Richard Dawkins

Richard DawkinsIf you are following at all the skeptic / atheist / humanist / freethought movement(s) (henceforth, SAHF), last week has been an exciting and/or troubling one for you. First, the announcement that the Richard Dawkins Foundation had merged with (or taken over, depending on whom you ask) the venerable Center for Inquiry, up until then the chief remaining operation established by one of the founding fathers of modern skepticism and humanism, Paul Kurtz.

Then, a mere six days later, the organizers of the North East Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS), likely to soon become the major skeptic conference in North America (given the apparent demise of The Amazing Meeting), dropped a bombshell: Dawkins was being disinvited — probably a first in his career — on grounds of yet another obnoxious tweet he had thoughtlessly sent out to his 1.35 million followers.

It seems, therefore, like this is as good a time as any to take stock of Richard Dawkins and of the SAHF community and see where they stand. I will begin with my personal assessment of Dawkins as a scientist, science popularizer, and public intellectual. I will then get into some (not too lurid) detail about the latest twitter-storm, and conclude with a few reflections on the significance of all this for the SAHF movement(s) at large. Needless to say, everything that follows reflects my own opinions, not those of Plato…

Dawkins the scientist, popularizer, and public intellectual

I have met Dawkins a few times throughout my career as a biologist and a philosopher, and every encounter has been as cordial as it could be expected between colleagues who disagree on a number of issues. The first time, actually, was before I became a professional biologist. I was an undergraduate student at the University of Rome, and was sent by the Italian magazine “Sapere” (To Know) to interview Dawkins in Florence, where he was appearing as an invited speaker to a public conference on evolution. The second time was in the mid-90’s. By that time I was an Assistant Professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Tennessee, and my Department invited Dawkins to speak as part of his book tour (very likely for Climbing Mount Improbable). It was also his birthday, which we celebrated with cake and all the rest, following his talk. There have been a couple of other meetings after that, but the last time I saw him in person was at a workshop on philosophical naturalism organized by cosmologist Sean Carroll. Interestingly, over lunch during one of those days, I experienced Dawkins in what is a rather uncharacteristically humble mood: he confided at our table that he felt a bit intimidated, being surrounded by so many professional philosophers (he wasn’t talking about me, I assure you, but more likely of Dan Dennett and Alex Rosenberg, among others). It was interesting to see that rather unexpected (from his public appearances) side of him.

Okay, personal history dealt with, let me move to the interesting stuff: what do I make of Richard Dawkins as a scientist, popularizer, and public intellectual? It’s a complex issue, to be sure. For one, he and I have never seen eye to eye, and this is way before he published The God Delusion — a book that had I read it as a youngster would have certainly excited me, but that as a professional philosopher I found simply ghastly in its cartoonish simplicity.

To begin with, I never bought his argument in The Selfish Gene (TSG), the book that (rightly) launched him as a top rate science popularizer, back in 1976. I read and appreciated the book for the first time a few years later (I was in middle school when it came out), but I always thought that his arch-rival, paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, while himself an interesting, shall we say, character, was much closer to the mark. In a nutshell, TSG presents an exceedingly reductionist view of biology that is simply incapable, in my mind, of taking in the bewildering variety of biological phenomena that we have documented ever since Darwin. Dawkins’ focus on the gene level and only the gene level, his refusal to take seriously the idea of multi-level selection, his (later) casual dismissal of epigenetics, his ridicule of advances coming out of paleontology, his utter ignorance (judging from the fact that he hardly wrote about it at all) of important concepts like phenotypic plasticity, phenotypic accommodation, niche selection, robustness, and evolvability — to mention but a few — meant to me that his view of biology was hopelessly limited.

His long feud with Gould was highly influential on my formative years as a young scientist. You can get a feeling from the (overall pro-Dawkins, but generally balanced) booklet written by philosopher of science Kim Sterelny, and aptly entitled Dawkins Vs Gould: Survival of the Fittest. (It was published before Gould’s untimely death, or the title would have been in real poor taste!)

A few years later, when I was a full professor, but still at the University of Tennessee, I actually taught a graduate seminar on the Gould-Dawkins rivalry, and that’s where I learned something that still few people seem to realize. You see, Dawkins is often portrayed in the media as “a leading evolutionary biologist.” But if by that one means an active research scientist who has actually made major contributions to his field, then that title really ought to describe Gould, not Dawkins.

