They are afraid


Oh no. Richard Dawkins has another post on the “mild rape is less bad than ferocious rape” paradigm he’s been using to illustrate Logic lately. It’s not going to calm the heaving waters.

For now I’ll just quote the last paragraph.

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.

Oh dear. It’s really too bad that he included the “and I promise you I am not exaggerating” – because of course he is doing just that. No, they are not afraid of witch-hunts or hunts for blasphemers by inquisitions or incarnations of Orwell’s Thought Police. Saying that is, indeed, exaggeration. It’s the same kind of exaggeration as comparing feminists to Nazis or the Stasi.

They are afraid of noisy, vehement, harsh criticism. I get being afraid of that. It can be alarming and overwhelming to have a torrent of criticism dumped on you. Absolutely. But it still doesn’t tie you to a stake and set fire to a bunch of damp wood piled at your feet (damp to make it burn slowly and thus prolong the agony). It doesn’t lock you up or send you to a Gulag. It isn’t comparable to witch-hunts or inquisitions or Orwell’s Thought Police.

[As yesterday: reasoned discussion; no epithets, no insults.]

Comments

  1. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Everybody’s going to screw up every now and then. They’re going to say something that offends people, or something factually wrong. It happens.

    But when it happens, the way to respond is “I’m so sorry, I see how that was offensive/wrong, and I will not say something like that again.” Yes, even if you’re an intelligent, respected scientist.

  2. qwints says

    Seriously, the proper comparison is the House Un-American Activities Committee or the Hollywood blacklist. /sarcasm

    I just don’t understand how someone can believe that criticism or critique is shutting down intellectual inquiry, rather than part of the process of intellectual inquiry.

  3. says

    He has completely lost the plot. Either his ego has gotten so large that he thinks he can say anything, or his time is past him and he needs to retire.

  4. says

    He is not exaggerating.
    People are literally looking for witches.

    Arresting people who make statements about rape and dunking them in water to see if they float… conducting exorcisms, the whole bit. :/

    This man is making a joke of himself.

  5. karmacat says

    Shorter Dawkins, “I am a victim of persecution…” I thought these people didn’t like victims

  6. funknjunk says

    uh-huh. what was that Margaret Atwood story again about the men fearing the laughing vs. women fearing the killing? apropos….

  7. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Sorry to get all Doctor Who-fan-nerdy, but I made this analogy on Twitter and ppl seemed to like it so…

    Richard Dawkins is David Tennant’s 10th Doctor after he stopped travelling with companions. The Time Lord Victorious, who is above the rules and can do anything he believes is right and, oops, what’s that, I hurt someone? Only he has no Ood Sigma to appear and suggest perhaps he’s lost his way.

  8. deepak shetty says

    who are literally afraid to think and speak freely, afraid to raise even hypothetical questions such as those I have mentioned in this article.
    Ah Dawkins – one step forward , two steps backward,
    What I do not get , is why are you thinking and speaking freely , but we are not , when we criticize you? You cannot proclaim boldly how you speak freely and then call our speaking as witch hunts without irony meters going sproing!

  9. Jeremy Shaffer says

    karmacat at 7:

    I thought these people didn’t like victims

    They don’t like victims but they love a good martyr.

  10. jambonpomplemouse says

    He invoked the inquisition and the Thought Police(TM) in one sentence, eh? So he is turning into a parody of himself. Is there no way he could say that people who disagree with his assertions are Literally Hitler? Surely he could have fit that in there? Dude needs to hire a publicist to review things before he posts them. This is getting embarrassing.

    He sure does believe himself to be the ultimate victim. Hey, where’s that weirdo who was making those poorly drawn “Victim Card” caricatures? I want to see the one he makes of Dawkins.

  11. Onamission5 says

    I will never tire of the insinuation that examining the negative inferences contained within another person’s careless words is tantamount to irrational, superstitious (and often gender based) violence.

  12. penn says

    It’s really sad to see a leader of the modern freethought movement trivialize the horrors committed in witch hunts and inquisitions to score rhetorical points. It’s even worse because there a new examples of real witch hunts and persecution for blasphemy and apostasy every day, and he will willing throw those people under the bus by conflating harsh criticism with their plight.

    Dear Muslima,

    Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you’ve gone into hiding for fear of being hung, and . . . yawn . . . don’t tell me yet again, I know your friends were beaten and neglected because someone thought they were witches. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American brothers have to put up with.

