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Good-bye Dear Muslima

Richard D has a new post on the issue of comparisons and rankings. He makes the very reasonable point that it cuts both ways – saying Problem X is comparatively minor can be bad, and saying Problem X is horrific can be bad. Then he says something that made me lean right forward until I almost bumped into the screen. The last two paragraphs:

But let’s think about it. Who exactly is doing the belittling here?

Suppose I had said what my critics apparently wanted me to say, namely that my experience in the squash court was among the worst things that ever happened to me? I could imagine the following explosive retort from another pedophile victim: “WHAT? You cannot be SERIOUS. When I was a child, I was painfully raped by my father, week after week for years and I was too terrified to tell anyone. How DARE you go on about your 30 seconds of discomfort and momentary embarrassment with a teacher who, unlike my father, meant nothing to you. How DARE you big up your paltry 30 seconds, thereby BELITTLING my five years of painful misery and betrayal? Check your privilege, Dawkins, and take a look at what REAL child abuse looks like.”

Well, I hope nobody would actually say that. There should be no rivalry in victimhood, and I’m sorry I once said something similar to American women complaining of harassment, inviting them to contemplate the suffering of Muslim women by comparison. But maybe you get the point? If we wish to insist (in the face of judicial practice everywhere) that all examples of a sexual crime are exactly equally bad, perhaps we need to look more carefully at exactly who is belittling what.

Did you see it? I’ll separate it out, in case you missed it.

There should be no rivalry in victimhood, and I’m sorry I once said something similar to American women complaining of harassment, inviting them to contemplate the suffering of Muslim women by comparison.

There it is.

Comments

  1. says

    It’s good to see he’s willing to look back and realize where he was wrong.

    Now if he’ll just stay the hell away from Twitter, everything will be good! 140 characters is not the place for subtle nuance.

  2. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    Welp, it’s something but it strikes me as kind of backhanded, smuggling in the bit about judicial practice when nobody was even talking about that except the brave little heroes rushing to make excuses for him. Baby steps, I ‘spose.

  3. says

    That’s nice. Any bets on how long it’ll be before Dawkins decides that wasn’t really what he meant, again?

    Seriously, I really hope he means what he says this time, and that he can stick to it, but I’m not counting on it just yet.

  4. drken says

    Is Richard Dawkins…. Learning? Showing some minimal amount of empathy? Stranger things have happened. He doesn’t have to show Neil DeGrasse Tyson levels of humanity just yet, but it’s a nice start.

  5. says

    I don’t see this as much progress, to be honest. He still doesn’t understand the problem with Dear Muslima. He has to use hypotheticals because there was in fact no “rivalry in victimhood” in response to Watson’s brief remarks about the elevator incident from other women in the movement. Who’s doing the belittling? He was. Our response to her comments was basically a compassionate “Yup.” She didn’t claim it was a horrific experience or compare it to systematic violence. There were literally hundreds (probably thousands) of comments from people who were victims of sexual violence and Muslim women supporting her against those mocking, harassing, and trying to silence her. People understood that the incident she described was one part of a culture that at the extreme supports the most violent and oppressive acts and policies. Many men appreciated the comments because they didn’t realize how they might be disrespecting women in everyday, thoughtless ways that promote this culture and suck for women to have to deal with. The only people using rivalry rhetoric were misogynists and anti-feminists, and they were goaded on by Dawkins. He was belittling.

    His “inviting [American women] to contemplate the suffering of Muslim women by comparison” in response to Watson’s remarks was outrageous for many reasons, but one of them is that we weren’t suggesting any rivalry of suffering with other women. Describing your experiences and sympathizing with others’ doesn’t imply any minimization of other experiences, and calling some people’s negative experiences illegitimate does nothing to help relieve anyone’s suffering (quite the contrary). He just doesn’t seem to grasp how basic compassion works. He can imagine that “explosive retort,” but can’t seem to imagine that other victims of pedophiles could recognize and sympathize with the suffering of all victims without making it into a rivalry (or even thinking in these terms). That’s been far more the pattern that I’ve seen among social justice activists – even in response to attacks, people have often shown great compassion to those who’ve been victimized and are hurting and angry. He would see this if he paid attention. He needs to get past this rivalry stuff and approach things from a perspective of listening and caring.