Dawkins essentially ceased publishing in the primary literature (with a few exceptions, mostly commentaries) after he wrote TSG. Absolutely nothing wrong with that: the man had found his true calling as a science popularizer, and Zeus knows we need a lot of ’em! But even TSG was just that, a popular book, not the presentation of original ideas (except for the whole “memes” thing, more on that in a minute). Indeed, TSG was the popularization of notions developed in the preceding couple of decades by true giants of the evolutionary field, including George Williams (nature of natural selection, criticism of group selection), William Hamilton (kin selection), and Robert Trivers (reciprocal altruism). (Here is a short article I wrote for Skeptical Inquirer about going beyond the selfish gene.)

As I mentioned, the one really novel idea Dawkins presented in TSG was the concept of memes, a cultural analogue of genes, introduced with the express purpose to convince his readers that “Darwinism” applies universally, not just to straightforward genetic systems. (This eventually led Dan Dennett to his famous idea of Darwinism as a “universal acid,” in his Darwin’s Dangerous Idea — an interesting book in which, however, Dennett gets rather uncharacteristically, and in my mind unjustifiably, nasty about Gould.)

Now, I have written elsewhere why I think “memetics” is a bad idea, as memes are just metaphors, and they are not particularly useful to understand what they are supposed to help us understand, cultural evolution. Sure enough, after their 15 minutes of fame, thanks largely to a book by Susan Blackmore, memes have receded to generic metaphor for successful ideas that spread virally. Indeed, the Journal of Memetics, the only peer reviewed publication on the topic, has long ago closed down for lack of interest in the scholarly community.

Finally, let me get to Dawkins the public intellectual. For a number of years he held an endowed chair as Professor of Public Understanding of Science (an excellent idea, which ought to be replicated elsewhere!) at Oxford. During that period (and before) he published a series of excellent books on evolutionary biology, my favorite probably being Climbing Mount Improbable. That, I think, was Dawkins’ golden age, during which even those who criticized him on professional grounds (like myself) were nonetheless eagerly reading his books (as I did).

That golden age, in my mind, came to an abrupt end at the very moment Dawkins’ popularity made a huge leap, with the publication of The God Delusion. Again, I’ve written about it elsewhere, so I will not rehash that particular controversy. As is well known to my readers, I’ve been critical of the New Atheism in general, and of the decidedly scientistic turn that it has imparted to the SAHF movements, a turn that I’m confident would have been frowned upon by some of the early leading figures, such as Kurtz, Carl Sagan, and Martin Gardner. There is definitely room for disagreement here, but the current essay is about my own assessment of the Dawkins phenomenon, so there it is.

The broader point is that I think Dawkins has been sliding down ever since he became a (very) popular spokesperson for atheism. Which is highly unfortunate, because atheism does need good spokespeople. But the most effective ones, I would think, are those that come across as reasonable and articulate, and who are very careful about what they say in public, especially on social media. Dawkins is articulate, but doesn’t come across (to non atheists, and indeed even to some atheists) as reasonable. And he’s definitely not careful about his public statements, as we’ll see below.

So, to recap my thinking so far: not a leading evolutionary biologist (never been); a top notch science popularizer (until The God Delusion); a problematic public intellectual (after The God Delusion).

The latest twitter-storm

Which brings me to what happened last week. The trouble started when Dawkins posted the following tweet (he deleted it since, hence the screenshot):

Dawkins tweet-1

The video linked to in the tweet, and which Dawkins clearly endorsed, can be found here. It is an egregious, unqualified, piece of racist and misogynist garbage. Please, pause reading this post for a couple of minutes and see for yourself. It’s simply horrifying.

Then again, this was not an isolated incident. Dawkins had racked a considerable number of similarly embarrassing tweets over the past few years. Here is a sampler, ranging over such light topics as abortion, rape, pedophilia, and Islam (of course!). Use Google to find many, many more.

Much has been said about the most recent episode, particularly because it has led to the NECSS organizers dumping Dawkins from their conference, but some people seem to have missed at the least part of the point.

For instance, Dawkins took the tweet down after being told that the “feminist” in the video is not just a generic caricature, but represents a real woman, who has received plenty of threats and harassment in recent times, as a result of an admittedly rather embarrassing video of her during a protest in Toronto.

What needs to be noted here is twofold: a) Dawkins, despite having deleted the offending tweet, does not actually seem regretful at all (contra to what he wrote in a press release from CFI about the NECSS incident):

Dawkins tweet-2

“The rest was very funny, right on point and beautifully executed.” No Richard, it was none of those things. Not at all.

This is why the NECSS organizers (to be clear: I am not one of them) took the extraordinary, and likely costly, step of withdrawing the invitation to Dawkins to come to New York. You can read Steve Novella’s full explanation here, which I find convincing and earnest. If anything, in my mind, the question is why was Dawkins invited to NECSS to begin with, considering that his socially erratic behavior was notorious. But I suppose it’s hard to resist the cachet of a celebrity, and Dawkins sells tickets at whatever event he is invited.

