The demonising of Richard Dawkins, and the normalising of casual defamatory smears

by Michael Nugent on August 7, 2014

I nearly didn’t publish this, after reading several smears against me personally online, because I had defended Richard Dawkins against the increasingly normalised pattern of misrepresenting him and smearing a defamatory caricature of who he is.

A close friend (a woman who, like me, has spent decades actively campaigning for women’s rights and for victims of many human rights abuses) advised me that it is outrageous that I should be put in a position of seeming to have to defend my beliefs about pedophilia and rape.

As one example, the usually charitable Geoff Lillis, while referring to me, commented: “Women, and those who support women, do not warm to those who defend people who trivialise rape and fail to address the trivialisation of rape expressed by the person they defend.”

This casual unjustified smear, with its multiple false assumptions, is like the legend that Lyndon B Johnson spread a rumour that an election rival fucked pigs. When challenged that he knew it wasn’t true, LBJ supposedly replied, “Of course it’s not true, but I want to make him deny it.”

So I nearly didn’t publish this, because I didn’t want to give credibility to such smear tactics. But I have told others, who disagreed with me more reasonably, that I would respond, and so I will. I will also further discuss the normalising of casual defamatory smears online.

What makes this so sad is that there are no bad people in this scenario. We are all broadly trying to build a more ethical, secular society, with our different nuances and priorities and emphases. We can disagree robustly about our beliefs without straying into personal smears.

TW: This post discusses pedophilia, rape and defamation of character.
TL;DR: Pedophilia and rape are bad. You and Richard Dawkins are good.

Context

For some of my views generally of the gravity of pedophilia, rape and online sexist and other threats, please read these previous posts:

For some of my views on the increasingly normalised pattern of smears against Richard and others, please read these previous posts:

Pedophilia and rape are morally bad and serious crimes

Pedophilia and rape are bad. They are morally bad because of the suffering that they cause, which is often very traumatic, both during the abuse and on an ongoing basis afterwards. Pedophiles and rapists violate the bodily integrity of their victims, and violate the personal consent of their victims, by imposing their own desires onto innocent children, women and men.

The victim’s suffering can be equally traumatic regardless of whether the pedophile or rapist is a family member, friend, acquaintance or stranger, and regardless of whether the pedophile or rapist used physical force, or threat of physical force, or non-violent psychological coercion. Nobody should try to objectively trivialise the subjective emotional suffering that a pedophilia or rape victim undergoes, which is unique to each victim.

The legal system should take pedophilia and rape seriously and sensitively as crimes. Many victims are reluctant to report such crimes to the police, because they fear the emotional consequences and further trauma of a court case. This fear can be exacerbated if the victim fears that the court is unlikely to convict the perpetrator, either because of difficulty in proving the crime or because the perpetrator is seen as a respected or powerful member of society.

Because of the unique nature of each case of pedophilia or rape, and the unique psychological state and support networks of each victim, it is impossible to categorise pedophilia or rape into ‘types’ that are collectively worse than other types. A victim of any case of pedophilia or rape may suffer more or less than a victim of any other case of pedophilia or rape. Each case is unique and personal to the victim, and they cannot be categorised into ‘types’.

We should not trivialise the impact of pedophilia and rape. We should increase awareness of the seriousness of sex crimes, particularly among potential perpetrators and those who misguidedly excuse actual perpetrators. We should show compassion to victims, who each deserve as much emotional and practical support as they need. We also need police and court procedures that are sensitive, robust and fair to both victims and accused perpetrators.

Actions that cause more suffering are morally worse

Precisely because of the unique nature of each case of pedophilia or rape, and the unique psychological state and support networks of each victim, some individual cases of pedophilia and rape are worse than others. This is not the same as categorising them into types. How morally bad any act is is related to the level of suffering or harm it causes. Any act that causes more suffering is generally morally worse than an act that causes less suffering.

One obvious example is two emotionally mature teenagers in a loving and committed relationship. One of them is just under the legal age of consent, and the other just over it. If they willingly have sex, that is statutory rape, and yet it is possible that no harm is done. We cannot grade individual cases of rape for badness, because each case is unique to each victim, but we can know there are many morally worse cases than this example.

If you think that this is not really rape, then you are undermining the notion of statutory rape. Society need statutory rape laws to protect young victims from both pedophiles and rapists. Wherever the law draws the line, some people will commit statutory rape without causing any harm. So we typically give courts flexibility in sentencing, to reflect that most people understand that many cases of pedophilia or rape are worse than this example.

Outside of this example, what would happen if we thought all cases of pedophilia or rape were equally bad? For one thing, we would want our courts to have only one mandatory sentence for each. If the sentence was low, some criminals would be released too early. If the sentence was high, some criminals would not be convicted. Most people want our courts to address each case on its merits, to enable justice for the victim, the accused and society.

An alternative view is that, independently of what we do in our courts, we should on a moral level see all cases of pedophilia and rape as equally bad in themselves, because they cross a particular moral line, regardless of how they cross that line. I don’t share that view, because I think it is based on a simplistic and absolutist version of morality, and I also think it would lead to further injustices. We can disagree about this without considering each other to be bad people.

The argument Richard made on Twitter

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

  • 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.

I interpreted these tweets as Richard robustly criticising the idea that saying one bad behaviour is worse than another is justifying the first bad behaviour. Like many people, I disagreed with his example that read, “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse.” Richard agreed with this criticism, and wrote.

  • Yes, I can imagine circumstances where rape by a friend is worse than by a stranger. The logic remains. It doesn’t imply approval of either.
  • “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?

I was unaware of the last of these tweets when I wrote my article last week. Like many people, I also disagree with the use of the phrase ‘mild date rape’. I think it is insensitive and inaccurate. I suspect Richard wrote that in a hurry and that he retrospectively agrees that it is wrong, as he later tweeted:

  • Many people are accusing me of saying “mild rape”. Did I say it? I don’t think so. Please quote evidence if any. Or apologise.

When Teresa Wadman, a rape victim, tweeted the following:

Richard replied:

And, after some people suggested that Teresa was a fake, Richard tweeted:

The clarifications on Richard’s website

Some people say that, based on past experience, Richard should know that some people will misinterpret his tweets, and therefore he should not write them in the way that he does. If that is true, then based on the same past experience, some of those who disagree with his tweets should know that he often responds to Twitter feedback in more detail on his website, and therefore they could ask for such clarification before engaging in personal smears.

In this case, Richard clarified what he meant in these three posts on his website:

He said that he was making the logical point that saying that X is bad and Y is worse is not endorsing X. He said his examples were hypothetical rather than expressing his personal beliefs, and that they could be reversed while still making the same point. He said he used pedophilia and rape as examples because he believes that emotional topics should not be considered taboo zones for reason or moral philosophy. He said it is utterly deplorable that people should receive rape threats for saying things online, or that people should feel afraid to discuss topics that some people consider taboo.

In the third of these articles, he also said something that should be significant to some people in some online atheist and skeptic communities:

“There should be no rivalry in victimhood, and I’m sorry I once said something similar to American women complaining of harassment, inviting them to contemplate the suffering of Muslim women by comparison.”

The smear article in the Guardian

The most high-profile personal smear came in a Guardian article titled ‘Richard Dawkins, whatever happened to you?’ by Eleanor Robertson. It began:

“You can almost imagine him tweeting this, his fingers jabbing away at the keyboard as his glasses slide down a face contorted with disappointment at how irrational everyone is being. This is Dawkins in 2014: a figure of mockery, a man so convinced that he possesses God-like powers of omniscience that he can’t understand why everyone’s getting angry at him for pointing out the obvious.”

It continued in the same vein, saying “Sure, he wrote some pop science books back in the day, but why do we keep having him on TV and in the newspapers?”, and suggesting that he “tweets five or six Islamophobic sentiments before getting off the toilet in the morning”, before concluding that:

“All we can do at this point is hope his decline into hysterical dogmatism culminates in a reverse deathbed conversion. But if there’s one thing Dawkins has tried to impress upon us, it’s that miracles don’t exist. So I’ll do him the courtesy of not holding my breath.”

The previous evening, the author of this Guardian article had tweeted the following:

Since writing the article, she has tweeted the following:

And of course the cycle continues, with some people tweeting personally abusive comments at Eleanor, who seems from her tweets to be a good person, who like Richard speaks robustly and sometimes bitingly about what she believes to be right and wrong, with the distinction that she personally attacks people in a way that Richard doesn’t, and who did not anticipate the scale of the response that she would get to her article.

Some other reactions to Richard’s comments

As is consistent with the pattern evolving in recent years, some people placed the most uncharitable meaning they could on Richard’s tweets, and continued to do so even after he clarified what he meant. I’m not going to list all of the abusive comments here, as you can easily find them online if you want to.

Instead I am going to focus on three responses that didn’t attack Richard personally. They agree and disagree with various aspects of what Richard wrote, and also with aspects of what each other wrote. And obviously these short extracts don’t reflect the entirety of their opinions on this issue.

