Yesterday there was a dust-up between two figures I have a great deal of respect for- Amanda Marcotte and Richard Dawkins. It was prompted by Dawkins tweeting examples of “Just because X is worse than Y, Y is still bad.” One example he used was that date rape may not be as bad as rape by a stranger. He was quickly (and rightly) taken to task for this by number of people, from crude anonymous Twitter trolls to other members of the secular/atheist community. Marcotte was definitely one of the more eloquent critics and her response does a good job capturing how I feel about Dawkins’ comments, so take a moment to read it.
Done? OK, good, because I’m not here to debate different kinds of rape (because rape is rape is rape is rape…) but to talk about how I think we view people as heroes and what we admire about people. Because there’s quite a bit that I admire about Richard Dawkins. His public campaign for secularism has helped advance the movement tremendously. I’m in the midst of reading his book The God Delusion and he does a great job building the case for atheism and secular values. I likewise enjoy reading Amanda Marcotte’s work for Slate and other publications. She often brings to my attention and helps me understand issues from a feminist perspective (something I strive to do and could probably do a better job of). Not only do I think she’s right a lot more often than she’s wrong (as I do with Dawkins), but her style of writing is appealing to me with it’s sarcastic wit.
I was really disappointed yesterday when I saw those tweets from Dawkins. I let him know about my disappointment via Twitter. I’m still going to finish his book, and he’s someone who I’m sure can and will do great things to advance secularism and combat the most pernicious elements of fundamental theism. But it makes me appreciate that my heroes, those worthy of my admiration and respect, also include people like Amanda Marcotte who can hold Dawkins accountable.
Dawkins has posted a response to his critics and I understand the point he is making. I still think it’s fair to say that he was wrong- not for engaging the topic- but for choosing Twitter as his medium for doing so. 140 characters does not allow for the kind of rational and logical discussion he claims to want to have. I think this is obvious that he takes just over 16,000 characters (with spaces) to defend himself.
If what he wants is a cogent discussion, the responsibility is with him to have it in a forum that lends itself to cogent discussion.