This time, however, the NECSS folks took a stand, one that, as I said, is likely to cost them financially — though they have certainly augmented their reputation in terms of integrity, an increasingly rare asset these days. The cost is going to come from the fact that a number of local and non-local atheists have already decided, or are at the least deliberating about, boycotting  NECSS because they think the whole incident is much-ado-about-nothing, and that the organizers overreacted because of  rampant political correctness. Which brings me to the last part of this post: the community.

Impact on the SAHF communities

The SAHF communities have seen a significant amount of turmoil in recent years, largely to do with a double internal split, as far as I can determine (I’m speaking from personal experience here, I haven’t seen any systematic sociological studies of the matter).

First, there is the political split: there are (notoriously, unfortunately) few conservatives among skeptics and atheists. This is to be expected as far as the humanist crowd is concerned, since secular humanism has always (or almost) been a philosophy of progressive liberalism. But there is no reason whatsoever why a conservative shouldn’t be an atheist, or skeptical of claims of the paranormal and such.

I suspect, however, that the common origins of SAHF in the United States, with a few pivotal figures (like Kurtz) blazing the trail in the 1960s and ’70s, is a main reason for this situation. Kurtz was not just an atheist and a skeptic, but a secular humanist, and he saw no sharp boundaries among those branches of the movement, which means that the progressive liberalism of secular humanism got sort of automatically imported into the other branches as well.

Notwithstanding the virtual absence of conservative SAHFs, there is a strong, and vocal, minority of libertarians to be reckoned with, including some of the leading figures of the last few years, like Michael Shermer and Pen Jillette. Predictably, the clash between the libertarian minority and the progressive majority has led to major disagreements and some embarrassing moments, for instance when prominent libertarian skeptics declared themselves “skeptical” of global climate change. (Shermer was one of them, though to his credit he has since changed his mind.)

The second split, not at all orthogonal to the first one, separates defenders of “free speech” (who tend to be libertarian, but not exclusively) from advocates of “social justice” (who tend to be progressive, but not exclusively).

This also has led to nasty exchanges, with accusations of Islamophobia and misogyny being hurled (sometimes appropriately, at other times not so much) to people like Sam Harris, comedian Bill Maher, and, of course, Richard Dawkins. The response from those so accused has been that the other side is stifling the right to free speech, a standard tactic that has already emerged in reference to the latest Dawkins debacle. Except, of course — as Steve Novella has pointed out — that NECSS, for instance, is a private organization whose own free speech is exercised by the choice of who they do and do not invite, not to mention that to claim that Dawkins’ speech is being stifled, considering the huge number of followers and endless number of platforms he has available, is more than a bit ridiculous.

In all of this, it hasn’t helped that some on the progressive side (a side with which I identify, broadly speaking) have confused atheism (technically, simply a negative metaphysical stance) with secular humanism (a truly politically progressive philosophy), a confusion made all the more maddening by the vocal stamping of a number of high profile characters who relish in (and profit from) making outrageous statements with the transparent purpose of increasing web traffic while vilifying and insulting some of their own readers (you know who you are, no need to mention names).

Now, let us step back for a second. Remember what the SAHFs evolved for: to further reason and critical inquiry, to promote science and debunk pseudoscience, to build a community of like minded people, to provide a civil alternative to religion. Does any of the above sound anything like this set of highly worthy goals?

No, clearly. But there are countless good people involved with SAHF, and they deserve to be able to return to the original goals of what they set out to do, shutting off the insanity and incivility, taking a stand again in favor of reason and decency.

That is why I applaud the step taken by the NECSS organizers. That is also why I wish (I know it’s not going to happen) that CFI divested itself from its link with the Richard Dawkins Foundation, engaged in some serious soul searching, and regrouped around the basic principles set forth by Paul Kurtz. I met Paul, and he was no saint (who is?). But I’m pretty sure he would be disgusted by the shamble in which his intellectual heirs currently find themselves.

So the Dawkins-NECSS debacle is a splendid opportunity for the good people within SAHF to step back, appreciate and remind themselves of all the good they have done in decades of activism, but also conscientiously and critically inquire into the bad or questionable stuff. Every movement goes through growing pains, and this is just one of those moments. I sincerely wish them all the best for a speedy and safe transition to maturity.

208 thoughts on “Richard Dawkins

  1. Coel

    Hi Socratic,

    … given that Nugent himself has little love for Gnu Atheists in general, I think (I know he loathes PZ Myers), …

    Not really, Michael Nugent is ok with the New Atheists and could be considered one himself (who qualifies is, of course, pretty much undefined). He does indeed deplore PZ Myers, but then PZ has pretty much divorced himself from the rest of the New Atheists these days.