    Only this week I heard of one, he calls himself a Bright, and do you know what happened to him? People harshly criticized his poorly articulated arguments about the vary severity of sexual assualts. I am not exaggerating. They really did. They said he was wrong and speaking out of ignorance. Of course no one threatened his life or livelihood, but even so . . .

    And you, Muslima, think you have witch hunts to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.

  13. aziraphale says

    Excellent post.

    They are afraid of noisy, vehement, harsh criticism. I get being afraid of that. It can be alarming and overwhelming to have a torrent of criticism dumped on you. Absolutely.

    That’s generously said. But on the feminist side of these arguments you get criticism. On the other side you get rape threats. There is a difference, which Dawkins appears not to see.

  14. screechymonkey says

    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

    There are many people in the religious community who are literally afraid to think and speak freely, afraid to even mention their faith publicly. They are afraid — and I promise you I am not exaggerating — of witch-hunts by militant fundamentalist atheists led by Richard Dawkins.

    I never thought I’d see the day when Richard Dawkins relied on the “many people believe X, therefore X must be true” argument. Perhaps he should go learn some logic. Maybe Jaclyn Glenn will sell him a T-shirt.

  15. culuriel says

    Wow. This reminds of the plot in To Kill a Mockingbird, where the ladies of Maycomb are so concerned about the people of a remote village in Africa, but fail to notice people living in poverty in their own county because of their racism. Dawkins is so concerned about Muslim women in the Middle East. Fine. We all should be. But atheist feminists aren’t supposed to call out the sexism in the atheist community, because… witch hunts and Orwell.

  16. leskimopie says

    So, color me confused, but I don’t follow Dawkins tweets or read his blogs or anything…was there any reason he started on this whole “lets rank badness of bad things” kick?

    Like, what was the point he was trying to make (I mean, I get the point he’s trying to make…but not the why he’s trying to make it, since its kind of a pointless point that didn’t need to be made.) Did he just randomly start with that series of tweets for funsies? Or was there some context I’m missing? Not that putting it in context would make it better, I’m just kinda curious as to what led to him saying that.

  17. Rey Fox says

    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.

    Are there really? Because it seems to me like there is no shortage of voices toeing the Dawkins line. Is this another version of “The lurkers support me in e-mail”?

  18. tonyinbatavia says

    Shorter Dawkins: Saying that criticizing me is deplorable and that rape threats are utterly deplorable doesn’t mean I endorse your right to criticize me.

  19. says

    aziraphale @ 16

    But on the feminist side of these arguments you get criticism. On the other side you get rape threats. There is a difference, which Dawkins appears not to see.

    I think actually he does see it. I think perhaps he doesn’t feel it. Which is interesting because I think that’s the main way he goes wrong here – in wanting to eliminate emotion from discussions of issues that are obviously bound to be emotive.

    The reason I think he sees it is that it was part of our discussion last week that led to the statement. If he hadn’t seen it he probably wouldn’t have agreed to the statement.

  20. screechymonkey says

    leskimopie @19:

    was there any reason he started on this whole “lets rank badness of bad things” kick?

    I don’t follow him, either, so I can’t say for sure what triggered it now, but I gather he was picking at the scab of a discussion from many months ago when he was criticized for making his argument about “mild pedophilia” being not as bad as some religious doctrination.

    Actually, I guess that’s part of a longstanding argument he’s been fighting. He wrote in The God Delusion about how traumatic to children some forms of religious indoctrination can be (mainly, threats of hellfire and torment), and how that’s a form of “child abuse.” Some of his critics then (unfairly, in my opinion) took those comments out of context to claim that Dawkins argues that any teaching of religion to children is “child abuse.”

    I think that attack has stung him enough that he still feels inclined to return to the subject from time to time. Several months ago (or maybe a year or more? I forget) he used the case of his own experience of being briefly fondled by a teacher as an example of how not all sexual abuse inflicts lifelong trauma. (His implication or maybe it was an explicit argument being that, conversely, some forms of religious indoctrination do inflict lifelong trauma, ergo Y can be worse than X, etc. etc.)

    He got some criticism over that, largely from what he would call “social justice warriors” over how he expressed that argument, because he made some broader statements about how “none of us” (meaning his classmates) were traumatized, and people pointed out that he had no right to speak for the other victims. If I recall correctly, he did back down a little on that and begrudgingly accept the point, but it appears that the key word there is begrudgingly. It’s obviously remained a sore spot, and I guess he’s been itching to lecture everyone about the logic of “X is worse than Y” arguments, which, as far as I can tell, was never the issue people had with his comments.

