Adam Lee rejects my analysis that his comment seems to accept his Guardian article included some misrepresentations

by Michael Nugent on September 24, 2014

Adam, thank you for your second response to my posts about the inaccuracies and misrepresentations in your Guardian article about Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the atheist movement.

In my opinion, your response seems to implicitly accept that your Guardian article included some inaccuracies and misrepresentations, though I acknowledge that you reject this analysis and that you stand by what you wrote in the article.

Can you please read through my reasons for suggesting this, and see if you change your mind about it?

As you know, I am also happy to discuss our respective opinions on ‘the deep rifts’ disagreements between some mostly American atheist bloggers.

But this particular series of posts has a narrower focus. It is about, as a question of fact, whether your article in the Guardian was inaccurate and misleading.

You changed the order of one of the nine items on my list, so I’m happy to leave them in that new order.

I’ve also added two more, which I have numbered 10 and 11, but which I have put at the top of the list since they were not in the original list.

10. Misrepresentations caused by your emotive language

Firstly, I want to add something to my earlier response to your defence of your use of emotive language. In your first response to me, you wrote that:

“the majority of your article is a complaint about various choices of wording I made, the thrust of which is that it’s unfair for me to use emotive language in support of the conclusions I advocate. I reject this.”

And I responded that:

“I agree, I put too much emphasis on this. It is fair for you to use emotive language in support of the conclusions you advocate. Equally, it is fair to highlight that you are using it. I don’t think it was helpful for you to use it in this context, as I think it makes it harder to resolve the problems that you are highlighting, but I agree that it is a legitimate style of polemic.”

I want to qualify that now by saying that, although I agree that I put too much emphasis on it in my original post, it is still a more important criticism of the accuracy of your article than I conveyed in that paragraph.

However legitimately angry you were about harassment, you misdirected that anger at Richard, who opposes harassment. And in doing so, you went beyond emotively conveying facts about harassment, and ended up emotively conveying misrepresentations about a named person who opposes harassment.

Imagine the casual reader of the Guardian, who has probably heard about Richard and knows that he is a prominent atheist, but may have never heard him speak or read anything that he has written.

They read your article, in which you describe him as snarling, accusing, roaring, scoffing, arguing and sneering, including being very busy snarling about how feminists are shrill harridans (the latter claim which you now seem to have withdrawn by saying that you meant to convey something else).

Adam, what overall impression do you think your article conveyed about Richard the person, as distinct from your criticisms of his opinions? Do you think it is an accurate and fair impression?

I suggest that the overall effect of your emotive language is to convey an inaccurate and unfair and hurtful image of Richard, regardless of whether or not you disagree with his opinions, and despite emotive language being in principle a legitimate writing tool.

I understand that you are used to writing on the Internet, but when you are writing for a reputable newspaper you could be more cautious with your language, regardless of how angry you are.

11. Your evolving description of Dear Muslima

I also want to add another example of misrepresentation which I did not notice when writing my first post, but which several commenters have highlighted.

You wrote in the Guardian article that:

“as with his infamous “Dear Muslima” letter in 2011, in which he essentially argued that, because women in Muslim countries suffer more from sexist mistreatment, women in the west shouldn’t speak up about sexual harassment or physical intimidation.”

But in 2012, you wrote that:

“It started with Dawkins’ infamous “Dear Muslima” comment in 2011, which basically said that because women in Islamic countries suffer worse mistreatment, women in America and Europe have no right to object to boorish behavior or unwanted sexual attention.”

So between 2102 and 2014, you have changed your own description of what you believe the Elevatorgate story was causing concerns about.

  • In 2012 you said it was “boorish behavior or unwanted sexual attention”.
  • In 2014 you have upgraded it to “sexual harassment or physical intimidation“

Adam, why did you change your own description of that, in a way that makes Richard look worse than even your own recollection of the story closer to when it happened?

1. ‘The’ atheist movement has not been wracked by this infighting

I believe this is central to the misrepresentations in your Guardian article. You wrote that:

“The atheist movement – a loosely-knit community of conference-goers, advocacy organizations, writers and activists – has been wracked by infighting the last few years over its persistent gender imbalance and the causes of it.”

I responded that this was inaccurate, because ‘the’ atheist movement is global and because most of the atheist movement around the world is not involved in this mostly American infighting, and many activists are either unaware of it or think it is a distraction of focus.

You have now responded:

“#1. By “wracked”, I meant that this has been a major issue causing significant disagreement and division within the atheist community, not necessarily that every atheist organization in every country in the world is directly involved with it. I think a commonsense reading would tell you that.”

Adam, I was not contesting your meaning of the word ‘wracked.’ I was contesting your use of the phrase ‘the’ atheist movement, when you were referring to only part of ‘the’ atheist movement. That is a blind spot shared by some American writers about these issues, and I acknowledge that you probably don’t often have to think about it, but it is a misrepresentation.

You now say that you think a common sense reading would tell me that you meant something different to what you wrote. Well, a common sense reading of reality would tell you that it is simply not the case that ‘the’ atheist movement has been wracked by this infighting.

If you had written ‘parts of the atheist movement have been wracked by infighting,’ that would have been accurate. As it is, what you wrote was misleading.

Indeed, in the very next sentence of your Guardian article, you show that you are aware of the importance of this distinction. When talking about conferences with all-male speakers, you didn’t write that “the atheist movement sees nothing problematic about [this].” Instead, you wrote that “parts of [the atheist movement] see nothing problematic about [this].”

You also say:

“In any case, Michael, the fact that you’ve put so much time and effort into addressing this matter – three lengthy posts addressed solely to me, just for starters – shows that this isn’t solely an American concern. And to state the obvious, Richard Dawkins, who’s been at the center of many of these controversies and has repeatedly chosen to involve himself in them, also isn’t American.”

Adam, I am putting so much effort into this because I care about the atheist movement, and because inaccurate and misleading stories about the atheist movement are now leaking into mainstream media, and because your article in the Guardian is an example of this, and because you explicitly asked people (indeed, challenged people would be a fair description) to provide details of any inaccuracies in your article.

I have never said that this is solely an American concern, or that Richard is American. I have said that some of these more mainstream media analyses (including yours) imply that there is a single ‘atheist movement’, and that it is best analysed through some opinions of some mostly American bloggers and activists. To support this, I cited 29 quotes or citations in three articles (including yours) and I said that 27 were from Americans and two were from Richard, who I acknowledged is not American.

You also say:

“Just for the sake of completeness, let me point out that this is a sweeping assertion on your part and no more. I don’t claim to be familiar with the internal workings of every atheist organization in the world, but you don’t present evidence that atheist groups outside the U.S. are unaware of or uninterested in this issue; you merely assert that this is so. And I have counter-evidence to offer. Of the positive e-mails I got in response to my Guardian column, at least one was from a non-American, non-European atheist. It’s reasonable to assume that there are others.”

Adam, I assume you are familiar with where the burden of proof lies here. You, not me, made the sweeping assertion. I responded that your claim was misleading. Your counter-claim is that you have ‘at least one’ email from somebody outside America and Europe. But that is countering a criticism that I didn’t make, as well as trying to shift the burden of proof from your claim.

I really want to stress this, because I think some people who are absorbed in this infighting need a strong reality check. It is not merely the case that most atheist groups and activists are not actively involved in this infighting. The most common reaction I have got to this, from people who are actively involved in promoting atheism, secularism and social justice, is that they consider me eccentric at best, and foolish at worst, to be even involving myself in these discussions.

2. All-male speakers and leaderships

You wrote in the Guardian article that:

“Many female atheists have explained that they don’t get more involved because of the casual sexism endemic to the movement: parts of it see nothing problematic about hosting conferences with all-male speakers or having all-male leadership –”

I responded by asking you which conferences have all-male speakers, and which groups have all-male leadership, and how they compare with conferences with male and female speakers, or groups with male and female leadership.

You have now responded:

#2. I decline to recount the history of this controversy up until now, as it would require a far greater effort than I’ve already put into this. If you doubt that these claims are true, I invite you to do your own research into them.

I’m not asking you to recount the history of the controversy. I’m asking you to name which conferences have all-male speakers, and which groups have all-male leadership. I assume you know who they are, as you have written about them.

Again, you made an assertion in a high-profile newspaper. Can you please substantiate it or qualify it or withdraw it?

3. The pattern of criticisms of Richard

I wrote that the following pattern exists, and that your article is an example of it:

“Some people place the most uncharitable meaning they can on a comment by Richard, or else exaggerate it out of proportion to reasonable debate, and continue to do so even after he clarifies what he meant. Then, instead of correcting these false allegations, some people either ignore the clarification or else blame Richard further for allowing himself and/or atheism to be misrepresented. These misrepresentations eventually leak into the mainstream media, forming a loop of self-confirmations of inaccuracies.”

You have now responded:

“#3. No, I don’t agree that this pattern exists. I certainly agree that there are some people who’ll put the most uncharitable meaning on any statement that Dawkins makes; I’ve defended him from such unwarranted attacks in the past. But I can no longer do so in good conscience. Over the past several years, my esteem for him has been steadily slipping in response to one embarrassing, offensive or ill-phrased remark after another. I tried to defend him as long as I could, but after this latest round of remarks, I can no longer accept that these are all innocent misstatements.”

Adam, I am puzzled by your response here. You say that you don’t believe that the pattern exists, then you say that you have defended Richard from examples of the first part of the pattern. So you at least believe that the first part of the pattern exists.

Then you say that you can no longer defend Richard in good conscience, and hence you have written this article. But what you have just described is your participation in precisely the pattern that I have said exists, and that you have said does not exist.

You even end the above post with the final part of the pattern, when you write:

“I wish that Dawkins would pay more mind to this before blurting out things which cast him, and by implication all atheists, in a poor light.”

So you have now given your justification for taking part in the pattern that I described, but I suggest that as a matter of fact the pattern does exist, despite your denial that it does.

4. Snarling about feminists being shrill harridans

You wrote in the Guardian article that:

“On Twitter these last few days, Dawkins has reverted to his old, sexist ways and then some. He’s been very busy snarling about how feminists are shrill harridans who just want an excuse to take offence.”

I responded by asking you can you please show me where Richard has been very busy snarling about how feminists are shrill harridans?

You have now responded:

#4. This statement was a synthesis of the overall effect conveyed by his words, not a specific quotation or paraphrase. It’s meant to convey that he’s falling back on the same wearisome, belittling style of attack that feminist women are all too familiar with.

Adam, you now seem to be accepting that it was inaccurate for you to write that Richard has been very busy snarling about how feminists are shrill harridans. Can you please confirm this?

You now say that it was meant to convey something other than what it means, but you don’t explain why you think readers would know this. Indeed, why on earth would they believe that you meant to convey something other than what you have written?

