Dawkins spoke at #whc2014 this morning, in an interview with Samira Ahmed. Ahmed held his feet to the fire a bit, and grilled him on the recent rape comparisons on Twitter. Unfortunately, he made the same justifications all over again. Basically, his argument was that his critics are:
Irrational, incapable of grasping the lucid logic of his argument.
Emotional, driven entirely by a visceral reaction to rape.
Suppressive, unwilling to discuss the issues calmly. They never discuss some topics, like rape and pedophilia.
He received resounding applause from a receptive audience, and he would have deserved it if there had been any truth at all to his claims. There isn’t.
Most of us understand the logic of “X is bad, Y is worse” not being an endorsement of X. To argue otherwise seriously disrespects your opponents (I would not be surprised if some individuals fail to get that, but they aren’t representative).
When you are making an intentionally emotive argument, as Dawkins admitted, you lose the privilege to complain that your opponents have an emotional reaction. As he knows, some subjects are inherently threatening and are appropriately dealt with using a strong emotional component…not to reject logic, but to recognize the motivation that drives the importance of the topic.
This one is extraordinarily aggravating. Feminists talk about rape all the time. The flip side of that complaint is to suggest that they’re reveling in victimhood and should just shut up about rape. You can’t win!
It’s not that you aren’t allowed to talk about rape, but that you have to include some sensitivity to the fact that certain groups, such as men in prison and women in all situations, are particularly at risk and have a much deeper interest and awareness of the magnitude and impact of the problem, and that if you are outside those categories, you need to tread with great caution. It is especially galling when the outsider assumes they know best how to address the issue, because logic.Patronizing logic.
Honestly, women have been wrestling with this deep problem in our culture for a long time. It was a bit like something else I’ve experienced: having a creationist march up to me and accuse scientists of never ever considering problem X with evolution.* Yeah, we have, and with more knowledge and evidence than you’ve got, guy.
Another problem is context. We’ve been dealing with political figures, like Todd Akin, who have been using an artificial hierarchy of wrongness of rape to argue for placing the blame for some rapes on women…on the victims. This is, as Dawkins would say, completely illogical, and I’m confident that Dawkins himself is not thinking that way. But people who have been threatened with rape know full well that the world is not logical — if it were, they wouldn’t be worried about other people violating their autonomy. Vulcans don’t rape, and rapists aren’t logical, so reducing a life-threatening issue to a simplistic logic problem is illegitimate, and we also know that irrational people will abuse any hierarchical ordering of crimes to justify policies that do great harm.
Zero points to Team Dawkins on this issue. He hasn’t grasped the critics’ arguments at all, and is still hammering away with this irrelevant logic, logic, logic complaint.
One point for defining humanism as atheism plus an ethical stance, which is pretty much what Atheism Plus is all about.
One point, maybe, for clearly announcing that he is a feminist, and further declaring that it is self-evident that everyone should be a feminist. I reserve the right to adjust that score if he’s talking about a Christina Hoff Sommers kind of faux feminist.
Generally, it was a good talk with lots of red meat for the godless, but it had that big disappointing chunk in the middle where he addressed criticisms with misperceptions of the critiques.
*Curiously, we had an example of that in the Q&A. A fellow got up to the microphone and announced that he was a medic, and that genetic scientists had never considered the problem of the number of genes — that they used to think there were hundreds of thousands of genes (factually wrong: when I was a genetics student in the 70s, my prof, Larry Sandler, told us the best estimate was a few tens of thousands), and that we’d never dealt with the reduction in the number of genes in the HGP. There aren’t enough genes to make a human, he claimed. He was getting ranty, and couldn’t manage to state a question, so he was unsubtly dragged out of the building.
That was an appropriate response. I wonder if he’s at a pub somewhere right now, regaling the other patrons with a fanciful tale about how Dawkins was unable to process his logical argument, got all emotional, and had to silence him?