    Like

  2. Ron Murphy

    SocraticGadfly,

    Why is that? Because he, like many others, have come to realise how toxic Myers is. He went to greate lengths to appease Myers, only to be told he runs a haven for rapists.

    Nugent is particularly fair with Novella. He actually quotes Myers and Watson.

    Myers:

    “So while I can understand Novella’s efforts to be more diplomatic. I think the better response to Dawkins would have been a one-line post. GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME.”

    From Watson:

    “Well done @necss for taking a stand & dumping the toxic sludge that is Richard Dawkins! Your move, @center4inquiry”

    Dawkins criticises an Islamist, and a particular feminist, and is explicit that the criticism doesn’t apply to all feminists and that he supports feminism.

    Criticising Islamists and a particular style of feminism from some feminists, who are already criticised by other feminists, is now seen as Dawkins being divisive? The divisions are already there, and they are made wider by Myers, Watson, and anyone the can influence.

    This is how they operate:
    http://ronmurp.net/2015/04/12/social-justice-the-pz-way/

    Like

  3. David Ottlinger (@DavidOttlinger)

    Coel, DM, Others,

    I am depressed that you guys can’t seem to recognize this video for the sexist, racist nonsense it is. Massimo maybe right that it is futile to comment on this but I will make one brief assay come what may.

    You lay great stress on the fact that Dawkins states that the caricature in the video is meant to represent only some feminists. But the maker of the video, I assure you, meant to represent all feminists and disseminating his tripe, however much much Dawkins qualified his endorsement of it is bad enough.

    Secondly even accepting that Dawkins was referring to only some feminists this is still wildly over the top. Even as I have deep, deep seated reservations about the SJW brand of feminism in both substance and approach they are still deserving of basic charity and civility.This representation provides neither. There is no significant contingent of feminist scholars or activists who hold views like those depicted in the video. The only way to make it appear that there is is to to take some lunatic fringe which is confined entirely to the internet and followed by no one except anti-feminists and claim that they are representative of some large part of the movement.

    If someone tweeted a link to some gruesomely racist old cartoon or something from “Birth of a Nation” and said “I don’t think this represents all black people but…” the disclaimer would rightly appease no one. (No what Dawkins did was not equivalent to that but it was much, much too close for comfort. We are talking differences of degree not kind here.) Broadly insulting stereotypes issuing from that kind of deep prejudice lack even that much validity.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Coel

    Hi David,

    … this is still wildly over the top. … they are still deserving of basic charity and civility.

    It’s satire! It’s not a documentary! Of course it is wildly over the top! That’s understood by anyone viewing it. Cartoonic satire wildly exaggerates; that’s the genre. I can point you at dozens of cartoons that appear routinely in the major UK newspapers that do this.

    Of course no actual feminist holds the actual opinions in this video; they are exaggerations of those opinions, done for satirical effect. See, for example, the various satires in Michael Nugent’s discussion.

    Are you familiar with the Jesus and Mo series? Do you think that Christians and Muslims hold the exact views portrayed? Do you think that Jesus and Mo is unacceptable?

    … you guys can’t seem to recognize this video for the sexist, racist nonsense it is.

    So go ahead and make the case for it being racist. The case for it being anti-feminist I can understand, even though I don’t agree with it. But the case for it being racist …?

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  5. Ron Murphy

    David,

    The video attacks a male and a female for their methods of shutting down debate. So how is it specifically sexist?

    It attcks very specific feminist style that other feminists also attack. How then is it specifically sexists?

    “But the maker of the video, I assure you, meant to represent all feminists and disseminating his tripe, however much much Dawkins qualified his endorsement of it is bad enough.”

    I assure you it does not. Where’s your evidence. His videos attack some specific feminists: https://twitter.com/ronmurp/status/694617991959420929

    He also made avideo on Jaclyn Glenn, but that was about her plagerism, which many of he critics of Sye Ten happily kicked off.

    “Even as I have deep, deep seated reservations about the SJW brand of feminism in both substance and approach they are still deserving of basic charity and civility.”

    Deep seated reservations? They’ll be devastated. That’s your choice. But not for everyone. The behaviour of very specific SJWs is lampooned, for their rhetoric, in the Sye Ten videos. But feminists make up only a small number of his videos.

