Dawkins decries taboos in discussions about society

If you pay any attention to internet atheist sites, or to reporting about atheist brouhahas by the likes of the Independent and the Guardian (for whom Dawkins is a favorite whipping boy), you can hardly be unaware about the fracas surrounding Dawkins’s latest tweets.

I suppose he was fed up by a segment of the atheist blogosphere whose ideology is so rigid that not only is dissent from its views prohibited, but mere discussion of some issues, particularly around gender, is also prohibited. To engage in such discussion immediately brands one as a sister-punisher, a misogynist, a rape-enabler, and various other nasty creatures. Richard, always an advocate of free speech, made several comments on Twitter which seem related to that. The first involved simple logic: if you think two acts are bad, saying that one is worse than the other doesn’t justify the lesser evil: Screen shot 2014-08-04 at 2.58.17 AM

Unfortunately, he chose as an example one of the most hot-button issues around: Screen shot 2014-08-04 at 2.58.39 AM Well, that last tweet is not quite accurate, I think, because the trauma of being raped by a stranger, even at knife-point, may be less than of being raped by someone you knew and trusted. And some people feel that, unlike murder, all rape is equally bad. It would have been better had Richard, say, mentioned consensual statutory rape, in which both partners assented but one was six months below the legal age of consent, and then compared that to more violent forms of rape.

But his point was that, among bad acts, there are degrees of badness, and this is recognized by the courts (“first” vs “second-degree” murder, for instance). He hastened to clarify this with other tweets and with a piece on his website. But it was too late. Using the rape example, for which there do seem to be degrees of badness (I’ve just given one) instead of, say, slapping someone versus beating them within an inch of their life, was not a tweet that, in the present climate, would inspire cool-headed and rational discussion.

But, in a new piece at HuffPo UK, “Are there emotional no-go areas where logic dare not show its face?“, Dawkins explains that he used those issues precisely to demonstrate his point about emotion overcoming reason.  And his tweets about rape (and pedophilia) were also based on his personal experience, since he’s been accused in the past of trying to soft-pedal both (he was a childhood victim of pedophilia). Unfortunately, the reaction he got demonstrated his point about taboos, and in the HuffPo piece he admits it:

I didn’t know quite how deeply those two sensitive issues had infiltrated the taboo zone. I know now, with a vengeance.

I could have told him! But nevertheless, the firestorm had begun. He was accused of saying that some rapes aren’t too bad (prompting further “X and Y” tweets), and was accused again of misogyny.

While he could have used a better example, I was still disturbed by some of the reaction. To me, it seemed, there was a lot of intellectually dishonest pretend-misunderstanding of what Richard (and Sam Harris and others) were actually saying, for there are some people who constantly play a word-parsing game to try to find offense. Such offense is what some bloggers thrive on: it drives traffic, the lifeblood of the Internet.

Richard is clearly not condoning any form of rape or pedophilia, and as his friend I can assure you that I’ve never detected a scintilla of that attitude in him. Nor have I detected misogyny: the overweening hatred of women. I’ve spent a lot of time in his company, and if he’s a woman-hater or rape-enabler, I can assure you that he keeps it completely hidden from his friends.

Perhaps Richard’s a bit ham-handed on Twitter, but let’s remember what point he was making, even if less aptly than I’d prefer:  asking people to think about a question is not the same as asking people to come to a specific conclusion about it. It’s the difference between sharpening a knife and stabbing someone with it. Sam Harris, I think, has, among prominent atheists, suffered the most from this confusion, and in his piece Richard discusses the opprobrium that Sam has experienced.

I’ll be in the air most of today, and so am leaving this piece as an open thread for discussion. Please be civil, and don’t level insults at fellow commenters.  And try to avoid insulting Richard, even if you aren’t keen on him, for he’s my friend. What I’d really like is a demonstration of our ability to discuss calmly and thoughtfully the issues raised by Dawkins in this piece. Taboos are pervasive in US and UK society, and, as Steve Pinker has repeatedly argued, should not be part of intellectual discourse. To discuss a taboo subject is not the same as condoning invidious sentiments. One of the academically taboo subjects I’ve encountered is “human race”: no matter what I say about genetic differences between human groups, I’m sure to be excoriated for not only bringing up the subject (and thus supposedly enabling racism), but not recognizing that race is clearly a “social construct.”

So discuss, and I’ll ask someone with keys to the website to moderate the discussion.  Here are some relevant quotes from Richard’s piece, but you should really read the whole thing before commenting. See you in the U.S.!

I believe that, as non-religious rationalists, we should be prepared to discuss such questions using logic and reason. We shouldn’t compel people to enter into painful hypothetical discussions, but nor should we conduct witch-hunts against people who are prepared to do so. I fear that some of us may be erecting taboo zones, where emotion is king and where reason is not admitted; where reason, in some cases, is actively intimidated and dare not show its face. And I regret this. We get enough of that from the religious faithful. Wouldn’t it be a pity if we became seduced by a different sort of sacred, the sacred of the emotional taboo zone?

. . . I hope I have said enough above to justify my belief that rationalists like us should be free to follow moral philosophic questions without emotion swooping in to cut off all discussion, however hypothetical. I’ve listed cannibalism, trapped miners, transplant donors, aborted poets, circumcision, Israel and Palestine, all examples of no-go zones, taboo areas where reason may fear to tread because emotion is king. Broken noses are not in that taboo zone. Rape is. So is pedophilia. They should not be, in my opinion. Nor should anything else.

I didn’t know quite how deeply those two sensitive issues had infiltrated the taboo zone. I know now, with a vengeance. I really do care passionately about reason and logic. I think dispassionate logic and reason should not be banned from entering into discussion of cannibalism or trapped miners. And I was distressed to see that rape and pedophilia were also becoming taboo zones; no-go areas, off limits to reason and logic.

. . . Nothing should be off limits to discussion. No, let me amend that. If you think some things should be off limits, let’s sit down together and discuss that proposition itself. Let’s not just insult each other and cut off all discussion because we rationalists have somehow wandered into a land where emotion is king. It is utterly deplorable that there are people, including in our atheist community, who suffer rape threats because of things they have said. And it is also deplorable that there are many people in the same atheist community who are literally afraid to think and speak freely, afraid to raise even hypothetical questions such as those I have mentioned in this article. They are afraid – and I promise you I am not exaggerating – of witch-hunts: hunts for latter day blasphemers by latter day Inquisitions and latter day incarnations of Orwell’s Thought Police.

By the way, I am one of those who has been afraid to discuss certain issues, cowed into silence for fear of being pilloried. I am ashamed of that, and the sole reason for my hesitation is that I am a bit of a coward: afraid that what happened to Richard could happen to me, and that my epidermis is not thick enough to take it. (Of course, I’m not nearly as prominent as he, so I shouldn’t worry so much.) And that’s all I’ll say about that.


  1. Robert Bray
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    The rational art of making distinctions is drowned by the wave-action of emotion.

    • Catherine matthews
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think that is really the case. Nor do I think Richard Dawkins got into hot water for tackling an emotive issue particularly. What he got into hot water for is tackling an emotive issue that he had no real understanding of.

      There aren’t emotional no go areas per se. But there are areas about which he know nothing. Rape is clearly a very complicated emotional and legal issue, that requires a bit of background before discussing.

      In the UK a lot of that discussion has already been had by the legal system which has resulted in very clear sentencing guidelines. It has been had by people who’ve first looked at research and background to get sufficient knowledge of the issues. Such as emotional harm, age of victim, level of force and so on. Those discussions have been used to come up with a differential sentencing structure. Dawkins would have done well to read up on those first. To tackle an emotional, or indeed any issue requires research. If he’d done that I doubt he’d have used the examples he did because he’d have found a range of issues within each.

      A modicum go background research would have probably led him to realise that emotional issues aren’t taboo they are just incredibly complex and sensitive. it would have perhaps led him to say that they were best discussed carefully by experts in depth and with consideration of the victims state rather than by glib non experts on twitter feeds. As the person that subsequently published the Rate Your Murder with Richard Dawkins scale said, it’s not his logic but his callousness that was questioned.

      I don’t think he is callous or a rape apologist, but I do think he needs to stop, think and research before speaking. This is far from his first twitter faux pas due to not being in complete possession of facts.

      It is also probably not a good example to use as it has taken quite a long time to have it taken seriously as a crime. It is rife with myths and victim blaming, including a recent one by the UKs Health secretary.

      Dawkins did not get burned for using it as an example. He got burned for not knowing what he was talking about.

      • GBJames
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

        What special training am I required to take before I may express an opinion about this sort of crime? Do I need similar training before saying something about burglary or premeditated homicide?

        • Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

          Hmm what special training do you need? You can offer any opinion you want, after all creationists are always offering opinions on evolution aren’t they!? Yet Dawkins doesn’t seem to take them seriously – and rightly so.

          Offer an opinion but be aware if it is uninformed you’ll sound like an idiot. As Dawkins did in this case. If it’s an issue that is deeply emotional, like this one, you’ll sound like an insensitive idiot.

          So give me your opinion of your rape rankings. And then I’ll ask you to back them up.

          Oh and for the record burglary is a far less complicated crime if you look at the sentencing guideline considerations.

          • GBJames
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

            It stokes me as passing strange to suggest that RD is unaware that “emotional harm, age of victim, level of force and so on. Those discussions have been used to come up with a differential sentencing structure.” while the crime he was bashed about was failing to recognize that “rape=rape”.

          • Grania Spingies
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

            Are you aware that Richard wasn’t offering his opinion on rape? Are you aware that he also tweeted a few minutes later that he readily agreed that date rape could be worse. He wasn’t trying to rank them.

            • Posted August 6, 2014 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

              Yep I’m fully aware that he was firstly using rape to try to make a simple logic example. Bit too many variables I’d have thought. Followed by suggesting that some there are emotional taboos that prevent discussions of some subjects.

              Whereas I’m pointing out that he is incorrect there are no taboos. But there is the caveat that emotional and complex issues do not lend themselves to meaningful discussions unless those involved are prepared to make themselves aware of the issues and, in the process, balance the trivialities of the discussions or twitter examples, with the harm caused. You can use anything for a logic comparison.

              And don’t forget he compounded it with a stealing a pound is bad, stealing an old ladies savings is worse ooh don’t compare you idiots type of tweet. Perhaps if he’d engaged brain he’d have said stealing old ladies savings and breaking her jaw is bad, stealing her savings and beating her to death is worse. Might have made a better comparator.

              Rape taxes the courts and juries and has long lasting effects on victims. It’s victims deserve proper supportive discourse not trite sound bites that led to lots of the usual old victim blaming on his website.

              As I said creationists often have discussions about evolution. Doesn’t make it right or useful! Doesn’t make what they say worth hearing either. Perhaps a better title would have been are there some discussions that don’t work if people too ignorant to have them.

              • Xuuths
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

                I was raped as a child. I guess that makes me “qualified” — and I agree with Dawkins. Oh, and he was also a victim of child molestation himself, so is also “qualified.”


              • aljones909
                Posted August 7, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

                @catherine “that led to lots of the usual old victim blaming on his website.”.

                Can you substantiate that with examples?

          • SA Gould
            Posted August 13, 2014 at 7:57 am | Permalink

            Dawkins makes comments that go for the jugular. That is why he is loved/hated. His comment was his opinion. It was just a Tweet, not an article.

            As to which as worseDateRape v Stranger KnifepointRape- not in the legal sense- it depends on how the individual woman perceived it. There is no right/wrong answer.

      • Peter Beattie
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

        » Catherine matthews:
        What he got into hot water for is tackling an emotive issue that he had no real understanding of.

        And obviously you have no real understanding of the point he was making, or you would realize that he did not formulate any opinion.

        As for the emotion part of the example, that was exactly the point he was trying to make with respect to some topic being a taboo. Which you corroborated splendidly.

        • Posted August 6, 2014 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

          Well if you read what I said, I stated a) the discussion on rape had already been had hence a sentencing structure. Rendering his comment irrelevant.

          And b) some discussions are so complex and emotive they need a lot of information and sensitivity to have them. That was not what Dawkins said. He suggested emotional issues should be open for discussion by any old idiot. Which they can be, after all creationists have discussions all the time on stuff they don’t understand, but it doesn’t really work at all.

          I just suggested had he thought for five minutes that would have been the statement he’d make.

          But I’d like to suggest another topic for him. Is Richard Dawkins such an emotional topic that discussions about him are taboo. Cos it seems he’s either got to be wholly right in the eyes of his fans, or wholly wrong in the eyes of his detractors. Why can’t he be right sometimes and wrong others? Some, most of his stuff is brilliant. Other stuff is naff. That is actually acceptable and normal. Uncritical adoration of anyone does not sit well with rational thinking.

          • Xuuths
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

            We’re fine pointing out when he’s wrong. But he’s right about this. You are wrong.

          • Posted August 6, 2014 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

            Sturgeon’s Law for people?


          • Posted August 6, 2014 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

            Alright Catherine, that’s enough. I said Dawkins is my friend, and you simply want to run him down. I already criticized him in my post above, so it’s clear that nobody here adores him uncritically. You are attacking a strawman, and I want you to stop it now.

            Focus on the ideas, not the man–if you’re capable of doing that. Otherwise you’re trolling.

      • Faustus
        Posted August 7, 2014 at 6:30 am | Permalink

        This is a great post. You have summed up the issues with RD’s argument well.

  2. Mal
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:28 am | Permalink


    • francis
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:37 am | Permalink


  3. nickswearsky
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    Please keep doing what you do. The response to Dawkins has been totally inappropriate. Don’t become PZ Myers.

    • Marnix
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:30 am | Permalink

      I hope Richard keeps raising these issues. His honest approach towards breaking certain taboo’s, is something that is greatly needed in these days of forced political correctness.

      PZ Myers attack on Dawkins a while back was totally inappropriate. Coupled with the whole Debacle around falsely accusing Micheal Shermer of sexual assault; without a shred of evidence, has greatly reduced my respect for PZ.

      • Catherine matthews
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

        Political correctness gives people a measure of protection against having their lives made hell.

      • Catherine matthews
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

        Political correctness gives people a measure of protection against having their lives made hell.

    • Jonathan Houser
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:38 am | Permalink

      I second this. I like PZ, and I read pharyngula regularly. But the tone of that blog is vastly different than the tone of this website (not blog!).

      At pharyngula, civil discussion is not encouraged as it is here. There is a sense of pride about the unruly horde mentality. And the horde all acts to tow the singular party line.

      I agree with most of the social issues that Meyers champions, feminism, environmentalism, social justice, economic fairness, but so many of the posts seem to exist only to whip the horde into an acrimonious zealotry so they can tear apart any body that asks questions in the comment section. And if one brings this up, you only get accused of “tone trolling.” Turning the vitriol up to 11 is the only way many of these blogs know how to have a discussion, and in Pharyngula’s case, they take pride in that fact.

      I am liberal, but sometimes liberalism can get out of hand. The right doesn’t have a monopoly on faux outrage.

      • Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:55 am | Permalink

        “toe the line,” not “tow the line.”

        Also, I agree about PZ’s blog. What is interesting is that I recently re-read Sam Harris’s blog post from 2012 “Wrestling the Troll” (http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/wrestling-the-troll) which tears PZ apart (deservedly, in my opinion), and I’ve also recently re-read part of The God Delusion, in which Dawkins commends PZ and recommends readers to visit Pharyngula. He says something like, “PZ Myers almost always gets it right” or something to that effect. I hope this error can be corrected in future editions. It is really interesting and strange how Pharyngula and PZ have changed over the years. It used to be a great blog. Now it’s an embarrassing mess.

        • Kevin
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:16 am | Permalink

          I recall many years ago, PZ used to frequently have lurid, almost shocking, posts with scantily clad woman and then he stopped. He definitely felt some forms of liberalism were not worth pushing especially with the possibility of offended half of humanity. Likewise, he has, in the last few years, gone overboard a few times with thinking the world rests on his shoulders to defend all issues regarding woman’s rights.

          • Cephus
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

            That’s because PZ is just an attention whore, he’ll do anything for hits. If putting up naked women gets him attention, he’ll do that. If jumping on the hyper-feminist bandwagon will get him attention, he’ll do that too. If he could get away with both at the same time, I’m sure he’d be putting that up on Pharyngula right this second.

            • GBJames
              Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:03 am | Permalink

              IMO that sort of comment is uncalled for just as much as gratuitous Dawkins-bashing. There’s no reason to suggest that PZ doesn’t mean what he says.

              (Note so as not to be misunderstood: I don’t often visit his blog for the reasons others have already described. I’m only defending him from name-calling.)

              • Cephus
                Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

                I don’t buy that for a second. As someone who read him for many years, he goes where the wind blows. Just my opinion, of course.

          • allison
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:35 am | Permalink

            The strange thing is that his commentariat generally had no problem with that (the scantily-clad girl photographs) right up until the Elevatorgate mess broke. Then, just like PZ, they all became radical feminists overnight. Now they’re a bunch of Victorian prudes when it comes to sexuality.

            • D'oh
              Posted August 5, 2014 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

              Huh? I’ve been reading Pharyngula for years. I don’t remember scantily-clad girl photos in the years before Elevatorgate.

          • Catherine matthews
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

            Maybe PZ simply recognised a problem earlier than the rest of the atheist websites did. Maybe he’s compensating for them.

            I found the Dawkins website very sexist in the past. More like a lads mag at times than a discussion site. And when women objected they were verbally eviscerated.

            I like PZ better purely and simply because I’m not a second class citizen reduced to body parts there. As you said you can’t be relevant if you dehumanise and alienate half of humanity.

        • Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:53 am | Permalink

          It is really interesting and strange how Pharyngula and PZ have changed over the years. It used to be a great blog. Now it’s an embarrassing mess.

          I agree. I hardly ever visit it. Usually only to see the “show” of fulmination over some issue that was mentioned elsewhere.

          I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen honest, civil questions in the comments section of Pharyngula be answered with: “Fuck you!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Real serious discussion we’re having there, eh? Really repulsive. And especially from a group that supposedly prides itself for its reasoning attitudes.

          And the minions-horde attitude is very off-putting. Should the secular/rationalist community really be in lockstep and have a hair-trigger for outrage (so similar to the “Danish Cartoons Incident”)? And, as Richard points out, should we have a taboo list and thought police? My answer is no.

          • darrelle
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

            Yes indeed. I was a regular for years there as well, many of the notable commenters here were also. I stopped visiting years ago. PZ always had a problem with sticking his foot in his mouth and then holding on to that mistake like a pitbull instead of simply admitting he was wrong.

            I thought that was his one weak spot, but it didn’t happen very often. Until it became normal, that is. In my opinion PZ has gotten high on the adulation of his followers and his fame. It is probably too late to save him. Perhaps if he had had one of his followers regularly whispering in his ear “All glory is fleeting,” he may have remained more grounded.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

              Or hit rock bottom like Robert Downey Jr.

            • Scote
              Posted August 5, 2014 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

              “Z always had a problem with sticking his foot in his mouth and then holding on to that mistake like a pitbull instead of simply admitting he was wrong.”

              Indeed. He seems to be so emotionally invested in his arguments – with support of the hoard he has fostered – that he takes even well founded criticism very poorly. I posted over the years but was banned – not for being uncivil, for that is allowed as long as it is in service of the blog’s ethos, but essentially for disagreeing with PZ.

              • Posted August 5, 2014 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

                That is so bizarre. Call someone a fuckwit and you are fine, as long as you are spouting acceptable views. But if you disagree in a civil manner with a popular position, you could get banned.


              • Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:05 am | Permalink

                Yes, I remember your comments there for years. (When I still visited it.) And it doesn’t surprise me one bit that you got banned for disagreeing with PZ.

                I got an absurdly violent tongue-lashing in the comments section from PZ himself, when I commented in a way he didn’t like (I didn’t slavishly agree). It was waaaaaay out of proportion.* (That was when I stopped visiting the site.)

                He has zero tolerance for dissent. The mark of a fully closed mind.

                (* I think he has styled himself as Dr. Out-of-Proportion. Dr. Outrage. I think some people, like the people who used to watch Jerry Springer, love that kind of stimulation: Give me over-the-top conflict to hold my attention! And, has been mentioned: He sure seems to have developed into a serious narcissist and “get’s high” on the adulation of his “minions”.)

          • Manzibe
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 7:56 am | Permalink

            As is entirely evident by the Google Trends graph (linked below), The demise of PZ Meyers (spelled wrong just to annoy him) begins with Elevatorgate.

            Just a brief resurgence to troll Michael Shermer for more hits but the writing has been on the wall for a long time.

            I, for one, have enjoyed watching his journey to insignificance.


        • Jonathan Houser
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

          Huh, I never knew it was “toe the line.” “tow” just made so much more sense. Thanks for the correction, as I have always wrote it with a ‘w’

          • sinister
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

            That’s besides the point. Irregardless of what it actually is, I could care less how you should use it. 😉 [/joke]

          • Posted August 5, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

            How could “tow” make more sense? The line refers to a set of rules or dictates that must be adhered to, visualized as making sure your digits don’t encroach on a line!

            As “toeing the line” means to adhere, how could “tow” (i.e. to pull or drag) make more sense? You conform to the standard, not the other way around.


            • KiwiInOz
              Posted August 5, 2014 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

              Tow the line makes sense if you think of it like tow rag.


              • Jonathan Houser
                Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

                that is actually what I always thought it referenced. I always had the image of a group of people lined up holding a rope trying to pull a large object. That is what I thought it meant when I was young and never had any reason to think to look up what it actually meant. Life is funny like that.

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

              As “toeing the line” means to adhere,

              Actually, I always thought it was a cognate of “coming up to [scratch, snuff]”, in the sense of bare-knuckle boxing.
              what does the Wikipedia article say? …
              Hmmm, sensible other derivations, including from various forms of racing, and disciplined parades (can you have an undisciplined parade?) ; but the concept of coming up to a predefined mark before commencing [whatever] runs through them all.
              “towing the line” … sounds like an euphemism for taking a log reading.
              homophones? Hoo kneads them?

          • Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:12 am | Permalink

            Toe the line comes the Royal Navy, when the divisions were called for inspection. The crew would line up on specific seams in the deck (the line).

      • nickswearsky
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:01 am | Permalink

        I used to like PZ. I used to read and occasionally post on his blog. No more. He’s gone round the bend.

      • Scote
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:51 am | Permalink

        Pharyngula used to be my favorite blog, and I loved his sense of humor, writing and how he stood up to accommodation. But the place has changed, now mob-mentality and sanctimonious “shout downs” in the comments – encouraged by PZ himself – turn off rational discourse in favor of emotional group think. PZ used to criticized the Chris Mooney for cutting off dialogue in the comments, now PZ is the one doing it. It is a great disappointment.

        • Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:55 am | Permalink

          Bullseye, Scote. Very well said.

        • Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

          I think PZ was a great writer, able to create beautiful and effective prose. I loved his Sunday Sacrilege feature.

          But I do not respect the way he has been increasingly tarring and feathering other atheist activists, many of whom, imo, don’t actually deserve it. So I visit Pharyngula much less often than I used to, because that’s most of what he does these days.

          • Posted August 7, 2014 at 5:25 am | Permalink

            Yes, there was a time. But I can’t recommend his book. That was a damp squib. And especially considering the build-up, the online hand-wringing, the sabbatical.

            It took all that to assemble (and very slightly, very-very slightly) polish some blog posts that he already had on his ‘puter?

        • Peter Beattie
          Posted August 6, 2014 at 11:09 am | Permalink

          Exactly the point, Scote. If the host encourages, or at least doesn’t curb, the mob mentality, the pile-ons, and the irrational attacks, then something like Pharyngula is exactly what you get—arguably, what you want to get.

        • Diane G.
          Posted August 6, 2014 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

          I never visit Pharyngula anymore, unless maybe someone here posts a link they think is relevant to some WEIT discussion. PZ’s status as one of the widely-known atheist celebs embarrasses me.

          IMO Greg Laden self-destructed first, though.

          • Scote
            Posted August 9, 2014 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

            “IMO Greg Laden self-destructed first, though.”

            Yeah, I’m still unsure of why they invited him on FtB. He crashed pre-FtB, and during FtB.

            • Diane G.
              Posted August 9, 2014 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

              You are a font of FtB info. 🙂 I’m enjoying it.

      • Jonathan Houser
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

        Here is an example of this kind of phenomenon on pharyngula that I experienced a while back. There was a post on feminism some months back that I foolishly replied to. It had to do with rape culture, and men not taking “no” for an answer, and that women don’t like that. All fair enough, I agreed with the point he was making.

        In my post though, I posed the legitimate question, “What are men to make of all of the hyper popular female erotica focused on rape or female submission to male dominators, such as 50 Shades of Grey? Do women that promote rape fantasies have a hand in propping up the idea that women want a dominating man?” Even FreeThoughtBlog’s own feminist Greta Christina writes erotica that frequently focuses on female submission, and even rape fantasies. Hell, she has even written about the very question I brought up. I wasn’t defending rape, blaming women for being harassed, or anything of that nature. It was a legitimate question that I thought was worthy of discussion amongst a group of feminists.

        By their reactions you would think I had just insisted that all women are to blame for being raped and probably liked it anyway. No matter how much I tried to insist that I was not blaming women for being raped, I was accused of being a “secret MRA” that was blaming the victims, defending rape culture, and “JAQing off,” (an acronym I didn’t even know, and that they refused to explain, insisting that I knew what it meant.)

        To them, I was just the nefarious “other.” I eventually was just shouted down and left, and they all patted themselves on the back for accomplishing whatever it is that they think they had done. Of course Greta, whom I like, is rewarded for asking the exact same question. Within some liberal circles, political correctness goes to such an extreme, to even bring up a topic is to endorse the worst side of it.

        • Posted August 5, 2014 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

          You mean Greta Christina — author of rape fantasy books and proud member of a community known for it’s rather extreme language (including death wishes, insert porcupines, bleed to death, die in a fire etc…) who recently declared that people who write shocking/insulting things — say with rape imagery — are to be ostracized from the movement and that their dubious quotes shall become a permanent feature of their online persona, like the scarlet A on Heather’s shirt. The same Greta Christina who named one protagonist/rape victim of her stories “Abbie”, like their arch enemy A. Smith at the time? The same Greta Christina who pretends to not know any of this and pretends that it does not raise any eyebrows?

          Yeah, these people are impossible. I’m not condoning any of these things, I am just somewhat astonished at the level of hypocrisy and/or utter lack of introspection of her and her gang (Ed Brayton and co, to make matters even more comical, agreed to her message).

          • Xuuths
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

            Pointing out things like that will get a tsunami of rebuke, regardless of their accuracy. So sad.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

          In my post though, I posed the legitimate question, “What are men to make of all of the hyper popular female erotica focused on rape or female submission to male dominators, such as 50 Shades of Grey?

          “No True Scotsman,” would be the response, I guess. not having read any of that claptrap (de Sade probably did better. Remember the ‘Gor’ novels of John norman – no, sorry, bad example ; I thought that the popular trope that they were written under a male name, but by a woman; it seems not so.
          I don’t waste time with literary reviews – is the author of the “50 Shades Of bondage erotica confirmed to be female, or just allegedly female?

          • Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

            Norman is male, and a professor of philosophy, to boot.


            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted August 6, 2014 at 1:45 am | Permalink

              Like I said, a bad example. I’d picked up the idea somewhere – back in the days before the Internet – that “John Norman” was a pseudonym and that the real author was a woman. Incorrect as I found out when I checked.

              • Posted August 6, 2014 at 3:23 am | Permalink

                Well, maybe it will make the philosophy critics happy …


              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 3:29 am | Permalink

                make the philosophy critics happy …

                Is that a logical – let alone a physical – possibility? Sounds like a straight-edged circle to me.

              • Posted August 6, 2014 at 3:45 am | Permalink

                All circles are straight edged — if you look at them from the side…


              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

                Hmmm, Abbot wasn’t it? Yes.

      • Gerry
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

        PZ Myers has this public image as an uber-rationalist, yet I think of him as a Jim Jones type leading a weird online cult. There’s no tolerance of dissent on an open blog that calls itself “no holds barred unmoderated chaos” (Thunderdome) while Myers tells commenters to “expect rough handling”, but jumps in when his Inner Circle are losing an argument. A sad clusterfuck of stupid.

  4. Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    The thread on Richard’s own site – where the piece also appears – is interesting and generally civil.

    • Diane G.
      Posted August 7, 2014 at 12:07 am | Permalink

      And apparently one doesn’t have to toe any party line to post there. I like the way his moderators work.

    • Phil Giordana FCD
      Posted August 8, 2014 at 2:42 am | Permalink

      Russell: did you get any apology from Myers for calling you a liar?

  5. Barry Lyons
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    Jerry, this is very good, and if Dawkins is guilty of anything, it is, as you suggest, his ham-handedness. That’s unfortunate — but it doesn’t take anything away from his solid argument.

    • Cephus
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      I don’t think it’s ham-handed at all. He was making a point and the furor that erupted over it showed that he was right. Atheists, and more specifically liberal atheists, cannot evaluate discussions of sex crimes rationally. The second anyone says anything about rape, they react emotionally and freak out and run around with pitchforks. It isn’t just Richard Dawkins, but anyone who has ever tried to have a rational discussion about rape or the like. It’s always PZ Myers and the FtB/Skepchick mob that lead the charge of irrationality. Why? Because it gets them hits!

      Dawkins proved once again what a huge irrational contingent we have within atheism.

      • GBJames
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

        I don’t think you can claim both “Because it gets them hits!” AND that they are irrational because if the former is true then the latter isn’t.

        Why can’t we allow that they actually mean what they say. We don’t need to agree with it, but it doesn’t help to assert that they are, in essence, lying about their position.

      • Cliff Melick
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

        I agree. And when I first read Richard’s tweet and the reactions to it, I thought “What a neat thing he’s done, using social media to conduct a social experiment.” I suspect after reading his explanation that I might have been giving him a bit more credit than was deserved, but from the emotional reaction of so many “tweeters” he was certainly proved right (not to mention that most “tweeters” missed his point entirely).

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted August 11, 2014 at 3:24 am | Permalink

          I’m pretty sure the correct term is actually “twerps” or “twats”.

  6. Dermot C
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    Nice one, Jerry.

    The problem with twitter, facebook et al is that the minimum, and often the maximum, requirements one needs to participate is the ability to like something: a skill which does not even make it to the bottom level of Bloom’s taxonomy. Quite literally, dumbing down.

    And yes, many commenters deliberately misunderstand any contrarian point you might make: it is a sheep-pen for grandstanding one’s approbation for the blindingly obvious and banal.


    • Grania Spingies
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:42 am | Permalink

      A number of months ago, Richard decried having had a pot of honey confiscated at airport security.

      The outpouring of scorn and venom and “how could he not know it was forbidden”, “first world problems” style of response that followed on Twitter made it clear that those who joined the scorn or mockery were delighted to deliberately misunderstand and twist what he had said into some idiotic caricature for their own malicious amusement.

