The most recent example of some people uncharitably misinterpreting Richard Dawkins

by Michael Nugent on July 30, 2014

Yesterday’s smears against Richard Dawkins go beyond the usual pattern, in which some people place the most uncharitable meaning they can on a comment by Richard, and continue to do so even after he clarifies what he meant.

In this instance, the uncharitable meaning that some people are placing on his comments seems almost the exact opposite of what he actually said. Indeed, he was robustly criticising the very thinking that some people seem to be accusing him of.

He was forcefully saying that it is NOT an endorsement of bad behaviour to say that another behaviour is worse. And yet some people seem to have interpreted it as if he was justifying some bad behaviour, rather than criticising the justification of such behaviour.

Here is what Richard tweeted yesterday, in three tweets posted together:

As a suggestion, whenever I tweet a sequence of three tweets, I start them with 1/3, 2/3 and 3/3. That way it is clear that they are not standalone tweets.

But even taken taken individually, the most charitable interpretation that can be put on these tweets is also the most literal one.

What Richard is saying in these tweets is that it is NOT an endorsement of bad behaviour to say that another behaviour is worse.

The first example that Richard gave

The first example he gave is no doubt influenced by his own experience of being sexually abused as a child, and writing about it in his memoir.

That led to a series of unjust smears against him, ranging from suggestions that he was indifferent to the sexual abuse of children to suggestions that he was defending pedophilia.

He responded then to that misrepresentation, with similar arguments to those which he made yesterday.

He said that his own thirty seconds of nastiness back in the 1950s did not deserve the sympathy due to a victim who had been truly damaged for the rest of their life.

He said that to frame it in such a way would have been to belittle and insult those many people whose lives really were blighted and cursed, perhaps by year-upon-year of abuse by a father or other person who was deeply important in their life.

He said that to excuse pedophiliac assaults in general, or to make light of the horrific experiences of others, was a thousand miles from his intention.

The second example that Richard gave

I disagree with the second example he gave, because some date rapes can be worse than some stranger rapes at knifepoint. I understand that many people mistakenly think that stranger rape must be worse, but that is not the case.

Some people made this point to Richard on Twitter, and he acknowledged that they were correct.

Surely that is how reasonable discourse should take place? Somebody expresses an opinion, somebody else gives them information that they had not considered, and they accommodate that new information within their thinking.

Richard then further clarified what he meant in this post on his website.

The joint statement with Ophelia Benson

It would be helpful if people read these comments in the context of the joint statement between Richard and Ophelia Benson a few days ago.

They wrote:

It’s not news that allies can’t always agree on everything. People who rely on reason rather than dogma to think about the world are bound to disagree about some things. Disagreement is inevitable, but bullying and harassment are not. If we want secularism and atheism to gain respect, we have to be able to disagree with each other without trying to destroy each other.

In other words we have to be able to manage disagreement ethically, like reasonable adults, as opposed to brawling like enraged children who need a nap. It should go without saying, but this means no death threats, rape threats, attacks on people’s appearance, age, race, sex, size, haircut; no photoshopping people into demeaning images, no vulgar epithets.

Richard adds: I’m told that some people think I tacitly endorse such things even if I don’t indulge in them. Needless to say, I’m horrified by that suggestion. Any person who tries to intimidate members of our community with threats or harassment is in no way my ally and is only weakening the atheist movement by silencing its voices and driving away support.

Given that Richard, like any ethically functioning adult, has just publicly condemned rape threats, it seems reasonable to assume that he also opposes actual pedophilia and rape, of whatever kind. Indeed, it is absurd to have to even write that sentence.

But it is also absurd that there are some people who thought that Richard tacitly endorsed the behaviours mentioned in the joint statement with Ophelia. In fact, he has been a repeated victim of threats, vulgar epithets, and attacks on his age, race and sex.

Some atheists expressed disagreement with Richard yesterday in considered terms, as should be expected and encouraged in any freethinking community.

For example, the issue is being discussed reasonably in this post on Ophelia’s blog, where she has asked her commenters to keep the agreed statement in mind.

But yesterday has also shown yet again how some people can use online media to unfairly harm the reputation of a good person.

Be Sociable, Share!

{ 97 comments… read them below or add one }

1 SF July 30, 2014 at 5:51 am

Well stated. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Radical feminist hysteria has no bounds. You’d think Dawkins had actually raped someone by the hyperbole and overreaction to this.

2 TINA Storey July 30, 2014 at 6:58 am

Thanks Michael, very well written.
Some of the more excitable contributors to Atheist Ireland fora could do with considering Richard and Ophelia’s words:
“It’s not news that allies can’t always agree on everything. People who rely on reason rather than dogma to think about the world are bound to disagree about some things.Disagreement is inevitable, but bullying and harassment are not. If we want secularism and atheism to gain respect, we have to be able to disagree with each other without trying to destroy each other.In other words we have to be able to manage disagreement ethically, like reasonable adults, as opposed to brawling like enraged children who need a nap. It should go without saying, but this means no death threats, rape threats, attacks on people’s appearance, age, race, sex, size, haircut; no photoshopping people into demeaning images, no vulgar epithets.”

3 Pete Knight July 30, 2014 at 7:01 am

It seemed to me that too many people are actively seeking fault in Richard, they are reading between the lines and totally ignoring what Richard actually wrote.

4 Geoff Lillis July 30, 2014 at 7:46 am

Trigger warning: rape

Hi Michael,

I think one of the most important pieces of feedback received after Atheist Ireland’s “Empowering Women Through Secularism” conference was the appropriate use of trigger warnings. You might recall their absence caused some to walk out. This piece includes discussion of violent pederasty, rape by friends and family, and rape at knifepoint and is to my mind a rather clear example of a place where they should be included.

To the wider point: I can’t defend the use of the adjective ‘mild’ to describe rape. It trivialises and minimises a horrific experience and is not a choice of words I can associate with an ‘ethically functioning adult’. It stands in the same category as those who consider ‘legitimate rape’ a valid term. This damages survivors of sexual assault. It also (less importantly, of course) damages the public perception of atheism.

There is – of course – room to analyse how others react and respond to Dawkins, but surely the priority should be repairing damage done by these remarks? By not addressing, one is left with the impression that the matter is considered unimportant. Knowing you in person I’m sure that’s not intentional. Will you be addressing later?

Best,
Geoff

5 Phil Giordana FCD July 30, 2014 at 7:47 am

Very well put, Michael. Some people just don’t want to have a charitable reading of any perceived opponent.

6 John Morales July 30, 2014 at 9:17 am

Phil @5:

Some people just don’t want to have a charitable reading of any perceived opponent.

Are critics of Dawkins perceived opponents to whom you give a charitable reading?

7 John Morales July 30, 2014 at 9:23 am

Michael in the OP:

What Richard is saying in these tweets is that it is NOT an endorsement of bad behaviour to say that another behaviour is worse.

Mmm. Yeah, he apparently thought he needed to say that.

(Because he’s cluey)

8 Phil Giordana FCD July 30, 2014 at 9:36 am

John @5:

“Are critics of Dawkins perceived opponents to whom you give a charitable reading?”

Yes, most of the time.

9 Phil Giordana FCD July 30, 2014 at 9:44 am

Of course, there are some critics of Dawkins (and others) I won’t grant a charitable reading. Those who proclaim the Earth is 6000 years old or that Jesus rode a Triceratops, but I guess you knew that already 😉

10 John Morales July 30, 2014 at 10:05 am

Phil @9, a charitable reading is a reference to the principle of charity.

(To apply it conditionally is ethically suspect; to accuse others of not employing it is a not insignificant charge)

11 Phil Giordana FCD July 30, 2014 at 10:29 am

Really? On what planet? SJW Land? The place where anything and everything is an evil attack? Except when they do it, obviously.