    Many are like this, criticising the actual doctrines of religions:

    He attacks Christianity with as much vigour as many of his current critics do. Oh, but he dares to ridicule Islam?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. danielwalldammit

    It’s interesting to me that Dawkins would respond as he did by suggesting that he takes the criticism only to apply to some feminists and not others. That kind of after-the-fact hair splitting is something I expect from pop-apologists not thoughtful people.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Coel

    It’s interesting to me that Dawkins would respond as he did by suggesting that he takes the criticism only to apply to some feminists and not others. That kind of after-the-fact hair splitting …

    Respond? After the fact? Have you read his initial tweet that RTed the video? If not, it can be seen in the OP above.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Robin Herbert

    I checked the Goldsmith thing. Apparently.the feminist in the college issued a notice of support for some Muslim (not Islamist) students in their objection to Maryam Namazie speaking at the college.

    I think they were wrong, but does that really make them legitimate targets for an attack like this video?

    Liked by 2 people

  9. brodix

    Is it safe to say there is no objective point of view?

    Even clarity is especially subjective. Once you start blurring the frame and looking from different points of view…..

    Narrow mindedness and focus are just different descriptions of the same framing.

    Of course, in the army, generals run things and specialist is one grade above private, because seeing the big picture means seeing past all the chaos of detail.

    Like

  10. Coel

    Hi Robin,

    … the [Goldsmith] feminist [Society] issued a notice of support for some Muslim (not Islamist) students in their objection to Maryam Namazie speaking at the college.

    First, Maryam Namazie is about as pro-woman, pro-feminist, pro-people pro those in the Islamic world, human-rights campaigner as you can get. She is of Iranian background. Her talk was about human rights in the Islamic world, especially those of women.

    The Muslim society tried to disrupt the talk, incessant disruption of the talk lasting for an hour. There is a video online about this.

    You say that these are “not Islamist” students, but many of their attitudes are Islamist. The President of the Islamic Society had himself made tweets far more offensive than anything Maryam Namazie said in her talk, including: “Homosexuality is a disease of the heart and the mind”.

    Some of the speakers that they had recently hosted (without any objection to their views) are open Islamists, advocating the beheading of apostates for example.

    Now, afterwards, the Goldsmith Feminist Society “condemned” the actions of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society in hosting the talk by Namazie.

    They described her as a “known islamophobe” — because she has stood up for human rights in the Islamic world. They said that hosting her “creates a climate of hatred”.

    They said not a word of criticism of the Islamic Society for disrupting the talk, They made no criticism of the human rights in the Islamic world, they made no mention that Namazie was a feminist, speaking up for women in the Islamic world.

    They sided entirely with those who didn’t want her to speak, simply because she was critical of Islam and Islamism, while being entirely silent on the actual issues on which she spoke.

    Despite being a feminist society, they said nothing at all about women fighting for rights in the Islamic world — what they did was declare solidarity with the Islamic Society’s desire not to hear criticisms of their religion, or, rather, their desire that criticisms of their religion not be made within their university.

    I think they were wrong, but does that really make them legitimate targets for an attack like this video?

    Yes, 100% so. It’s a satirical video! That’s all! Sheesh! Do you think that Clinton or Sanders are going to make this much fuss if there’s a satirical cartoon about them in a paper tomorrow?

    The silence of feminists on matters in the Islamic world, their reluctance to criticise Islam, and their directing complaints instead against those speaking up for women’s rights in the Islamic world is exactly what is satirised in the video. This incident reveals exactly what is wrong with some factions within the feminist movement.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Robin Herbert

    Hi Coel,

    But, in this video, the statements are in the mouth of the person being satirised. The video is about how THEY (the person being satirised) see feminism.

    Maybe you could point out where in the video this is made clear?

    Suppose I make a little animation of a cartoon figure and give him.a silly whiny voice saying “I am a new atheist, I am an intellectually dishonest, self important bigot, continually dog whistling to the far right” then you would be satisfied that I was not saying this about new atheists in general, but rather the minority who were intellectually dishonest self important bigots who are continually dog whistling to the far right?

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  12. Coel

    Maybe you could point out where in the video this is made clear?

    It’s clear partly because it is a satire of particular individuals, and through the wider context of the fairly prominent debates about the various feminist factions.

    But, even if you think that that is not clear — which is a defendable stance, especially if you don’t know the two people being satirised — Dawkins did make clear his take on it at the point of retweeting, and this article is about Dawkins really, not so much about Sye Ten Atheist who made the video.

    By the way, for anyone interested here is Maryam Namazie’s talk at Warwick, the sort of thing that the Goldsmith Feminists “condemned” as the “hate” speech of a “known Islamophobe” that the Goldsmith Islamic Society should not have to put up with hearing.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Coel

    Just thought I’d end the evening by collecting some remarks about Dawkins and other new atheists from this thread. Isn’t this rather ironic, given that the complaint is that Dawkins is nasty and uncouth?

    “glaringly banal, errant, and ignorant”

    “tweets at an IQ of about 75”

    “obnoxious, a crude thinker”

    “in the emotional mindset of early adolescence”

    “uninformed historically, narrow-minded, simplistic, dismissive of alternatives, innocent of nuance and subtleties of thought.”