  6. hoary puccoon says

    I’m not sure where Richard Dawkins got the idea that anyone besides he, himself, was saying “all examples of a sexual crime are exactly equally bad.” I had the impression that people were upset with him for categorizing all date rapes as “exactly equally bad” and not as bad as any stranger rapes with weapons.

    However, it is encouraging that he walked back the “Dear Muslima” letter. I hope he thinks about it further and considers how insisting people must focus on the big problems before they are allowed to solve the littler ones generally means no problems get solved at all.

  7. says

    Suppose I had said what my critics apparently wanted me to say,* namely that my experience in the squash court was among the worst things that ever happened to me? I could imagine the following explosive retort from another pedophile victim: “WHAT? You cannot be SERIOUS. When I was a child, I was painfully raped by my father, week after week for years and I was too terrified to tell anyone. How DARE you go on about your 30 seconds of discomfort and momentary embarrassment with a teacher who, unlike my father, meant nothing to you. How DARE you big up your paltry 30 seconds, thereby BELITTLING my five years of painful misery and betrayal? Check your privilege, Dawkins, and take a look at what REAL child abuse looks like.”

    If the molestation had actually been experienced as among the worst things that ever happened to him, this would serve to retraumatize him. Even if the other victim were lashing out out of personal pain, it would be tragic. I can’t imagine anyone at all knowledgeable about psychology who wouldn’t see this as the opposite of the appropriate response to someone talking about their victimization.

    * He just does not get it. He doesn’t appear to be reading what anyone is saying.

  8. dshetty says

    Good – one step forward (hopefully none backword)
    If we wish to insist (in the face of judicial practice everywhere) that all examples of a sexual crime are exactly equally bad
    Dawkins himself says that he can see that the order can be interchanged (in his example)- which should indicate to him that his example is a context based, highly subjective call, that a ranking system is somewhat pointless
    (in the face of judicial practice everywhere)
    I find the repeated reference to judicial practices funny – If we had to look at examples of “reason” and “logic” a judicial system is hardly one of the top examples , since we could find many rules that defy logic . A judicial system is more to do with checks and balances and pragmatic principles.(A jury of peers, really?)

  9. soogeeoh says

    re: logo
    I once saw a movie (Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead) where the protagonists have a handshake/greeting going back to (their time in) prison, flat hand against flat hand, as if a glass pane in the visiting room is between them.

    There’s even an entry on tvtropes: Window Love

    When seeing the new logo I kept thinking of that, and my associations were going in the direction of (metaphorical) prison, imprisonment, freethoughtblogs …

    For the curious, who don’t know the proper idea behind it:
    It’s meant to be reminiscent of cave paintings, explained in Welcome to the New Freethought Blogs [freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/]

  10. says

    Dawkins himself says that he can see that the order can be interchanged (in his example)- which should indicate to him that his example is a context based, highly subjective call, that a ranking system is somewhat pointless

    So everyone is belittling everyone else, and it all evens out. Alternatively, no one is belittling anyone else, and it all evens out.

    Seriously – talking about your victimization and how it affected you doesn’t belittle anything. The whole notion is so harmful: it makes victims feel not just afraid to speak out but guilty about it – like they’re somehow hurting other people by doing so. Toxic, toxic idea.

  11. Katherine Woo says

    Most of the comments here show Dawkins was and is the better person, despite saying things I disagree with from time to time, than his fervent detractors on the leftist fringe. Take drken’s remark about “minimal amount of empathy” and “levels of humanity.” Those are nothing but cartoonish character assassinations that reveal an intolerance to the slightest dissent from orthodoxy.