Comment by Grania Spingies (founding Atheist Ireland Secretary) on Why Evolution is True

The obvious knee-jerk reaction is: all rape is equally bad and equally traumatic for the victim. It may be an understandable reaction, but that does not mean that it is correct. Treating such a topic as off-limits means that they can’t think of a situation where it might be deserving of discussion, but that is short-sighted and wrong: What about the Kaitlyn Hunt case? She and many other teens like her have fallen foul of statutory rape laws. These laws were usually enacted to prevent exploitation and abuse of children by adults. But sometimes they are used to punish a teenager for having a consensual relationship with someone their parents or their community disapproves of. I don’t think most people have too much difficulty seeing that there were a lot of problems with the Hunt case.

We Don’t Need to Tell People “Check Your Privilege”. We Need to Have a Discussion – InYourFaceNewYorker

I, personally, felt uncomfortable with that statement because there is a pervasive myth that date rape isn’t “really” rape and also because many men are dismissive of women’s experiences of harassment (“Oh, guys just do that.”) and rape (“What were you wearing?”). I am confident that this wasn’t Dawkins’s intention… My conclusion was that Dawkins simply hadn’t thought it through before he tweeted, and he admitted as such on his forum. However, I also understand that whichever rape is worse than the other was not his point. I can understand, too, how frustrating it must get for him how often his Tweets are scrutinized and how often people try to shut down his usually very valid points by telling him, “Check your privilege”.

In Defense of Richard Dawkins? – Kirov on Groupthink.Jezebel.Com

His example was unfortunate. It was tone-deaf. A rape victim myself, I wrote about how and why I disagreed with him that stranger rape is worse than date rape. But I’m infuriated that the coverage manipulated me into thinking he was out to talk about rape in a stupid mansplainy way, when it’s quite clear that wasn’t what happened. I, personally, find that much, much more offensive than what he actually said. Why didn’t Jez and other sites explain the situation accurately and then allow us to decide how much outrage was warranted? Or where to direct it? I might have argued that rape is too sensitive a subject to use when fleshing out logical schemas; that’s a totally different argument than what I did make about the impossibility of ranking how bad different types of rape are.

Some of the criticisms of my previous article

You may strongly disagree with my opinions on this. That’s perfectly reasonable. And you may be correct and I may be mistaken. I am always willing to say, about any assertion that I make, that I might be mistaken, and I will change my beliefs if I get new information that causes me to.

However, some of the disagreements with my previous article crossed the line into personal attacks on me, either directly or implicitly, as opposed to criticism of what I wrote. I frequently defend others when they are victims of this behaviour (as I did in my previous article), and I will also defend myself.

Specifically, I am going to respond to some of the comments by Geoff Lillis, because he is normally more charitable than he has been on this matter, including writing charitably or non-judgmentally about certain Muslims who have said far worse things about women than his interpretation of what Richard and I have said or failed to say.

So here is what might happen if I were to scrutinise what Geoff has written (or not written) about me, in the same way that he has scrutinised what I have written (or not written) about Richard.

Geoff, you first wrote about me that:

“I’m quite disappointed you felt it was more important to address this than to address that a former speaker for Atheist Ireland feels it appropriate to speak of ‘mild rape’. I hope this is something you put right soon. To be frank it’s making me reconsider my membership.”

  • Why did you assume that I had seen the ‘mild date rape’ reference, and then base most of your personal attack on that error?
  • Do you think that is the worst thing that any former Atheist Ireland speaker has ever said? (Hint: it isn’t. Not by a long shot. Seriously.)
  • Even if I had seen the ‘mild date rape’ reference and ignored it, would that seriously have been the worst thing that anybody in Atheist Ireland had ever done since you joined, so bad that it would have made you publicly reconsider your membership?
  • If it would have been so bad for me to ignore the ‘mild date rape’ reference (which I hadn’t seen), then why is it okay for you to ignore the ‘mild pedophilia’ reference (which you had seen)? By your standards, are you trivialising pedophilia? If not, why not?

Geoff, you also wrote about me that:

“Women, and those who support women, do not warm to those who defend people who trivialise rape and fail to address the trivialisation of rape expressed by the person they defend.”

  • How did you get to speak for “women, and those who support women”?
  • How did you get to decide who is, or is not, in the category of “those who support women”?
  • How is it that “women, and those who support women” are defending Richard Dawkins against the personal smears?
  • How dare you imply that (by your definitions) “women, and those who support women” do not warm to me?
  • Did you notice that I disagreed with Richard on some issues?
  • Did you notice that other people who are defending him also disagree with him on some issues?
  • Do you understand that you can think that someone is a good person, agree with them on many issues, disagree with them on some issues, and also defend them from personal smears?

Geoff, you also wrote about me that:

“ Michael’s site includes a stated comment to strive to make Atheist Ireland more accessible and welcoming to women… Caveat (a) Michael was writing in a personal capacity and is not obliged to aim for these goals. That said, the goals are published on the same site, the site bears the AI logo and is used for official announcements, and he is the chair….”

  • Would you agree that this caveat implies that I might not be aiming for these goals, or that I may be reluctantly promoting these goals?
  • Are you aware that it was me who wrote those goals?
  • Are you aware that they evolved from my proposal on promoting ethical atheism and inclusive, supportive atheist groups?
  • Are you aware that Jane and I proposed and led Atheist Ireland’s international Empowering Women Through Secularism Conference?
  • Knowing me personally as you do, whatever your opinion as to how I am living up to the goal, do you seriously believe that I do not want Atheist Ireland to be more accessible and welcoming to women?
  • Do you think it was reasonable to create such a doubt in the minds of people reading your comments?

Geoff, I am not expecting you to actually answer these questions. I know that you wrote the comments in good faith, and that you did not intend to convey any personal smears against me. Do you remember last year, when you made these two tweets about Muslims?

  • If you’re a Muslim who spends time online threatening Ahmadiyya Muslims, know that you aren’t giving a favourable impression of Islam.
  • If you’re an Ahmadiyya Muslim who responds to frequent online threats with dignity and composure, know that you represent Islam well.

Do you remember that you got a lot of flack from some of your followers about those tweets, including from some feminists? And that you responded, as Richard has done in the current case, by writing a blog post addressing those criticisms, some of which you thought were unfair? And that one of your responses was:

“Criticism 5: No, although I’ll bet it came across that way to some who read the tweet without thinking…
Response: I’m afraid there’s little I can do to guard against those unwilling to read the entire 140 characters :)

Well, Geoff, can I suggest that you read Richard’s tweets and my articles with the same charitable interpretation as you would have liked your followers to have read those two tweets of yours last year?

And can I suggest to others who are joining in with the demonising of Richard, or of other good people in the atheist and skeptic communities, that you consider applying the same empathy to those who you disagree with as you want them to apply to you?

The spreading of the personal smears into the mainstream

One big danger of people joining in with defamatory smears is that they can generate self-fulfilling prophecies as they spread into the mainstream.

Take today’s article in Religious News Service titled Richard Dawkins: Atheism’s asset or liability?

The title of this article suggests that it about atheism generally, but it quotes only people from some parts of mostly online American organised atheism, who are prominent and dedicated activists but are not representative of all atheists, or even of organised atheism, around the world. Some quotes suggest that Richard may be a liability, and that can feed into the false impression that he is a liability.

I have previously examined the broad sets of personal smears against Richard in recent years, which range from implicit to explicit claims that he is Islamophobic, racist, bigoted, sexist, misogynistic and an apologist for pedophilia and now a trivialiser of rape.

When you objectively examine each of these smears, they are inaccurate, unjust, unkind and hurtful. But as each allegation is made, it both adds false credibility to the others, and is given false credibility by the others, as they mutually reinforce each other.

If anything is damaging atheism in the context that this article implies, it is the spread of these false allegations, amidst the the normalising of casual defamatory smears generally online. More importantly, on a human level, such smears damage the reputation of good people.

What makes this so sad is that there are no bad people in this scenario. We are all broadly trying to build a more ethical, secular society, with our different nuances and priorities and emphases. We can disagree robustly about our beliefs without straying into personal smears.

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{ 76 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Phil Giordana FCD August 7, 2014 at 9:02 pm

Uh oh. Careful there, Michael… ,)

2 Pluto Animus August 7, 2014 at 9:40 pm

“Actions that cause more suffering are morally worse.”

So if twin girls are assaulted with identical threats and abuse, and one suffers far more psychological pain than the other, wouldn’t that mean that the assault of one sister was ‘worse’ than the other, even though they experienced identical mistreatment?

That looks like a gaping logical flaw to me.

3 DIM August 7, 2014 at 9:54 pm

Some interesting points , mostly I agree with some nuance

But I think you are being charitable with the “there are no bad people here” meme

People with good intentions who do bad things are bad people. Idi Amin had good intentions, so did Hitler (OMG Godwin!!), etc etc

People’s good intentions usually extend to their own tribe, very few people are truly saintly enough to have good intentions for everyone

So it may be fair to say “all the people here are acting out of what they believe to be good intentions” but it is a long stretch to be as charitable as to say “there are no bad people ” – I can certainly see many of the actions around this affair to put the perpetrators firmly in a category of “bad people”, the Guardian article being a perfect example

4 Guestus Aurelius August 7, 2014 at 10:24 pm

“What makes this so sad is that there are no bad people in this scenario. We are all broadly trying to build a more ethical, secular society, with our different nuances and priorities and emphases. We can disagree robustly about our beliefs without straying into personal smears.” -MN

No, many are quite unable to “disagree robustly about … beliefs without straying into personal smears,” and “bad people” strikes me as a pretty good label for them, regardless of their sociopolitical goals.