      It wasn’t the fact that some people really dislike him that was noteworthy; it was the deliberate dishonesty.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:51 am | Permalink

        Yes, I’ve noticed that too. That people lie in wait for Richard (or others) to say something for them to be outraged about.

        There should be a measure for potential outrage!

        • Robert Seidel
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:17 am | Permalink

          O = pck

          Where O: outrage, p: prominence of person, c: controversiality of subject, k: media dependent constant.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

          A post-facto measure could be the group size of, let’s say the scum (because they flocculate around hot air issues), of outraged.

        • Cephus
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:05 am | Permalink

          Of course, because Dawkins hasn’t bought into their emotionalized nonsense hook, line and sinker, he’s been critical of them, therefore they lie in wait for anything he says that can be twisted into a controversy.

          This is how these people operate.

        • Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:34 am | Permalink

          There really should be a measure for potential outrage. If there were, we could assign grades to people based on their propensity for outrage. I think a lot of the reactions to Dawkins’ post are those of grade “A” outrage junkies.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

          Every time I’ve mentioned Dawkins on Twitter (whom I greatly admire), I get responses irrationally attacking him. I believe there are people with alerts on his name waiting to attack.

          There is a part of the atheist community on Twitter who are quite nasty and have all these rules that they think atheists should follow, and woe betide those who don’t! This even includes words you’re not allowed to use.

          Imo, while these people are atheists, they are not logical or rational. They annoy me intensely and I really wish they’d either just grow up or go away. They seem to be trying to impress, but it’s really not working. It’s attention seeking behaviour and we should probably feel sorry for them, but they make it pretty difficult.

      • darrelle
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

        Absolutely. We often exclaim how anyone who claims Richard is strident must have never heard him speak, or read anything by him. What was a bit surprising to me until relatively recently is just how many people who are scientists themselves, or merely “science friendly,” have the same prejudiced reaction to Richard, whole being almost totally ignorant of him, as the believers do.

        I learned this after encountering a few posts regarding him on websites that are specifically science oriented and inhabited largely by people working in the sciences.

  7. Griff
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    RD can be proud to have been the target of hatchet jobs in both the Telegraph AND the Guardian now, thus covering both ends of the journalistic political spectrum.

    The UK press just love to hate him. For my part, I’ve always thought him a perfectly decent human being.

    In reality, he’s an easy target for those who don’t like people being openly dismissive about religious belief.

    • Ian Hewitson
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      As far as the press is concerned,they think Richard Dawkins should stick to science and let the humanities people (ie – themselves)do the talking about the other stuff. He encroaches on their patch and they don’t like him for it.

  8. Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    Is part of the problem with the rape/date rape issue precisely the one that Jerry raises – they can’t be put in order of severity, because they are multi-dimensional. On an ‘immediate peril’ axis, knifepoint rape scores more highly than date rape or ‘boyfriend rape’ because though the violation may be the same, the victim is less likely to believe that s/he will be killed. But on the ‘betrayal’ axis, the date rape is far worse. In multi-dimensional spaces, ordering isn’t really possible. Is that why Richard’s critics disliked his logical reduction, whether consciously or not?

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:45 am | Permalink

      The thing is, that Richard was not actually trying to put rape into order of severity. He was trying to point out that the fact that someone is of the opinion that one form or another *might* be worse does not automatically mean that they think that the putative lesser form is acceptable or excusable.

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink


      • Peter Beattie
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

        Cannot be repeated too often. That’s why I (kind of) repeated it below. 😉

        • Posted August 6, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

          Also, it can’t be repeated enough that people who do order the severity should not be dismissed due to it being taboo. If you disagree with an argument that one is more severe, justify why, just as you would any other claim.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:50 am | Permalink

      I agree there are many variables that go into deciding if one thing is worse than another thing. It resembles that “would you rather” game – “would you rather eat a bunch of grubs or drink a cup of vinegar?” That game.

      What is important is we think through if these things can be put into a sequence of bad, more bad, etc., and what criteria we would consider when doing so. This is what Richard suggests – that we have the discussion and that nothing is off limits – in this discussion; we may find that Richard has missed some criteria, or we have. This then moves the discussion forward and our brains give us little chemical rewards for getting closer to an understanding.

      • Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:05 am | Permalink

        Replacing the toilet paper in the improper “overhand” position is bad. Not replacing the toilet paper at all is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of putting the toilet paper in the improper overhand position, go away and learn how to use toilet paper properly! And how to think!

        Dawkins really should have used that example in his follow-up tweet.

        • GBJames
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:07 am | Permalink

          If you want to make a point about taboos, it helps to use an example that elicits the “taboo reaction”. Toilet paper roll orientation fails on that account.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:19 am | Permalink

            I have to agree – it isn’t taboo, it’s just that the advocates of one or the other are entrenched in their opinions.

          • Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

            I didn’t mean for that to be taken seriously.

            • GBJames
              Posted August 5, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

              I didn’t mean to take it seriously. Or did I? 😉

            • DireLobo
              Posted August 7, 2014 at 11:55 am | Permalink

              Well I take it seriously. In my household, you can get a big fine for loading the paper wrong – and everyone with half a brain knows the end goes over to top! Sheesh.

              • merilee
                Posted August 7, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

                Except for Diana – LOL

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted August 7, 2014 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

                Well, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been accused for only having half a brain but you’re toilet paper orientation is still wrong.

        • Scote
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:53 am | Permalink


          If you have cats, placing it over hand is bad. Got to go with under hand if you don’t want the cats to unreel the entire roll with their paws.

          • Ken Phelps
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

            Why do you hate cats?

            • Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:22 am | Permalink

              And why are you so strident and outspoken in your insane hatred of cats?!!! When did you stop lighting cats on fire?!!!

        • Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

          So I guess leaving just one square of tp on the roll is somewhere in between.
          BTW, Diana, on my recent road trip across Canuckland, I was pleased to see that every single motel had in installed properly in the overhand fashion🐱

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

            Over top is the preferred way of installing toilet paper. Everyone I’ve met believes so. It doesn’t make it the right way though. 🔙

            • Posted August 5, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

              I guess we in this majority just don’t see the error of our ways- LOL

        • SA Gould
          Posted August 13, 2014 at 8:09 am | Permalink

          I liked your analogy. It defuses the situation. But it seems Dawkins *wants* to inflame. Which is his right, he certainly takes the heat for it.

    • Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      Part of the problem here, and Dawkins chose the subject for apparently this specific reason, is that one can never comment on certain issues without drawing a tidal wave of opprobrium just for bringing it up. How can we have a serious discussion about the issue of sexual abuse when every time its brought up, it produces such deeply emotional reactions in people that reason can’t squeeze through the door? I completely gave up on trying to engage on a reasonable level with people when I suggested in a few forums some months ago that, regardless of one’s personal feelings, it is irrational and unreasonable to paint the entirety of masculinity as Elliot Roger, only to have my head taken off by dozens of the most vicious and vile of personal attacks. No one ever argued as to the veracity or logical consistency of my statement, they simply disagreed with me on an emotionally charged issue and lashed out accordingly. This is, in and of itself, a serious problem.

    • Michael Sommers
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:08 am | Permalink

      It is possible to compare the magnitudes of multi-dimensional vectors.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted August 11, 2014 at 3:29 am | Permalink

        …but only if you can define a unit vector.

  9. Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    A bit of insight into the storm that was brewed over Dawkins’ tweets and follow-up article. No one ever accused Richard Dawkins of saying that Date Rape is Okay by him, and his defense seems to be stuck on that accusation against his accusers.

    The criticism relates to the pretension of being able to rank “logically” a scale of badness of rape and then to dismiss any criticism through deflection as an emotional display of weakness. Also, he continued on far past where he should have listended to the criticism to gain an understanding of where the objections lie rather and continued to bulldoze his way in defense of “pure reason and logic” when discussing something that bears a heavy emotional cost for victims.

    Rape is not a “taboo” subject for discussion, but the point of discussion is to read and comprehend the perspective of the people with whom one is discussing and Dawkins and his tone-deaf supporters are responding by dismissing as “emotional” the objections again refusing to understand what the problem is.

    People have been willing to give him a pass on the “mild pedophilia (whatever that is)” tweet based on knowledge that he has written about that experience, but on the rape charge he approached “logically” an issue on which he has no experiental reference and has constructed what he calls a syllogism that can’t be constructed logically because the experience of rape can not be absolutely scaled. Legally, yes, by necessity, but the law is often a poor example of logic considering how it has been developed and applied.

    This is not about ‘hurt feelings’ and ’emotions’ this is about someone wading in without the qualification to “rank” rape and then dismissing out of hand the objections.

    • GBJames
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:48 am | Permalink

      How exactly is logically ranking badness of rape (or anything else) a “pretension”?

      If you are serious about your question (“mild pedophilia (whatever that is)”), you might bother to read what he had to say on the subject.

      Finally, what qualifications do I need to say that statutory rape of a willing 16 year old girl by her 17 year old boyfriend is less bad than rape of an 8 year old child by a priest? Do I need these special qualifications to comment on the difference between petty theft and systematic extortion by the Mafia?

      • Daoud
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

        I think you’re not accurately reflecting RD’s example. IF he HAD used your example, it would have passed by unmolested (har). He could have used many examples to illustrate his point. You used a very clear example “consensual sex between 2 teenagers is (much) less bad than child rape by a priest” (and most laws agree, most places have caveats in statuary rape laws concerning the age of the people in question). That is not even close to RD’s example.

        You could even argue your example contradicts RD’s. A priest in question could have been the child’s priest since baptism, so hardly a “stranger”, whereas 2 teenagers could be hooking up at a party without having known each other and essentially be strangers.

        The law does rank “badness” rape tends to be rape with extra “badness” added as aggravating factors.

        RD’s example was a dumb thing to say, it was inaccurate, and I think it is fair to call him out on it. I am not saying you take one dumb thing said and then crucify RD!

        • GBJames
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:20 am | Permalink

          I wasn’t addressing RD’s example. I was responding to the assertion that rational ranking of offenses can’t (shouldn’t?) be done. It is a preposterous assertion.

          And I was pointing out that ignorance of someones position (“mild pedophilia (whatever that is)”) doesn’t put you in a very good position to criticize the position.

          • Daoud
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:38 am | Permalink

            You may not have been addressing RD’s example directly, but, in my view, you reinforce the criticism about RD’s example because *your* example is so clear cut in contrast to his. Try asserting that rational ranking of offences can’t be done is preposterous using RD’s example. Your counterclaim becomes so much weaker.

            RD should have used your example.

            • GBJames
              Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

              If he had asked I would have agreed to it.

            • Posted August 5, 2014 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

              I think Dawkins’ real point is a level of abstraction higher. GBJames pointed out a pretty clear cut example of two types of rape that most people see a clear distinction between. Dawkins may have picked a less clear cut example, but his point that discussion about ranking them being taboo is still clear. Hence, the “rape is rape” hysteria. If we parse this objection, it closely resembles the No True Scotsman Fallacy. Sure, we could argue that a 17-year male having sex with his 16-year old girlfriend isn’t “real rape,” especially when the charges are brought by the girl’s parents through some misguided attempt at revenge. But, the fact is, society does call this case rape and it is no controversy to argue that it is much worse than a priest raping an 8 year old child, and defining rape in a way where only unclear cases are considered is to simply avoid discussion. There’s a quite obvious distinction when the far ends of the spectrum are compared.

              That sais, I disagree that Dawkins using this clear cut example would’ve necessarily resulted in less of a firestorm. Imagine the uproar amongst Catholics, who far outnumber atheists, if RD had brought this subject up again. One doesn’t need much of an imagination to envision the outrage over “unprovoked attacks on the Church.”

      • Linda Grilli Calhoun
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

        GB, I have to somewhat agree with Tangled here.

        Ranking can be done logically, legalistically, no question. But, different people are going to have different reactions to being in the same situation, and it behooves us to respect that. The whole “rational is good, emotional is bad” thing doesn’t necessarily apply when someone is traumatized.

        Dawkins has displayed this problem when he expressed that because he was the victim of “mild pedophilia” and didn’t suffer much from it, that therefore, anyone else in the same situation should react as he did. There may be other factors in other situations that the listener is unaware of. I don’t think Dawkins is misogynist because of that; he may have just expressed himself badly.

        My take is that a rational analysis is useful in the main over a kneejerk reaction, but that there are times when that emotional reaction is protective of the user. Having been a shrink for many years, I can guarantee you that if you don’t take people where they are, you won’t get anywhere trying to convince them that they should be elsewhere. L

        • GBJames
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:24 am | Permalink

          The problem is, of course, that there is no subject that doesn’t provoke an emotional reaction in somebody. The only way to eliminate emotional reactions is to STFU.

          Which was the point of the exercise.

        • Kevin
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:42 am | Permalink

          Rape, as a definition, is difficult to pinpoint. What I consider as a form of rape is no where near what others would consider rape. There are things that could be done to my body that others would simple be unwilling to accept as reasonable and vice versa. In my experience, perspective helps. The more one learns about the experiences of others the more one has a better understanding of what is rape.

          • GBJames
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:46 am | Permalink

            I expect you’d be excused from the jury for a rape trial.

            • Kevin
              Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

              I have been disqualified from a jury. The defense knew I was going to charge the young man for rape, regardless of the evidence, in fact, in the very absence of evidence. I was young and retributivist back then. I no longer feel that prison rehabilitates people properly, especially rapists.

              • JT
                Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

                “The defense knew I was going to charge the young man for rape, regardless of the evidence, in fact, in the very absence of evidence”

                Wow, that’s really scary that there are people like you out there. Now I can understand why O.J. Simpson got off. Some people just have an axe to grind; evidence be damned.

          • nightglare
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

            Rape has a legal definition, which varies from country to country, or state to state. It isn’t up to each of us to decide what rape is.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

          I consider the various ways people view rape as inputs into the ranking. Richard expressed his ideas, others could express their’s. It does not follow that ranking is bad, it does follow that further inputs may be required.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

            Apologies for “their’s”. Yikes.

      • Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink

        In Florida, a 16 or 17 year-old can drive a car and wield a rifle, but the State will afford her no agency over her own body when it comes to sex. Compound that with the fact that the state will argue that her lover has to go to jail for many years because she doesn’t have the mental capacity to give consent, but if she were to be implicated in a felony, there is virtually no chance that she wouldn’t be tried as an adult. It makes NO SENSE.

    • Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:17 am | Permalink

      You’ve completely missed the point. You say “The criticism relates to the pretension of being able to rank “logically” a scale of badness of rape…” He was not trying to rank the badness of rape (“logically” or otherwise). He was trying to illustrate a logical fallacy and used rape as a hypothetical example. He has said himself that the order doesn’t matter (to his point). It easily could have been reversed. He was not trying to rank anything; he was only trying to say that if someone does rank something on a scale of bad to very bad, that is not an endorsement of the thing that is bad. The fact that you can still misunderstand and still misrepresent his position after his clarifications (in which he specifically addresses this misunderstanding) suggests that you are being disingenuous here.

      • Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:27 am | Permalink

        pacopicopiedra hit it on the head – people are arguing with the hypothetical as if it were the meat of the argument; it wasn’t. The point isn ‘rape blah blah rape’, the point is ‘we need to stop creating taboos that shut down rational discussion’.

        ANY dissection of the hypothetical as the gist of RD’s argument is profoundly missing the point of the entire thing.

      • Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:28 am | Permalink

        Yes. The word “logically” in the first tweet shown above does not refer to the process of ranking.

      • David Evans
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink

        The fact that it took you so many words to say it suggests that Twitter was not the best medium for RD to use.

        • Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

          No, I don’t think Twitter’s the problem.

          It’s reading comprehension. Some people need to have it explained, others can understand it as it is just fine.

          If there’s anything RD possibly should’ve done differently it was to choose other things to fill in as X and Y.

      • Florian Reuter
        Posted August 7, 2014 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

        Yes, you´re right, he was not ranking but pointing out a logical fallacy. That´s why the Skepchick ranking of rape according to RD is not only childish but beside the point. However, I don´t know of anybody who ever claimed he was “endorsing” rape etc. What people accused him of in the “mild pedophilia” kerkuffle was belitteling other´s experiences (and rightly so, in my opinion). In his tweets, if you replace “endorsement” by “belittling”, his whole logical argument falls apart. So my perception is that RD is building a straw man. But sure, if anybody shows me that he was being accused of “endorsing” rape etc. by the FTB, Skepchick crowd, I will reconsider.

        • Posted August 7, 2014 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

          Re “belittling”, see my “Just in” comment elsewhere in this page.


          • Florian Reuter
            Posted August 7, 2014 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

            I will. Might take a while 🙂

          • Florian Reuter
            Posted August 7, 2014 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

            I see, thanks. Hopefully it´ll calm the waters, although it´s about elevatorgate and has less to do with scales of rape. It´s a good move. I still think his claim that there was (literally!) a witch hunt is ridicilous. But that goes as well for the FTB crowd: How about ignoring the nasty and stupid comments and instead engaging the thoughtful ones?

            • Posted August 7, 2014 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

              I doubt he meant a literal witch hunt. After all, this would entail hunting down people and burning them at the stake, and this type of thing actually goes on in some African countries now. I’ve probably just opened a can of worms here, what would the sophisticated theologians say about Dawkins and his Biblical literalism while speaking metaphorically in life? It may cause brains to implode…

            • Posted August 7, 2014 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

              Ah. Did you read the rest of Richard’s post?


    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:36 am | Permalink

      “but on the rape charge he approached “logically” an issue on which he has no experiental reference”.

      As I understand it swedish law begs to differ, Dawkins was a victim of rape or sexual harassment by the latest definitions here in Sweden, e.g. non-consensual intercourse/similar action or sexual touching of a minor depending on what happened. [ http://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexualbrott_i_Sverige ]

    • Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      You write : . . . Rape is not a “taboo” subject for discussion, . . .”, but Dawkins isn’t claiming that rape is a taboo subject for discussion; he is claiming that in some circles the argument that while all rapes are morally reprehensible some rapes are more morally reprehensible than other rapes is a taboo subject for discussion. And he is right. Try having the discussion among your friends some evening. Ditto, pedophilia. Coyne correctly points out that Dawkins’ example is extremely weak, if not outright wrong. One can say, ditto Harris re. Israel/Palestine: Harris’s argument is that while Israel’s sloppy military response may needlessly, even criminally kill innocent civilians and be morally reprehensible, the palestinians’ willful hiding of rocket launchers behind the skirts of women and children is more morally reprehensible. Harris may be right or he may be wrong, but among a certain population it is taboo even to suggest a moral difference between the two sides.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

        Excellent analysis. 🙂

    • Peter Beattie
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      » Tangled Up in Blue Guy
      No one ever accused Richard Dawkins of saying that Date Rape is Okay by him

      Apparently, you have read none of the reactions to his tweets. Thas is exactly what lots of people have said.

    • Peter Beattie
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      » Tangled Up in Blue Guy:
      The criticism relates to the pretension of being able to rank “logically” a scale of badness of rape and then to dismiss any criticism through deflection as an emotional display of weakness.

      Um, no, you are misrepresenting RD’s point. The ranking has nothing to with logic and can be arbitrary. The point is that even if you rank X and Y, nothing follows in terms of endorsing either. See below for more detail.

  10. GBJames
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:44 am | Permalink


  11. Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Yes, there is certainly a lot of “intellectually dishonest pretend-misunderstanding”. But then again, I fail to see what Richard Dawkin’s point is. Are there really witch-hunts going on? Surely that is a bit of hyperbole.

    Are some people reacting aggressively to certain opinions, and to certain topics of discussion? Well yes, but honestly that would appear to be somewhat understandable, and I would be surprised if there were many people without their own hot button topics.

    Imagine, for example, if a significant section of society would regularly, perhaps every few months, publicly re-start the discussion of whether “The Jews” drink the blood of Christian children. Because among rational people we must be willing to question all dogma and be able to ask all questions; and because this is just asking, and just having a discussion, and not actually inviting or even promoting a conclusion. Surely at some point an impartial observer would have to wonder what this is all about, and perhaps consider the idea that the people in question are not “just asking questions”.

    And that is also what puzzles me about the “we should be prepared to have the discussion” argument in this context. Using the unfortunate example of rape, what exactly would somebody who wants to break the taboo want to achieve? If not to say something on the lines of “X isn’t really all that bad” then why go there? Same for other cases, such as “just having a rational discussion about torture” for example. If not to invite the conclusion that one should torture, why go there in the first place? To achieve what, precisely? So the idea that there might be some motivation behind opening the discussion is at least not a particularly crazy one.

    So yes, at some point everything should be critically examined. But there are some topics where I kind of think that there is a civilised position and a barbaric one, and some topics where there is a factually correct one and an incorrect one, and that after having gone through the same discussion for the umpteenth time people have the right to be exasperated at the umpteen+1th time the issue is raised, and also that it is understandable if people have reasonable suspicions about those who are “just asking questions”.

    I do not mean to imply that Dawkins has such a motivation, but I think it is understandable that people react the way they do. In certain contexts I would react the same way.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:59 am | Permalink

      The difference between your example “Jews drink the blood of Christian children” and “is one type of rape worse than another type” is that the former can be answered with a presentation of fact with the knowledge we already have. We are 99% certain that Jews do not drink the blood of Christian children and we could prove it very easily. In other words, it doesn’t have much bearing on our present society – it may have been a more relevant discussion in the ignorant bigotry of the Dark Ages.

      But at the present, are we entirely sure that one rape is worse than another? We need to have that discussion because, as Richard points out, it is handled differently in the law. It is a useful discussion to have to challenge the law or to challenge ethics and social perspectives.

      All the thought exercises Richard mentions in his essay are important when we consider ethics and societal attitudes so we should have them – indeed, Richard has already uncovered how humans react to rape, at least the humans he interacts with to find just how taboo a certain topic is.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      “what exactly would somebody who wants to break the taboo want to achieve?”

      The obvious knee-jerk reaction is: all rape is equally bad and equally traumatic for the victim. It may be an understandable reaction, but that does not mean that it is correct. Treating such a topic as off-limits means that they can’t think of a situation where it might be deserving of discussion, but that is short-sighted and wrong:

      What about the Kaitlyn Hunt case? She and many other teens like her have fallen foul of statutory rape laws. These laws were usually enacted to prevent exploitation and abuse of children by adults. But sometimes they are used to punish a teenager for having a consensual relationship with someone their parents or their community disapproves of.

      I don’t think most people have too much difficulty seeing that there were a lot of problems with the Hunt case.

      • Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

        The only truly remarkable thing about the Hunt case was that the accused is a woman. If Kaitlyn Hunt had been Ken Hunt, there is no media attention given to the case and another teenage male is branded a sex offender for life because he made love to his girlfriend and didn’t have an expert understanding of sex laws in his state.

    • GBJames
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      Here is a little example, not involving Richard Dawkins, from last year.

      • gluonspring
        Posted August 7, 2014 at 1:41 am | Permalink

        Blech. That was some painful reading. It feels a bit like reading a bunch of teenage diaries. Even the setup post by the guy who was headed for a smack-down was pretty hard for me to read. She did this, so I said that, then she said this, and I said that in return, etc. Save it for your therapist. Who want’s to hear all of that?

    • Mal
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

      @alex, I agree.

      There was also a problem of timing with these tweets. They came the day after Richard Dawkins and Ophelia Benson made an attempt to draw a line under the problems there have been in the Atheist ‘movement’.


      Apart from anything else you can see why the tweet on rape could be perceived as both condescending and arrogant. (I’m thinking about “Go away and learn to think” here).

      I don’t think it’s taboo to talk about rape but it’s a sensitive subject and twitter is probably not the best place to start the conversation.

      • Posted August 6, 2014 at 11:26 am | Permalink

        In light of the timing issue and the obvious connection between the tweets and the last paragraph of this joint statement (I was unaware of the joint statement), I do think Richard was in the wrong to post those tweets. Not for their content, but for the somewhat abrasive language he chose to couch it in, and for the scab-picking nature of them.

        Richard, please, let the wounds heal.

      • Grania Spingies
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

        The joint statement was about how people ought to engage with each other (i.e. like civil human beings rather than the denizens of 4chan), so in actual fact the tweets came at a very good time: where you could see an example of how people engage with each other on a subject that is highly sensitive.

        But for the quadrillionth time, the tweets were not actually about rape, he wasn’t discussing rape, and he wasn’t even trying to start a discussion about rape. This is blindingly obvious to anyone who actually tried to check his Twitter stream to see what he *actually* said, as opposed to what people who like to get enraged on the internet have assumed he said.

        • Mal
          Posted August 6, 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

          You seem to be contradicting yourself. First you say that there was a chance to engage on a highly sensitive subject and then you say “he wasn’t even trying to start a discussion about rape”.

          • Grania Spingies
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

            No, I am really not contradicting myself. The two things are completely separate and unrelated events.
            Let me break it down into short sentences.

            1) The joint statement was: people in the atheist community should try to engage civilly, even when the subject is one that people regard as controversial and contentious.

            SPECIAL POINT: It was not about how Richard conducts himself on social media platforms. It was about the abuse and name-calling and character-assassination that parts of the atheist commentariat indulge in.

            2) Richard’s tweets were in fact relating to outraged response of people who can’t be bothered to read what he actually says to comments he had made in the past about child abuse, namely that thinking that certain forms of abuse might have worse effects than other forms did not mean you endorsed or dismissed or diminished either form of abuse.

            3) Hence the X & Y example

            4) and then he tried to illustrate the point for a third time with a similar example substituting rape.

            To summarise: his tweets were not an attempt to compare “types” of rape; nor an attempt to discuss rape.

            How certain people reacted (outrage, shock, horror) simply illustrates the original problem: that some people cannot bother to look for context and prefer to attempt the least charitable interpretation of what they think they have read.

            • Dermot C
              Posted August 6, 2014 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

              Grania always seems to me to comment sensibly on social and political issues.

              Of course I would never agree with everything Dawkins says on those questions but I find myself sometimes bewildered at the invective that his tweets generate. And of any defence of him that I might make on Facebook.

              For example, an atheist recently FBed his outrage at Dawkins’ criticism of the length of a sentence that some racist dumb-bell got for idiotically waving a load of pork in front of some poor Muslims in the UK. Foolishly, I got into a debate with the bloke explaining that the point RD was making was about the appropriacy of the sanction: before long I was being accused of travelling with the Daily Mail, and RD suspected of having a racist agenda. And I’ve seen RD called a c*nt, a liar and all manner of disgraceful epithets by British atheists: and I think it’s because they can’t be bothered finding out what he actually says. And I’m absolutely sure they haven’t read The God Delusion.

              I think this visceral hatred amongst British atheists derives from 2 sources. Atheism, or rather secularism, has basically won in the UK: even Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’ really consists of pallid liberal representatives of whatever religion opining that ‘this or that is shocking/quirky/to be thankful for and how it’s a bit like what Jesus/The Prophet (pbuh)/Guru Nanak/Rabbi X said’. For the queasy consensus in the UK, when people like Dawkins come along and point out the privileging of religion in our hate crime laws (in the sense that all our hate speech legislation refers to a person’s nature [race, gender, disability], except in the case of religion where it refers to a person’s choice [but not to that of a child]), their cosy conceptions are disrupted. The corollary is that even as progressive a Goddist as Giles Fraser is beyond the pale: and leftie Brits don’t like having that pointed out to them.

              The second source of the UK ire directed at RD comes, and I am ashamed to say it, from the remnants of the largely atheist socialist movement, still essentially in disarray since the fall of the Berlin Wall. There was always the understanding that one should promulgate certain ideas when it was politically expedient or appropriate to do so: it was called tactics. The tendency had its ideology, but what you said, and when, depended on the political circumstances. Muslim women were triply oppressed: by religion, by their men and by capitalism itself, but the means to attract them to socialism varied according to circumstances: the form of one’s propaganda changed, according to conditions.

              Of course, RD will have none of this: a logical case is precisely that, irrespective of political tactics. Yet the most disappointing aspect about those who attack RD is that they come largely from the Old Left: and because their social attitudes are currently in the ascendant in the West – widespread abhorrence of racism, better rights for the disabled, a general wish for the equality of the sexes – they seek to reinforce those social gains with a denial of the legislative conditions which buttressed those improvements. Free speech, the right of the contrary, the controversial, the marginal, in short, the arsey, to be heard. So you can not criticize these ideas: these gains are too precious to be threatened by anything like the inconvenient argument.

              All this particularly saddens me as I view RD as a link in an ancient chain of thoroughly admirable thinkers. From the Ancient Greeks who reserved the Areopagitica as a Speakers’ Corner, via Milton to J.S. Mill’s ‘On Liberty’ in which he pointed out that free speech crucially involves our right to hear the dissident opinion, for without it we are condemned to a life of prejudice.

              It further depresses me that these British haters of RD would call themselves Marxists. For so do I: and I bet in his heart of hearts so would Hitchens, even when he was being attacked as a Yankee sell-out in his last 10 years.


    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      I see your point. Although Richards’ example of using different rape circumstances was not a good choice, it would be more than just a choice error if he kept bringing it up every few months. Then it would be more than ‘just asking questions’.

    • Adam M.
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      I agree with you in general. There’s really no reason we should have to continually debate Holocaust deniers or young earth creationists as long as they have no new arguments, and people should be entitled to make negative assumptions about people who want to argue those positions. But I don’t think it should rise to the level of a taboo.

      And in this specific case I have to say that the issues are not really settled.

      It’s a common feminist position that “rape = rape = rape” (i.e. that all types of rape are equally bad), but neither the courts nor the general public have ever felt that way and feminists haven’t really advanced an argument for that position. But if you question it, you may be viciously attacked.

      There are interesting questions about minors and sex and their ability to consent. (For instance, what is the principle that bars sex between adults and minors and is it consistent with allowing sex between minors? If minors are “simply incapable of consenting to sex” as is often said, why is sex between minors okay? Or if the problem is “power imbalance”, does a 20-year-old really have so much more power than an 18-year-old or a 16-year-old?)

      In fact, it seems like all the most controversial topics are unsettled. Infanticide? (Some widely accepted arguments for abortion also justify infanticide.) Incest? (What is the principle that bars consensual, non-procreative incest? And we don’t ban marriages between the genetically incompatible, so why ban incest?) Cannibalism? (Assuming people aren’t murdered, is it really so wrong? What if someone consents?) Race and gender? (People have had their careers destroyed for doing or describing research, or reaching unpopular conclusions, on these topics.)

      Taboo subjects are the ones that elicit the most knee-jerk aggression against anyone who appears to question conventional wisdom, but there are plenty of good arguments to be had about pretty much every one of them, so I don’t think we can justify closing the book on them just yet.

      • GBJames
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:53 am | Permalink

        “…and feminists haven’t really advanced an argument for that position.”

        I’m not sure that’s quite right. The argument seems to go something like “this is too subjective for differentiating”. I don’t find it convincing, but that is what I hear.

    • Peter Beattie
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      » Alex SL:
      what exactly would somebody who wants to break the taboo want to achieve?

      You could have just read RD’s second piece for the answer to that:

      I think dispassionate logic and reason should not be banned from entering into discussion of cannibalism or trapped miners. And I was distressed to see that rape and pedophilia were also becoming taboo zones; no-go areas, off limits to reason and logic.

