Guest post: On the utility of having a full range of emotions »« Pastors claiming to have cured Ebola could face jail time

Why oh why would rape be a sensitive subject?

Oh dear. A London-based reporter for Religion News Service, Brian Pellot, was at the Global Humanist Conference and was at Samira Ahmed’s interview with Dawkins and has a transcript. It’s rather dispiriting.

Dawkins said that his rape tweets were “absolutely not presented as provocation.” Asked if he regretted sending them, he said, “I don’t regret it as much as you want me to say I do.”

I don’t actually care whether he regrets sending them or not; I care much more about whether he sees the reasonable points many people have made. That would have been a better question, really, because asking him to express regret on stage in front of a thousand people is not likely to be fruitful. I’m not sure it’s even fair. (And why is it not fair? For reasons that have to do with emotions. It’s not a logical point, it’s a point about how people feel in certain kinds of situations.)

Anyway, judging by what he said, the upshot is that no, he doesn’t at all see the reasonable points many people have made. This is probably partly because he has lots of people telling him that everyone who has disagreed with him on this subject is a mere “rage-blogger” and can be safely and indeed virtuously ignored.

Now for the transcript:

Let’s take the first one: “Date rape is bad. Violent rape at knifepoint is worse.” The general point I was trying to make was a logical one, which was that to say that X is bad, Y is worse, should not ever be taken as an endorsement of the one that’s not so bad. You would be amazed at the number of people who take that to be an endorsement of X, to say X is OK, you can do X. That is logically absurd and it is pernicious.

Now the next point is, “why do you use rape?” rather than, somebody said, “Why don’t you say slapping someone around the face is bad, breaking their nose is worse.” I could have said that. It would have been completely pointless because it’s totally obvious and actually the general point is totally obvious. But you would be astonished at the number of people who I’ve seen on Twitter who when I say anything is bad, something else is worse, they will take it as an endorsement.

He contradicts himself there. In the first paragraph he says he was making a general logical point about X and Y. But then in the next paragraph he says making that point would have been completely pointless because it’s totally obvious.

Well quite: yes it would because yes it is. That’s one of the things we’ve been saying all along (“we” being the people who dissent from what he’s been saying on the subject for the past week). The general point is totally obvious and thus completely pointless. So that whole first paragraph? It turns out to be wrong. He’s not interested in the logic of the general point, he’s interested in the claim about rape and how to rank it on a scale of badness.

But why? Why be so interested in that? Yes, judges and juries sometimes have to be interested in it, prosecutors and defense lawyers have to be interested in it, but other than that? The need is not obvious.

I was trying to say something about logical thinking, but that logical point doesn’t raise its silly head in neutral cases like X and Y and in cases like giving somebody a slap around the face as distinct from breaking their nose. It doesn’t raise its head with that. It does raise its head when you’re talking about rape and pedophilia and possibly nothing else. Therefore, I wanted to make the point that we are rationalists, we are humanists, we are skeptics, we are atheists. Why have we allowed these two topics of rape and pedophilia to deprive us of our normal logical reasoning? We say, “Oh we don’t talk about that, that’s too sensitive.” [emphsis in original]

Oh god. That’s so wrong. It’s so wrong and fucked up and backassward.

Why do you think?? Jesus. It’s because they are fraught, emotional subjects. They cut to the bone for a lot of people. That’s just how it is – it’s in the nature of the experience. It’s not “irrational” or “unskeptic” to find those subjects fraught. It’s robotic to refuse to understand that they are fraught.

Change the example. See how it sounds.

I was trying to say something about logical thinking, but that logical point doesn’t raise its silly head in neutral cases like X and Y and in cases like giving somebody a slap around the face as distinct from breaking their nose. It doesn’t raise its head with that. It does raise its head when you’re talking about lynching and cross-burning and possibly nothing else.  Therefore, I wanted to make the point that we are rationalists, we are humanists, we are skeptics, we are atheists. Why have we allowed these two topics of lynching and cross-burning to deprive us of our normal logical reasoning? We say, “Oh we don’t talk about that, that’s too sensitive.”

See what I mean? That looks like an incredibly fatuous and callous thing to say, doesn’t it. It jumps out at you. I don’t think Dawkins would ever say that. Yet for some reason he keeps insisting that rape and pedophilia should be talked about as calmly and robotically as a design plan for a parking lot.

So, yeah. It’s dispiriting.