I understand why you’re being conciliatory, but do you honestly believe that “broadly trying to build a more ethical, secular society” has much to do with being a good person? I don’t, and here are two reasons why:

1) I know plenty of shitty people who think their worldview is ethical (and I agree with some of them).
2) I know lots of good people who aren’t secularists (though I wish they were).

Smearing others without provocation beyond disagreement? Not something good people do, I’m afraid.

5 Pitchguest August 7, 2014 at 11:02 pm

“Uh oh. Careful there, Michael… ,)”

Down with this sort of thing.

6 Michael (not Nugent) August 7, 2014 at 11:53 pm

And can I suggest to others who are joining in with the demonising of Richard, or of other good people in the atheist and skeptic communities, that you consider applying the same empathy to those who you disagree with as you want them to apply to you?

How about Richard Dawkins applying some empathy to rape and pedophilia victims? When he makes a banal logical point by using examples he knows or should know would be triggering for many people, then he shouldn’t be surprised that some of those people object to his trivializing rape and pedophilia.

Some things are worse than others? Thank you, Richard, for pointing that out. I’m sure most of us would never have realized that if you hadn’t mentioned it. That some rapes are worse than other rapes is purely subjective, as even Richard acknowledges. But why did he have to use rape as an example? If he wanted to give examples for his incredibly trivial point, wouldn’t theft have been better? I doubt anyone would argue about the theft of £1000 being worse than the theft of £1. Same logical point but non-triggering.

7 Mad Mike August 8, 2014 at 12:33 am

So, Pluto, are you arguing that all crimes should be classified the same? Or that there should be no structure in the penal code? You do realize that it is impossible to gauge how much suffering any one crime causes, and therefore there are subjective (but rational) degrees of crime? First degree murder vs second, manslaughter so on. There are reasons that these things ARE ranked, and while it’s certainly not perfect, I would love to hear a reasonable alternative. However, I won’t hold my breath.

8 Richard "The King" Sanderson August 8, 2014 at 1:09 am

I’ve issued a challenge to various “all rape is exactly the same” types, to answer whether they class all slurs as the same.

Not one taker. They know I’m awaiting with a logical smack-hammer that will have them crying all the way back to FreeThoughtBlogs.

9 AxelBlaster August 8, 2014 at 1:40 am

In some circles, to be “in” you have to profess your outrage.

It seems to me that the article in Religious News Services “Richard Dawkins: Atheism’s asset or liability?”, couldn’t have done a better job job at interviewing bloggers that already had an axe to grind against Dawkins.

“No false balance here, folks!’

10 Mad Mike August 8, 2014 at 2:25 am

And here’s Michael (not Nugent) to wonder why Dawkins choose rape. Perhaps because his goal was to show that some subjects caused people to lose their logic and resort completely to emotion? And….it worked! Like trout to a fly, people bit. Or perhaps I should say like sharks to chum.

11 Karl Wulff August 8, 2014 at 3:51 am

As the resident lawyer here, I feel compelled to point out that the tweets by Eleanor Robertson, particularly the one that starts “I won’t rest until…” evidence actual malice and therefore place her in a very actionable position notwithstanding Dawkins’ public figure status. The Law: How civilized people deal with insufferable nuisances.

12 Graculus August 8, 2014 at 4:25 am

The problem is that Dawkins had a bit of a history of saying that “mild”/”less bad” were to be ignored as being “not bad”. You remember “Dear Muslima”, I hope? It’s not an “uncharitable misreading” of Dawkins to translate what he said as “date rape isn’t bad”, it’s a reading based on what Dawkins has said before.

If he’d walked back “Dear Muslima” *before* he sent that ill-conceived tweet (as lame as the walk-back was) I doubt anyone would have blinked.

I’ll tell you who is being demonized here, and it’s not Dawkins. It’s the people Dawkins is characterizing as irrational, etc for reacting to his tweet in a manner consistent with his history.

13 Geoff Lillis August 8, 2014 at 5:39 am

For those interested, the Facebook comments mentioned can be read in context here:

https://www.facebook.com/micknugent/posts/10204154785370487

Naturally, just shy of 4,000 words warrants a lengthy response from me which I will endeavour to tackle at the weekend. I would like to briefly restate my position and address one important point now. Here are some of the comments I posted:

“I think it would be clearer to say that I felt Michael’s exclusive focus on defending Dawkins without any time given to addressing reasonable concerns and damage done is not in accordance with the goals stated elsewhere on his site.

There are (at least) two points of discussion raised following Dawkins latest incident – one, that he seems to think ‘mild rape’ is an appropriate term, and two, that a reporter may have misrepresented him.

I have no objection to folks exploring the latter and if time were unlimited I’d do so myself (after many, many other matters I consider more important).

That said, if one has a stated commitment to making an organisation more inclusive, completely ignoring the former and using terms like ‘melodrama’ to describe concerns raised doesn’t seem to me in the spirit of that commitment.

(1): Dawkins’ comments actively discourage women and those who support women from engaging in organised atheism.
(2): Defending Dawkins’ comments shows a familiarity with said comments and sufficient time and energy available to discuss them.
(3): Failing to engage with point (1) in a piece on the topic, or referring to point (1) as melodramatic, will likely leave folks with the impression that it is considered unimportant.
(4): It’s reasonable to believe that Michael shares the stated commitment on his site to make atheist groups more welcoming of women.

I think that if these premeses hold, Michael has erred in this instance.”

Michael asks:

Geoff, you also wrote about me that:

“ Michael’s site includes a stated comment to strive to make Atheist Ireland more accessible and welcoming to women… Caveat (a) Michael was writing in a personal capacity and is not obliged to aim for these goals. That said, the goals are published on the same site, the site bears the AI logo and is used for official announcements, and he is the chair….”

Would you agree that this caveat implies that I might not be aiming for these goals, or that I may be reluctantly promoting these goals?

[Geoff] In context, this was my attempt to recognise your statement that the article was written in a personal capacity. Specifically your statement:
“…please don’t escalate the melodrama with talk of reconsidering your membership of Atheist Ireland.

If you are seriously reconsidering your membership of Atheist Ireland because I wrote an article in my personal capacity…”

It would have been wrong of me to not make this distinction clear.

[Michael] Are you aware that it was me who wrote those goals?
Are you aware that they evolved from my proposal on promoting ethical atheism and inclusive, supportive atheist groups?

[Geoff] I strongly suspected this, and said in the comments that it was reasonable to assume you agreed with them. The only fair reading of my comments is that I feel you hold these commitments but that I also feel you failed to keep them at the forefront of your mind while writing the blog post we’re discussing. I consider it an aberration.

And one more:

[Michael] “Why did you assume that I had seen the ‘mild date rape’ reference…”

Because you are a reasonable person with a stated goal of making AI more accessible to women, and you are aware that Dawkins’ comments are likely to cause reasonable concerns, disappointment and anger in the feminist community. As such I assumed you had read all his tweets before tackling this topic. If you hadn’t done this before writing your article I feel this supports my point, not yours.

14 Mad Mike August 8, 2014 at 5:50 am

Dear Muslima might have been ham-fisted, but it was essentially correct. Being asked to coffee in an elevator, at whatever time, is not the same as being a Muslim woman in a Muslim country.

Since Dawkins himself has a history of being abused, I’m surprised that you feel it necessary to usurp his narrative for your own ends. I thought each victim was allowed to have their own narrative, and have their own feelings about it. He has already stated that other people may not share his views.

15 Sally Strange August 8, 2014 at 6:24 am

Dear Muslima might have been ham-fisted, but it was essentially correct. Being asked to coffee in an elevator, at whatever time, is not the same as being a Muslim woman in a Muslim country.

How helpful of him to point out a thing that nobody was saying was not true. That might have been relevant if Rebecca Watson or anyone else had been out there saying, “Guys, don’t do that–because THAT is just as bad as overtly oppressing women as they do in Saudi Arabia.”

He was, however, incorrect to state that instances of mild trespassing of previously stated interpersonal boundaries are “zero bad.”

Since Dawkins himself has a history of being abused, I’m surprised that you feel it necessary to usurp his narrative for your own ends. I thought each victim was allowed to have their own narrative, and have their own feelings about it. He has already stated that other people may not share his views.

The objection stems not from Dawkins speaking about his experiences as a sexual assault victim, but from him acting as if his experiences are representative and definitive–i.e., speaking for other people’s experiences. Such as when he asserted, with no evidence, that he was confident that since he suffered no lasting damage from his childhood abuse, that none of his classmates suffered lasting damage as well.

16 Sally Strange August 8, 2014 at 6:28 am

And here’s Michael (not Nugent) to wonder why Dawkins choose rape. Perhaps because his goal was to show that some subjects caused people to lose their logic and resort completely to emotion? And….it worked! Like trout to a fly, people bit. Or perhaps I should say like sharks to chum.