12 John Morales July 30, 2014 at 10:31 am

Phil, consider this claim:

Given that Richard, like any ethically functioning adult, has just publicly condemned rape threats, it seems reasonable to assume that he also opposes actual pedophilia and rape, of whatever kind. Indeed, it is absurd to have to even write that sentence.

Were I to be uncharitable, I might note that it is not the case that all* ethically functioning adults have just publicly condemned rape threats, or that writing that sentence is not necessarily absurd.

Instead, if employing the principle of charity, I might note things such as that he has also stated that some rapes are worse than others though that is an irrelevance to the fact that all rape is condemnable, so that one reasonably expects he thinks he has sufficient reason to be uttering such a claim. This reason, however, is left to the reader’s imagination.

* If you’re confused, note that it’s the logical equivalent of attributing a predicate to ‘any’.

13 Phil Giordana FCD July 30, 2014 at 10:53 am

Sorry, I don’t understand your post.

14 John Morales July 30, 2014 at 11:05 am

Phil, let me attempt another way of expressing it: Philosophically, the principle of charity is an exercise in intellectual honesty, not an actual act of charity.

So, to claim that you won’t grant certain people (such as some critics of Dawkins) a charitable reading is a claim about your intellectual honesty.

15 Phil Giordana FCD July 30, 2014 at 11:09 am

Nope. Still not getting it.

16 John Morales July 30, 2014 at 11:13 am

It’s OK, Phil. You are almost certainly not the only one who considers themselves to be an opponent of Dawkins’ critics, and that feels no need to charitably read those criticisms.

17 DIM July 30, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Geoff said: >I think one of the most important pieces of feedback received after Atheist Ireland’s “Empowering Women Through Secularism” conference was the appropriate use of trigger warnings. <

If you require trigger warnings, you shouldn't be on Twitter, nor Facebook, nor Google, and probably should be seeking professional help.

If you do decide to participate in those forums, you should expect to be offended and "triggered" frequently.

Though I suspect the vast majority of people demanding trigger warnings are really just trying to excerpt control over others by demanding that their feelings trump other's rights to free speech.

As to the post by Michael, I am surprised you defend OB so thoroughly. She and her fellow FtB bloggers along with Skepchik have done nothing more than pay lip service to "keeping the statement in mind", not only have they totally failed to grasp the undeniable logic of Richard's tweets, they have carried on the usual drum banging to stir the masses into another wave of hysteria.

18 John Morales July 30, 2014 at 12:25 pm

[OT]

DIM @17:

If you require trigger warnings, you shouldn’t be on Twitter, nor Facebook, nor Google, and probably should be seeking professional help.

Presumably, because the norm on Twitter, Facebook, and Google is not to make any accommodation for those who require trigger warnings.

(Only wussy SJW’s would wish that everyone was able to participate in social media, right?)

19 Geoff Lillis July 30, 2014 at 12:31 pm

DIM, if you don’t like trigger warnings, learn to read faster. Most libraries run excellent adult literacy courses and will be happy to help. In just a few weeks you’ll be able to read through a trigger warning in a matter of minutes and will be able to move on to the rest of the article.

20 John Brown July 30, 2014 at 12:32 pm

As a survivor of many instances of rape by Catholic clergy from age 4 to age 8 I can attest to the fact that some instances of rape are far more damaging than others.

I had and have no difficulty understanding what Dawkins was saying in any of his 3 posts.

21 John Morales July 30, 2014 at 12:42 pm

John Brown @20, in your estimation, to whom was he saying it, and why?

(Or is that entirely irrelevant?)

22 john welch July 30, 2014 at 1:35 pm

Morales,

why is it important that Dawkins have a specific target? it doesn’t change the premise of what he posted, i.e. that there are degrees of bad, and acknowledging that does not imply approval of bad.

This is supported mind you, across the board. Even for things like murder. There’s a clear difference between planning to kill someone, i.e. the classic hit man, and inadvertently killing someone because say, you knocked a brick off a rooftop by accident and someone died when it fell on their head.

The end result of both is the same: someone is dead. But, societally, and legally, both are not EXACTLY THE SAME THINGS. One will, in the US, depending on the state, get you put in jail for the rest of your life or executed. The other has a high chance in not resulting in any legal penalty at all, and some sympathy for the person who bumped into the brick.

You can argue, as Michael did, that some of Dawkins’ examples were sub-optimal, and *Dawkins acknowledged that himself*.

But acknowledging that difference is not the same thing as endorsing one. Pointing out that accidental manslaughter is a lesser crime than First Degree Murder doesn’t mean you support accidental manslaughter.

As far as your insistence on charity being an all or nothing thing, as you have with Phil, if we go by your requirements, then you yourself are guilty of the same kind of thing you accuse Phil of.

Unless of course, you yourself are not charitable.

23 Shadow of a Doubt July 30, 2014 at 2:38 pm

Glad to see Michael Nugent being the calm voice of reason sometimes I don’t know how he manages to keep so cool being in the middle of the schism with enemies on all sides, well written sir.

I would like to make note of the fact, for the benefit of Geoff and all the others who failed to notice this, Dawkins at no point called any form of rape mild. His reference to “mild pedophilia” refers to any form of inappropriate touch or groping, such as the kind he himself experienced, specifically to differentiate it from rape which involves penetration of some sort.

Unless you use the term rape to describe any sort of unwanted touching, in which case you remove all the use of the word and it now needs modifiers such as “mild” to describe the difference between unwanted touching and penetration, than what Dawkins referred to as “mild” was not rape at all.

This sort of thing where language is stretched so far is either just someone looking to be offended, or a symptom of the ongoing rape (see what I did there) of the English language by those looking to use it as a reason to be mad at Dawkins.

24 Geoff Lillis July 30, 2014 at 2:44 pm

“I would like to make note of the fact, for the benefit of Geoff and all the others who failed to notice this, Dawkins at no point called any form of rape mild. His reference to “mild pedophilia” refers to any form of inappropriate touch or groping, such as the kind he himself experienced, specifically to differentiate it from rape which involves penetration of some sort.” – Shadow of a Doubt

An excellent point, marred only by the fact that it isn’t true:

“”Mild date rape is bad. Violent date rape is worse.” Is it really so hard to understand that that doesn’t constitute endorsement of either?” – Richard Dawkins
https://twitter.com/RichardDawkins/status/494039058122039296

(A mistake no doubt, I’m not assuming ill intent on your part.)

Does this change your opinion at all?

25 Shadow of a Doubt July 30, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Ahh I had not seen that tweet, I stand corrected. That is an extremely crass way of putting it. Although oddly enough, Dawkins is actually misquoting himself there, as it does not appear in the original tweet.

I hope that is merely an idiosyncratic issue between American and British English, as any actual rape cannot accurately, in my opinion, be described as mild.

26 Geoff Lillis July 30, 2014 at 3:27 pm

Truth be told when someone said to me he’d said ‘mild rape’, I’d assumed it was a misreading or a garbled recollection of what he’d actually said. Was surprised to see it.

Unfortunately there’s no linguistical loophole that would let ‘mild’ fly in this situation.

Anyway, thanks for taking the new information on board. Good talking.

27 Phil Giordana FCD July 30, 2014 at 3:43 pm

The Tweeter wording was… crappy. I’d blame the format over some ill intent. The Point RD was trying to make, however, is quite worthwhile. He has published a long piece on it:

https://richarddawkins.net/2014/07/are-there-emotional-no-go-areas-where-logic-dare-not-show-its-face/

Still clumsy in some of the wording, but the point is also still worthwhile.

28 SF July 30, 2014 at 4:05 pm

John Morales is a freethoughtblog regular. Trying to argue with him makes as much sense as debating a Moonie.

29 Pitchguest July 30, 2014 at 4:26 pm

Morales, do you have a point or are you just here to offer condescension?

(I’m not sure if calling Dawkins ‘cluey’ in a patronising manner brings much to the table.)

30 Phil Giordana FCD July 30, 2014 at 4:46 pm

To be honest, I really don’t understand John Morales’ point. I have a lot of difficulty in parsing his posts or understanding the relevance of them as to the discussion here. I blame myself on that one.

