AS57: Richard Dawkins Twitter Explosion

Richard Dawkins Twitter Explosion

What in the world is Richard Dawkins Twitter up to?  As you likely will have read/heard by now, Dawkins tweeted several tweets that had people in uproar. Essentially, he said that asserting x is bad but y is worse is not an endorsement of x. Why was this such a problem? Well he plugged in the example “date rape is bad, stranger rape at knifepoint is worse.” And then proceeded to say that this is not an endorsement of date rape. However, many people apparently saw this as some sort of endorsement of date rape. Or, more precisely, they worry that Dawkins is expressing a dangerous attitude that legitimizes the idea that women are sometimes to blame for rape. Are these critics right? I explore this idea in the podcast. There is a lot going on here and plenty of criticism for all sides.

Here are several of the links I referenced in the show:

Richard Dawkins Twitter account has had many problems in the past. Even if he were completely right in this recent debacle, which is definitely not a given, shouldn’t he just quit while he’s behind? Why couldn’t he just preserve his great science legacy and maybe use Twitter for some occasional promotion or science tweeting. There’s no reason Richard Dawkins Twitter should be pissing a large number of people off every 6 months or so. That said, I think critics are once again being a little bit uncharitable in their interpretations of his motives. Do people really think Richard Dawkins is a rape apologist? I really don’t think so, but I also think he’s quite oblivious to how much goodwill he has lost over the last few years.

7 thoughts on “AS57: Richard Dawkins Twitter Explosion”

  1. As I see it the problem Dawkins is running into with the date rape vs stranger comment is that there is very little difference between the two. Date rape can be just as physically and emotionally scarring. Just because you live to tell the tale does not mean you are not terribly damaged from the ordeal. Putting aside the fact that a date can be a stranger (think blind date or online hookups), is one’s rape experience less significant or worthy of condemnation because they said yes to this monster about going out on a date? Rape in any circumstance is egregious, let’s not give any slack to those men (or women) who might use their dominance or power to force sex on someone who does not consent.

  2. To support P. Singleton’s point, I’d argue against moral calculus in general.

    There should be no discussion about “what kind of rape is better” because any kind of rape is unacceptable.

    Different kinds of rapes may map onto different kinds of prison sentences… but in terms of moral reasoning, they all project onto a homogenous area called UNACCEPTABLE.

  3. There are some things Dawkins needs to learn already.

    1. There are some things you don’t talk about with strangers. I don’t make rape jokes around strangers because I don’t know if I’m going to hit a nerve. I don’t make Santorum jokes around my mother. I won’t call my unborn nephew/niece a parasite (humorously) in front of my brother and his wife, despite that being a hilarious description of a fetus.

    2. The internet is a bunch of strangers. Really angry strangers. Social media is full of angry strangers who want to be heard.

    Given A and B, the logical conclusion is that there are some things one should not say on the internet. If you’re a famous political/social personality, there are some things you should never say where they can be repeated onto the internet.

    And yet, foot in mouth. Again and again he puts his foot in his mouth, and beyond that, he doesn’t know when to quit. There comes a point when you need to admit you have royally fucked up. Dawkins isn’t great about saying “I fucked up” which, IMO, damages his cred as a rationalist, or freethinker, or whatever you want to say.

    I agree completely that there are people who live to be offended. Actually that’s not true. These people crave attention and have figured out that being offended/victimized is a way to get people to pay attention, like a footballer doing the overexaggerated injury-face, then springing back up and running downfield again if the ref doesn’t pay attention. As an angry asshole I run into these people often. If I dropped this reply on twitter where I have all of three followers (I never tweet) someone would somehow find it and be offended by it. Tumblr is full of them. Reddit has plenty, depending on what sub you’re in. You get a big enough presence, you’ll get some flak from people who just want attention.

    However, Dawkins repeatedly gets shit from The Entire World because he says shit without thinking. He and Harris don’t seem to realize that their Four Horsemen cred died with Hitchens. The whole “edgy atheist” thing doesn’t work as well as it used to. Shock value has a limited utility. That’s not to say firebrands and intentionally offensive people don’t have their place. I listen religiously to Scathing Atheist and Cognitive Dissonance, and I enjoy drag nights and burlesque shows, but those, in my opinion, are not and should not be the most public face of their respective communities.