So, basically, you’re saying that Dawkins was cynically emotionally manipulating his audience. Saying things that are emotionally inflammatory, in full knowledge that emotions would be inflamed, for the purpose of chastising people for having inflamed emotions.

That’s just cynical emotional manipulation.

17 Massu August 8, 2014 at 6:40 am

“That’s just cynical emotional manipulation”

Well I certainly am glad that the SJW wing of the septic movement never uses those kinds of tactics. Stay true to your commitment to logos instead of pathos.

18 Mad Mike August 8, 2014 at 8:07 am

Poor Sally Strange. Dawkins provided a thought experiment and proved some people are incapable of thought, only emotional reactions. Please note that your reaction is your responsibility, not his.

19 Mad Mike August 8, 2014 at 8:15 am

Since the FtB seemed so fixated on it, how bad is being asked to coffee in an elevator? Burka bad or female genital mutilation bad? Is it not being able to legally drive bad or not being able to attend school because you’re a girl bad? Oh, I am a bad person for ranking them, aren’t I?

20 Massu August 8, 2014 at 10:44 am

The whole situation reminds me, bear with me, of an essay on environmental ethics and decision theory I read some time ago:

“At least some opposition to triage seems to go as follows: all threatened species are extremely important and we should not give up on any; if there is some possibility that we can recover a species from near extinction, then we should try to do so, starting with the most needy/threatened case. This may well be the right strategy were there no limitations on resources. Perhaps some opponents of triage simply do not appreciate that, even in an ideal world in which everyone places considerable value on biodiversity, there will still be limits to the resources that can be committed to conservation. The bottom line is that there are always resource constraints and once this is appreciated, triage is the only rational way to proceed.”

The same thing applies to anything else, but the SJW bozos are so full of themselves (xirselves?) that they think they have infinite time and other resources. This is probably why they think forming up into ineffectual little echo chambers is a valuable service, and one everyone owes them gratitude for.

21 John Moriarty August 8, 2014 at 10:59 am

Its like mud on a wall: keep throwing it and some will stick. Best not to debate with ppl who will not apply the principle of charitable interpretation. I realise that in saying that, there’s an implied accusation. I still think its worth saying.

22 infovoy August 8, 2014 at 11:02 am

“How morally bad any act is is related to the level of suffering or harm it causes. Any act that causes more suffering is generally morally worse than an act that causes less suffering”

So the pain-free murder-by-poison of a person with no friends is a less weighty moral matter than a painful gunshot murder of someone with lots of friends?

Or is it better to say that both murders were of equal moral significance, but that the context of the latter case contained additional aggravating factors?

Trying to use “murder” or “rape” to define both the act itself and its surrounding context – to make them composite events with any number of assorted factors packed into them, rather than singular events within a contact of other events – is not sensible when dealing with sensitive issues.

23 Massu August 8, 2014 at 11:05 am

“So the pain-free murder-by-poison of a person with no friends is a less weighty moral matter than a painful gunshot murder of someone with lots of friends?”

The question you should be asking yourself is, if you can stop one, and only one, which one would you choose? The objection in which we can be all things to all people doesn’t work; see above.

24 infovoy August 8, 2014 at 11:48 am

Massu: “The question you should be asking yourself is, if you can stop one, and only one, which one would you choose? The objection in which we can be all things to all people doesn’t work; see above.”

For simplicity let’s say that the perpetrator in the poison case chose his method because it inflicted less suffering, and the perpetrator in the gunshot case chose hers because it inflicts more (just to remove complications regarding intent).

In that case, I would judge two morally relevant events to have taken place in the gunshot case (infliction of suffering & murder) and one in the poisoning case (murder) and would therefore stop the gunshot case happening.

Each murder was equal, but the additional offense in the gunshot case made the entire event – the attack let’s call it – worse.

This is what’s happened with Dawkins – incorrectly assuming that “rape” can be synonymous with “composite attack that includes rape as one element”.

This loose language is OK for general use, but not OK in a sensitive area like rape, where the affirmation of the logical fact that “rape is rape and therefore all rapes are equal” is very important.

25 Massu August 8, 2014 at 11:55 am

Ostensibly rightly, the legal system does not treat them all the same, e.g. “aggravated rape”. Witness:

http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=543080

26 infvoy August 8, 2014 at 12:17 pm

What would be defined as rape in some places is legal in others.

The legal system is important from a practical point of view, but need not necessarily say anything about right and wrong, which is what you’re dealing here on a sensitive issue.

27 Massu August 8, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Not necessarily relevant, but here these kinds of decisions are being made for, I think, good reasons. The fact that it’s a “sensitive issue” is no more to the point than the fact that the decision (not) to shove the hideously fat man onto the tracks in the trolley problem is.

28 infovoy August 8, 2014 at 1:42 pm

But we’re not talking about decisions here, legal or otherwise, we’re talking about why people take offense to a statement like “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse.”, and it’s not difficult to see why, when Dawkins is basically treating the narrow definition of “rape” (what I’m calling “rape”) and the wide definition (what I’m calling “attack”) as synonymous.

“Date rape [wide definition] is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse.” is true, because you are considering the context of other related wrongs

“”Date rape [narrow definition] is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse.” is false, because the reason rape is wrong in the first place is that it’s a (particularly serious) unwanted act against a person’s will, and the wrongness of that violation is equal, regardless of the contextual circumstances.

Hence, “rape is rape”.

29 Massu August 8, 2014 at 1:51 pm

If you really think that, would you be indifferent between raped by an anemic fatass who can barely get it up, or by a guy with the physique of a pit bull who is HIV-positive?

30 infovoy August 8, 2014 at 2:02 pm

There you are introducing a secondary moral offense (knowingly potentially infecting them with a serious disease), as is easily seen by looking at how it can turn a morally neutral act like having consensual sex into a morally wrong one by not disclosing your HIV.

However, remove the part about HIV and yes, I’d be indifferent between being “raped by an anemic fatass who can barely get it up, or by a guy with the physique of a pit bull”, and I hope you would too – if not then we may have reached the root cause of your not understanding the offense caused by Dawkins….

31 Massu August 8, 2014 at 2:06 pm

“However, remove the part about HIV and yes, I’d be indifferent between being “raped by an anemic fatass who can barely get it up, or by a guy with the physique of a pit bull”, and I hope you would too”

Hell no. Don’t expect me to share your (putative) lack of discernment. (I think that, if actually faced with this situation, you’d change your time.)

32 Massu August 8, 2014 at 2:07 pm

^ Tune, even.

33 infovoy August 8, 2014 at 2:20 pm

OK, all I can say is that I hope (and don’t think that) Dawkins shares that sentiment.

Unless I’m misunderstanding, you’re claiming that the severity of a rape depends in part on the physical attractiveness of the rapist.

Even if I were to concede that rape in the narrow sense varies in severity (which I don’t), I’d still argue that’s an obviously false claim, and grossly offensive to many people.

It also means there’s no point in continuing the discussion, since we’re coming at it from such opposing points of view.

34 infovoy August 8, 2014 at 2:32 pm

PS Massu – are you male or female? If you’re male, then would you prefer to be raped by the “anemic fatass who can barely get it up, or by a guy with the physique of a pit bull”?

If you’d like neither equally, then bingo, you’ve discovered something…

35 Massu August 8, 2014 at 2:43 pm

“Unless I’m misunderstanding, you’re claiming that the severity of a rape depends in part on the physical attractiveness of the rapist”

No, that’s obviously not what I was saying. I’m saying it depends on the ability to inflict pain.

“PS Massu – are you male or female? If you’re male, then would you prefer to be raped by the ‘anemic fatass who can barely get it up, or by a guy with the physique of a pit bull’?”

Male and, as a matter of fact my example is drawn from the account of a man who went to prison and was only raped once, by a fat guy without much vigor. The receiving party was also quite fat and as a result he was hardly penetrated. In his words, “it was all [he] could do not to laugh”.

Now would you rather experience that, or have your ass torn right apart?

36 Mad Mike August 8, 2014 at 2:55 pm

It’s fruitless. They either cannot see nuance or they choose to ignore it. The whole bit about not endorsing rape was lost in a frantic squeal of claimed victimhood.

37 SallyStrange August 8, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Massu–

Well I certainly am glad that the SJW wing of the septic movement never uses those kinds of tactics. Stay true to your commitment to logos instead of pathos.

I certainly am glad that skeptics are above using the tu quoque fallacy to deflect attention from accurate criticism of people they admire.

Mad Mike–

Poor Sally Strange. Dawkins provided a thought experiment and proved some people are incapable of thought, only emotional reactions.

Why poor me? I feel fine. And Dawkins proved nothing of the sort. All he proved is that people have emotional reactions to emotionally sensitive topics, and that some people are capable of being both emotional and rational, and some people are not. If this were ever in doubt, that might be useful information. He also proved that he is confused about what it means to teach, which is a bit surprising given his reputation as Mr. Science Educator Extraordinaire. Manipulating people into being upset so you can yell at them for being upset, for the purpose of teaching how to separate emotions from reasoning, is a bit like slapping people, then yelling at them for getting into a fighting stance, for the purpose of teaching nonviolence. It might work, but it seems obvious that there are better methods.