  12. Al Dente says

    Katherine Woo @17

    Dawkins’ “fervent detractors on the leftish fringe”* are objecting to his lack of empathy, his belittling of victims of sexism and racism, his refusal to consider the concept of privilege (this is particularly annoying since Dawkins has more privilege than most people), and his whiny reaction to legitimate criticism. Do you need examples of these behaviors?

    Whatever the “leftish fringe” might be, other than an artifact of your fervent imagination.

  13. Blanche Quizno says

    Thank you, Katherine Woo. I hadn’t realized that “Opposite Day” had already started in your time zone.

  14. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    Most of the comments here show Dawkins was and is the better person, despite saying things I disagree with from time to time, than his fervent detractors on the leftist fringe. Take drken’s remark about “minimal amount of empathy” and “levels of humanity.” Those are nothing but cartoonish character assassinations that reveal an intolerance to the slightest dissent from orthodoxy.

    Lessons in self-awareness from Katherine Woo @ 17

    Yep. Nothing like accusing other people of “cartoonish character assassination” in the same paragraph with terms like “fervent detractors on the leftist fringe” and “intolerance to the slightest dissent from orthodoxy.”

  15. says

    intolerance to the slightest dissent from orthodoxy

    Easily enough refuted: I see dissent. Ergo, dissent is tolerated. You are wrong.

    Another way of putting what you said is that many/some/all of us are not thinking for ourselves. After considerable thought, I must say, “fuck you.”

  16. dshetty says

    @Katherine woo
    reveal an intolerance to the slightest dissent
    Dawkins (and harris or coyne or whoever) see something they dont agree with- write posts -their minions pat each other on the back for a job well done = Logic, Reason, Free Speech, Defenders of liberty and freethought, role models ,

    P Z Myers (and Ophelia or Rebecca waton or whoever) see something they dont agree with – write posts – their minions pat each other on the back for a job well done = Cartoonish character assassinations, taboo subjects, censorship , social justice warriors

    Not to say they are equivalent (some members of one of the groups also threaten violence ) but the double standards exhibited are ludicrous.

  17. doubtthat says

    He’s in an interesting place. Somehow he shovels shit on himself via twitter, then offers reasonable points elsewhere.

    He’s like a mean twitter-drunk, or something. I really can’t figure out what he’s doing.

  18. says

    It’s a start.

    But situations like “Dear Muslima” are not about between-category comparisons of suffering because critics of Dawkins et al are complaining about how the general rankings of within-category suffering can be painful because of lack of sensitivity.

    Between-category comparisons are important because they let us figure out things like the differences between how men and women suffer differently because of how society is set up. To prevent problems from lack of sensitivity steps have to be taken to acknowledge the differences within the category of suffering in question or you risk stepping right on someone’s unchosen lived experience.

    There should not be rivalry in victimhood, but ignoring the diversity of victims seems to be the primary area where the problem lies to me.

  19. says

    He’s in an interesting place. Somehow he shovels shit on himself via twitter, then offers reasonable points elsewhere.

    Is he actually doing these tweets, or does he have a PR person who specializes in making him look subtly bad?

  20. Katherine Woo says

    Yep. Nothing like accusing other people of “cartoonish character assassination” in the same paragraph with terms like “fervent detractors on the leftist fringe” and “intolerance to the slightest dissent from orthodoxy.”

    So to start the complete and utter inability of you lot to defend drken’s words is noted.

    Secondly you are the leftist fringe. I mean, do you deny your views are left-wing? Do you see your views widely accepted in society or even within the politically-viable left, like the Democratic Party? You are either deluding yourselves or, more likely, trying to find maximum fault with my words to make up for your inability to defend the more extreme criticism of Dawkins.

    The left has a long history of viciously attacking dissent from other liberals and leftists over marginal issues. The People’s Front of Judea meme was written in direct response to that trend, which at its worst includes includes massive violence like the Cultural Revolution and Stalinist purges.

