Dawkins v Myers: The Slurs Continue

Rape is bad. In similar circumstances the a similar event might be worse for some victims than others. And depending on how it affects the victim what looks superficially like a worse rape, such as by a stranger at knife point, than another rape, such as by a friend on a date, may in fact not be what we expect. One victim might find the date rape far more traumatic than the attack by a stranger, because perhaps the failure of trust between them and the trusted friend might completely fuck up the victim’s capacity to trust and interact with people generally. The victim of a stranger rape might be able to put that into a box, a dreadful box not to be opened again, so that they can get on with their lives.

Dawkins makes a point that there are degrees of hurt, and points out that comparing them does not diminish them. This is complex stuff and one might expect that someone like Dawkins gets that. I’m sure he does, and that his recent Twitter set was simply a poorly made point. [See links in the Michael Nugent post for details – link to Nugent towards the end]

It’s not as if Dawkins was actually making much of a point about rape itself, but was using it to make a more general logical point:

X is bad. Y is worse. This is not an endorsement of X.

We can see why he used rape in one example, and paedophilia in another: he’s received criticism for his comments on these issues and thinks that some of the commenters missed this logical point, by concluding that saying Y was worse amounted to endorsing X. And some commenters really did do that. Fucking moronic.

But additionally PZ Myers on his blog took strips off Dawkins. And his commenters jumped on board. Some simply saw it as a crass use of rape to make the logical point, but many already had the knives thoroughly into the back of Dawkins and were in no mood to let him off with further explanation. Many who have made their minds up about Dawkins denied all possibility of even the slightest generous reading of his Tweets or his follow up explanations.

Well, the next phase in this pile of crap going on among sects of atheists has taken us in another direction. Robin Williams died today and got lots of public sympathy. But an unknown teenager is killed by the cops of Ferguson and receives far less sympathy.

PZ Myers used the death of Williams to make a point. And PZ is getting some push back for pointing out this discrepancy in public attention. The post by PZ does itself seem a bit over the top; almost conspiratorial in its rhetoric. Was there no better way of making the point? Well, maybe. But some will not leave it at that.

On that post by PZ a number of commenters weren’t at all happy.

“Disappointing, that’s quite a cheap shot.”

“Cheap shot is a perfect word for this piece.”

“[starts with a comment on Williams…] Meanwhile, yes, this piece appears to be entirely cynical. A well-liked famous person dies, but of course this is the perfect segue into racial politics!”

PZ comes back, “You are sad that Williams is dead? Good. I think it’s terrible that he suffered from depression and died. I am not saying that he was a bad person or that his death is not cause for grief. But what I’m seeing, what prompts your whining about cynicism, is that the media have lost all sense of proportion — that the death of a popular entertainer is bigger news than our loss of freedom and our slow steady drift into a police state.”

Paraphrase: Williams’s death is bad. But wider racist social injustice and decline into a police state is worse and deserves greater public attention. This is not an endorsement of being dismissive of Williams’s suffering. X is bad. Y is worse. This is not an endorsement of X.

Well, as was pointed out to Dawkins and his crass point making episode: did he really need to point this out in such a callous way, as if we didn’t know that already? Don’t we know already that police in some states are highly likely to pick on black teens and occasionally kill them? This is bad. Really bad. There are many issues in the US that deserve far more publicity than they do, and celebrities get a lot more than they need, deserve, and often more than they bargained for or want. But should PZ have used the death of Williams to make this point?

Personally I think his point is fair enough. But I’m more interested in what others think, particularly commenters that inhabit atheist blogs.

But I’d like to address one specific aspect of the point PZ is making: did he have to use the convenient and timely death of Williams to make a political point? Wasn’t this precisely what Myers was making a fuss about in the first place? Isn’t this hypocritical of Myers to tell us how politicians are using the death of Williams to deflect attention form other matters, while he uses it to direct attention to those matters?