By the way, even if we grant what you now say you intended to convey (which is that Richard is “falling back on the same wearisome, belittling style of attack that feminist women are all too familiar with”), your article does not give any evidence that is true.

But what is important for now is that you seem to be accepting that it was inaccurate for you to write that Richard has been very busy snarling about how feminists are shrill harridans.

5. What you wrote about drinking and testimony

You have chosen to address this last, so it has been moved to the end of this post.

6. Hostility to people with certain views

You wrote in the Guardian article that:

“Dawkins’s very public hostility toward the people who emphasise the importance of diversity, who want to make the community broader and more welcoming, and who oppose sexual harassment and sexist language, is harming the cause he himself claims to care about.”

I responded that this was misleading. I said that I and my colleagues in Atheist Ireland are among the people who emphasise the importance of diversity, who want to make the community broader and more welcoming, and who oppose sexual harassment and sexist language. And Richard is not hostile to us. So if Richard is hostile to some other people who share the above beliefs, it must be because of an additional reason.

You have now responded:

“#6. Permit me to suggest that the reason Richard Dawkins isn’t hostile to you is that, as far as I know, you’ve been scrupulously careful to never criticize him in any but the gentlest and most diplomatic terms possible.”

I will certainly permit you to suggest that, if you will permit me to suggest the corollary: that the reason that Richard is hostile to some other people may be that they publicly smear him with defamatory allegations, 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.

And I note that you are acknowledging that Richard is not hostile to Atheist Ireland, despite the fact that we are among the people who emphasise the importance of diversity, who want to make the community broader and more welcoming, and who oppose sexual harassment and sexist language. So you are accepting that this is not his reason for being hostile to people. But your original claim was that this was the reason.

So you seem to be accepting that your original claim in the Guardian article is inaccurate. Can you please confirm this?

7. White roots of the atheist movement

You wrote in the Guardian article that:

“If the atheist movement is going to thrive and make a difference in our society, it needs to grow beyond its largely older, largely male, largely white roots.”

I responded that this is a parochial attitude. The atheist movement is global. In most parts of the world, its roots are not white. I believe it needs to be more diverse within individual societies, but the article refers to ‘our’ society as if the atheist movement is a mostly American movement.

You have now responded:

“#7. The reference to “our” society, I believe, makes it clear that this statement was meant to apply to the atheist movement as it exists in the English-speaking West (the presumed audience of an article in the Guardian), not all atheists everywhere.”

Well, this goes back to my original point, about the difference between ‘the’ atheist movement and what you describe here as ‘the atheist movement as it exists in the English-speaking West.’

If you are talking about unconscious biases that you believe exist in the minds of atheists in the English-speaking West, then surely one of those very biases is that ‘the’ atheist movement can be fairly discussed in the context of the English-speaking west?

8. Sam Harris and sexism

You wrote in the Guardian article that:

“Then another prominent male atheist, Sam Harris, crammed his foot in his mouth and said that atheist activism lacks an “estrogen vibe” and was “to some degree intrinsically male”. And, just like that, the brief Dawkins Spring was over.”

I responded that this is misleading, as it uses selective extracts from an off-the-cuff remark by Sam, without reference to the subsequent considered clarification of those remarks.

You have now responded:

“#8. I disagree that these are selective extracts or that Harris’ subsequent clarification improved matters. Indeed, Harris arguably made the situation worse by admitting that he’s never given more than a few minutes’ thought to why his audience might have a gender imbalance or what he can or should do about that. Yet he went on to offer some reductive, gender-essentialist speculations despite his self-confessed lack of relevant knowledge.”

Well, they are clearly selective extracts, and simply saying that you disagree that this is the case doesn’t change the reality.

And you can legitimately disagree with Sam’s analysis of these issues, but I repeat that it is simply untrue to imply that he is sexist on the basis of the original off-the-cuff answer to a question in an interview about a book on a different topic.

9. Atheist women who disagree with your analysis

You wrote in the Guardian article that:

“It’s not just women who are outraged by Dawkins these days…”

I quoted Atheist Ireland’s founding Secretary Grania Spingies, who strongly disagree with your analysis, and I asked you if you accept that there are atheist women who disagree with your analysis? Why did you not refer to that fact in your article, given that you made a point of writing that “It’s not just women who are outraged by Dawkins these days”?

You have now responded:

“#9. I never stated or implied that all women agree with me, so this isn’t a misrepresentation. I don’t know Grania Spingies or what her views may be beyond what you quoted, but in general, there are anti-feminist women just as there are feminist men. I maintain that tailoring our message to their liking will not increase diversity, remedy our gender imbalance problem, or help the atheist movement to thrive in the long run.”

And I never said that you stated or implied that all women agree with you. The ordinary meaning of your statement is that, before ‘these days’ women were outraged by Richard, and now ‘these days’ men are as well. Even blurring the some/all distinctions, that is not accurate.

When I asked you why did you not refer to the fact that there are atheist women who disagree with your analysis, you responded that in general there are anti-feminist women just as there are pro-feminuist men.

But you are conflating ‘feminists’ with ‘people who agree with your analysis.’ Have you considered that there may be feminists who disagree with your analysis?

5(a) What you wrote about drinking and testimony

You have chosen to address this last, and in most detail, and you have described it as the heart of the matter.

You wrote in the Guardian article that:

“For good measure, Dawkins argued that rape victims shouldn’t be considered trustworthy if they were drinking.”

I responded that this assertion linked to a tweet in which Richard had written: “If you want to drive, don’t get drunk. If you want to be in a position to testify & jail a man, don’t get drunk.” I noted that you had rephrased ‘don’t get drunk’ into ‘if they were drinking’.

You have now responded:

“First of all: I deny that there’s any meaningful difference between “drinking” and “getting drunk”. That’s semantic hair-splitting, nothing more.”

Adam, I disagree with you about this. There is an enormous difference between “drinking” and “getting drunk”.

  • “Drinking” could mean having a glass of wine with a meal. Moderate drinking keeps your blood alcohol concentration below a certain level.
  • “Getting drunk” means you have passed a certain level of intoxication, typically losing some control of your faculties or behaviour.

Here are two offers that illustrate the difference:

  • Adam, would you like a drink?
  • Adam, would you like to get drunk?

Would you treat the difference between these two offers as semantic hair-splitting?

5(b) What Richard wrote about drinking and testimony

I cited other tweets that Richard had made about this issue, and I wrote that, in context, what Richard was saying (as well as ‘Don’t EVER rape anyone, drunk or sober’) is that the testimony of someone who cannot remember what has happened, and where there is no other evidence, is not trustworthy. That is clearly a self-evident fact.

You have now responded:

“Second: your argument is that Dawkins should be understood to be saying, “If you don’t remember being raped and if there’s also no other evidence you’ve been raped, don’t bring charges of rape.” Do you honestly think anyone is disputing this?”

Let’s just pause here before we go on to your next point. This is significant.

I assume that you mean by this that you are not disputing that this is what Richard should be understood to be saying.

If so, then everything from now on in your analysis, that contradicts that understanding, is not based on what Richard has written, but on speculation happening in your imagination.

5(c) What you imagine Richard intended to convey

You then engage in detailed speculation about why you believe Richard was trying to convey a message that a specific person (who you name, and I won’t) should be considered an untrustworthy witness in a specific allegation of rape (which you give details of, and I won’t) against another specific person (who you name, and I won’t).

Adam, you may or may not be correct or mistaken about any of this, but you are relying on speculation of what somebody else is thinking, constructed in your own imagination, to justify publishing a negative characterisation of Richard in a reputable newspaper.

That is bad enough with regard to your speculation about what Richard is thinking, but it is even worse with regard to speculation about the alleged rape that you allude to.

Speculation about that alleged rape is happening on various websites at the moment, and I decline to participate in it. The intimate details of traumatic moments in the lives of real people are being treated as fodder for amateur detective work about what real people did or didn’t do and why they did or didn’t do so.

This is a large part of the reason why I believe that allegations of rape should be reported to the police, not to bloggers. It is not only because of the justice of presuming people innocent of serious crimes until proven guilty, but also to help protect victims of rape from being permanently defined online by salacious speculation about what they have been through.

5(d) What you say about Richard’s tweets

You now say in your response:

“But the tweet I linked to in my essay goes beyond even this. He directly compares the level of intoxication that makes a person’s testimony unreliable to the level of intoxication that makes driving inadvisable. He speaks of those two things as if they’re equivalent. You’ll agree, I hope, that intoxicated people become unable to drive safely well below the level that would cause memory loss.”

Again, Adam, you are taking a single tweet as a standalone thesis, as opposed to reading it in the context of previous and subsequent tweets. That is like taking a single sentence out of a conversation, and using that as the basis of a newspaper article. (Remember, you are saying that this issue goes to the heart of your thesis.)

And as you yourself have just said in this response:

“Second: your argument is that Dawkins should be understood to be saying, “If you don’t remember being raped and if there’s also no other evidence you’ve been raped, don’t bring charges of rape.” Do you honestly think anyone is disputing this?”

5(e) What you say about Richard’s tweets

You now say in your response:

“Regarding the New Statesman article you referenced and Dawkins’ subsequent comments on it: first, that was published after my Guardian article, first, so it seems a little unfair to accuse me of not taking it into account. Second, what this shows is that, if I interpreted Dawkins’ comments on drinking and rape incorrectly, then other people made the same misinterpretation, including a rape victim.”

Yes, that is a fair comment with regard to two of the tweets that I cited (that they were tweeted after your article was published). But there were others tweeted before your article that convey essentially the same message.

And the fact that, if you were mistaken, other people made the same misinterpretation as you, including a rape victim, could illustrate the harm caused by misinterpretations such as yours being published. If people read only repeated publication of the mistake, then the mistake will spread and be republished again. And that republishing will then be used to justify the original mistake, in a loop of self-justification.

5(f) “Don’t ever rape anyone”

You also say near the end of your response:

“Yes, yes, of course Dawkins also said “don’t ever rape anyone” – as if anyone who wanted to be taken seriously would ever do otherwise.”

Adam, this includes a very harmful implication that Richard may be saying ‘Don’t ever rape anyone’ because he would not be taken seriously otherwise. That implication is strengthened by your previous paragraphs, in which you speculate that Richard may have hidden motives for believing or disbelieving assertions made by people who say they have been raped.

Have you considered the possibility that Richard is saying that because he wants to tell people to never rape anyone, just as I assume you want to tell people never to rape anyone?

Summary

Adam, thank you again for your second response to my posts about the inaccuracies and misrepresentations in your Guardian article.

In my opinion, your response seems to implicitly accept that your Guardian article included some inaccuracies and misrepresentations, though I acknowledge that you reject this analysis and that you stand by what you wrote in the article.

