Content Note: rape, child abuse, Dawkins.
* * *
Richard Dawkins has seemingly set himself up to be the face of misogynistic, racist bigotry – or “rational, logical thought”, in his terms. It’s not usually worth my while getting involved with Dawkins’ shit any more, lots of others will rise to the bait, but this is a point I want to make.
His latest fuck-up concerns tweets in which, he claims, he was making a simple logical point. (I won’t link to his piece where he explains what he was up to; he doesn’t deserve more clicks.) Namely that saying “A is bad, but B is worse” is not saying that A is acceptable. The trouble is, he used two examples: the first, “mild” versus “violent” paedophilia; the second, “acquaintance rape” versus “stranger rape at knifepoint”.
The problem is that Dawkins thinks there’s only one thing wrong with this approach, and he thinks that by explaining he was making a “logical point”, he can assuage all criticism and reveal that the objections were really just “bizarre” (yes, he used that word, in the title of his blog post where he defended himself).
He thinks, it seems, that the sole problem is that he appeared to state that one person’s experience of being raped is more worthy of concern than someone else’s. When really, he was just explaining that he doesn’t think any rape is acceptable, it’s just that… well, anyway.
Jemima @ Sometimes, it’s just a cigar, has already explained (based on her lived experience as a counter to Dawkins’ citing his lived experience of child abuse) why this is still a problem, regardless of “logical point”. In essence, it is still a problem to have attempted a comparison regardless of what Dawkins himself believes. The trauma is real, and is not amenable to a “scale” of severity.
But my first point is that, if he thinks tweeting a “logical point” is reasonable, then he is mistaken. Logic is a language of its own, designed for a specific purpose or set of purposes. Most people do not speak logic. On twitter, people who use English words and phrases most often encounter people who speak English, in one or other of its idiomatic or colloquial forms. In idiomatic or colloquial English, “X is bad, but Y is worse” means – that is, is interpreted or understood as, implying that if X happens to you, you should quit moaning.
This objection can rather satisfyingly be presented using the same linguistic format as Dawkins’ original offence: “If you don’t understand that, go away until you learn how to communicate”.
It doesn’t stop there. The second failure, which Dawkins utterly fails to address, is that by using rape and child abuse as his examples for a simplistic rhetorical flourish, he trivialises all experiences of these crimes. The same logical point could have been made (with the same validity) by arguing, “Mac & cheese is disgusting; hotdogs are inedible. If you think that means I’m happy to eat mac & cheese, go away until you learn to think”. Again, using the language of his defence, it’s perfectly okay to have the reverse opinions of either type of foodstuff, it’s just a rhetorical point.
Or one could write a hypothetical, “Spanking hurts. A caning hurts worse. If you think that means I want to be spanked…” oh, hang on, what am I saying, I’m a masochist… bad example! But for a non-masochist, non-kinky person, the point perhaps stands.
The thing is, Dawkins does this a lot. It seems almost as though rape and child abuse are his go-to examples of anything unpleasant or objectionable (and yes, he does seem to think of them in those terms). And that leads into my third point.
Dawkins asks that we believe his tweets were merely making “a logical point”. In so doing (and tying back in to the first point as well) he asks that we take his statements as stand-alone, out of context, unique offerings divorced from everything else he’s ever said before. And while a logic statement might be possible to treat in that fashion, a twitter post in English, as part of a social communications network and beyond that, society as a whole, does not work like that.
[Switching mode – addressing Richard Dawkins directly]
People remember shit you’ve done before, Richard. People recall that stunts you’ve pulled, the misogyny, the racism, the bigotry, that you have tweeted or otherwise broadcast to the world. We remember you standing up for creepy guys at skeptic conventions. We remember you comparing religion to child abuse (am I dreaming, or is it possible your “X is not as bad as Y” “logical point” was intended as a defence of that remark? When you have to defend your defence of something, you should really learn to think, and draw the conclusion you should stop digging, Dick). Here’s a point: when you say religion is worse than child abuse, people who think religion is not all that bad don’t suddenly change their point of view about religion: they conclude you don’t understand (or just don’t care) how bad child abuse really is for survivors. Even when you describe yourself as a survivor.
People remember your utter lack of empathy or understanding for other people. And we conclude that actually, when you make remarks about hierarchies of abuse or rape, then however much you may suggest later that you, personally, might not think that – we draw the conclusion that you really do, and you really do think people who experience the “not as bad” version should just STFU about it. Because you have actually said that to people before (for example, when defending creepy guys in lifts). We heard you. We complained about it (well, I didn’t, personally, but I read enough bloggers who did that you might also have noticed that people were unhappy with you over your remarks).
So no, you weren’t just making a logical point. You were expressing your view of humanity, and it is a piss-poor one for any person to hold. Your remarks were not in some magical logic-vacuum to be assessed by pure reason and perfect rationality. They happen in a context of society, and in a context of things you said before, and people you have pissed off before.
[Rant at Dawkins over]
The problem with a person like Richard Dawkins is that he only ever believes that people who disagree don’t understand him. The problem is, he doesn’t understand people. It seems, perhaps, that he is incapable of understanding them because he is incapable of seeing anything outside of his own framework, or even acknowledging that other frameworks could exist. He is Pythagoras railing against the square root of 2.