Saturday, July 09, 2011

On the Watson-Dawkins Matter

Gawker on a recent furor over Richard Dawkins and his response to some comments by Rebecca Watson (no relation):
Is it really unreasonable that a 70-year-old man who's never had to worry about sexual assault might have a hard time understanding why an attractive young woman would feel uneasy being propositioned in an elevator?

Or: Why is feminist blogger Rebecca Watson speaking dismissively of Dawkins' efforts to combat the the oppression of Muslim women? Didn't Dawkins' The God Delusion kind of jump-start the whole modern atheist revival? Does that count for anything?

Or: Can it really be that Dawkins has never been exposed to insults as odious as the ones mentioned by Ms. McCreight? As a jump-starter of the modern atheist revival, doesn't Dawkins probably get a lot more threatening hate mail than all of his critics combined?

And the best question: Have the world's self-professed rationalists really spent the last week arguing about a proposition in an elevator?

If these are the pertinent questions, then we can get this over quickly. The answers are: Yes; although this case is at more remove, this is precisely why we criticize dirty old men. Because they are relatively slight in the larger scheme of things and Dawkins brought it in as his contrast case. No, it pre-existed that work. No, even if he did, because the skeptic movement and the New Atheist movement are not the same thing. Possibly. Yes, but he's also in a better position to ignore or, when necessary, do something about them. No, they've spent the last week arguing about whether the skeptic movement has a sexism problem.

That was easy. Now everyone can get back to the original issue of how it's not acceptable to attack a woman verbally for pointing out that a certain kind of behavior is creepy and should be avoided. Or, as is perhaps more likely given that we're talking about people in the skeptic movement, talking about how great it is that they are so very rational.


  1. Indeed.

    For me, this event has illustrated how comically inept these types of people are when ethical matters are at stake.  Watching them struggle to find a position supported by "the evidence" or by "reason" (concieved as they concieve of it, narrowly) is hilarious.  One major protagonist declared that Dawkins could no longer speak on behalf of "evidence-based rational thinking".  No mention is made of which evidence he was ignoring or which rules of rationality he was breaking.

    It turns out, his failure is one of imaginative compassion, not one of reasoning.  Yet, this movement, with itss obsessive-compulsive insistence that evidence, reason and "science" can solve all of our problems, stands paralyzed, unable to diagnose its leader's real failure.

  2. branemrys12:41 PM

    Yes, I think this is right: it shows pretty starkly the difference between an organic rationality and the sort of rationality that comes from having picked up a few critical thinking rules of thumb from various sources.


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