Can you please read through my reasons for suggesting this, and see if you change your mind about it?

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{ 76 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jan Steen September 24, 2014 at 7:08 pm

Michael wrote:

I also want to add another example of misrepresentation which I did not notice when writing my first post, but which several commenters have highlighted.

I believe I was the only commenter pointing this out (more then once), but thanks for picking it up. Expect either deafening silence or mental contortionism that will make Houdini look like an amateur.

2 Jan Steen September 24, 2014 at 7:10 pm

More *than* once, even.

3 Michael Nugent September 24, 2014 at 7:12 pm

Thanks, Jan.

Maybe I thought several commenters had said it because you had repeatedly said it :)

4 Luke Byrne September 24, 2014 at 7:27 pm

I’ve been tacitly following this argument about Richard Dawkins since it kicked off.

To my dismay I discovered all of the other arguments going on between bloggers – including a very serious, flippant defamation against someone about whom I’d never heard.

The piece even included a comment such that the author did not have any evidence for the claim he was making!

In fact, libels have been thrown all around the place with reckless abandon.

I think Richard would have a very strong defamation case against the Guardian if he decided to go down that route.

“For good measure, Dawkins argued that rape victims shouldn’t be considered trustworthy if they were drinking” – that sentence alone would be worth serious money in Ireland.

Being a rape victim is a matter of fact, you are a rape victim or you are not.

Richard was writing about the legal process of convicting a person of rape and determining the circumstances surrounding an event.

This is the process by which you determine IF someone is a rape victim.

The Guardian interpretation of his comment stretched way beyond fair comment and would certainly belittle Richard in the eyes of a reasonable person.

The paper attributed as a fact to Richard a view he doesn’t hold – a view that is disgraceful.

I don’t understand why seemingly reasonable people can’t just deal with points that others make, rather than speculating on why they have said it.

For what it’s worth, you seem to have been fair and reasonable throughout, but I don’t know why you got involved.

5 tina September 24, 2014 at 7:29 pm

Oh well…if Richard ever has a bad hair day…just saying

http://adamleehairandbeauty.co.uk/

6 john welch September 24, 2014 at 7:45 pm

Michael, I think you’ve illustrated something that’s rather infuriating.

Adam, (in this case, but he’s hardly flying solo here) makes an absolutist statement like:

If the atheist movement is going to thrive and make a difference in our society, it needs to grow beyond its largely older, largely male, largely white roots.

You point out that this is primarily a problem in the US, and that once you stop assuming the US is the center of everything, you find that are a lot of people around the world who aren’t old white men, and the atheist “movement” (as it exists) is actually doing fine. (well, not in places where they execute you for being an atheist.)

Adam then backpedals with:

“#7. The reference to “our” society, I believe, makes it clear that this statement was meant to apply to the atheist movement as it exists in the English-speaking West (the presumed audience of an article in the Guardian), not all atheists everywhere.”

as if you were somehow thick to not get that. Well, it’s not obvious. I don’t know what the scope he’s referring to is, he hasn’t told me. Or anyone. As well, there’s this internet thing. I don’t live in England or the UK, yet I do read the Guardian along with other non-US news sources. So no, that “assumption” doesn’t hold, nor has it, really, since the start of this century.

But even now, he’s still overgeneralizing. Is this “issue” really a huge problem in Scotland? NI? Ireland Proper? Given the high-level of English fluency in at least Western Europe, and probably the rest of Europe as well, “the English-speaking West” covers rather a lot of countries.

I’m sure if you point that out, he’ll further reparse it to mean OBVIOUSLY just the UK. I’m sure that if you prodded hard enough, he’d restrict it to that bit of sidewalk across from the Royal Palace, where the tourists like to stand and take pictures of the guards.

When you press them on their actual words, they redefine them to mean something less inconvenient, or they play “don’t be so LITERAL” games. If you aren’t literal, then they play “SHOW ME WHERE I SAID THOSE WORDS” and switch between both until you realize what’s going on and walk away, at which point, they claim “victory”.

How can you even begin to have a ‘discussion’, (a real one as opposed to trading accusations like so many cannonballs) when you can’t even get them to write what they actually mean the first time? or the fifth time?

7 A Hermit September 24, 2014 at 7:47 pm

However legitimately angry you were about harassment, you misdirected that anger at Richard, who opposes harassment.

Well he pays lip service to opposing harassment, but he seems to get very upset and dismissive when other people actually talk about it…that;’s the problem.

8 tina September 24, 2014 at 7:51 pm

Well, I suggest that’s because you are totally determined to believe that he supports harassment (however you’re defining that).

9 tina September 24, 2014 at 7:55 pm

Mr Lee’s responses strike me as very hand wavey and shallow alongside lots of logical inconsistency. Ooops.

10 Steve Bowen September 24, 2014 at 7:56 pm

Oh FFS! Stop digging ….

11 Jan Steen September 24, 2014 at 8:00 pm

@Michael,

Maybe I thought several commenters had said it because you had repeatedly said it :)

That’s what I assumed. Thanks for the hospitality, by the way.

12 JetLagg September 24, 2014 at 8:03 pm

Tina is spot on. As Nugent points out, Dawkins hostile reactions aren’t universally applied to those who support feminist values, therefore the hostility must be driven by something else. Could it be that he’s unfairly described by many as a rape apologist? I think so.

13 piero September 24, 2014 at 8:39 pm

@john welch:

“the English-speaking West” covers rather a lot of countries.

Italy here!

14 tina September 24, 2014 at 8:42 pm

It is disappointing that the Guardian accepts so much yellow journalism these days.

15 piero September 24, 2014 at 8:42 pm

@john welch:

he’d restrict it to that bit of sidewalk across from the Royal Palace

Ahem… pavement, john, pavement!

16 IDK September 24, 2014 at 8:43 pm

Michael,

I know you’re still focused on the misrepresentations in the Guardian article itself, but Lee slips a few fresh misrepresentations of Sam Harris in his latest response. (Fresh from him, at least, although P.Z. Myers has already gotten them out there.)

He characterizes Harris’ conjecture about reasons for the demographics of his audience as “gender-essentialist”. In three different paragraphs in his clarification, Sam states and re-states that he is talking about statistical differences between groups, and clearly emphasizes that some of these are the result of socialization rather than biology. Correlations are not defining essences–no “essentialism” here.

He also seizes on Harris’ caveat that he hasn’t devoted extensive thought about how to change the demographics of his audience, and spins it as a general admission of ignorance about gender.

In the end, he approaches very close to this parody:
https://twitter.com/Yorgo_V/status/513438628261818369/photo/1

It’s funny, but it’s also a surprisingly useful way to look at what exactly has to be removed from a statement to arrive at a critic’s misinterpretation.

17 piero September 24, 2014 at 8:46 pm

@Michael:

I must admit I’m starting to feel unconfortable. Adam Lee’s contortions are painful to watch. I think Steve Bowen’s comment is motivated by a similar feeling.

18 Steersman September 24, 2014 at 8:48 pm

Another great post Michael. You are to be commended for your thoroughness, tenacity, and fairness – not to mention the massive amounts of patience you’ve shown that would put Job himself to shame. 😉

But while I haven’t had a chance to read all of this post – nor, regrettably, much of the rather voluminous “he said, she said” on the matter (much of which is, I think, missing the point) – I want to comment on your point #8, “Sam Harris & sexism” as I think it speaks to the crux of the “Great Rift” (coming soon to a country near you). More specifically, you quoted Lee saying this:

… why [Harris’] audience might have a gender imbalance or what he can or should do about that. Yet he went on to offer some reductive, gender-essentialist speculations ….

But that seems to betray an insistence that there are NO genetically determined differences between men and women – “in general”. Which the facts rather clearly refute – as both Harris & Pinker have taken pains to do (both of whom utilize an analogy with heights to some effect). Lee seems to want to deny those differences – in general – as if acknowledging them somehow means that one is insisting that all men are better than all women on any particular “axis”. As Skep tickle more succinctly put it:

… “equality” is somehow supposed to mean “no differences” & describing differences is taken as [prescribing] them.

Lee, along with many others including the usual suspects, really seems unclear on the concept of the statistical differences between individuals and groups and the consequences of sampling. And too obstinate, if not egregiously pigheaded, to even be willing to consider an alternate perspective.

19 Guestus Aurelius September 24, 2014 at 8:50 pm

You wrote in the Guardian article that:

“For good measure, Dawkins argued that rape victims shouldn’t be considered trustworthy if they were drinking.”

I responded that this assertion linked to a tweet in which Richard had written: “If you want to drive, don’t get drunk. If you want to be in a position to testify & jail a man, don’t get drunk.” I noted that you had rephrased ‘don’t get drunk’ into ‘if they were drinking’.

You have now responded:

“First of all: I deny that there’s any meaningful difference between “drinking” and “getting drunk”. That’s semantic hair-splitting, nothing more.”

There’s some further subtle equivocation going on here.

Richard Dawkins originally said “don’t get drunk.”

In Adam Lee’s most recent response, he compared “[if they were] drinking” not with Dawkins’s “don’t get drunk,” but rather with “getting drunk.”

The change of tense isn’t just a grammatical issue. It has semantic consequences that aren’t mere “hair-splitting” in the context of this discussion.

Dawkins’s imperative “don’t get drunk” refers specifically to a state to be avoided. And what state is that? This ain’t rocket science:

-“affected by alcohol to the extent of losing control of one’s faculties or behavior” (New Oxford American Dictionary, 3rd edition);

-having “drunk intoxicating liquor to an extent which affects steady self-control; intoxicated, inebriated; overcome by alcoholic liquor” (Oxford English Dictionary [unabridged], definition 1a);

-“intoxicated with alcoholic liquor to the point of impairment of physical and mental faculties” (American Heritage Dictionary, 5th edition, definition 1a);

-or “having the faculties impaired by alcohol” (Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate, definition 1a).

(And that’s before we even consider that Dawkins’s follow-up tweets clarified that he was talking about particularly severe drunkenness that results in memory loss.)

Lee’s “getting drunk,” however, conjures up the process by which one becomes drunk. Even granting that there’s room for context-dependent semantic ambiguity here (is “getting” a gerund? or is it a verb in the present progressive?), Lee has stripped Dawkins’s original imperative of its unmistakable focus on a state and replaced it with a focus on a process.

Yes, it’s subtle, but the difference is real.

20 Guestus Aurelius September 24, 2014 at 9:05 pm

I realize that I didn’t say this explicitly, so just to make my main point crystal clear:

By shifting focus from a state to a process, Lee inches Dawkins’s statement closer to Lee’s own “if they were drinking.” (As Nugent points out, it’s still not close enough.)

I bet I’m not the only one who noticed this extra bit of intellectual dishonesty.