      If you want to see to it that certain things do not enter that no-go area, you’ll have to bring them up in a way that shows your point. Which RD did quite successfully.

  12. bonetired
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    I raised a wry smile when I discovered that the Speccie was supporting him …


  13. Roberto Aguirre Maturana
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    I am confused, in the “Dear muslima” incident Dawkins basically said that a woman shouldn’t complain that much about X because some womans have to suffer Y, and Y is worse. That sounds as an endoresement of X to me.

    • GBJames
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:13 am | Permalink

      I think you misunderstand “endorsement”.

      Murder is worse than burglary.

      I did not just endorse burglary.

      • Roberto Aguirre Maturana
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:54 am | Permalink

        Dawkins didn’t just said that being stoned to death is worse than harassment, or something in the like, he pretty much said that women *shouldn’t complain* about harassment on a hotel elevator at 4 o’clock in the morning because it’s way worse to be a Muslim woman under Sharia law. That’s endorsement of harassment.

        • Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

          he pretty much said that women *shouldn’t complain* about harassment on a hotel elevator at 4 o’clock in the morning

          That event cannot reasonably be called “harassment” (and as far as I’m aware RW has never said it was). It was a social faux pas, a bit clumsy.

          Dawkins was not saying that Western women should not complain about harassment because Muslim women are worse of, he was saying that this episode was too minor to make an issue of.

        • Posted August 5, 2014 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

          Still not endorsement. Maybe English is not your native language? (I mean that respectfully). To paraphrase a great quote: “endorsement,” you keep saying that word; I do not think it means what you think it means.

    • Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      Actually, Richard clarified what he meant in a follow up to that. He wasn’t claiming what Watson suffered in the elevator was “less bad”, he was claiming that it was “zero bad”.

      Whatever the strength of his original point, he will forever leave a sour taste in the mouth of some femininists for the way he expressed it.

      • Daoud
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:21 am | Permalink

        Yeah, it’s this history which really made this example a dumb choice. As I’ll keep saying, there were innumerable amount of choices he could have used for his example. Why (as someone who cannot actually experience life as a woman) did he choose a very poor, inaccurate one which brings up ghosts from that earlier controversy?

        In this, he reminds me a lot of Jeremy Clarkson (another privileged old white British guy) of Top Gear and similar infamy. But Jeremy Clarkson is an entertainer and the sometimes very foolish things he says are supposed to be part of his “shtick”. RD is not an entertainer.

        • Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

          Yes, that history should have made RD think before posting his Tweet.

          It was ham-handed of him to use Twitter to bring up this example. I think it is this lack of care that really gets him in trouble.

      • Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:24 am | Permalink

        *feminists* not *femininists*

      • ColdThinker
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

        The Elevatorgate probably was what started the Pharyngulate hatred of Dawkins. The silly thing is, it wasn’t really about Watson vs. Dawkins, but about hoards blowing it all out of proportion. And it was also about the logic of ”X is bad, Y is worse”.

        Originally, Rebecca Watson expressed a very reasonable personal account about her being propositioned by a man in an elevator. Being in an enclosed space in a foreign country, she felt uncomfortable by this. So she gave a practical advice to men: Guys, please don’t proposition a woman who’s alone with you late at night in an elevator, because it feels creepy. It seemed a fair point to make.

        Then, the commenting went crazy. Instead of talking reasonably about Watson’s fair rebuke of a faux pas by a polite young man, the hoards seemed to be just about ready to lynch the guy, all but equating this with actual rape and describing the incident as an epitome of global misogyny. And juvenile men also fueled this rage with their anti-Watson preconceptions.

        Richard Dawkins apparently read the comments and understandably considered them ridiculous in light of the plight of women in some muslim countries. And when challenged that muslim women may have it worse, but that’s no reason to accept bad things in the west, Dawkins saw it necessary to double down by declaring the polite sexual proposition was ”zero bad”.

        Probably coming from a culture of civil, educated, but shy men, he perhaps saw nothing wrong with a young person politely propositioning another.

        I took Watson’s advice, and accept that elevators apparently have some special meaning that I never realized. But Richard Dawkins seems to have too much intellectual pride to retreat an inch from his logical position in favor of social acceptance. That will always make him a target of very harsh and emotionally charged criticism.

        But a courage to face a fire like that will get things done in this world. It requires a thick skin and iron self-confidence, but you have to respect that.

        • Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

          I wouldn’t call it zero bad, simply because one should take into account the reasonable likelihood of offending and/or frightening a woman in this situation. However, in light of what the man was presumably seeking, consensual sex, we can’t dismiss this as irrational or even a serious offense. After a,ll there are women who would take him up on the offer. Should the women who would accept be alienated by those who automatically call this behavior misogynistic?

          • ColdThinker
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

            I basically agree with you. Many women find a polite proposition of consensual sex flattering, and many even wish it to happen in unusual places. Perhaps it’s also cultural, since living in a relatively shy and civil society, I have often heard young women being actually frustrated about young men not having the guts to approach them. I suppose USA is very different, and women find male attention more threatening there.

            Being a serious Dawkins fan, I’m willing to assume his background is a bit similar to mine in this way, so he would encourage people to have a more positive and fearless attitude towards sex. Also, having a happy sex life is among his own ten commandments.

            Still, accepting my ignorance as a male, I took Watson’s surprising remarks as practical advice about how some women might feel. And it’s good to know an enclosed space carries an extra burden. Being in a relationship, I’m not actually hitting on any women myself, but I write fiction and people’s behaviour and feelings are important to me. Based on my own experience from my younger and more vulnerable years, women have appreciated such polite sexual offers even if often declining, never found them threatening. But that was a different time and culture, and one has to remember Watson has been receiving horrible online threats for years. Her fears are very reasonable.

            Anyway, it’s refreshing to discuss this matter here at WEIT, since Pharyngula is a very nasty site to visit whenever Dawkins or sexuality is discussed. I suppose many of the people commenting there have been greatly afflicted by bigotry and social injustice, and tend to have knee-jerk reactions to most matters regarding e.g. abortion, feminism, sexual minorities and such. Exactly what Dawkins referred to in his post about taboos.

        • Posted August 6, 2014 at 11:41 am | Permalink

          See my comment below on social justice warriors (on 31). There was apparently a climate for that already. Then take into account the McGraw incident, ERV’s bad form comment, more feuds and comment sections firing broadsides at each other, and so on.

          It is an overstated strawman that this was solely about Ms Watson’s “guys don’t do that” remark. When I recall correctly, Dawkins came then, and it appears to me that the community was polarized by then already. Also note that Ms Watson was already controversial before, since she abused accidential admin powers to ban people on JREF.

          Richard Dawkins underestimated this polarization, and the sjw mind-set (again see 31). Then Ms Watson declared her boycott of all things Dawkins. PZ Myers was probably horrified but had to stick to his side, hence he reacted with “didn’t happen, no boycott” and claimed it was invented by Teh Misogynists — this emerging narrative didn’t sit too well with the detractors. Some who reacted trollish, angry etc, where then kafkatrapped, subsequently lost the prerogative of interpretation and were officially ostracized. Dawkins went quiet on the matter and the social justice warrior gang then rolled out their alternate reality propaganda, with Atheism Plus being one highlight.

          For some time they rewrote history, and to this day did bizarro hypocritical things, but the movement lapped it up. E.g. being famous for extremst language, enviscerated anyone who expressed horror (“tone troll”) when confronted with pharyngula death wishs and shock tactics. But then somehow had this bizarre idea to tone police the movement… recently Greta Chriatina and her “shun & shame doctrine” of anyone who wrote mean things (lolwut) you can still see Adam Lee and other blind followers carrying this banner with glowing cheeks, uncritical, never even twitch their eyebrow (normal reaction of non-imbeciles: raising one through the roof).

          Wasn’t it for WEIT and some others, I’d declare the whole movement a complete laughing stock.

        • Peter Beattie
          Posted August 6, 2014 at 11:42 am | Permalink

          » ColdThinker:
          Originally, Rebecca Watson expressed a very reasonable personal account about her being propositioned by a man in an elevator. Being in an enclosed space in a foreign country, she felt uncomfortable by this. So she gave a practical advice to men: Guys, please don’t proposition a woman who’s alone with you late at night in an elevator, because it feels creepy. It seemed a fair point to make.

          Then, the commenting went crazy.

          Except that isn’t what happened. RW did not just say, “Guys, don’t do that”. In her video, RW explicitly said that Elevator Guy’s behaviour was an example of “blatant misogyny”—which phrase was exactly what RD was reacting to.

          • Mal
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

            “Except that isn’t what happened. RW did not just say, “Guys, don’t do that”. In her video, RW explicitly said that Elevator Guy’s behaviour was an example of “blatant misogyny”—which phrase was exactly what RD was reacting to.”

            Peter, here’s the video. The relevant part starts at about 4:30. I don’t hear “blatant misogyny” and I do hear “Guys, don’t do that”.
            (insert http stuff )youtu.be/uKHwduG1Frk

            • Mal
              Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

              Sorry for embedding, my mistake

              • Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

                The context for this fracas was FAR more complicated than just this video. You do understand that, right? If it was just this video, it would have all died out now (of course certain people have an interest in keeping it alive). Several commenters have mentioned other issues around this, like the dissing of Stef McGraw, the demonization of Russell Blackford, and so on. Anybody that says the controversy cam from this fairly innocuous video alone is either in a bubble or being willfully ignorant.

                I will remove the embed.

              • Phil Giordana FCD
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

                Russell Blackford’s demonizing was one of the most disgusting things I’ve seen. The guy is a gentle, well behaved writer who just happened to have an opinion. He was called a liar, rather unfairly, by Myers who to this day hasn’t ever apologized for it. Not the first shit-move Myers has made, IMO.

            • Peter Beattie
              Posted August 6, 2014 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

              » Mal:
              Peter, here’s the video. The relevant part starts at about 4:30.

              Um, no, the context for that, which is kind of important, is given before that mark. The “blatant misogyny” is at 3:45, and EG was given as an example of somebody who didn’t quite get that.

              • Posted August 6, 2014 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

                I think that’s a stretch, Peter, and in any case very different from “RW explicitly said that Elevator Guy’s behaviour was an example of ‘blatant misogyny’”, which you said in response to CoolThinker.


              • Peter Beattie
                Posted August 8, 2014 at 5:33 am | Permalink

                You’re right, Ant; RW didn’t explicitly say that, and I retract that statement. As to EG being an example of the kind of “blatant misogyny” that RW sees in the atheist community, I still think that is exactly what RW meant to say. I put the text of the whole passage in a pastebin for easy reference.

                In a nutshell, RW says that there is not just sexism in the atheist community but “blatant misogyny”, and in her talk, she wanted to highlight that as part of her perspective/experience. One guy, however, didn’t grasp what RW said in her talk and “sexualised” her in the elevator.

                To my mind—given that RW prefaced the episode by saying that EG “didn’t really grasp what I was saying on the panel”—that is meant to say that Elevator Guy was a prime example of what RW was talking about on her panel. Which was not just sexism but “blatant misogyny”. This interpretation, in fact, coincides with a lot of the comments made during ElevatorGate, where a number of defenders of RW said explicitly that EG’s behaviour was misogynistic. And it is still a fact that Richard Dawkins, in his ‘Dear Muslima’ letter, specifically referenced “misogyny” and how inflationary use of that term is capable of draining it of all meaning—which, he said, would be a slap in the face of those women who are not just asked an arguably awkward question but actually mistreated, assaulted, and possibly killed.

              • Posted August 8, 2014 at 5:58 am | Permalink

                I still think you’re stretching. It seems to me that the specific thing that EG didn’t get was RW’s “how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualise me in that manner,” which she said she had been talking about.


              • Posted August 8, 2014 at 6:06 am | Permalink

                Okay can we PLEASE stop talking about Elevatorgate, the most mischaracterized incident in the history of the atheist blogosphere. It’s not really relevant to this discussion, and is derailing things. In fact, I think this discussion has reached its end. If you have something new to add, and NOT about “Elevatorgate”, you can comment, but I’m not having this thread devolve into the kind of stuff that has characterized some other sites that thrive on drama.

              • Posted August 8, 2014 at 6:16 am | Permalink



              • Diane G.
                Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

                “…can we PLEASE stop talking about Elevatorgate…?”

                Oh, good; now I can stop biting my tongue.

    • Adam M.
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:58 am | Permalink

      I remember he was asked at the time whether he was making the argument that because much worse problems exist that lesser problems can be ignored, and he said that of course he wasn’t. I don’t think he ever really explained what his argument was, though. It’s possible he didn’t consider the ‘lesser problem’ to be a real problem at all, but I don’t know.

      • Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:16 am | Permalink

        “It’s possible he didn’t consider the ‘lesser problem’ to be a real problem at all, but I don’t know.”

        That’s exactly his argument. He compared the annoyance that Watson suffered to the annoyance that he has when someone is loudly chewing gum in the elevator.

        • David Evans
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

          Maybe he is not equipped to empathise with being approached by a physically larger and stronger individual, in a small enclosed space, with a suggestion of a kind which often amounts to a sexual advance. Perhaps he should have asked a woman.

          • Roberto Aguirre Maturana
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:49 am | Permalink


          • GBJames
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

            “Perhaps he should have asked a woman.”

            Which one? Do they all think the same thing?

            • sinister
              Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

              Of course they do. The problem I have run across with “ask a such and such” people is that they believe you can find one to speak for EVERYONE who fits that description. It’s a fools errand.

          • Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

            Perhaps, but I have to point out something. It seems that when we are talking about things like female participation in the armed forces and other professions that require physical strength, we as liberals tend to (properly) de-emphasize gender differences in size and strength, nothing that there are huge areas of overlap b/t the sexes. It is this large variance among the sexes that undercuts arguments to categorically bar women from these jobs.

            But when we are talking about a man and a woman in an elevator, suddenly every man becomes a large, formidable He-man and every woman is a vulnerable defenseless petite little thing. Gender differences suddenly become hugely amplified to conform to outdated stereotypes.

            The fact of the matter is that a large number of men couldn’t kick their own ass, much less that of a healthy adult (male or female). When I worked as a personal trainer during school, I was shocked at how weak and undertrained some young men are. Past participation in sports or some background in hard physical labor was a better predictor of a person’s baseline strength than gender was.

            When we look at high level athletes, female athletes have far more in common with male athletes than the male athletes have with non-athletic males. An untrained male is little better than an untrained female in strength. As women are engaging in things like athletics and strength training in ever larger numbers, this assumption that a male can always overpower a female is increasingly inaccurate.

            And I always thought that Dawkins should have claimed that he, as a lightly-built man in his 70s, can certainly be in a position to experience vulnerability as well!

            • Posted August 5, 2014 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

              Actually, when I was in college I used to see quite a few very fit and muscular women in the gym lifting weights. I’m talking female rugby players and the sort, big, strong girls. What shocked me was how little weight they were capable of lifting even though they were, for woman, quite well defined and bulky. They were astonishingly weak for their size and mass.
              No, most men are orders of magnitude stronger than even the strongest of women. It’s not even close in my opinion. Not that I’d ever fight a woman, but there are very few that would pose even a mild threat to me.

              • Posted August 5, 2014 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

                That’s not true at all. Women have perhaps 2/3 the strength of men, and this gap decreases even more when controlling for bodyweight. This is not an orders of magnitude difference.

                Elite women in strength sports, such as Olympic weightlifting, are freakishly strong. Even though women have only been allowed to compete at international level in this particular sport for less than two decades, they can already rival the performances of men from the 50/60s. With more exposure for women to this sport, the gender gap in weightlifting will likely shrink to the rather modest 8-10% that you see in other sports.

                I don’t know what women you witnessed, but I saw experienced female lifters capable of squatting and deadlifting multiples of their bodyweight (just like advanced men). This meant in some cases squatting 120 kilos and pulling 150 kilos, far beyond what the average male gym rat can do. I will concede that upper body lifts posed more of a problem, but the strongest females could easily handle their own bodyweight on exercises such as pull-ups. The bench press and similar exercises are rather overrated anyway.

                The biggest takeaway for me was that women responded extremely well to strength training, once you were able to convince them that training hard was not going to transform them into She-hulk.

            • Posted August 5, 2014 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

              A problem here was, I think, that when Richard weighed in, the real issue had moved on from Rebecca’s having felt vulnerable in a lift to the rabid tirade of insults she received for posting a mild reproof to “elevator guy”. Exactly the kind of behaviour that Richard has just deprecated in his joint statement with Ophelia Benson.


              • Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

                +1 and thanks.

              • Peter Beattie
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 11:49 am | Permalink

                » Ant:
                the rabid tirade of insults she received for posting a mild reproof to “elevator guy”

                As I say above, the whole point was that it wasn’t just a mild reproof. The RW camp mantra-like insists on that, but is a simple falsehood. Instead, the situation quickly devolved into a competition to name the most people misogynists—prominently among them Russell Blackford, who had the temerity of making a variant of RD’s point we’re discussing here.

              • Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

                @ Peter

                We’re talking about this video?


              • Peter Beattie
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

                We are indeed. My observations with respect to the myth are here.

              • Phil Giordana FCD
                Posted August 7, 2014 at 12:38 am | Permalink

                Peter: although your post at FTB is quite valid, most of the criticism was not spurred by Watson’s video, but by her very inappropriate call-out of Steph McGraw while on a podium, with Steph being right down there in the audience, bereft of a good avenue to respond. “Parroting misogynist thoughts” and all that. Which prompted Myers’ “Always Name Names” and Abbie Smith’s subsequent “Bad Form, Rebecca Watson” blogposts. And thus, we have Elevatorgate.

    • Posted August 6, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      Just in:

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


      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

        This confirms my suspicion that if all the sides had talked about this issue, it would have been resolved. I’m glad Richard said this.

        • Mal
          Posted August 6, 2014 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

          I agree.

        • GBJames
          Posted August 6, 2014 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

          I doubt it, Diana. The SJW-storm is bigger than RD’s one comment.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

            Oh I agree. I guess what I should have said is that I don’t think Richard Dawkins was the demon he was made out to be and that if we were to talk to him, he’d certainly clarify and show himself to be the mensch we all thought he was. 🙂

  14. Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    While I agree with the sentiment of the Twitter posts, I hope we don’t forget to temper our logic with compassion, lest we become the “straw Vulcans” that we are often painted to be, abandoning so much of our humanity in favor of pure logic or pure reason.

    I’m sensitive to this from my exchanges on YouTube, where libertarians, radical anti-natalists and race realists abound. Each of these groups advance arguments that our sentimentality or human frailty are preventing advancements that are logically beneficial.

    It’s a fuzzy line, and the best approach may be to simply accept that you cannot please all of the people all of the time.

    • Daoud
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      I think your main mistake is in participating in exchanges on Youtube! 😉 Youtube comments have a certain reputation, and it is definitely one part of the internet I never partake in, not to read, much less post!

      But I agree with your comment about emotion. I think a) it is delusional for anyone at all to believe they are purely rational beings, the emotion is always there. And b) it wouldn’t even be a desirable thing if it were possible!! I can only imagine what solutions a purely emotion-free, rational intellect would come up with when looking at the current state of the world’s biosphere AND the growing human population of 7 billion…

  15. Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    Glumly, I’m going to make myself unpopular here. Let me begin by saying I like Dawkins. He inspired me as a child and an adult and I’ve met him! He’s a lovely person. I haven’t met Jerry, but WEIT is one of my favourite books. Not just one of my favourite books on evolution: *man*, that Coyne guy can write.

    But there are a few silly things said in this post. I’m going to concentrate on one quote (from JC):

    I suppose he was fed up by a segment of the atheist blogosphere whose ideology is so rigid that not only is dissent from its views prohibited, but mere discussion of some issues, particularly around gender, is also prohibited. To engage in such discussion immediately brands one as a sister-punisher, a misogynist, a rape-enabler, and various other nasty creatures.

    If there’s such a section of the atheist community, you haven’t demonstrated it in this post (or elsewhere, as far as I know). Nor has anyone else, ever, as far as I can tell. That’s not a challenge to find examples, it’s a challenge to justify counter-examples.

    It is *not* prohibited by any section of the atheist community to engage in discussion about, well, anything by, well, almost anyone. Lots of people tell me otherwise. If you, Jerry, really think that’s happening, I’d love to see more evidence than you’ve provided.

    • GBJames
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:01 am | Permalink

      “If there’s such a section of the atheist community, you haven’t demonstrated it in this post (or elsewhere, as far as I know).”

      You can find them if you just read through the comments on this page. Here’s one now. Now, I realize that the comment I link to is framed in terms of the idiotic comments of people like Todd Akin. But the complaint isn’t that Akin (et al) are idiots but that men in general have nothing to say on this subject? Why is that? Am I not allowed to chime in on Akin being an idiot regarding what rape is because I’m male? If I do so am I just “twitching”?

      • Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:48 am | Permalink

        But nobody (other than you) said that.

        • GBJames
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

          Sorry, latsot, but I’m having trouble parsing that comment. What your word “that” references is unclear.

          • sinister
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

            I don’t think there was a point. Upon refutation there is usually a back pedal into rhetorical dodging. This is just a tired pattern at this point.

    • Adam M.
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:01 am | Permalink

      Are you familiar with the Atheism+ (Atheism Plus) movement? It’s an attempt to combine atheism with feminism and potentially other isms, but it had problems like those Jerry mentioned, and I would guess that that’s what he’s referring to.

    • allison
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      Dawkins was probably referring to FreeThoughtBlogs, Skepchick, and Atheism Plus Forums. Discussion of gender issues is not permitted at such sites, unless your opinion is in agreement with PZ Myers, Rebecca Watson, Stephanie Svan, et al.

      • JT
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

        I don’t even know who any of those people are!

        • allison
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

          I’m actually glad to hear you say that 🙂

        • Cephus
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

          You don’t know how lucky you are.

      • colnago80
        Posted August 9, 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

        Actually, it’s Stephenie Zvan. At least get the subject’s name right when you bad mouth them.

        • Phil Giordana FCD
          Posted August 9, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

          😀 😀 😀

          Someone defending Zvan while complaining about “bad mouthing”. Irony, colnago80 is thy name.

  16. Nom de Plume
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    Such offense is what some bloggers thrive on: it drives traffic, the lifeblood of the Internet.

    The more you read such sites (Freethoughtblogs, I’m looking at you), the more it becomes apparent that it is 100% about personal drama for them. One hundred percent. Some people are instinctually drawn to it, some manufacture it for traffic, but what they all have in common is a kind of “Oh my god!” Facebook approach to everything. Everything.

    Thank dog for rationalists like Dawkins and Harris.

    • Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      I couldn’t agree with you more. I followed Freethoughtblogs for a few months after the essential collapse of Science Blogs, then realized it was becoming a hysterical kindergarten. I’ve not been back since so I can’t judge if that’s still the case; I found it too profoundly depressing.

      • lancelotgobbo
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:30 am | Permalink

        I think the dynamic between PZ and his horde is the same as that between a bully and his gang of toadies. They are on the lookout for any chance to put down someone they know is unpopular with the boss. RD hasn’t fallen for the post-modernist forms of political correctness and it’s plain that PZ dislikes him intensely. Hence the horde all want to get a kick in whenever they can.

        • Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink

          “it’s plain that PZ dislikes him intensely.”

          If that is the case, then PZ is lying intensly as well. He has recently gone on record saying that he likes Richard personally, it’s just that he disagrees with him on certain matters.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink

        Been there, went away too.

        • Posted August 5, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

          Yet you retain the “OM” …


          • Posted August 5, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

            What is the OM?

            • darrelle
              Posted August 5, 2014 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

              “Order Of The Molly”

              An award that PZ used to (may still) award to notable commenters that was awarded monthly. It had sort of devolved, even before I stopped frequenting there, into a bit of a popularity / celebrity thing rather than what it was originally. Originally it was awarded to commenters based on the quality of their arguments and writing, and awarded pretty well.

              Torbjörn was a regular at Pharyngula back then and, in my opinion, was a very appropriate recipient of the award. He was one of the dozen or so regulars there that really made the place shine for a while.

              • Jim Sweeney
                Posted August 5, 2014 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

                Sastra, who also comments here, is another very deserving OM.

              • darrelle
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:14 am | Permalink

                Indeed! I first encountered her at Pharyngula as well, and have admired her ever since. I seem to remember Ben Goren from there as well. There are several other names I remember from back then that I see here (WEIT).

              • merilee
                Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

                Thanks for the (partial) clarification, but who was/is Molly?

              • KiwiInOz
                Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

                Merilee – Molly Ivins (IIRC).


              • darrelle
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:20 am | Permalink

                Yes. Sorry, I should have mentioned that.

              • Posted August 6, 2014 at 7:34 am | Permalink

                That would make sense. I do miss Molly Ivins!

              • Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:54 pm | Permalink


                Yes. Most OM winners broadcast the fact by appending “OM” to their handle. Sastra never has, and I asked, several years ago, why Sastra’s nym was not followed by OM, meaning “wow, this commenter impresses me!” I was quickly informed by many that she indeed was a winner.

  17. Kathy
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    I’ll just say that for me personally, I’m pretty tired of hearing men make pronouncements about rape. Rape and abortion and birth control and men making pronouncements about those subjects is beyond obnoxious. In the courts, in the statehouses, in the universities, men opining about rape and abortion and birth control. It needs to stop.

    • wonderer
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

      So your rational argument is that it needs to stop because you are tired of it?

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:21 am | Permalink

      I can somewhat relate to the first part of your comment. I get so furious these days listening to anti-choice arguments that I actually can’t bear to read them, let alone participate in any discussion about it with anti-choicers.

      However, I cannot move from “I am offended by and sick of their terrible and bogus arguments” to “therefore no argument against abortion may be made”.

    • bonetired
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      So you need personal experience to have an an opinion of something? You have then to be a participant in a war to have an opinion about suffering in war?

      I have an opinion about those subjects which mainly goes along the lines that I would like to string up rapists by the testicles and that regulated abortion is the mark of a civilised society. Or am I not allowed to have those views?

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:39 am | Permalink

        I am going to agree with Kathy. The specific subject was where such pronouncements are so often made by people (they will usually be men) who have taken the mantle of power. So their opinion about women’s issues is more important than those of women b/c, well, obviously they have the moral authoritay. Also, their opinion will differ from the ones that you expressed. The woman should not have gotten drunk at a frat party, so what was she expecting? That hollow ball of cells growing in her is a human with a soul.

        • DiscoveredJoys
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:49 am | Permalink

          You could read the Comment Is Free articles in the Guardian. The general tenor is that not only can men not speak about ‘womens issues’ but the wrong kind of feminist woman can’t either.

          While I can respect honestly held opinions I take exception to those who would deprive me of mine. Which comes perilously close to Richard Dawkins point about rational thought and taboo areas.

          • Kathy
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:10 am | Permalink

            Again, from my point of view, here is how I feel Why do men have to express so many opinions about women’s bodies? Can you see what I’m saying–rape and abortion and birth control are male obsessions. Every man on the planet has an opinion about my vagina.

            • GBJames
              Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:13 am | Permalink

              “Why do men have to express so many opinions about women’s bodies?”

              How many opinions am I allowed?

              Does it matter that my opinions very likely correspond to yours?

              • Kathy
                Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink

                These comments are a perfect illustration of the frustration I’ve been expressing. No, it doesn’t matter if you’re opinions are aligned with mine. I’m expressing how I feel. I’m not making a law, or putting forward a corporate policy, or writing a Supreme Court opinion, nor am I a public figure tweeting out provocations to the world. I am a woman who has had it up to here with hearing men talk about rape, abortion, and birth control. It feels horrible.

              • GBJames
                Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:17 am | Permalink

                Is “I feel you should STFU” significantly different from “You should STFU”?

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

                Besides that rape happens to men, what is this “vagina” = “rape” conflation? Or is it figurative emotional speech rather than rational?

                Similarly with “vagina” = “birth control”, since there are very many ways that men can do this today, and many are discussing more ways (i.e. the eagerly awaited chemical means).

                If you care about your own body, fine, you are its boss. But don’t drag issues that touches the whole of the population into it, either directly or indirectly (medical care, legislation).

            • Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

              The men* who developed modern contraceptives obviously thought deeply about vaginas. So clearly, there are some instances where men focusing their attention on this area is not only appropriate, but to the benefit of women!

              On the moral and ethical and legal fronts, if men understand the issues better, it should only benefit women. And understanding will sometimes involve debate and criticism of positions that people hold.

              *I’m not implying that only men can be scientists and engineers.

            • Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:28 am | Permalink

              Here is how I feel: I feel your reaction is very weird.

              When ignorant men say stupid things, let’s criticize them! I don’t feel we need to prohibit any man anywhere at any time from addressing the issues at hand in any way shape or form. That seems to me to be cutting off your nose to spite your face. You’re willing to throw away GBJames’ vote against anti-abortion laws because he’s not female?

              Like it or not, you live in a world half populated by men. We all can and have to work together to address the issues.

            • Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:43 am | Permalink

              Women should STFU about men’s issues.

              Men should STFU about women’s issues.

              Whites should STFU about blacks’ issues.

              Blacks should STFU about whites’ issues.

              Atheists should SFTU about the issues of religious people.

              Religious people should STFU about the issues of atheists.

              … er … somehow this doesn’t seem like a formula for progress.

            • John Taylor
              Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

              I’m terribly confused about how birth control is a woman’s issue or how my opinions on birth control have anything to do with your vagina.

              The vast majority of couples use birth control. Most men and women have opinions about birth control and have every right to their opinions.

              • Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:19 am | Permalink

                Indeed, should my wife have had something to say about my vasectomy? I’d say so.

                She had used oral contraceptives for years. After our child was born, we decided that was enough. I figured since she had borne (by her own choice, I had no input on that) the risks of contraception for a long time, I should take the pain/cost/risk in the end. We decided this together.

              • Kathy
                Posted August 7, 2014 at 8:48 am | Permalink

                Supreme Court opinions?

          • bonetired
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:10 am | Permalink


          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:12 am | Permalink

            I used to think that men shouldn’t be able to speak about abortion and rape either as they truly didn’t understand what it is to be a woman, afraid to walk alone at night, always looking over her shoulder or a woman who was forced to carry a baby to term that she did not want and faced social stigma.

            However, I realized that silencing wasn’t the answer. I have been silenced – “you’re white, Diana, you shouldn’t be allowed to talk about racism”, or “you don’t have kids, Diana, you shouldn’t be allowed to talk about education of K-12”.

            I think everyone should be allowed to express an opinion – we may not consider the opinions of some expressions as valid but it should be because the opinion is wrong, not because the giver of the opinion belongs to a particular social class, gender or race. In fact, I welcome discussion with men about rape because then they may better understand a woman’s perspective and if they say silly things like many US politicians have, I welcome the opportunity to put them straight, as many men have.

        • Posted August 5, 2014 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

          You agree with Kathy that men should not comment about rape, abortion, and birth control *in* your comment about rape, abortion, and birth control? And your reason is that men’s opinions will differ from your (male) opinion? You lost me there, Mark.