    Ophelia offers some of the most nuanced criticism of Islam on the atheist left and yet I have seen her attacked repeatedly by people, including Salty Current here today, for her breaches of the to orthodoxy to which I refer. I will also note she did not feel the need to turn Dawkins into some virtually irredeemable pariah.

    So I’ll comfortably characterize the far left for its behavioral trends it has exhibited for most the past ninety years and place that against dehumanizing, armchair psycholoanalysis of Richard Dawkins as an individual.

  21. says

    I’m still not seeing what’s reasonable or promising about this post, but it is enlightening, especially in combination with his recent remarks about the mosque incident.

    If the hypothetical “explosive retort” he imagined had been written by a real person, I would think they were still suffering terribly and badly misdirecting their rage, and I would be concerned about them. He seems to think that reaction would be unkind perhaps but basically valid; he really does seem to think someone talking about their experiences or victimization and how it affected them actually belittles others’ experiences, and that it’s reasonable for these others (or Dawkins, speaking in their name), to see it as an affront and to invalidate the person’s experience or suffering. He seems to repeatedly rush to deny victimization (you weren’t really hurt, what happened was zero bad) and to invalidate people’s emotions, even when he knows little about the situation. This is true even when he recognizes, as here, that it might not be the kindest thing to say out loud – he still thinks this view is valid.

    It’s not just – as I said above – a toxic idea at work here. I don’t think it’s simple privilege or an associated lack of empathy that explains his rush to do this. It seems more like a reaction to victimization that develops early on, often among people who felt they had to suppress their own rage over (their) mistreatment or turn it back on themselves. It can lead to a resistance to identifying with victims, an intellectualizing of (and so emotional distancing from) the problems, efforts to minimize or deny victimization or harm, an identification with victimizers,… In other words, I think there’s something psychologically and emotionally deeper going on here. And it’s part of a cultural pattern that has serious political effects.

  22. says

    Suppose I had said what my critics apparently wanted me to say, namely that my experience in the squash court was among the worst things that ever happened to me?

    There’s just so much wrong with this one sentence. First, nobody is demanding that he feel a certain way about his experience. The critique was always that he was talking about how other people should feel. Second, if he had said that this was the worst thing that had ever happened to him, nobody would have complained, because he’s, again, talking about his own reaction, not any objective measure. This blatant strawman proves that he hasn’t paid attention to what any of his critics are saying.

    I don’t think this qualifies as a true apology. I don’t for a second think he means it and I’ll be very surprised if we have to wait more than a month for him to fuck up again… and act just as obliviously, self-righteously offended when people criticize him for it.

  23. says

    Ha! I’ll cop to the armchair psychoanalysis (thanks a lot, Alice Miller, Karen Horney, and Erich Fromm!), which somehow Katherine Woo knew was coming.

    Also a proud fringe leftist.

    But nowhere in this thread have I attacked Ophelia. I won’t dignify the rest of that blather with a response.

  24. says

    I see dissent. Ergo, dissent is tolerated. You are wrong.

    This is your overestimation of your logical abilities in a nutshell. Firstly that criticism is aimed at drken, for whom you offer no defense. The general existence of dissent here says nothing about his or her [insert outrage about my use of the gender binary] tolerance thereof, and the dehumanizing slurs against Dawkins are robust evidence of their intolerance.

    Further the fact Ophelia allows dissenting opinions on her blog says nothing about whether any of you would exhibit the same sort of toleration were you in a position of power. The most mainstream site for the sort of leftwing politics many of you espouse, Huffington Post, was infamous for its heavy-handed pre-moderation of all comments (before it abolished anonymous comments altogether).

    Another way of putting what you said is that many/some/all of us are not thinking for ourselves. After considerable thought, I must say, “fuck you.”

    “Fuck you”?!? What a clever bon mot, Marcus. I see you put as much thought into that as your shallow apologetics for Islam.