31 Pitchguest July 30, 2014 at 5:02 pm

Frankly I don’t think he understands them himself sometimes.

His meta label for things that are not meta is strange enough, but then he ventures into postmodern territory and then you’ve completely lost the plot. English is also not my native tongue and I have no idea what he’s talking about. Go figure.

32 DIM July 30, 2014 at 8:27 pm

Geoff: if you require trigger warnings you shouldn’t be on the internet, that’s it. Nor reading newspapers, nor partaking in public life. Any psychogist would tell you the same as part of your treatment . veterans with PTSD avoid things that might trigger them, they don’t go to fireworks displays and complain there are loud explosions

As to “mild date rape” … The word mild is a relative not an absolute term.

All rape is abhorrent, but rape on a date where you were a bit drunk and didn’t say “no” as clearly as you could have, and later regretted agreeing by your silence is (dependent on individual circumstances) probably “mild” in comparison with a brutal and violent act of prolonged kidnap, torture and rape where the victim is deliberately made to suffer as much as possible

If you cannot understand that Richard was (possibly poorly due to 140chars) using “mild” in a relative sense, then he was probably correct that you don’t understand logical argument , but more likely you are letting your logical reasoning faculties be clouded by your emotions

Of course there is such a thing as “mild” rape, which is why courts impose different sentences for some acts relative to others , to argue otherwise demonstrates a blinkered (in a charitable reading) or deliberately malevolant (in an uncharitable reading) thought process

33 John Brown July 30, 2014 at 8:33 pm

John Morales @21

Just trying to work out your logic on that one – if he was saying it to his mother or if he was saying it to your brother by your inference that makes a difference. Probably why I didn’t bother to answer sooner as you introduced the word irrelevant which I felt was sufficient for readers.

34 infovoy July 30, 2014 at 9:40 pm

What Dawkins has done is confused a single wrong – rape – with multiple wrongs, for example:

rape + taking advantage (perhaps drunk date rape)
rape + poisoning + taking advantage (perhaps drugged rape)
rape + threat of violence (perhaps date rape)
rape + assault (perhaps forced street rape)
rape + grievous assault (perhaps knife attack street rape)
rape + murder

Rape is equally wrong whatever the additional harm caused by the context of that rape. There is no more such a thing as mild rape and serious rape than there is an A that’s not equal to A or a number 2 that’s larger another number 2.

That’s logic, and it seems to have deserted Dawkins.

35 John Morales July 30, 2014 at 10:05 pm

john welch @22:

why is it important that Dawkins have a specific target? it doesn’t change the premise of what he posted, i.e. that there are degrees of bad, and acknowledging that does not imply approval of bad.

So we can know his purpose for the posting of that sequence of tweets, of course.

(Or do you dispute that Dawkins apparently thought he needed to say that?)

[meta]

SF:

John Morales is a freethoughtblog regular. Trying to argue with him makes as much sense as debating a Moonie.

Mmmhmm.

36 DIM July 30, 2014 at 10:10 pm

Infovoy, you have made the point yourself

There are many varying degrees of rape and outcomes and effects of that act

Sometimes additional criminal offenses are committed too, but the sentences handed out for the rape itself are on a sliding scale for the plain simple fact, not all acts covered by a single term are equivalent

To ascribe false equivalence is to make all rapes equally unimportant , when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority

If you want to hold out exceptional punishment and or treatment for the most egregious of offenses, you have to accept there are others that don’t deserve the same

To not distinguish between things that have the same label is to see the world in an unreasonable and blinded black and white way that does not reflect reality, nor does it help us progress as a society

37 John Morales July 30, 2014 at 10:24 pm

John Brown:

Just trying to work out your logic on that one – if he was saying it to his mother or if he was saying it to your brother by your inference that makes a difference.

And why would he say it to his mother or my brother unless he considered they thought that X is bad but Y is worse was an endorsement of X (or, that either thought that he thought that)?

38 John Brown July 30, 2014 at 10:27 pm

Yeup – thats why I did not bother to respond to your earlier post

39 John Morales July 30, 2014 at 11:36 pm

John Brown @38, your lack of curiosity (and resulting indolence) regarding consideration of the purpose of those tweets does explain why you don’t see at least one manner in which the tweets are problematic.

(You’re not the only one)

40 John Morales July 31, 2014 at 2:43 am

Pitchguest @29:

Morales, do you have a point or are you just here to offer condescension?

Here’s a bit of logic for you: the dichotomy you invoke is false — so your comment had no logical point.

(You wouldn’t be the type to uncharitably misread my cold exercise in logic, would you?)

@31:

Frankly I don’t think he understands them himself sometimes.

His meta label for things that are not meta is strange enough, but then he ventures into postmodern territory and then you’ve completely lost the plot. English is also not my native tongue and I have no idea what he’s talking about. Go figure.

The charitableness of your response to your failure to apprehend to what I refer stands in contrast with Phil’s @30.

41 SF July 31, 2014 at 5:12 am

Richard Dawkins if anything is guilty of tone deafness, not sexism. Probably as a product of his generation, he isn’t sufficiently aware of the raw emotions associated with rape and pedophilia expressed in the Twitter era, that weren’t allowed to be expressed in a previous not too distant era. Like my parents generation is queasy about gay marriage, my generation is vastly more open to. To miss this is to miss something important. We’re all trapped in our own zeitgeist. This is a lot of the reason the reactions for some people, particularly those who have suffered personally from rape and pedophilia have been so over the top.

42 Geoff Lillis July 31, 2014 at 6:18 am

I cannot begin to fathom the confusion of ideas that must form the worldview of one who willingly chooses the monkier ‘dim’, so I’ll try to explain this with reference to the stated aims of Atheist Ireland.

Since 2012, they’ve had an official policy of striving for the following goals:

Be inclusive, caring and supportive of people of all races, genders, sexualities and abilities
In particular, aim for a reasonable gender balance in our activities
Develop policies to help people to feel safe and enjoy themselves
(from here: http://www.michaelnugent.com/2013/03/05/atheist-ireland-forum-moderating-policy/)

In particular, they sought feedback from attendees to their Empowering Women Through Secularism conference on how it could have been made better. Several attendees brought up the absence of trigger warnings, and it’s my impression that it’s feedback they took on board.

So on the one hand we have a relatively simple step that ties in with several of the organisation’s key goals and has been recommended by many members of their target market – a simple addition of “Trigger warning: rape” at the top of the article.

On the flip side we have the dims of this world who are somehow inconvenienced by having to read an additional three words. Again, if this delays you unduly I can heartily recommend an adult literacy course at your local library.

Do you see how this doesn’t seem like a tough call to me?

Out of curiosity, do you live in Ireland? Are you a paying member of Atheist Ireland?

My second point still stands. A former speaker for Atheist Ireland sees the term ‘mild rape’ as appropriate – the immediate reaction should not be to rush to his defence and ignore the damage this does to the stated aims of Atheist Ireland.

43 infovoy July 31, 2014 at 6:24 am

DIM,

“Rape” is a very specific term, and refers to sexual penetration without consent. What you seem to be talking about is “Sexual assault”

“Slapping an ass without consent” is sexual assault, and it is mild. “Rape” is sexual assault, and it is never mild, being at the opposite end of the sexual assault spectrum.

To see the point just consider “murder”. A “mild rape” is like a “mild murder” – it doesn’t even make sense. And just like murder being at the strong end of assault, rape is at the strong end of sexual assault.

44 DIM July 31, 2014 at 6:24 am

Cute Geoff, open with an ad hom based on a username which as it is all capitals is likely an acronym

Atheist Ireland is entitled to have whatever policies it thinks appropriate, for it’s meetings, it’s conferences, it’s forums, or frankly anywhere else it is the authority. Based on those policies it will either attract or deter potential recruits, audience members, etc etc

So, when did Twitter come under the remit of Atheist Ireland? Because as far as I checked you are attacking Richard Dawkins for his comments on Twitter, saying they were triggering and he should have used a warning first.

