagree with them but their experience requires that they get a voice and that you demonstrate that you understand what they are saying on their terms and you need to be able to show it. Practice saying what other people say in your words and make sure that they agree that you at least understand.

    Emotions are difficult, dangerous, and utterly unavoidable. Do you think that’s logic that leads to your decision to use logic? Don’t confuse the file system structure with the software of you let the stuff running in the background take control.

  20. John Morales says

    Reality_based_community @23:

    Much more in the forefront of my mind is the horror show that is on my tv machine at this very moment depicting the carnage in Gaza, Which, not so incidentally, was what started off the whole Dawkins fiasco.

    <sigh>

    “Apparently I didn’t learn swiftly enough – and I now turn to the other Twitter controversy in which I have been involved this week.”

    So: Dawkins himself claims this is “the other Twitter controversy in which I have been involved this week”. (Obviously, my emphasis)

    (You think this week marks the start of the “Dawkins fiasco”, as you so delicately put it?)

  21. Reality_based_community says

    Yeah, the citizens of Gaza are at this very moment being tortured, murdered, their schools and hospitals are being bombed, and their viscera are being smeared all along the streets and alleys. Very sad. I’ll call the whambulance. In the mean time, I have bigger fish to fry. Somebody used an inappropriate term on the internet! Unfortunately, I have to conclude that Dawkins himself has fallen into the latter category. Fuckin’ hell people.

  22. ceesays says

    Were we just treated to an utterly straight-faced, unironic reprise of Dear Muslima?

  23. Reality_based_community says

    John, I am fairly well versed in the the history of Dawkins Controversies(tm), though it’s not an area in which I specialize. But here’s what I saw, now that I’ve sort of read this history of the most recent controversy:

    Dawkins: Makes a strong and commendable statement about the violence in Gaza.

    [attacked by unknown (to me) sources]

    Dawkins: Makes a confusing analogy on twitter re the founding of the Israeli state

    [more vigorous attacks]

    Dawkins: Makes an analogy re differences between “x” and “y”

    [more vigorous attacks]

    Dawkins: Follows up with stupid and ill-considered analogies about pedophilia and rape.

    [conversation turns into vigorous attacks about the latest stupid analogies. Original point by now is entirely lost, never to be recovered]

    If that is all the atheist community has to bring to the table when talking about the most vital and morally profound issues of the day, then of what fucking use is our community? At all? To anybody? Unfortunately, it seems to be a recurring pattern.

  24. John Morales says

    RBC @29, your particular concern regarding the atheist community is touching if mistaken, but it’s telling that you imagine that critiquing the behaviour and public persona of prominent atheists within that community is at best a distraction (and at worst detrimental) towards achieving its goals.

    (And, of course, you have just critiqued the critiques about Dawkins — I wonder if you will now critique my critique of your critique of Dawkins and his critics)

  25. screechymonkey says

    Just wondering, should I go to work tomorrow, or should I stay home so I can Tweet about Gaza all day? Obviously lives depend on it, so I want to do the right thing here.

    And should I just Tweet directly about how much I deplore the killings, or is a more indirect approach called for? Perhaps if I persuade Ricky Gervais to call the miscreants by a gendered slur, that will restore peace.

  26. Reality_based_community says

    John, I’m not “critiquing the critiques” per se, I was wondering why the controversy is about every jitter and dot and ill-considered statement is the exclusive focus to the point where nobody has actually bothered to consider his original point. Why we are so easily side-tracked with stupid shit while the bombs are falling. While I myself have criticized Dawkins’ language in this very thread, and not solely because his language was stupid and harmful, but because it undermined the original point he was making, I have to say that everybody is getting caught up in more “inconsequential” bullshit. Fuck, even Hamas has more meaningful insights, and they are actually a major *part* of the problem.

    All our community is doing, and most decidedly including Dawkins himself, is sitting around engaging in pointless self-referential mastebatory exercises to the exclusion of everything else. And that “everything else” is of far more import than stupid analogies employed by Dawkins on the internet. By far.

  27. John Morales says

    [OT]

    Reality_based_community @33:

    All our community is doing, and most decidedly including Dawkins himself, is sitting around engaging in pointless self-referential mastebatory exercises to the exclusion of everything else.

    A vigorous assertion, but what is your degree of certitude for it?

    (is it possible that blogging and other online activity doesn’t constitute the sum total activity from the atheist community, and furthermore that not all of that online activity amounts to “self-referential mastebatory exercises”?)

    PS I urge you to consider ceesays’s comment @27 because, though terse, it’s dense with context.