PZ, like Dawkins, doesn’t help his case with suspect rhetoric, when he sees it this way: “thank God that we have a tragedy involving a wealthy white man to drag us away from the depressing news about brown people”

What the fuck? One could say that the disproportionate attention paid to Williams is down to the celebrity angle rather than a white supremacist police state racist angle. What difference would one suppose there would be if some famous and loved black celebrity died while at the same time the police somewhere killed some unknown poor white guy?

But really, the PZ post, like the Tweets from Dawkins, deserve little more than a face palm. Not everyone sees it that way.

Elsewhere PZ gets even more stick. On Jerry Coyne’s post comparing the lovely tribute to Williams from Stephen Fry with the post by PZ …

“Wow, I knew Myers could be a you-know-what, but this is terrible. How can someone post something like this? There’s something very cold and mean about that guy. I don’t understand it.”

“I hate to say this but, based on this obscene commentary and his anti-Israel fulminations, Prof. Myers is turning into a schmuck of the first order.”

“Great letter from Fry. And PZ really should be ashamed. As if Williams chose this moment for the purpose to serve government interests. Really, really awful.”

You’ll notice how in this last one the comment by PZ about the convenience of the death of Williams for politicians has been totally misunderstood. PZ wasn’t suggesting in the slightest that Williams made the choice but that the convenience, however coincidental, fell in favour of politicians. If you can’t connect the dots here one wonders how visitors to Coyne’s blog grasp the undirected aspects of evolution.

Perhaps the critics of PZ, on his site and on Jerry’s, could learn from Dawkins:

X is bad. Y is worse. This is not an endorsement of X.

The death of Williams is bad and the public response may be deserved, but it is a worse state of public interest and of political diversion that the Ferguson killer cop issue has received less publicity. Pointing out the latter about the Ferguson case is not an endorsement of less publicity and less expression of feelings for Williams. What PZ said takes nothing away from the sentiments expressed by Fry.

It seems the divisiveness continues. And the exaggeration of the polarization stands out a mile with all the stupid comments.

It was enough to say that Dawkins made a misjudgement in each of his Tweets, and to leave it at that. He wasn’t endorsing rape of any kind and wasn’t enabling rapists. To suggest that was just plain stupid when you follow everything else the man says. And some of the comments on Jerry’s post about PZ are just as bad and just as stupid. It wasn’t enough to say simply that they thought PZ was a little too cynical in his expression of his point?

The only sane comment on the Dawkins stuff comes from Michael Nugent. His main point that’s worth taking away from this is not that Dawkins made mistakes, though Nugent thought he had, but that comment on Dawkins from people that should know better have escalated the whole thing into a personal slurfest. It is astonishing how what should be a straight forward criticism about a point of disagreement can turn into a wild dogmatic hatred. There really are extremes of rhetoric and irrationality at work that would put some of the dumbest theists in a good light.

Nugent has defended Myers before too, as he points out. Perhaps it will require the sanity of Nugent to point out the stupidity raging on this little post by Myers.

I can’t figure out why the likes of PZ takes shots of Dawkins for crass language when PZ himself has a pretty sharp tongue. But there you go, nobody’s perfect. You’d think atheists would know that from engaging with theists.

3 thoughts on “Dawkins v Myers: The Slurs Continue

  1. Ron Murphy,

    I wonder why you say in a previous post that you believe in nothing, when you obviously have passionate ethical values (many of which I share) and they obviously matter a lot to you.

  2. s.wallerstein,

    Don’t mistake believing IN for believing THAT. I believe THAT some things are important to humans, but that doesn’t require me to believe IN those things.

    Example: I don’t believe IN human nature. To believe IN human nature implies I believe that humanity’s better nature will win out over its perceived evils, or some other vague notion like that. I believe THAT humans have a complex nature that is on the whole empathetic and otherwise conducive to social cohesion, but that some aspects of human nature are destructive to human cohesion. I haven’t a clue whether humans will advance their better nature and survive into the distant future, or if they will become extinct through self-inflicted causes, or if we are destined to cycles of growth and destruction. Personally I find, as far as I can tell, that I do have passionate ethical values, but I don’t believe IN them, but rather observe that I’m inclined to be that way (assuming I’m not deluding myself).

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