Similarly you suggested that I should learn to read faster as I could then skip over the trigger warning at the from of tweets, blog posts etc etc that you deemed should be there to protect the feelings of others.

So, until Twitter, facebook and individual bloggers take up Atheist Ireland’s stance on trigger warnings … people who genuinely get triggered by words in a Tweet had best stay off the Internet

And… for that matter probably this blog post (not prefixed by trigger warnings) and all comments not prefixed by trigger warnings.

I suggest that you campaign vigilantly for Richard Dawkins to be shunned as a future speaker at Atheist Ireland if you feel that strongly, and perhaps Michael and the rest of the committee will agree with you. Otherwise, grow up.

45 DIM July 31, 2014 at 6:28 am

No infovoy, rape does not have a very specific definition … not according to a dictionary (pick one of many to differ), and especially not according to the law (which is different in different countries and in different states of the US)

Rape is a largely malleable term that covers a wide range of offences, some more severe than then others, as reflected in their widely varying sentencing guidelines

So… yes there is a ‘mild’ rape and there is a ‘brutal’ rape and there is a wide range of other types of rape too … their consequences for the victim/s are part of the difference, as is the intent, and the circumstances, and a range of other factors

Luckily the real world is nuanced and reflects the wide range of issues individuals, organisations and governments must take into account when dealing with criminal issues

46 Geoffsshorts July 31, 2014 at 6:33 am

Dim: “Because as far as I checked you are attacking Richard Dawkins for his comments on Twitter”

Me: “My second point still stands. A former speaker for Atheist Ireland sees the term ‘mild rape’ as appropriate – the immediate reaction should not be to rush to his defence and ignore the damage this does to the stated aims of Atheist Ireland.”

Is this unclear? My issue is with Michaels prioritisation of the defence of Dawkins over any attempt to repair damage done by a former speaker for AI thinking the term ‘mild rape’ is appropriate.

Again, are you based in Ireland? Are you a paying member of AI?

47 John Morales July 31, 2014 at 6:52 am

[OT + TW: rape]

DIM @45:

So… yes there is a ‘mild’ rape and there is a ‘brutal’ rape and there is a wide range of other types of rape too … their consequences for the victim/s are part of the difference, as is the intent, and the circumstances, and a range of other factors

Luckily the real world is nuanced and reflects the wide range of issues individuals, organisations and governments must take into account when dealing with criminal issues

First, that some rapes are more aggravated than others was never the dispute; rather, the relevance of that tweeted claim.

Second, Dawkins’ critics are also part of the real world, so it almost seems as if you’re suggesting that they are not nuanced by contrast.

Thirdly, are you suggesting that in terms of opposition to it, one should oppose less aggravated rape less than one opposes more aggravated rape?

(Because if not, whence the need for nuance and ranking of its particular instantiation in regards to objecting to it?)

48 John Morales July 31, 2014 at 7:00 am

[OT + meta]

Geoffsshorts @46, I am probably not the only one for whom Michael Nugent is the public face of AI, and to me this post is yet another item I have to consider so that I may avoid future bias as best as I can.

(I feel the need to aver that I believe that Michael’s ostensible purpose for this post is his actual purpose — that is, to call attention to what he considers to be “smears against Richard Dawkins go[ing] beyond the usual pattern”)

49 infovoy July 31, 2014 at 8:40 am

Are you suggesting that the definition is less inclusive than my “sexual penetration without consent” or more inclusive?

If the latter, then yes, I believe some would expand it to non-penetrative acts, but I don’t believe that is what Dawkins is referring to. He’s not claiming that all “sexual penetration without consent” is equally bad, but rape where it means “severe sexual assault but not penetration” or some other differing definition is not as bad. This would be dubious anyway, but would at least make sense.

Instead I believe he is suggesting the former. He wants to grade “sexual penetration without consent” according to the context in which it happens.
Would you agree with that take on what he said?

50 Michael Nugent July 31, 2014 at 11:37 am

Thanks for all the feedback. I’ll respond in more detail later, as I’m busy this week working on lobbying and legal proposals for the right to assisted dying in Ireland, and I don’t want to rush into an unconsidered reply to this, as there is already so much misinterpretation of what people are saying.

However, I do want to make some quick overview observations.

There are several distinct issues being discussed here.

One is the disproportionate and unjust smears against Richard Dawkins, which are not limited to this particular example, and are part of a pattern in recent years in which he has been unjustly accused of being Islamophobic, racist, bigoted, sexist, misogynistic and an apologist for pedophilia.

Another is what Richard said in this instance, and how different people are interpreting it, and whether different people agree or disagree with whatever interpretation of it they are addressing.

Another is the broader issue of rape, and whether there are actually degrees of badness of rape, independently of whatever Richard thinks or says about that.

Finally, there is the distinction between me personally and Atheist Ireland. This is a post on my personal blog, and not a press statement from Atheist Ireland. It is disrespectful to the many people that at least some of you know to be active in Atheist Ireland, and disrespectful to Atheist Ireland generally, to respond to me as if I am the sole voice of Atheist Ireland, or as if everything I say is said on behalf of Atheist Ireland.

Anyway, as I said, I’ll respond in more detail later.

51 Sedan Taboos July 31, 2014 at 11:45 am

This was just an exercise, an illustration. Nobody even hinted that we should create an absolute ranking of rapes or paedophilia let alone that individual cases should be judged by this ranking.

However, it IS offensive to say that an individual can’t have an opinion on such things (only partly because everyone does), and that if you do have an opinion you are not aloud to speak it. To say that there are some topics that are totally taboo to even consider is anathema to enlightened thought. Although it certainly could be considered rude or inappropriate in selected contexts.

Even if you did express an opinion, you’d have to allow that some examples in a lesser category were worse than categories in a higher category. That shouldn’t have to be pointed out, but apparently a lot of aspects of this topic are not as obvious as they should be.

Certainly Dawkins could have used less volatile examples, but that would have diminished his point. You don’t defend the right of free speech by arguing that we should allow someone to publish a book titled “Hello Kitty Rulez”, you defend the right of someone to publish “The Satanic Verses” or “Mein Kampf”.

If there are other topics which we should never think about I wish someone would post a preemptive list. That would save some time.

52 Phil Giordana FCD July 31, 2014 at 12:06 pm

Michael @50:

“This is a post on my personal blog, and not a press statement from Atheist Ireland. It is disrespectful to the many people that at least some of you know to be active in Atheist Ireland, and disrespectful to Atheist Ireland generally, to respond to me as if I am the sole voice of Atheist Ireland, or as if everything I say is said on behalf of Atheist Ireland.”

I’m just reposting this for emphasize. It’s seems difficult at times for some to discern a group from an individual. I don’t read your blog that much these days unless it’s an issue I’m interested in (like the right to assisted dying), but I consider it your blog, not the main antenna of AI (which I am not a part of).

53 Geoffsshorts July 31, 2014 at 1:12 pm

“This is a post on my personal blog, and not a press statement from Atheist Ireland. It is disrespectful to the many people that at least some of you know to be active in Atheist Ireland, and disrespectful to Atheist Ireland generally, to respond to me as if I am the sole voice of Atheist Ireland, or as if everything I say is said on behalf of Atheist Ireland. ”

I’ve discussed the matter with other voices of Atheist Ireland, and at most I’ve responded to your piece with the assumption you are a prominent (but not solitary) spokesperson for AI on a forum frequently used for releasing official AI news. I also assumed (fairly, to my mind) that you share AI’s aims and goals, and would be concerned if your actions worked against them.

I realise the point I’m raising may not be welcome, and for what it’s worth I offer the feedback out of respect and in the belief it may be helpful.