Comments

  1. says

    And if you’re “deprived of your normal logical reasoning” just because someone asks you to not be an insensitive jerkface and listen to what actual victims of rape and sexual assault (you know, apart from yourself) have to say on the subject, then I’d suggest that the fault lies in you, not the request for sensitivity. If you can’t be logical without also being a fucking asshole, then you’re the one with a problem, not the people saying, “Stop being such a fucking asshole!”

  2. screechymonkey says

    Sally,

    Yeah, but we don’t talk about them the right way, i.e. without emotion and in “just asking questions” mode.

  3. AsqJames says

    Dawkins: Some people take statements of the form “X is bad, Y is worse” as an endorsement of X. I am well aware of this trait and its prevalence. I am also aware this kind of reaction is limited to a very few specific examples of that kind of statement.

    I think people who take that message are wrong and illogical (and, though I don’t outright say it, I’m probably aware of the harm such reactions, and the reinforcement of them, can do).

    Here is a statement of the form “X is bad, Y is worse” using one of the very few examples I know can provoke this kind of reaction. This provides yet another opportunity for people to display such harmful reactions and internalise their twisted version of the illogical concept they should not be taking from such statements. Thus demonstrating how silly and illogical such people are.

    Wait! Why is everybody so mad at me?

  4. says

    Ah, so when Dawkins says, “We can’t talk about these things,” he really means, “I can’t talk about these things and be wrong about them without having someone correct me.”

    I thought as much.

  5. Al Dente says

    I get the idea that Dawkins’ whine “we can’t talk about these things” means “people keep telling me to shut up because I’m an insensitive douchebag when I talk about these things.”

  6. drken says

    It’s illogical to publicly grade types of rape and not expect some sort of emotional reaction. Unless it’s your intent to cause a fray for you to rise above, thereby showing how “rational” you are, while your opponents are a bunch of screeching harpies. Has he ever answered those producing research showing that date rape may actually be worse for victims than violent, stranger rape? That sounded like an attempt at a rational conversation. He’s the one who made the claim, lets see him defend it.

  7. says

    I’m not sure it’s even fair. (And why is it not fair? For reasons that have to do with emotions. It’s not a logical point, it’s a point about how people feel in certain kinds of situations.)

    The same effect might be why Dawkins is acting the way he is and is an ill omen for the future. This need to insist that the point that harm can be ranked (casually ranked in this case) is what is important and totes unimportant to the effects of ranking is something he will probably keep on doing. To keep doing it helps justify any rationalizations in his head connected to that behavior. Like suggesting that some people stop complaining about bad behavior.
    An authority figure is likely to be differently sensitive to criticism (public criticism at a talk to your point), differently able to choose what criticism to pay attention, and differently able to interpret it. People react in different ways in different situations and while we don’t know all the details, the logic of emotion is a thing the skeptical community should be concerned with. It’s why the fallacies and biases are shaped they way they are after all and understanding that logic has loads of practical applications in addition to better empathy.

    “absolutely not presented as provocation.”

    Irrelevant to the concerns of critics which have to do with reactions despite intentions. My intentions matter little to reactions if I were to choose to wear black face for Halloween.

    “I don’t regret it as much as you want me to say I do.”

    He will be ranking again at some point, if not just displaying a general lack of concern for what his emotions lead him too to the emotions of others.

    Let’s take the first one…blockquote cite=””>
    I’m amazed because I have seen few people with positions of authority on our side of the rift say he was endorsing X or Y in their points. My rhetoric was a little too sloppy earlier on and could be interpreted that way, but the feminist bloggers here were emphasizing the effects of comparing X and Y casually (or at all). The entire objection that led to the question of “why do you use rape” is based on the effects.
    If he was really using an emotionally sensitive topic just because it came along with those emotional effects he should have been ready to deal with such effectively. Since I don’t think he really wants to rhetorically beat up on rape victims I think I can conclude that the pain that rape causes was simply utterly absent from his mind. I don’t know that someone this socially tone deaf will be good for our community as we try to gain a wider audience.
    I use argument tactics that affect emotions as well, but I do it with as much awareness as I can at every level.

