Richard Dawkins: The Wrongering

Well, I’m going to have to write off Richard Dawkins now. He’s been eaten by the brain parasites.

As Ophelia notes, he rushed to the aid of poor beleaguered Sam Harris in a flurry of poorly thought out, defensive tweets. I thought they were bad yesterday, but then overnight he topped them all. First, I think he was possessed by the bitter spirit of DJ Grothe.

Can it be true, some bloggers are paid by the click, and consequently fake outrage, or play the bully, in order to attract clicks? Hope not.

Oh, please. Because criticizing some of the most influential Big Name atheists in the world is the path to fame and riches? This is perhaps the dumbest and most common of the accusations made against bloggers — and it’s simply not true. You get traffic by representing a popular point of view, and by acquiring a reputation as an authority on that perspective; controversies and arguments are side effects. When Richard Dawkins criticizes creationists, is he just doing it to draw the attention of the millions of American creationists? Or is it because he is honestly representing the position of an informed scientist? Imagine the laughter if Ken Ham announced that Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye were just poking at creationists to improve their Nielsen ratings.

Or how would an extremely popular author react to this claim?

Can it be true, some authors are paid by the book, and consequently fake outrage, or play the bully, in order to attract sales? Hope not.

You know, it’s true — authors are paid by the book. Therefore, everything they do must be simply advertising, ploys to drum up sales. Let’s just pretend that none of them have any honesty or integrity, or write to express what they actually think.

It’s also appalling that some people think that it’s a smart tactic to dismiss criticism by calling it “fake outrage”. Expressing honest disagreement is not “fake outrage”. That’s a cheap out; not only that, it’s a lie. No one has said that they are outraged or offended. Several of us have substantive disagreements with what Sam Harris has said, and explained why — rationally and calmly. Making a case for our position is not “fake outrage”.

As for bullying — since when is standing up to the two biggest names in the atheist movement a case of bullying? That’s simply delusional.

But wait! There’s more madness!

I had previously written an open letter to Richard Dawkins explaining that he’d made some serious mistakes about feminism — in particular, that it was an error to treat Christina Hoff Sommers as an authority.

Just for your information, Christina Hoff Sommers is an anti-feminist. She’s spent her entire career inventing false distinctions and spinning fairy tales about feminism. That whole “gender feminist” vs. “equity feminist” thing? It’s like microevolution vs. macroevolution. It’s an allusion to a real distinction, mangled into an unrecognizable mess, and presented as a rhetorical tool to permit attacks on the whole idea: “Oh, I believe in X, but not Y”. Doesn’t this sound at all familiar to you? It’s the whole standard creationist set of tropes, repackaged to support a dogmatic status quo!

Either he didn’t read it, or he did and he’s openly rejecting it, because here’s the most awful tweet of the evening:

Follow @CHSommers. You may not agree with her but she’s brave, & the Feedingfrenzy Thoughtpolice Bullies have got away with it for too long.

Hah, notice the brilliantly clever acronym: Feedingfrenzy Thoughtpolice Bullies, or FTB. I guess we’re officially on his enemy list now!

As you might guess, the MRAs are jubilant about this. Richard Dawkins is “one of us!”, they say. Atheism is officially and asymmetrically split, with the authoritarians of the Dawkins/Harris alliance happily embracing MRAs, and the mob of the Skepchick/FtB axis standing apart, looking appalled. OK, bring it on. Apparently, disagreeing with Dawkins/Harris will also make us filthy rich, according to their logic.

I couldn’t be more shocked if Dawkins had endorsed a creationist. Sommers is not credible. She is a contrarian beloved by anti-feminists (just look at the people thrilled by Dawkins’ statement) with a reputation for dishonesty and twisting the facts.

Christina Hoff Sommers is employed by the American Enterprise Institute, “a think tank for conservatives, neoconservatives, and conservative libertarians,” where her colleagues include Newt Gingrich and Charles Murray. Her habit is to promote lies about feminism, claim them as inalienable truths, and by presenting a simplistic straw-feminism, to let the reader wallow in their existing prejudices and regard her as a hero for justifying them. Here’s what Sommers claims about feminism (pdf):

In my view, the noble cause of women’s emancipation is being damaged in at least three ways by the contemporary women’s movement. First, today’s movement takes a very dim view of men; second, it wildly overstates the victim status of American women; and third, it is dogmatically attached to the view that men and women are essentially the same.

What a heaping pile of steaming ordure.

  1. They’re man-haters! You should just stop right there and realize that that is total, patent nonsense: everyone from Gloria Steinem to Amanda Marcotte dislikes men? Can you find any serious contributors to modern feminism who “takes a very dim view of men”? (I expect people to trot out marginal figures like Solanas, but mainstream modern feminists? What bullshit.