54 Phil Giordana FCD July 31, 2014 at 3:48 pm

Geoffsshort: I think your point might indeed not be much welcomed. And I think the reason why is that more and more people are tired of the dangerous path those “trigger warning” demands lead to.

Take, for instance, some branch of the University of California that decided earlier this year there should be warnings on material that may offend a student. Sounds good so far, right? The problem is the last time I saw these types of warnings intended to not offend some student’s sensibilities was on biology textbooks dealing with evolution in Texas, Pennsylvania, and a couple other states.

You may argue that it’s not the same, but the cold hard fact is [Trigger Warning]: it is. If anybody is entitled to be offended by anything, your trigger warnings will end up being the end of open discourse, free expression…etc (that was a bit hyperbolic, mind you, but still.)

55 Geoff Lillis July 31, 2014 at 5:53 pm

Naturally I am SHOCKED to learn that a slymepit regular like yourself opposes twitter warnings.

56 Phil Giordana FCD July 31, 2014 at 6:29 pm

Well, be as shocked as you want, that’s not my point.

57 Phil Giordana FCD July 31, 2014 at 6:31 pm

BTW, what’s a “twitter warning”?

58 Geoff Lillis July 31, 2014 at 6:39 pm

Autocorrect error. Trigger.

59 Phil Giordana FCD July 31, 2014 at 7:00 pm

Your autocorrect turns “trigger” into “twitter”?!?

60 Geoffsshorts July 31, 2014 at 7:03 pm

Yes. I use SwiftKey and a Dvorak layout, sometimes get oddities.

61 Phil Giordana FCD July 31, 2014 at 7:10 pm

Well, that’s some service I won’t use. Thanks for the heads-up.

62 DIM July 31, 2014 at 7:42 pm

Geoff, perhaps you should avoid ad hom attacks and make actual points?

Michael, I have always presumed your blog is your own. Unless it says XYZ Corporation across the top I generally assume people are speaking on their own behalf. Which is why I am commenting here

That and the fact that certain factions of atheism seem to have become fascist liberals, and Dawkins and some other high profile targets seem to be the start of their slippery slope into a totalitarian regime, where words are banned, books are burned and people are vilified.

They may be doing it for what they consider altruistic reasons, but the end result is identical to that of dictators and oppressive regimes.

To repeatedly attack Dawkins and others is nonsensical , his points were well made, and largely he uses the medium of Twitter exceptionally well considering its constraints. The attacks have now turned virtually pathological in nature. The subsequent smear posts on FtB are quite disgusting, and OB should be quite loudly chastising her own commengers and her fellow bloggers if she was genuine in her joint statement

Dawkins is this weeks target, Shermer, Radford, Dalton, Maher, Harris, Young, Colbert, Sommers, Mayhew, Glen, TJ, the list of targets of a loud minority group keeps on growing. Next week it could be you or me or. These attacks seem motivated by jealousy and spite, they rarely hold considered points of valid debate, and almost always involve spiteful invective, strawmen and bountiful ad hominem attacks.

Attack bad ideas, vociferously , and expect to be countered and corrected , and be prepared to defend your points and correct your position

But when you slip to attacking people and free speech you discount any gems of validity you may have had

The sad part here is that it is easy to slip into this kind of a totalitarian state. Its not the movie villains with big moustaches who dress all in black, that you should be afraid of. it is the ones who come dressed as friends, claiming your own best interests at heart, if only you could see the injustice, see what a victim you were, see how these other people are oppressing you … come to the light my child, Jesus can save you if you renounce your former life and follow

Fascism, religion and other oppressive regimes all begin with one thing, villainous enemies that can easily be grouped together as “the bad people” and a promise that if you follow the true way, it will be better for you and those around you.

63 John Morales July 31, 2014 at 10:58 pm

DIM @62: the peek that comment provided into your thinking is… interesting and informative, if somewhat unpleasant.

I suppose that, if you really think that, it’s understandable that you rail against the minority faction of atheism who work towards a totalitarian fascist liberal dictatorship.

* the fact that certain factions of atheism seem to have become fascist liberals [sic]
* the start of their slippery slope into a totalitarian regime
* the end result is identical to that of dictators and oppressive regimes
* it is easy to slip into this kind of a totalitarian state
* To repeatedly attack Dawkins and others is nonsensical
* These attacks seem motivated by jealousy and spite, they rarely hold considered points of valid debate, and almost always involve spiteful invective, strawmen and bountiful ad hominem attacks

And, of particular interest:
* when you slip to attacking people and free speech you discount any gems of validity you may have had

64 DIM July 31, 2014 at 11:29 pm

John, countering accusations of strawmen by creating more strawmen is a beautiful demonstration of the point – thank you :)

65 Robin Hilliard August 1, 2014 at 12:33 am

Michael, you’re quite right to point out that Dawkins has been misinterpreted in this case, as he clearly has been.

However, history has shown that there are people — in overall terms, it seems a fairly small number, mostly drawn it seems, from a very small number of self-selecting groups — who misinterpret him, intentionally or unintentionally, when he brings up one of a small range of topics. One can speculate as to the reasons for this misinterpretation, but the fact of it remains and it does cause division and offence.

To resolve, or at least to avoid this misinterpretation, if I were Dawkins, I would simply try to avoid mentioning these small number of topics since it seems acceptable for (a) a small group of people to become upset and (b) for a larger number of people to validate the upset of the first group; both groups seemingly willingly allowing emotion to get the better of their logic.

66 John Morales August 1, 2014 at 12:39 am

[OT]

DIM @64, thank you for your response; your gratitude for my purported misrepresentation of your claim is yet another datum.

67 John Brown August 1, 2014 at 2:25 am

A violent death
A peaceful death

A violent rape
A peaceful (mildly physicial, passive aggressive, deceptive, duplicitous, coercive …. ) rape

68 Sedan Taboos August 1, 2014 at 2:47 am

Replace “death” with the much more relevant word “murder” and see if your analogy still makes the point you are trying to make. Which based on your previous posts is very unclear to me.

69 doge August 1, 2014 at 3:43 am

thread much derailing
much illogic
very freethoughtblogs

70 DIM August 1, 2014 at 8:44 am

Sedan …

A murder premeditated, carried out slowly and deliberately, torturing the victim

A murder of a beloved aunt who is dying of cancer and suffering in pain, after she begged you for months to end her life

A murder of the man that had raped the murderer’s wife and tortured his children to death

A murder of a person who was just about to kill someone else

A murder of a beloved aunt who is dying of cancer and suffering in pain, when she hadn’t mentioned wanting her life to end to anyone else than the murderer

Are all murders the same? Are some of these examples relatively less deserving of punishment than the others?

All are defined as murder (in most legal systems), yes even the mercy killings

71 Sedan Taboos August 1, 2014 at 10:33 am

There are an infinite number of different severities of murder, but your example is complicated by types of “murder” that are not universally agreed on so you can’t simply put them on a simple punishment scale.

Also, your quest presupposes that the punishment should be relative to the severity of the crime. Some (including me) might argue that the punishment should only act as a deterrent or be rehabilitative.

72 DIM August 1, 2014 at 11:10 am

Sean, I thought your point was “there are no degrees of murder, just dead” … that was what I read from your comment … was that incorrect?

If there are infinite severities of murder, there are infinite severities of rape and of theft etc etc

And ‘mild’ is a relative term … some murders can be considered more ‘mild’ than others

To each individual which is where on the scale may differ or vary – but the difference exists – not all offences within the same category are equivalent

73 Sedan Taboos August 1, 2014 at 12:41 pm

No, the point is that ‘death’ is a very poor analogy for ‘rape’ in this context, but I really have no idea what the analogy was trying to prove.

74 DIM August 1, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Sedan, why is rape the only criminal act that has no gradations of severity in your view?

What makes rape different to torture, murder, sexual assault, theft, fraud, etc ?

75 Sedan Taboos August 1, 2014 at 4:31 pm

I will gladly answer your question when you tell me why evolution is not true.