    And like “children too self-complacent to engage in inquiry”.

    I’m willing to bet that Dawkins (and his books) will continue to be influential far longer than his critics. Night all.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Robin Herbert

    Yes, Coel, I watched that video already. Perhaps you missed the part where I said that I think that they were wrong. My question was whether the members of the Goldsmith femsoc deserved to be “satirised” like this (you did say that they were part of the group that this video was aimed at).

    Dawkins did make clear his take on it at the point of retweeting, and this article is about Dawkins really, not so much about Sye Ten Atheist who made the video.

    I don’t think that a disclaimer removes anyone’s responsibility for what they retweet, especially given Dawkins other attacks on feminism I mentioned above which have no such disclaimer.

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  15. Robin Herbert

    Coel, I think that you have missed the point big time if you are saying that the complaint is that he is nasty and uncouth.

    Oh, and thanks for removing my remark from it’s context, that was classy.

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  16. SocraticGadfly

    Coel said:

    I’m willing to bet that Dawkins (and his books) will continue to be influential far longer than his critics. Night all.

    Actually, per a previous essay’s comments, that led to Massimo being called a willful liar on FB, etc. …

    I’ve got skin scrapings of Steve Gould. I’m cloning him, so that not only will he remain more influential in the past, he’ll ride herd in the future.

    (And, no, don’t tell me that’s not how cloning works. If you even thought that, then the snark is indeed wasted on you.)

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  17. Robin Herbert

    Here is my satire so far:

    Suppose I make a little animation of a cartoon figure and give him.a silly whiny voice saying “I am a new atheist, I am an intellectually dishonest, self important bigot, continually dog whistling to the far right”

    Now I can add an Islamist character and have them do a sort of “I got you babe” duet, with the new atheist saying “You need me to alienate innocent Muslims and tar them with your brush” and the Islamist saying “You need me to give you ammunition against religion”.

    You would still say that I am just attacking a minority and not having a dig about new atheists as a whole?

    And if anyone questioned whether it was even a remotely fair comment about anybody I could say “It is satire, not documentary”.

    Hey, this satire stuff is easier than I thought it would be, it just writes itself.

    That is, once you remove any requirement for it to be clever, insightful or funny.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. marc levesque

    Coel: “The video is very explictly about Islamists and not about average Muslims”

    DM: “Forgive me if I’m mistaken, but in my understanding, the words “Islamist” and “Muslim” are not synonymous. “Islamist” refers specifically to radical extremist fundamentalist Muslims with terrorist sympathies. The average Muslim or follower of Islam does not, to the best of my knowledge, think of him or herself as an Islamist.”

    You are speaking about how various media, individuals, and groups have used the term Islamist or Islamism to mean something like bad Muslims. But adding ‘ist’ or ‘ism’ to Islam doesn’t imply a violent subgroup within a subgroup of Muslims (followers of Islam). And it follows that a lot of Muslims who know the term ‘Islamist’ is villified to the point that most people think the pejorative definition is the right definition want to dissociate themselves from the image that definition of the term evokes.

    Moreover the video does clearly reference Muslims: “So do you mind if I rape you now? — Oh don’t be silly it’s not rape when a Muslim does it”

    Coel: “Which is why you need to use some context to interpret it”

    If a public figure puts something on a public medium like twitter and all your context is needed to ‘understand it right’ there is a clear problem.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. SocraticGadfly

    Marc said:

    Coel: “Which is why you need to use some context to interpret it”

    If a public figure puts something on a public medium like twitter and all your context is needed to ‘understand it right’ there is a clear problem.

    But, of course, this shifting of the burden of proof is nothing new here.

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  20. Robin Herbert

    Marc’s mention of the end of the video spoiled my fun.

    In order for my mock satire to draw a parallel to the end of this video, I would find myself saying something so revolting that even I am ashamed that it even came to my mind.

    That final part was just – ugh.

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  21. Ron Murphy

    Robin,

    “I think they were wrong, but does that really make them legitimate targets for an attack like this video?”

    Do you mean the Dawkins tweeted video?

    The video wasn’t about those Muslims or those feminists – as you can see from Sye Ten’s description section in his re-publication of the video: https://youtu.be/CQw3KSYD3ns

    But Sye does go on to thank someone for drawing his attention to the Namazie incident.

    And I guess he’s also thankful to all the SJW and other negative commenters who have totally failed to understand the video but have helped publicise it.

    More attention has been drawn to it by those that seem unable to read a tweet for what it says rather than for what they wish it said. When Dawkins says “Obviously doesn’t apply to vast majority of feminists..” not amount of wishful thinking or mind reading by commenters here and elsewhere will make it re-write itself as “Obviously applies to ALL feminists..”