Please note that your reaction is your responsibility, not his.

This seems like more of that “arguing against positions that nobody holds” business that I was criticizing Dawkins for. Dawkins made remarks that he knew, by his own admission, were emotionally inflammatory. Then he claimed to be surprised and disappointed that some people’s emotions were inflamed. Pointing out that this seems irrational at best, and cynically manipulative at worst, is tangential to whether I or anyone takes responsibility for their own emotional reactions.

Since the FtB seemed so fixated on it, how bad is being asked to coffee in an elevator? Burka bad or female genital mutilation bad? Is it not being able to legally drive bad or not being able to attend school because you’re a girl bad? Oh, I am a bad person for ranking them, aren’t I?

Let’s restore context, once again. Coffee proposed in an elevator, how innocent. Indeed.

Coffee in an elevator, on the way to one’s bedroom, to be drunk in a strange man’s bedroom, at 4am, after spending the day talking about your dislike of random unsolicited come-ons, and announcing one’s tiredness and intention to go to bed–mildly bad.

Mildly bad–and therefore worthy of a “guys, don’t do that,” in response to a question regarding the absence of women at similar conferences.

Ranking them isn’t the issue and never was–the issue was saying that it’s “zero bad” and Watson and other women should STFU and be grateful that men in the UK and the USA let us drive and go to conferences without a male chaperone.

Perhaps we should rank the badness of various feminist actions. Proposing that men respect interpersonal boundaries–apparently quite bad, in the minds of some people! But probably less bad than proposing mass castration? Interesting thought experiment. Too bad Dawkins didn’t think of that. I wonder why.

38 infovoy August 8, 2014 at 3:11 pm

OK, I retract that then – I misunderstood you.

I would prefer the fat guy, but that’s from a practical point of view only, not a moral one. Both the rapists have committed the same offense and the contingent fact of how well or not it was implemented makes no difference to the wrongness of the act.

Am I right in saying you’re using the amount of suffering endured (physical only it seems, though I’ll not argue down that road) to gauge how bad the act is?

If that’s the case, then imagine a murderer who releases poison into a room with his victim trapped inside. The poison is advertised as causing huge amounts of suffering for a long period before finally causing death. The murderer, enthused with the prospect of seeing his victim suffer releases the poison, but alas, he’s over-enthusiasm has led him to put the dose too high, and within second his victim is dead. The next day there’s a copycat case and this murderer gets the dose right.

Who’s committed the “worse” moral crime?

39 Massu August 8, 2014 at 3:14 pm

“I certainly am glad that skeptics are above using the tu quoque fallacy to deflect attention from accurate criticism of people they admire”

I’m not a huge fan of Dawkins. Not dead set against him either. That being said, he is a lot more talented and interesting than the losers, wankers, dilettantes and mental invalids who make up / lead your wing of the movement, although that is admittedly a very low bar.

The bottom line is this: nobody gives a shit about “Elevatorgate”, or anything else like that, and it shows: your attempts to make everyone else drop everything and attend to your stupid pet issues have almost all been fiascos. Nobody thinks you give an edgewise crap about rigorous logic either, for that matter. It does matter that the pot is calling the kettle black, especially when the kettle is, at most, grey.

40 Massu August 8, 2014 at 3:17 pm

“I would prefer the fat guy, but that’s from a practical point of view only, not a moral one.

Practical and moral issues are intrinsically related, especially when the means to ameliorate bad things are as limited as they in fact are. lrn2utilitarianism, lrn2decision theory

41 infovoy August 8, 2014 at 3:20 pm

Mad Mike: “It’s fruitless. They either cannot see nuance or they choose to ignore it. The whole bit about not endorsing rape was lost in a frantic squeal of claimed victimhood.”

I’m not claiming that Dawkins endorses rape, or even believes that any rape is not extremely serious. I’m fully prepared to accept his account.

My point is that there are two definitions of “rape”, one narrow and one wide . The wide use Dawkins uses equates to the overall “attack” and includes contextual items like being at knifepoint.

But its insensitive to use that wide definition to justify that there are degrees of rape, when many people will naturally be thinking of the term in the narrow sense, where that same suggestion is contentious at least, and probably just incoherent.

42 infovoy August 8, 2014 at 3:22 pm

Massu: “Practical and moral issues are intrinsically related, especially when the means to ameliorate bad things are as limited as they in fact are. lrn2utilitarianism, lrn2decision theory”

So in my example, the practical success of the copycat poison murderer makes that a more weighty moral issue than the failed attempt by the original murderer?

43 Massu August 8, 2014 at 3:23 pm

I’d say intent matters because it signals further behavior. That can be accommodated in a utilitarian framework.

44 Harebell August 8, 2014 at 3:27 pm

Most of the response here are more than 147 characters in length and do try to be more nuanced than the average tweet and maybe there in lies Dawkin’s problem.
People shouldn’t address highly complex issues or reply to any questioning of them via twitter. A person who is as bright as Dawkins should know this and must take responsibility for this brou ha ha.
There is a reason Kant wrote vast tomes explaining his theories and still came up short in some cases. And don’t get me started on Wittgenstein. Complex and controversial ideas need space so that they can be debated, rattling off a tweet is usually counter productive.

Also Michael as to the issue of statutory rape Canada has introduced a “Close-in-age” exemption to overcome the situation you described above.

45 infovoy August 8, 2014 at 3:38 pm

Massu: “I’d say intent matters because it signals further behavior. That can be accommodated in a utilitarian framework.”

So both murderers are equally morally wrong, because they both had the same intent (murdering someone with the large amount of suffering to be caused by the poison).

If that';s the case I’d agree, but we’ve now moved away from gauging the wrongness of an act by the practical account of how much suffering was endured by the victim to the moral account of the perpetrator’s intent in causing suffering. So in the prison rape case, if one assumes that neither that fat guy or the “pit bull” guy have any other intent than getting their own pleasure at the expense of the victim, then from what you’ve said above it follows that their moral crime is equal, despite the practicalities meaning that more suffering was inflicted in one case than the other.

The wrongness of an action isn’t dependent on how much I would or wouldn’t like something to happen to me.

46 Mad Mike August 8, 2014 at 3:54 pm

Dawkin’s whole point was that ranking harm does not mean that the least bad is “no harm.” He also said that they could be ranked differently. But all some people saw was “rape” and reacted with shrill indignation. To say it wasn’t charitable is an understatement. In some quarters he was attacked with venomous glee.

He has proven that some people will only react emotionally to some subjects, stifling discourse and creating taboo zones. Those reacting poorly treated him in a way that they would find abhorrent if turned on them.

47 infovoy August 8, 2014 at 4:05 pm

Mad Mike: you’re right that some of the attacks are way over the top, and I’d also say some are badly motivated, pouncing on him because of his other views. However, agree with Harebell above that it’s not sensible to try to address complex issues in that way.

Not all people are consequentialists (myself included), and many will see “mild rape” as passing judgement on the moral act itself (regardless of consequences) where trying to grade it in that way makes no sense (or the only sense that can be made of it would lead to an uncharitable view of what he is getting at).

48 Mad Mike August 8, 2014 at 4:11 pm

infovoy: All that indicates is that people got stuck on the word and then danced around with semantics and ignored his point altogether. You can see it as passing judgement all you like, but he clearly stated that was not what he was doing.

And Michael Nugent’s point here is beyond any question: personal smears and nasty attacks are completely unwarranted. It’s an over-the-top outrage machine, and it is intended to stifle discourse.

49 infovoy August 8, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Mad Mike: I’m not sure that every reader of his tweets and the column inches they generate necessarily have the knowledge or inclination to tease apart the different possible meanings and thus get to his real point. I think he should be more careful around these subjects.

That said, I can’t disagree with your last point at all.

50 Mad Mike August 8, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Sally Strange: Again, you dance around semantics and simply fixate on the fact that he used the word rape. Do you really think that it is necessary to vilify him?

As far as Watson, it wasn’t just the “guys don’t do that.” That was indeed zero bad. Never had a problem with that. Using her podium to attack somebody that disagreed with her and to make it all about her and her first-world problems, well, that was not zero bad. But of course the official FtB mantra is that it was all about the elevator guy. Drama blogging and click-bait gossip at its “finest.”

51 Massu August 8, 2014 at 5:32 pm

“If that’;s the case I’d agree, but we’ve now moved away from gauging the wrongness of an act by the practical account of how much suffering was endured by the victim to the moral account of the perpetrator’s intent in causing suffering.”

Who’s “we”? I am considering only changes in future expected disutility brought about by a given actor that stem from knowledge of intent, not any kind of deontic considerations.

52 aneris August 8, 2014 at 6:59 pm

Sally Strange wrote: How helpful of him [Richard Dawkins] to point out a thing that nobody was saying was not true. That might have been relevant if Rebecca Watson or anyone else had been out there saying, “Guys, don’t do that–because THAT is just as bad as overtly oppressing women as they do in Saudi Arabia.

Richard Dawkins saw the atheist-skeptics community quarrel over nothing, but apparently recognized the interest in feminist issues (together with atheism) and suggested, albeit with snark, that women under Islam would be an area were both interests could be satisfied.

