A puerile display of sniggering frivolity

Richard Dawkins has a piece in the Guardian wondering why people don’t believe in public-spirited concern like the kind he showed when he tweeted about his little jar of honey. Yes really.

He describes trying to explain to a bank how to improve its customer service website, and then a piece he wrote for Prospect in 2009 about a woman who was upset about not being allowed to take her child’s eczema ointment on a plane (which does sound like a real issue). Then he comes to the present day.

Once again my motive was public-spirited, and now there was no question of self-interest because the fated ointment wasn’t mine. The woman’s experience had been a particular peg on which to hang a general point. Unfortunately, when I returned to make a similar point on Twitter this week, I foolishly chose a peg that was vulnerable to misinterpretation as self-interested. And the result was a puerile display of sniggering frivolity such as only Twitter can serve up.

Ahhhhhhh there it is again – the denunciation of the sniggering frivolity on Twitter, when he himself has posted more than a few sniggeringly frivolous tweets and then been surprised by the reactions to them. Some of his best friends wish he would stop using Twitter, but they apparently can’t get his attention.

This time the dangerous explosive was not eczema lotion but honey. And it belonged to me, at Edinburgh airport, bound for Heathrow with only carry-on luggage. Though the jar was small, it exceeded the limit laid down by the rule-happy officials of airport security, and it was thrown away.

I tweeted to the effect that every time I see an incident of this kind I sense it as a victory for Bin Laden. However calamitous the destruction of the twin towers, doesn’t the bureaucratically imposed vexation to airline passengers all over the world mount up to a prolonged and distributed, albeit far less traumatic, victory? And aren’t our rule-merchants playing into Bin Laden’s dead hands by their futile displays of stable-door-shutting?

Erm…many people have argued seriously that clogging up travel is indeed a victory for the jihadists, but they don’t do it on Twitter via a dirge for their own small jar of honey.

But because the honey was mine not a young mother’s, my motive could surely not be other than selfish. “Stop whining about your lost honey.” In vain did I protest that I couldn’t give a damn about my honey. I was making a point of general principle, trying to be public-spirited. “If you weren’t so ignorant, you’d know the rules about liquids.” In vain did I reassure the tweeting twerps that I know the rules all too well. That’s precisely why I’m campaigning against them.

I say nothing of the feeble jokes on “bee” and “be” and Pooh Bear. My point here is the one brought out by my encounter with the bank clerk. What is it that renders some people incapable of conceiving how a person might be motivated not by narrow self-interest but by a public-spirited concern for the common weal?

He also says nothing of the not-feeble jokes and serious points about “Dear Muslima” and “zero bad.” Those items were the only reason I paid attention to the dirge for the jar of honey. It wasn’t, in my case and in the case of many many others,  “Stop whining about your lost honey.” It was “why are you whining about your lost honey when you pitched such a fit at Rebecca for objecting to being hit on in an elevator at 4 a.m.?” It wasn’t a “poor you” objection, it was a double standards objection.

By the way Rebecca wasn’t just talking about her own personal interest either. That was and is one of the reasons some people got so pissed off at her: because she was “trying to speak for all women” – as if that were somehow bizarre or impermissible. As if Thurgood Marshall for example shouldn’t have “tried to speak for all African-Americans” in Brown v Board of Education.

So there it is, Richard. A lot of us are going to be turning a skeptical eye on your public interest tweets because you’ve never seen fit to withdraw your ridiculous, uncalled-for, sniggering and frivolous sneering and condescending “Dear Muslima.”


  1. A. Noyd says

    I follow a number of social justice blogs on Tumblr, so I see plenty of public-spirited concern. It just doesn’t revolve around cis-het, affluent white men. In fact, there’s a lot of pushback against the social conventions that public-spirited concern has to focus on how the most privileged of the privileged are affected. That it leads people to ignore problems until the Dawkinses of the world take note and condescend to point to it. That the Dawkinses should, if they really care, already be listening to those with less privilege and stepping aside so that those people can be better noticed.