  28. hoary puccoon says

    If Dawkins wanted to talk about Gaza, he should have done so. Straightforward talk about what is happening to the people there is sorely needed, not to mention any ideas anyone might have on how to stop that tragedy. And that discussion should certainly not be taking place on Twitter. Simple sound bites are worse than useless in understanding a complex problem.

    What I see is that Dawkins used a horrible public tragedy as an excuse to hurt people who have had their own horrible private tragedies. RBC’s defense that Dawkins was discounting most rapes because he really wanted to talk about the bombings in Gaza doesn’t make Dawkins look better. In fact, it makes him look sneaky and evil.

    I suspect, though, that Dawkins isn’t *quite* as bad as RBC portrays him. With friends like RBC, he doesn’t need enemies.

  29. Maureen Brian says

    Oy! Reality_based_community! You at the back, there!

    I wrote a comment specifically addressing the flaw in Dawkins’ argument – the one he constantly implies but doesn’t always say explicitly – that people are preventing him from having discussions on a handful of sensitive subjects and, again implied, that these Orwellian conspirators are the same people who complain when he is crass and simplistic about rape. And then Ophelia was kind enough to put that up as a post – see above.

    As this is not 1984 I cannot dictate what is said or stop a long discussion going off track but what I had hoped to wake up to was a discussion of what I had actually said – some liking, some disliking, some strenuously disagreeing, perhaps.

    What I got was a complete derail and engineered by you. (I do not blame John. I know him of old and there are some things he just cannot resist.) In fact, you illustrate what I was talking about in paragraph 6 – the people who will fill the air with noise rather than let a woman be heard and then ask how they could be expected to know.

    I’m sure almost all of us have opinions about Gaza, many of us will be discussing it and have been for years. I know I have. Tell me, though, what does that have to do with a retired Oxford professor’s complaint that he is “not being allowed” to talk about rape.

  30. Gerard O says

    twitter|.|com/RichardDawkins > Settings > Account > Deactivate my account millions of people jump for joy

  31. James O'Day says

    Dawkins suffers from the illusion that, since he’s an intelligent and educated man, he knows something about everything and his opinions on virtually any topic are correct. He knows little about feminism (or many other social topics) and cares less. However this ignorance and lack of concern do not stop him from making pronouncements on rape and other topics of interest to feminists. He also suffers from a massive ego. So when people who are knowledgeable about feminist topics rebut his pronouncements, he gets extremely annoyed. How dare the lumpen proletariat question the edicts of His Unholiness Atheist-Pope Richard?

    Dawkins is the epitome of the privileged white man. He refuses to accept the concept of privilege. He refuses to accept that he knows little about sociology. He refuses to accept that other people are more knowledgeable about certain topics he declaims about. He refuses to accept that other people have legitimate concerns about these topics and that many of these concerns are emotional. In short, Dawkins is being his usual “ass on twitter.”

  32. MyaR says

    Something that RBC has ably demonstrated here, that Dawkins is constantly making errors due to, is our actual language(s). The ranking comparative absolute (good-better-best) is deeply entrenched in Indo-European languages (to different degrees depending on the specific language, but very deeply for English — try speaking without it for a few paragraphs, and that includes “most”, “least”, “more”, etc.), but it’s not the only way to approach things. It is possible to make distinctions (bad vs terrible, nice vs awesome) without ranking them, and it’s a pretty good exercise in better understanding and describing things (see what I did there?) to avoid using it.

    This occasionally gets touched on, although indirectly, when people (usually the people who take a non-straw Vulcan approach to tackling problems) try to tell people who make statements like Dawkins “I will rank types of rape based on no knowledge or empathy whatsoever” that they’re being asses. (Not that the victims of oppression don’t do this, too. We’re all in the same or very similar cultural/linguistic boat as English speakers.)

    It’s also interesting how this plays into other IE/English grammar constructs to shape how things play out when we’re not being mindful of what we’re actually saying. For instance, add in number. In English, we make the distinction between one and many. Combine this with the ranking comparative absolute, and you end up with ONE THING being the ABSOLUTE WORST. And there can be only one thing, and we must rank all the things to figure out which is really, absolutely, the very, very worst (or best). So you end up with Dawkins carelessly declaring that one thing he knows little about is definitely worse than this variant that he knows even less about.

    (Now going back to reread the original post, which was really excellent.)

  33. tuibguy says

    If Dawkins had responded by acknowledging that referring to and ranking rapes was a bad move, rather than doubling down by saying that criticism of his tweets was akin to silencing him with the threat of burning at the stake (or other tortures suffered by accused witches and heretics,) then a discussion could have ensued.