  25. dshetty says

    Ophelia offers some of the most nuanced criticism of Islam on the atheist left and yet I have seen her attacked repeatedly by people, including Salty Current here today,
    Ophelia you are slipping – everyone knows FTB doesnt tolerate dissent , much less attacks. When does the witch hunt start? I need to have my pitch fork ready..

  26. says

    But nowhere in this thread have I attacked Ophelia. I won’t dignify the rest of that blather with a response

    I was referring to your past zealous promotion of the concept of “Islamophobia” in which you steadfastly refused in my estimation to even consider Ophelia’s arguments when she tried to engage you. If Ophelia does not consider those an “attack” per se, then fine. In any case, what I consider your morally repugnant betrayal of women, LGBT people, and religious dissenters in service of what is an anti-intellectual, Islamist-derived term can be found here among other places:
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2012/01/are-you-now-or-have-you-ever-been-an-islamophobe/
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2012/09/who-is-an-islamophobe/

  27. says

    There should be no rivalry in victimhood, and I’m sorry I once said something similar to American women complaining of harassment, inviting them to contemplate the suffering of Muslim women by comparison.

    *falls out of chair, stunned*

  28. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    @ Katherine Woo

    So to start the complete and utter inability of you lot to defend drken’s words is noted.

    Dawkins’ criticizing people for responding emotionally when he deliberately chooses an extremely sensitive subject to illustrate a banal point of logic is displaying a lack of empathy. This is a thing he has done repeatedly over the last several years; prods people with a metaphorical stick and then tut-tuts at them for being less coldly rational than he would like.

    Neil DeGrasse Tyson has historically shown a far greater understanding of social issues than Dawkins has which is what I assume drken is referring to with their reference to him. “Levels of humanity” is probably not a phrase I would have used but (drken can correct me if I’m wrong here) I agree with the general thrust of the statement as I understand it. There; drkens words defended.

  29. says

    I was referring to your past zealous promotion of the concept of “Islamophobia”…

    Uh…

    Ophelia offers some of the most nuanced criticism of Islam on the atheist left and yet I have seen her attacked repeatedly by people, including Salty Current here today, for her breaches of the to orthodoxy to which I refer.

    Even if you were trying to say that I’m here today and have attacked Ophelia in the past, it would just be trying to stir the pot by tossing in irrelevancies.

    (Yes, I’ve had heated arguments with Ophelia on that subject – and equally heated arguments about other subjects with some of the same people with whom I agree on that subject. We’ve even had periodic fallings out – politics are like that. In fact, we’ve also disagreed on topics related to the subject of this thread, which would have been more relevant for you to bring up, certainly. But I don’t think any of it constituted an attack in either direction, unlike what you’re doing here. I have a great deal of respect for Ophelia’s intellect and motives; I take her views seriously and try to give them a fair hearing even when I disagree.)

  30. says

    Yeah, a real apology would have been Dawkins saying, “I was wrong to characterize Rebecca Watson’s experience as ‘zero bad.’ It’s harassment and harassment is bad.”

    Or words to that effect.

    P.S. Ophelia, what’s up with the logging-in system? When I go to log in at B&W, I get prompted to enter MY personal wordpress page, instead of the standard username/password prompt, which is still in effect at Pharyngula. But, if I log in there and refresh here, I can comment. Just FYI.

  31. Al Dente says

    Katherine Woo has decided to play Fox News with us. She makes accusations and sneers based on her incomprehension of anyone to the left of Roger Ailes. Somehow she seems to “think” that drken has said something reprehensible (of course, being a Fox News type, she doesn’t actually bother to explain what drken said that was bad or why is was bad) and the rest of us are double plus ungood for failing to defend or denounce or otherwise respond to drken for whatever it was that drken said or implied or something.

  32. says

    WMDKitty – well I feel cautiously optimistic too, or even just plain optimistic. The goal isn’t everyone loves everyone to bits or agrees on everything, it’s more moderate than that. It’s managing disagreement ethically. I think we can work our way toward that.