      • Kathy
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink

        I’m giving you my point of view, bonetired, which is that men need to stop talking about what is rape and how do we define it and is it legitimate and how can you get pregnant and date rape is this and stranger rape is that and women lie about rape and men get raped too and on and on and on and on. It’s clearly some neurotic obsession to parse it again and again, and keep bringing is up to make a point, and argue about it. Why does RD have to comment? Because it’s a twitch, a tic, men cannot stop ticcing and twitching about rape and abortion and birth control.

        • bonetired
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:16 am | Permalink

          Unfortunately you are going for the foreseeable future to have to accept the some men, rightly or wrongly, will continue to have views about rape and that their opinions are important. The UK House of Commons is overwhelmingly male (there are 142 women MPs and make up 22% of the House) and it is their opinion that matters. Fortunately, the vast majority of MPs of all sides actually agree with you about subjects like rape and abortion. But you cannot exclude men from having opinions about such subjects.

          • Mark Sturtevant
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:52 am | Permalink

            Yes, men should have, and should express, their opinions about women issues and vice versa. But what should not be lost here in this discussion is that there is a difference in invoking an opinion about things that one owns, like ones’ own body, and what one does not own, like the bodies of other people. Ownership means that ones’ opinion matters more.
            I happen to be a man, but for the moment pretend that I am a woman. When I hear free speech like ‘you should not get an abortion’, then my gut reaction would be ‘who made you the ruler of my body?’ My opinion should matter more (although unfortunately it often does not). Of course if you said ‘you have a right to do what you want with your body’, and if that happens to also be my opinion as well, then my reaction would be ‘thanks for your support but I already knew that’. My opinion still matters more.

            • bonetired
              Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

              Mark – I totally agree with you about what you just said. Including the key point that “My opinion still matters more”. Not “My opinion is the only one which is allowed.”

            • Posted August 5, 2014 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

              I should have read further. Your clarification makes a bit more sense. I still don’t agree that men should just STFU about these subjects, though. Some men have intelligent things to say about them. And I’m sure you agree. Otherwise you wouldn’t be commenting about them.

        • Draken
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:56 am | Permalink

          So you suggest that women are the only ones entitled to define what is rape? Is that all women, or only those who feel they have been raped?
          Do all others then have to accept it if a woman claims she is raped because a man looked at her in a strange way?

          Had it occurred to you that this male “neurotic obsession” might originate from the fact that it’s mostly men who are accused of rape?

          • Mark Sturtevant
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

            Men can define rape too, but who do you think can more authoritatively define what rape is like for a woman? Democracy is a wonderful thing, but in some areas some opinions and votes should count more than others. I am not saying that the opinion of half of our population should be stifled. I am saying that half of our populations opinion should matter more on this subject. As men, you and I should listen more.

            • Posted August 5, 2014 at 2:27 pm | Permalink


            • Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:03 pm | Permalink


              But based on the sentences she wrote, it doesn’t seem to me that you are on the same page as Kathy.

    • Kevin
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:52 am | Permalink

      I have known two men who have been raped. It was worthwhile for them to talk to others about the experience.

      Also, did you know that lawyers will frequently want men on juries for rape cases. Men are much more likely to put away a rapist than women.

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:15 am | Permalink

        I am not apprised of what lawyers will do, but I can see why lawyers for the prosecution would want men on the jury, if what you say is true. But I suspect lawyers for the defense will also want men, b/c it is easier for the defense to then play the ‘she provoked it’ card.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      “I’m pretty tired of hearing men make pronouncements about rape”:

      (O.o) I’m pretty tired of hearing that men can’t make pronouncements about rape! Seeing how in peace time they are at least a few % of the raped but despite being a taboo subject during political aggression or war _routinely as many men and boys as women are raped_. (Or perhaps more, seeing the taboos.)

      “Laying the pus-covered pad on the desk in front of him, he gave up his secret. During his escape from the civil war in neighbouring Congo, he had been separated from his wife and taken by rebels. His captors raped him, three times a day, every day for three years. And he wasn’t the only one. He watched as man after man was taken and raped. The wounds of one were so grievous that he died in the cell in front of him.

      “That was hard for me to take,” Owiny tells me today. “There are certain things you just don’t believe can happen to a man, you get me? But I know now that sexual violence against men is a huge problem. Everybody has heard the women’s stories. But nobody has heard the men’s.”

      It’s not just in East Africa that these stories remain unheard. One of the few academics to have looked into the issue in any detail is Lara Stemple, of the University of California’s Health and Human Rights Law Project. Her study Male Rape and Human Rights notes incidents of male sexual violence as a weapon of wartime or political aggression in countries such as Chile, Greece, Croatia, Iran, Kuwait, the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia. Twenty-one per cent of Sri Lankan males who were seen at a London torture treatment centre reported sexual abuse while in detention. In El Salvador, 76% of male political prisoners surveyed in the 1980s described at least one incidence of sexual torture. A study of 6,000 concentration-camp inmates in Sarajevo found that 80% of men reported having been raped.

      I’ve come to Kampala to hear the stories of the few brave men who have agreed to speak to me: a rare opportunity to find out about a controversial and deeply taboo issue. In Uganda, survivors are at risk of arrest by police, as they are likely to assume that they’re gay – a crime in this country and in 38 of the 53 African nations. They will probably be ostracised by friends, rejected by family and turned away by the UN and the myriad international NGOs that are equipped, trained and ready to help women. They are wounded, isolated and in danger. In the words of Owiny: “They are despised.””


      “According to a survey published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2010, 30% of women and 22% of men from the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo reported that they had been subject to conflict-related sexual violence.[16]” [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_rape#Rape_of_men ]

      [There are a massive amounts of links to study if you google “men rape war”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_rape should be a good start, besides the reasearch Guardian mentions.]

      Rape is not about gender and sexuality, it is about power. Even I, a man who has had the fortune to never be molested in any way (but has heard anecdote from victims), know that. And as part of a population where power play and rape appears, I feel obliged to “make pronouncements about rape”. To then see my concerns and actions trampled on is dire, to say the least. And I can’t even start to imagine how it would be for molested men.

      As for Dawkins I understand it swedish law begs to differ. Dawkins was likely a victim of rape or sexual harassment by the latest definitions here in Sweden, e.g. non-consensual intercourse/similar action or sexual touching of a minor depending on what happened. [ http://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexualbrott_i_Sverige ]

    • mordacious1
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      In the US, more men are raped each year than women (a lot more). More men are sexually assaulted, more men are physically assaulted. Rape, sexual assault, spousal abuse and assault are not women’s issues, they are humankind issues.

      • GBJames
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

        Citation needed.

      • DiscoveredJoys
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Permalink


      • Grania Devine
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

        Prove it. Sounds like complete BS.

        • gluonspring
          Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:19 am | Permalink

          It might be plausible (I have NO idea) if you included prison populations.

          • gluonspring
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:21 am | Permalink

            Actually,no. While the prison population is millions, a hundred and fifty million must dwarf that by a large amount. So at any believable rate it can’t really be the case I don’t think.

      • mordacious1
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 9:53 am | Permalink

        Sorry, I got swamped yesterday and didn’t come back to check on replies. I was basing my comment on this article:
        Their statement was based on Bureau of Justice statistics. It appears, and I find it quite feasible, that if you include prison assaults in the statistics, that men are raped more often in the US than women. Even if you argue the numbers, my main point is still valid, that rape is not a women’s issue alone and that telling men to shut up about rape is wrong.

    • Marnix
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      ” I’m pretty tired of hearing men make pronouncements about rape.”

      What an awful thing to say. What about the boys in Catholics churches who were raped, are they not allowed to comment? What about men who were raped by other men, or women for that matter, are they allowed to say anything.

      Your comments seems to imply that only women can be raped or sexually assaulted. Even though women are statistically more affected by the issue, this should not exclude men who have been raped. They must be allowed to voice their opinion as well. Your personal feelings do not negate that.

    • Brygida Berse
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

      I’ll just say that for me personally, I’m pretty tired of hearing men make pronouncements about rape. Rape and abortion and birth control and men making pronouncements about those subjects is beyond obnoxious.

      I see this statement as an expression of frustration, and while I can sympathize with this sentiment, this is exactly the taboo making that Richard Dawkins argues against (correctly, in my opinion).

      By the way, I am a woman, I consider myself a feminist, I believe that there is no excuse for rape, and I am for abortion on demand and for broad access to birth control that should be paid for by the state. And I expect men to take part in discussing these issues openly and without limitations. If they have arguments against my position, I want to hear them. I certainly know how to defend my opinions, I don’t need artificial taboos to protect me.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 4:16 am | Permalink

        Well said! And beautifully put.

        I would be very happy debating those issues with you (though I’m unlikely to as I share your views on most of them). I wouldn’t dare try that on Pharyngula…

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:26 am | Permalink


    • slandermonkey
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 6:43 am | Permalink

      You seem to be arguing that because some men have an opinion on certain subjects that you disagree with that ALL men should no longer be allowed to voice an opinion on that subject.

      Now, I can easily find women who also have these exact same opinions that you feel should exclude a whole gender from voicing an opinion on that subject. This means that if we follow your logic then no one is now allowed to voice an opinion on these subjects.

      I’m afraid I’m going to have to reject your criteria for stifling opinions as unworkable, and infringing on peoples basic right to free speech.

      I can understand that it is annoying to hear ignorant proclamations about how women should act from men who are obviously biased against women, but being annoyed, even greatly annoyed, doesn’t justify trying to revoke half of humanities free-speech right

      • sinister
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 6:46 am | Permalink

        Uh oh, this talk about “free speech” makes the SJW crowd upset. They will call it “freeze peach” and blow you off now. Check out FTB if you would like to see how “free speech” and “free thought” are implemented in practice.

    • Coldthinker
      Posted August 7, 2014 at 2:40 am | Permalink


      That sounds like an opinion right out of some conservative islamist playbook. Segregate the sexes, disallow topics, alienate one half of humanity from the experiences of the other.

      Is it also your position that women shouldn’t talk about things like castration, female doctors shouldn’t diagnose testicular cancer, or the female spouses of urological patients shouldn’t be allowed to talk about this experience from their pint of view? Actually these are more exclusive form of victimhood, since rape or sexual abuse are not limited to one sex.

      There are facts and wisdom — legal, social, humanitarian — to be learned about these matters, and that’s why we talk about them. Granted that some opinions are stupid or misguided, but the only way out of that is discussion and education, not stifling public conversation.

      If you’re tired of the conversation, please take a rest and refrain from it for a while.

      • Kathy
        Posted August 7, 2014 at 8:47 am | Permalink

        Sure, cause that’s exactly what I was saying.

  18. Chris Slaby
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    I think Richard Dawkins has written a very good piece here. Unfortunately, I can easily see both sides, and the merit of both sides, and I’m not really sure where I completely stand. I tend to think of myself as a rational thinker, someone who should be willing and able to participate in the thought experiments that he mentions. And for the most part, I think I can. But over the past few years, I’ve observed in family and friends, and even in myself, certain topics of conversation, certain scenarios, which just elicit an emotional reaction. Maybe some of us can have a hypothetical conversation about absolutely anything, but I know that’s just not true for me. I’d like to think this doesn’t make me any less thoughtful, critical, or rational, I’m just a human who has psychological or emotional reactions to certain things. And I admit, if I had to sit in a class and pay attention to a conversation that was emotionally disturbing to me, I would probably have a bad reaction.

    I guess the takeaway is that 1) we shouldn’t force people to participate in a thought experiment if it makes them uncomfortable (nor should we think less of them for that), but also 2) people who are made uncomfortable by certain thought experiments shouldn’t seek out those conversations, express the emotional distress they have brought on themselves by finding those conversations, and then suggest that no one participate in such thought experiments. I think Dawkins basically says this at one point.

    I think I do agree with Jerry, though, that Dawkins could have made his point more tactfully. This is why certain conversations are preceded with the phrase “trigger warning,” and then a brief explanation of what in the conversation might be a trigger for some people. In the case of rape, for example, victims, advocates, and the general public might be interested in following certain conversations about rape, such as new laws. But sometimes these conversations contain information that triggers an unpleasant psychological/emotional response, which is why many people suggest the use of a trigger warning. Simply reading words certainly has the power to inflict severe pain on some individuals, so I think doing something like this just makes sense. Give people fair warning, let them know what kind of conversation they’re about to enter into, and then I think everyone’s done what they can and should do.

    I agree that the “offensive” tweets were not horrific descriptions of rape, just simply general scenarios, so I’m not sure a trigger warning would have made sense here. I think things like Twitter just make these difficult human interactions so much more difficult. And in the end, I think I do side with Dawkins: he was simply trying to entertain a thought experiment, but there were people who seemed to say that even having the thought experiment was wrong. So long as no one is ever forced to participate, in terms of thought experiments, there should be zero taboos.

    • GBJames
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:19 am | Permalink

      “…we shouldn’t force people to participate in a thought experiment…”

      How exactly would one force someone else to participate in a thought experiment?

      And how is this suggestion anything but a STFU demand for some selected topic(s).

      • Diane G.
        Posted August 7, 2014 at 1:14 am | Permalink

        “How exactly would one force someone else to participate in a thought experiment?”

        Say, if a professor required his/her students to participate in such scenarios.

        • Phil Giordana FCD
          Posted August 7, 2014 at 1:27 am | Permalink

          Like Dembsky? or Myers?

        • GBJames
          Posted August 7, 2014 at 5:07 am | Permalink

          Thought experiments in university classes are to be off limits? Because someone in the class might have an emotional response?

          The problem with that whole line of thought (imagine if you will…) is that it simply hands to the most sensitive person a veto pen on conversation. To say nothing of comics drawn in Denmark.

          • Diane G.
            Posted August 7, 2014 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

            I didn’t say anything about what should or shouldn’t be allowed in university classes. I was merely answering your question with a scenario I felt demonstrated an instance in which someone might “feel forced to participate” in a thought experiment.

            • GBJames
              Posted August 8, 2014 at 4:25 am | Permalink

              I didn’t think you were advocating the position. Still, I can’t see this as actually forcing someone to do a thought experiment. At best the case could be made that such a student might “feel” forced to participate, but that seems a bit like saying that they are being forced to learn. They aren’t, of course, but if they don’t they are in the wrong place. Thought experiments constitute a very large component of learning. (I have trouble even imagining an academic class that isn’t mostly thought experiments, broadly construed.)

              • Diane G.
                Posted August 8, 2014 at 11:00 am | Permalink

                “At best the case could be made that such a student might “feel” forced to participate…”

                That’s all I meant.

                (It’s going to be interesting to see just how many things we can construe broadly. 😉
                I do agree with “science, broadly construed.” Hmmm, after a while we’ll almost need an abbreviation–too bad “bc” is already taken…maybe not the in lower case, though… but I digress.)

    • Peter Beattie
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      » Chris Slaby:
      we shouldn’t force people to participate in a thought experiment if it makes them uncomfortable

      That, by extension, means that you are against the idea of general education, the whole idea of which is to expose people to new kinds of thinking and ideas even if those make them uncomfortable.

      And secondly, nobody is being forced to read RD’s tweets. If you do, that’s your choice; you don’t get to complain if they make you uncomfortable.

      • Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

        So, if I choose to read a book, and I find its contents objectionable, I can’t say so?


  19. JohnE
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately, there are necessary and legitimate reasons why we need to discuss awful things. Keep in mind that our criminal laws have long established hierarchies of “awful things.” Here in Indiana we have first degree murder, second degree murder and manslaughter. We have rape, “criminal deviate conduct” and “sexual battery” depending on the perceived awfulness of the conduct. We have different criteria for “statutory rape” based upon the respective ages of the the perpetrator and the victim. To Richard’s point, crimes involving a weapon ARE perceived to be worse and are punished more severely. Unfortunately, in establishing these various hierarchies, discussing the relative “awfulness” of those things was obviously unavoidable.

  20. Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:26 am | Permalink


  21. Kieran
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    It’s a subjective argument, that X is worse than Y. It isn’t a logic statement, it is dependent on the person/persons involved. Richard states his experiences as a child was not that bad. This is a subjective opinion others in similar circumstances may have suffered worse because of the very same “level” of abuse. As such we can’t quantify if x is actually worse than y in a general sense because each incident is unique to the individual involved.

    In nearly every case where Richard has made a statement like this through twitter or elsewhere it always seems like the lemon lyman scenes from the westwing.

    • gluonspring
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 2:41 am | Permalink

      You’re right that there is a lot subjectivity and uniqueness to individuals.

      Unfortunately, the need to frame laws and ethics around different kinds of abuse doesn’t go away because of the uniqueness of individuals. Someone has to decide, “Does the 18 year old who had sex with the 16 year old go to prison, and for how long?”. Someone has to decide if groping a teenager in a public bookstore merits the same punishment under law as anally penetrating them in the gym. Who do you ask what the penalty should be? The 16 year old? Their parents? An opinion poll? Some kind of criminal epidemeology that evaluates the optimum sentence to achieve acceptable deterrence?

      There is no easy answer to this, I don’t think, but I don’t think we can avoid the question. We can not avoid ranking abuses somehow, so surely we should try as much as possible to use some kind of reason in the process?

      • kieran
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 11:10 am | Permalink

        The same argument is made for mandatory minimums ranking crimes and setting the sentence before the crime is even committed. There are victim impact statements in court but how much weight is dependant on both the court and the law.
        There is scope in law to measure and decide individual cases the system is there to be used.

        • gluonspring
          Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

          I completely agree with that point and I’m all for lots of judge and jury discretion in cases. Still, I don’t think you’d argue that the legal sentence for every crime should be: 0-life, to be determined at trial, right? If it were then you could go to trial for littering and, if the jury really doesn’t like you, get life in prison. That doesn’t seem quite right, does it? So even though I agree that mandatory minimums have been a bad thing, I still don’t see how we can avoid ranking all together.

    • Peter Beattie
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      » Kieran:
      It’s a subjective argument, that X is worse than Y. It isn’t a logic statement, it is dependent on the person/persons involved.

      That’s right. And it’s also completely irrelevant to RD’s tweets. (See below)

  22. Friendlypig
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    In Richard’s example above it’s just the lesser of two weevils!!

    • Peter Beattie
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      One of my all-time favourite movies. 🙂

  23. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    When I first saw the posting about the Tweets on Pharyngula I thought ‘oh boy, there those two go again!’

    This is not the first time that the Cosmos has demonstrated that Tweets are not the place to bring up hot button topics. Its like walking along a curb during a rain alongside traffic. Even smart people will get drenched.

    • Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      I’m not sure Twitter itself is a huge player, here.

      Dawkins and Harris also get this kind of treatment for long pieces that they’ve obviously put a lot of thought into.

      • Posted August 5, 2014 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

        But I do think that Twitter exacerbates the situation; it creates a kind of “attractive nuisance”.

        Not everyone would have been viewing Richard’s Twitter feed as a continuous thread. A majority of people would likely have come across individual tweets isolated by numerous other people’s tweets, with no context, no framing, no trigger warnings, &c.

        In such a situation, you don’t need to have an ax to grind to take things the wrong way. But amongst those still nursing their Dear-Muslima wrath, or those who simply see Richard as an arrogant, privileged, old white dude, it’s a spark to a powder keg. And surely Richard *knows* that there are such folk amongst his readership?

        I think Richard long form prose is generally very good (if not flawless*). But it loses coherence and sense when split across disconnected 140-character paras. He might be better served taking the same tack as Jerry, and using Twitter (and Facebook) only to advertise such blog/website posts.

        * One flaw: To use hyperbolic language and claim that he’s not exaggerating. I see no-one being burnt at the stake and no-one being thrust into Room 101.


  24. Daoud
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    I think the main criticism (or at least MY criticism) towards RD in this case, is why did he use this as an example? The “X is bad, Y is worse” statement is fine and there are probably an infinite number of possible examples to fill in for X and Y. So WHY did he choose the rape ones, which as Jerry pointed out, a lot of the legitimate criticism is that it is a very poor example because it *doesn’t* work.

    RD has plenty of examples, even among “taboo” topics which would have been accurate.

    So I think RD, in this case, made a very poor choice and most likely because he is very far removed from his example. It was a dumb thing to say.

    And like any public figure, any dumb thing you say will be used against you by those who are against you. Whether that is fair or not.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      It is always risky to try to get into some elses’ head, but my best guess is that since he is accustomed to explaining difficult things to people, he thought he could successfully explain a logical distinction by using an example that was both narrow and a hot-button.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      I think he brought it up for two reasons, based on his essay:

      1) He recognized it was taboo and wanted to highlight how taboo topics should be discussed
      2) He didn’t realize just how taboo it was

      I think it was good to bring it up because we now can see demonstrably how taboo some subjects are and how silencing they can be. My only criticism is that, as Jerry mentions, he would have done better with a more clear example, such as statutory rape.

      • Daoud
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:00 am | Permalink

        re: 1) Sure, but even permitting discussion about a taboo topic, an individual can still say a stupid thing, and the defence can’t only be “we should be able to discuss taboo topics”. You can still be called out for saying something dumb. (and this really applies whether the topic is taboo or not).

        My criticism is also that the example he chose, was a really dumb one, which hurt his arguments. Added to that he is starting to have some history (you may consider rightly or wrongly) with what one could categorize as “women’s issues”. And I’m thinking it’s plausible *this* example was motivated, in part, to be a contrarian bad boy. I am much reminded of Jeremy Clarkson. If you don’t know who that is, google Jeremy Clarkson controversy.

        • Diane G.
          Posted August 7, 2014 at 1:25 am | Permalink

          “…he is starting to have some history (you may consider rightly or wrongly) with what one could categorize as “women’s issues”.”

          Yes. Precisely because of this history, one is surprised that he would choose to use something associated with ‘women’s issues’ just as an example of a deeper point he was trying to make. In his long reply to the kerfuffle he mentions many other examples that would have worked just as well and that aren’t associated with previous controversy.

    • Peter Beattie
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      » Daoud:
      I think the main criticism (or at least MY criticism) towards RD in this case, is why did he use this as an example?

      Why don’t you just read his explanation in the second text Jerry linked to? Preferably before declaring with a somewhat comical lack of self-awareness that what RD said was dumb…

  25. twentynine
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    The problem is, Richard Dawkins is not using logic, in his logical example. He’s using an emotional example, despite how logical he claims to be. Which also makes his example so mind blowing stupid. And he should just own up to it, but I guess it’s hard when the whole internet is shouting at you.

    As you say yourself, how or by who’m you’re raped, and which is worse, is entirely EMOTIONAL and up to the one raped. Yet, Dawkins, claims he knows by using logic which one is worse, which is just ridiculous!

    This is why he is so mind boggling wrong! And his example belongs to the mind of a teenager, not a professor who knows how to actually think before putting things down in books or paper.

    • Daoud
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      I agree 100%. I don’t believe RD is evil or a hated figure because of it. It was just a really dumb thing. But just because there are some who want to crucify RD and are exploiting it, doesn’t mean I will refuse to say it was a really dumb thing.

      • Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

        Yes, but below you say the example is “idiotic.” Remember, as I noted above, that Richard is my friend, so I ask you to be civil. You have a tendency to be obstreperous and I ask you to not use such pejorative words towards a friend of your host.

    • Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      No, he was not claiming that he used logic to know what kind of rape is worst.

      He was trying to explain that it is a logical fallacy to interpret “murder is worse than assault” as an endorsement of assault. This is what the word “logically” is doing in his tweet.

      • Posted August 5, 2014 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

        Yes. It amazes me how many people keep missing the point no matter how many times it is explained. He is saying that the statement, ” X is worse than Y” is not an endorsement of Y. FOR ANY X OR Y! X and Y don’t matter. He is not commenting on X and Y. He is commenting on the logical fallacy.

        • Daoud
          Posted August 6, 2014 at 6:39 am | Permalink

          The point is not missed. His choice of example is still idiotic and wrong. His X/Y formulation is fine. His choice of example does not actually support it. You’re missing that point.

          • Peter Beattie
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

            » Daoud:
            The point is not missed.

            He said, while continuing to miss the point spectacularly:

            His choice of example is still idiotic and wrong. His choice of example does not actually support it.

            Again, glass houses. If you understand the logic, then you understand that the concrete examples of X and Y are irrelevant for the logic. The separate point about absolutist thinking is also not idiotic, as you would perhaps notice if you started actually arguing about it.

        • Diane G.
          Posted August 7, 2014 at 1:36 am | Permalink

          I agree with Daoud, here. It’s hard for me to parse the structure of this particular tweet in any other way than that the first couple of sentences are intended as an example of the point he’s making in the last sentence. So why not chose something that’s a slam-dunk obvious example? And the fact that he’s walked this back somewhat in his long replies (there is a second one) leads me to believe that he realizes this himself, now.

          (Though personally, given my own experiences, I happen to agree with his original ranking.)

          • Diane G.
            Posted August 7, 2014 at 1:41 am | Permalink

            And Jerry’s characterization of it as “ham-handed” is just about perfect; if anything, this was just a simple misstep that’s probably been belabored more than enough by now.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      You have completely misunderstood Dawkins.

      And, an EMOTIONALLY charged example is precisely what he intended, and is central to the point he tried to make.

    • Peter Beattie
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      » twentynine:
      Which also makes his example so mind blowing stupid.

      Glass houses?

      Yet, Dawkins, claims he knows by using logic which one is worse, which is just ridiculous!

      Oh dear, you didn’t even understand the first thing about his tweets? Do you also think he showed logically that X is worse than Y? And yet you have confidence to call his thinking ridiculous…

      • Peter Beattie
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

        *the confidence

    • Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      I asked people to avoid pejorative terms toward my friend. “Mind blowing stupid” is one of the discriptors that I consider uncivil. You can discuss stuff without such insults, okay?

      • Peter Beattie
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

        Or at least spell them correct.

  26. multiphant
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Ophelia Benson had an *excellent* post about the issue here. The gist of her argument is not that some topics are taboo, but that one needs to take care in discussing some topics, that emotions are important, that one should consider the audience when bringing up some topics.


    • nickswearsky
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      I do not think Dawkins would agree that logical thinking must “consider the audience when bringing up some topics.”

      • G A Southgate
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

        First a disclaimer: I’m not a great fan of RD mostly because I don’t like his writing style – so be it.

        And I think that this episode/series of episodes shows something of that issue. First it’s a demonstration of logic (somewhat faulty in my opinion – see below) and then when attacked it becomes about taboos. If he wanted to discuss taboos rationally he would have educated himself first not just assumed that how he sees one thing as less worse (date rape) is indeed so. Not knowing of the studies on this shows he was not ‘really’ interested in the discussion but was being provocative, unnecessarily.

        Why faulty logic – if any two things are on some (objective) linear scale of value (let’s assume) it tells us nothing about personal preferences/attitudes at all. It’s a failure of logic not to state that.

      • Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:56 am | Permalink

        Since it’s pretty obvious that emotions exist and sensitive topics can elicit an emotional response, wouldn’t it be logical to be mindful of emotions and emotional responses when discussing sensitive topics like rape?

        • GBJames
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

          That would depend on what exactly is meant by “being mindful of emotions and emotional responses”. Does it mean self-censoring and avoiding “sensitive topics” for fear of eliciting an emotional response?

          • Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:43 am | Permalink

            What “being mindful” means in practice is a good question.

            I do know that Twi**er’s 140 character limit makes it very hard to convey nuance and it’s probably not the right venue for discussing rape (especially if a person has demonstrated ham-handedness with Twi**er in the past).

            And I’m pretty sure that “being mindful of emotions and emotional responses” is hard to do when one says via Twitter “go away and learn how to think.”

            After all, if I used a similar tone in response to your questions instead of treating you and your concerns respectfully, it probably would have made you angry. And that anger would have made further communication between us more difficult.

            • darrelle
              Posted August 5, 2014 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

              You have made me angry anyway.

              • Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:30 pm | Permalink


                Please explain.

              • darrelle
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:19 am | Permalink

                Merely offering an example. Do you think I have no good reason to be angry with anything you have written here? Should me being angry matter enough for you to bother censoring yourself?

              • Peter Beattie
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

                Very well-made point, darrelle.

          • nickswearsky
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:55 am | Permalink

            No, I don’t think so. It is impossible to be mindful of all possible emotional responses. The whole point is to not let emotions limit the discussion.

            • Posted August 5, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

              Regulated emotion can make a discussion whether oral or written come alive. Sam Harris is a champ at this. When reactive, that is, not processed, emotions are largely manipulative, disruptive, and in my book, boring. Folks with a strong sense of self-identity have an easier time pulling off what Harris does. Generally bullies, like Social Activist Warriors, don’t.

              Instead of trying to eliminate non-rational aspects in discussion, focusing on strengthening one’s identity makes more sense. People with egos do not necessarily equate with people who feel at home with themselves. How to do this? Public discourse of course!

            • Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

              It’s not possible to mindful of all possible emotional responses. But it is possible to be careful and be polite when discussing hot button topics.

              And it probably leads to more productive conversations … after all, there’s a reason behind one of our host’s rule for his website:

              Most important, please try to refrain from insulting other posters, no matter how misguided you think they are. I don’t like name-calling, for it lessens whatever class this site has and certainly doesn’t foster discussion.

              Emotional responses to what one says or writes is important. That’s why we are concerned about name-calling and strong emotional responses it can produce in others?

              • GBJames
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 4:56 am | Permalink

                Here’s the thing, Steve. “Careful and polite” are fine. But using it as a substitute for a legitimate argument often ends up in tone trolling. I don’t think there is anything in any of RD’s tweets or articles that would be in violation of our host’s roolz.

              • darrelle
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:36 am | Permalink

                In reality degrees do matter. What you say is accurate in many contexts, but I think you carry it too far. Perhaps RD’s goals are not your own. Perhaps RD thinks that other people should be held, to some degree, responsible for learning to be more reasonable.

                One example, in this comment you are painting a context that favors your argument, but that is not an accurate description of the context of RDs tweets, and the inaccuracy is largely one of degree.

    • Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      If that is true, then do we need to do a better job of considering the emotions of the religious when we criticize them?

      It seems that we care little about giving offense to certain audiences when making a rational argument, but then we should tread lightly with other audiences? I guess the difference is that the religious often harbor beliefs that have negative consequences, while it is less clear what negative consequences the “rape absolutists” are promoting. All the more reason for Richard to bring this into the concrete realm.

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

        There are many voices of criticism directed toward the religious. Some will make fun of them, calling them morons, but I think that is both a moral error, as it is unjustly mean, and it is also a tactical mistake.
        The best strategy is to consider their feelings, but to concentrate our critique on their lack of evidence and illogic. This too will raise their emotions, but I do not think that can be helped.

        • nickswearsky
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

          So we are supposed to consider their feelings but then when our critique on their lack of evidence gets them emotional… well, I dunno.

          That’s the whole point. Dawkins said come back when you can discuss a topic without letting your emotions get the best of you.

          He was on Twitter. How does one consider the feelings of their audience on Twitter?