  21. screechymonkey says

    Ophelia @22:

    The reason I think he sees it is that it was part of our discussion last week that led to the statement. If he hadn’t seen it he probably wouldn’t have agreed to the statement.

    I wouldn’t ask you to betray private communications, but if you’re at liberty to discuss what led to the discussion, it would be interesting to hear.

  22. says

    I dunno. Calling one’s critics witch-hunters (i.e. torturers and burners of marginalised women), Inquisitors (i.e. torturers and killers of Jews, non-conformists, non-believers, and people from whom you want to steal), and Thought Police (i.e. totalitarian thugs) doesn’t sound like someone “manag[ing] disagreement ethically” to me.

  23. says

    “According to recent statistics from blog-tracking site Technorati, the blogosphere has doubled every six months for the last three years. That’s 175,000 new blogs per day worldwide. Technorati added its 50 millionth blog on July 31, 2006.”

    Sorry for the old stats…. but it illustrates my point.
    Unless you are incapable of creating a pseudonym and a blog….which takes 5 seconds to come up with your pseud, 3 minutes to set up the blog – for a 8 year old…

    -or-

    you are in danger of being jailed or executed for your twitter account…

    You are not being filtered, suppressed, censored.

    GO TO TOWN.
    EXPRESS THY SELF.

    Just don’t be surprised with other people’s expressions in criticism of your thoughts – if they do not hold up to scrutiny, if they inspire anger, if they make your faults that much plainer…if you are not received with rose petals preceding your steps…

    This is not a witch hunt.
    This is not an inquisition.

    Pull yourself off the cross Richard (and by extension his fearful friends.)

  24. says

    Oh and sorry to clog up your comments, Ophelia, but I just gotta say, can we now put paid to the idea that Dawkins is totally oblivious to the criticism he’s been getting? He is aware. He just doesn’t agree with it. He doesn’t agree with feminist, progressive ideals or goals. He denies evidence presented to him and doubles down in his ignorance and offensiveness as well as any creationist or presuppositionalist.

  25. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    GO TO TOWN.
    EXPRESS THY SELF.

    DO NOT PASS GO
    DO NOT COLLECT $200

    /sorry, couldn’t resist

  26. Donnie says

    @Ophelia: Can you start a fund raiser to get a couple of ‘comfy chairs’ for our Inquisitions of Dawkinists?

    Hopefully, I do not need to explain the cultural (i.e, Monty Python) reference of the above statement instead of being accused of actually asking for an Inquisition of a made up term for those who agree with Dawkins?

  27. Bernard Bumner says

    …I think actually he does see it. I think perhaps he doesn’t feel it…

    This is what I’ve always suspected. I think that he only brings cold analysis to a subject, and he – having been able to rationalise and catalogue even his own experience of abuse – thinks that all discussions should take the form of analytical debate.

    Whether it comes from working for so long dissecting religious arguments (which are primarily emotional appeals), or whether this uncanny ability is what makes him so suited to demolishing faith, it is very clear that there are many instances where cold detachment is not only unhelpful, but also completely inappropriate and inhumane.

    His expectation is unrealistic and misplaced that the internet is a medium for forensic debate and discussion, rather than a medium through which people conduct their real lives, full of thought and entirely appropriate emotion, and vulnerability.

  28. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    You would think that a professional communicator who participates in lectures, panel discussions, Q/A’s etc., would understand the fairly simple concept of “derailing” and why it’s insulting and inappropriate. And how Just-Asking-Questions or in this case, posing a comparison of evils is a tactic used to shut down the discussion of the particular evil that is being discussed. Or how utterly arrogant it is to change the subject or demand people talk about what you want them to talk about. That seems to be the bigger problem with Dawkins (in addition to his insensitivity and blindness on privilege etc.)

    Concern-troll’s concerns about witch-hunts have been duly noted.

  29. says

    He’s lying. Hard. Very few afraid of witch hunts, which don’t exist even exist in this environment. And if you are afraid, wouldn’t you just be just a little too emotional? Almost as emotional as those who like to say ridiculous and awful things just for the lulz of the reactions they get? Any fear is buried deep down, and it’s about losing privilege when societies become more egalitarian. Zero to do with being witch-hunted for an honest question or comment.

  30. piero says

    I feel uneasy posting a comment on this thread, and perhaps that’s the reason I should and will.