    I was trying to say something about logical thinking, but that logical point doesn’t raise its silly head in neutral cases like X and Y and in cases like giving somebody a slap around the face as distinct from breaking their nose…blockquote cite=””>
    What he is trying to do over and over and over. Only the barest scraps of acknowledgement of what people are saying about the effects of what he did. He can’t let himself go there and has to keep the subject on his intentions and what he did, and on the substance of what his critics are saying as much as possible. The logic and the reasoning in the responses appeal to the logic of emotions. A logic that often exists independent of reality and is taken into account by skeptics in other areas like how fallacies and biases are shaped. A logic that dictates that not every means of addressing an issue will work, and not every means of comparing things will be effective.

  8. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    Every additional word Dawkins utters on this topic makes it more and more obvious that he really only did this to get a rise out of people. He’s a damn bully.

  9. says

    That last paragraph should have said “…on the substance of what his critics are saying as little as possible.”

  10. Anthony K says

    Why have we allowed these two topics of rape and pedophilia to deprive us of our normal logical reasoning?

    There are useful conversations to have around these topics. For instance, I read this article just this morning, linked through Digg:

    You’re 16. You’re a Pedophile. You Don’t Want to Hurt Anyone. What Do You Do Now?

    It’s a fascinating read, and touches on many of the issues Dawkins is completely ignorant about but thinks he’s the only one brave enough to broach them.

  11. says

    @ SallyStrange 2

    And if you’re “deprived of your normal logical reasoning” just because someone asks you to not be an insensitive jerkface and listen to what actual victims of rape and sexual assault (you know, apart from yourself) have to say on the subject, then I’d suggest that the fault lies in you, not the request for sensitivity. If you can’t be logical without also being a fucking asshole, then you’re the one with a problem, not the people saying, “Stop being such a fucking asshole!”

    This is doubly true because a good logician would not leave out significant variables. An unwillingness to include data from people with personal experience suggests really bad reasons for this whole thing. If he came into this unwilling to hear from the people that determine reality in his example of ranking that implies that he really had no way of even being shown that his logic was wrong.

  12. Tessa says

    OK, when did anybody ever think that to say x is bad, but y is worse is an endorsement of X even in the instance of rape and pedophilia? Are there any examples? I don’t recall anybody ever saying this? At least not enough for it to warrant a tweet, or expressions like “It does raise its head when you’re talking about rape and pedophilia and possibly nothing else.” And downplaying or trivializing =\= endorsement.

  13. iknklast says

    And why is it that date rape is less bad, anyway? Is it because it is less violent (which sometimes it might not be; what about date rape at knife point?). One thing about date rape is that people often don’t believe you, they think you’re just making it up to cover a bad decision you wish you hadn’t made. Plus, you may be friends with a lot of people who are friends with the person who raped you, and you might have to either give up lots of friends, or see that person around all the time. Also, rape in the family that doesn’t get dealt with – you may be living in the same house for years with the person who raped you, too young to move out on your own, and maybe being repeatedly molested. Just because Dawkin’s had one incident of a hand down his pants doesn’t mean it stops there for the rest of us.

  14. screechymonkey says

    drken@8:

    Has he ever answered those producing research showing that date rape may actually be worse for victims than violent, stranger rape?

    Sort of, yes. In his post on his site in which he tried to defend his tweets*, he acknowledged the arguments made by many that the sense of betrayal and other factors could make “date rape” “worse.” He then said words to the effect of “fine, just switch ‘date rape’ and ‘rape at knifepoint’ around in my hypothetical. My point remains that saying one is worse doesn’t mean an endorsement of the other.”

    Which…. ok, but think about what that shows. He wasn’t content with phrasing his argument in terms of abstract placeholders like X and Y. So instead he reached for an example and what he came up with was an example that (1) involved an emotional and sensitive subject; and (2) WAS SUCH A CRAPPY EXAMPLE THAT HE COULDN’T EVEN DEFEND THAT ONE WAS WORSE THAN THE OTHER.

    Which, you know, kind of makes you wonder why he went there in the first place. Normally people try to choose examples that make their arguments clear, easy to follow, and hard to dispute.

  15. screechymonkey says

    Oh, forgot the * in the above post: I am totally going to all the cable networks to sell them on my new Reality series, Defend Your Tweets!

  16. John Morales says

    Tessa @14,

    OK, when did anybody ever think that to say x is bad, but y is worse is an endorsement of X even in the instance of rape and pedophilia? Are there any examples?

    Yes; a notable point.

    Sometimes, one is placed in a lesser of two evils situation, in which case ranking the badness is appropriate and the moral thing to do is to choose the lesser.

    But: one would need an exceedingly contrived example where that would apply to rape or pedophilia.