FreeThoughtBlogs, SkepChicks & allies were already at it and created the narrative that it was all about Rebecca Watson, matyr saint of all women in the movement, and that any criticism was because they “hate all women” (despite that notable or leading detractors like Abbie Smith or Stef McGraw are both women, too – but massive propaganda erased that quickly). By that method, the social justice faction could quickly dismiss criticism as well as further place their pet issues onto the agenda – successfully.

Now with the serious topics floating about while having made it all about Rebecca Watson and her incident in the lift, Richard Dawkins (as many others) then looked at that case, and found correctly, that it was nothing. In particular when put into perspective. Here we had the whole movement explode over an inappropriate, perhaps creepy, possible double entendré. And this somehow led to serious issues (because that is what the social justice warriors wanted to float). Richard Dawkins was correct, it was nothing.

Why was this an issue? Same again. Uncharitable interpretations. It is blatantly obvious that social justice warriors wanted him to be defensive, perhaps write an essay on what’s wrong with such proposals in a confined space, and further crowbar their ideology into the movement. He didn’t do that, so the most uncharitable interpretation was used again, and since it worked, why not do it again. And it worked again.

Richard Dawkins could have done some things differently, but I’m not going to explain it, since it’s irrelevant and there is no room left to act defensively.

The social justice league’s own narrative came boomeranging back and that was their own fault. And even that was covered up, turned around and then used as the next weapon, thanks to massive propaganda of two blog networks and allies – a massive propganda machine. And it largely still is the case. See the Religious News Service article that gives the impression of being somewhat neutral, while it cites essentially a clique of friends and allies around Rebecca Watson, without making that clear, and two token people known to support Richard Dawkins (only Hemant Mehta can be considered halfway neutral, but he is also quoted as critical).

The new narrative, by the way is how Richard Dawkins enabled or encouraged hate mail towards Rebecca Watson. Here is the “neutral” Adam Lee. For example (emphasis mine):

Adam Lee wrote: Dawkins’ pattern of making sneering remarks about social justice and privilege, while declining to address actual instances of sexism, encouraged some of the worst elements in the atheist community to believe that he was on their side.

53 Massu August 8, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Abbie Smith is of course a woman, but more importantly, an HIV researcher. You know, just the sort of person SJWs should have free reign to try to get fired from their post for merely disagreeing with them. We can look the other way for this apparently overzealous exercise of power because the SJW community does far more good than any HIV research ever could.

54 aneris August 8, 2014 at 8:11 pm

Indeed, Massu
It is of course much worse to criticise Rebecca Watson, than to get Abbie Smith fired and ostracized from the movement.

It is of course much worse when Richard Dawkins calls his own experience of sexual abuse “mild”, compared to a FreeThoughtBlog community that expresses full solidarity and offers of babysitter jobs, after one of their peers confessed to have sexually abused and joint a sex play with three girls, 3, 4, and 7 years old (he himself was 12 and was tasked to babysit them).

It is of course much worse when 10 people each write 3 mean comments about Ophelia Benson in an obscure forum, that’s harassment after all. It is of course not obsessive and no harassment at all, when FreeThougtBlogs and SkepChick carpet bomb Jaclyn Glenn with dozens of blog posts, filled with negative commentary (Ophelia Benson wrote a record breaking 15 blog posts attacking Glenn in a single week alone).

It is of course worse and worthy of ostracizing when one person wrote shock insults around rape fantasies. The author of rape fantasy books, Greta Christina is entirely right about it. And Ed Brayton and others of course support this. Of course, the famous FTB and in particular Pharyngula tone of eviscerating and shock insult unsuspecting newbies with death wishes (go die in a fire, go play in a traffic, go die, insert pocrupine etc) are no problem, because that’s all righteous anger, especially after the person turns out to be “tone troll”, where they deserve more death wishes and more abuse. It is of course TOTALLY DIFFERENT when these people want to tone troll police the movement.

It is of course worse, when Richard Dawkins privately tells David Silverman that he won’t share a stage with Rebecca Watson on Reason Rally, who declared to total boycott if all things Dawkins anyway. It’s worse than PZ Myers who long before publically declared that he will not attend when Abbie Smith is also invited — that’s not “white, old man” using his privilege to bully out a woman. And it is of course worse than Richard Dawkins, just because.

And so on and so on, and so on…

55 Sally Strange August 8, 2014 at 11:53 pm

Sally Strange: Again, you dance around semantics and simply fixate on the fact that he used the word rape. Do you really think that it is necessary to vilify him?

I’m fairly confident I haven’t vilified Dawkins. So, I’m not sure what you’re getting at.

As far as Watson, it wasn’t just the “guys don’t do that.” That was indeed zero bad. Never had a problem with that.

Really? Because I’ve been told on many occasions that she likened it to rape and sexual assault. It is an instance of mild sexual harassment, but apparently some people on the, shall we say, more male-centered side of the skeptic/atheist blogosphere have extremely emotional reactions to the words “sexual harassment.”

Using her podium to attack somebody that disagreed with her and to make it all about her and her first-world problems, well, that was not zero bad.

Ummm… Stef McGraw? Yeah, I believe she and Watson buried the hatchet a long time ago–long before most of Watson’s harassers gave up. And that’s unrelated to the fact that Dawkins specifically characterized Watson’s encounter with Elevator guy as “zero bad.” Which he has now walked back, though not actually apologized directly for being wrong about that.

But of course the official FtB mantra is that it was all about the elevator guy. Drama blogging and click-bait gossip at its “finest.”

*shrug* If you say so. From my perspective, it seems like you are the one drumming up drama here. I didn’t bring up Watson or Elevator Dude.

56 Sally Strange August 9, 2014 at 12:11 am

Hey, we’re doing the whole elevator thing again! Yaay!

Richard Dawkins saw the atheist-skeptics community quarrel over nothing,

A mild reproof to men who disrespect interpersonal boundaries, and the observation that this is a possible cause of the lack of women in atheist spaces, leading to a years-long sustained campaign of sexist harassment against the person making said observation and reproof: not actually “nothing.”

but apparently recognized the interest in feminist issues (together with atheism) and suggested, albeit with snark, that women under Islam would be an area were both interests could be satisfied.

First of all, no. The implication wasn’t just “can’t we all agree that Muslim women have it worse?” The implication was that their worse situation should make Watson or me or any other woman interested in participating in atheist activism hesitate about voicing our experiences with sexism in the West, where the worst tendencies of overt misogyny have been muzzled.

FreeThoughtBlogs, SkepChicks & allies were already at it and created the narrative that it was all about Rebecca Watson, matyr saint of all women in the movement, and that any criticism was because they “hate all women” (despite that notable or leading detractors like Abbie Smith or Stef McGraw are both women, too – but massive propaganda erased that quickly).

Yeah, okay. Do you really not notice how much emotionally charged language you’re using here? Martyr saint? Hate all women? And of course, if I react to that with justified anger, you can play the “you’re being too emotional” card, without acknowledging the rampant emotionality of your own writing. You’re a quick study of the Dawkins school of debate, eh?

By that method, the social justice faction could quickly dismiss criticism as well as further place their pet issues onto the agenda – successfully.

The possibility that they were simply right about most of what they said is something you’re not inclined to consider, I see.

Now with the serious topics floating about while having made it all about Rebecca Watson and her incident in the lift, Richard Dawkins (as many others) then looked at that case, and found correctly, that it was nothing. In particular when put into perspective. Here we had the whole movement explode over an inappropriate, perhaps creepy, possible double entendré. And this somehow led to serious issues (because that is what the social justice warriors wanted to float). Richard Dawkins was correct, it was nothing.

It WAS nothing. And then a bunch of atheist men got so, so angry about “nothing” that they inundated Watson with sexual harassment and rape threats. For a long time.

Why was this an issue? Same again. Uncharitable interpretations.

Also the concerted campaigns of harassment and threats, which you seem intent on erasing.

It is blatantly obvious that social justice warriors wanted him to be defensive, perhaps write an essay on what’s wrong with such proposals in a confined space, and further crowbar their ideology into the movement. He didn’t do that, so the most uncharitable interpretation was used again, and since it worked, why not do it again. And it worked again.

Yeah, it worked–because finally, after three or four years, Dawkins finally came around to realize that it’s not correct to tell people to ignore small injustices in their backyard because large injustices are taking place on another continent.

Richard Dawkins could have done some things differently, but I’m not going to explain it, since it’s irrelevant and there is no room left to act defensively.

No need. It’s easy to see how he could have done things differently. He could have said nothing at all. He could have kept his remarks regarding childhood sexual abuse confined to his own experiences instead of inaccurately and insensitively extrapolating to the experiences of all victims of childhood sexual abuse. He could have not been a snarky jerk to Rebecca Watson on Pharyngula. Nobody would have thought worse of him for not weighing in.

The social justice league’s own narrative came boomeranging back and that was their own fault. And even that was covered up, turned around and then used as the next weapon, thanks to massive propaganda of two blog networks and allies – a massive propganda machine. And it largely still is the case. See the Religious News Service article that gives the impression of being somewhat neutral, while it cites essentially a clique of friends and allies around Rebecca Watson, without making that clear, and two token people known to support Richard Dawkins (only Hemant Mehta can be considered halfway neutral, but he is also quoted as critical).