          • Kathy
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:25 am | Permalink

            Twitter is no place for nuance or complex thought. It’s a place to get attention and to pick quarrels.

            • nickswearsky
              Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:02 am | Permalink

              Then it worked flawlessly.

              • Posted August 5, 2014 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

                Apparently so. It has got people talking about the issues.

                Perhaps this is Richard’s ploy. He’s the iron man of atheism and rationalism, who can soak up all the invective the interwebs can throw at him. And rich enough and popular enough and so sure self-assured* that it’s of no consequence. So he’s deliberately provocative.

                * The fact that this self-assurance comes across to some as him being sure of himself and arrogant** does amplify things of course.

                ** Peter Atkins can beat him hands down at this, however: “It’s not arrogance if you’re right.” I wish Peter was a more well known.


              • Posted August 5, 2014 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

                *well-known atheist figure.

              • Posted August 5, 2014 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

                * sure self-assured

    • Posted August 5, 2014 at 4:49 pm | Permalink


  27. Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Richard needs to do two things:

    1.) Give specific examples of the witchhunt behavior he referred to*.

    2.) Demonstrate how not thinking about rape in terms of gradations of severity is contributing to real world consequences that harm women and men. For example, he could show rape laws that are unfair or unreasonable because of absolutist thinking.**

    In the past week, I have spent (wasted?) significant time trying to understand how this whole brouhaha happened, the nature of the complaints, and who the main characters are. While there does seem to be a segment of the atheist community that does not handle criticism well, particularly on issues of gender, most of their behavior merely seems petty, run of the mill internet nonsense (although some will argue that the dishonest tactics used in concert with this behavior make it more serious). The exceptions to this are the serious accusations of sexually predatory behavior that have been lobbed at the likes of Michael Shermer and others. Hopefully all of that nonsense is now water under the bridge.

    I guess my main takeaway from this exercise was: most of the people responsible for the infighting are very minor characters in the atheism/skeptical movement, usually younger people whose “expertise” is mainly blogging. That is the reason that many of us have never heard of them – they have little to contribute outside of these spats and disagreements. Now, in time some of them may develop deep expertise in important areas and go on to become productive activists, but the jury is still out.

    * Richard may not want to do this because it would inflame and stir the pot again. But then why bring it up in the first place?

    **It might be said that Richard was employing the use of hypotheticals here to demonstrate a logical point, and that real-world examples are not needed. But many people understand that but still question the need to use such an emotional subject if there was never a problem with how rape crimes are treated under the law. When I last checked his site, it looks like he had attempted to address this point with a link to an article about rape laws.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:36 am | Permalink

      To answer 2.)

      Statutory rape laws that are used to prosecute teenagers who have annoyed the wrong parents or community.

      • Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:43 am | Permalink

        Yes, that’s one. These should be collected by Richard and he should write an essay. That would bring it from the abstract realm into the concrete, which would quell a lot of the criticism.

        He’s making the same mistake as Sam Harris did on torture. Despite what most people think, there are some instances when torture has been used effectively. Sam hinted at this but never got more into the details. It has left people with the impression that torture is never effective and that Sam was being foolish for even using it in a hypothetical. They equated it with tacit support of torture.

      • Kevin
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink

        Well said. The choice to enforce statutory rape laws is another illustration of the irregularity of what defines rape in society.

  28. Hempenstein
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    1) Israel/Palestine is a taboo? Jeez, we’re really sunk. Here’s my take: it will never end until BOTH side give up their religions and wrap their heads around their common (supported by genetic evidence) origins. Never happen? Well, nothing else shows any promise of ever happening, so get this out in the mix!

    2) An old friend who somehow wound up in the movie industry (on both the acting and produucing side) approached me not that long ago to buy a share ($16K) in production of a film about some famous serial pedophile from decades back. I said I couldn’t imagine very many people wanting to go to a movie about a pedophile, regardless of how artistically (for lack of a better word) it might be done. So if Pedophilia’s a taboo (suspect it’s instinctive), that supports my sense on that one.

    • Daoud
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

      Yeah, Israel/Palestine as taboo topic is funny, considering the oceans of ink (well, virtual digital ink) used just in the past few weeks.

      I think one thing you’re missing about your simple solution: economics (resources, land, water etc) and power. It’s never just about religion (and I seem to stand apart from the general view here, in my view, religion is rarely the cause, again, it always come down to economics, Marx, people, Marx!) 🙂

      • Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:37 am | Permalink

        “religion is rarely the cause”

        It was in the persecution of Jews that occurred for centuries in Europe and elsewhere. It’s actually difficult to explain the animosity against Israel by its neighbors without reference to radical Islam.

        Trying to account for the current violence in Israel/Palestine without reference to religion is like trying to explain global warming without reference to human activities.

        • Daoud
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

          Trying to account for the current violence in Israel/Palestine without reference to access and ownership of resources is absurd.

          (Trying to account for ANY human conflict in all history without reference to economy [as well as sexual violence] is absurd).

          But let’s not derail this thread anymore!

  29. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    I’m usually not following these things closely, but my science feeds floated a Dawkins-bashing blog which I got to this morning. Pretty much the usual “STFU!” stuff.

    he was a childhood victim of pedophilia

    And rape or sexual harassment by the latest definitions here in Sweden, e.g. non-consensual intercourse/similar action or sexual touching of a minor depending on what happened. [ http://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexualbrott_i_Sverige ]

  30. Phil Freeman
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    None of this is new. Forty or more years ago Garrett Hardin wrote about how taboos are used to suppress not only discussion but thought. I haven’t read all of these posts, so maybe this has already been pointed out, but here’s another current and very important taboo in the USA: immigration. I consider myself a “liberal”, but I am appalled at how my fellow liberals, many of whom consider themselves environmentalists, refuse to even consider concepts like carrying capacity and population impacts when it comes to immigration. In their minds, if you are against more immigration, then you must be a racist. We progressives must be a cowed bunch these days. We desperately need people like Hardin and Ed Abbey who didn’t mind speaking up in spite of taboos and without regard to what today we call “political correctness”.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      If you really want to hit a taboo subject talk about reducing the world’s population to macth the carrying capacity of the environment. No matter how carefully you explain that there should be no compulsion or force used you will be accused of promoting death camps and final solutions.

      • JT
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

        Good point. I can relate. For example, I think anyone living in a first world country who, by choice, has more than two children is committing a crime against our planet and everything that lives on it. If I express this opinion, I’m often accused of being a Nazi or something equally odious. People don’t like to be told some things, especially if those things are true but taboo. When you point out how someone’s selfishness in having many children is contributing to the destruction of this planet, they immediately deflect criticism by pointing out that it is their right to do this. And, it is their legal right—no argument there. But it seems to me that people are way too concerned about what they can do, and not about what they ought to do, what is the right thing to do. This is a discussion that we need to start having a lot more, but it is taboo to do so.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted August 6, 2014 at 3:26 am | Permalink

          Absolutely agree with you there.

          So far as I know, the Chinese are the only government who have ever tried to address this seriously with their ‘one child’ policy. And where did it get them? – half-witted American activists accusing them of breaching human rights.

          In fact, why should it be anyone’s ‘legal right’ to have more children then the planet can sustain?

    • aljones909
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:24 am | Permalink

      David Attenborough catches flak when he talks about the human population explosion. It’s ‘sinister’ to suggest it’s a problem we should seriously address.

  31. Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    We have an intricate situation here with many contexts that are important. There is the social justice warrior phenomenon that arose on Tumblr some years ago. It influenced social media and the atheist-skeptics movement, too, and served as a kind of combustive agent. The spark, of course, was that incident in the Irish lift. A comment won’t allow to explore the social justice warrior mind-set in detail, but some aspects can be highlighted.

    Social justice warriors need some Evil Other, a genuine dragon but often times just a windmill, which they use to gain social standing within their community spaces. It serves two purposes. By combatting the Evil Other, social justice warrior “safe spaces” can manufacture consent on ideological matters (which I place under progressive views and authoritarianism).

    They can fight side by side, act heroically in the face of oppressive adversaries, and can thus foster their community cohesion. The social justice warrior always cast themselves in the role of the underdog, often as victims and at times even with martyrdom undercurrents. The other purpose is to delineate their “safe space” from the rest, which is typically a world of evil, the patriarchy, the old guard, and the like. All the actions of a social justice warrior are always aimed to improve their social status “at home”. They want to come back, battle-wounded, shoulders pierced from “harassment” and receive their pat on the back, or more typically virtual “hugs”, from their peers. Giving “hugs” and support then fosters their community some more.

    Importantly, social justice warrior communities are even based around solidarity and support, which renders them incapable of discussing a matter (of course all community have some element of solidarity and some element of disagreement, but the priorities are typically different fro social justice warrior spaces).

    Solidarity is too important, hence all the “ideological” topics are taboo. But they need taboo-breakers outside to have some way to create consent within their community, which is done by shared outrage.

    When Richard Dawkins went against the social justice warrior faction with his “Dear Muslima” comment, he assigned himself to their out-group, despite that he suggested an area where atheism and feminism could join forces (albeit with a heavy dose of snark).

    All the other things then pretty much fall in line. Social justice warrior communities are known for their extreme hazing, to protect their “safe spaces” from freeloaders (just look around and you know what I mean). Their views are informed by gender studies, post-colonial studies, feminism and the like, however the concepts borrowed have idiosyncratic meanings and are “weaponized” for the internet. For example, when a social justice warrior stirs up controversy (which they need), and it is suggested that they themselves invited the criticism they receive, then this criticism becomes “harassment” and the suggestion that they are responsible becomes “victim blaming”. Most people are thus emotionally manipulated and bullied to give them sympathy, which again feeds into solidarity and also improves their influence overall.

    Social justice warriors are informed by left-wing progressive politics, but mix this with a heavy dose of authoritarianism. They prefer speech codes, are very “PC” aware, like to dictate what people can or can’t say and they make heavy use of “shibboleths” to delineate their community from the rest. Sometimes this can be comical, as in: “Don’t call people stupid – that’s ableist – you moron!”
    What you also will frequently find on social justice warrior “safe spaces” is a refusal to link to sources, allegedly to protect the delicate feelings of their audience (“It’s too terrible to show you this, just believe me, it’s horrible!”). This gives way to intricate telephone games, wherein the dragon, or the windmill gets more terrible with each subsequent comment, which then fuels the outrage.

    Another common element you’ll find is a tendency to Islam Accommodationism, which comes by way of the hatred of the “White Man” and his imperialistic ways from left-wing politics, where Richard Dawkins hits two high notes. He is critical of Islam and he fits the archetype of an upper-class Englishman, who was born in colonial British-Kenya. Here you find the reason why Sam Harris isn’t exactly appreciated by them, either.

    Other conflicts of the recent past can be put into perspective as well. Informed by gender studies and other fields within humanities, social justice warriors tend to be “blank slaters”. They are perhaps not exactly like the post-modernists Alan Sokal’s went against, but they are distant relatives who tend to believe in socially constructed genders and sexes, and are also very critical of evolutionary psychology. It is perhaps only surprisingly that Steven Pinker, who shows up in several contexts, managed to get by without becoming a “Witch of the Week”.

    There is still a lot more at play like certain forms of “identity politics”, where someone is viewed as a spokesperson of all people in the categories they belong to. This concept is idiosyncratically named “intersectionality”. The problem with Richard Dawkins was that the “official PR message” of “child-abuse-survivors” can’t be that their abuse was “mild”. This is of course rubbish for many reasons. You can survive a car accident, call your family and reassure them you are “fine” when they got away with a broken rib. This does not mean that all people in car accidents, or all people with broken ribs are “fine”. This ties to bad situations that can be more or less worse.

    Generally, I don’t know if my observations herein can be confirmed by other people, but if they are true, they are currently underestimated in the atheist-skeptics “movement” and I think that matters perhaps more. After all, there is no shortage of critics of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris et al and it would be very easy to just add another collection of annoying fleas to the list.

    • Aelfric
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      One slight correction, you kept saying “social justice warrior” when you meant “social justice strawman.”

      • sinister
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:24 am | Permalink

        Yes, we can’t go to Tumblr or FTB and see this occurring. Which “straw man” were you pointing out exactly, I am pretty sure I can cite examples of all of it.

      • jay
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

        I find it interesting you refer to it as a strawman.

        Hidden by the strawman is a real argument.
        Hidden by a strawfeminist is a real feminist.

        What is hidden by the straw social justice warrior?

        Are you agreeing there is a real group of people who identify themselves as social justice warriors and that Aneris (and so many others) are misrepresenting the values and behavior of social justice warriors?

        Tell me then, what ARE the values and behaviors of social justice warriors?

    • Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      Wow, that’s a pretty good summary. One thing to mention is what happens to women who side with the “outgroup”. Some the worst venom is directed at these “tokens” and “chill girls”. While men can be simply be dismissed as “not getting it”, fellow women who have strong criticisms of these SJWs present a different problem that must be dealt with. The irony is that the invective hurled at females who don’t toe the party line effectively gags these women, and makes a mockery of the claims that the larger outgroup atheist movement “silences women”.

      • sinister
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

        The only silencing I ever see is the SJW trying to make words unspeakable or ideas “off limits.” Already in these comments you see the desire to put groups out of the discussion based on traits they cannot change. If these folks spoke about races the way they speak about sex, there would be outrage.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:47 am | Permalink

        Yes, and this leads me to conclude, from observation and from Aneris’s description of the SJW, that these people are, at the core, bullies. Social exclusion is a key tool in the bully’s toolbox and it is the most effective way to silence dissent & foster in-group cohesion.

        • Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

          Of course, there is no irony lost in that this is the precise behavior that fundamentalists display when it comes to their religion. Authoritarian, unwilling to change their minds, unwilling to listen to dissent and, not only unwilling to listen, but often determined to utterly ruin those with whom they disagree. The only difference is their views are opposite those of the PZ Myers’ crowd.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      *Whew*! I understand what you are saying about the commonalities and possible flaws in the s.j.w. communities, but please bear in mind that their energies are mainly not directed at how they micro-manage their message, it is about the message itself. There really is socially accepted misogyny in the seats of power that enable rapists to go free. There really are xenophobic white people who generalize brown immigrants to be drug traffickers and thieves.

      • sinister
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

        I don’t think that “message” is clear at all. And even without “micromanagement” I seem quite able to articulate quite clearly my ideas about racism and sexism. Why is it so hard for them?

      • GBJames
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:44 am | Permalink

        This is true. And that is what I find most frustrating. It is weird having your allies in a real cause shut you down because your comment doesn’t align perfectly. It results in self-censorship and withdrawal. Not good, IMO.

      • Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:00 am | Permalink

        One of the claims that has now become gospel is that the RDF site had and/or has a huge problem with misogyny and was hostile to female commentators. This has been supported by a few specific examples but is mainly based on anecdotal evidence. I would love to see something a little more substantive, perhaps a real statistical sample of the posts there in a given time period and some consistent definition of what constitutes sexist comments. Although there were certainly some comments of that nature, I am questioning whether they were as bad or as common as some people claim.

        It is one of the major planks of this SJW/Atheism + movement and is another great source of the animosity toward Richard, as it is claimed that he ignored it and even contributed to it indirectly.

        • sinister
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:55 am | Permalink

          This seems to be a common thread among these claims. Citations become secondary to the narrative, and just asking for citations is evidence of the problem to them. It makes discussions impossible.

        • Mark Sturtevant
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

          It all started, as far as I know, during the back and forth over ‘the elevator incident’ at a conference. here is one summary of it.

    • Jonathan Houser
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

      It is amusing that you mention Sam Harris in your description. Right now over at pharyngula there is a topic talking about how terrible Ayaan Hirsi Ali is, and the comments go on about how Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne are privileged racists using atheism to justify their racism and classism.

      What gets me is the specific comment by PZ

      “You’ll have to excuse me, though, if I scratch both mass murderers, as well as the person who admires them [referring to Ali], from my list of admirable people.”

      So much of what FTB does now is just list keeping. Who is on the good list, and who is on the bad list. It isn’t even subtle any more. They can’t quite decide with Richard which list he belongs on, but I have a feeling he will end up on the naughty list in time.

      • Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

        “the comments go on about”

        There is /one/ comment defaming Jerry. Hardly “going on”.

        And do /you/ admire what Ali said?


        • Jonathan Houser
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

          Will I be put on the bad list if I say I do agree with Ali? What if I say people are complex webs of beliefs and actions, some of which are admirable, some of which aren’t? Which list does that get me on or off of?

          My point is FTB seems to have tasked itself with sorting through all of the atheists past and present and deciding who are the good righteous progressive warriors of truth and justice, and which ones are racist, classist, misogynistic, not politically correct enough, or some other issue. And they are both judge and jury on the matter. This whole “no more heroes” trend of posts seems to serve no purpose other than to assert that no one deserves any kind of admiration or respect…except for maybe the posters at FTB who are all good and righteous.

          There may be only post that mentions Jerry by name, and then more posts in response talking about how you have to be racist and or classist to agree with Israel. Then there are posts talking about how horrible Ali’s husband is based on his views of World War 1 politics, and musings about whether or not it is fair to call Shermer guilty by association for being friends with Dunning who ran an atheist podcast was convicted of fraud. The whole atmosphere is one of sorting through people so that they can be put on a good list or bad list and why.

          What I respect about Jerry and this website is that he is exceedingly cordial to even the people he disagrees with, and insists that we all do the same. Sam Harris doesn’t keep a running tally of which atheists are ok to associate with and which ones are the bad guys. Richard Dawkins doesn’t search the internet to find atheist youtube channels to condemn. FTB has become a High School.

          • Vaal
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

            Agreed (after once again re-visiting the Pharyngula threads on Dawkins).

            I used to like PZ Myer’s site, and I still think he gets many things right and is a very clever writer. But my god the drama-queen bitchfest that site has turned into is impossible to stomach for more than a few minutes.

          • Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

            It’s unlikely to get you put on my Christmas card list. I can’t speak for PZ. Odd that you should know that about Sam Harris.


          • gluonspring
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 3:36 am | Permalink

            I think this is a good description of the feeling I sometimes get when I go there. I notice that Ant asks you if you admire what she *said*, as though that would determine whether you should agree with PZ that we shouldn’t admire *her* (the person). That’s a pretty big shift, from evaluating a statement to evaluating a person. I’m a big fan of sorting through good and bad ideas. Sorting through good and bad people, not so much.

            • Posted August 6, 2014 at 3:57 am | Permalink

              I did ask that question but I wasn’t suggesting an equivalence. I was going to go further, but Jonathan’s response obviated that.

              But, how many, and how seriously bad, bad ideas does a person need to have before they’re seen as a less than admirable person.

              Jonathan seems to think that people who make lists of people are bad… maybe he thinks PZ is a German U-boat captain. 😉


              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

                Nah! U-boat captains were really young. 🙂

              • Posted August 6, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

                Maybe not everyone will be aware of the reference.

                I’m pretty sure all UK readers will be.


              • gluonspring
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

                Don’t tell him, Pike! That’s a pretty funny clip.

          • Posted August 6, 2014 at 6:33 am | Permalink

            Yes, sheep and goats anyone? Sound familiar?

      • Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

        I just went to check out that thread on Pharyngula where someone attacked Jerry Coyne in the comments and I think a few things are worth noting.

        #1 – Commenter “addicted44” writes “There is a pretty vocal corner of atheism (Sam Harris and the like) which aren’t just anti-Islam, but anti-Muslim.” Commenter “pick” agrees with this and says Jerry Coyne is one of these people. “pick” also says, “Their atheism is largely a cover for their hatred of muslims and apparent favor of jews,” adding “…Netanyahu creeps me out. You can see the blood on his teeth.” Blood libel much, “pick”? Finally “pick” adds (regarding Harris and Coyne), “These people should not associate with atheism.” And there is not a peep from PZ Myers.

        #2 – The next comment quotes some of this approvingly and adds, “… they don’t give a flying fuck about Islam, they just identify Muslims as plebeian metics who must be forcefully kept in their place at the bottom of the food chain.” BUT, search Pharyngula for the word “christians” and you a find post about the time “I treated a cracker with extreme disrespect.” Referring of course to the communion wafer episode. But that’s not anti-Christian, right? If Sam Harris desecrated a Koran, the Horde would have no problem with that, right? You can find a post titled, “It’s good to be annoying the Christians again.” And you find this from PZ, “Right now, I get more vicious hate mail from atheists, a little bit from Christians, and almost none from Muslims.” Now why do you think that is, PZ?

        • Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

          I understand the point of the whole cracker episode and the absurdity of treating a baked good with reverence worthy of, well, just about nothing I can think of. Still, I found it distasteful and wondered what the hell it was supposed to be accomplishing. Did PZ really think this was going to show anyone the rational side of secularism?

          Maybe PZ was never a believer, so he can’t empathize. But, I can assure you, my road (and the path for many others) out of religious indoctrination was not due to people acting like assholes. What’s worse is that his horde of followers feeds into the precise caricatures of atheists that many of us former believers were fed. Pharyngula doesn’t have a Converts’ Corner, and I’d suspect as the site exists today, the number of religious people who have re-thought their views due to the views espoused over there is probably close to zero.

          • Mal
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:57 am | Permalink

            But let’s not forget that Richard Dawkins supported PZ during the whole Cracker episode. That was way before the current schism.


          • GBJames
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:24 am | Permalink

            I thought the cracker episode was entirely appropriate. And let’s remember what was also “desecrated” in the incident (pages of the Koran and a copy of Dawkins’ book).

            What it accomplished was to make a statement about the nature of blasphemy and false respect. This sort of thing is necessary. The fact that some believer’s feelings were hurt is not a measure of his having misbehaved, it is a measure of the absurdity of the beliefs held by the guys with hurt feelings.

            • Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:30 am | Permalink

              Agreed–much like Serrano’s “piss christ.”

            • Posted August 6, 2014 at 9:56 am | Permalink

              Keeping with the theme of this topic, I’ll explain my short comment a bit further. When I say I found it distasteful, I’m not saying that I didn’t at the same time also find it funny; in fact, I find a lot of distasteful things to be downright hilarious. Thinking about it further, perhaps the reason I found it distasteful is partially due to an unconscious bias similar to the Little People Argument.

              I viewed it as analogous to taking a stuffed toy away from a child and telling her it’s silly to love it, all in the name of teaching a lesson about reality. Of course, thinking out loud about this now, this is quite absurd that I view religious people in this manner since the uproar was caused by adults who should know better. So, I’ll concede I never really fully thought about why it struck me as distasteful, but I am glad this website encourages open discussion as this is a useful way to discover biases.

              The part I left unsaid in my original reply was the irony I see here when contrasting PZ’s actions there with the massive overreaction to Dawkins’ recent tweets. This is indicative of the enormous levels of hypocrisy in endorsing a behavior that insults religious people, but then lambasting Dawkins for saying things that the FTB crowd finds offensive. I stand by both men and their right to do and say exactly what they did. Criticisms and discussion about what the goal of these statements were and whether or not they furthered any particular cause should be settled through open discourse, not shut down based on anyone’s opinion about bad taste.

              • Posted August 6, 2014 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

                The hypocrisy was exactly my point in bringing it up. PZ thinks it is to be celebrated when he hurts the feelings of christians, but despicable to hurt the feelings of…fill in the blank.

                If people *feel* threatened, even if they aren’t…well, it’s their feelings that matter (if those people are allies of The Movement).
                If christians feel insulted by PZ’s comments or actions…well, christians are stoopid so who cares how they feel?
                If muslims feel insulted by Sam Harris’s comments…well, that’s because Sam is an islamophobic bigot.

                And they say they are rational thinkers.

              • Posted August 6, 2014 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

                I think there’s also a distinction to be made between intentionally insulting people and the people feeling insulted simply because rational points are raised. In the wafer incident, I think it was probably some of both. These things can be used to rally the troops among people who already are in agreement with you (which can be a good thing), but I see it as the beginning of the trend away from actually caring about making convincing arguments and towards the ingroup/outgroup mentality that seems to permeate Pharyngula now.

            • Diane G.
              Posted August 7, 2014 at 1:59 am | Permalink

              I agree with GB & Jerry about Crackergate.

    • Adam M.
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

      What worries me most are the occasional attempts to go after people in the real world. If you say something that upsets the FTB/twitter crowd enough, they may try to find your employer and get you fired by sending them a deluge of complaints.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

        Really? That seems like a dangerous thing to start.

      • Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

        That’s why I recently took off any public attributes from my Facebook profile. No one knows where I work if they don’t friend me.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:14 am | Permalink

          People going after you like that is terrible. It has “sociopath” written all over it.

        • GBJames
          Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:15 am | Permalink

          I did the opposite and removed references to where I work from my FB profile. I make most of my posts public, using the system as a kind of advocacy platform. I don’t think my advocacy has a place in the office, so in my case I’m more protecting my employer from weird blow back than the other way around.

          • Posted August 6, 2014 at 10:01 am | Permalink

            I often make public comments on stories via my Facebook profile, thus the reason for keeping my contact/location/job information restricted to those who I am actually friends with. Regarding public posts, I largely find those to be analogous to shouting in a room full of other shouting people. Once in awhile, it might get noticed, but it’s nothing remotely close to the forum we all enjoy here where we know other people are reading the comments.

            Also, I agree, protecting my employer is part of it, as well as protecting myself should I say anything that could be construed as tarnishing my employer’s reputation (which can have obvious bad consequences regarding my continued employment).

    • Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

      Pinker has been a witch of the week.

    • gluonspring
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 1:05 am | Permalink

      So, tribalism, with internet gasoline for the fire. Check.

      “shibboleths” are among the most annoying things in the world to me because they seem to consume so much of the communication space and lock out actual thought. I often feel like most of the words that come out of people’s mouths, in public or in the privacy of homes, have as their purpose not conveying information, less so the exploration of ideas, but of confirming group identity. “Do you still hate the people I hate? Are in my tribe or aren’t you? Because that’s all I really care about.”

      This is one reason it’s so hard to have any kind of discussion with anyone about religion. It’s not about whats real or right out there in the world, it’s about whose team you are on. Or to take a very different example, I feel a great deal of what passes for environmentalism among my friends is merely the adoption of purity rules to establish your membership in the tribe. Just try to analyze whether, say, bringing paper plates is more ecological than bringing china plates and washing them and see where that gets you. The conclusion doesn’t matter. The answer, disposable = evil, is predetermined so you’re obviously not a member of the environmentalist tribe if you even ask.

      Tribalism is very hard to shake. In many cases the size of our tribes do seem to have expanded, and with that have come many ethical improvements (per Singer) but the need to have an out-group seems in many ways as strong as ever.

      • Robert Bray
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 6:52 am | Permalink

        Admire your point about tribalism and its deep cultural roots–everywhere! Perhaps one reason Abraham Lincoln succeeded in the crisis of the Civil War was that he was NOT tribal.

        • GBJames
          Posted August 6, 2014 at 6:59 am | Permalink

          I thought he succeeded because Sherman got to Atlanta in time.

  32. Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Dawkins mentions the Israel/Palestine conflict, which it seems was part of the background of his statements. Then he used the hot button topics of rape and pedophilia to further prove his point, and explained that someone could equally argue the other way.

    The fact is, we can and do make these judgments in our laws and in convictions for crimes. If it is taboo to even discuss things because there is a high degree of emotion involved, how can we know whether we’re addressing the issues in a valid way?

  33. Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:54 am | Permalink


  34. Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    I think that something like this is going on:

    Many times, someone who has demonstrated good reasoning skills completely loses them when the subject is some area that is very emotionally charged for them. The link I provide is about politics, but the similar principles apply to social issues as well.


    • gluonspring
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 1:15 am | Permalink

      Definitely. It’s tribalism, in-group out-group dynamics. Once you identify with a group your reaction to information is just another marker to establish your membership in the group.

  35. jennifer Allen
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    The motivation for bashing Dawkins is easy to understand. Dawkins is King, the King of the Hill. Pretenders to that throne think the way to supplant Dawkins is to attack-attack-attack for no reason or over only miniscule faults. In doing so, they persuade me that they don’t qualify.

    • Daoud
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      Without condoning the Dawkins-bashers, though what you may be true, it doesn’t follow that Dawkins can never be wrong or say something dumb.

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

        Especially on Twitter. I wish he would just say ‘no’ to Twitter.

        • gumbythecat
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

          Why? Just because a bunch of emotion-driven ideologues are waiting to pounce on every tweet they can intentionally misconstrue to further their arguments? Creationists will always quote-mine scientists for their own ends, and SJWs will always misconstrue the words of others to perpetuate their agendas as well.

          Twitter is a horrible place for clear discourse, for sure. But that applies to everybody who uses the service, not just Dawkins.

  36. TJR
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    A lot of this is very reminiscent of family disputes.

    “We can’t invite cousin John to the wedding because of that horrible thing about Uncle Ken that he said to Aunty Madge at cousin Julie’s wedding in 1987”.

    • Posted August 5, 2014 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      Yep, that’s atheism; one big happy family.

      Funerals sometimes heal those rifts. Or beget others.


      • Phil Giordana FCD
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        I used to be annoyed by elderly relatives at weddings pointing to me and saying “You’re next!” so I started doing the same to them at funerals.

        • Adam M.
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

          That’s horrible! I love it. 😀

          • Diane G.
            Posted August 7, 2014 at 2:05 am | Permalink

            Exactly my reaction. 😀

        • thh1859
          Posted August 6, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

          I say I’m next at funerals, Phil.

          • GBJames
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 9:46 am | Permalink

            If you do that too many times, you’ll lose your credibility!

        • thh1859
          Posted August 6, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

          Why is sexual abuse of children worse than other types of physical abuse?
          Why is looking at child pornography a crime?

          • Phil Giordana FCD
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

            Wait, what?!?

  37. J Smith
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Being afraid to discuss certain issues has come about in the atheist and skeptic community in large part because PZ Myers and much of Freethoughtblogs as well as other blogs have created a toxic climate of intimidation. They’re not afraid to go after prominent atheists and skeptics based on rumors or misconstrued comments, portraying them in the worst possible light. They have their own invented vocabulary “misogyny,” “rape culture,” “patriarchy” to describe these people. There’s a long list of people they have gone after in big and small ways. No doubt there are plenty of people in this society that deserve these epithets, but to tar and feather anyone who disagrees with them goes way over the top. If it didn’t happen all the time, and wasn’t such a pattern, it would be less bothersome. There seems to be a radar to spot this behavior anywhere it occurs in past or present. Now even Richard Feynman is a sexist according to a recent article. They have a perfect right to post whatever they want and it’s perfectly fine to criticize perceived bad behavior if there is actual evidence and not rumor behind it, but if it becomes the modus operandi (it clearly has), don’t be surprised when people start tuning you out, the boy who cried wolf, phenomena at work, and an environment of silence about controversial issues is created, lest one be branded with one of these terrible epithets. Who needs that? I also sense a strange animus towards some legitimate science, such as evolutionary psychology, portrayed as a complete pseudoscience, perhaps because it doesn’t fit some of their ideology, so sometimes science becomes a taboo subject. Again you can be critical of a science, without it being tarred and feathered. This leads to a lot of majoring in minor issues and events, and creating divisions, when atheists and skeptics should be more united about the common threats of a still dominant religious culture. Judging from the hits on some of these posts, some people would rather bicker endlessly about Richard Dawkins tweets that about real things going on like the abolishment of the majority of abortion and women’s health clinics in the South, which is a real threat to all human rights.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      I can agree with most of this. I mainly look in on PZs site, and I see plenty of postings where he (and others) go overboard in the matter that you describe. About a year ago PZ posted about a study showing that the female brain was different from those of men. It was kind of hilarious reading his very convoluted ‘now waitaminute’ rationalizations about how this is only preliminary, and so needs to be held at arms’ length. No one minds that male and female fruit fly brains are different. Or that male and female zebra fish brains are different. But humans? OMG, that has gotta be set aside!
      My one quibble is about Feynman, and this is where it is useful to check in with PZ. He may be slanted, but he will cite sources. Feynman (who was married) apparently was a complete cad in regards to women. It is OK to let some of our heroes fall a bit in stature.