21 jacquescuze September 24, 2014 at 9:06 pm

@john welch

Good to see you around.

22 piero September 24, 2014 at 9:32 pm

@steersman:

…as if acknowledging them somehow means that one is insisting that all men are better than all women on any particular “axis”

Exactly. And, I would add, to betray some assumptions that need to be challenged but are not. For example, implicit in the criticism is the idea that “stronger” or “prone to conflict” are “good” things. In other words, I find it perplexing that some feminist critics don’t question their own prejudices even when they are clearly informed by men-oriented values.

When a woman becomes the CEO of a multinational bank, I feel sorry for those who would hail this as a triumph of feminism: what’s to be happy about? It just shows that women have absorbed the prevalent ideology to the extent of being indistinguishable from men, in the same way as a turd looks pretty much the same as another turd.

23 piero September 24, 2014 at 9:37 pm

@Guestus:

Yes, it’s subtle, but the difference is real

I agree. “Getting drunk” makes it easier to give the impression that Dawkins objects to women drinking, precisely because the construction is more flexible. It also allows for backtracking without loss of face, though at this point that hardly matters anymore. By the way, has anybody found Adam’s face yet?

24 Guestus Aurelius September 24, 2014 at 9:56 pm

“Second: your argument is that Dawkins should be understood to be saying, “If you don’t remember being raped and if there’s also no other evidence you’ve been raped, don’t bring charges of rape.” Do you honestly think anyone is disputing this?”

Let’s just pause here before we go on to your next point. This is significant.

I assume that you mean by this that you are not disputing that this is what Richard should be understood to be saying.

I thought Lee was saying that nobody would dispute that “If you don’t remember being raped and if there’s also no other evidence you’ve been raped, don’t bring charges of rape.”

25 JetLagg September 24, 2014 at 9:57 pm

@Guestus

That tweet is brilliant, perfectly illustrating a frustration I’m sure many of us share. I know you aren’t the author, but thank you for bringing it to my attention.

26 JetLagg September 24, 2014 at 10:00 pm

“I thought Lee was saying that nobody would dispute that “If you don’t remember being raped and if there’s also no other evidence you’ve been raped, don’t bring charges of rape.”

That was my interpretation as well.

27 tina September 24, 2014 at 10:43 pm

Lee – Michael“Whether you intended it or not, you’re saying that you’ve taken it upon yourself to decide which issues are or aren’t worthy of our attention.

As in…’we really ought to be talking about some colourful people and not wasting our time on suicidal white celebrities.’

That sort of thing?

28 Shatterface September 25, 2014 at 12:34 am

Lee: #2. I decline to recount the history of this controversy up until now, as it would require a far greater effort than I’ve already put into this.

Trans: I can’t be arsed backing up my claim.

Lee: If you doubt that these claims are true, I invite you to do your own research into them.

Trans: Do my research for me.

29 Steersman September 25, 2014 at 12:38 am

Tina @ 27:

… colourful people and not wasting our time on suicidal white celebrities …

LoL :-) Ok when “they do it“. 😉

Though one might argue we can’t really fault Lee for the failings of PZ. However, there’s probably a better case for leveling a charge of hypocrisy against those who support that argument of Lee’s, and who supported PZ in an argument that is essentially the obverse of Lee’s.

30 Shatterface September 25, 2014 at 12:43 am

“#1. By “wracked”, I meant that this has been a major issue causing significant disagreement and division within the atheist community, not necessarily that every atheist organization in every country in the world is directly involved with it. I think a commonsense reading would tell you that.”

That’s just fucking dishonest. The Guardian is a British newspaper so when he says ‘the atheist movement’ there’s no way the readership is going to guess he’s referring to a small group of North Americans and not a worldwide movement to whom the parochial disputes of a clique of rage bloggers is largely irrelevant.

31 Crackity Jones September 25, 2014 at 12:46 am

Hermit Boy:

Well he pays lip service to opposing harassment, but he seems to get very upset and dismissive when other people actually talk about it…that;’s the problem.

I find a similar problem with people when I mention “Ogvorbis”. The FTBullies suddenly get VERY defensive. The issue at hand there is far more serious than harassment.

32 Shatterface September 25, 2014 at 12:50 am

“#3. No, I don’t agree that this pattern exists. I certainly agree that there are some people who’ll put the most uncharitable meaning on any statement that Dawkins makes; I’ve defended him from such unwarranted attacks in the past. But I can no longer do so in good conscience. Over the past several years, my esteem for him has been steadily slipping in response to one embarrassing, offensive or ill-phrased remark after another. I tried to defend him as long as I could, but after this latest round of remarks, I can no longer accept that these are all innocent misstatements.”

Can anyone check if Lee has removed Dawkins’ endorsements down from his blog?

It’s hypocritical to call Dawkins a racist rapist/paedo apologist while boasting that Dawkins cited Lee’s essay in The God Delusion.

Lee might as well brag about having a Jim’ll Fix It badge.

33 Shatterface September 25, 2014 at 12:56 am

I find a similar problem with people when I mention “Ogvorbis”. The FTBullies suddenly get VERY defensive. The issue at hand there is far more serious than harassment.

You have to remember that FTB is a cult these days and entirely welcoming of sinners so long as they confess and repent. Forget the high recidivism rate among paedophiles, Oggie has seen the light and is welcome to babysit their children.

And if a regular commentator admits to sexually assaulting her younger brother in order to teach him a valuable lesson about rape that’s fine too because how would he learn otherwise?

34 Shatterface September 25, 2014 at 1:03 am

I must admit I’m starting to feel unconfortable. Adam Lee’s contortions are painful to watch. I think Steve Bowen’s comment is motivated by a similar feeling.

It has the horrid fascination of watching a shrike impaling a wasp on a barbed-wire fence, only funnier.

35 Shatterface September 25, 2014 at 1:11 am

john welsh: I’m sure if you point that out, he’ll further reparse it to mean OBVIOUSLY just the UK. I’m sure that if you prodded hard enough, he’d restrict it to that bit of sidewalk across from the Royal Palace, where the tourists like to stand and take pictures of the guards.

Except it isn’t the UK. This is almost all coming from the USA.

36 Shatterface September 25, 2014 at 1:21 am

Michael: This is a large part of the reason why I believe that allegations of rape should be reported to the police, not to bloggers. It is not only because of the justice of presuming people innocent of serious crimes until proven guilty, but also to help protect victims of rape from being permanently defined online by salacious speculation about what they have been through.

Current advice at Free Thought Blogs is that women should NOT report rape to the police.

I shit you not:

http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2014/09/guest-post-the-whole-thing-shredded-her/

37 Steersman September 25, 2014 at 1:29 am

Shatterface @32:

It’s hypocritical to call Dawkins a racist rapist/paedo apologist while boasting that Dawkins cited Lee’s essay in The God Delusion.

Don’t see that that follows in the slightest. I figure Lee is guilty of some egregious misrepresentations, and is too pigheaded to be willing to deal seriously with objections to them. But I don’t see how that precludes him appreciating a “hat-tip” from Dawkins, particularly the supposedly “kinder, gentler, less misognynistic” earlier version. You might note this quote of Abraham Lincoln:

“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.”

I disagree with Lee’s apparent conclusion that Dawkins has “gone (seriously) wrong” – particularly on the definition of sexism. But I support Lee’s right to take that course of action – and to accept the consequences.

38 JetLagg September 25, 2014 at 2:28 am

Current advice at Free Thought Blogs is that women should NOT report rape to the police.

That’s been the running narrative for a while now.

I believe this is a seriously dangerous thing to be teaching people, and it’s among my criticisms of those on the “other side” of the schism.

39 ZenGuard September 25, 2014 at 3:04 am

Michael, in item #10 above, you make this statement:

“Imagine the casual reader of the Guardian, who has probably heard about Richard and knows that he is a prominent atheist, but may have never heard him speak or read anything that he has written.

They read your article, in which you describe him as snarling, accusing, roaring, scoffing, arguing and sneering, including being very busy snarling about how feminists are shrill harridans (the latter claim which you now seem to have withdrawn by saying that you meant to convey something else).

Adam, what overall impression do you think your article conveyed about Richard the person, as distinct from your criticisms of his opinions? Do you think it is an accurate and fair impression?”

There is no need for me to go into the rest of your detailed and continuing point by point dissection of Mr. Lee’s original ‘article’ or his slippery responses. The answer to your question above is all that is needed, as all else follows. Given the obvious thoroughness in your analysis of Adam Lee’s original hit piece in the Guardian and noting his continued failure to respond in any meaningful way to your incisive questions, as well as others on other places, I suspect you know the real answer to your inquiry I copied above. You may be too polite to say it, or perhaps you are hoping for a revelatory moment from Mr. Lee – which will almost certainly not be forthcoming, so I will say it here:

To repeat for clarity: “Do you think it is an accurate and fair impression?”

Of course not! Accuracy and fairness is not the purpose behind Mr. Lee’s slanderous attack piece. It’s sole purpose and intent is to damage Dawkins’ reputation and garner Mr. Lee attention. Accuracy and fairness play no part in this game, it never has in attack style journalism. Adam Lee has chained himself firmly to the FtB cult and has become an acolyte, an active participant and enthusiastic supporter of their hate filled attack blogs. They MUST attack the prominent names, as it is the only vehicle that gets them noticed and the attendant blog hits and desired attention.

If you check his tweets, you can see that Mr. Lee invites Mr. Dawkins’ to an ‘open debate in the forum of his choice’. This isn’t about a debate, so much as a platform for Mr. Lee to gain exposure by piggybacking Richard Dawkins’ popularity so Mr. Lee can become a ‘name’ himself. If Mr. Dawkins’ and the atheist/skeptic cause get damaged in the process, well what’s a little collateral damage if Mr. Lee gets the desired effect? This is the FtB model and Mr. Lee has grabbed it with both claws and run with it.

Hopefully the very nearly universal pushback the ‘article’ has been receiving will be a wakeup call about the abject failure of their approach. One can only hope, but I won’t be holding my breath.

Once again, Michael, thank you for your patience and fairness through this process. Your seemingly endless patience is truly a wonder.

40 Blueshift Rhino September 25, 2014 at 3:37 am

@JetLagg #38 –

That the SJL is teaching folks not to report rapes is bad, but much worse is their teaching that – because only the rapist is responsible for the rape – there is nothing that one can or should do to avoid being raped. That’s beyond irresponsible. And I can’t help but sometimes wonder if this terrible advice is being given on purpose.

41 Vaal September 25, 2014 at 4:39 am

Michael’s writing is new to me. I have found his posts to be nuanced and thoughtful, while some of his critics…not so much. And it’s really disheartening, frankly.