  33. John Morales says

    Suppose I had said what my critics apparently wanted me to say, namely that my experience in the squash court was among the worst things that ever happened to me?

    Tells the tale, really.

  34. drken says

    Kathrine,
    If you think I’m a radical leftist, you need to get out more. I belittled the level of empathy shown by Richard Dawkins because up to now, he’s shown shockingly little. Except of course for those affected by religion, thereby absolving himself of any opportunity for self-reflection. That he’s actually sorry for Dear Muslima is step in the right direction, but it’s pretty much the first contrite thing I’ve heard from him that didn’t sound like his publicist told him his book sales or speaking fees were in jeopardy. However, if this is the start of him actually being a better person, then I’ll be pretty jazzed for us “SJW” to longer have conflicts with the most prominent atheist in the world. Quite frankly, I’d rather we spend our energy on other things.

  35. says

    There what is? A brief break from a years-long pattern of insultingly asinine trolling? The last time “Honey-Boo-Boo” said something decent, he was back to his patronizing self-important self in less than a week.

  36. says

    Ah yes, another Dawkins supporter insisting Dawkins is decent, in a laughably indecent manner. Talk about self-refuting arguments…

  37. =8)-DX says

    A person with a spine and a bit of civility would have said:
    “I apologise to Rebecca Watson for my Dear Muslima post which was misguided, ignorant and wrong. I’m sorry and to all men out there: Guys, don’t do that. ”

    But yeah, I guess it is an apology, not a notpology.

  38. Silentbob says

    @ 49 =8)-DX

    It’s not an apology, it’s an expression of regret. (An apology is more than that; it’s an expression of contrition directed toward the person(s) wronged.)

    But considering that a year ago he refused to make any comment on Dear Muslima even when directly asked, his casual comment on it in a context where he needn’t have mentioned it at all is quite a pleasant surprise. And I don’t imagine it’s a coincidence that this sudden acknowledgment of wrongdoing comes within – what, a fortnight? – of his joint statement with Ophelia (so, well done, Ophelia!).

  39. Bernard Bumner says

    If a Dawkins can help to elevate the tone of disagreement by distancing himself from the active harrassers who have claimed him amongst their ideological ranks, then that is a very good thing. Even if it is by a very weak apology. (Although this is somewhat strengthened by virtue of being hot on the heals of the Joint Statement.)

    Does anyone think this is evidence of a more empathetic approach to issues of social justice? It isn’t, and only an optimist would hope for that at this point.

    I’m optimistic enough to think that he may regain at least some opportunities to discuss these issues with people who may be able to offer him an education on this.

  40. says

    Hmmmm… I’m still not sure. A comparison between categories like squash and rape still makes me think he’s missing something, and the apology did not really stand out to me as being completely unqualified. But I tend to be more critical by nature, and if at some point the folks that were wronged become satisfied there will be something I am missing.

  41. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    That Dawkins made that ultimatum is to me much more egregious than most people talk about. My god, he’s one of the most famous scientists in the world, rich, and holding levers of power someone like Watson will never achieve. Even if she were the worstest person ever, throwing that kind of power around to thwart someone so far down the power chain is morally appalling.

  42. dshetty says

    That Dawkins made that ultimatum
    Made even more ironic by the fact that hes currently the *leader* on how nothing should be taboo and everything should be up for discussion.

  43. says

    It is if you think of it from that angle, but I suspect he didn’t think of it from that angle. I suspect he just thought “I don’t want to” and acted on that.

    I know it seems impossible to think the one without the other, but…well as I keep pointing out, we’re not 100% rational, and people who think they are may be the least able to take a meta view of their own emotions.

  44. says

    Silentbob @ 50 – oh, less than that. It won’t be a fortnight until Saturday. And there is a connection. There are several other links between the two, but it’s still a connection.

    So yeah, well done me. :)

  45. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    That’s nice, I guess.
    The next foot-enters-mouth opportunity in 5…4…3…..

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