      • J Smith
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

        Yes, my understanding about Feynman is that it is based on one story Feynman himself wrote about in one of his books. While the behavior certainly is “caddish” by today’s standards, how much can we really infer about his behavior beyond the one story, clumsily told about one incident when Feynman was young. And why highlight this after Feynman has been long dead. It seems the purpose was just to give another very prominent scientist, among the most accomplished in the 20th century, a black eye. He wasn’t perfect, so what. This is what they want to focus on. Did they write about the fact that his first wife died of cancer, and how it traumatized Feynman, in his own words. Hell no. I read this as another example of being petty and small minded.

      • J Smith
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

        sorry delete that duplicate, my page refreshed so I resent it.

        • Tim Harris
          Posted August 6, 2014 at 1:08 am | Permalink

          Yes, I feel resentment, too, in such circumstances…

    • Posted August 5, 2014 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

      “They have their own invented vocabulary ‘misogyny,’ ‘rape culture,’ ‘patriarchy’ to describe these people.”

      Dude. You need to get out more. This vocabulary is not *theirs*. And these things do exist.


      • J Smith
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

        I believe I said that plenty of people in this society deserve these epithets. I probably should have been more clear about invented vocabulary. By invented vocabulary, I mean a vocabulary that widens the actual meaning of a term beyond the narrow bounds of what is actually being referred to. There are misogynists, but it is questionable if society as a whole is misogynistic. Same with the other terms. For example, I think someone like Rush Limbaugh arguably can be called a misogynist, because of his repeated behavior and comments toward women over time, and failure to change even when it results in huge losses in advertizing. But on Freethoughtblogs you often find an outside commentator immediately labeled as a misogynist because he disagrees or misunderstands a particular point being discussed. That’s what I meant.

        • Posted August 5, 2014 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

          Perhaps that’s what you should have said, then.

          I might be being hyper-sceptical, but it seems to me that many commenters here don’t frequent FtB as much as they used to, if at all, yet have very clear perceptions about the prevalence of such behaviours.

          There’s also the (not unrelated) piñata that FtB is a monoculture, when there’s actually many different blogs varied in content and tone: PZ Myers is not Ophelia Benson is not Greta Christina (who, incidentally, recently wrote a very good post about the incompatibility of religion and evolution) is not Richard Carrier is not …


          • J Smith
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

            Richard Carrier huh. I had an interaction with his blog in the distant past. I had a minor disagreement with him about his views on Jesus, and he personalized it and made inferences about my motives. Finally since he had to have the last word, he didn’t post my final reply. Smart guy definitely but easily offended. At least that was my one and only experience.

          • Scote
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 10:55 am | Permalink

            “There’s also the (not unrelated) piñata that FtB is a monoculture, when there’s actually many different blogs varied in content and tone: PZ Myers”

            Monoculture? No. But FtB is invitation only and has a broad organizational ethos which the individual blogs have to fit to be invited to be a part of FtB. PZ’s blog is the flagship blog of the FtB brand, and thus for good or for ill, his blog sets the overall tone for the site.

            • Posted August 6, 2014 at 11:25 am | Permalink

              I just don’t see the same tone across the whole of FtB, though. I have to be careful as it’s been pointed out to me offline that I don’t have comprehensive view of all the posts on all the blogs, but … Aron Ra, for example. Different enough from PZ that I didn’t even think of him as an FtBer when I made my earlier comment. (The first three I listed are certainly more kindred spirits.) /@

            • Tim Harris
              Posted August 7, 2014 at 12:06 am | Permalink

              I think it is quite untrue to assert that PZ’s blog sets the tone for all the Freethought blogs.

            • Posted August 8, 2014 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

              This simply is untrue. There is no flagship blog or blogger at FtB. It is probably true that Myers’ blog is the one with the greatest traffic. But that does not make it the flagship blog. It is true that FtB was launched after Ed Brayton and PZ joined together to create it. If there is a commander so-to-speak of FtB, Ed has as much claim to that as PZ. But fact is neither are actually anything like a commander.

              There is a considerable amount of diversity in the subject matter addressed on the blogs at FtB, as well as the tone and the tone. I suspect you are judging the entire FtB site on the basis of your reaction to and opinion of just a few of the bloggers there.

              You should also be careful in your word choice. One interpretation of the meaning of flagship is “the best, largest, or most important one of a group of things.” (Merriam-Webster online dictionary, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/flagship). I doubt that you mean this, but it is the meaning I prefer if you are talking about PZ’s blog, although I don’t think we will get universal agreement from the other FtB bloggers.

              • Posted August 9, 2014 at 2:37 am | Permalink

                Sorry, just: No. There is no diversity worth mentioning on FTB.

                Each and any vocal dissent from the official social justice partyline is immediately punished, may it come in the form of throwing newcomers out if they ridicule the radical feminist dogma (Thunderfoot), or may it come in the form of dogpiling and pressuring even most senior members like Chris Rodda to the point where she had to literally “flee” from the harrasers on the network. They might tolerate Ally Fogg, as long as he doesn’t openly oppose the partyline, but that’s exactly as far as “diversity” on FTB goes.

                And when it comes to “groupthink”… well, the most recent FTB backchannel leaks were surely funny to read, but it’s not like we didn’t know beforehand what kind of organisation FTB was.

                Infact, Thunderfoot was so nice to share some backchannel talk with us all, demonstrating the malevolence and collaborative vindictiveness of the established FTBloggers. His leak is the reason why we know who actually runs the show on FTB: Ed, PZ, Ophie and Steph.

                It is not unfair to say, that these people are morally corrupt and generally unworthy of support.

              • Diane G.
                Posted August 9, 2014 at 11:25 am | Permalink

                “And when it comes to “groupthink”… well, the most recent FTB backchannel leaks were surely funny to read…”

                Oooh, clue me in!

              • Scote
                Posted August 9, 2014 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

                Please, PZ’s Blog was (I don’t know if it still is) so dominant and so set the tone for FtB that Ed Brayton got very sick of people thinking that he and PZ co-owned FtB, when, in fact, he is the owner.

  38. Aelfric
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    I think Professor Coyne has summed this up well; while of course Professor Dawkins’ point is valid, he chose a ham-handed and gratuitous example, and one that isn’t even as logically obvious as he seemed to think. I have to think that given his history, there was at least a little bit of Professor Dawkins that was spoiling for this “fight.” Insofar as parts of it are civil and conducted in good faith, I say have at it. There will always be a surfeit of ridiculous invective on the interwebs, but to the extent that people are saying “that was a dumb and needlessly hurtful example,” it’s not a pretend-misunderstanding nor is it somehow wrong to point out.

    • Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      I’m not sure how Dawkins could win the PR war here. Imagine if he’d gone to his more infamous topic, religion, and said: “Christianity is better than Islam. Anyone who thinks that’s an endorsement of Christianity…”

      I think the main point here is that if reason needs to be applied anywhere, it’s on contentious issues.

  39. Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Love Dawkins. Twitter is a flawed medium, especially for complex issues like rape, race, religion, etc.

    Did Einstein trying to synopsize relativity on bathroom walls?

    Just because they put crayons in bathrooms doesn’t mean you have to try to write a thesis in the stalls.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      You could very precisely synopsize relativity on a bathroom wall, but not many would have a clue as to what it was! Good example.

    • Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

      They put crayons in bathrooms now?

  40. Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    By the way, I am one of those who has been afraid to discuss certain issues, cowed into silence for fear of being pilloried.

    I’ve had Facebook friends say “If you’re going to defend Richard Dawkins, unfriend me now!”

    And while I sit in the corner trying to figure out how to make my opinions heard, not just made, the debate moves on and I’m not heard.

    • sinister
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      It’s really hard to remain outraged when facts keep getting injected into the conversation. Most people get so emotionally involved they don’t want to see contradictions to their belief. It’s very much like religion.

      • Posted August 6, 2014 at 7:00 am | Permalink

        I suggest that it IS religion–the institutionalization of emotionally-rooted belief.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      I find I self-censor regularly on FB & I feel a bit ashamed of it. I blab everywhere else but on FB I have friends who support Israel who are Jewish and friends who support Palestine & are Muslim. I don’t want to get into it there so I avoid the topic altogether. It is the same with atheism. I identify myself as “atheist” and I criticize anti-atheist posts but I don’t post overtly atheist things because I just don’t want to deal with the social burden given that many of my FB friends and family are religious.

      • Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:33 am | Permalink

        I’ve seen a couple people on FB lose friends over the Israel/Palestine conflict. Even people who are normally reasonable seem to become highly sensitive and overcome with emotion. On social media, it’s probably a good idea to self-censor if you can’t have a discussion without being overcome by emotions. Unfortunately, many people discuss things too emotionally and even intentionally frame the discussion in an emotional way and then go away and pout when their feelings get hurt. (Atheists and secularists aren’t immune to this, but it’s the go-to form of debate for a lot of people I know who are very religious.)

      • Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

        I’ve heard this analogy:

        FB is like a family Thanksgiving dinner. Most topics are off-limits for fear of alienating close friends/family. Just post pictures of your kids and pets, and wish everyone a happy birthday.

        Twitter is like a street corner. You can yell short snippets, swear, emote, etc, but long arguments are impossible to make.

        Blogs (websites) are like individuals’ homes. You can opine at the discretion of the owner. Be polite and follow the owners’ rules.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

          That seems about accurate. I once got unfriended on Facebook with no explanation right after I told someone that I wouldn’t pay much attention to anything Ben Stein says because he’s a bit off his rocker. This was in response to a nasty comment he made about atheists that this person posted. That was it, I was unfriended and I’ve known this person for years.

          • darrelle
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

            Anyone who unfriends someone for calling Ben Stein an idiot is very likely not worth the trouble of having as a friend in the first place.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted August 5, 2014 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

              You’re right of course and I can only imagine the response if she saw what I write here.

        • Posted August 6, 2014 at 6:09 am | Permalink

          I agree on FB. My posting there is very limited. No politics (well, mostly 🙂 ) and no religion. I mostly use it to say “in touch” with far-flung family and friends. I don’t agree politically with many of them (never have) and certainly not on religion. But why alienate them (which being fully forthcoming certainly would)?

          That’s not what I want from FB.

          And I don’t feel the need to paint the world with my opinions. (That’s one of the things I find distasteful about right-wingers and the religious (often).)

          • GBJames
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 6:16 am | Permalink

            “I don’t feel the need to paint the world with my opinions.”

            I do. It is how we change the world into a better place.

            I think you actually agree with me (about “painting the world”… your uses of FB is a separate matter), otherwise you wouldn’t comment here in public.

    • Posted August 5, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      Well, if that’s there attitude, you should! 😉


    • Peter Beattie
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      » squeakysoapbox:
      I’ve had Facebook friends say “If you’re going to defend Richard Dawkins, unfriend me now!”

      Maybe you should follow their suggestion.

  41. Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I think we should remember how important the law is in these matters, because any arguments in the hypotheticals Dawkins uses have been, or will be, settled as legal, not ethical, issues. Because of that, emotions will be involved, and arguably should be.
    I remark that, because Dawkins could have raised his concern for a logical approach to ethics in better terms and in a different format. Proper deployment of rhetoric just is a necessity in public communications.
    As for the firestorm of response, that was to be expected in our internet world where everyone has a say whether its interesting or not; and Dawkins apparently was aware of that when he sparked the fire with his tweets. But tweeting is not a good format for engaging in (or even simply raising an issue for) serious debate, so it was a poor choice on his part.

  42. Sigmund
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    A few quick observations.
    First, I think Richard Dawkins is a great thinker and a great writer – so long as he is not constrained by a 140 character limit. He often hits the nail on the head in his tweets but is just as likely to make a mistake, for example his use of the word ‘mild’ in connection with rape or pedophelia.
    I wish he would stick to articles in which to expand upon his intended points.
    Second, there exists on twitter at present, a group of people who have a sport of baiting Dawkins – basically trying to come up with the most uncharitable interpretation of his tweets and then acting completely outraged.
    It’s very obvious and also rather despicable since it basically involves lying about what Dawkins is actually saying.
    Some of the individuals involved are what has been termed ‘social justice warriors’ a name given to those who fake an interest in social justice in order to act superior to others. Many others, however, are simply trolls.
    As for the question of some topics being verboten, well that does seem to be the case in some corners of the internet. There seems to have been a move towards making some atheist and skeptic forums ‘safe spaces’ for those who have been victims of sexual assault. The trouble is that this conflicts with one of the basic principles of skepticism, namely that people should have the right to ask for evidence for any claim being made.
    Does this mean that skeptic forums may appear lacking in compassion for rape victims? I guess it does but I haven’t seen any examples of a compromise that allows both compassion and acceptance of rape victims, and a rigorous skepticism of unevidenced claims. Perhaps we may have to conclude that such a forum is a contradiction in terms and that such ‘safe spaces’, while they may be valuable and needed for victims, should be kept separate from skeptical forums.

    • Peter Beattie
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      » Sigmund:
      He often hits the nail on the head in his tweets but is just as likely to make a mistake, for example his use of the word ‘mild’ in connection with rape or pedophelia.

      And labelling that a “mistake” without even having had a discussion about it is exactly RD’s point.

  43. test1
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    I am not on twitter, so I haven’t been aware of any of these controversies, but I recently came across this blog: http://contemplativemammoth.wordpress.com/2014/07/30/richard-dawkins-doesnt-speak-for-me-so-who-does/#comments

    In it Richard Dawkins’ comments are qualified as racist and sexist, while the whole blogpost makes an otherwise very reasonable stand claiming that more diversity of scientist-spokesmanship would be welcome. However, because I was interested in exactly why his comments are “racist” or “sexist” I followed all links in the article (many of which are already mentioned here in the comments: the number nobel prizes by muslims, the judgement of the elevator incident, logical argument about rape). I just don’t agree that they are racist and sexist, and this gives me this feeling that by extension this makes me racist or sexist (I could make the exact same comments and be qualified as such).
    To me it feels very uneasy that a seemingly reasonable person makes such a strong judgement of RD (because racism and sexism are obviously very awful). I think the obvious defense would be that I am exposed as a racist/sexist, but I am just as inclined now to be paranoid about the motivations of the accuser: are you sensitized towards these issues because of religious issues or your gender? Are you too “easily” triggered regarding sexism because you feel you are being disadvantaged by it in general? I think RD has a point that we must ditch these taboos (although I agree his twitter comments were somewhat clumsy), in order to at least be able to talk about the issues at hand. Especially in the case of sexism, I think many, many potential allies in countering it are being put-off by being called a sexist for the zillionth time and decide to just exit the discussion, which means it will just continue in silence.

    • Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

      Actually, http://contemplativemammoth.wordpress.com is an interesting blog, and the post you reference is actually one of her stronger posts.
      The ‘racism’ charge is technically unfounded (Muslims do not constitute a race) but there is no doubt that right now the politics of Islam are very troubling. The sexism charge is unfounded – few have pressed harder for womens’ rights than Dawkins – but it arises understandability from the insensitivity manifest in his tweets. He could have made his point is a manner less provocative.
      Look, women are physically abused in a rape; does anyone actually expect that they will afterwards sit down and think, ‘well, was that a bad rape or a worse rape?’ Oh, come on! The outrage over Dawkins’ comments may have been over-reaction, but that Dawkins was insensitivity to the pain many (all too many) women have experienced is clear.

      • test1
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 11:19 am | Permalink

        I agree the post was very good, but this makes the blanket judgement of sexist even worse. Just the fact that you imagine him saying this to a woman (but not man?) Who has just been raped means that the perception of brutality on the side of RD is in your imagination.

        • Posted August 6, 2014 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

          I didn’t mean to suggest anything like brutality on RD’s part was involved; what I wanted to say is that the kind of tweets he made appeared insensitive – and obviously I said this badly, and I apologize.
          The insensitivity of these tweets doesn’t arise from Dawkins’ intentions, but from the language he is using, which is that of ethical theory. In the philosophy of ethics, Dawkins is right, one has to approach issues as dispassionately as possible to ask difficult questions. But the forum of the twitter world is public and hence necessarily intersects with the personal and political issues that the hypotheticals he raised invoke (since resolution of these issues will be legislation that prescribe and proscribe the limits of social activity). In such a forum, even clearly ethical issues require presentation in a rhetoric that persuades the audience; confrontational rhetoric will lead… well, exactly where it led.

  44. Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Of all the ones I used to read… I stick with Coyne, Harris, and Dawkins. The others are way to sensitive for my taste and, as correctly pointed out previously, put emotion vs. reason.

    It’s a shame the backlash Dawkins has received, and not deserved.

  45. Dominic
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    What people cannot see is that posing the philosophical questions does not mean that you hold those views…

    • Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink


      They also don’t seem to understand that multiple page blog posts based on under 140 characters are actually projecting their own views onto what they wish Dawkins was actually saying so that they can further bash him. I’m seen very few places address what the essay explaining the tweets actually says. Instead, they rail against objectively determining levels of evil and resort to “rape is rape” and “murder is murder” false equivalencies.

  46. Shwell Thanksh
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    This is exactly why Pharyngula readership collapsed — it went from its origins as a great discussion site for atheists to an angry, confused circle-jerk of Dawkins-bashers.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      Having been soundly bashed there, I assure you they don’t limit themselves to bashing Dawkins!

      • mordacious1
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

        I personally don’t mind being bashed or called names. What I don’t think is cricket, is banning someone from replying either before you bash them or right after. Especially if that someone is putting forth salient comments that make you and yours look like fools.

        • J Smith
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

          Yes it makes the ‘freethoughtblogs’ moniker ironically seem a bit Orwellian.

        • Draken
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

          Especially if you’re in a specific thread/topic announced as ‘unmoderated’, if you get my drift.

          PZ also seldom sticks with just banning, he throws any previous posting in the memory hole.

          • azhael
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 2:00 am | Permalink

            Mmmm…no he doesn’t. There are specific circumstances in which posts are deleted, but most of the time, they are left intact.

            It’s always “i was banned just for disagreeing with him”, but then you go read the threads and it’s never that…mmm…funny…

            • Scote
              Posted August 6, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

              Sorry, but my personal experience is different. I was banned essentially for disagreeing with PZ, though perhaps more because PZ didn’t bother to read the thread before acting precipitously, and with an invective abandon from which he will not back down. He excoriated me with a cascade of profane invective, even though I was being polite and factual. One poster pointed out what PZ missed and why his ban was based on false premises, to which PZ doubled down on his ban, and added even more invective.

              I asked Ed Brayton about the moderation standards and he told me that he stays out of such things entirely, that moderation polices are entirely up to the individual bloggers. I don’t know if he is entirely comfortable with the way Pharyngula or PZ have transformed over the years.

              • Phil Giordana FCD
                Posted August 9, 2014 at 6:19 am | Permalink

                I got banned from Pharyngula for, according to Myers, “being so self-centered” and of course “don’t mess with the blog-owner”. Ironical.

                To note: quite a few of his regular commenters kinda defended me against his decision to ban me. Those were the good old days…

  47. Kevin
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Teenagers, I think, are more capable of handling the philosophical mining approach to Twitter than most adults. When a parent, or teacher, or coach shouts at them incessantly about everything eventually the shouting has a deteriorative or null effect. The kids have to parse through the constant barrage of ‘do this’, ‘don’t do that’, ‘do that’, ‘don’t do this’. They have to think inside the meanings of statements but they do not yet harness the verbal strength to admonish. They simply make a choice based on what they think and move on.

    I think older people, particularly those not used to Twitter-propositions, are more likely to want to point out the equivocation, rather than just letting the episode slide.

    Hitchens, for example, was a good master. He rarely ‘shouted’, metaphorically. He understood how to mix, in a well proportioned manner, his criticisms with wisdom, stridency, sarcasm, and the numinous. I sort of doubt Hitchens would use Twitter, but if he did, I would predict his Tweets would find fewer people capable of pulling their meanings apart.

  48. ladyatheist
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    As someone who’s afraid to use her RL name online because of both fundies & atheists, I don’t consider you a coward at all!

    Back when the secular web had a bulletin board, I was one of the moderators for the “Moral Foundations and Principles” sections. We were frequently trolled by pedophiles (or Christian trolls posing as such to trap us into justifying their bad opinion of us – we could never be sure). But for the most part, the discussions were rational. We had a small but quick-witted group of posters who argued persuasively, and my few problems as a mod were from newbies who complained to us or to the thread about the topic. It can be done, for sure.

    I think Dawkins’s stature brings a certain level of scrutiny, but also, he’s not a philosopher so he’s out of his element. I think he’d be better prepared for this kind of discussion if he… well… prepared. He also throws things out to all the world rather than targeting people who are prepared to discuss hot button topics rationally. On both sides, the moral argumentation went right to red-hot and skipped the easier topics. To be a leader in this area, he should stick to the middle ground and be more in-depth. (i.e., not use twitter!)

    For example, saying B is worse than A doesn’t say anything about why that is so. If that’s what goes viral, anyone can bring their own biases to it and react to a straw man version. To prevent being straw-manned, there needs to be more depth.

    I could see saying Rape is bad. Stabbing someone is bad. Raping and stabbing the same person is double-bad. At least there would be something rational behind the statement that he wishes to be argued rationally.

    FYI, for those who are interested, the great-grandchild of the forum where I used to moderate is here: http://talkfreethought.org/forumdisplay.php?23-Morals-amp-Principles

    This thread is an example of a good discussion. (Some of the participants are familiar from my iidb days – well seasons moral arguers!)

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      “he’s not a philosopher so he’s out of his element. I think he’d be better prepared for this kind of discussion if he… well… prepared. He also throws things out to all the world rather than targeting people who are prepared to discuss hot button topics rationally. On both sides, the moral argumentation went right to red-hot and skipped the easier topics. To be a leader in this area, he should stick to the middle ground and be more in-depth. (i.e., not use twitter!)”


    • Vaal
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

      Cool that you were a mod on the sec web, ladyatheist.

      I posted for many years there as “Prof” and had lots of great debates. At one point that site was an incredible gathering of intellectual talent and varied expertise for science and atheism (absolutely epic threads with Christians on creationism, and those good ol’ Intelligent Design debates with RBH participating).

      I haven’t gotten into any threads since the recent changeover, though I note a few familiar names are still there.

      • Vaal
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

        I also meant to add what a bummer it is that the archives for the old site don’t seem to exist any more. It was such a huge resource for intelligent discussions on so many topics. Is all of it just…gone?

      • ladyatheist
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

        I took on a Scientologist regularly. He was a total parrot but I enjoyed the challenge. Having mental illness in my family, the anti-drug stance of Scientology really really irks me (multiply “irk” by about 1,000). Coincidentally, they don’t allow schizophrenics to join.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:23 am | Permalink

          That anti-drug stance really irks me too. I rank that up there with anti-vaxxers and refusing blood transfusions.

          • Shwell Thanksh
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

            It’s even worse than that — they are rabidly anti-psychiatry.

            The organization holds that mental illness is not a medical disease and that the use of psychiatric medication is a destructive and fraudulent practice. The organization links psychiatry or psychiatrists to school shootings, eugenics, and terrorism.

  49. D'oh
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    If Dawkins had said “Rape in which a woman is murdered is worse than rape in which she is not”, I don’t think he would have received the shitstorm that he received.

    Instead he stupidly compared date rape to stranger rape, with the implicit assumption that stranger rape was worse. It was, as other people have pointed out, a basic failure in logic that was ironic considering he was on his high-horse and giving his imagined opponents a bollocking on the grounds of logic.

    Besides the basic failure in logic, he DID walk right into some very real (and I believe thoroughly understandable) sensitivities many women have over date rape, and grading rape in general. Our society grades rape all the time–and the grading isn’t based on the harm done to the woman. It is based on her perceived culpability in the rape. “Date rape” is perceived as less serious not because the level of violence is less than stranger rape (after all, date rape can be very violent and)–but because society perceives the woman as having some shared responsibility for the rape by signalling some degree of openness to sex by going out on a date with the man in the first place. And Dawkins’ comment had whiff of that kind of reasoning in it. After all, why not just say “Rape in general is bad, but rape by knife point is worse?” I’m willing to bet that if we turned Dawkins upside down and shook out all of his biases for open view, you’d find in resulting heap the idea that date rape is less bad than stranger rape because the woman in some measure invited the rape.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

      “Instead he stupidly compared date rape to stranger rape, with the implicit assumption that stranger rape was worse. It was, as other people have pointed out, a basic failure in logic ”

      And completely lacking in evidence. If he’d said “Studies show that women experience worse PTSD when attacked by a stranger than when committed by a friend” then there would be no brouhaha. If he has support for his opinion, he should offer it. If he wants to use it as an example of an unsupported opinion, he should expound on that more. If not, he should apologize for expressing an unsupported and inflammatory opinion.

      There’s another phrase that means the same as “unsupported opinion” but it would violate da roolz.

      • Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

        “Instead he stupidly compared date rape to stranger rape, with the implicit assumption that stranger rape was worse”

        You should read Richard’s longer explanation that Jerry linked to. He was in no way making an empirical claim that stranger rape was worse than date rape. As Richard said, he could have reversed the hypothetical (“date rape is worse”) and still made the exact same logical point (saying Y is worse than X is not an endorsement of X).

        To make it more obvious that Richard was not making a specific empirical claim, he should have used quote marks around his example. He did acknowledge this in his longer essay.

        • Posted August 5, 2014 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

          I read that longer article and remain unconvinced. According to the laws of the state of New York, ‘date rape,’ ‘stranger rape,’ and ‘stranger rape at knife-point’ are all – *without distinction* (despite Dawkins’ claim) – First Degree Rape. What are the laws in your locality?
          ‘Well, what does that have to do with the ethical discussion?’ – but there is no ‘ethical’ argument here, only a legal argument; because that is how the community decides what behavior it does/does not allow (which must certainly involve the emotions of community members).
          That is the whole problem that Dawkins appeared blinkered to. I respect his right to tweet what he wishes, but can he really be so blind to the larger legal, social, and personal issues involved? The reaction to his tweets may have been over-reaction – but why instigate ite, when there were other ways to make his point?

          • Tim Harris
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 1:01 am | Permalink

            Very well said. I admire Dawkins hugely in books like ‘The Blind Watchmaker’ and ‘The Extended Phenotype’, as well as in his television programmes about such subjects as ‘faith schools’, but he can also be remarkably silly and insensitive, as in his proposal that atheists should call themselves ‘brights’ and his subsequent defence of the proposal, as well as in ‘tweets’ such as this one.

            • Posted August 6, 2014 at 2:24 am | Permalink

              I am back, and specifically requested that people discuss the issue of taboos and not turn this into a Dawkins-bashing session. I see that I have succeeded only partly. Please refrain from giving your personal opinion on Richard’s character.

              I’m not sure where the term “brights” came from, which, by the way, nobody uses any more, but I think Dan Dennett proposed it. Richard may have given some approbation, but I’m not sure he proposed “brights.” I may be wrong.

              Anyway, was there a purpose to your remark beyong saying, “I don’t like Richard”?

              • Posted August 6, 2014 at 3:42 am | Permalink

                You’re right, Jerry: Richard didn’t propose it, Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell did. Richard, as well as Daniel Dennett, did at least publicise the movement and the term.

                But… “‘brights’ … which … nobody uses any more”: Except the Brights themselves, of course. 😉


              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 3:47 am | Permalink

                I’m a strong Dawkins supporter (he’s my favourite atheist). But as I recall he did strongly endorse the term ‘Brights’ which was (in my opinion which doubtless few will share) his biggest misjudgement. To me, the term seems conceited and inviting ridicule, so I’m glad it’s sunk out of sight.

                Umm, here for instance: http://www.the-brights.net/vision/essays/let_there_be_brights.html

              • Tim Harris
                Posted August 7, 2014 at 12:34 am | Permalink

                No, I am not saying that I dislike Richard Dawkins. I admire, as I said, some of his books, as well as his television programmes. But I do think that at times he does bring on the storms he decries. And, yes, I shall refrain henceforth from mentioning ‘brights’.

            • Posted August 6, 2014 at 4:27 am | Permalink

              I just wanted to ensure that people stop accusing Richard of COINING the term, which I greatly dislike. But you point to a website I didn’t know of, and really, has anybody seen a well-known atheist refer to themsevles as a “Bright” lately? Isn’t this just a reason to drag up a term that even Richard and Dan have abandoned as a way of smearing them?

              Who among us has not been guilty of a misstep; and an infelicitious term is hardly a crime. It’s time to stop going after Dawkins for the “brights,” thin, I think, and move on.

              • J Smith
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 4:53 am | Permalink

                Some of this has strange parallels to the sociobiology wars of the 70’s and early 80’s where all kinds of insults were hurled at E.O. Wilson for extending sociobiology to humans. I recall Richard Dawkins was also considered on the wrong side of radicals on that one too, since his book The Selfish Gene, has a lot in common with E.O. Wilson’s Sociobiology. The more things change the more they stay the same.

              • Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:32 am | Permalink

                Since Tim didn’t point at a website, I guess this was intended as a reply to me (or maybe P=1/∞). I didn’t mean to annoy you. However, I don’t really sees association with the Brights as a smear, however infelicitous the term.

                (Full disclosure: I was one, briefly, but eventually found that the “humanist” mantle fitted more comfortably, and the Brights organization didn’t offer much that I couldn’t find from the humanist community. The term – and movement – just seems more unnecessary than it is objectionable.)

                But I’m not surprised you didn’t know of the website. The Brights seem rather like the Quakers of the atheist movement; they’re mild-mannered (apart from the strident name!) and keep themselves to themselves.

                Nevertheless, they have had some commendable initiatives, amongst which Earth and Life: changes over time | The Brights’ Classroom Poster Project might be of interest to you. I won one of these posters and donated it to my old high school.


              • GBJames
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:36 am | Permalink

                @J Smith: Thanks for that reminder. It does have the flavor of the old 70’s Sociobiology freakout.

              • Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:40 am | Permalink

                PS. The Wp page identifies Steven Pinker as well and Richard and Dan as “notable brights”. That probably needs some word-smithing to avoid the implication that they all still use that label.