    As a man, I have received a rather harsh education on women’s issues. I’ve seen my perfectly rational, unassailable arguments demolished time after time by both men and women who were much smarter and knowledgeable than I was. And that humbling experience taught me to think very carefully before opening my mouth or grabbing my keyboard.

    On the minus side, the reaction has sometimes been so aggressive as to stiffle any further exchange of ideas. When I’m wrong, I like to be told I’m wrong and why. I don’t like to be told that I am a disgusting piece of fecal matter who will never understand anything because I’m not a woman.

    Fear is too strong a word, but I cannot deny I feel uneasy in posting this. I’m half expecting to be told “Tough shit. Fuck you”. Maybe that’s just the way things are, and maybe I really should go fuck myself. I’m not looking forward to that prospect, though.

  31. Pen says

    Ermm, let’s see: fear that people will treat me with contempt because of my ideas is bad but fear that people will rape me is worse, so logically, that proves, errr that I don’t endorse treating people with contempt because of their ideas. This includes members of various religions, Mr Dawkins. Criticism, yes, contempt, no.

  32. jenBPhillips says

    Piero, I’m not going to the the one to shout you down, and in fact I congratulate you on being able to take other, more diverse opinions to heart. Plenty of people in this conversation are woefully incapable of such a feat.

    As Ophelia said in a subsequent post (“Let’s sit down and discuss…”), having your opinions vigorously challenged is hard to take. No one likes to draw that kind of fire, and I agree that it is off-putting. I will say that, depending on the source of the ire, and the inherent value (separate from tone/delivery) of what the responders have to say, sometimes it is worth trying to understand the reason for their aggression.

    Having seen a number of these conversations unfold over the years, sometimes “You are a disgusting piece of fecal matter who will never understand anything because you are not a woman” means “You are the 55th man to come bumbling in here to try and explain away my feelings and although I patiently tolerated #s1-54 I’m now so fucking tired of entertaining the exact same arguments that you’re getting both barrels of whoop-ass.”

    I daresay, though, that the more you practice thinking and listening before (or instead of) pontificating, the less likely you are to run into this.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, both positive and negative.

  33. tonyinbatavia says

    piero @35, you’re not going to get that expected reaction from me, at least not to this post.

    Look, here’s the difference between you and Dawkins: You talk in very real terms about the harsh ways in which you have been treated when discussing such matters. What you didn’t do, and what Dawkins did do, is liken (what I assume are) similar experiences to witch hunts “for latter day blasphemers by latter day Inquisitions and latter day incarnations of Orwell’s Thought Police.” You didn’t exaggerate but instead said you had an “uneasy feeling,” which is a far, far cry from “witch hunt.” You didn’t have to be told that being stung in an argument is not the same as burning at the stake. You didn’t respond to your harsh education with condescension in this comment.

    No doubt you smarted after those interactions, which explains being stifled. But what is the net effect? You said that it forced you to think very carefully, which likely means you are more likely to better prepare your arguments so you won’t be demolished in the future. In the absence of not having it explained to you, you are more likely to educate and prepare yourself. I would assume you are prepared to listen more empathetically in addition to being ready to present rational arguments. If you did it before, I would guess you are you less likely to mansplain. If any of this is the net effect, consider yourself better off than before those rebukes. I mean, who wants to engage in arguments until you are ready to argue well?

    I’ve been in your shoes. Hell, even now I venture into comment sections with what I believe are cool-headed arguments only to get my head handed to me. It stings. But it also makes me think much harder. Sometimes I try to build a defense only to find that I’m on the wrong side of things, which leads to mea culpas. Other times I try to build a defense and still believe I’m right, which prompts me to try to find better ways to argue the point. Sometimes I realize that when I joined the fray I was actually ill-prepared and undereducated about the matter, so I spend the rest of time watching others argue so that I can understand the nuances on both sides.

    Personally, I’m glad you added your comment. I appreciate your honesty and also I appreciate that you didn’t do any of the things Dawkins did.

  34. piero says

    tonyinbatavia and jenBPhillips, thank you for your responses. I really appreciate them.

    Yes, I regard the use of “witch hunt” as an exaggeration. And yes, I value my harsh education for precisely the reasons you point out: sometimes it forced me to find better arguments, sometimes it made me realise I was wrong.

    I just wanted to say that I feel I have to tread perhaps too lightly on this ground, to the point of refraining from entering a discussion. And though I’ve often been wrong, maybe sometimes I’m right. Maybe I can contribute something. Or maybe I just want to understand something, but I’m slightly afraid to ask.