    Also, a necessary medication is nothing like a motherfucking condiment.

  2. ludicrous says

    RD: ” What is it that renders some people incapable of conceiving how a person might be motivated not by narrow self-interest but by a public-spirited concern for the common weal?”

    Indeed Richard, what was it about Rebecca’s ‘pubilc-spirited concern for the common weal’ that made you lose your way?

  3. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    This could almost be an Onion article.

    I’d like to think that Dakwins still has enough sense left that it’s possible he may realise from the amount of scorn he’s received for his whining that perhaps he needs to change his attitude about what is and isn’t worth complaining about.

    But I’m not going to hold my breath.

  4. OpheliaBensonIsARapeApologist says

    Ophelia Benson is a RAPE APOLOGIST.

    BTW, countering a DEAR MUSLIMA with another DEAR MUSLIMA fools nobody.

    You REAP what you sew.

  5. yeahyeah says

    You might want to start keeping an eye out for the expose of your RAPE APOLOGISM on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Skeptic/Atheism forums, etc.

    Word is getting out, you piece of scum.

  6. Al Dente says

    Do I detect some reluctance on the commentariat’s part to recognize the sheer awesomeness that is Richard Dawkins whinging about not whinging about his honey?

  7. Anthony K says

    I was making a point of general principle, trying to be public-spirited.

    Oh look, he’s one of those Social Justice Warriors we hear so much about these days.

  8. Anthony K says

    You REAP what you sew.

    What happened to using your real name, Paden? What happened to leveling the playing field?

    (Also, the word is “sow”, you fucking dipshit.

    Also, and I know you think its super clever, but using Bible verses on atheists? Is your head completely full of piss?)

  9. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    That’s not Paden, it’s Richard Sanderson. It’s got his tooth-marks all over it.

    Rich has demonstrated on many occasions he doesn’t know the meanings of a large number of words that he uses. Was it him who went on a faux-outrage rant about race when someone called him a ‘fellow traveller’? Whoever it was it made me laugh for days.

  10. says

    Jules @ 9 – oh good lord, no, I hadn’t remembered that.


    It’s sad. But given all that’s happened and been revealed over the past 2.5 years, it can’t be helped.

  11. says

    BTW, countering a DEAR MUSLIMA with another DEAR MUSLIMA fools nobody.

    You REAP what you sew.

    1. Why am I unsurprised that the dipshits who defend everything by calling it “satire” don’t recognize the real thing when it’s presented to them?

    2. Paden, Sandersen, or whomever you are, you do realize that you’re a flaming goat and Depeche Mode link away from being indistinguishable from Dennis Markuze, right? Perhaps, if you want your stupid threats to be taken seriously, you should remedy that.

  12. athyco says

    He used “honey trap” in the title. Does he even know that the phrase means a set-up to catch someone cheating?

    Yeah, that’s exactly what I as the employee would be thinking: here’s someone who would point to a “reasonable” official bending the rules. He travels so much, he’s got to know the rules. He’s got a large platform that would require more reaction from my employers than a slap on the wrist.

    And my estimation of his intelligence (either for not comprehending this or for thinking that I’d be too stupid to see the consequences) would go way down.

    With the “sniggering frivolity” dig–how can he not see that he’s setting himself up for an additional swarm if he continues to drone on about it? (No, Richard, I’m not sorry.)

  13. says

    And what does that even mean – “countering a DEAR MUSLIMA with another DEAR MUSLIMA fools nobody”?

    It wasn’t meant to fool anybody.

    Dear oh dear. Rage plus obsession are not good for his cognitive functioning.

  14. says

    How can he not realize that the choice of the honey incident, when he could have chosen any number of more serious incidents (just ask around, do a Google search, or talk to the TSA people), DOES indicate self-interest?