          • eric
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 6:04 am | Permalink

            I think Jerry’s example is much better and makes RD’s comment easily defensible. Saying stranger rape at knife-point is worse than stautory consensual rape (i.e., a 19-year old having sex with his/her 17-year-old boy/girlfriend) is not an endorsement of statutory consensual rape.

            RD’s biggest error here was in picking a really terrible example with which to make his point. Its so bad that it causes the audience to lose the point he was trying to make. But if you put the example aside, I think the point itself is reasonable and something there should be no taboo against talking about.

        • ladyatheist
          Posted August 6, 2014 at 8:08 am | Permalink

          (replying to blitz442)

          I understand the distinction, but if he really wants a rational discussion, he shouldn’t try to have it on twitter. It should be done as an essay, or even a book.

          His example was inflammatory, and I do wonder if it wasn’t intentionally inflammatory. His true interest seems to be in quantifying morality. We do have a legal system that creates a continuum of judgment, so he has a point, but not the point he attempted to make. If he feels that mentioning rape shouldn’t generate irrational (i.e., emotional?) responses, there are better ways to make the case.

          One, I don’t agree that rape is taboo in the rationalist community. We frequently talk about abuses by the church, authoritarian family structures leading to parental abuse, etc. and several people have discussed their personal stories online. Rape per se isn’t off-limits.

          Second, nothing is really taboo if you search the web. Even reddit can have interesting discussions.

          Three, if there is some mystery on his part as to why some topics are emotional triggers for other people, that shows that he has something to learn, not something to teach. Instead of insulting people on twitter, he should seek out people who have actively written about “taboo” subjects and ask them why those topics are so inflammatory.

      • Peter Beattie
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

        » ladyatheist:
        If he has support for his opinion

        How many times does it have to pointed out that it is not his opinion and that the concrete manifestations of X and Y are strictly irrelevant?

        Is it really asking too much, if you didn’t understand his logically quite straightforward tweets in the first place, to read the explanation that Jerry linked to in his post? That way, you wouldn’t even be contemplating violating da roolz—which I would say is an added benefit.

    • Adam M.
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

      “Our society grades rape … based on [the woman’s] perceived culpability in the rape.”

      In some ways, you’re probably right. But I think mostly it’s graded by the perceived viciousness of the rape. I believe the “very violent” date rape you mentioned would be considered much worse than a date rape without any violence, both socially and legally.

      I think it’s just assumed that stranger rape is more vicious and violent than date rape.

    • Peter Beattie
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      » D’oh:
      Instead he stupidly compared date rape to stranger rape, with the implicit assumption that stranger rape was worse.

      Have you heard of glass houses? Apparently, they’re quite fragile.

      In other words: No, he did not so compare date rape to stranger rape; and no, there was no implicit assumption either. If you don’t get that, you don’t the logical point RD made.

  50. J Smith
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    What I dislike most about freethoughtblogs, starting with PZ Myers and running all the way down in many of the other bloggers, is they promote an “I’m intellectually and morally superior to everyone else,” form of atheism, we are beneath criticism because we are right, don’t you know. Even if I agree with the political and scientific views of 90% of the posts. It goes way beyond feminism. This is a very unhealthy and dangerously deluded attitude to adopt.

    • sinister
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      I just hate the denigration of those who would dare to believe in “dictionary atheism” as if that were some bad thing. Anyone can and should be accepted as an atheist if they don’t believe in god / gods. It’s really not a complicated ethos Donnie.

      • Posted August 5, 2014 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

        I think the the original dictionary atheist discussion was a very good one. PZ was criticising those who said, “I am an atheist *because* I don’t believe in God” (or similar), when this is just a statement of why that label applies to you. What PZ was attempting, was to encourage people to critically examine the real reasons why they were an atheist; i.e., the reasons why they didn’t believe in God. If it turned out that you were, like many gnu atheists, an atheist because you saw God as a hypothesis with no evidence to support it, he was inviting you to apply the same skeptical/scientific standards and apportion belief according to the evidence to everything else — climate change, homeopathy and, ultimately, social issues. Which is where it went sour, as many folks weren’t prepared to give up their non-religious irrational beliefs. Whence, deep rifts.


        • Posted August 5, 2014 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

          *apologies for the underuse of [Return]

        • darrelle
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

          I agree.

        • Manzibe
          Posted August 6, 2014 at 8:36 am | Permalink

          So, witch hunts are perfectly acceptable in order to get people to re-examine their views?

          Nah. PZ’s time is up. He’s demise is well earned. He’s an insignificant little troll and the horde that he has whipped up into a lather behaves like an insane troop.

          Their only value to this world is as a target to point and laugh at… Remember how PZ always said this is what religious people are for? He taught us well.

          The first rule of holes is to stop digging.

          • Posted August 8, 2014 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

            Huh? The “original dictionary atheist discussion” was no witch-hunt!


    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      I looked forward to reading freethoughtblogs but rapidly decided not to bother. Although I would agree with many of the progressive attitudes, there appeared to be no tolerance of anything that was less than ‘right on’. No winning of hearts and minds. If it disappointed me it must have lost any chance of changing the minds of religious people.

      • sinister
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

        I despair at the thought of someone thinking they represent “Free Thought” by any measure of the term online or anywhere for that matter.

        • Dave
          Posted August 5, 2014 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

          I’m another one who’s virtually given up on Freethoughtblogs. I used to really like Pharyngula, and I still think PZ is one of the best when it comes to giving both barrels to creationists or other religious crazies. Over the last year or so, though, I’ve found the stridently political tone of the place too much to bear, in particular the almost Stalinist intolerance of any dissenting views. Nowadays I seldom visit the place.

          Butterflies and Wheels is another one that’s jumped the shark in my view, by becoming bogged down in tedious spats and navel-gazing arguments over “Elevatorgate” or whatever storm-in-a-teacup is causing Ophelia Benson and her followers to hyperventilate this week.

          Plus, neither of those sites ever has any good pictures of cats.

          • Posted August 5, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

            “I’m another one who’s virtually given up on Freethoughtblogs.”

            It seems more like “Thoughtfreeblogs” these days.

          • Scote
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

            “I still think PZ is one of the best when it comes to giving both barrels to creationists or other religious crazies. “

            I used to think that, too. I thought his no holds barred, profanity-laced eff yous to religious types were an appropriate response to their fact-free rants. Now I increasingly see PZ’s own rants as being, at the very least, light on facts and heavy on self-important opinion as all that matters. And he blithely dismisses legitimate critics with sarcasm, not unlike the way Bill O’Reily does. I still like the “Courtier’s Reply,” though, and PZ’s earlier writing.

            These days I think Jerry is as close to my current thinking as I’ve found, only expressed and considered by someone who is both a better writer and much more well versed in evolution, theology and philosophy than I am.

          • ladyatheist
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

            I enjoy the cephalopods. They are amazing animals.

    • Manzibe
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      They might be, after all, far superior to their peers. But that’s because they’re living in the most backward first-world country.

      It is a mistake for them to think that the rest of the is just as backwards.

  51. Posted August 5, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    I wonder what the Hitch would have made of all of this?

    • sinister
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      Oh, I am pretty sure he would eventually have become a witch of the week as a womanizer or alcoholic dullard or some such thing. He was all about free speech after all. The FTB folks make fun of free speech calling it “Freeze Peach.” It’s sad.

      • Posted August 5, 2014 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

        I think you’ve entirely missed the point of the “Freeze Peach” jibe.


        • Posted August 6, 2014 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

          So what is the point?

          • Posted August 7, 2014 at 12:10 am | Permalink

            As I recall, it was a dig at all the abusive commenters – perpetrators of the bullying and harassment that Richard and Ophelia Benson condemn in their joint statement – who bogusly claimed that they were exempt from criticism because of the legal right to free speech, conveniently ignoring that freedom of speech neither includes nor implies freedom from the consequences of your speech.

            It’s worth noting that this kind of abusive commentary, targeting women, and its reprehensible “justification”, is not limited to the atheist community. High-profile examples include Mary Beard (historian), Anita Sarkeesian (games industry commentator), and Caroline Criado-Perez (who campaigned for the Bank of England to make Jane Austen the new face of the £10 note). Among many, many more.


  52. Paul S
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    I think Richard’s tw**ts we’re spot on and necessary. I’m sure that everyone here would agree that rape, pedhilia, racism, and torture are bad. The point that is being missed is that they were all once acceptable. The only reason we understand them as bad is because we forced uncomfortable subjects to the forefront of conversation.
    If we allow subjects to become taboo, we’re only harming ourselves.

    • Posted August 5, 2014 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, and the opposite extreme is that these topics are now closed to discussion. Is the answer to radical fundamental dogmas put in place by religion to have radical fundamental dogmas at the other end of the spectrum? Certainly not. For, if this were true, the caricature that religious people paint of atheism is true. Maybe rape is rape. Maybe torture is always wrong. Let’s the discuss the reasons for believing so and not close ourselves off to the notion that maybe we’ve swung the pendulum too far in the opposite direction.

    • Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

      “they were all once acceptable”

      Probably not to the victims… 😮



      • Posted August 6, 2014 at 3:21 am | Permalink

        *tsk – formatting violence courtesy of WordPress’s email response system

    • Tim Harris
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 1:11 am | Permalink

      Right on, Ant!

    • Posted August 6, 2014 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      In any forum of discourse there are always taboos. The question is, how to shape taboos in favor of the interest of one party rather than another. The method for that is called rhetoric*.
      We might not like that to be the case, but it just is the case.
      The only alternatives humans have discovered are law (which involves but limits the use of rhetoric) and organized violence.
      Any writer willing to ‘break’ taboos, must choose his or her battles carefully; since what she or he is doing is partly trying to generate new taboos having lasting consequences.
      (*The one exception to this may be the discourse of the natural sciences, e.g. physics; but I suspect that in the propagation of new ideas in the sciences rhetoric may also have some use.)

  53. Chris
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    Certain people have a hair-trigger outrage response to *anything* Dawkins says. This was most apparent to me during the backlash to his #cosmictombstone tweet, when he dared to say that Shakespeare, Einstein and Schubert are worth remembering.

    Considering all the awful things that have been said to him, I think Dawkins has shown incredible patience and restraint.

    • Posted August 6, 2014 at 3:49 am | Permalink

      Not just the Dawkins hair-trigger but also the privleged-old-straight-cis-male hair-trigger.


  54. Denis McDaniel
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    I don’t agree with Jerry’s example (consensual statutory rape vs forcible rape). Here you have two utterly dissimilar things that have (unfortunately, and outrageously) the same name.

    • eric
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:50 am | Permalink

      I think your point is a reason for the discussion RD is trying to start. If you’re right and we place utterly dissimilar things under the same legal category of rape, then that would support RD’s contention that some rapes (in the legal sense of the term) are worse than others.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      Well, sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t.

      Statutory rape laws exist for a very legitimate reason. It means that predatory adults who have groomed minors and manipulated them emotionally and psychologically cannot rely on their putative consent as a defense when they have clearly exploited them. Do you not realise that the victim’s supposed (and sometimes actual) consent has been raised in a shocking number of child abuse cases perpetrated by Catholic priests?

      The fact that those sorts of laws are sometimes horribly misused by judgmental elements of society to extract some sort of revenge against a teenager who happened to be on the wrong side of a certain birthday does not mean that statutory rape laws are not used to good effect elsewhere.

  55. William George
    Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    Perhaps Richard’s a bit ham-handed on Twitter…

    He’s a gorilla in boxing gloves trying to play Bach on a toy piano to an audience who came for Oscar Peterson.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:40 am | Permalink

      Whoa! You extend that metaphor! Extend it! 🙂

      • William George
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:49 am | Permalink

        Hey, I love what the guy has done to raise the profile of the movement, but he should stick with wiring books until he learns how to write in 140 characters.

        • William George
          Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:50 am | Permalink


        • Posted August 6, 2014 at 6:10 am | Permalink

          He’s written articles as well as books, and some good ones, too. He’s also lectured all over the world and engaged in public debate. But that all gets put aside because of Twitter. That’s because it’s easier to go after tweets than after arguments laid out at greater length.

          • William George
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 6:57 am | Permalink

            That’s probably true for the creationists, but I’ve not noticed anyone use his clumsy tweets to dismiss his other writings. Folks have been very focused on the content of the tweets.

            What I have noticed is that he simply isn’t able to take complex ideas that require subtlety and squeeze them down to 140 characters. As I said, he’s a gorilla in boxing gloves. A smarter approach would be to simply link to a larger article where his ideas and opinions can get a full airing.

            • GBJames
              Posted August 6, 2014 at 7:04 am | Permalink

              “Folks have been very focused on the content of the tweets.”

              I don’t think that’s quite true. I’ve seen responses that say “If RD is talking about evolution, pay attention to him. Otherwise don’t.” Not what I’d call “very focused”.

              • Daoud
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 7:48 am | Permalink

                I AM more interested in Dawkins-on- biology/evolution than I am on Dawkin-on-other matters (not that I ignore them). I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I am more interested in Jerry’s opinions on science and society than I am about his love of cats. Again, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

            • Posted August 6, 2014 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

              “What I have noticed is that he simply isn’t able to take complex ideas that require subtlety and squeeze them down to 140 characters.” No one can! That’s the problem with using twitter for such discussions – or in reading tweets for same.

              • William George
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

                Glad we agree. 😀

          • Posted August 6, 2014 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

            Your comment caught my eye, because the problem of the forum itself (Twitter) is what has generated all this, hasn’t it? It’s designed for short ephemeral bytes between friends, but has become – unjustifiably, but in the present culture understandably – a public forum that the media now feeds on to generate controversy to sell advertising. There were probably thousands who didn’t know about Dawkins’ texts about either biology or atheism, but they sure know about Dawkins the celebrity tweeter now.
            Anyway, we’ve all learned to take Twitter for granted; maybe it’s time to think about it more critically.

  56. azhael
    Posted August 6, 2014 at 2:38 am | Permalink

    I think the word taboo is being misused here. If you say something stupid and pointless that can be interpreted in ways that are very damaging and this is rightly pointed out to you, it doesn’t make the subject taboo, it just makes your comment stupid. To claim that these criticisms mean the subject is taboo and dismiss your critics as histerical, proclaim yourself as the arbiter of rationality and whine about imaginary witch-hunts is not rational and furthermore it makes it clear that there is indeed a taboo, critisizing you.

    There is plenty i like about RD, really….plenty….but his approach to social issues and his pretense of perfect detached logic are not amongst the things i like or admire.

    • Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:39 am | Permalink

      Well … except that it rarely comes down to a critic saying: Your comment was wrong, because of X, Y, and Z. It really does come down to: “Dawkins is a misogynist” pretty much right out of the gate.

      • gluonspring
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

        Name calling is the tell, I think.

    • eric
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:45 am | Permalink

      What’s stupid and pointless about saying that some forms of rape are worse than others?

      I agree with Jerry that RD chose a really bad example which doesn’t support his argument at all, and in fact his choice of example probably undermines the point he’s trying to make. The voluntary statutory vs. involuntary example is much better. However, I don’t think the point he’s making absent the bad example is stupid.

      There are some very important social policy considerations to come out of such a point. Such as arguing that a 19-year old having consensual sex with a 17-year-old should not face the same ‘legal branding for life as a sexual predator’ penalty levied on other rapists. So there is a point to RD’s comment, and it could be a very important one in fact.

      • azhael
        Posted August 7, 2014 at 3:01 am | Permalink

        It’s pointless because it is an utterly trivial point to make. Of course there can be differences in the severity of abussive events. It’s not the same being punched in the face than it is to be stabbed in the neck. If you need RD to make that point for you in a twitter, then that’s pretty sad.
        It is stupid, because the examples chosen to illustrate the point are terrible…of ALL the clear cut, easy to understand examples he could have chosen to put his trivial point across, he chose one that is not gradable and that completely undermines the trivial point.

        Some forms of rape involve more physical abuse than others, sure, but not all of the rapes that happen can be graded into a scale of severity and not all of the scales are necessarily of equal impact. To pretend that they can all be shieved through a filter of pure, detached rationality and that this accurately reflects the impact on the victim or the malice of the perpetrator is simply wrong. Some cases are relatively easy, and you can identify different offenses, like for example being beaten up on top of being sexually violated. You can compare that to another event in which there was no beating and say that both events involve rape, but one of them also included a beating on top of the rape. A separate thing that adds aggravation to the rape.

        The example you use is a VERY different one than the ones RD used. In yours, we are not even talking about a violation. It’s an event where there is consent. That alone puts it squarely outside the category in which we include actual rapes. The problem with such cases where there is consent, is a legal one and is brought on by external parties, not the “victim”.
        Richard’s examples and points do absolutely nothing to advance any discussion on that subject, they are addressing something entirely different and they are doing it very badly. It is entirely apropriate to point this out to him.

        • GBJames
          Posted August 7, 2014 at 5:20 am | Permalink

          “It’s pointless because it is an utterly trivial point to make.”

          Clearly there are many people who disagree with you on this. Otherwise there would have been no out cry… “rape = rape”, etc.

        • Tim Harris
          Posted August 7, 2014 at 5:32 am | Permalink

          Thank you, Azhael. You have encouraged me to come out and say what lies behind an earlier comment that was criticised. One thing that I do dislike about Richard Dawkins (and like you I find much to admire in him)is what seems to me to be his desire to shock – the description, for example, of human beings as ‘gigantic lumbering robots’, ruled by their genes, in ‘The Selfish Gene’, a description that the philosopher Bernard Williams, in an otherwise very favourable review of the book, rightly dismissed, along with other similar sallies, as ‘science fiction’. And so with his references to paedophilia, in connexion with religious indoctrination, and rape in this latest instance. What I dislike about them is the way – or so it seems very strongly to me – very serious matters are being used as mere debating points, to gain attention and to shock, and are so being trivialised. Responding to criticisms with ‘Be logical!’ or ‘Learn to think!’ is wholly inadequate. And since Dawkins has brought up paedophilia and rape in this way, and since Torbjorn Larsson and others have brought these matters up, too (in different and better ways), I have decided to talk about childhood experiences of my own – for I, like Dawkins, had to endure the attentions of paedophiliac masters, something that has left a residue of rage in me; but there was something much worse: nearly 60 years ago, when I was eight I was – ‘abducted’, I suppose is the word – by a sweet-talking man (I was a far too trusting child) and taken into a wood where various things were done to me. I have never experienced such LONELINESS before or since; and that experience has remained with me throughout my life, for nearly 60 years – I don’t want it to, but it has. But I don’t want to harp on that any more – I want to say that people who have been hurt in such ways understandably do not want to talk much about them (and that it is infuriating and painful to see such experiences regarded as debating points), so that you are probably not hearing quite so much from the many admirable women who have contributed to this thread as you might. In which connexion, I sympathise greatly with Kathy when she says she is fed up with hearing men going on a rape – particularly when it is virtually all-male governing groups who are, in America, making life as difficult for women as they possibly can, and I don’t think she deserved the brutal masculine smack-downs she got from some (and, I’m sorry, GBJ, but I do include you in this)- although Musical Beef’s response was a model of generosity and tact.

          • Tim Harris
            Posted August 7, 2014 at 5:37 am | Permalink

            NOT ‘men going on a rape’ but ‘men going on about rape’.

          • GBJames
            Posted August 7, 2014 at 5:53 am | Permalink

            Brutal smack-down? Seriously? I don’t think we share a common understanding of what that word means.

            Tim, it does not trivialize your terrible experience as a kid for people to discuss child molestation. Nor does it advance the cause of protecting children from predators to decree that only some people are allowed to express opinions about how to address this sort of crime. Kathy wants me, simply because I am male, to say nothing about women’s health issues. I am unwilling to do that. I am an active supporter of Planned Parenthood and an advocate for the rights of women to control their own bodies and health care. I have a wife and daughter who mean a lot to me. I care about this issue and I am unwilling to shut up because some people whose interests I’m supporting tell me to. If that is what constitutes brutality, I’m happy to be a brute.

            • Tim Harris
              Posted August 8, 2014 at 2:43 am | Permalink

              All right, GBJ, I’m sorry I said that. Basically, I think you could have been more tactful, as Musical Beef was.

              • GBJames
                Posted August 8, 2014 at 5:10 am | Permalink

                Perhaps. I’ve always bristled a bit when someone starts trying to shut down conversation, which was the direct cause of my response. And I value directness more tact. Over-concern for tact can contribute to lack of clarity. This can be mistaken for brutality, apparently, but IMO that’s mostly in the ear of the beholder.

              • Tim Harris
                Posted August 8, 2014 at 5:13 am | Permalink

                The ear of the behearer, perhaps!

              • GBJames
                Posted August 8, 2014 at 5:44 am | Permalink

                Or the head of the beheader?

          • Posted August 7, 2014 at 7:58 am | Permalink

            I am truly sorry for the horrible and traumatic experience you had.

            However, I would appreciate it if you would not use it as a reason to denigrate males’ comments as “brutal masculine smackdowns.” That’s simply unfair. People’s sex is irrelevant to whether their remarks are “tiring” or not. You can argue the facts or the evidence, but not devalue a comment because someone has a Y chromosome. It is pure speculation, and speculation that I doubt, that we are not hearing from admirable women on this thread because of these “brutal masculine smackdowns.” I am perfectly aware of how men have tried to silence women’s opinions on reverse grounds, and the women’s justifiable anger at this. But I won’t have people saying “I’m tired of hearing men going on about rape” on this site.

            Such an argument basically tells males that their comments are welcome only if they hew to a certain ideological line. That is in fact the issue that is under discussion. Yes, we all sympathize with victims of sexual misconduct, but that does not give them the right to say that only their opinions should be listened to and other people’s weighed by the nature of their sex chromosomes.

        • Posted August 7, 2014 at 6:56 am | Permalink

          — Here’s what I don’t get:

          Every event, good or bad, has an objective and a subjective side. When we talk about the severity of a crime, we’re almost always exclusively talking about the objective side of the crime, and not the subjective one, because that subjective side is different from person to person.

          And although there is a strong general tendency for the subjective side to correlate with the objective side, it’s also well understood that there can be circumstances in which a relatively objectively harmless crime can still have severe subjective consequences for the victim (personal circumstances,greater sensitivity,trauma..)

          Dawkins is continuously accused of being deliberately dismissive towards the subjective side of victimhood, although he almost exclusively talks about the objective side, with the notable exception of extrapolating from his own experiences with pedophilia – but still without ever making claims of his experiences being universally valid. So why is he being attacked ?

          — Here’s where I see the problem:

          It seems to me, that the “rape rape” proponents are argueing that the subjective side of these events is the ONLY ONE that actually counts and that should be the focal point of any public discourse.

          And now I have to be deliberately insensitive to make my point:

          Why should we do that ? What else but an earful of anecdotes do we get if we limit discourse in that fashion ? How useless is that ? What could we possibly learn about these things if we completely ignore the objective side and its general tendency to influence the subjective side ? Next to nothing. It becomes a fruitless exercise.

          • Tim Harris
            Posted August 8, 2014 at 3:03 am | Permalink

            I do not think that they are saying that only the subjective side of being raped is what counts at all; it’s a rather objective sort of experience, in fact, and people’s (various) reactions to it, though of course ‘subjective’ – a word I have come to dislike very much indeed (almost as much as I dislike the word ‘objective’) – are ‘objectively’ part of that experience. I think you put your finger on something, without realising it, when you say that Dawkins only deals with the ‘objective’ side of it, by which you seem to mean the bare act, shorn of any ‘subjective’ significance, whether on the part of the rapist or the victim – but such an act, which might be perpetrated by one suitably programmed robot on another, has nothing to do with any possible human experience. Richard Dawkins, as a matter of fact, does not deal with only the ‘objective’ side, because he, no more than anyone else, cannot; but he is, as someone else remarked, ham-handed and does not sufficiently take into account circumstances and different people’s ways of taking things. My objection, which I thought was pretty clear, was that I do not like to see matters such as rape being used as mere debating points.

            • Tim Harris
              Posted August 8, 2014 at 5:28 am | Permalink

              And, incidentally, since Ophelia Benson, whom I don’t always agree with but much admire, has come in for what seems to me to be some quite undeserved criticism on this thread, I would suggest that people look at her response on her blog ‘Butterflies and Wheels’ to this brouhaha, which is very similar to Jerry Coyne’s; and read also the responses of some of the women to what she wrote: they are often very perceptive and enlightening, and certainly not the knee-jerk reactions that feminists are so often accused of.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      I don’t agree that Richard’s tweets are easy to misinterpret. All anyone has to do is take 1 second to complete 1 mouse-click through to his whole Twitter stream to see the context of the series of Tweets he made, as these were clearly part of a succession of tweets to make a point.

      He wasn’t even trying to say anything about rape specifically. He certainly wasn’t trying to grade experiences or list them in order of trauma. His point was that certain subjects are very difficult and emotive, but that should not mean that they should not be discussed or that people who discuss them are callous or indifferent or dismissive or the trauma suffered by those who have survived such ordeals. I cannot believe that people are still trying to claim that he tried to trivialize rape or downplay the trauma experienced by rape survivors. He did no such thing at all.

      • Peter Beattie
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for putting that right, Grania. I also thought the tweets were very straightforward, and I took them to mean exactly what RD later explained they were supposed to mean. Yes, quotation marks would have helped a bit, but nobody seriously believes that all those people who said, “So Richard Dawkins believes X is worse than Y? Outrageous!”, would have gone, “Ah, quotation marks! So he doesn’t believe that at all. Well, what a sensible logical point!”

  57. Posted August 6, 2014 at 3:27 am | Permalink

    The adopted fury of anti-Dawkins protagonists, and the Pharyngula blog in general reminds me of Dr. Eric Berne’s description of the NIGYSOB (now I’ve got you, you son-of-a-bitch) game in Bernes book “Games People Play”. You can really sense the absolute joy that the protagonist feels when he has caught out his deadly enemy in some assumed total and inexcusable wrong, so that the critic is perfectly justified in executing an extreme rant on the evils his enemy possesses while simultaneously enjoying the boundless pleasure that ranting can bring.
    I am afraid we all play NIGYYSOB on occasion; I catch myself, to my chagrin, doing it every once in a while. It is a serious fault, unworthy of anyone who values rational debate.

    • sinister
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 7:56 am | Permalink

      The real problem with these folks is they fight for things most people agree are “good things” but then take them to a level almost no one can defend. A lot of people get caught up with “they fight for this good cause,” and miss the whole “by using the slimiest, least defensible, outright bigoted techniques” part. It’s lovely to be for equality and acceptance, but when you have to then include things like Otherkin and Headmates, it becomes plain silly.

      • merilee
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 8:02 am | Permalink

        Otherkin and Headmates??

        • sinister
          Posted August 6, 2014 at 8:05 am | Permalink

          It’s basically a made up trait where
          A) you are some sort of animal spirit (for realz)
          B) you have multiple personalities. (for realz but not like crazy, you guys!)

          It’s basically inclusiveness to the point of absurdity.

    • azhael
      Posted August 7, 2014 at 1:00 am | Permalink

      I’m sure there are some individuals out there with a passionate distaste for RD. I’m not one of them. There is much i like about him, but that doesn’t mean i think the man is perfect and everything he says is gold. I’m not waiting for him to make a mistake to pounce on him and enjoy dissemboweling my prey…i just think his sensitivity on social issues is pretty poor and that means every now and then he will say something that is objectionable. I’m not willing to make excuses for him just because i admire i respect him on other subjects or because he is a prominent public figure for atheism. That to me only emphasizes the necessity to be critical when he messes up….which he does…on occasion…

      But obviously since i disagree with him on something that means i’m a rabid anti-Dawkins crusader that is blinded by the thirst for rationalist blood, or something…

  58. Posted August 6, 2014 at 3:32 am | Permalink

    My comment will probably fall well outside the direction of the conversation, but here goes- There are a couple things in play here in the “human dynamic”. Atheism is as susceptable as other groups to emotional motivations that are intended to manipulate thinking. Pew labels it religious hostility in several of its studies. In essence, making an ultimatum about a position or belief is as far as you can get from consensus building. It always demands either capitulation or separation from the group. It always ends co-operation.
    Us and them. [sigh]
    Fortunately “we’re right and they’re wrong.” [irony] Lol.
    The other thing I’ve observed is this need for folks to be king of the hill in their respective tribes. In order to “be king” one has to “defeat” the current one. I see this play out constantly on the clickbait circuit. Dawkins and Harris are frequent targets. In order to promote an idea, one has to demean the person. There’s rarely a dissertation on why x is better than y, with compelling reasons why. Who would read that? Who would buy a novel where there were no elements of conflict?
    We *are* the problem.

  59. Posted August 6, 2014 at 4:28 am | Permalink

    I dare say, most people have still NOT understood what this issue is actually about.

    It is NOT about the actual feelings of people touched by the mentioning of certain topics – instead it’s a claim to power by the social justice warriors, the demand to control public discourse concerning the narratives they deem central to their cause.

    Since they know their narratives about race, sex, gender, colonialism, and other forms of oppression by the “white cishetero-normative Patriarchy” rarely stand up to scrutiny, they publicly taunt and threaten anyone who tries to discuss these matters via rational discourse, which is itself deemed a tool of oppression.

    Once you’ve been accused of “priviliege”, you know you’ve trespassed into their narrative territory of “lived experiences”, and you know you’re 1 inch away of being prosecuted for blasphemy.

    • GBJames
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:12 am | Permalink

      The “privilege” argument is not a very strong one, but it does have some truth to it, at least in principle. People in dominant culture groups often don’t recognize what life is like for those who aren’t in the group. Think Christians in America, for example. Many are clueless about what it is like to be a closeted non-believer in, say, Alabama. And this has public policy consequences.

      But “privilege” is too often used over-broadly just for the purposes of shutting down conversation. And I agree with your general point.

      • Daoud
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 7:08 am | Permalink

        I agree that the concept of “privilege” has truth to it. Just the simple fact that the vast majority of North Americans live a life with nearly unlimited access to food and drinking water puts them in an incredibly unique privileged position in human history.

        And drilling down further, being born a white, straight, able, male into a well-to-do family in the US does give you a privileged position in the larger society (whether you squander it or not).

        However, the concept of “privilege” is misused when it’s abused to arbitrate on who has authority to speak on certain subjects. e.g. and pertinent to this thread, a straight man who has never experienced sexual violence, *can* speak about it and voice opinions. It is an abuse of the concept of “privilege” to say he cannot or should not because he is a straight man and therefore “privileged”.

        That does not invalidate the concept of “privilege” though.

        • sinister
          Posted August 6, 2014 at 7:10 am | Permalink

          Here is a great post about just this:

          The concept of privilege is pretty much never used with the connotation they pretend it is used as,

          • Daoud
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 7:35 am | Permalink

            I read some of it, funny, because of the .png he shows, I object to ALL of it whereas the blogger says the bottom half is “ok” (“but it’s not the way it’s used”). I despise the phrase “check your privilege”, to me, the term exists solely to abuse the concept of privilege.

            Again, that does not invalidate the concept of privilege.

            • sinister
              Posted August 6, 2014 at 7:57 am | Permalink

              The “Motte and Bailey” explanation is wonderful.