    ‘spastic’? Yeah, funny how that would normally send SJW into fits. But feminists!

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  22. Ron Murphy

    Robin,

    “… am an intellectually dishonest, self important bigot, continually dog whistling to the far right” then you would be satisfied that I was not saying this about new atheists in general

    A New Atheist critic of dogmatic neo-feminism that is criticised by Sye Ten, particularly for plagiarism. Will that do?

    Glenn is no more a big shot in NA than the feminist in the video (a subject of Glenn’s too I think). And I for one don’t feel inclined to suppose the video carries implications for all New Atheists.

    I realise there’s much effort here to make this into a woman hating video, but it simply isn’t. It’s comparing the dogmatic ‘whining spastic’ rhetoric of tow different ideologues.

    Several commenters (Gad Saad, Dave Rubin, Maajid Nawaz, among others) have been saying for some time that the regressive left and the conservative right Islamists are so extreme in their narratives that they actually have a lot in common. This video expresses that very well.

    Like

  23. David Ottlinger (@DavidOttlinger)

    Coel and Ron,
    I’m not going to pursue this indefinitely. I intend for this to be my last comment on this subject.

    Coel,
    Thank you for explaining satire to me but I promise you I have a firm grasp of the concept. I understand it is exaggerated and it is understood that the satirized do not actually hold all those views. But the point of the parody is that many of these feminists are disingenuous, controlling for controlling’s sake, motivated by petty hatred and without a moral point. All that is profoundly unfair and offensive.

    On criticizing Dawkins, all the quotes you gave, except the IQ one which is a little below the belt, they all criticize his thought and argument which is as weak as the remarks make them out to be. They don’t attack his character and they don’t impute to him bad motives so it still treats him far better than he ordinarily treats religious people.

    “I’m willing to bet that Dawkins (and his books) will continue to be influential far longer than his critics.”
    True. And a shame. Good night.

    Ron,
    “The video attacks a male and a female for their methods of shutting down debate.”
    If you think this is an attack on *a* man and *a* woman in today’s political climate you are just willfully ignoring the implicatures of this kind of rhetoric.

    “His videos attack some specific feminists”
    I confess I thought the video was made by Sargon of Akkad because it was on his channel. Sargon would have no problem painting all feminists with this brush and Dawkins was promoting his channel.

    “Deep seated reservations? They’ll be devastated.”
    That’s their business.

    “He attacks Christianity with as much vigour as many of his current critics do. Oh, but he dares to ridicule Islam?”

    Many here at Footnotes including myself and Massimo have been very critical of this kind of ridicule of *both* Islam *and* Christianity. No hypocrisy there.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. brodix

    If you went through the Old, New Testament, or the Koran, I’m sure there are plenty of statements that would give Machiavelli pause, as to how to advance one’s cause over others, socially, politically and militarily and make the commentary here positively passive in comparison.

    I do think though, that rather than the drama being engaged in, there are some deeper conceptual issues of perspective than might be worth giving some thought to.

    No, there is no Solomonic wisdom to solve the problem and show who is right and who is wrong, but a big part of the problem is looking for those simple and clear solutions. Eventually humanity, possibly far into the future, will have to come to terms with a reality that is inherently subjective. There are limits to people, ideas, assumptions, ideals, beliefs, etc. and they can’t be projected to infinity and eternity.

    The irony here is this is factionalism in the atheist/skeptic movement, which means it too is subject to the lure of ideology and absolutism.

    The Stoics, the Buddhists, the Taoists, etc. have their work cut out for them.

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  25. Robin Herbert

    Hi Ron,

    “The video wasn’t about those Muslims or those feminists – as you can see from Sye Ten’s description section in his re-publication of the video:”

    Actually the rant you link here says that these *are* the kinds of feminists he had in mind. And I was also responding to Coel, who also identified them as an example of the kinds of feminists being “satirised” Here.

    So, yes, my question still stands

    Like

  26. Robin Herbert

    Hi Ron,

    “And I guess he’s also thankful to all the SJW and other negative commenters who have totally failed to understand the video but have helped publicise it.”

    But let’s face it, this RWNJ stuff is so ubiquitous that a little more of it is not going to make that much difference.

    Like

  27. Thomas Jones

    I’m not buying into what seems the equating of the act of “disinvitation” to an act of “censorship” *in this case*. What is it precisely that is being “censored”? The NECSS has already posted its explanation for its disinvitation.

    Mr. Kwok’s comment above seems quite reasonable when he writes, “. . . I am certain that some of the NECSS committee were aware of the 40th anniversary of ‘The Selfish Gene’, and I think it is reasonable to surmise that he was invited for this reason.”