I saw the response at Butterflies and Wheels, and the first thing that hit me in Ophelia’s response was that she started with this:

“Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland has yet another very long post chiding US bloggers for daring to criticize the important atheist Leaders. “

(My emphasis)

I really dislike this type of lazy, strawmaning of a position, and having encountered one too many instances of mischaracterizations in her recent blog posts, I commented about my disappointment:

http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2014/09/one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other-3/

Her terse reply it seemed to me just ignored the content of my objection: that it doesn’t show good faith to begin by strawmanning someone’s position.

Then I saw her reply to this post of Michael’s:

http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2014/09/whom-you-name-and-he-wont/

In which, replying to Michael’s suggestion that rape allegations are better reported to the police than to bloggers, where people’s names get dragged through the public mud, Ophelia replied:

“I hate “the atheist movement.” If this is what it is, I hate it and want nothing to do with it. If it’s going to act like a mirror image of the fucking Vatican, I want nothing to do with it.”

So….Michael makes a comment that clearly suggests to me the sentiment of hoping for the maximal justice and the minimum damage to innocent people…and Ophelia equates it to the sinister methods of the Vatican covering up sex crimes.

I found this an astonishing and I submitted a comment to the effect, outlining the obvious differences and how inapt, and egregious, her comparison was. I examined the reasoning Michael used and the motivations they suggested, and how utterly in contrast they are with the criminal approach of the Vatican.

This was quite a while ago and my comment seems to have entered an extremely long state of moderation. (Unless I did something wrong). I hope it shows up. I don’t know if my posts are possibly now being rejected; I’m not familiar with the moderating style of that site. Hopefully the post shows up by tomorrow.

Anyway, it’s very sad to visit such blogs devoted to women’s rights, something I (a male) support whole heartedly. I also think it’s obviously a good thing to uncover and point out sexism especially when it may be going unnoticed. This may indeed be happening in the upper echelon (and elsewhere) of the New Atheist movement. But, for goodness sake, the last thing you want to do is go about it in a way that undermines your credibility and your goal!
For instance, there are a number of posts, and many comments, being made on Ophelia’s blog about how blind the “white male atheist leaders” have been to how UNWELCOME they have made women.

And yet, on this same blog one of today’s posts is this:

http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2014/09/sometimes-you-need-this/

Which comes from this website:

http://theemperorsnewcottongrannypants.tumblr.com/

A sample of the artwork, titles like “Men Are A Plague” on a radioactive pattern, “Sisters Before Misters,” a “raging” man in an envelope titles “You’ve Got Hate MALE…”, etc.

So the site rages against all the subtle and not so subtle women are made to feel unwelcome in a cause (atheism), yet while wishing men to be part of their cause, they see no problem in having THIS type of stuff greeting us?

It is sinking in that I need to search out other feminist sites that take a more even-handed and less obviously hypocritical approach.
That includes not only the wider topic of women’s (and other social) issues, but I’m also open to finding good arguments that Dawkins and Harris are as egregiously sexist as some say.

Since, no, I don’t think for a moment “every feminist site” is going to be the same, and I’m sure there are some great ones out there I’m unaware of, if anyone has suggestions for feminist blogs, I’d like to know. I may indeed be missing out on something. Thanks.

Vaal

42 Aneris ✻ September 25, 2014 at 5:03 am

Thank you Michael Nugent! I think it is exactly right that somebody starts to deal with this and opens the various can of worms and if it requires 23 articles. Leaving this alone is as dangerous as leaving religions alone. It only grows and becomes an even bigger problem. Apologies for the wall of text again. Is there a brief way to address years long disputes where nearly every item has an alternate reality twin?

✻ ✻ ✻

One of the central claims in Adam Lee’s writing is that Richard Dawkins became increasingly indefensible up to where he crossed the moral event horizon. This story doesn’t glue well with reality. At all.

Richard Dawkins became a persona non grata in the community of PZ Myers and Rebecca Watson (“Social Justice League” to have some name) in the instant he didn’t side with them during the “Elevatorgate” controversies. Everything else more or less follows from it.

It is also not exactly arcane knowledge: They themselves have declared that one is either “with them or against them”, which is once more supported by just looking at their “safe space” concept that places the most importance on solidarity – this in turn creates another rupture with traditional “discussion board” community structures. If the pursuit of truth strains that solidarity in these “safe spaces” it is declared “hyperskepticism” – that too isn’t something vile detractors such as myself have dreamed up, it is in their own rulebook.

After Richard left his “infamous” Dear Muslima comment, Rebecca Watson declared a boycott of all things Dawkins out of spite. He violated the solidarity expectations. I only learned abou it later, yet to me it seems it wasn’t so much his commentary itself, but about the whole cloud of feuds that already surrounded the Elevatorgate incident. When he wasn’t siding with Ms Watson and the Social Justice League, he assigned himself to their detractors.

PZ Myers didn’t exactly plan for this and undoubtedly admired Richard Dawkins, but was now surrounded by a horde that urged him forward. Solidarity took care of that. PZ Myers was duped into it and thus reacted with straight denial. He claimed the boycott didn’t happen and that the evil misogynists only made it up to make his side look bad. He was of course mistaken, and not the first time, but that became irrelevant over time. There are some later rather comical instances where he pretends that the Dawkins-Hatred from his commentariat wasn’t that bad, but he was quickly told off. Richard Dawkins to the best of my knowledge refused to comment further on this whole Elevatorgate affair or on the SkepChicks.

Meanwhile PZ Myers and Rebecca Watson had tremendous success, and grew their networks further. This is often overlooked as social justice warriors love to pretend they are a small minority against evil oppressors who are about crush them at any moment. Panels on conferences for example could be all members of their flock or closer allies. They also have excellent media connections and not since yesterday. Kimberly Winston, Amanda Marcotte or Mr Lee are just recent examples. Let’s not forget that PZ Myers is 10th of the “The top 50 science stars of Twitter” (news.sciencemag.org, September 17).

In fact, they always were in privileged positions: Ms Watson had a podium, and Ms McGraw hadn’t. PZ Myers had repute, Abbie Smith was aspiring. The less privileged side (also both women) quickly disappeared as all the others who dared to challenge the “interpretations” of the Social Justice League.

Meanwhile they churned out their propaganda that told the story of an uppity woman Abbie Smith Rebecca Watson that was up against an elderly, privileged man PZ Myers Richard Dawkins who wants to keep her and generally all women away. Ironcially, it was PZ Myers who used his status to boot Abbie Smith by effectively blacklisting her.

Professor Myers eventually saw that this was a bad move. He realized it by pure coincidence the very moment when Sarah Moglia of SkepChick reported that Richard Dawkins didn’t want to share a stage with Rebecca Watson, who, we recall had a “non-boycott” on him anyway. Huge issue: Richard Dawkins didn’t want to share a stage with someone who boycotts him anyway! An outrage!

They knew all the time that Richard Dawkins wouldn’t be very helpful for them anymore after the Elevatorgate incident and boycott, especially since they needed the “Dear Muslima” as a cornerstone for their propagandistic efforts. As shown above, it became quite a remarkable comment about almost nothing. Originally, it was about a double entendre in an Irish lift and he reminded everyone that if people wanted to combine feminism within the context of atheism, that they’d perhaps look at women under Islam.

It was then revised to mean that Richard Dawkins is tacitly supporting sexism in the west in general because he didn’t put it on top of the atheist priority list. Nobody dared to ask why – even if it was a perfect example of everyday sexism to be asked politely whether one wants to drink coffee with someone – what exactly has it to do with atheism? Then, when Rebecca Watson was styled as a martyr that was constantly worn down by “harassers”, Richard Dawkins’ comment morphed to tacitly endorsing these harassers, to then even “encouraging” them. Quite clearly, that thing has social justice warriorism writ large all over it. Overall, PZ Myers and Rebecca Watson and their whole faction were very sucessful.

In parallel, the “safe spaces” forged their own ideological beliefs that created a larger contrast to those within to those outside. I believe they were created in a similar way as the dogma of the Catholic Church (no polemics here). Many tenets were only formulated in response to heretics, because the authority then needed to jot down the official dogma in order to secure their influence. We see the same here.

When you aren’t in lockstep with the “safe spaces” and their double-think, you can become a heretic fairly easily. For example, they simultaneously complain about gender essentialism while it is a central theme that women see things differently. I took it apart in some more detail a previous article’s comment, yet Adam Lee suggested Libby Anne again. Here are two quick excerpts…

Please stop essentializing me.

— versus —

It seems he thinks he can get inside women’s heads and know what we want and how we see the world when he can’t.

Sex/gender is purportedly also socially constructed. You can simultaneously not help but being locked in your gender and see things differently, while you can also be gender-fluid. I am sure there is some way where some expert can find words that dance around all pitfalls, but it already requires that the person is properly understood and charitably interpreted, which is generally denied to outsiders (e.g. Sam Harris).

Let’s conclude with one perfect example case of Richard Dawkins path towards utter villainy, in the eyes of Adam Lee. Perhaps the most heinous example is the tweet that unmasks Richard and shows him as the white male supremacist that he secretly is, according to Adam Lee. He reports about it in “Richard Dawkins Facepalm Watch, Vol. III”.

Here, Richard wanted to know what his tweeps would put onto a “best of” humankind DVD and tweeted “what would you put on it” plus a hashtag for participation. He personally would suggest “Shakespeare Schubert Darwin Einstein”. What could possibly go wrong?

Of course Witch Finder General Lee is at it and see it. His article is hilarious once you “got” social justice warriorism. He uses the instance to tell how women in history often couldn’t contribute, or were ignored. Of course, you learn nothing new. Its vapid posturing. The injustice toward women is – also typical for SJW writing – meant to rub off to their target, and it seems as if it’s all Richard Dawkins fault.

Lee overlooks in his tale of terror that Richard Dawkins merely kicked off a hashtag with some of his personal favourites. The whole point of a hashtag is that anyone can just tweet whatever they find important. Lee believes, and that is the true heinous crime of Richard Dawkins that he should have included more diverse people. Or is there an even more sinister demand that everyone must have proper tastes that conform to what social justice authoritarians deem correct?

Meanwhile in a parallel universe the twin of Adam Lee wrote an angry treatise how the goatee sporting Richard Dawkins was “appropriating” other cultures by suggesting “Li Yu Rentarō Taki al-Khwarizmi CV Raman” and why he didn’t left these names to people from their respective cultures and nominated people from his own western circle (social justice warriors also have a big problem when westerners fondle too much with other people’s cultures).

Aside of only suggesting white guys, Richard Dawkins did something else wrong according to Adam Lee. Dawkins tweet included – I kid you not – only a “small and unrepresentative subset” of all of humanity. What is this, a center for ants? Dear, American atheist: I weep for you (after I’m done laughing).