    Frankly I think PZ nailed it on all counts. I think Dawkins 100% knew that the rape example was an emotional play, and like he said when you’re the first to slam the emotional dick on the table, you don’t get to cry when someone else slaps theirs down and it’s bigger.

    Then he hit it again. There is a time and a place, *and a tone* in which to discuss rape and child abuse, in addition to other issues. Dawkins strikes out on all three, routinely. He wants to call his critics in this case suppressive, but can I remind the jury *why( he had to apologize to Rebecca Watson? Because she attempted to discuss an issue and he attempted to suppress her by whipping out the lamest excuse ever, “some people have it worse.” Frankly that’s evidence of Dawkins falling on emotional, not rational arguments, and attempting to silence others with shame.

    In other words, Dawkins is mad he’s being beaten with his own pool noddle. You’re right, he needs to get off twitter, and frankly, he probably needs to spend some time considering whether he’s still ready to play this game, or whether it’s time to travel the world all low-key and meet the next generation of atheists not as a Personality, but as a human.

    In closing, I’d like to say that famous people should adopt a variant of something we used to joke about in my infantry battalion. The concept was for a “Battalion Lance Corporal” and angry, disgruntled, low-ranking Marine whose sole job was to sit in on high-level meetings and when appropriate, say “That’s fucking stupid, don’t do/say that” to all the officers who had been promoted away from the men they commanded for too long. Hemant Mehta voiced a similar idea, to have a secular 13 year old read every church billboard before it’s put up and see if he starts giggling at a dirty joke that the pastor is too insulated to get.

    What I’m saying so poorly is that if he isn’t saying this stuff just to generate buzz, then he’s lost touch with atheism as a whole. I’m not going to call him names or insult his intelligence, but I do think it’s possible he’s just out of touch.

    Good episode, but I think you should have tried to get someone on. We’re all at your best when you’re tearing apart ideas with someone who disagrees with you.

  4. Agreed with PS and Alexey.

    Your analysis was not bad Thomas, but like they were on the Imaginary Friends Show, I think you’ve been a bit too generous to Dawkins if anything.

    On separate occasions, Dawkins asserted (or rather put out a “possible quote” which we didn’t know at the time if it just represented his actual opinion, or just his musings of what someone “could” say) that date rape was i) worse, and ii) not worse, than stranger rape.

    From that “Are there emotional no-go areas?” blog post of his:

    ‘“Being raped by a stranger is bad. Being raped by a formerly trusted friend is worse.”…

    “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse.”…

    These are both generalisations. I don’t see how the fact that he stated both really helps, because believing either statement in isolation is wrong, and believing both at the same time is called cognitive dissonance.

    He needed a third statement, a conjunction of the two, as it wasn’t clear that he held a position that either statement could be true or untrue.
    In reality, either could be worse, or more relevantly, the whole question may not be coherent and not even possible to answer (which he didn’t consider, so much for rationality).

    We need to look at each individual case from the victim’s perspective. This is not really “emotion”, it’s logic. He’s just playing into that old sexist stereotype that women get all emotional when asked to objectively analyse certain things. I think this is why people get angry at him sometimes.

  5. Thomas, I respect that you’ve looked into this trying to be fair. I have to say, though, that I came away from this episode feeling that it was mostly one sided against the critics. This may not be quantitatively true, but that’s the way it came across as I listened. You certainly peppered some criticism of Dawkins throughout your defense of him and critique of the shit storm. However, when you got neat the end of the episode, your critiques of Dawkins were weak. About five minutes from the end of the episode, you even said, “believe me I have plenty of criticisms of Dawkins,” and then the episode ended without you exploring those. I think a Thomentary is in order to rectify this.

    Thanks for the show.

  6. The details here don’t much interest me personally. I mean, the man’s got to get a little more clued in. But the main message I took away was that Dawkins is increasingly frustrated with certain topics being off the table for open discussion, and I take that seriously. Do we want to make changes to the way rape is dealt with, socially and in the courts? I assume most people do. And that simply has to raise more questions for most people.

    I’m not going to bore anyone with my experiences, so here’s a challenge for anyone: go to a place like Freethought Blogs, PZ’s is a good example, find an appropriate post–don’t troll or digress–and try to discuss your question openly. I’ve totally given up. The assumption seems to be that reason, rationality and open discussion are great for some things, but not when an issue is really important.

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