    For example, I read not long ago a thread on computer games and the lack of female main characters thereof. The question that sprang to mind was “Aren’t there any female game programmers?” but I did not ask. I kind of expected a response on the lines of “You are missing the point. Programmers, male or female, should give more prominence to women” And I thought “Yes, they should. But since they don’t, why don’t women programmers do something about it?” And then I thought that I would be called an idiot for insisting in not getting the point, and so I did not post.

    Am I an idiot? I don’t know!

  35. PatrickG says

    @ piero:

    I certainly wouldn’t call you an idiot. I’ve felt similar things in the past, and definitely have been dissuaded in joining conversations because of my own discomfort.

    However, I’ve realized that my discomfort often stems from realizing that for many topics, I don’t have a lot of facts at hand or personal experiences to draw on. A lot of the negative responses I’ve received have been due to me asking innocent questions that in retrospect are not innocent, because I’ve failed to meet basic standards for entry into the debate.

    For example, here in this thread you gave an example of wanting to ask a question about the proportion of female programmers in the gaming industry. This was the first google result for “proportion of female game programmers”:

    The effects of this frat boy culture are captured in glaring industry statistics: Women account for only 11 percent of game designers and 3 percent of programmers, strikingly low even when compared with the broader fields of graphic design and technology, where women make up about 60 percent and 25 percent of employment respectively, according to surveys.

    I didn’t know it was that low, and now my immediate questions go to things like: Why is there a frat-boy culture in gaming? How did this develop? Are there specific, traceable causes (beyond very general reasons)? How can it be remedied? Do people on the thread have experience they can share with me, or point me to better sources than some random newspaper article? I find these types of queries get better — and more informative — responses.

    I don’t bring this up to castigate you or insult you. I merely point out when I put my foot square in mouth, or irritate people, it’s often because I simply haven’t done even a basic amount of research. On many forums, people get very irritable when they have to answer basic questions like this, especially when the information is so easily obtainable.

    Also, it can be very difficult to tell whether the person asking this question is sincere (but perhaps should have done some quick research) or trolling (JAQing off, attempting to derail, waste other people’s time). On forums that have a high incidence of trolls, regulars can very quickly default to the assumption that you’re not engaging in good faith. Of course, that can happen in error, but I certainly don’t blame those regulars for slightly-aggressive pattern detection.

    Just a tip/shared experience. Like I said, I sometimes get really uncomfortable commenting too, and basic research before commenting is the single most important thing I’ve done to stop provoking barrages of deserved sarcasm, insult, and dismissal. :)

  36. jenBPhillips says

    Dropping in to an online community and asking for a comprehensive education on a topic you haven’t bothered to do any preliminary research on yourself is a good way to get people’s dander up. Some good-faith effort toward finding your own answers–or at least clarifying your questions–goes a long way toward demonstrating your earnest desire to learn things and engage with the dialogue. Consider:

    “Why don’t women programmers do something about that?”

    vs.

    “I did some research on the underrepresentation of female characters in computer games and found [link(s) to your resources] but I’d like to know if there are any efforts by women programmers to even the gender ratio. Can anyone recommend some further reading material?”

    If it was a topic you had spend a lot of time discussing, which question would you be more likely to respond more favorably to?

  37. Pen says

    @39 – well the thing is, it’s not that you’re not getting the point, it’s that your suggestion for fixing sexism in gaming is illogical because it advocates attempting a hard task when an easier one is already proving hard to achieve. But perhaps you didn’t quite realise it was harder? I strongly suspect your suggestion also misses all kinds of important empirical things about production in the gaming industry, which I would guess involves teams, hierarchies and commercial as well as design interests, none of which are weighted in a female direction.

  38. Malachite says

    If any atheists are afraid to speak and think freely, well, let’s just say that in this context, it is those who are repeatedly subject to harassment for caring about social justice issues that spring to mind!

  39. piero says

    ceesays, PatrickG, jenBPhillips and Pen:

    Yes, I agree with you. Doing at least some basic research before entering a conversation is the least one can do. I also agree that just asking ““Why don’t women programmers do something about that?” might be impolite and easily interpreted as trolling. Now that I see it written down in somebody else’s post, I can easily imagine it said in a jeering, contemptuous tone.

    Anyway, it is not my intention to derail the thread. Suffice it to say that your points are well taken.

  40. PatrickG says

    @ piero:

    Not my intention to continue the derail, but I would offer one tip: if you’re at all in question as to whether what you say might be taken badly, read it out loud.