              • Daoud
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

                I read more of it, I think the writer is actually employing a bit of “Motte and Bailey” strategy himself. 😉

                In the sense that the people he seems to take issue with, to me, represent only minority views*. Though as I qualified in a post below, on the internets minority views tend to get amplified far beyond the number they actually represent. So if your main environment is blogs and social media, they may seem more prevalent than they actually are.

                *and I agree with him that these sort of minority views tend towards the loony, where I differ is that I don’t then characterize the whole field of “social justice” with the same loonieness and then dismiss it all.

              • sinister
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

                When your “minority of people” are the loudest, the discussion becomes necessary. Pretending like arguments are invalid because you don’t like the amount of people disagreed with is sort of ignoring the point. There is no Motte and Bailey position he holds that “Everyone does this” he simply states the truth. It’s out there, and when people are using it, they mostly use it poorly. I don’t think a population sample is necessary to figure out that “Check your privilege” is almost never used well.

              • Daoud
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

                Please don’t misunderstand me, I have never said it is wrong to challenge these individuals, look how I said above I believe the term “check your privilege” exists *only* to abuse the concept of privilege.

                If someone told me to “check my privilege” I would immediately challenge them.

                Perhaps you (or that blogger) believe ALL social activists are like this. I believe it is a minority and it’s wrong to dismiss all social activism because of it.

              • sinister
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

                I challenge you to produce an “All” quote from either of us. You don’t like labels, sorry they are convenient. I don’t think people need to provide you a citation of 100 people all doing something each with quotes just so you can agree about what you are discussing. Unless this is a sort of “Brain in a Vat” type of “knowing.” I am not willing to stop discussing a group because you don’t like labels.

              • GBJames
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

                “…where I differ is that I don’t then characterize the whole field of “social justice” with the same loonieness and then dismiss it all.”

                You’re strawmanning here, Daoud. Nobody is “dismissing it all”. That’s why the word “warrior” is used to modify “social justice”. This is not about all social justice advocates and nobody (but you) suggests it is.

              • Daoud
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 9:15 am | Permalink

                I am not strawmanning here, I am stating that there are things I cannot presume to know about you, so I am not accusing either of you of anything.

                Regardless, I think this is mostly misunderstanding. I think (correct me if I’m wrong) I understand now you are suggesting “social justice warrior” represents only a smaller subset of social activists who share negative traits X, Y, Z.

                Forgive me if I interpreted a few of the many uses of the phrase “SJW” in this thread in a more negative, broader sense, because I could see it easily used by more bigoted people who resent all social activism (where it is more analogous to the term “feminazi”).

              • GBJames
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink

                “Yes”, as to the subset.

                Bigots will be bigots. That doesn’t obligate the rest of us to avoid useful labels.

              • sinister
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

                Of course, but focusing on the label removes the need to acknowledge the group’s problems. As long as we can call people bigoted for using a label, then we don’t have to discuss the issues at hand. Seems like another silencing tactic to me.

              • GBJames
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 9:52 am | Permalink

                I’m not understanding your point there, sinister.

              • sinister
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 9:55 am | Permalink

                The point is, rather than continuing a discussion, now we are expected to defend ourselves as not being bigoted towards social justice. Instead of discussing the issue at hand, we now have to go on the defensive to not be bigots or against social justice. I see it as a simple way of saying “you’re bigoted, what you say doesn’t matter.”

              • Daoud
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

                I think you misunderstood me Sinister, if your reference to bigots is responding to my comment. I was saying that I could easily see the term “social justice warrior” being co-opted by bigots who are opposed to all social justice (and then it is similar to “feminazi” which is generally used by those who are opposed to or at least resent all feminism).

                And then it becomes easy to misinterpret its use (as I did do in this thread, I admit, I apologize). Which is why I still don’t like the term, and I don’t think it’s very useful.

                ***I am not accusing your or GB or being bigots***

              • GBJames
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 10:56 am | Permalink

                sinister… The confusion I’m having is that I have no idea who you are referring to in your complaint. Is it me? Daoud? The Social Justice Warriors? Someone else? It isn’t clear who you are accusing and what exactly you are accusing them of. Examples and identifiers would help.

      • Posted August 6, 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

        What I always do as someone who happens to belong to a few of the usual “suspect” groups (middle class, white, university-educated, heterosexual, cis-gendered, etc.) I ask how specifically I am missing something, what is wrong and where to learn about the details that matter. Sometimes I hear and learn interesting things. Sometimes, however, I have just been told conversations stoppers like saying that asking such a thing shows a I’m still in the “bad categories” because I am (say) concered about truth. Then one can walk away – and I try to.

    • azhael
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:26 am | Permalink


      • Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:29 am | Permalink

        I don’t understand this comment.

      • Posted August 6, 2014 at 5:56 am | Permalink

        He probably thinks I’m spectacularly mistaken.

        Easy to run the experiment:
        Go to a social media website. Make a series of 3 posts about something you want to talk about.

        – 1st post: State your general point.
        – 2nd post: Illustrate your point with an example about something the SJWs don’t particularly care about.
        – 3rd post: Illustrate your point with an example about something the SJWs claim dominion over.

        My prediction:
        After posting 1 and 2, ppl will discuss the matter in a civil manner.
        Shortly after posting 3, hordess of people you never heard of will start dogpiling on you, accusing you of “privilege”, being an oppressor, and “not getting it” – later to be accompanied by notorious rage bloggers enlightening us how they knew all along that you were a “horrible person” and that you should be shunned by anyone with an ounce of decency.

        .. except of course we don’t need to run that experiment, because it has been run countless times before. With reliable results.

        • Daoud
          Posted August 6, 2014 at 7:17 am | Permalink

          I don’t like this term “social justice warrior” that I’ve seen used in this thread. It’s the first time I’ve encountered it, and I have an idea to what it’s referring to. But I see it as a way to pejoratively label and dismiss a whole group of people (and their concerns) because of the actions of some individuals.

          To me, it seems like a term similar to “feminazi” and its ilk.

          Not that I disagree with you that concepts like “privilege” are abused in order to stifle discussion (see my post above), but it’s done by individuals, and they should be debated as individuals.

          • William George
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 7:34 am | Permalink

            To me, it seems like a term similar to “feminazi” and its ilk.

            That’s more or less how it gets used. Usually by so-called men who I would normally describe in ways that would get me banned via Rool 7.

            The problem is that a lot of the people who get labeled SJWs tend to be marginalized by society due to being LGBTQ. And, more importantly, they’re usually quite young. This makes them quick to anger and leads them to adopt a siege mentality. It’s easy to provoke them, which a lot of these so-called men do in order to justify their own nastiness.

            • Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

              I have used and described what I refer to as SJWs in 31 and want to make clear that I do not see it related to “Feminazi” at all (a term I don’t use and don’t find useful). A sjw is also not any social justice enthusiast, but those who appear in communities as described above. It is a false dilemma to claim that you can either be a sjw or the opposite. Most people are neither, and especially in our rather liberal community very commonly support LGBTX. What you imply there is simply false.

              It is true that people X exist that do Y. But from there to “everyone who isn’t sjw is X, and X all do Y” is quite a long way to go, and the onus is on you to demonstrate it.

              What is certainly true is that sjws are typically volatile individuals as well as tend to siege mentality in their communities. They coined a fortress-like metapher themselves (safe space). Possible explanations were given above, which I link (as per armchair observations) to communities that are based on solidarity and thus must protect themselves from freeloaders, trolls etc.

              Sjws are, due to their volatile nature and often eccentric views indeed favourite target of trolls, but conversely also depend on them for outrage and farming social standing in their community. They are also often trollish themselves. Think Suey Park of #CancelColbert fame.

              • gluonspring
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

                I have mixed feelings about the term. I feel some ring of truth to your 31 comment, and so at first I was kind of glad to have a term for it. But even the way my own mind wanted to latch onto the term and start dividing the world into SJWs vs reasonable people made me feel a little uneasy. While there is something conversationally useful about having a term for a cluster of ideas or behaviors (e.g. accommodationist is a useful term that saves a lot of time, as is fathiest), if the term picks up too much negativity then there is a tendency for these terms to become mere derogatory slurs.

                I am still working through my thoughts about this, but I know that one of the things that bothers me about some spaces on the internet is precisely the zeal to label people. It feels good when I’m the one doing the labeling, but I’m suspicious of that feeling. Once you’ve labeled someone as “sexist”,”racist”, “classist”, “misogynist”, “MRA”, “Feminazi”, “tree hugger”, “Tea Bagger”, etc., you’re kind of done with that person. It becomes a kind of crutch to shut down actually thinking about whole groups of people or their ideas. It plays into our amazingly strong tribalistic tendencies, carving up the world into favored US versus hated THEM categories.

                Of course, you have to have terms. The world is too complex to always spell out with an essay what you are describing, and any term, however benignly constructed, can be turned into a slur. Thus my mixed feelings.

                Perhaps it all comes down to intent, which you have to judge in the usage. The wisdom of Da Roolz #7.

              • Posted August 6, 2014 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

                I share your sentiment in principle, gluonspring. Make no mistake, “social justice warrior” is a pejorative term. The naming problem is quite a big deal with the whole “faction”. Had they adopted Atheism Plus clearly and used it in a consistent manner, I would have prefer that term for them as it would be the label they gave themselves. But it is now understood to be a withering forum and hardly anyone uses it outside of it anymore (ironically, since the A+ label was announced by them as a “must have” badge).

                For some time, detractors came up with a number of terms for the faction, some less charming than others. It typically shrunk out of convenience to name network abbreviations, but that had the problem that not every blogger was seen as part of the phenomenon (of course, they claimed otherwise as usual and pretended detractors would not know nuance). Also, some people are clearly part of the faction, but not on these blog networks.

                Okay, but tribalism, right? It’s always “they” — yeah, but a team in the same jersey with the same colours who pass the ball to each other will be viewed as a group. And this is evident in things like: some issue happens, the members make a ring of links, refer and quote each other positively and they all storm in one direction and shooting the same goal. That’s a team. It’s unimportent if they disagree on some side issue, because the team is seen on the pitch of social justice, and not how much they agree on Gaza.

                Curiously, the faction itself is still unnamed. “Social justice warrior” is a more general term and stereotypically a tad more extreme, like this: Social Justice Warrior generator. But there is clearly a faction in the atheist-skeptics movement. They aren’t really A+, but what are they then? The term some use is “Social Justice League”, comical still, but not downright offensive. If they want to name their “thing”, I am happy to use their self-description. But a recognizable “thing” they are. And as long as the people there just echo each other, they won’t appear as individuals, but as a tribe.

              • GBJames
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

                “…start dividing the world into SJWs vs reasonable people made me feel a little uneasy.”

                Except it isn’t the label that divides the world, it is the behavior that the label is adopted to describe. The words “horse” and “cow” don’t make the two animals different from one another. And the term “SJW” doesn’t create the difference between these folk and other activists.

              • gluonspring
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

                “Except it isn’t the label that divides the world…”

                The same is true of words like “misogynist”. That’s a real category, the word didn’t create the category. But they way the…the…um… er… SJW’s (hard not to use a term for a real category once you have it!) use (abuse?) the term is something I really don’t like. I don’t like it so much that I’ve, perhaps, become overly sensitive about it.

          • GBJames
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 7:49 am | Permalink

            When it is done by lots of individuals then it is reasonable to describe them as a group. And if they are a group, it is useful to have a name of this group.

            What name would you suggest?

            • sinister
              Posted August 6, 2014 at 7:53 am | Permalink

              Absolutely this. The label is actually one they picked, and it stuck. Like the “Teabaggers” in America, they chose the nym, and then realized it wasn’t quite what they wished it were, and now dislike it. Sorry folks, you picked it, and it backfired. They are welcome to try and re-brand, but I don’t see that happening.

            • Daoud
              Posted August 6, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

              As I said, this is the first time I’ve run across this term (maybe it’s common out there in the internets). To me, it seems similar in intent to the term “Feminazi”. Are there some radical feminists activists and academics far on the fringe out there who many would think are loony? For sure! Is it right to use a pejorative term like feminazi to categorize all feminists? Definitely not. Though some do (and I would suspect the majority of people who WOULD use that term do)***.

              ***[like Sam Harris recent Israel post, I feel the need to offer extra explanation to minimize being misinterpreted] I am NOT saying anyone in this thread is talking about feminism like that, no one is. What I am saying is that I find the term “social justice warrior” to be similar.

              Let me turn your question around: for someone who would use the term SJW, is there a commonly accepted term for someone who is sincerely devoted to fighting for social justice, whether it be LGBT equality, feminism, racial or wealth inequality who does not share the negative traits implied by the term SJW? Or are they *all* SJW?

              I think it’s individuals on more extreme, uncommon fringes whose characteristics are being imputed on the larger group. And that is unfair. Of course on the internet, the rarer extreme fringes are amplified far beyond what their actual number should dictate.

              • GBJames
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 8:54 am | Permalink

                “Let me turn your question around…”

                Sure. One might say “Social justice activist” and be pretty on-point.

                The point is that this isn’t the characteristic of a few individuals. It is a group of people, self-identified as forming a sort of movement. Having a name for them is entirely appropriate and if you don’t like SJW, then suggest an alternative. The fact that you’ve not encountered the term before is of marginal relevance.

              • Daoud
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

                Yeah I’d probably use that term. The term “social justice warrior” is pejorative and dismissive. Maybe you and other commentators (who use that term) here *do* dismiss all social activism, so my objections are moot.

              • sinister
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 9:07 am | Permalink

                “Maybe you and other commentators (who use that term) here *do* dismiss all social activism, so my objections are moot.”
                Maybe you should find some reason to believe that. Maybe you could quote that happening. If you actually managed to read the Motte and Bailey article you would know that the author is a SJ kind of guy. I would hate for you to find out that you can disagree with SJW and still believe in equality.

              • GBJames
                Posted August 6, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

                “The term “social justice warrior” is pejorative and dismissive.”

                It is intended to be. The label applies to that subset of social justice advocates who misuse terms like “privilege” to bully other people.

                (*do*=*do not*? That would make more sense.)

              • Posted August 6, 2014 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

                Exactly as GBJames said:

                Someone who -actually- does things to “make this world a better place”, would be called a “social justice activist”.

                The reasons why the term “Social Justice Warrior” is spot-on, are these:

                (1) It’s a cynical reference to what these people claim to be, but actually almost never are.

                (2) It’s a cynical reference to the deliberate Motte-and-Bailey tactics of SJWs, who use their own accusatory re-definitions of words like “social justice”, “privilege”, and “patriarchy” when they attack other viewpoints and people, just to retreat to the dictionary definitions of these words whenever they get called out on their dirty games.

                That’s the reason why you’re uncomfortable with the term. And you should be. But for different reasons than you originally thought.

          • jay
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

            I agree. I think it’s far more accurate to understand today’s social justice warriors are feminists, and what they preach is bog standard Modern feminist theory, and any excesses in their behavior is the logical and natural outcome of contemporary feminist philosophy.

            Social Justice Warriors is a practical implementation of Feminist argumentation.

            • Posted August 8, 2014 at 6:14 am | Permalink

              As every other ideology based “revolution”, it has started to devour its own children.

              Right now, there’s a new “storm” brewing, an in-group battle between trans*activists and radical feminists, accusing each other of using “gender” (respectively the denial of its existence) to oppress each other.

              The trans*activists argue that gender is used deliberately to render them invisible in public discourse, because they don’t fit into that scheme, and the radical feminists argue that trans*activists try to invade woman-only spaces by claiming a false belonging to the female/woman group.

              And of course, they apply their dirty propaganda and taunting tactics right out of the SJW playbook, for example by establishing projects like “Gender Identity Watch” or “TERF tracker”, tools to identify and publicly shame members of the opposing groups, and if possible, harrass and damage each other in real life.

              • GBJames
                Posted August 8, 2014 at 6:16 am | Permalink

                I’ve sometimes recalled the French Revolution while watching these things play out.

              • Posted August 8, 2014 at 6:23 am | Permalink

                At least no-one’s losing their heads …


              • Posted August 8, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink

                Though in the trans case, other things are being lost, but at least it’s by the choice of the loser.

              • Posted August 8, 2014 at 9:57 am | Permalink

                Not necessarily.


              • GBJames
                Posted August 8, 2014 at 6:26 am | Permalink

                But think of the lost minds!

        • azhael
          Posted August 6, 2014 at 10:19 am | Permalink

          Not so much mistaken as full of shit…
          I’ve seen plenty of people like you, claiming that the feminazis are bullying everybody who dares to enter discussions about certain topics armed with nothing but pure logic and cold facts. That’s one perspective….the other is that instead of logic and facts, someone says something stupid, incorrect or offensive, people call them on their bullshit (as well they should) and THEN you start hearing the cries of “feminaziiis!!”, “mysandryyyyyy” “FTBullies!!”, etc. No one is ever guilty of anything, it’s always the “others” who are irrational, witch-hunting, blood thirsty, radical feminist demons.
          Have you perhaps considered that when people react strongly to someone making a comment on race, gender, abortion, etc, most of the time it is because the comment wasn’t rational discourse, but rather some offensive shit? In other words, consider the possibility that you are not always right and everything you say is not perfect.

          Like i said, i’ve seen this kind of thing many times and the reaction is always the same, rather than examine what has been said and see if the criticisms are actually valid, people just get defensive and start accusing the “others” of being bullies, emotional bombs devoid of any rationality and as many extremisms as can be made up on the spot.
          Which coincidentally is pretty much what RD has done in this twitter event…

          • Posted August 6, 2014 at 10:34 am | Permalink

            Your comment above violates the Roolz by calling another commenter full of shit. It’s also uncivil.

            You will apologize to that commenter you called “full of shit” or you will never post here again. I want civil discourse, and your tirade suggests that perhaps you aren’t capable of it.

            • azhael
              Posted August 6, 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink

              Understood. I apologize for that.
              May i say, though, that if my post is a tirade, i’m lost for words to describe the posts of the people around here decrying the “feminist bullies”.

              • Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

                This isn’t really a satisfactory apology but I’ll let it go. Let me point out, though, that it’s a far more serious offense to call another commenter a name than somebody else you’re discussing (I sometimes call creationists “morons,” for instance). Nobody here called anybody else, as far as I know (there are going on 500 comments) a “feminist bully.” They were talking about a group of other people. So don’t insult another commenter again or you will be gone.

                And don’t double down in an apology. That’s a good rule not only for this site, but for life.

            • Posted August 6, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

              I think it rather aptly demonstrates the point I was trying to make.

              I’m immediately accused of using rationality as a weapon against an oppressed people to wave away their lived experiences.

              And of course, the things I say, tend to be “offensive”, again, an accusatory term so void of any actual meaning, that it must be understood as a rhetorical defence against rational argumentation. Do we know of any instance in politics and media where the accusation of “being offensive” is not used exactly in this way to shut down an argument ?

  60. Manzibe
    Posted August 6, 2014 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Dawkins writing for HuffPo is a controversy in and of itself.

  61. Paul S.
    Posted August 6, 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    I’ve re-read the tw**ts Jerry posted and I still do not understand the outrage or the misunderstandings.
    “X is bad. Y is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of X, go away
    “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at gunpoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away….”
    People seem to be outraged with the second comment, not because it is logically wrong, but because they disagree with the accuracy of the statement. IMO, that is deliberately missing the point of the tw**t. He used a hot button topic to illustrate a point, why is that bad? There are people shouting down Richard for using rape in an example saying that rape at knifepoint is worse and ignoring the meat of the argument which is that neither is good.

    • Posted August 6, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      “He used a hot button topic to illustrate a point, why is that bad?”

      Maybe because it is a hot-button topic? It is bound to provoke an emotional response amongst some who read it, which would blind them to the point Richard was making.

      (And, again, the effect was amplified by appearing in an isolated tweet in people’s home feeds. In context, within the body of a longer article, it likely would not have been as provocative.)


      • Paul S.
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

        Isn’t the point of those tw**ts that you should think things through and not respond emotionally or assume that he’s endorsed one view because he said it wasn’t as bad as another view? If it was, the point was well made. People are ignoring the tw**ts in the context they were presented and instead attacking his use of rape in an example.
        I don’t have a tw!tt3r account so I may be mistaken, but don’t you have to subscribe to a feed? If that’s true, then these aren’t isolated tw**ts,in a home feed, subscribers are receiving them because they want them. Those that subscribe to Richard’s feed know exactly what he is likely to post and can extrapolate context from his other writings.

        • Posted August 6, 2014 at 11:40 am | Permalink

          Well, yes and no.

          You can look at any public twitter feeds without an account or without logging in.

          But mostly, you log in and see tweets from those you follow. You can look at anyone’s Twitter feed by itself, but most(?) people just look at their home feed, which lists the tweets of everyone they follow in time order, so even consecutive tweets by one person you follow will be interspersed with numerous tweets from others. If you’ve following many people (100s is typical), that can mean very many tweets between those from one person. So it’s not even clear that a single tweet may be part of a longer thread.

          And, yes, people who follow Richard probably do have a good idea what he’s likely to post, but that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t have a knee-jerk reaction to a single tweet seen in such isolation. Emotional, System 1 thinking, I know, but that’s how many people are … 


          • Posted August 6, 2014 at 11:41 am | Permalink

            * you’ve followed /or/ you’re following /take your pick/

          • Paul S.
            Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

            Thanks, I think I understand the forum a bit better now. Following the musings of 100s of people at once doesn’t seem well suited for receiving information. It would be like reading 100 books at once. I would be in a constant state of confusion.

            • Posted August 6, 2014 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

              Exactly. Twitter is not designed for “musings”; it]s a “microblogging site”. If you can’t say the entirety of what you want to say in 140 characters or less (e.g., “How is a little solar powered dancing Groot you put on your car dashboard NOT an actual thing?!?!?! TAKE MY MONEY!!!!! h/t Mike Dentato, Fb”), then it’s probably not the right medium. (Although there are some ad hoc conventions of indicating thoughts that go on for more than on tweet.) Or just use it to point to longer posts on another site.


      • Peter Beattie
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

        » Ant:
        Maybe because it is a hot-button topic? It is bound to provoke an emotional response amongst some who read it, which would blind them to the point Richard was making.

        Which was exactly the point Richard wanted to make.

  62. thh1859
    Posted August 6, 2014 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    I meant to post that as a new thread, not as a reply.

  63. Peter Beattie
    Posted August 6, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Well, that last tweet is not quite accurate, I think, because the trauma of being raped by a stranger, even at knife-point, may be less than of being raped by someone you knew and trusted.

    I’m sorry, but that is just to restate the central misunderstanding of pretty much everybody who critisized RD for his tweets. RD did not imply that date rape was worse than stranger rape (or that any X was in fact worse than any Y). The whole point of his tweets is, in fact, that any X and Y (or any concrete examples you might care to use) are freely interchangeable, because the oft-drawn conclusion never follows.

    It was then RD’s secondary intention to show that, for certain issues, this logical fact is overshadowed by a powerful emotional response that trips up people’s brains. Which the response to his tweets showed in spades.

    A tertiary intention was to make people think about thinking about things in absolutist terms. ‘Should we really say that every form of rape is as bad as any other?’ For some people, even that meta-question is a taboo—which fact it was RD’s intention to point out. (This third point, btw, would have been kind of undercut by using a ‘consensual statutory rape’ example. Hence, I fail to see how any of what RD said was “ham-handed”.)

  64. Posted August 6, 2014 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    On the general point of discussing taboo. I guess it depends on what view of humanity one has.

    Some people may think that certain issues shall be in the hands of authorities (e.g. law), elites, wise leaders etc. who make the “right decisions” and proclaim how things shall be.

    I don’t like that. I believe everyone is responsible and that our shared values shall inform how we are governed, but I admit that I like humans and while I know of our dark sides, like the banality of evil, I think we have good moral intuitions to work with.

    Values can’t be merely imposed, for if they aren’t worth having or if it isn’t well understood why they are good, they aren’t good and prone to be replaced in the long run.

    For that I advocate for what Immanuel Kant in hightfatulin philospherese called “Mündigkeit” (flaunting my language-privilege here). It is a fairly ordinary word in German and has, I think, connotations of responsibility, but also education or generally well-developed faculties to act in a responsible manner, i.e. not lynch mob rule.

    We still need good processes that prevent that we fool ourselves for we are famously the easiest person to be fooled. The idea that humans are rational actors as thought in the Age of Reason, is dead (see biases, heuristics, fallacies etc.)

    I also reject the emotion vs logic dichotomy as rather obscurantist, in the same manner as the nature vs nurture dichotomy appears to obfuscate rather than illuminate matters. If I value or perceive things differently than the next person, then the values in the formula are different, but the formula is the same for me and for the next person. And calculating is as rational, logical even if I come out at a different solution. I am no more or less logical for e.g. factoring other things than someone else (perhaps the feeler/thinker dimension can give some idea of how different people factor things different — yes, I’m skeptical of MBTI but think it has utility).

    But of course, its also wrong to go full Romanticism and Sturm und Drang (countermovents to the Age of Reason).

    //whew another too long comment. Apologies. big topics.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

      “I believe everyone is responsible and that our shared values shall inform how we are governed,”

      Well here’s the problem. When it comes to some things we don’t have shared values. I agree with Dawkins that this things should be discussed and not made off-limits, but I don’t think they should be discussed on twitter.

      Some people *do* believe that date rape is not “legitimate” rape, and thus less “bad” than stranger-rape. Some may not consider it rape at all. Does drinking to the point of passing out obviate the concept of “consent?” I would be as unaware of the sex activity as I would be of a surgical incision, but the sex activity was non-consensual and the surgery was consensual (unless I was in a car wreck and hadn’t worn my Christian Science jewelry, of course)

      In the philosophically-minded circles of atheism, these topics are not taboo, and they are discussed at length… logically. The fact that some people get more emotional than others doesn’t mean that those people are incapable of having a rational discussion.

      At the old iidb there were a few polls on Myers-Briggs typology and there was a very large majority of INT- types (mainly INTP but some INTJ) I’m an INTP, and supposedly it’s the type most likely to identify as atheist but in the general population it’s less than 5%. That means I will have a hard time convincing the other 95% to my point of view. It’s worth the effort, but demeaning them isn’t the way to go.

      • ladyatheist
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

        Note: that was more than 140 characters, and I still have more to say (but I’ll go off and write it on my own blog instead!)

  65. Keith Cook
    Posted August 6, 2014 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Rape is rape. To a victim it probably means very little if your rape was bad but mine was worse.
    The circumstances will be different and unique and the judgement should reflect that in convicting the rapist, i.e. if it is a child, the level of violence involved.
    Rape is a violation of an individuals rights and as follows their body, this has a value and we should strive to have a better understanding of it’s make up..
    some victims never recover, others close the door and move on, two extremes with everything in between.
    Richard Dawkins may have wandered into this question (or not) but I see this as a taboo subject well worth his reputation. To be honest on my part that would take some doing.
    The question whether males should be commenting on rape to females, my bottom line is, I have a mother, I have a wife, I have sisters and I have a daughter. Any distress and pain to them is my concern.

    • GBJames
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      Let say the same person is raped twice under different circumstances by different rapists.

      Is it possible for the victim to compare the two and say one was worse than the other? Or is this whole thing too subjective for such considerations? Rape is rape?

  66. ladyatheist
    Posted August 7, 2014 at 4:34 am | Permalink

    If anyone is interested, I tried to expound on this topic a bit on my blog:


  67. Posted August 7, 2014 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    In the last paragraph of the OP, “as prominent as he” should be “as prominent as him”.

    • Posted August 8, 2014 at 3:27 am | Permalink

      Actually, no. Conventionally, “as prominent as he” is understood as “as prominent as he /is/”. Or so I was taught.


      • Phil Giordana FCD
        Posted August 8, 2014 at 3:41 am | Permalink

        There should rightfully be a Star Wars joke here, somehow.

      • Posted August 8, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

        Agree with Ant on this.

  68. Posted August 7, 2014 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure if it’s been mentioned anywhere in the 600+ comments, but Dawkins himself was a victim of “mild” molestation as a child. He later made a statement to the effect that he found the threat of Hell more traumatizing than that experience.

    I think that’s a valid point for him to make based on his own experiences, but predictably, many jumped down his throat for saying it.

    Which is the context that Dawkin’s “X is less bad than Y” statement and using rape as an example. Not some hot-button issue he clumsily used, but based on unfair attacks he’s received based on taking about his own experiences.

    • Diane G.
      Posted August 7, 2014 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

      Oh, it’s been mentioned. 😉

  69. Posted August 7, 2014 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    I would say that “modern day” used as a qualifier for witch hunts would be indicative of the metaphorical part. We could always go over to his site and pose the question to him if we could do it in a way that wouldn’t immediately be dismissed as trolling. But, I’m quite confident he wasn’t referring to a literal hunt to brand him a literal witch and then literally burn him at the stake. Or, did you have something different in mind when you used the word “literally” to label witch hunt? If you did, perhaps we’re just having a pointless discussion over semantics. I agree with you that simple words would be hard to elevate to the severity of being literally physically tortured and killed for made up crimes.

    • Posted August 7, 2014 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

      Woops, it appears I have replied to a removed comment. Pay no mind to the man behind the curtain talking to himself…

    • Posted August 9, 2014 at 2:23 am | Permalink

      The silliest argument heard against the “witch hunt” mentality, of course brought forward by the usual suspects in the A/S movement, is that there are no real witches involved … -.-

      If that counts as an argument, we’re doomed.

      • Posted August 9, 2014 at 10:45 am | Permalink

        Ha, and of course there’s another level to the idiocy of this argument, the fact that the actual witch hunts didn’t involve real witches either…

        • Diane G.
          Posted August 9, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink


        • Posted August 9, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

          And on top, these utterings come from people who consider themselves atheists anyway … we’re triply doomed :ß

  70. Posted August 10, 2014 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    There should be no taboo words or topics of discussion, and no restrictions on how the information is communicated. The terrible issues are the very ones that need expression for diverse understandings to be shared. As we know, the symbol is not the thing. The word “rape” and, discussion about it, is not the rape. Making sensitive subjects taboo gives them too much power

    Jack Lynch, in “The Lexicographer’s Dilemna: The Evolution of “Proper” English from Shakespeare to South Park”, gives the following quote from Lenny Bruce after Lenny shocked his audience by using derogatory terms for people of different races or nationalities such as “nigger, kike, spic, wop”, etc in a “comedy” routine:

    “The point? That the word’s suppression gives it the power, the violence, the viciousness. If President Kennedy got on television and said, “Tonight I’d like to introduce the niggers in my cabinet, ” and he yelled “niggerniggerniggerniggerniggerniggernigger” at every nigger he saw… till nigger didn’t mean anything any more, till nigger lost its meaning–you’d never make any four-year-old nigger cry when he came home from school.”

    We must stop accusing people who use “bad” words and insensitive communications as though they have committed some atrocious act. Bad language, bad communication, is not a hanging offense. It’s an opportunity to share perspectives and to educate.

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