76 Rogier van Vugt August 1, 2014 at 5:09 pm

Michael, for someone who so often manages to hit the exact correct point, you seem to have missed it by some distance here.
You are attacking a strawman argument.
I am not saying you’re attacking an argument that has not been made. I’m sure people can find this argument being made, SIWOTI being what it is.
However it is not the strongest of arguments leveled against Richard Dawkins, and in any discussion you should strive to find the best argument your opponent makes and attack that one. So when defending Richard Dawkins, what are the best arguments made against him?

One candidate is that grading bad experiences is inherently wrong. You are always emphasizing one, and therefore diminishing another.
That doesn’t mean you should never do it, but if so you need to have a compelling reason. Richard Dawkins lacks this reason. So he was wrong to do it. And that’s not even factoring in the completely factless and clueless way he did so! Why did he think rape X was worse than rape Y? Well, because he could imagine rape X using a knife. To be honest I’d love for Richard to be sentenced to listen to Justin Bieber explaining to him how evolution works, because that is what Richard will sound like to anyone with some professional experience in handling rapes, whether through justice, counceling, prevention or whatever.

Some examples where you could have found this argument or something close to it:
http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2014/07/logic-and-rhetoric/
https://twitter.com/GretaChristina/status/494242817451913216
(later than your blogpost)
http://freethoughtblogs.com/yemmynisting/2014/07/31/richarddawkinsconfused-com-no-one-said-you-endorsed-rape-what-you-did-was-grade-rape-and-that-is-appalling/

And within our community this critisism should be even more damning than it already is. We hate celebrities who talk about things they don’t know anything about. Our community has rationality as a core value. This is not the straw Vulcan ‘logic’ Dawkins is using as a fork whilst eating soup. This is setting goals and using the best methods to achieve those goals. To what possible goal could those tweets have amounted? Even if you come up with such a sasquatch as a goal, Dawkins has been in these waters before. How come he refuses to learn from past experiences?
Forget mysogynistic and aloof. Richard Dawkins has been stupid and irrational.
If Richard Dawkins thinks he is doing anyone a favour with his tweets, he should go away and learn how to think.
(and if not he should doubly do so)

Btw when talking about straw Vulcans, this video is obligatory:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLgNZ9aTEwc

77 Sedan Taboos August 1, 2014 at 6:20 pm

Except that Dawkins wasn’t pretending to be an expert on rape or even trying to offer an amateur analysis of it. He was simply using it as an example of someone’s stated opinion and how it often gets misconstrued. If he had used a less volatile issue then everyone would just nod their heads and think it was obvious. By using an example that is controversial it demonstrates that people suddenly stop thinking logically. So in this sense he does have a compelling reason to use such an example because if you can’t grasp the concept in that case you won’t in cases where he does have greater expertise.

I fail to understand why only experts can have an opinion on which rapes are worse than others (in whatever way we choose to think of that). Or is it just that he shouldn’t express his opinion? Should we also not express opinions on Israel/Gaza unless we are experts, for example.

If you are an expert would you care to tell us which rape is worse: “date rape” or “stranger rape at knifepoint”. It seems you really disliked the opinion Dawkins offered (that it was the latter), although it is far from certain that is his genuine opinion. So then “date rape” is worse? If you can’t authoritatively say that then why is there such an issue with anyone having or expressing their own general opinion, even if it’s derived from far fewer facts and less experience?

78 Rogier van Vugt August 1, 2014 at 11:18 pm

Bullshit Sedan, Dawkins is broadcasting his brainfarts to the entire world, he has an audience of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions.
He has breached this topic multiple times and each time he got a shitstorm for it.
You know what they say about doing something multiple times and expecting a different result?

And why are you focused on this fake ‘opinion’ dilemma? It does not matter. It is like arguing over whether babies are best grilled in a barbeque or in an oven. But then with parents with grilled babies as an audience. You seem to be unable to see the bigger picture here. Dawkins unfortunately is still one of the most visible atheists out there. If he so nonchalantly pisses on the feelings of rape victims then that has repercussions.

And please actually read my comment. While I do think RD is an ignorant fool on the topic my criticism would be valid even if he was an expert!
Answer me this:
for something to be rational it must further a goal in an efficient way.
What was Richard’s goal?
How can you argue that goal was furthered, let alone efficiently?

79 Sedan Taboos August 2, 2014 at 3:32 am

“You know what they say about doing something multiple times and expecting a different result?”

So what does that make your response and that of all others who overreacted. Are you really expecting a different result from this post?

“It is like arguing over whether babies are best grilled in a barbeque or in an oven”

Which might be a fine exercise if it served to illuminate flawed logic that is often applied elsewhere, as the rape/paedophilia example has done. Btw, I prefer bbq if someone else is doing the work, oven if I have to do the cooking myself.

“But then with parents with grilled babies as an audience.”

When did Dawkin’s twitter sphere become a conference for rape and paedophilia survivors? Certainly there are some in the target audience, but that is far different from what you are implying with your baby cooking reference. Why is it okay for you to bring up such a sensitive topic (baby flambé) here, without warning I might add, but not for RD? Your premise seems to be that as the audience gets bigger the range of topics that one might safely cover gets smaller and smaller.

“And please actually read my comment. While I do think RD is an ignorant fool on the topic my criticism would be valid even if he was an expert!”

Read it thoroughly. Your comments regarding Bieber and the like seem to suggest otherwise, that not being an expert means that you should shut up. If you feel otherwise then this was just a pointless dig and weak attempt at humor that was misplaced, IMO.

So now we’re left that nobody, except possibly experts in very special circumstances can talk about paedophilia and rape in such a way. You mock RD for his naive views on the topic (which are shared by an overwhelming number of people) yet you stifle the very discussion that might illuminate the topic. For example, the fact that some instances of date rape might be far more traumatic than stranger rape. That thought might not have occurred to many before RD’s discussion. YOU (and the commenters you cite) might think that that number is dwarfed by the number of people who read RD’s comment as tacit approval for date rape, but I hardly think so.

80 Sedan Taboos August 2, 2014 at 3:40 am

“for something to be rational it must further a goal in an efficient way.
What was Richard’s goal?
How can you argue that goal was furthered, let alone efficiently?”

You’re asking me to play mindreader, but I’ll bite. I think his primary goal was exactly what he stated: to demonstrate the X<Y principle, which many continue to misunderstand. I don't know what precipitated his recent attempt to illustrate the point, probably it was Israel/Hamas. It's a point that needs to be hammered home again and again, apparently.

I imagine he was playing it two ways. That he would post his provocative statement and possibly, maybe get a reasonable response. If so, fine. If not (the more likely scenario), he has a prime opportunity to write a detailed article about the whole thing which will have a much bigger audience. I'd argue that this approach probably generated many more followers and illustrated his point to many more people than any approach you could think of. It also generated more vitriol and turned many against him. That's a tradeoff he seems to be willing to make.

This was all pure speculation, of course. But you asked.

I can't say whether this kind of tactic does more harm than good for the Atheist community and whether it was "rational" for RD's long term goals. However, Dawkins is not an automaton, he is a person and I don't demand that just because he is an atheist icon that every thought and deed be for the cause. If his actions do more harm than good then I expect his close friends to sit him down and tell him that, it's not the place of a bunch of yahoos on the internet (like us) who have contributed relatively little to tell him off (although you're quite welcome to try).

81 Geoffsshorts August 2, 2014 at 6:48 am

For a man with a seething contempt for philosophy, Dawkins has an inordinate fondness for thought experiments.

82 Rogier van Vugt August 2, 2014 at 7:28 am

Sedan, you are showing your true colours here.
I do not wish to socialize with you further. This includes any forum, real life and even the ultimate improbability of an afterlife.

I’ll part with the comment I left on facebook:
Let’s try this:
– Psychopathy is a complete lack of empathy.
– Some people discussing this issue in this thread are not showing any empathy toward women, in particular women who have been victims of rape.
– In a discussion of such a topic one should show empathy towards the actual victims. Especially if the goal is to continue socializing with said people.
– Ergo the people in this thread are showing clear signs of a psychopathic disorder.