    If you’re like me, you’ll be amazed how often you tell yourself “the fuck is wrong with you?” :)

  41. jenBPhillips says

    Not a derail, as far as I’m concerned–an important topic to address in the current climate. Thanks for asking, Piero, and good luck with your future engagements.

  42. jenBPhillips says

    just to address this, for clarification:

    I also agree that just asking ““Why don’t women programmers do something about that?” might be impolite and easily interpreted as trolling. Now that I see it written down in somebody else’s post, I can easily imagine it said in a jeering, contemptuous tone.

    One thing to keep in mind is that this doesn’t even have to sound like trolling to be vexing. Putting myself in the place of the battle-weary commenter who’s about to bite your head off, my reaction to such a question (assuming no other data on you to influence my opinion) would be more like “oh, wow, what a fabulous idea–why didn’t WE think of that ladies? Let’s just DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! *painfully sarcastic eyeroll*”

    So, it’ s not just trolling (real or perceived) that sets people off, it’s the practice of coming in to a protracted, complex discussion of a socially important issue, without any apparent effort made to get up to speed on the state of affairs,and proposing some sweeping, oversimplified solution.

    People do this a lot, and while many seasoned commenters do try to be really helpful (some of us collect ‘101’ type links for just such occasions, even), such comments, however well-intentioned do have the potential to irritate. None of these conversations happen in a vacuum.

  43. Stevarious, Public Health Problem says

    was there any reason he started on this whole “lets rank badness of bad things” kick?

    Actually, yes, and if he had stopped at the second tweet, he would have made his point, instead of stepping in yet another pile of shit.

    Last year, he made a statement in an interview in Time magazine, where he specifically stated that mild pedophilia (such as he experienced as a child – a light grope by a teacher, over in seconds, never repeated, which he described as more embarrassing than harmful) is not as bad as, say, the penetrative rape of a child. He was (unfairly, I think) accused of actually defending mild pedophilia. (When of course, all he was doing was minimizing it and dismissing potential subjective harm – though to a far lesser degree than his third tweet on rape did.)

    I don’t think minimizing and dismissing the harm of what he describes as ‘mild’ pedophilia is a good thing to do. But I think it’s a well bit different from actually defending or promoting it, as he was accused of doing. And that’s the point he was trying to make, I think.

    (Hmmmm…. I sort of defended Dawkins here. Guess I better get ready to be burned at the stake, or tortured on a rack, or arrested and put in jail for thinking unapproved thoughts! NO EXAGGERATION! THESE THINGS WILL ACTUALLY HAPPEN TO ME!!! *hides under blanket*)

  44. Rinsvm says

    Everybody’s going to screw up every now and then. They’re going to say something that offends people, or something factually wrong. It happens.
    But when it happens, the way to respond is “I’m so sorry, I see how that was offensive/wrong, and I will not say something like that again.” Yes, even if you’re an intelligent, respected scientist.

    This is a pretty good example of the differences between many people here and those on Dawkin’s side.

    If Dawkins is wrong he should be corrected. Wether what he says offends you is irrelevant. It doesn’t add to the wrongness of his statement whatsoever.

    Most of you seem to grasp this concept when it comes to Rushdie offending muslims or Myers offending catholics. Your offense at Dawkin’s statements is no more or less real, no more or less warranted. Of course you think you’re right to be offended. As do those muslims. As do those catholics. It’s too bad, but no crime has been committed and no punishments are required.

    This is what upsets people when (broad strokes here) ‘Social Justice Warriors’, say, go after someone’s job as punishment for holding the wrong opinion, such as in the recent Brendan Eich case or as some tried to do with Lindsay after his opening speech at wiscfi.
    To compare this with the Inquisition or the Ayatollah in Rushdie’s case is not an exaggeration. Not the bit about torture and murder of course. But the justification for punishment however, is the same: a group of people deciding that some thoughts are a crime worthy of being punished.

    I’d reccomend reading Kindly Inquisitors by Jonathan Rauch. He makes the moral case for free speech quite well. (Rather than the legal case, which is irrelevant anyway in this case since the state isn’t involved and free speech is protected anyway)

  45. drbunsen, le savant fous says

    At the very least, he needs to stop thinking he can teach Logic to others.

  46. smhll says

    One thing to keep in mind is that this doesn’t even have to sound like trolling to be vexing. Putting myself in the place of the battle-weary commenter who’s about to bite your head off, my reaction to such a question (assuming no other data on you to influence my opinion) would be more like “oh, wow, what a fabulous idea–why didn’t WE think of that ladies? Let’s just DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! *painfully sarcastic eyeroll*”

    I’ve got some background info for piero. This is not intended to be describing him personally, but to help him understand some of the reasons for the raging he’s alluded to.