I’m sorry, I just… “massive propaganda machine”? Seriously, you need to get your emotional reactions under control. You’re mad that a news article that only a few people will read quoted mostly people who aren’t sympathetic to your position. Your anger has led you to emotionally and inaccurately characterize a disorganized bunch of bloggers on a couple of networks as a “massive propaganda machine.” I really think you can do better than this in terms of making convincing, rational arguments.

The new narrative, by the way is how Richard Dawkins enabled or encouraged hate mail towards Rebecca Watson. Here is the “neutral” Adam Lee. For example (emphasis mine):

Adam Lee wrote: Dawkins’ pattern of making sneering remarks about social justice and privilege, while declining to address actual instances of sexism, encouraged some of the worst elements in the atheist community to believe that he was on their side.

I think Adam Lee is right about that. I think some Dawkins fans who happened to also be misogynists seized upon Dawkins’ statements to her, and his claim (at the time, which he has recanted but you still hold on to) that there is absolutely NOTHING objectionable about being propositioned after specifically indicating that you don’t want to be propositioned, and used that as part of their own self-justification for extremely bad behavior.

If you disagree, guess what? The worst that’s going to happen to you is that other people are going to say that they think you’re wrong. That’s how this whole dreaded Social Justice Warrior thing works. It’s actually not a cabal of super-villains.

So relax, and let’s engage in disagreement on civil and rational terms.

Also, that’s not a new narrative. That possibility–that Watson’s harassers would see Dawkins’ remarks as encouragement–was remarked upon and predicted as soon as he made it.

57 Sally Strange August 9, 2014 at 12:21 am

He has proven that some people will only react emotionally to some subjects, stifling discourse and creating taboo zones.

These alleged taboo zones seem woefully ineffective. Discourse on these subjects seems to be proceeding apace. Perhaps you (and Dawkins) should consider the fact that “be sensitive” is in fact a different message from “be silent.”

I mean, I guess if you’re incapable of being sensitive, then telling you that you can’t speak unless you’re sensitive does equate to telling you to be silent, but that’s nobody’s problem but yours.

And it’s not like any of the parties involved actually have the power to force anyone to be silent.

Goodness. So much testeria!

58 Mad Mike August 9, 2014 at 12:27 am

Sally Strange:” It WAS nothing. And then a bunch of atheist men got so, so angry about “nothing” that they inundated Watson with sexual harassment and rape threats. For a long time. ”

You have proof that it was atheist men and not simply trolls? Really?

You also seem to be able to miraculously read the intent of elevator guy.

As to yourself not vilifying him, instead you are defending those that do. As to rape and death threats…I got a lot of those. At FtB. It was suggested I die in a fire, that I get raped by a necrotic porcupine, or a rusty knife. Do any of those sound familiar, Sally Strange?

59 Mad Mike August 9, 2014 at 12:33 am

Sally Strange: “And it’s not like any of the parties involved actually have the power to force anyone to be silent. ”
That is terribly disingenuous. He is being told to shut up, get off twitter and worse. Don’t mince words and dance semantics. It doesn’t make your point.
And your own sensitivity could use some work. Testeria…nice thing to say to a testicular cancer survivor. Isn’t that somewhat abelist of you, not to mention insensitive to trans* hormone issues?

60 Graculus August 9, 2014 at 1:59 am

“Dawkin’s whole point was that ranking harm does not mean that the least bad is “no harm.” ”

Actually, he did say that… that’s what “zero bad” means. My point being that the “twitter storm” was actually a completely rational and logical reaction to a completely logical and rational reading of Dawkins’ tweet based on *Dawkins’ own words*

Dawkins has since walked back “zero bad”, and I’m happy to see that. And nowhere have I vilified Dawkins. I don’t believe in the infallibility of the Pope, Dawkins, or anyone else.

Apparently there are “taboo” areas – like criticisizing Dr Dawkins.

61 Mad Mike August 9, 2014 at 2:21 am

You are conflating two different events. His criticism of R Watson he said “zero harm,” not at all what he said concerning rape. He said, distinctly, that ranking them did not endorse the lesser. He even said that you could change the rankings if you liked.

Nice strawman about Dawkins. Nobody said you can’t criticize Dawkins, but smearing and casual defamation was wrong.

I am having difficulty telling if you are trolling, very poor at comprehension, or a deliberate prevaricator.

62 infovoy August 9, 2014 at 7:30 am

Massu: “Who’s “we”? ”

Sorry, *”you”

“I am considering only changes in future expected disutility brought about by a given actor that stem from knowledge of intent, not any kind of deontic considerations.”

I know, that being a big part of the reason he got the negative reaction was my point.

He just assumes that’s the correct view of morality and then steam-rollers a strong opinion based on it to the masses – many of whom with a different opinion on morality – and then claims his view is right by “logic”.

63 Mad Mike August 9, 2014 at 8:03 am

He was illustrating a logical fallacy. However you rank it, the least bad is still not an endorsement. He’s not making any moral judgments on that topic, and he says so repeatedly. Why the willful mischaracterization?

64 Mad Mike August 9, 2014 at 8:11 am

This goes beyond “least charitable interpretation.” Demonizing is is a charitable way to describe their antics. I have yet to see any one defending the smearing of Dawkins actually get his point. I refuse to believe that it is a lack of intelligence, rather a very willful determination to paint him in the worst possible light, regardless of what he actually says.

He is not above criticism, but he should (as should we all) be above juvenile name-calling and obsessive hate.

65 Sedan Taboos August 9, 2014 at 9:19 am

“Such as when he [Dawkins] asserted, with no evidence, that he was confident that since he suffered no lasting damage from his childhood abuse, that none of his classmates suffered lasting damage as well.”

“He [Dawkins] could have kept his remarks regarding childhood sexual abuse confined to his own experiences instead of inaccurately and insensitively extrapolating to the experiences of all victims of childhood sexual abuse.”

Sally Strange, do you have any references for this accusation which you made here twice and I imagine have made many times elsewhere?

If not, can you please stop this malicious and inaccurate summary of what Dawkins did actually say, which is far, far different. Or do you just plan to continue exaggerating it more with each post?

66 infovoy August 9, 2014 at 9:52 am

“He was illustrating a logical fallacy. However you rank it, the least bad is still not an endorsement. He’s not making any moral judgments on that topic, and he says so repeatedly.”

For those with a non-utilitarian view on morality, it’s the act of ranking it *at all* that becomes the “moral judgement” that he’s making, by assuming that the utilitarian view of morality is correct.

For me, it’s the act of rape (“rape” in the narrow sense) that is the moral transgression, and that transgression is always of the same moral weight, regardless of the context of the attack (or “rape” in the wide sense), so *cannot* be ranked; and to rank it is making a moral judgement by implying that the consequences of the act are what matters, not the act itself.

And to paraphrase your accusation of his detractors (the reasonable ones – am with you on the trolls), I refuse to believe that it is a lack of intelligence on Dawkin’s part, rather a very willful determination to attempt to paint his particular opinion on unsettled matters like morality as objective fact.

67 infovoy August 9, 2014 at 9:54 am

Mad Mike: “He was illustrating a logical fallacy. However you rank it, the least bad is still not an endorsement. He’s not making any moral judgments on that topic, and he says so repeatedly.”

For those with a non-utilitarian view on morality, it’s the act of ranking it *at all* that becomes the “moral judgement” that he’s making, by assuming that the utilitarian view of morality is correct.

For me, it’s the act of rape (“rape” in the narrow sense) that is the moral transgression, and that transgression is always of the same moral weight, regardless of the context of the attack (or “rape” in the wide sense), so *cannot* be ranked; and to rank it is making a moral judgement by implying that the consequences of the act are what matters, not the act itself.

And to paraphrase your accusation of his detractors (the reasonable ones – am with you on the trolls), I refuse to believe that it is a lack of intelligence on Dawkin’s part, rather a very willful determination to attempt to paint his particular opinion on unsettled matters like morality as objective fact.

68 Carrie August 9, 2014 at 10:09 am

Oh for goodness sake, I cannot believe that the Elevatorgate nonsense is still going on after all these years. I have been keeping silent in the hope that it would stop; but it seems that the hatred of Dawkins since then in some circles is just too great. I am not a fan of Dawkins particularly, nor do I hate him. I think that he writes and talks very well and chooses his words with precision, which many do not.

Twitter is not the best medium for discussion, but if we read his snippets with an open mind, knowing how carefully he chooses words, we can see that he is making valid points. And it is good that he can use his website to elaborate on issues that get beyond tweeting.

What I saw at the end of his recent post was not an apology for the Dear Muslima message. I guessed that it might have been a slight apology for jumping in after people had conflated Rebecca’s non-event with the harm that can come from being in a confined space with a determined molester. This was not what Rebecca was saying in her initial video clip on the elevator episode, it was what the incident got blown up into, and Rebecca made no effort to defuse the nonsense.

