The Dawkins Cycle: an infographic »« Dawkins: any atheist who uses “threats or harassment is in no way my ally”

Terms of engagement: why the Dawkins-Benson pact is meaningful

Richard Dawkins trended today on Twitter, which is never a good sign. ‘Mild pedophilia is bad. Violent pedophilia is worse’, he’d tweeted, an idea I blogged about last year. ‘Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse’, he added, which Ashley Miller has unravelled along with Amanda Marcotte. Dawkins, it turns out, was only making a simple point about syllogisms using the two most inflammatory examples imaginable – how anyone could be upset about is a mystery. (It always is.)

I’ve just criticised Richard Dawkins, and some will say – indeed they have – this makes the last thing I posted meaningless.

We have to be able to manage disagreement ethically, like reasonable adults,’ he said in a joint statement with Ophelia Benson, ‘as opposed to brawling like enraged children who need a nap.’ The statement has been called a ‘peace accord’ and was read by many, it appears, as the ‘ceasefire’ in atheist infighting some had demanded. Now that so soon after cosigning it, Dawkins has put foot in mouth again and been lampooned, it’s a sure bet hands are rubbing gleefully.

That was hesitance about this statement from the off. Some said it didn’t go far enough, and that Dawkins had yet to ‘walk the walk’ in pursuing activism ethically; others found it too nonspecific. Some declared he hadn’t meant a word, either to undermine him or it; others suggested Benson ‘bullied’ him somehow into signing it. But sign it he did, and my view is that even assuming a cynical reading, the Dawkins-Benson pact – shut up, that’s what I’m calling it – matters.

Because it wasn’t a ceasefire at all – the authors’ wording makes the point extremely clear that ‘disagreement is inevitable’, which must include on things like Dawkins’ tweets yesterday. The point is what it adds: ‘bullying and harassment are not.

It should go without saying, but this means no death threats, rape threats, attacks on people’s appearance, age, race, sex, size, haircut; no photoshopping people into demeaning images, no vulgar epithets.

This isn’t a peace accord – it’s a treaty establishing terms of engagement.

For the past three years, the above behaviour has been endemic in online atheism, targeting secular ‘social justice warriors’ and feminists in particular. There’s more: to quote a recent list,

There’s no serious doubt this began when Richard Dawkins mocked Rebecca Watson’s discomfort at being hit on in a lift and roused entitled male atheists the net over against her. Implicitly or explicitly, these harassment campaigns have often been carried out in his name.

We have to conclude that if a blog comment from Dawkins could unleash such violent torrents of misogyny, the man has influence, and any statement from him will have impact; more specifically, we also have to conclude that the hordes of angry antifeminists who till then hadn’t advanced on Watson felt empowered by his example.

So it’s not meaningless that in his statement with Benson, he says: ‘Some people think I tacitly endorse such things even if I don’t indulge in them. Needless to say, I’m horrified by that suggestion. Any person who tries to intimidate members of our community with threats or harassment is in no way my ally and is only weakening the atheist movement by silencing its voices and driving away support.

If Dawkins’ current tweets on rape and molestation tell us anything, it’s that he’s going to keep arguing with feminists in our community – there’s no peace in our time to be seen here, and nor should there be if it meant letting statements like these go. But his statement alongside Benson makes clear too that the bullies, harassers and abusive trolls in atheism aren’t part of that argument any more.

There is no single atheist as influential as Dawkins; there may never be again, and likely this is a good thing. There’s certainly no feminist atheist as influential as he is, but his feminist critics are many and hold great collective influence. In the atheist sex wars, these are the sides – and the Dawkins-Benson pact means both sides will shun atheism’s worst elements.

That means the Slymepit, who exist entirely to harass and bully feminists among us.

That means the ‘Amazing’ Atheist, who has repeatedly threatened them with rape and violence.

That means Justin Vacula, who published the home address of Amy Davis Roth.

It means everyone who mounts cyberattacks against websites like this, including DDOS attacks and leaking private emails.

It means everyone who hounded Melody Hensley till she had PTSD, and everyone whose whole online existence is about harassing feminists in atheism.

When Richard Dawkins and Ophelia Benson – people almost never on the same side of the fence – agreed that this was unacceptable, they defined a new community standard. If any of the above is you, you don’t meet it, and however loudly or venomously you respond, this the start of your being squeezed out of our movement.

Have fun, to quote Jen McCreight, as you circle jerk into oblivion.

Going, going. Soon enough you’ll be gone.

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Comments

  1. Stevarious, Public Health Problem says

    This is a breathtakingly optimistic view of the matter that I wish I could share.

  2. Randide, "Fools admire everything in an author of reputation" says

    When Richard Dawkins and Ophelia Benson – people almost never on the same side of the fence – agreed that this was unacceptable, they defined a new community standard. If any of the above is you, you don’t meet it, and however loudly or venomously you respond, this the start of your being squeezed out of our movement.

    And what if (m)any of the above is Dawkins?

  3. chasstewart says

    Vacula still? When was the last time he wrote anything about feminism? He’s no longer on Skeptic Ink do I don’t know he was dragged back into it.

  4. Great American Satan says

    chas@4 – considering Damion Reinbutt’s conduct, Mr. Crapula was typical of the culture at Skeptic Ink and his presence or lack thereof is random shifting of sands in the sea. Hm, second thought, that makes them sound numerous. In the spirit of Mx. Gabriel’s optimistic post, it’s just the wriggling of maggots in a blueberry.

  5. says

    Some people think I tacitly endorse such things even if I don’t indulge in them. Needless to say, I’m horrified by that suggestion.

    No, it’s not “needless to say” such a thing — he should have said it years ago.

    Also, I notice Dawkins doesn’t actually say anything to the effect of “I’m sorry if anything I said led anyone to misunderstand my thoughts on this subject.”

    The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But you have to take the second step too…

  6. says

    As I said elsewhere, Dawkins’s participation in the statement is undermined by his distancing himself from it. “Well, gawrsh, I can’t imagine how anyone could think the writer of ‘Dear Muslima’ might be less than 100 percent opposed to harassment!” The fact that he thinks his name has been arbitrarily attached to Slymepit ‘n’ Friends suggests he doesn’t think there’s anything he can do, and therefore he doesn’t intend to do anything.

    It is telling, though, that even that weaksauce non-statement is met with “well, Dawkins is lost to us” and “don’t worry, he doesn’t really believe it, mean ol’ Ophelia held his head in the toilet until he said it.”

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