Now, if you are to respond to this in a human way you might react emotionally to the fact that I’m calling you a psychopath.
However in the spirit of the defence of Richard Dawkins you should be congratulating me on the flawless use of logic.

Should you react to me calling you a psychopath then you have just ‘lost’ this discussion because you then apparently understand the real issue when it applies to you, but not to other people.

Finally, yes I mock ignorance. If you feel that is wrong you should not follow someone who does that all the time. Like Richard Dawkins (“go away and don’t come back until you’ve learned how to think logically.”)

83 Phil Giordana FCD August 2, 2014 at 8:30 am

Thanks Rogier @82 for in one single post totally confirming Dawkins’ point. Couldn’t have done it better.

84 Sedan Taboos August 2, 2014 at 8:45 am

Rogier, you don’t want empathy, you want pandering. You want an environment where a comment on every possibly sensitive topic must be accompanied by lamentations and profound expressions of sympathy and understanding. REGARDLESS of whether any such victim is part of the discussion, the fact that they might accidentally read a passage where the topic “rape” is mentioned without everyone stumbling over themselves to qualify every statement. Of course, this only applies to topics which YOU personally find sensitive.

So congratulations, you won. I have no desire to converse with someone for whom I have to so carefully choose every word, where I can’t mention Israel/Gaza without also adding a paragraph about the tragic loss of innocent Palestinians children. But then I also have to mention the Israeli loss of life or they might be offended. Of course, then I wouldn’t have sympathy for Syrian rebels so I better put them in there too…. Tedious, isn’t it?

85 Rogier van Vugt August 2, 2014 at 8:49 am

Well Phil, apparently you do not understand that Dawkins’ “point” and the point Geoff and I are trying to make are not mutually exclusive.

To quote RD: go away and don’t come back until you’ve learned how to think logically.

And yes, the psychopath comment is also applicable to you. Feel free to dispute its logic. Or not, it seems you are quite proud to not get it and making no effort to understand the position of your discussion partner.

In any case I do not see you as someone I want to socialize with any longer. I reject people who think empathy is merely pandering.

86 Phil Giordana FCD August 2, 2014 at 8:58 am

Rogier: your psychopath comment is not “flawless logic”, as it is based on a strawman, i.e:

“Some people discussing this issue in this thread are not showing any empathy toward women, in particular women who have been victims of rape.”

Can you show me where? In a “flawlessly logical” way, and not based on your mind-reading abilities? Or in other words: total bullshit you made up in your head?

“In any case I do not see you as someone I want to socialize with any longer.”

Good, then don’t. No one is forcing you to socialize with me, or anyone else for that matter. You can just ignore me. Of course, it might just reinforce the echo-chamber that seems to be going on in your skull, but that’s fine, at least you will avoid hurt feelings.

“I reject people who think empathy is merely pandering.”

And here is a strawman riding on the back of an ad-hominem. You are a class act, aren’t you?

87 allan August 2, 2014 at 4:46 pm

@Rogier van Vugt:
” what are the best arguments made against him?”
“One candidate is that grading bad experiences is inherently wrong.”
It would be inherently wrong to say that all bad experiences are equally bad.

Then on the posts you linked to on freethought blogs:

“I can’t believe the Professor is still ranking child abuse,”
No. He said not all forms of child abuse are equally bad.

“which BTW is GRADING RAPE not ENDORSING RAPE.”
Grading is a bit inflammatory. He said some rape offenses are worse than others

Dawkins crime is clumsiness. I think we know why gets the abuse from Atheism+ (is that still a thing)
He once mocked one of them and said FGM was worse than being invited for coffee in a lift.
They’ve seized their moment and outed him as a crazy apologist for paedohilia and rape

88 aneris August 2, 2014 at 7:15 pm

When people think about rape, they will likely think of one person forcing themselves onto another person against their will. The victim is concious and suffers through the process and is traumatized. Their sense of intimacy is destroyed. Memories of the event will haunt them forever.

Current feminism raised awareness about other forms of rape. Two people can be friends and like each other very much. A few drinks too many and consent can no longer be given or obtained. One person’s sense of judgment is perhaps intoxicated, and the other takes advantage, and may not even have to. Both may actually like to have sex with each other and could have given consent to it. But since the state of one person does not allow for it, that would be a “date rape”. Would it not?

The very same can happen in a relationship, where people otherwise already have sex on a regular basis (according to conventional wisdom before marriage). One time they may fail to enthusiastically consent for whatever reason. Current feminists of the flavour appreciated at FreeThoughtBlogs would consider this rape, too (see “Yes means Yes”). They also frequently announce that “intent isn’t magic”. It is unclear to me how and in what timeframe it is determined what a situation “is”. Nonetheless, that’s the general idea. No consent is rape. Rape is bad. Alright, but it follows from it that some situations are worse than others.

Put differently, a situation’s meaning changes when clear consent was given or not given, but the actual situation may not change at all.

I’m not here to discuss the intricate details, but I note that we can reasonably assume that the most vocal critics of Richard Dawkins – the social justice faction at FTB and SkepChick – know about that. Given their assumptions, they have situations available to them which agree with Richard Dawkins’ tweets. Why don’t they make use of them? A rhetorical question of course. They want Richard Dawkins either go full social justice warrior like they did, or they want him to resign.

We are also talking about statistics. Qualifiers like “bad” are about what people in general, or on average, feel about something. Let us entertain another example. We ask how people feel about a situation called “party”. We would collect the answers from terrible to awesome, and we would wind up with a distribution, or a range of opinions. Then we could ask them about another situation involving crowds and alcohol, say “bar fight”, and again find out what everyone feels about it. Now we have two ranges to compare. It may be conceivable that the best bar fights are better than the worst parties. But it would be fairly eccentric to excoriate someone who stated that “parties are better than bar fights”, and then use only examples of worst parties and most awesome bar fights to make the point.

I hope the idea is clear. We can pick a point in the range, and pick another point in the other range and provide a counter example where the statement is wrong, however that does not falsifies the statement. Here is another, perhaps intuitive example: Women are smaller than men, however it is easy to find a woman that is taller than a man. It does not follow that therefore the statement “women are smaller than men” is false.

I have witnessed before that people on FreeThoughtBlogs don’t know anything about statistics and that their cluelessness nonetheless has far-reaching consequences. There is the well known case where they use rape statistics on the truthfulness of the accusations, to determine whether a case at hand is a “likely” true. They argue that since only few accusations turn out wrong and the vast majority was correct, therefore accusation X is likely true, too (nevermind that statistics are about cases reported to authorities who are properly investigated and not hearsay).

They called me a subhuman for showing the error in their reasoning. As usual, they felt it was somehow undermining their “rightous” point they so badly wanted to make. They seem to believe that being in the way, however correct the objection, amounts to supporting the opposite extreme (like hating women). This part of the pattern, too.

The error they make is known as the ecological fallacy. You can wind up with a random woman that is taller than a random man, and you can have a “date rape” that is far worse than a “stranger rape at knifepoint”.

There is another perspective to look at the conflict. Richard Dawkins tweets belong into the context of the abuse he experienced when he was a child, and which he called “mild”. There is a lot of propaganda and double standards around that as well, like how he allegedly wants to tell others how they should feel about their abuse, how he “delegitimizes” other victims, all while they tell him how he should feel about his case.

I think they are identitarians who view people as a collection of categories they belong to. Not unlike traditional bigots. They call that “intersectional” (another idiosyncratic use of a concept). Everyone is a “spokesperson” for the category they belong to. In the interest of social justice it cannot be the “offical PR message” that someone deemes their abuse as “mild”, which I think comes probably closer to the explanations they gave why they object to his message.

