My cosigner (it’s kind of like the Declaration of Independence – we are Signers) Richard Dawkins has been tweeting about the logic of saying X is not as bad as Y. The logic is that saying X is not as bad as Y is not the same thing as saying X is good. Quite right; it’s not. A mouthful of curdled milk is not as bad as a mouthful of shit, but that doesn’t mean a mouthful of curdled milk is good.
X is bad. Y is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of X, go away and don’t come back until you’ve learned how to think logically.
Mild pedophilia is bad. Violent pedophilia is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of mild pedophilia, go away and learn how to think.
Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.
There was some back and forth, then more stand-alone tweets.
Whether X or Y is worse is a matter of opinion. But it is a matter of LOGIC that to express that opinion doesn’t mean you approve of either.
“Stealing £1 is bad. Stealing an old lady’s life savings is worse.” How DARE you rank them? Stealing is stealing. You’re vile, appalling.
That’s all true. He’s right. But there’s more to it than that. I offered three replies myself.
Ophelia Benson @OpheliaBenson · 33m
@RichardDawkins But Richard there is rhetoric as well as logic. The 2 have differnt rules. Sometimes “Y is worse!” means “shut up about X.”
@RichardDawkins It of course doesn’t mean that as a matter of *logic*. But used rhetorically, it does.
@RichardDawkins To put it another way, there’s the matter of implication, which can work differently from the way logic works.
I have more room here, enough room so that I don’t have to spell “different” as “differnt” in order to finish my sentences.
It’s true that “X is less bad” ≠ “X is good” or “I approve of X.” I think Richard had in mind the passage about the molestation he experienced at school compared with other, less tolerable forms. I don’t think he had in mind “Dear Muslima” – which of course is a mere comment on a blog, not a passage in a best-selling much-translated much-discussed book. But “Dear Muslima” does a good job of illustrating what I mean about rhetoric and implication. The whole point of “Dear Muslima” was very plainly to say that women face horrendous forms of abuse and denial of rights in places where Islamic laws and/or customs have authority, and therefore women who face much milder forms of abuse in secular democracies should…talk less about it, or talk about it more temperately, or something along those lines. It’s hard to spell out the implication exactly, because it is an implication, but it’s something along those lines. That much is not ambiguous. You’d have to be a very primitive bit of AI to miss that.
So, in fact, even though Richard is right about the logic, he seems to be forgetting about rhetoric, and we know he understands that kind of rhetoric because in “Dear Muslima” he used it himself.
So it’s not that he’s wrong about the logic, it’s just that that’s not all there is to it.
Note to commenters: please keep in mind The Statement, and word your comments accordingly. Seriously. Reasoned argument only. I know people get heated about this; I know I get heated almost every time I hit the keyboard, no matter what the subject; Not On This Thread.