  17. says

    So, lately I’ve been considering Sartre’s early examples, which generally annoy or anger me. His illustrations, for example, of the concept of bad faith: the woman, the waiter, the “homosexual.” Each in its own way is appalling. (Even more appalling is the way the examples are used, uncritically, to illustrate the concept currently.) Sartre’s use of “the homosexual” to illustrate bad faith and other key existentialist concepts is simply atrocious. It’s wrong in so many ways, and criticism of his use of this alleged example and examination of why he chose it can only further our understanding of bad faith and other ideas.

    In Sartre’s case, prejudice shaped the examples chosen to illustrate insightful and useful concepts. To some extent, we can just reject the examples and focus on the concepts; at the same time, challenging the examples, Sartre’s choice of those examples, and others’ continued use of them as illustrations adds greatly to our insight.

    So even in the case of the exposition of brilliant ideas, there’s obviously a place for and purpose to criticizing examples. In Dawkins’ case, though, I’m at a loss as to the insight or idea that’s supposed to be illustrated. It seems like a rhetorical point. He says:

    The general point I was trying to make was a logical one, which was that to say that X is bad, Y is worse, should not ever be taken as an endorsement of the one that’s not so bad.

    As PZ has said, it’s banal even when true – most recognize that it’s not necessarily an endorsement. But as several people have discussed, and an understanding of history and social reality shows, “should not ever be taken” is questionable. If you read Alice Miller or Paula Caplan, you’ll come to understand the huge struggle to get people to see that pedophilia and sexual violence against women are “so bad,” or bad at all. In this social context, such statements have often served, if not to endorse, to excuse or minimize or trivialize these acts. (I’ve said more about his comments about trivialization in the past, so won’t repeat it here.)

    Sartre had views that were viciously and harmfully homophobic and misogynistic (because ultimately speciesist…but I digress…). But his ideas about bad faith are important enough (not to get past but) to work through these problems. As far as I’ve seen, Dawkins has no significant philosophical/sociological/psychological insights here. If anyone thinks he does, they’re welcome to spell them out. (Note: anything roughly translatable as “Feminazis!” doesn’t qualify.)

  18. Tessa says

    John Morales:

    Yes; a notable point.

    Sometimes, one is placed in a lesser of two evils situation, in which case ranking the badness is appropriate and the moral thing to do is to choose the lesser.

    But: one would need an exceedingly contrived example where that would apply to rape or pedophilia.

    Very true. But I’d say that if his tweet was just an excuse for a big game of “would you rather…?” that does its own job of trivializing them.

    But my point was that he is spending soooo much time and effort on defending his “logic” and implying that people are and were saying there is endorsement going on.

  19. Al Dente says

    Dawkins’ initial point that X not as bad as Y doesn’t mean an endorsement of X is hardly controversial. No one is saying: “Wow, Professor, what an intriguing idea, I’d never considered it before, what a magnificent logician you are.” If Dawkins had used just about any other examples to illustrate his point nobody would remember what the point was ten minutes later. People tend to forget the vapid and banal.

    Instead Dawkins used two examples which he knew would be contentious. He’d already seen how people react to trivializing pedophilia and he’s intelligent enough to know how people would react to his rape example. He consciously and with malice aforethought pushed buttons. Now he’s sneering at the people who reacted to his provocations.

    I think Dawkins is trolling.

  20. maddog1129 says

    “Dear Muslima” is precisely saying that Y is worse than X, in a way that implies that X isn’t a problem, and plenty of people took that as a signal that he endorsed X.

  21. Reality_based_community says

    OB – I think Dawkins did address that point, and admitted that it was precisely an example of what he was talking about and even admitted he was wrong. Albeit, it was at the end of his piece and seemed more of an afterthought.

  22. Reality_based_community says

    My memory was somewhat faulty, but the quote at the end of his piece:

    “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.”

  23. Tessa says

    maddog1129:

    “Dear Muslima” is precisely saying that Y is worse than X, in a way that implies that X isn’t a problem, and plenty of people took that as a signal that he endorsed X.

    No, they took it as a signal that he didn’t care. Or didn’t think it was a real problem. Or that he was just using the suffering of Muslim women to tell western women to shut up.

    People thinking he is indifferent isn’t the same as thinking he endorses it. Maybe that can be a new logic statement. Saying someone doesn’t care about X, isn’t saying they endorse X.

