Author, outspoken atheist, and Public Intellectual Richard Dawkins has caused another uproar by referring to what he calls “mild pedophilia” and soiling Twitter with his flawed logic. For the purposes of this piece, let’s accept that we live in a world where a great many people still care what Richard Dawkins has to say and that it makes sense for him to arbitrarily dispense logic lessons via Twitter. In this world, the establishing tweet for his logic lesson is fine:
He followed it with this example:
And then he completed his unholy trifecta of Twitter sins with this flaming turd:
What happened next is that many people, understandably upset, tweeted that he had no right to assign value judgments to various types of sexual assault (he doesn’t), and that he couldn’t possibly know how something feels to the person experiencing it (he can’t), but shockingly even those arguments (which he started) are not what is at the core of this issue.
Richard Dawkins already knows that civilized society generally finds it objectionable when he speaks as The Decider on rape and sexual abuse, deigning to rank them not only against various instances of each, but on some continuum in his head where religion is worse than all else. We get it, Richard: You hate religion. You think being raised Catholic is more “abusive” than the literal sexual abuse of a child. You have spoken almost dismissively about your own childhood molestation by a teacher, calling it a “mild feeling-up” that was “unpleasant and embarrassing.” I offer my sincere and heartfelt sympathy, and if you are truly so well-adjusted as to hardly even rank the experience on your personal hierarchy of transgressions, then more power to you.
But that’s you. That’s your experience and for you to continue to herald your unbothered-ness by “mild pedophilia” is reckless, especially when done allegedly in the service of explaining deductive reasoning.
You think that “mild pedophilia” is acceptable as both a phrase and a concept. We get it. And you get that not everyone agrees with you. You also get that something you think, no matter how strongly you think it and how condescendingly you say it during appearances on talk shows, is still ultimately just something you think, and not necessarily a fact or scientific data. You know how I know that you know this? You said so, on your own blog. Regarding your controversial statements about the church and sexual abuse, you said “Anecdotes and plausibility arguments, however, need to be backed up by systematic research...”
Presenting opinion as fact is in direct opposition to the logic that this man worships with religious fervor. He knows that, and yet he did it, and then responded with self-righteous derision when—egads!—people challenged him. Some would say that the phrase “mild pedophilia” is an oxymoron on its face. At the bare minimum, Dawkins had already come under media fire over the phrase, which he defends by citing his personal experience, which should automatically eliminate it from being an acceptable first example of a logic equation.
YES, in terms of criminality and the legal system, there is definitely a hierarchy in place, necessary for charging and prosecuting offenders at levels commensurate with their individual offenses. Does litigious necessity mean that we are free to then assign value judgments to crimes for random conversational use and declare them absolutes? NOPE. If one aims to illustrate deductive reasoning it would serve one to choose the simplest of scenarios so as keep the focus on your main point.
Rape is not a simple topic. Pedophilia is not a simple topic. That is the problem here, not that Mr. Dawkins is just so much smarter and more logical than huge swaths of the population.
So many of the self-righteous Intellectual White Men that I have encountered feel that they can say anything they like and then accuse anyone who argues of reacting strictly from a place of emotional outrage rather than intellectual dissent. That way, they get to bemoan the intellectual inferiority of Everyone Else instead of actually considering opposing arguments.
I find this to be especially true if the dissent comes from someone who is not white and/or is a woman. Unbelievable though it may be, when I read Mr. Dawkins’ tweets I did not immediately start sobbing and menstruating wildly and react from deep within the memory cave of my own sexual assault history where my inner child stays permanently curled up in the fetal position.
Mr. Dawkins, when I tweeted my cheeky response, people immediately tweeted me saying not to reply to you and that they automatically unfollow anyone who mentions your name. Warning tweets declaring your name muted and not worth even mentioning probably contributed to the speed with which you were trending, as much as non-ironic mentions of your name.
Though I will never understand such craving for negative attention, I, unlike you, can imagine many thought processes and experiences in the world that vary greatly from mine, so I can only imagine that you mention rape and “mild pedophilia” intentionally to spark this sort of response. Employing logic as I do, that seems to be the only reasonable conclusion here. It’s either that, or you are too stupid to see that rape and pedophilia are terrible examples for a syllogism and isn’t your whole shtick about how smart you are?
As the “conversation” progressed, Mr. Dawkins did what anyone who is absolutely certain that they’re right does: he retweeted those agreeing with him and largely ignored those who didn’t, making defensive allusions to names he was being called but not addressing them directly. Then came this gem:
I understand that Twitterspeak is exhausting for some, so let me say that in the Twittersphere, this reads like the statement in quotes is either an example someone else suggested or another one he had just thought of, followed by the criticism he was getting, juxtaposed sarcastically. Could he possibly not see the difference here? £1 is a concrete measurement of currency. Though “life savings” is not as defined, it is a commonly used phrase that describes not only a large amount of money, but one with great potential for emotional connection, having been hard-earned and saved. Even if those traditional connotations somehow didn’t apply, it is still logical to infer that an “old lady’s life savings” would be greater than £1, still rendering this example useful while managing to involve neither pedophilia nor rape. Huzzah!
But apparently Mr. Dawkins wants to pretend it’s all the same and he is the victim of our collective stupidity raining down on his poor widdle brilliant head. Completely missing the point while loudly declaring that others are missing the point is a special kind of Inception-esque tomfoolery that makes my soul itch. Applying qualitative research to a quantitative equation will never work. Duh.
After close to 12 hours of trending on Twitter, Mr. Dawkins issued a “response” in which he pulled a classic kinda-sorta-apologize-for-one-or-two-parts-of-my-multi-level-error-while-ignoring-the-larger-one-and-maintaining-that-I’m-infallible move. Having watched the tweets unfold in real time, I saw many people trying to tell him that for some, the personal betrayal of date rape outweighs the “knifepoint” rape scenario. He conveniently included this as a potential point of view in his non-pology, phrased as though he was thinking this as a possibility all along, and highlighting that it still fits his syllogism. Yes, it does. But wouldn’t it have served your syllogism more if you were capable of constructing one without such flagrantly inflammatory elements used as arbitrary examples?
A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting and socializing with the late Christopher Hitchens quite a bit. I am a person who believes in God and he, famously, was not. This never prevented us from having delightful conversations and even the occasional mild debate, to the extent that it was appropriate in the social situations we found ourselves in.
It shouldn’t need stating -- and this is true regardless of your opinion of Hitch in particular -- but thoughtful individuals are able to hold strongly to different belief systems and still not completely write off another human being. Richard Dawkins, however, fancies himself an Intellectual but purposely starts Twitter beef and then rolls around in the mess he's made like a pig.
Atheists, like Christians, so often suffer as a group from having certain celebrity mouthpieces making reductive statements on large platforms, and it is such a shame that Mr. Dawkins is shouting so loudly. Atheists deserve better than Richard Dawkins. Mr. Dawkins, you could only hope to touch the hem of the late Mr. Hitchens’ garment, as they say in that well-known book you don’t believe in. I know you’re not into that book, but the reference should make sense nonetheless.
If it doesn’t, go away and learn how to think.