    Instead, he chose the agrieved intellectual route; in his tweets he shut down conversation itself by saying “if you can’t understand that…”

    No one was accusing him of condoning rape, which is what he seems to claim and why he is being criticized even after his follow-up. He clarified nothing fo r me in his blog post, he added a level of obfuscation by deliberately misrepresenting the objections to his tweets.

    If I were an adviser, I would avise him not to tweet direclty any longer, perhaps tumblr is the better medium for him and if he needs to use twitter to link to longer posts where he can expound on his thoughts. Of course, I would also advise him not to misrepresent the positions of those who criticize him. I would even go further and advise that he actually listen to the criticisms, but that may be too much to ask of a genius such as he.

  34. tuibguy says

    And if I may add, this tendency of late to conflate disagreements or division as “witch-hunts” does a great disservice to the memory of those who have been tortured and killed not only in the middle-ages “burning” times but in current history in places like Africa? It minimizes their pain and anguish, and even if Richard Dawkins were to be silenced by the “PC Police” at FtB (stay with me here) it would in no wise raise the equivalence of flames biting into a person’s skin and the searing pain of a slow death caused by such torture.

    Lay off the witch-hunt and Nazi comparisons and honor the memories of those killed in that way.

  35. MyaR says

    How do you have a dialogue when you don’t know to whom you are talking or what knowledge or preconceptions they bring to the imaginary table?</blockquote

    Much less what preconceptions you yourself are bringing to the table, and without a willingness to examine those, or even admit that you just might have some.

    One caveat I have with the "twitter is a horrible tool" meme — it's not always. I have actually learned a lot from some twitter communities, black feminists in particular. But that's because I don't have a kneejerk response to "white feminists", and think it's an attack on me, but rather, it's a shorthand way of saying "there is this community that intersects with how I identify myself, but they are ignoring my very real concerns about how my differences affect those things that the community is concerned about". You can't say that in a tweet, but it's still the subtext, and what you should be reacting to as a good faith interlocutor. After all, "white X" is not a term of derision (well, until it all goes off the rails because some of the "white Xs" can't handle linguistic shorthand and nuance), but one of fact. Mainstream feminism, for all it likes quoting bell hooks and Sojourner Truth when convenient, is very white, and it shows in how problems are ranked and addressed (or even identified in the first place).

  36. jesse says

    I suspect, and I am guessing here, that Dawkins is making the classic mistake of conflating his worth as a person (and others’ opinion of it) with criticism of specific things.

    Look, I get it, it’s deeply entrenched in the language English-speakers use to discuss racism or sexism. We say “that person is a ____ist”.

    But that isn’t the way it works. Racism and sexism are not a matter of what’s in your heart — they are systems, and as such manifest in actions.

    We tend to speak of them in individualized terms, however. I suspect that’s an artifact of the ol’ Calvinist moralities, at least for Americans and Brits. That’s why we get sidetracked by all that stuff about intent. In Christian traditions especially intent really is magic — after all, the declaration of faith (as in the New Testament) is all about that, rather than what you do in this life, and the thrust of the New Testament is that the specifics of the “law” don’t matter. Heck, half the story is about how the more legalistic Pharisees were wrong. All of us are deeply steeped in that if we are from a European-descended culture.

    Dawkins seems to be thinking that it’s an attack on him personally, when it really isn’t. But hey, we’ve all made that mistake. The thing that gets me is Dawkins doesn’t seem able to step back and say, “hm. maybe I should think in terms of systems and the critiques thereof.”

    One reason this doesn’t shock me — and why I speculate on this vein — is his scientific work. The Selfish Gene was in some ways anti-systemic — it reduces evolution to the actions of genes rather than genes + organism + environment acting synergistically.

    Just throwing that out there. I’m armchair psychologizing I know.

  37. says

    He is trying to suggest that the very act of drawing distinctions between x (which is horrendously awful) and y (which is even worse) in no way constitutes an endorsement of x or diminishes x’s own level of evil.

    He’s doing a piss-poor job of it, and he should just walk away and give it a rest. We’ve all known there are different degrees of each kind of harmful act — that’s been obvious since before Dawkins was even born. Dawkins has contributed absolutely nothing new to this conversation, and he’s just insulting everyone by pretending he has.

    He’s made his point, for better or worse; and it’s time for him and his asinine apologists to just let it go and move on to something else.