    One of the biggest hot buttons can be rape and rape apology and Monday morning quarterbacking about real assaults that real people here have experienced.

    An example of something that’s sure to hurt the people reading and provoke a very strong negative response is the ‘deep thinkers’ who want to offer rape ‘prevention’ tips like the classic “when I drive into a bad neighborhood, I lock my valuables in the trunk.”

    People come around every few weeks wanting to rehash that conversation and not feel bad about themselves They seem to be totally lacking in awareness of how awful their repetitive inquiries make rape victims, potential victims and friends of survivors feel. Since it is impossible to remove one’s vagina and lock it in the trunk, I finally figured that the ‘tip’ may mean (sort of indirectly), throw a blanket over your body, girls(and other targets), so that men don’t covet it. (Even if they can deduce that it’s there? Yecchh.)

    It’s really hard for me to refer to this nugget of ‘common sense’ as anything else than a turd. (I’m being predictably scatalogical. Whoops.)

    When someone says very simplistic and uninformed sounding things about a topic, they cab get a hail of disagreement (because there are many many people reading), and their level of thoughtfulness may be met with derision, especially If they utter the common sense things that can be invalidated with just a little thought and research.

    People who say simplistic, popular things very firmly can provoke disrespectful snorting sounds and maybe mockery. If they double down on their simple assertions, just repeating their first comment in mostly the same words without pausing to understand the feedback they are receiving, then they may be considered too obstinate to be worth a patiently argued response.

    Brief restatement plus “nuh-uh” or “I’m still right” is not going to go over well.

    Strong responses and even calling things crap or calling people assholes is something that happens on most of the internet. I don’t love it. But if you want to see an extreme flame job, go look at some of the Youtube vids from the more reactionary atheists and say something nice about feminism in the comment thread. I expect you’d get an explosion of hatred. (It’s super common for women who tell each other about vids about general interest stuff to add “Don’t read the comments” with every rec. So, at this point, I don’t expect the whole internet to be nice. I just stay away from Youtube comments.) (Although my brother said something about Youtube eliminating comments… who knows…)

  47. says

    Rinsvm @ 50

    No, I think that’s wrong. Not all “being offended” is unreasonable or to be dismissed. The details matter. In short, as usual, it’s more complicated than that.

    If you say something mean to a friend or relative, their being offended is pretty reasonable.

    The particulars matter.

  48. PatrickG says

    @Rinsvm:

    I hit this section and just about died laughing.

    To compare this with the Inquisition or the Ayatollah in Rushdie’s case is not an exaggeration.

    Almost died laughing because you immediately, as in the very next sentence, followed that statement with:

    Not the bit about torture and murder of course.

    There must be a name for the fallacy of A = B, for certain redefinitions of B. Also, I do not think the word exaggeration means what you think it means.

    Seriously, do you not grasp the concept of power imbalance? The RCC during the inquisition or the Ayatollah vs. Rushdie had immense power over their victims. Are you really going to claim that ‘Social Justice Warriors’ exercise that same level of power? With that in mind, let’s rephrase this statement of yours slightly:

    a group of people deciding that some thoughts are a crime worthy of being punished should be criticized and may have social consequences

    To try an example off the top of my head, would you seriously argue that critics of Donald Sterling shouldn’t be upset by the comments he made about black people? Did their anger “add nothing”? Was he “punished” for that “crime”? Was he a victim? Were anti-racism advocates equivalent to RCC Inquisitors?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

  49. piero says

    @PatrickG : Yes, that’s good advice. Thanks.

    @ jenBPhilips: “oh, wow, what a fabulous idea–why didn’t WE think of that ladies? Let’s just DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! *painfully sarcastic eyeroll*”
    Precisely! That’s precisely the response I got in a discussion on abortion. Painful, but beneficial: it forced me to rethink the tower I had so neatly constructed on quicksand. Unfortunately, it appears I have relapsed. Must try harder. My apologies.

    @ smhll: Thank you for your response. I understand that a rape victim may feel deeply hurt and insulted by an insensitive question. Fortunately, I can say I’ve never done anything like that.

    Reading your post I realized something: if I were to post a comment defending feminism and got flamed for it I wouldn’t care in the least. So it’s not that I’m oversensitive to harshness or rudeness: it only hurts when it comes from those you want to support.