TD;DR
Adam Lee claims that Richard Dawkins gradudally became indefensible. But it looks more like that Richard Dawkins became a persona non grata with the “Dear Muslima” comment.
I see it more as window dressing to pretend there were substantive issues that need discussion now. Discussions were also stifled at every opporunity.
The Social Justice League around Myers and Watson et al was very successful with their strategy, even if their evolving ideology also takes its toll. It is not an accident that they dominate the discourse with their propaganda for a long time.
As a part of that, the interpretation of the “dear muslima” comment evolved over time and gradually became worse (and is representative of how their ideology gets refined to suit their needs

43 =8)-DX September 25, 2014 at 7:48 am

In 2012 you said it was “boorish behavior or unwanted sexual attention”.
In 2014 you have upgraded it to “sexual harassment or physical intimidation“

You are aware, Michael that the latter words are the more accurate and technical words for the former?
“Boorish” is “rough and bad-mannered, coarse” – which is one form of physical intimidation and “unwanted sexual attention” is in the very _definition_ of sexual harassment!
Using more accurate, modern and unemcumbered terminology is to be supported, it’s an actual upgrade.

44 Vaal September 25, 2014 at 7:53 am

Just wanted to add: I’m generally pretty new to the “sexism wars” discussions, and I don’t particularly want to dwell in them any more.
Even a few days of looking into it has left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

I was vaguely aware of the “elevatorgate” stuff, but honestly didn’t remember the details, or the players involved. I was just recently made aware of these new exchanges from discussions in J Coyne’s comments section.

The measured tones shown by Michael are more appealing to me these days than vitriol.

I want to re-iterate that while I have not found the style of commentary in blogs like Butterflies and Wheels to my taste, I don’t for a moment discount that site’s point of view. Shining a light on sexism (and discrimination, etc) is, it goes without saying, a laudable endeavour. If, for instance, I have some sexist biases I’m not aware of, which surely I must have, I’d appreciate being made more aware of them.

I think I’m done with commentary at this point, but I’m going to keep my eyes open for other sites promoting feminist points of view, to see what I might be missing.

Cheers Michael and rest,

45 noelplum99 September 25, 2014 at 8:57 am

@Vaal

What is amusing is how, in Ophelia’s comments, they notice trans exclusionary artwork on the tumblr link and then suddenly stop applauding and recoil at the bigotry.
Amusing hatred of men suddenly became odious and unacceptable as soon as it became clear another group had been targeted.
I just don’t understand where so much hatred and bigotry comes from in people. Especially in people who seem to view themselves as the very antithesis of a bigot.

46 Ariel September 25, 2014 at 9:07 am

Michael,

I hope you will forgive me that I choose to comment on what I consider to be the single weakest part of your reply. (You have enough commenters emphasizing the strong parts; you don’t need me for this.) Here we go.

“Speculation about that alleged rape is happening on various websites at the moment, and I decline to participate in it.”

This in itself is (imo) perfectly fine. It’s your choice. No one else but you has a right to choose your topics.

“The intimate details of traumatic moments in the lives of real people are being treated as fodder for amateur detective work about what real people did or didn’t do and why they did or didn’t do so.”

I think that it is indeed an adequate description. For many concrete examples, try the search “Alison” on the Slyme Pit.

“This is a large part of the reason why I believe that allegations of rape should be reported to the police, not to bloggers. It is not only because of the justice of presuming people innocent of serious crimes until proven guilty, but also to help protect victims of rape from being permanently defined online by salacious speculation about what they have been through.”

And here we come at last to the weakest part. As you probably know, it is exactly these words which provoked very strong negative feelings among people on the FtB side. I must also say that I find their reaction fully understandable.

The thing is that your reply is hopelessly blind to the problems faced by women who do report. It disregards completely the hostility of the authorities, the experience of secondary victimization, the trauma associated with undergoing the legal procedure. A perfect advice in an ideal society, sure! But here is the news: sorry to disappoint you, but our societies are far from perfect. In fact there is a heavy price to be paid. In fact it happens sometimes that the price is not just heavy, but *horrendous*, and the gains are *close to null*. The advice you give is smooth and easy … and it doesn’t contain even a single damned word about the price. Yes, many people found it infuriating. Are you really surprised?

You compare reporting to the police with going public (that is, with reporting to a blogger) and you mention “salacious speculation” as the prohibitive cost of the second choice. In one respect you are absolutely right: there is no denying that this cost is very real. However, what you are completely silent about is the *tragic nature* of the choice – the fact that the victim pays a price whatever she does. You make it sound simple, showing no appreciation that it is not, showing no understanding that the choice is *difficult like hell*.

By the way, did you notice comments #36, #38, and #40 here? Some of your readers came to the conclusion that “Current advice at Free Thought Blogs is that women should NOT report rape to the police.” The basis of this is an OP from Ophelia’s blog containing phrases like:

“I’m not really a fan of “and the victim should go to the police” *routine*.”
(emphasis mine)

“Even in hindsight *I don’t know* what the best course of action would have been.”
(again, emphasis mine)

I read also the discussion below, with … well, with many people expressing the tragic nature of the choice much better than everything I said here.

But of course it means that FtB-ers claim that women should not report rape to the police. OF COURSE.

Counting down to the birth of a new urban myth: 5, 4, 3 …

47 Coel September 25, 2014 at 10:39 am

Hi Vaal,

I want to re-iterate that while I have not found the style of commentary in blogs like Butterflies and Wheels to my taste, I don’t for a moment discount that site’s point of view. Shining a light on sexism (and discrimination, etc) is, it goes without saying, a laudable endeavour.

My experience of B&W is much like yours, and I agree with your conclusion. Ophelia Benson and her commenters and like-minded bloggers do have a lot of very valid points and do promote a very important perspective.

But, as a result of a long history of such interactions, they have developed a style where exaggeration and distortion of those that they are criticising is both routine and accepted, where sarcasm, hyperbole and misrepresentation are the norm.

They direct that sarcastic misrepresentation at those who should be their allies, who agree with them on much, and then get disappointed that “yet another” person does not side with them. Because only siding with them 100% counts as siding with them. Even 95% siding with them merits the aggressive and hyperbolic criticism of them over the 5%. (For clarity, I’m not objecting to fair and reasonable criticism of anyone over that 5%!)

When people like you or Michael point out the unfairness of some of the exaggerations, your complaint is just dismissed. In their eyes, because they are basically in the right — and on many issues they are! — they think that that justifies and excuses any amount of distortion and unfairness in their accusations of others.

Personally I think this is a pity, because on a lot of things I want to support their complaints, but they really don’t make it easy for any fair-minded person to do so.

Like you, I’ve been banned or put on moderation at some FTB blogs, purely for suggesting that some of their posts are worded in an exaggerated way — which is a bit like suggesting that the Pope is Catholic, and which yet gets one cast as an enemy.

I applaud Michael’s attempts to point out exaggerations and unfairness in Lee’s article, though I don’t fully go along with all of what Michael has said. For example, if a rape victim wishes to publicise her story on blogs then that is her perogative and she should be free to do so; but of course bloggers also need to be fair to the accused. (That last sentence is entirely hypothetical, and is not a comment on any particular incident or people.)

48 Jan Steen September 25, 2014 at 1:12 pm

=8)-DX wrote:

“Boorish” is “rough and bad-mannered, coarse” – which is one form of physical intimidation and “unwanted sexual attention” is in the very _definition_ of sexual harassment!
Using more accurate, modern and unemcumbered terminology is to be supported, it’s an actual upgrade.

Is =8)-DX Humpty Dumpty?

“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

“Boorish: Of or pertaining to boors; rustic, clownish, uncultured, rude, coarse, ill-mannered.” [Oxford English Dictionary]

“Physical intimidation” is no more a more accurate, modern term for “boorish behaviour” than that “digital computer” is a more accurate, modern term for pencil. And if “unwanted sexual attention” is the same thing as “sexual harassment”, then casually complimenting a woman for being good looking is sexual harassment.

=8)-DX, next time you are going to consult a dictionary, for the second time in your life, you should look up the word “illiterate”.

49 Guestus Aurelius September 25, 2014 at 1:42 pm

@43

In 2012 you said it was “boorish behavior or unwanted sexual attention”.
In 2014 you have upgraded it to “sexual harassment or physical intimidation“

You are aware, Michael that the latter words are the more accurate and technical words for the former?
“Boorish” is “rough and bad-mannered, coarse” – which is one form of physical intimidation and “unwanted sexual attention” is in the very _definition_ of sexual harassment!
Using more accurate, modern and unemcumbered terminology is to be supported, it’s an actual upgrade.

If you honestly think that “boorish behavior” is a synonym for “physical intimidation,” you have poor language skills. “Rough” doesn’t imply physicality in the definition you quoted. You can verify this by looking up “boorish” in any other dictionary (e.g., AHD or M-W), or by looking up “coarse” in the very dictionary you used (New Oxford American).

“Unwanted sexual attention” can constitute “sexual harassment,” but again, they’re not synonymous.

Lee’s original description of the elevator incident was defensible, if a bit presumptuous. “Unwanted sexual attention”? Check. “Boorish behavior”? Arguably.

But elevator guy immediately accepted the “no” he heard. His behavior was not “sexual harassment.” And even if the confined space of an elevator could conceivably make any proposition come off as intimidating, Rebecca Watson never described elevator guy’s behavior as “physical intimidation.”

In short, Lee has egregiously misrepresented the situation that Dawkins was responding to in his “Dear Muslima” comment. I find it hard to believe that this was an innocent mistake.

For the record, I am no fan of the “Dear Muslima” comment. But I can criticize it—and its author—without playing loose with the facts.

50 Guestus Aurelius September 25, 2014 at 1:42 pm

Ninja’d by Jan.

51 Coel September 25, 2014 at 1:48 pm

@Guestus Aurelius

For the record, I am no fan of the “Dear Muslima” comment. But I can criticize it—and its author—without playing loose with the facts.

Can you? In that case, you really haven’t got the hang of this atheist-blog arguing thingy, have you? :-)

52 Crackity Jones September 25, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Shatterface:

Current advice at Free Thought Blogs is that women should NOT report rape to the police.

Indeed. I rang circles around one of these “I HATE the police, aren’t I really COOL and REBELLIOUS” types on Twitter last night. His/her/its name was “Jadehawk”, a prominent poster at FTB. I humiliated him/her/it for their teenage adolescent statements, and suggested that if there was any hint of danger to their privileged, middle class, college-educated picket-fence lifestyle, they’d be on to the police in a flash.

They remind me of anarchists. If there was ACTUAL anarchy, they’d be the FIRST to start crying and gnashing their teeth.

PS – If these dangerous fools do not want rapes reported to the police, they have NO RIGHT to complain about conviction rates.