    It’s what follows in his comment that is problematic:

    “That reason, not his online behavior, should have been the main criterion for deciding whether or not to invite him . . . .”

    And why would that be? Because you believe his contributions to the scientific and skeptical community outweigh the more recent baggage he’s associated with in the perception of many?

    Welcome to the real world. Ugh.

    Does Mr. Dawkins play no role in any of this? Or is he some unwitting victim of the NECSS? (I’m sure the debate among the leaders of the NECSS was likely quite heated.) So, isn’t it rather hyperbolic to characterize this decision as an “act of censorship” rather than a decision with which you disagree. Call it an ad hoc banishment if you like and test the legal standing in court if it suits you. Otherwise, in plain language, you are simply pissed. And I’ll assume many agree with you.

    But please take into account the possibility that, like most of us, Dawkins himself plays a role in the consequences that result from his actions and his particular causes. Otherwise, please explain what to your mind would constitute a “legitimate” reason for a private organization to disinvite someone? Charges that he’s pilfered millions from the “innocent” in a pyramid scheme, that he’s a serial killer, that he’s a pedophile? The point being that your accusations, as worded, suggest legal sanctions and remedy. Good luck with that.

    But I get your point, you disagree with the decision to distance their organization form Dawkins. Okay. Now the ball is in Dawkins’s hands.

    Liked by 3 people

  28. John Kwok

    Thomas Jones,

    Obviously you missed my point, in which I am in full agreement with Massimo, that Stephen Jay Gould was substantially a much better, and more important, scientist, with a substantially broader range of interests. However, one must acknowledge – and here I will disagree respectively with Massimo – that Richard Dawkins’ “The Selfish Gene” remains one of the most important, most influential, books in the recent history of evolutionary biology. (As much as I am a fan of Gould’s, I will concede that none of his books – with the possible exception of “Ontogeny and Phylogeny” – had as much impact on evolutionary biology as “The Selfish Gene”.) Clearly the importance of “The Selfish Gene” weighed heavily in the thoughts of some on the NECSS committee, since Dawkins could have been invited earlier, but instead, he was considered as the primary keynote speaker this year, which is the 40th anniversary of the original publication of “The Selfish Gene”.

    Private organizations have the right to determine who to invite at their events. However, they have an obligation to treat those they invite with ample professionalism, and it is clear to me and many others that NECSS failed in its professional obligations by deciding to dis-invite Dawkins without consulting with him first, instead of notifying him only through its public statement. I know of no other professional institution or organization, whether it is the American Museum of Natural History, Society for the Study of Evolution, American Association for the Advancement of Science or the World Science Festival that deals with speakers in a manner reminiscent of NECSS’s recent actions towards Dawkins, and regrettably, this is a valid point which Massimo has either missed or ignored.

    Private organizations which claim to foster greater understanding of science should emphasize the scientific importance of the speakers, not their online behavior, in deciding whether these speakers are suitable for their events. Clearly this wasn’t an issue when they invited mediocre evolutionary developmental biologist P Z Myers – and it is fair to refer to him as “mediocre” since he has a very sparse history of published peer-reviewed scientific papers, and none of them are remotely as important as Gould and Dawkins’ best work – at its 2012 conference. Nor was his online behavior an issue – and frankly, it should have been since he tolerated back in March, 2010, a delusional fan’s threat to rape and to kill two journalists, that was posted at his blog website. Not only did he tolerate it, but he treated it as a joke, and harassed online one of the journalists when she noted that the threat wasn’t fostering greater public understanding of science. If Myers’ online behavior was ignored by the NECSS committee four years ago, then why should Dawkins’s behavior matter now? (Please note that as someone with Muslim relatives, I do not endorse Dawkins’ most insensitive observations regarding Islam. However, none of them should have been used as criteria to deny him the opportunity to speak this year at NECSS.)

    The ball is now in NECSS’s court. If the NECSS committee is unwilling to discuss the issue further with Dawkins, then they have no right to claim that they are a pro-science organization, since he is still one of the foremost science popularizers of our time.

    Respectfully yours,

    John Kwok

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  29. Philosopher Eric

    Vindication is not a Stoic virtue…

    Massimo I didn’t mean that you should instead be revelling in sensations commonly associated with vindication. I only meant for you to acknowledge these recent events as a demonstration of progress for your cause itself. Such an acknowledgement should not be anti Stoic.

    Since you’ve brought this up however, should we consider true sensations of vindication, to indeed be negative, or perhaps even shameful? I personally do not. If I had never experienced the joys of vindication, I would surely not have become the happy and confident person that I consider myself to be.

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