At no point did Rebecca say that there was anything wrong with their exchange. Elevator Guy was polite, made no real move, and they parted quietly. She apparently felt that it was “creepy” that a man in whose company she had been drinking and talking for much of the night would talk to her in the lift and invite further talk over coffee. It was not actually a creepy thing to do — I imagine he thought it was reasonable. Remember they had both been drinking, so he quite possibly had no idea even of what time it was. There were still people up and about in the hotel despite the lateness of the hour, and although it was a “foreign country” it was one in which the people basically shared the same values as her own. This is a non-event, a zero-bad event.

So let’s look back and remember what Dawkins will have seen. He was on a panel with Rebecca on Elevatorgate Eve. In her section of the talk, she changed the subject of her discussion from “communicating atheism” to “look how women are hated and abused in atheism”. She basically started out by rubbishing the lived experience of Dawkins’ friend Paula Kirby (who had appeared on an earlier panel about women in atheism and said that she did not feel unsafe at these things). She ended up conflating how unsafe women (should) feel at conventions with her own online hate-mail. The irony of it, sitting beside Dawkins, who has a ton of hate-mail himself.

Then a couple of weeks later she made a video which included the elevator incident, and the Internet blew up a storm around it, which she did nothing to quell. Finally, after weeks in which this could have died down, Dawkins went to the site of a fellow biologist and atheist, only to find that the hot topic was nothing to do with atheism or biology but how awful poor Rebecca’s experience was, blown up into the most amazing heights. He saw the absurdity and commented on it in the wonderful “Dear Muslima” piece. He then clarified it when challenged, to point out that her experience was zero bad. Which it was, for the reasons I outline above. I do not think that he has “walked that back”, but his piece is so delightfully written that people can read into it what they wish.

For goodness sake, people, get over it, and stop looking for things to hate about the man.

69 Carrie August 9, 2014 at 10:40 am

And I meant to say also — thank you Michael Nugent, for your clear-sighted articles on these and other matters.

70 aneris August 10, 2014 at 6:17 pm

Sally Strange wrote: A mild reproof to men who disrespect interpersonal boundaries, and the observation that this is a possible cause of the lack of women in atheist spaces, leading to a years-long sustained campaign of sexist harassment against the person making said observation and reproof: not actually “nothing.”

Again, you are victim of your own propaganda. You don’t acknowledge any context, ignore all the events that played their part (McGraw, bad form, Watson’s call to boycott Dawkins, heavy spin doctoring). You ignore the “rude” language (shock, sexual, graphical, and cruel) adopted at Pharyngula, which certainly played its part in setting the community aflame and helped to turbostart a couple of personal feuds. You ignore the social justice ideology that emenated from Tumblr and spread over blogs and social media (which I have explained in a comment at WEIT). And you also ignore that Ms Watson was already controversial before.

Richard Dawkins commented on the incident and not other stuff you need so badly. But you can’t acknowledge it, because otherwise your storyline would fall apart.

Besides, Rebecca Watson’s claims aren’t credible anymore. She restarted her YouTube channel in the first 15 seconds with this statement:

Rebecca Watson said: “…because I’ve heard if male atheist on youtube go without calling a woman a ‘cunt’, his balls will actually shrivel up and tuck up inside of him and forming what some call a mangina”

In a later video she continued her theme of being harassed and will continue in the face of adversaries as long as she can (i.e. matyr style), then she shows the harassment accompanied by sad piano tunes, cue emotioal manipulation. If you pause and read the comments you see A) trolls who call her ‘cunt’ – big surprise there B) people who appear to be angry that Ms Watson insulted them. But again this whole language thing is just another can of worms. I always found certain stock insults far less dubious than trying to establish facts by attributing ideological motivations to others, conjured out of nothing. “Go die” type of language, common on pharyngula, and the likes are worse to me than calling someone said insult mentioned above. It’s ridiculous to imagine that such people want to have a say at all, even if it was objectively established that their language is a iota “nicer” (and for the record, I am not using such language at all).

Sally Strange wrote: First of all, no. The implication wasn’t just “can’t we all agree that Muslim women have it worse?” The implication was that their worse situation should make Watson or me or any other woman interested in participating in atheist activism hesitate about voicing our experiences with sexism in the West, where the worst tendencies of overt misogyny have been muzzled.

My impression was more that of a parent, who overheard the kids argue in their room, who then storms in, ignored the he-said-she-said and asked them to stop their argument and perhaps go play on the playground where they both have the toys they like.

Your impression may be as it is. However, I don’t think it has much value given that pretty much everything that comes out of SkepChick FreeThought Fox News is spin, with more spin, on top of propaganda.

Sally Strange wrote: Yeah, okay. Do you really not notice how much emotionally charged language you’re using here? Martyr saint? Hate all women? And of course, if I react to that with justified anger, you can play the “you’re being too emotional” card, without acknowledging the rampant emotionality of your own writing. You’re a quick study of the Dawkins school of debate, eh?

I don’t know what issues you have with emotions, but the “hate all women” is the translation for misogyny, i.e. what FreeThoughtBlog & SkepChick level at any critic. The matyr saint complex is something you can observe – If I really must, I can hunt down a few links, but since you read on social justice much more than I do, it must have occurred to you that social justice warriors always face an establishment, the patriarchy, the old guard, hordes of harassers and trolls, all encompassing evil they are up against, and where they are willing to “sacrifice” themselves while “fighting the good fight”. That’s the basic blueprint of any social justice writing, including the Christian M. Anderson stuff John Morales (also from FTB) suggested to read in the previous thread (I just didn’t find the time to answer to that).

Sally Strange wrote: It WAS nothing [refrring to Watson’s ordeal]. And then a bunch of atheist men got so, so angry about “nothing” that they inundated Watson with sexual harassment and rape threats. For a long time.

Again, you are ignorant of the contexts and pretty much everything else. The problem with gross misresentations is that they eventually come back and haunt you. They are always inconsistent with what really happened and as we see, FreeThoughtBloggers, SkepChicks and allies are very busy in keeping their story consistent by making stuff up, piling up more and more inconsistencies. It’ll collapse sooner or later, even though subjects often won’t notice it.

The good thing is it becomes nearly impossible to change the direction, when people are extremely loud and cocksure. That train heads south. Maybe your Dear Leaders can still make it a success when they become big names in another fish tank.

I have no hard feelings when the right apology comes along. It adequately would have to be a very long walk to Canossa followed by freezing in the blizzard until the last peaches are frozen, but it’s doable.

Sally Strange wrote: Also the concerted campaigns of harassment and threats, which you seem intent on erasing.

Social justice warriors are generally a favourite among trolls, due to their eccentric, poe-friendly views and their volatile nature. Other than that, the claims aren’t credible. I also have investigated it myself and couldn’t find the things people claimed where happening, e.g. on the Slymepit. The story is X, and it is shoved down everyone’s throat, then I want to see X. Not moving the goal post and something else is placed in the spotlight.

Sally Strange wrote: I’m sorry, I just… “massive propaganda machine”? Seriously, you need to get your emotional reactions under control. You’re mad that a news article that only a few people will read quoted mostly people who aren’t sympathetic to your position. Your anger has led you to emotionally and inaccurately characterize a disorganized bunch of bloggers on a couple of networks as a “massive propaganda machine.” I really think you can do better than this in terms of making convincing, rational arguments.

Articles by this author are syndicated. I don’t know if this one was syndicated as well, but the previous one, also smearing Richard Dawkins was. It appeared when I recall correctly in the Washington Post. Other than that, do you really believe what you write? Did you never notice that the social justice bloggers in such “controversial issues” always link to the same few people and they refer back? And that they never disagree, but pat each other on the back and perhaps add another perspective? It came to a surprise that Greta Christina, Amy Roth, Ophelia Benson, Amanda Marcotte, Adam Lee etc are mentioned, all who are part of the same clique? Of all people the movement has, you find it normal that a tight-knit group of friends and allies is quoted and the author fails to mention their connection? I almost can’t believe this level of ignorance.

Sally Strange wrote: I think Adam Lee is right about that.

Of course you think that. That’s the narrative in Atheist North Korea.

71 Massu August 11, 2014 at 6:13 am

“For those with a non-utilitarian view on morality”

Non-utilitarians can’t prioritize and therefore can’t use their limited resources effectively. I see little merit in your viewpoint

72 Massu August 14, 2014 at 9:50 pm

At this point I wonder whether the echo chamber will begin to question whether or not they are, in fact, the compassionate, sophisticated intellectual elites of the skeptic movement.

73 Sedan Taboos August 15, 2014 at 1:40 am

Myers made several valid points. However, making such comments is completely hypocritical in light of his criticism of Dawkins’ supposed insensitivity, relativism (and downplaying/encouraging) and obliviously making a statement that was sure to create uproar and “hurt” others by cavalierly discussing a taboo topic.

74 John Morales August 17, 2014 at 3:34 am

[meta]

Michael, I hope you can see what you’ve wrought.

(“Silence signifies assent”)

75 Michael Nugent August 18, 2014 at 11:44 pm

I have unapproved a number of comments that included name-calling and what I consider to be personal smears. While you are here, please try to discuss things within the spirit that I have set for this blog.

76 Phil Giordana FCD August 19, 2014 at 4:02 pm

Hi Michael, just delete any comment I made that is not according to your policies. And my apologies if I transgressed.

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