53 Crackity Jones September 25, 2014 at 2:08 pm

Blueshift Rhino:

That the SJL is teaching folks not to report rapes is bad

Perhaps the “Ogvorbis” issue has muddied their thinking. It is amazing just how much on the back foot they are with their own ticking rape grenade.

54 SF September 25, 2014 at 2:18 pm

Dawkins sychophantry is just as tedious as freethoughtbloggery. The Atheist Culture wars are getting quite annoying. Rival echo chambers.

55 Guestus Aurelius September 25, 2014 at 2:43 pm

@SF:

Does defense = sycophancy?

Many of us defending him (and others) against vicious and unwarranted smears have been critical of Dawkins’s clumsiness on Twitter. Many of us were likewise critical of “Dear Muslima.”

Most of us are anonymous. Most of us don’t know Dawkins at all. Most of us stand to gain nothing by defending him (and others) against said smears. Most of us are actually more interested in calling attention to the despicable behavior of certain online “leaders” of the atheist “community” than we are in defending Dawkins.

In my view, it’s the public image of atheism that’s at stake. I don’t think sycophancy is, broadly speaking, an accurate label for what’s happening here.

56 Gunboat Diplomat September 25, 2014 at 2:47 pm

I’m also happy that Michael Nugent has taken the time to present a thoughtful and measured response to Adam Lees one-sided piece in the Guardian. I certainly hope the Guardian will post another piece that at least gives the other sides perspective.

I think it’s a real shame the direction PZ Myers blog has gone. His writing was pretty influential in my decision to go back to study to become a scientist myself. As a budding psychologist I attempted to engage in the comments section on issues of sexual psychology but very quickly got dragged into arguments that were more political than anything else. I questioned the nature and effects of the constructs “sexual objectification” and “rape culture” as used on FtB while making clear I was very much for women’s rights, mindful of women’s oppression and general sexism in society and also having done some work for abortion rights in Ireland and the UK over the years.

For this I was labelled a misogynist and ‘potential rapist’ – “standing on the borders of rape-land” is how I think one commenter put it. Once so labelled it was free reign to be as abusive as possible towards me. It was so extreme I jokingly compared the commenters to the Committee of Public Safety during the French Revolutionary Period. Not that I meant that as an insult, the committee of public safety might have been brutal but arguably necessary to transform Europe and the world for the better.

I also think it’s a good description of how the PZ and the FtB crowd see themselves. Battered and surrounded in Paris with a monarchist countryside and every regime in Europe arraigned against them. With such a mind-set it’s easy to jump conclusions and perceive every action as being either fully supporting you or undermining you and playing into the hands of the enemy. More moderate so-called allies are the worst. They think they’re opposing the enemy but in fact they’re just undermining the will of the Revolution.

And of course once battle lines are drawn and you’re committed it becomes increasingly difficult to stand back and critically re-evaluate your position and actions. Not least because much of your social grouping now consists of similar thinking comrades. You can still keep your integrity though, after all some of your comrades might be a bit excessive in their zeal but their hearts in the right place and often they’ve been directly abused themselves so it’s understandable.
This path is seductive. As a former Marxist I know a bit about it in a similar context. It may seem obvious to most of us that we’re not in the middle of a war or revolution, but to PZ Myers, Adam lee and co. that’s probably how they see it. The indisputable fact that the world is chock full of real misogyny enables their persepctive and ultimately makes it unlikely to be resolved.

Nonetheless I think it’s really good that Michael Nugent has written this as its an addition to the historical record and will likely help change some peoples perspective even if it doesn’t end the rift.

Heres a link to my original FtB discussion for anyone reading who’s not familiar with the intellectual climate there. Only read if you’ve got waaay too much time on your hands (I certainly did at the time I was involved): http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/10/25/mras-are-almost-as-hilarious-as-creationists/comment-page-1/#comments

57 BlueShift Rhino September 25, 2014 at 2:51 pm

@Crackity Jones #53 –

One thing that I’ve learned recently is the marvelous concept of “punching up vs down” (which extends to grenades). The SJL is not being what naive folk with dictionaries would call “hypocritical,” because, for example, Ogvorbis is beneath them while Shermer is above them (on some ill-defined scale involving an ever-increasing number of input variables). In fact, just a few days ago I learned that I, myself, can acquire some sort of magical immunity to justified criticism if I would only admit that the embarrassment that I feel when I say something stupid and someone points this out is actually an Axis-II disorder.

58 Crackity Jones September 25, 2014 at 2:52 pm

Ophelia has a spot of bother after her latest copypasta displays a cartoon from an artist who is a transphobe. Some of her commentators are politely trying to minimise the splash damage. This is not the first time Ophelia has got into trouble in this area. Seems to be she has a bit of a problem with trans issues.

59 Jan Steen September 25, 2014 at 3:00 pm

Whether or not rape victims should report their case to the police is ultimately up to the victim. There are situations where there is little direct evidence of the crime, resulting in a he said-she said situation. Legal action may then merely add to the trauma, with little or no positive effect in the end.

On the other hand, when there is good evidence (physical evidence, witnesses), making a successful prosecution likely, the victim may well be in a position to help prevent more people becoming a victim by helping the police. In that case, there is hardly a good excuse not to report to the authorities, especially if there are witnesses at hand who are willing to corroborate the report.

In the Shermer/Smith case we have now been told that Alison Smith had immediately characterized her encounter with Shermer as rape to the man who picked her up in a sorry state that night, her then boyfriend Jeff Wagg who was manager for the JREF. Smith had to sit in a wheelchair to make it to a taxi. Not only did the two of them fail to go to the police or to a hospital, they even posed with broad smiles for a photo with Shermer only two months later. And the JREF continued to invite Shermer for speaking gigs. Five years later Smith leaks her story to PZ Myers, because she wants to warn other women for Shermer’s alleged behaviour.

Are these people insane? Honest question.

At least the name The Amazing Meeting was well chosen for these JREF conferences.

60 JetLagg September 25, 2014 at 5:44 pm

@Ariel

I find it hard to believe any intelligent blogger wouldn’t realize that piling up anecdotes about the horrors rape victims face at the hands of the authorities is not effectively discouraging future rape victims from going to the police.

I’ve not seen anyone deny that we live in an imperfect society (though I understand you think many of us don’t emphasize enough the aspects of imperfection you’re primarily concerned with). However, it’s been my experience that the FTB bloggers, their commenters, and the SJW crowd in general reacts with hostility to any proposals for nudging things a bit closer to perfection. That’s the main difference as I see it.

As an experiment, wait until a blogger puts another rape victim’s horror story in the spotlight (you shouldn’t have t0 wait long), then comment on it (using a separate online identity) explain that you’re worried posting stories of that kind, without then offering possible solutions (for example, more resources given to rape victim advocacy groups who will guide victims through the legal process), we might see a decrease in the number of rapes that go unreported, and consequentially, and increase in the number of rapes.

I suspect you will be treated poorly, and your motives given the least charitable interpretation.

61 IM608 September 25, 2014 at 6:16 pm

First time posting.

@Crackity Jones

“PS – If these dangerous fools do not want rapes reported to the police, they have NO RIGHT to complain about conviction rates.”

My take on that wasn’t they didn’t want rapes reported but more like a timely and convenient justification why a certain accuser didn’t do so.

When advocating the empowerment of women, comes with it certain responsibilities, such as:

Taking the responsibility of acknowledging that getting heavily inebriated strongly impairs judgment and puts you in the crosshairs and at the mercy of criminally intended people. If someone doesn’t have the benefit of a “designated driver” in their entourage, it’s a no-brainer statement to admit that tragic things sometimes happen to drunk people (men and women): on one end of the spectrum we have serious injury/death for attempted stupid stunts to rape/murder on the other. It’s not a submission to misogyny to acknowledge that keeping our wits about us is basic to maintaining our individual safety.

Taking the responsibility that no one can “make” you drink more than you should or want to.

Taking the responsibility to file a police report when a crime has been commited against you. Some victims may feel betrayed when giving their account to police but the reality is that if they don’t immediately jump in their prowlers, sirens blazing to make an arrest isn’t because they don’t believe the victim but rather because the account and evidence is insufficient to do so. It’s humiliating, frustrating and unfair. But a severely drunk victim who barely remembers the events of the crime with no other corroborating evidence/testimony is impeachable in a court of law: that was Richard Dawkins’ point.

Rapes are notoriously difficult to prosecute but if legislation is to change so the current standards of evidence change, they need the police reports with all the circumstances to back them up.

However, one thing’s for certain, trial by righteous indignation blogging won’t do a damned thing to change any of that.

62 piero September 25, 2014 at 6:21 pm

@aneris:

Apologies for the wall of text again.

“Build up that wall.”

63 piero September 25, 2014 at 6:27 pm

@ariel:

“I’m not really a fan of “and the victim should go to the police” routine.”

But of course it means that FtB-ers claim that women should not report rape to the police. OF COURSE.

Ariel, I accept that the statement you quoted is not equivalent to telling women they should not go to the police, and it would be dishonest to construe it so.

Can you see now the problem we have with FTBers claiming that “Dawkins said women should not drink, and if they get drunk and get raped it serves them right.”?

64 Sedan Taboos September 26, 2014 at 4:18 pm

@ariel, thank you for breaking up the monotony of the “guys” patting each other on their backs and congratulating themselves on their superiority. It was getting a bit tedious.

However, your accusation that Nugent is completely unaware of the serious challenges faced by victims of rape is completely unfounded. I don’t know him and I know very little about him, but he seems to be a decent, intelligent guy who reads the newspapers and is generally aware of the world going around him.

Do you honestly think this was news to him or was that just hyperbole? Either way I think that kind of reaction is completely counterproductive and is going to turn away many decent people who otherwise want and would be willing to help. Even in this post I find myself having to triple check every word: “can I just say ‘concerns’ or do I have to say ‘serious concerns’, but maybe I should pick a stronger word than ‘concerns’ to start with.” It is exhausting and confusing, especially with the hypocrisy and double standards coming from the feminist side.

There is absolutely zero chance that Michael Nugent is unaware that reporting a rape almost anywhere in the world is a very challenging and difficult thing that often leaves the victim worse off. Is it that hard to not make him reiterate every thought he has on the topic of rape in every paragraph, comment or blog post?

I followed the “Current advice at Free Thought Blogs is that women should NOT report rape to the police.” posts and thread as you suggested and I honestly don’t see what you’re complaining about. At best the comments here could be seen as an uncharitable interpretation, as piero notes, but there is far more evidence for that interpretation than there is for the accusations made against Dawkins (or for your accusation against Nugent here).

The vitriol and mass hysteria on that thread is far worse than here, although I can’t claim (or want) to know who started it or who has committed the more egregious transgressions. I only see what it is like now, and it’s disgusting and unproductive.