    The “c word,” of course, has quite a different meaning among the Brits than it does across the pond…

    So fucking what? That lame-assed pretentious diversion has been done to death too. Move on.

  38. MyaR says

    the very act of drawing distinctions between x (which is horrendously awful) and y (which is even worse) in no way constitutes an endorsement of x or diminishes x’s own level of evil

    He goes off the tracks with “even worse”. There is no need to try to distinguish between two horrible things. Maybe if he’d chosen one thing that was merely bad and not terrible (say, a single instance of street harrassment), but that’s still iffy, because those small, single acts add up into something that could, for a certain person, be worse than the really terrible thing. Feeling the need to compare the rankings of awfulness of various things, outside of the context of sentencing (not even charging or convicting, but just sentencing) criminals, is pretty awful itself.

    Distinguishing whether we, as a society, treat something as bad or terrible is a potentially useful conversation, since then you can get into things like “what is an actual criminal act?” “what makes something a felony vs misdemeanor?” “can we, as a society, roundly condemn something without criminalizing it?” etc. But the question shouldn’t be “which is worse?” but “how do we, as a society, address this particular bad thing, in terms of justice for the victim(s), best interest of society, potential for rehabilitation, costs to society, etc.”

    A conversation about whether X>Y or Y>X is not useful. It gets us nowhere. It does not help the victim, it does not improve society, and it does not help potential future victims. But then, I’ve always felt the point of logic and rationality was to improve things for humanity. Sure, it can be fun sometimes to have those freshman dorm conversations that are just stretching rhetorical and logical muscles, but I would hope a 73-year-old would have learned that you better check whether you’re in a freshman dorm before trying to have one.

  39. MyaR says

    Distinguishing whether we, as a society, treat something as bad or terrible is a potentially useful conversation, since then you can get into things like…

    And to add to that, you still have to be very aware of your context in these types of discussions — are you a victim of the act under discussion? is your interlocutor? is your audience? On what side of the perpetrator divide are you likely to be, and what are the consequences for you vs the other side? Is limiting certain types of discussions to certain contexts truly limiting you in any way that is proportional to the limits your “speaking freely” is placing on others?

    (I have lots of questions that are actually interesting and useful to consider, but in a way that can lessen the harm to those with a material interest in the answers being postulated. Dawkins is free to hit me up for them. Of course, they’re all postulated on the assumption that part of being a good faith interlocutor is examining your own potential biases, blind spots, and gaps in knowledge, so I’m sure he could find a way to make them go really, really wrong.

    Also, these posts probably should’ve been in the other thread.)

  40. Alex says

    @jesse

    One reason this doesn’t shock me — and why I speculate on this vein — is his scientific work. The Selfish Gene was in some ways anti-systemic — it reduces evolution to the actions of genes rather than genes + organism + environment acting synergistically

    Methinks you simplify the Selfish Gene thing too much. E.g. the follow-up book, the extended phenotype, is precisely about how other genes provide something like an environment in which individual genes “live”, and which determines their fitness, since It’s all about how interactions with “society” decide which traits are desirable. Am I not right?

  41. says

    So to put it in Dawkinsian terms: ranking types of rape is bad. Ranking them in a way entirely at odds with what people who have been raped say is their lived experience is worse.

  42. piero says

    From Dawkins’s article:

    The point was a purely logical one: to judge something bad and something else very bad is not an endorsement of the lesser of two evils. Both are bad. I wasn’t making a point about which of the two was worse. I was merely asserting that to express an opinion one way or the other is not tantamount to approving the lesser evil.

    From this article:

    Dawkins takes it as read [...] that, of course, a rape by a stranger who threatens with a weapon just must be worse than a rape by someone you know.

    Nuff said.

  43. John Morales says

    [semi-OT + meta]

    piero @53:

    From this article:

    Dawkins takes it as read [...] that, of course, a rape by a stranger who threatens with a weapon just must be worse than a rape by someone you know.
    Nuff said.

    Leaving aside that you haven’t said anything about the substance of the OP*, Dawkins’ words were “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse.”

    After being called on that, he retorted “If you prefer to think date rape is worse than knifepoint, simply reverse my syllogism.”

    * I grant you’re trying to suggest there is no good reason to claim that “Dawkins takes it as read”, and therefore the OP has little merit — and it is true that Dawkins condedes that any such judgements are merely a matter of preference**. How that suggestion affects the OP you leave to the reader’s imagination.

    ** It seems to me that you consider that there is no way to reasonably infer what his particular “preference” might be, so that it’s not evident what his personal, um, “preference” is.

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