    Also, in my #20 above, I want to revoke:

    Very true. But I’d say that if his tweet was just an excuse for a big game of “would you rather…?” that does its own job of trivializing them.

    I got the whole scenario backwards and it really doesn’t make sense. Apparently I just wanted to mention the “would you rather…?” game. So ignore that statement. I blame heavy metal music and video games (kids today…).

  24. resident_alien says

    *sigh* I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:
    If the feminist discourse regarding rape and pedophelia* is on the level of
    3-D chess, Dawkins is running around yelling “Tic-Tac-Toe, bitches!” and thinking he is the clever one.

    *= in fact, many feminist reject the word “pedophilia” in favour of “pedosexual” ,since the
    crux of it isn’t love but sexual attraction and the indulgence therein.Making it sound as if child-molestors are motivated by love is one more aspect of rape culture .
    But of course there’s no such thing as rape culture,because Wise Man Dawkins says so….

  25. kev1 says

    Privilege is a verboten concept the ivory tower religion of Reason and Logic, as well as empathy, sensitivity, and other human traits.

  26. Gen, Uppity Ingrate and Ilk says

    Someone on Pharyngula illustrated exactly what was wrong with Dawkins’ horrible tweets in the following way (and I’m so sorry that I don’t remember which of the Dawkins threads it was on, or who it was, maybe someone can help me?) which I thought was just perfect:

    If saying “X is bad, Y is worse, that’s not an endorsement of X” is all that it’s about, then surely saying “Killing black children is bad, killing white children is worse” is not problematic at all, right? You can even switch it around if you find it offensive! Surely saying “Killing white children is bad, killing black children is worse” still illustrates the point!

    Yet if you don’t find it problematic, the problem is clearly with you, because it IS problematic, deeply so, and it WILL provoke outrage and emotional responses, and rightly so, and if you can’t see that, there really isn’t much hope for you.

    Or even something like “men being abused is bad, women being abused is worse” (which you can ALSO switch around, and it’s still just as fucked up).

    It really isn’t just about rape and pedophilia, Dawkins. It’s about ranking suffering that simply can not be ranked in any logical way. Your premises aren’t sound, so your logic doesn’t work.

  27. says

    When MIke Nugent did a post on this, the oh-so-erudite commenters (featuring a few Slymies, naturally) managed to get it to devolve into exactly a “Would You Rather” game. Trigger warning: rape

    Namely, would you rather be gently raped by am HIV+ person or violently raped by an HIV- person.

    Charming, really. I mean, thank heavens that Dawkins came along and busted our taboos so that such edifying discussions could take place!

  28. John Morales says

    [OT + meta]

    SallyStrange, you didn’t make it explicit that it was his second post on that.

    (The first was informative enough for me that the second held little surprise either in its content or its comments)

  29. dshetty says

    On a slight tangent
    The general point I was trying to make was a logical one, which was that to say that X is bad, Y is worse, should not ever be taken as an endorsement of the one that’s not so bad.
    and
    It would have been completely pointless because it’s totally obvious and actually the general point is totally obvious.
    I think that since this started out with and Israel v/s Palestine and Dawkins promoting Coyne and Harris as thoughtful – I’d say that , from by biased, subjective perspective , they seem to do precisely what Dawkins says should “never be taken”. Their posts are usually , a customary one or two liner about Israels excesses and the meat of the article being all the various Palestinian evils. I dont quite understand people who quote the Hamas chapter which vows killing all Israelis as more evil than the actually killing of 1000+ Palestinians. Coyne and Harris do indeed write their posts as Israel bad but its only because they face so much worse, what can you expect them to do , and raise rhetorical hypotheticals.

    So while certain examples may be obviously true , it is not the case that it is generally true , especially when you come to more contentious arguments – and thats one more reason why Dawkins should have been careful in his choice of example and choice of medium.

  30. Crimson Clupeidae says

    Al Dente@6:

    I get the idea that Dawkins’ whine “we can’t talk about these things” means “people keep telling me to shut up because I’m an insensitive douchebag when I talk about these things.”

    Actually, the recommendations to shut up (on this topic) are mostly for his own good, seeing that he is unaware of the first rule of holes. No one seems to be attempting to censor or shout him down (as some of his supporters would like to assert).

    And for the record, he’s being very emotional about being called an insensitive douchebag.

    Now, to catch up with the rest of the thread and discover that someone else has probably already made the same point, better and more eloquently.

Leave a Reply

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

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