65 JetLagg September 26, 2014 at 9:24 pm

@ariel, thank you for breaking up the monotony of the “guys” patting each other on their backs and congratulating themselves on their superiority. It was getting a bit tedious.

Misandry!

Also, you should join in the conversation at the pit one of these days. We could use more dissenting voices.

66 Ariel September 26, 2014 at 11:07 pm

Sedan Taboos #64

“Even in this post I find myself having to triple check every word: “can I just say ‘concerns’ or do I have to say ‘serious concerns’, but maybe I should pick a stronger word than ‘concerns’ to start with.” It is exhausting and confusing”

I do the same. It’s exhausting and confusing indeed.

“There is absolutely zero chance that Michael Nugent is unaware that reporting a rape almost anywhere in the world is a very challenging and difficult thing that often leaves the victim worse off. “

Sure, but please remember what the topic was. I wrote about Nugent’s claim that “allegations of rape should be reported to the police, not to bloggers”. I commented on his main argument – that otherwise we will have “salacious speculation about what they have been through”. I wrote that many people (including me) are not buying this argumentation because it completely ignores the tragic costs of reporting a rape to the authorities. In effect I think indeed that it is *the victim* and no one else who has the right to decide when/to whom/if at all to report a rape. Do you consider such an opinion a symptom of feminist mass hysteria?

And yes, I totally agree with you that “there is absolutely zero chance” of Michael Nugent being unaware of that. The thing is just that people become very selective while defending their favored position. They often “forget” what they know. It’s nothing new, I saw it many times; I guess you saw it as well.

“Is it that hard to not make him reiterate every thought he has on the topic of rape in every paragraph, comment or blog post?”

No, not hard at all. In this case however the thought in question was *highly relevant* to what he was claiming. Don’t you think it changes a lot?

“At best the comments here could be seen as an uncharitable interpretation, as piero notes, but there is far more evidence for that interpretation than there is for the accusations made against Dawkins (or for your accusation against Nugent here).”

As for my own issue with Nugent, I hope I explained. As for Dawkins’ tweets in general … ah, I’m afraid I have to disagree with you.

Please keep in mind that what follows is my private opinion and nothing more than that. Just a private opinion of an individual FtB regular, in no way representative of any group, ok?

Here it goes: all of this is not so much about the literal interpretation as about understanding the intent. It’s not about the dictionary meaning of words. “*Why* did Dawkins write these tweets” – this is what matters. And here we have three sides.

One side is claiming that Dawkins wanted to express his support for Shermer.

The second side (roughly, slyme pit) is saying “oh, whatever, witch hunt! And anyway, Shermer’s accuser is not to be believed!”

The third side is Michael Nugent, who is saying … well, what exactly? How about “This is speculation! No names! I refuse to discuss it!”? Can we take it as a fair summary?

This post is too long, so just a short, finishing remark. I think that your analogy is mistaken. I think it is completely unreasonable to interpret people in Ophelia’s thread as claiming “women should not report rape to the police”. On the other hand, opinions about Dawkins’ intent – these speculations, if you prefer – no, I wouldn’t say they are unfounded.

(And please remember that I do not represent any group. I’m probably shyer than most on all sides. With a possible exception of Michael Nugent :))

67 JetLagg September 26, 2014 at 11:58 pm

@Piero

I’ll let the mod know, see if he can do something about it (sorry Michael, for derailing).

@Ariel

I think it is completely unreasonable to interpret people in Ophelia’s thread as claiming “women should not report rape to the police”. On the other hand, opinions about Dawkins’ intent – these speculations, if you prefer – no, I wouldn’t say they are unfounded.

I think it was already clear that was your disagreement. So, now we’re debating it, like we should be.

Regarding Dawkins, I think it’s a fool’s errand to try to figure out someone’s intent. Leave that to the professionals, or, if you choose not to, at least acknowledge what you’re doing will never amount to much more than speculation.

Regarding Ophelia (and others who post similar stories), I’ll stand by my original arguments. Whatever her intent is, I believe the actions are foolish. Why do you disagree?

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69 Jan Steen September 27, 2014 at 8:48 am

@Ariel,

“*Why* did Dawkins write these tweets” – this is what matters. And here we have three sides.

One side is claiming that Dawkins wanted to express his support for Shermer.

The second side (roughly, slyme pit) is saying “oh, whatever, witch hunt! And anyway, Shermer’s accuser is not to be believed!”

The third side is Michael Nugent, who is saying … well, what exactly? How about “This is speculation! No names! I refuse to discuss it!”? Can we take it as a fair summary?

Is this a fair representation of the debate? I should think not. At least, I don’t find myself on any of those three sides, if your characterisation is accurate.

Why did Dawkins write those tweets? One can speculate, but it may be because the subject of rape in combination with alcohol (ab)use had already been the subject of heated discussions before (e.g. following certain remarks by Rebecca Watson) and is yet again prominent due to the Shermer/Smith case. There are no easy answers to some of the questions that arise. Can an intoxicated person give consent? Is sex with an intoxicated person always rape? What if both parties are drunk? Is someone who becomes drunk responsible for what happens to them, at least to some extent? Is the testimony of someone who was so drunk as to have blackouts to be trusted? Etcetera.

In the eyes of some, merely asking those questions constitutes rape apology and therefore the person asking them is automatically tainted. If this person is called Richard Dawkins, who in some circles is already the embodiment of evil since his “Dear Muslima” comment, then everything he says is interpreted in the worst possible light. This is fairly evident.

It may surprise you, Ariel, but there are people who just want to get to the heart of the matter. What is actually the case? What is the evidence? This the fourth and much more rational side, and I believe both Dawkins and Michael Nugent to be on this side. I would position myself there as well.

I’m an agnostic in the Shermer/Smith case, while noting that there are statements and actions from both camps that to me range from dubious to mind boggling.

70 piero September 27, 2014 at 2:39 pm

@Ariel @Jan:

I agree with Jan’s take on the matter: the three alternatives Ariel sketched are not exhaustive.

Unlike Jan, I am not interested in finding out what really happened, because the damage is done already. I am interested in stopping atheists, secularists and humanists from sliding into irrelevance by renouncing critical thinking.

71 Sedan Taboos September 27, 2014 at 3:44 pm

@ariel,

“I wrote about Nugent’s claim that ‘allegations of rape should be reported to the police, not to bloggers’.”

Once again you take the least generous interpretation of what Nugent said here. He is not making a “claim”, he is simply stating his opinion. It’s an opinion that many people share (including me) and that is worthy of discussion, not just ridicule and condemnation. Neither Nugent, nor I, would would ever say that it is an absolute truth that should be followed in all cases.

“I wrote that many people (including me) are not buying this argumentation because it completely ignores the tragic costs of reporting a rape to the authorities.”

This is the kind of generalization that makes us think that people are telling victims not to go to the authorities. Yes, there are often tragic costs, but that is certainly not a given. Going to the authorities should clearly be the default option and in places where the system is tragically broken we should fix it.

“In effect I think indeed that it is *the victim* and no one else who has the right to decide when/to whom/if at all to report a rape.”

How can you totally ignore the cases where the victims are unaware of their options or where the victims are intimidated or coerced into staying silent? It seems like you conveniently “forgot” about those cases in defending your favored position.

You see how easy it is to manipulate someones words? And how pointless and unproductive? Yet totally fair, IMO, considering how you interpreted Nugent’s comments. Wouldn’t it be better if we just gave everyone the benefit of the doubt that they are decent, reasonable people and let them explain and discuss their varied opinions.

But in all seriousness I DON’T believe that the victim should be given sole responsibility and rights for reporting and pressing charges in the case of an assault. Mostly because of the domestic violence issues and circumstances mentioned above, but it is more complicated than that and there are a lot of varied situations that should be taken into account.

“In this case however the thought in question was *highly relevant* to what he was claiming.”

That thought and a million other thoughts went into his opinion. He is already being mocked for being too verbose in those other forums, if he had to support every opinion with a list of facts that everyone already knows about and agrees upon his posts would be never ending.

“Don’t you think it changes a lot?”

Why not ask him? “Michael, now that you’ve learned that reporting sexual assault to the authorities often has tragic consequences, have you changed your opinion?”

My answer, no it doesn’t change it one bit. He already knew this fact and it was weighed into his personal and inexpert opinion. The few random bits of productive dialogue that came out of this hairy mess may have changed his opinions in some ways, but this particular “revelation” was not news.

72 Sedan Taboos September 27, 2014 at 4:00 pm

@ariel

I think it’s a complete waste of time and energy to try to puzzle out the intent behind anybody’s comments (whether Twitter, blog, article, post, …).

I 100% don’t care why Dawkins or Benson (or you) say what they do, I only care about whether it makes sense. The literal interpretation of it is the only thing that is of any importance. That doesn’t, however, mean we shouldn’t be charitable in trying to understand what people are trying to say. The “what” is important, not the “why.”

If what Dawkins says supports a friend, I don’t care. It’s either true or it’s not and his comments on this recent topic were completely true as far as they went. Perhaps uncomfortable and awkward, but certainly true.

73 Ariel September 27, 2014 at 11:03 pm

Sedan Taboos:

Just this:

“I think it’s a complete waste of time and energy to try to puzzle out the intent behind anybody’s comments (whether Twitter, blog, article, post, …) […] The literal interpretation of it is the only thing that is of any importance.”

In effect when you hear a politician (and yes, to a large degree Dawkins *does* function like a politician) you treat her words literally. Always. Period. No intents, no hidden meanings – that’s after all a waste of time. And it works! It works!

Where are you from, Sedan Taboos? I want to live in your country. I’m packing and leaving in five minutes.

As for the rest … I will end with a quote from a paper given to me by one of my students long time ago. After sketching some problems, she ended the paper with the following sentence:

“We will not enter this discussion because we are very tired”.

I loved it. And I gave her the highest possible grade. Good night!

74 Sedan Taboos September 28, 2014 at 12:24 am

Yes, Dawkins is a politician in all the ways he is a politician and not a politician in all the ways he is not. Well spotted, Ariel.

You should stay in your own country where you should never take what anyone says at face value. It sounds more exciting there, although it also sounds exhausting.

I wonder what your real agenda is here.

75 JetLagg September 28, 2014 at 3:03 pm

As I see it, Ariel, you’ve got some serious problems with your epistemology (and you’re certainly not alone in this respect).

I mentioned upthread that I thought if you try to figure out someone’s intent, you should recognize that what you’re doing amounts to sheer speculation. Instead of assessing Dawkins’ words (the body of them) and actions, which are tangible, you’re engaging in armchair psychoanalysis and condemning him based off that. This is not a good way to decide what is true.

76 Phil Giordana FCD September 28, 2014 at 8:20 pm

More than speculation, I’m thinking projection.

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