  2. You must understand that Sommers regards any data that shows any discrimination against women is a case of ‘wildly overstating’ the case, and she loves to accuse women who stand up and speak out against discrimination of embracing “victim status”. There’s a curious theme here: you’ll also see people like this simultaneously accusing their opponents of playing the victim and being a bully. It’s very weird.

    But the fact is, as I pointed out in my open letter, that there are a lot of general patterns of oppression against women in our society. This problem exists. It’s the denialists who protest most loudly about anyone who dares to criticize the status quo.

  3. No, this is obviously false, too. We can celebrate the differences between men and women — feminism is not full of androgynes. But what we can protest is the insistence that culturally determined patterns of behavior are intrinsic to a sex. Women are able to be scientists just as well as men; women can be good leaders; women aren’t necessarily nurturing maternal types who just want to have babies. What Sommers wants to do is reinforce traditional social norms of the role of women (while defying them herself, obviously), and condemn anyone who suggests that stereotypes are harmful and not necessarily so.

Sommers entire schtick as a card-carrying member of a conservative think tank is to protest loudly at any deviation from conservative gender norms, and to do that she’ll lie about anyone who tries to buck the status quo: they’re man-haters, they’re professional victims, they want to obliterate femininity! Apparently, feminists despise all the sexes and aspire to the status of shapeless potatoes. But look at what she actually says: Sommers is a master at claiming victim status for herself.

The gender feminists have proved very adroit in getting financial support from governmental and private sources. They hold the keys to many bureaucratic fiefdoms, Sommers reports, without citing statistics. It is now virtually impossible to be appointed to high administrative office in any university system without having passed muster with the gender feminists, she asserts.

You should be aware of the irony of a person who has found a home in the sinecure of a far right wing think tank claiming that feminists are “very adroit in getting financial support from governmental and private sources”. But I think Richard Dawkins should also be aware of another irony: that claiming that a particular intellectual position has acquired a monopoly in academe is something we hear a lot from another source, the creationists. Is evolution the product of a conspiracy that has taken over the universities? Or is it possible that it is simply the only rational interpretation of an idea that is well-supported by the evidence?

One of the ways I can recognize dilettantes and anti-feminists is simply this: they cite Christina Hoff Sommers as a feminist authority. She’s not. As with any case where destructive but widespread social norms are challenged, she’s part of the reactionary anti-feminist response, and she’s simply not a trustworthy source, any more than Kent Hovind is a good source of information about evolution. A good summary of a number of anti-feminists who are frequently dragged on stage as feminist representatives is by Julie Craig, “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Feminism! On the Feminists Who Aren’t (pdf), which, like all good scholarship, points out the flaws in some women’s studies programs that opportunists like Sommers exploit to raise false accusations about the whole of the discipline. Sommers has this tiny germ of correctness in her arguments that she likes to inflate beyond all reason.

Sommer’s shortsighted analysis ignores the diversity of women’s studies faculties and the existence of other critics of classroom radicalism, and her generalizations do not paint an accurate picture of feminist education any more than they adhere honestly to the realities of feminist philosophy.

That’s the politest way to put it. Sommers is a professional selective quote-miner and anecdote-citer who is on a mission from AEI to discredit all of feminism. She’s effective, too: when she’s bamboozled Richard Dawkins into proclaiming her the authority on feminism, she’s won a major neo-conservative victory.

Unfortunately, their faux-feminist rhetoric makes it easy for readers to encounter “feminism” without ever encountering actual feminist views and activism. As such, their presence will serve only to take attention away from women whose goals transcend the endless disparagement of feminism itself and create a distraction from the real questions of equality.

Thanks, Richard Dawkins! You’re now officially an anti-feminist!

For future tweets, I recommend this statement by Sommers as a useful guideline: just accuse anyone who disagrees with you of being ugly and hating sex.

There are a lot of homely women in women’s studies. Preaching these anti-male, anti-sex sermons is a way for them to compensate for various heartaches–they’re just mad at the beautiful girls.

Oh my friggin’ dog — what passive-aggressive, disingenuous chickenshit…it’s the latest response from Dawkins.

I didn’t name any clickbaiting blogs. Is it interesting that at least 1 prominent blogger (whom I won’t name) seems very sensitive?

I call that intellectual cowardice, and grossly dishonest. He invented a clumsy phrase — “Feedingfrenzy Thoughtpolice Bullies” — with an obvious acronym, with the clear intent of hinting at who he’s outraged (dare I call it fake outrage?) at. I couldn’t imagine that he’d go so far as to so transparently pretend innocence.

And then he follows up with this:

I don’t understand you. In the context of clickbait, isn’t it OBVIOUS why I don’t name him? Don’t want to send clicks his way!

Do you know who else refuses to name me or link to me, for fear of sending ‘clicks’ my way? Ken Ham.



  1. 2kittehs says

    This morning I found myself wondering: Is Dawkins trying to become the Pat Robertson of atheism?

    (If I were on Twitter I’d be tempted to ask him, just to watch an assplosion.)