    If he’d lost something of significant value, even of personal, sentimental value, I could at least have seriously entertained the “this isn’t self-interest, it’s making a point about the wider world” argument. As it is, he’s elevating his personal lack of that jar to a symbol of oppression, and that doesn’t work out very well — how can he not realize that? Honey comes off, when he tells the tale, as a luxury item. He travels with a little jar of honey? That in itself makes the situat and such at pre-arranged points along the way and 2) the dog being a poodle. (Yes, I know — poodles are real dogs, etc, but it just doesn’t sound the same — just as Dawkins’s honey might have been a special treat, or a going-away gift, or something. Doesn’t matter.)

    Dawkins would have done better to complain about having to take his laptop out and empty his pockets and be intimately groped by a uniformed stranger — at least that would’ve been an Everyman sort of position; as it is, he’s *very firmly* in let-them-eat-cake territory, and there’s no way that whatever he says from that position isn’t going to sound silly.

  15. says

    ARGH! Something ate a line in that comment. Should have said that his traveling with a jar of honey makes the situation sound silly, and then I compared it to finding out that Steinbeck’s saga of a man and his dog crossing the country looking for the real American actually involved his wife sending him clean underpants along the way, and the dog being a poodle.

    Damn computer gremlins.

  16. Jayne Hunter says

    Oh Dear, Dawkins can’t do anything right apparently, and still I admire the man, and enjoy listening to his talks. Jayne

  17. leni says

    There’s a lot I like about Dawkins too.

    Including watching him REAP what he SEWED.

    Hee hee hee. <— Puerile sniggering

  18. Tim Harris says

    RD has done sterling work, The Blind Watchmaker and The Extended Phenotype are excellent books, and the television series about believers he did was good and just; but he can also be a remarkably silly man – and this, I suspect, has to do with his having spent most of his life shining in the hierarchical and intensely competitive surroundings of a university, and not of a whole university, really, but of a particular faculty. That is fine, but it has resulted in a peculiar blindness and tone-deafness – a jar of honey, indeed: why does he nor, instead of obsessing over a jar of honey, tweeting about Muslims, excoriating Rebecca Watson, complaining about the rejection of the term ‘brights’ when ‘gays’ is accepted, and pandering to the likes of Pat Condell, recognise that Bin Laden has won when the West, and in particular the USA, embraces torture and the disgusting situation at Guantanamo Bay out of fear of terrorism. Digby, in her splendid blog Hullabaloo, has a horrifying piece on the employment in the States of what one might call scientific sodomy to break people, and not only terrorists, down. – an example of the serious and general devaluation of life and freedom that has resulted from 9/11 as the powerful exploited what happened to increase their powers; one might think, too, of surveillance and Snowden. And RD gets excited about his little principles and a jar of honey. He should look at the world and grow up.

  19. says

    So…Dawkins fired off the tweet, was criticized and mocked for it by people who knew the “Dear Muslima” history, and completely ignores that history in responding. Given a platform in the fucking Guardian to raise public awareness of the nightmare that is “homeland security,” with its racism and violations of human rights and devastating effects on people’s lives, he chooses to use that platform to complain about people criticizing him. In what’s supposed to be an illustration of his public spiritedness. Bravo.


    2. Paden, Sandersen, or whomever you are, you do realize that you’re a flaming goat and Depeche Mode link away from being indistinguishable from Dennis Markuze, right?



    ARGH! Something ate a line in that comment.

    I was wondering where the poodle came from. 🙂

  20. Tim Harris says

    What seems to enrage Dawkins most is not injustice, however great, but stupidity, however trivial. And as SaltyCurrent intimates, he is a very vain person.

  21. Pieter B, FCD says

    I saw Dear Muslima as sneering condescension. Sniggering frivolity would have been far less offensive, IMO.

  22. S Mukherjee says

    Many years ago there was an Onion piece that went something like this: ‘If I don’t get served my medium-rare steak in the next five minutes, the terrorists have already won!’

    Do you think they based it on Dawkins?

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