Right on target?

One point about Kimberly Winston’s article about Dawkins and Twitter and peace accords – I was surprised by what Daniel Dennett said.

Of course, Dawkins still has legions of supporters. Among his biggest is Dennett, one of his fellow “Four Horsemen” and a philosopher at Tufts University.

“I thought Richard’s responses were right on target. If some radical feminists (and others) think that all rape is equally bad, do they think it is not quite as bad as murder? If so, are THEY condoning rape?  And if they think rape and murder are always equally bad, they really have lost their bearings and do not deserve our attention. Richard has been immensely important.”

Note the “if”. Well yes, if, then whatever. But the proposed “if” isn’t relevant to anything, so it’s frivolous to mention it. It’s likely that Dennett simply had no idea what all this is about, but in that case, he should have just replied that he had no idea what all this is about. He shouldn’t have cast about for a likely reason for Dawkins to tweet “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” and then used his own speculation as an answer to questions about it from a reporter.

How do I know that’s what he did? I don’t know for sure, but if he had known what it was all about, I don’t see why he would have given such a dud reply.

Of course Richard has been immensely important; I said that in my reply to Winston myself. But I don’t think he’s been immensely important on Twitter. In any case it can be true both that he has been immensely important and that he is currently doing a good deal of harm and could stop doing that with little or no cost to himself.


  1. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    What I want to know is why she’s seeking out the opinion of Daniel Dennett to ask him who he thinks is right on a question that’s not within his area of expertise. We don’t do that with other kinds of topics. Nobody is going to interview Dawkins about some debate going on within evolutionary biology and then seek out Neil DeGrasse Tyson to weigh in on who is right. But when it’s feminism/women’s issues? Gotta check in with as many old, preferably white dudes as possible for validation.

  2. screechymonkey says

    Seven of Mine, I think the topic of that article is not so much feminism as “is Richard Dawkins hurting atheism?” So it seems to me like it’s fair game and good reporting to ask the opinions of those who are (seen as) “big names” or leaders in atheism. And Dennett, as one of the so-called Four Horsemen, falls into that category.

  3. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    Well the question is “is he hurting atheism by being a raging douchebag about social issues?” I would think the people to ask are people who are potentially being driven away by Dawkins’ behavior, not someone who is already firmly entrenched in the movement.

  4. Ant (@antallan) says

    Quite apart from the content, does this sound to you like Dennett saying it?


  5. Al Dente says

    I think there should be a requirement that before a white male academic can make pronouncements about rape or other feminist topics they pass a test on basic feminism. I doubt Dawkins could pass such a test and I’m not feeling sanguine about Dennett’s competency.

  6. Eric O says

    Dennett was always my favourite of the Four Horsemen for a couple of reasons. 1) I liked his books on the philosophy of consciousness; they introduced me to a lot of interesting ideas and inspired me to take a class on the subject in undergrad, and 2) he never tried to weigh in on the whole feminism thing; I suspected his views to be similar to Dawkins but I could entertain the possibility that he didn’t buy into anti-feminist strawmen as long as he didn’t open his mouth.

    So, I guess all I can say is, I still ike his books. Just wish he wouldn’t talk about stuff that clearly goes beyond his realm of expertise.

  7. John Morales says

    @6, 7, 8: His expertise is philosophy.

    As Ophelia wrote:

    Note the “if”.

    (It’s not the text, it’s the subtext)

  8. Blanche Quizno says

    Gaah. Now I’m even moar depressed. Walking around the house obsessively screeching “Baby steps! Baby steps!” in a shrill voice with an unshakably anxious look on my face isn’t helping.

  9. Hj Hornbeck says

    If some radical feminists (and others) think that all rape is equally bad, do they think it is not quite as bad as murder?

    Pro-tip: If you use the term “radical feminist,” and you’re not talking about feminist history, you’re probably full of it.

  10. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    Bummer. Dennett has always seemed like the most empathetic of the Four Horsemen. Sigh..

  11. says

    Number 12, I second that. My rule of thumb, as one in a position of privilege (white middle class, college educated male in my second half century): if a woman tells me I said (did) something sexist, I should listen because she understands better than I; if a person of color tells me I said something racist, I should listen, because etc….. Those of us in privileged position just don’t have the same experience of those with less privilege. Our position protected us from having our noses rubbed in the shit people do to each other.

    The proper response by Mr. Dawkins, myself, and any of the rest of us guys used to deference should be listening with humble silence.

  12. says

    Can we stop with the “horsemen” shit? There are no “horsemen” — there were a few humans who were seen briefly to be fellow travellers, but it was purely an accident. It was a huge mistake for some to laud them as movement leaders. What movement. What leaders.

  13. John Horstman says

    Re: Hj Hornbeck #11, Dave #14: I rather strongly disagree. The phrase “radical feminist” applies to any feminist who is radical, that is, any feminist who wishes to fundamentally change the structure of society, as compared to e.g. liberal feminists, who would like to keep most of the structure of society but work for women to have access equal to that of men to all areas of society as it exists (with an emphasis on individual agency). On the other hand, “Radical Feminist” in caps is used as the formal name for a few different groupings of feminist thought/theory/practice/praxis, including Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminists who frequently identify as “Radical Feminists” and who rather ironically are often deeply conservative, especially regarding gender essentialism. For example, feminists who wish to entirely dismantle our binary gender system would be radical feminists, but likely not Radical Feminists. As a strong socialist (I would like to eliminate private property, though not personal property) and anti-essentialist/social constructionist, I am an extremely radical feminist, but not a Radical Feminist.

  14. Pierce R. Butler says

    Dennett: If… If… if …

    Apparently Dr. D has done no homework on a relatively easy-to-find topic. If so (hey, I can’t readily confirm or deny this hypothesis), he desperately needs to give himself whatever philosophy professors use for a ruler-across-the-wrist, and go ask a reference librarian or any colleague not named Hoff Sommers for an introductory reading list – and go sit down and READ it!

    Or, learn to tell interviewers, “Sorry, I don’t know enough to opine about that.”

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