  50. says

    Reducing everything to “being offended” is blatantly dishonest and ethically bankrupt. It allows Dawkins and his supporters to ignore every criticism, and instead tell the lie (mostly to themselves) that what they’ve said/done is the rough equivalent of farting in an elevator or using the wrong fork at a fancy dinner. This isn’t about “offense” it is about Dawkins being DEAD FUCKING FACTUALLY WRONG IN A WAY THAT IS HARMFUL AND DAMAGING TO OTHER PEOPLE.

  51. Anthony K says

    go after someone’s job as punishment for holding the wrong opinion, such as in the recent Brendan Eich

    You’re super not good with specifics, are you? There’s a book I recommend you should read.

  52. Anthony K says

    Remember when Brendan Eich went after the civil rights of gay people for holding the wrong opinions?

  53. jenBPhillips says

    Piero–

    Precisely! That’s precisely the response I got in a discussion on abortion. Painful, but beneficial: it forced me to rethink the tower I had so neatly constructed on quicksand. Unfortunately, it appears I have relapsed. Must try harder. My apologies.

    No need to apologize to me, I’m just role playing wicha. :)

    if I were to post a comment defending feminism and got flamed for it I wouldn’t care in the least. So it’s not that I’m oversensitive to harshness or rudeness: it only hurts when it comes from those you want to support.

    And that’s the meat of it. Earnest efforts to listen to and understand those you are trying to support are a prerequisite to being a true ally. Seems like you have figured this out, and I am grateful for it.

  54. jenBPhillips says

    goddamnit–‘Ernest’ may be an ally for all I know, but I, of course, meant ‘earnest’.

  55. says

    Hahaha – I was once discussing a book idea with a publisher named Ernest and I kept using the word “earnest” and he kept interrupting to say “what??” It took me an embarrassingly long time to get his joke.

  56. Anthony K says

    I was once discussing a book idea with a publisher named Ernest and I kept using the word “earnest” and he kept interrupting to say “what??”

    I didn’t call you, surely.

  57. MyaR says

    Earnest efforts to listen to and understand those you are trying to support are a prerequisite to being a true ally.

    This. This. This. Dawkins wants cookies for being a feminist ally without doing the work of actually being one. It’s also where offense comes in — if your statement is generating offense within a community you want to be (at least seen as being) an ally of, you probably don’t want to offend them every other week with careless word/metaphor/analogy choices.

  58. Tessa says

    PatrickG:

    a group of people deciding that some thoughts are a crime worthy of being punished should be criticized and may have social consequences

    What really strikes me as funny is that Dawkins is also using social pressure, and trying to apply social consequences. Look at his language. By making “emotion” the antithesis to “logic,” and defining reasonable discussion as “looking at both sides of the question dispassionately,” he is already painting those that use emotion within their discussion as bad.

    And look at these two quotes and see the framing:

    My friend sometimes poses this very question, and he tells me that about half the students are willing to entertain the hypothetical counterfactual and rationally discuss the consequences. The other half respond emotionally to the hypothetical, are too revolted to proceed and simply opt out of the conversation.

    and:

    There are those whose love of reason allows them to enter such disagreeable hypothetical worlds and see where the discussion might lead. And there are those whose emotions prevent them from going anywhere near the conversation.

    You can practically see the glowing sunshine and rainbow aura around those callous enough to discuss the pain and ill treatment of people as if they don’t exist or matter in real life. And you can see the dark miasma and smell the stench of death around those who respect others enough to not want to question their rights that have a real risk of being revoked by those in power.

    It’s all meant to negatively frame those who don’t find it reasonable to dispassionately discuss rape and murder and slavery as if these things are actually hypothetical and don’t exist in the real world as we speak. And of course, since Dawkins is popular, others will use this premise on others, resulting in social pressure to use Dawkins’s version of “reasonable discussion” or be labeled as too emotional to be taken seriously.

  59. John Morales says

    Tessa @65, nitpick:

    It’s all meant to negatively frame those who don’t find it reasonable to can’t cope with dispassionately discuss[ing] rape and murder and slavery as if these things are actually hypothetical and don’t exist in the real world as we speak.

    (One should be fair to one’s source material)

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  1. […] They are afraid–”It can be alarming and overwhelming to have a torrent of criticism dumped on you. Absolutely. But it still doesn’t tie you to a stake and set fire to a bunch of damp wood piled at your feet (damp to make it burn slowly and thus prolong the agony).” […]

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