PZ Myers and Co. have argued that Richard Dawkins message could be seen as downplaying one type of rape. Someone could use it as an excuse. But this is also rubbish. It is clear to every sane person that rape is bad and Richard Dawkins stated nothing that would contradict it. He is also not comparable to Todd Akin of “legitimate rape” fame. PZ Myers needs to make such a comparison, another recurring theme, so that the negative feelings toward Todd Akin “rub off” to their target Richrd Dawkins. Just look at other known examples, like Rebecca Watson’s “The Standard You Walk Past” wherein she somehow throws Ron Lindsay into the same context as people who ignore rape in the Australian army. Since Richard Dawkins tweets are clear, he cannot be made responsible when other people overlook or twist around half of the equation he made.

Now let’s suppose I was wrong. Let’s suppose Richard Dawkins was wrong. Does it mean that such arguments really have no merit at all and are beyond the pale so that it must have severe consequences? Is there really no way to discuss this in a halfway civil manner?

Of course not. This would be about the pattern, which is never really addressed. About a progressive-authoritarian ideology that is undergirding their views and behavior, with extreme double standards, downright propaganda and control of the prerogative of interpretation.

Maybe I get back to that.

“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” — Abraham Lincoln

89 John Morales August 3, 2014 at 1:21 am

[meta + OT]

aneris @88:

I think they are identitarians who view people as a collection of categories they belong to.

But you aren’t, right? You’re not like them, in that respect.

90 aneris August 3, 2014 at 1:45 pm

You have to type out what you mean, I’m afraid. In case you mean I view people as representatives of categories, then no, I’m not sharing the identiarian ideology.

91 John Morales August 4, 2014 at 12:44 am

aneris @90, so: the progressive-authoritarian ideology that is undergirding the most vocal critics of Richard Dawkins – the social justice faction at FTB (where participants don’t know anything about statistics and are clueless and are identitarians who view people as a collection of categories they belong to, like bigots) and SkepChick – with its extreme double standards, downright propaganda and control of the prerogative of interpretation is never addressed, though it has far-reaching consequences.

(Granting they’re clueless, it’s not implausible that Hanlon’s razor might apply, no?)

What do you think accounts for the criticism by such as Christopher M. Anderson or Peter Saunders or Jody Woodward — are such people uncharitably misreading him, or are they also clueless or ideologically-driven?

(Can you find any organisation whose remit relates to rape issues that’s been other than critical regarding those tweets?)

92 Sedan Taboos August 4, 2014 at 2:12 am

I read Christopher Anderson’s plea and liked it. It made some good points that are worth discussing, even though I disagree with most (but not all) of them. Most importantly, I think it was fair and honest, unlike every other negative piece I’ve seen on this topic.

The biggest point with which I disagree is his analogy of Dawkins’ sticking a leg out and tripping someone with delicate bones. As has already been hammered home in this forum, the Internet, Twitter (and specifically Dawkins sphere) is not a “safe” place for the delicate minded. A better analogy is getting tackled on a football field, you don’t venture there if you don’t have at least a minimum level of armor.

I would also suggest that far more delicate people have been made aware of such comments because of the oversensitive reaction than the original comments themselves. It is not unlike someone making a snide comment about a coworkers weight and then having the entire office repeat the comment in shocked tones, thus multiplying the damage many fold.

I think the least charitable aspect was the final passage where Anderson describes Dawkins’ as unreceptive to valid criticism. That may be, but I have not seen it. From his perspective, a purely logical, fact based perspective I have rarely seen him be wrong and when he is, he corrects himself rapidly. He is not good, IMO, at responding to emotional and logically fuzzy outbursts, especially when they are delivered with vitriol. There may occasionally be valid points in those outbursts, but they are lost in the confused way they are presented.

If Anderson were sincere (and I’m not saying he’s not), then I think he would have been better served without this final jab.

Most of all, I think that Dawkins’ views are far more progressive than most of society and certainly no less enlightened than all but a fraction of the population. His (possibly tone-deaf) comments thus give an opportunity for critics to make their point, which is far more effectively done the way Anderson did it than the other hysterical critiques that are more popular.

93 Sedan Taboos August 4, 2014 at 2:47 am

As for what account for the criticism from such reasonable people (I’ll charitably assume that the others you cite are equally fair, but haven’t read them. Well, they have an agenda that is different than Dawkins’.

The issues they raise are valid; for example, people ASSUMING that a victim of a “lesser” rape can’t be traumatized, or that one kind of rape being worse means that the other isn’t bad or even a rape at all (RD’s original issue).

But these are generic issues, common failures of logic (often exacerbated by emotion). If Dawkins’ can in some small way help people think more clearly then it will help in every aspect of life. Perhaps he choose rape and paedophilia as topics more often than he should, but that is because these issues are the most likely to highlight this kind of faulty thinking

94 John Morales August 4, 2014 at 3:21 am

Sedan Taboos @92 & 93, so in your estimation Dawkins has overall done more good than harm by these tweets — presumably because the end justifies the (possibly tone-deaf) means.

I appreciate your granting those critics who are merely criticising by virtue of uncharitable reading do so because they have a different agenda rather than because they’re malicious or foolish.

Do you find the uniformity of the criticism from people who specialise* in the issue of advocacy for rape victims peculiar, or are you of the opinion that is the agenda that prevents clear thinking on the issue and therefore to be expected?

95 Sedan Taboos August 4, 2014 at 8:08 am

If you are talking about the tweets themselves then I think there is certainly an overall benefit. The concept he hammers home is of universal importance and yet so often muddled, not just by random internet users, but by the media and our political leaders. Every chance we can get to nudge them towards a more logical and critical analysis is better for all of us, IMO. I think we’d all be better off with more logic and less emotion factored into our decision making. Rational analysis is the only solution to challenging problems and will lead to better, more humane and empathetic results. If you start with emotional decision making you might solve short term problems or those that are in your face, but it won’t lead to good long term outcomes (e.g. Giving money to panhandlers).

Just as significant is that despite such dire warnings I haven’t read a single account of anyone who was seriously harmed by the tweets. Is there an individual who happened across them and just collapsed into a heap of despair? It IS plausible that several people find such truths uncomfortable and find that reminder unpleasant (possibly including a visceral physical reaction), but the solution is not to bury the topic. As has been said before in this forum, people who despair because they think Dawkins is encouraging date rape or paedophilia should be counseled.

Which raises the issue of whether such talk encourages or reinforces bad behavior. I find it completely implausible that anyone would walk away from Dawkins tweets and have a positive feeling about date rape (or ‘mild’ paedophilia). If anyone were so warped, they could find countless better examples to reaffirm their insidious nature.

If there has been a negative it has been a result of the mostly hysterical backlash. In the sense that that is predictable then I guess Dawkins is to blame. But less so.

96 Sedan Taboos August 4, 2014 at 8:25 am

John, there IS no uniformity in the reaction from that community. Those who have responded have been, AFAIK, universally critical, but they are all over the map as to why.

The critical responses are quite natural for people who, in most cases, have either suffered greatly or have given so much for those who have. Anyone who does not feel as passionately or treat the topic as delicately or nuanced is subject to criticism.

This is exactly the point Dawkins was making, IMO. The same passionate negative response would be made if he were talking about Israel/Gaza, FGM/MGM, Islamic/Christian fundamentalism, …, but only from those specific communities. Everyone else would just say meh, until their hot topic came up, of course.

What is overlooked however is that while the response may be universally negative, it is only because many in the community (whichever community applies) don’t feel it is an issue (or might even support the point being made) but keep quiet either to not ruffle feathers or because of fear that they would be ostracised themselves for not caring enough or being empathetic.

97 Michael Nugent August 7, 2014 at 9:28 pm

I’ve responded to some of the responses to this post here.

The demonising of Richard Dawkins, and the normalising of casual defamatory smears
http://www.michaelnugent.com/2014/08/07/the-demonising-of-richard-dawkins-and-the-normalising-of-casual-defamatory-smears/

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: