Yes, Richard Dawkins, I'm Emotional

Am I emotional? Why, yes. Yes, I am.

I’m annoyed. I had plans for today that had nothing to do with addressing Richard Dawkins’ self-serving justifications for his Twitter trolling. But no, he chose today to brand consequence-based ethical arguments about how he should shape his public messaging as “taboos”, as though they were based in religion or tea-table politesse. That means I get to take time to address that today. You can’t let that sort of thing sit around. It starts to stink up the place.

I’m angry. I watched several people explain to Dawkins yesterday that his words about rape don’t fall into a vacuum. I saw people point out that he shouldn’t talk about what kinds of rape are “worse”, even hypothetically, because studies on the subject don’t bear that out. I saw people point out that his words will reinforce common misconceptions. I saw people argue that he needed to speak with care. Then I saw him today ignore all the reasoned arguments those people took the time and energy to make.

I’m disgusted. How is it that a scientist is still entertaining this idea that people being emotional is a bad thing or that it is somehow universally detrimental to thinking when we have studies that show emotion is critical for good decision-making? How is it that people who purport to be good at thinking still promote arguments that rely on this outdated idea?

I’m bored. Really, any time now teachers can step up to provide classrooms in which their students are comfortable discussing emotional topics. Plenty do, but others, as in Dawkins’ example, really do just expect to be able drop threats to their students’ wellbeing into a room of people with whom they haven’t established even the basics of trust. Teachers, rise to your side of the challenge and create those classrooms, build a curriculum that doesn’t threaten your students, or expect them to treat you with distrust and stop complaining when they do.

I’m amused. Did Richard Dawkins really think that we wouldn’t notice that returning to his “mild pedophilia” comparisons was a set-up? Let me give you a hint, professor: When you’ve already apologized for doing something, you’re not in the best position to complain that people become upset that you do it again. Apologies contain an implicit promise that you won’t repeat the behavior. We all understand that people get upset when you break even an implicit promise.

I’m curious. Is there anyone who doesn’t notice that these brave taboo busters are extremely selective in the taboos they go after? They’re not asking us to rethink capitalism. They’re not asking us what it would mean if white people were genetically inferior. They’re not suggesting we consider whether men are fit for positions of power or whether religion provides some societal good after all. They certainly don’t ask us whether someone should be banned from Twitter for the good of the atheist movement. For all their self-proclaimed bravery, they only ever seem to want people who aren’t them to bear the risks of the conversation.

I’m proud. I’ve been voicing my opinions through more than two years of organized harassment that heats up every time I do so. I’ve put my credibility behind everything I’ve had to say, and I’ve stood up when it’s taken a hit because I did so. Now I come to discover that doing that scares some people so badly they just won’t speak. They’re reduced to comparing being told their words have consequences for others, or having labels applied to their willing acceptance of those consequences, to being tortured and killed by the church.

Yep. I have lots of emotions. I’m good with that, and I’ll stand by them.

Yes, Richard Dawkins, I'm Emotional

29 thoughts on “Yes, Richard Dawkins, I'm Emotional

  1. 3

    Is there anyone who doesn’t notice that these brave taboo busters are extremely selective in the taboos they go after?

    Maybe, but I’m not one of them. Thank you for pointing that out.

    There are people “afraid” because other people stand up to abuse and belittlement of the abuse they have survived? There are people “afraid” because they get called out when they use slurs or behave like ignorant, puffed up bigots?
    That’s the kind of thing homophobes and racists claim. They are the real victims of persecution because other people won’t stand for their hate and bigotry. They also claim to be brave for openly punching down. This is the same brand of bullshit.

  2. 4

    White men genetically inferior? Well, we do produce a lot of serial killers. The evopsychally responsible thing to do would be propose a just-so story about this and claim our genetics make us dangerous. Let’s get on that.

  3. 6

    I used to watch Thunderfoot’s video’s because I thought they were OK. I later learned he was a jerk and stopped paying attention to him, because my blood pressure doesn’t need the spikes. Dawkins is now, similarly, off my radar screen. So he’s now another overblown professor without enough sense to stick with what he’s good at. *Yawn* – next.

    Back in the day when people were promoting the “horsemen” I thought it was a bad idea because we might find out that they were a bunch of assholes. Aaaaaaaand, so now we do. Dennett manages to keep his mumblings in a philosophical armchair where they are (as yet) unharmful, but Hitchens supported the war in Iraq and was able to say, eloquently, everything but “I was wrong” – Sam Harris has made a fool of himself about objective morality and now Israel, and Dawkins… Pff. Irrelevant, the lot of them.

    No heroes, no betrayed expectations.

  4. 7

    Dawkins is becoming a living argument against Atheism+ because, in his case, apparently it means “Atheism plus wrong and clinging obtusely to it.”

    I’m starting to like the “dictionary atheist” idea. There’s the fact that you don’t believe in god, and then there’s your baggage-train of misogyny, tribalism, warmongering, or whatever – yes, please, keep them separate. I’m OK with Dawkins and Thunderfoot and Harris and Hitchens* being on the other side of that deep rift.

    (* I am absolutely certain that Hitchens, were he alive, would say something eloquent but absolutely stupid about Israel’s actions in Gaza, and I’m almost glad he’s not able to prove me right.)

  5. 8

    Humans are emotional. If your goal is really just to get across a certain point, then not taking those emotions into account is not only illogical, it’s plain stupid.

  6. 9

    I’m always confused when people attack Atheism+. I could be wrong, but I thought the whole point of A+ was working on social justice issues because of being an atheist. It’s an acknowledgement that Atheism isn’t enough, you need the other stuff as well.

  7. 10

    Thanks for putting this out there Stephanie, I am so sick of emotion being used as a bludgeon against marginalized people, as though having emotions makes us less able to construct reasoned and logical thoughts. It’s such bullshit, and utterly ignores the fact that emotions are part of our human make-up, we cannot be without them. We bring emotion to the table whenever we use logic and reason, that is not on its face a bad thing nor does it make our thoughts or perspectives less valid.

  8. 12

    @ seraphymcrash

    Yep, you’re right.

    Some unpleasant people are just much more interested in feeling superior to religious folks than actually doing any good in the world.

  9. 14


    A woman’s emotions show she is irrational and thinking with her uterus.
    A man’s emotions show that he is righteously indignant and brilliant.

  10. 15

    Assholes send rape and death threats to women just for suggesting that anti-harassment policies be put into place at conventions. Mentions of gender equality are met with howls of “feminazi” and nonsensical allusions to 1984s “anti-sex league.” Websites and blogs advocating social justice are targeted for DoS attacks, while YouTube slymepitters post videos filled with spittle and strawmen…

    And they have the temerity to accuse feminist critics of their bullshit as being “emotional?”

    I give up! I just fucking give up!

  11. 16

    I thought Dawkins rebuttal was rather emotion, maybe even shrill, with the talk about witch hunts and thought police. But I guess he really wasn’t exaggerating, he told me so very calmly, because of penis.

  12. 18

    The thing that really gets me about this is that when people do that kind of tone-trolling to Dawkins’ views, in the form of Why are you atheists so emotional about religion? – well then he can see the problem in that kind of argument right away.

    But he turns around and makes similar kinds of noises about the people he disagrees with… And doesn’t see a problem with that.

    Dawkins strikes me as a very, very short-sighted man.

  13. 19

    @Daniel Schealler: The same was said about his “Dear Muslima” nonsense. Fallacies for he, but not for thee.

    The atheism/emotion issue is a complicated one. There are some atheists who just don’t know thing one about rhetoric. To them, “logic” is a word that goes on a t-shirt, something they mostly understand from Star Trek. “Logical” means “good and smart and right,” and “illogical” means the opposite. “Logical fallacies” are lists of Latin phrases that can be invoked like Harry Potter spells to make an opponent’s argument disappear, and logic is wholly unemotional.

    I think a lot of atheists are as blind to emotion and pathos as they are to the “plus” that every movement atheist sticks onto their atheism (atheism plus science, atheism plus counterapologetics, atheism plus secularism, etc.). Emotions like righteous indignation and smug superiority are good, useful emotions, emotions that can be weaponized against religion. Everything else is fluffy useless nonsense that they’d never resort to. “People are convinced by evidence and reason alone,” they’ll say, as they close the tabs on the Jenny McCarthy Body Count and What’s the Harm, and open up a post on the harassment an atheist student received for opposing mandatory prayers in her school.

    It’s all nonsense, of course. Sad that nonsense appears to be Dawkins’ main output for the last several years.

  14. AMM

    What’s so ironic about using “emotional” as a put-down is that scientists are finding that emotion is indispensable to good judgement. Probably more so than reason. There are cases of people who, due to brain injury, don’t feel emotions, and thus approach everything “logically.” But they never notice when their “logic” is leading them to a dead end. (I got this from Temple Grandin’s Animals in Translation.)

    Emotions are what tell us when we’re in danger or getting screwed, even if we can’t see a “logical” explanation for it. If someone is putting you down for being “emotional,” they’re really putting you down for putting your own survival ahead of their mental comfort.

  15. 21

    There nothing wrong with emotions or being emotional. In fact the person complaining of emotionality has an obligation to demonstrate that the person being emotional is allowing those emotions to mess up their arguments. Frankly I think it’s an implicit acknowledgment that the person complaining of emotions is admitting that they can’t really handle them themselves.

    Why should someone else set aside a tool that they can use just because it bothers someone else? It couldn’t be because emotions are in fact effective in communication could it? Why that would mean that they really just want people they disagree with to stop being effective on levels that they are not comfortable with. Too bad for them.

  16. 22

    Excellent post, Zvan. I have one addition:

    I saw people point out that he shouldn’t talk about what kinds of rape are “worse”, even hypothetically, because studies on the subject don’t bear that out.

    That’s one thing I haven’t seen, actually. Allow me to take a shot at it (emphasis mine):

    In the first of three initial regression analyses (results not shown), only education was significantly related to less PTSD symptom severity of the demographic variables entered (age, race, marital and parental status, income, educational level and employment status, and whether one was currently in school). In a second regression analysis, the following assault predictors were in the equation: age at assault, physical injury, sexual victimization severity, victim–offender relationship, perceived life threat. Greater physical injury to victims was related to more PTSD symptom severity as was the victim’s perception of greater life threat at the time of the assault. Age at the time of assault, severity of sexual victimization suffered in the incident, and the victim–offender relationship were not significantly related to PTSD symptom severity.
    Ullman, Sarah E., and Henrietta H. Filipas. “Predictors of PTSD symptom severity and social reactions in sexual assault victims.” Journal of traumatic stress 14.2 (2001): 369-389.

    The effect of the victim-offender sexual assault relationship on women’s psychological symptomatology was examined in a randomized community survey. Fourteen and one-half percent of women (N = 240) experienced a sexual assault in adulthood. Assaults committed by strangers, acquaintances, and intimates were compared using both chi-square and two-way analyses of variance. Few differences were found in sexual assault experiences according to the victim-offender relationship. Offender use of violence showed a curvilinear relationship with degree of closeness of the victim-offender relationship, whereas victim resistance did not vary according to the victim-offender relationship. Analyses of psychological symptom measures showed that sexual distress was more common for women attacked by intimates, fear/anxiety was more common for women assaulted by strangers, and depression did not vary according to the victim-offender relationship.
    Ullman, Sarah E., and Judith M. Siegel. “Victim-offender relationship and sexual assault.” Violence and Victims 8.2 (1993): 121-134.

    Most published research on the victim–offender relationship has been based on small samples that consisted mainly of women who were raped by nonintimate and nonromantic acquaintances, who viewed their experience as rape, and/or who were seeking treatment. In the present study, 489 rape victims were located among a national sample of 3, 187 female college students by a self-report survey that avoided reliance on helpseekers. Two sets of comparisons were performed. First, the experiences reported by victims of stranger rape (n = 52) were compared with those of victims of acquaintance rape (n = 416). Then, the experiences of women assaulted by different types of acquaintances were compared including nonromantic acquaintances (n = 122), casual dates (n = 103), steady dates (n = 147), and spouses or other family members (n = 44). Rapes by acquaintances, compared with strangers, were more likely to involve a single offender and multiple episodes, were less likely to be seen as rape or to be revealed to anyone, and were similar in terms of the victim’s resistance. In general, acquaintance rapes were rated as less violent than stranger rapes. The exception was rapes by husbands or other family members which were rated equally violent to stranger rapes but were much less likely to occur in a context of drinking or other drug use. In spite of these different crime characteristics, virtually no differences were found among any of the groups in their levels of psychological symptoms. A significant feature of these data is that they have tapped the experiences of unreported and unacknowledged rape victims, a group that is potentially much larger than the group of identified victims.
    Koss, Mary P., et al. “Stranger and acquaintance rape: Are there differences in the victim’s experience?.” Psychology of women quarterly 12.1 (1988): 1-24.

    The primary driver of PTSD after assault is negative reactions from peers, with the perceived threat to life being secondary but strong, according to that first study. There’s probably a correlation between perceived threat and victim-perpetrator relationship, as suggested by the third study, which would explain why some studies found a correlation between relationship and PTSD severity (that first study cites Bownes et al, 1991 as an example).

  17. 23

    Dawkis is completely emotional about this.
    Just because he doesn’t use the word “fuck” doesn’t mean he’s not throwing a temper tantrum.
    Oh, no wait, it’s only us who are “emotional” (has the word “hysterical” already been dropped?). He’s rightfully indignated…

  18. 24

    All human beings are both emotional and logical. That is a simple fact. But the ratio between the two and the frequency and severity with which they are used can vary enormously. It is a bit of a stereotype to suggest that women are more emotional and men are more logical since both genders are equally capable of either. Some men may have been conditioned into thinking that emotion is a sign of weakness yet see nothing wrong in expressing anger which when used entirely inappropriately is the weakest emotion of all because of the loss of self control. As far as debate is concerned I do not think it is wrong to point out your opponents emotional reactions to your arguments as long as you do not use such a line of defence routinely. If it is just an attempt to engage in ad hom then it is wrong. It is also counter productive because the effect may very well be to make them even more emotional. One also has to take into account the fact that for some being emotional is simply part of their nature. Now I am more logical than emotional but it is not my place to tell others who are not why they should be more like me. Your emotions belong to you and no one else. Long as you accept full responsibility for them then no one has the moral right to tell you how you should use them. And finally it should be pointed out that emotions can be both positive as well as negative so being emotional in and of itself is not automatically something wrong because that is rather too simplistic a view

  19. 25

    being emotional is part of being human – and animal. Some people experience more variety in frequency/intensity – and others less. I’ve met some dogs (not mine) that are smarter than many people. I’ve met many smart people and emotional pets (cats, for instance). Emotions seem to be a natural output of our wiring – to whichever degree.

    Emotion feeds ambition, bonding, defense, attack, abandonment, loyalty.

    None of us humans are going to be an unbiased judge of how much emotion is too much….. because we can’t divorce ourselves of our own emotions. We can evaluate our emotions, we can measure whether we think we need to calm down – and that only happens in our own heads. It can’t apply to other people unless you have real insight into their situation (I am a human, if someone is angrily hurting other humans, I have the insight of how painful and destructive their behavior is based on simple empathy and imagination. I need to act towards stopping the angry outburst.)

    Having said all that, I can’t imagine what Mr. Dawkins will need to do next to convince people he’s a trustworthy human being.

  20. 26

    My wife and I were discussing this topic recently too. Yes, argument from emotion is a logical fallacy. But guess what, there’s a reason almost all political arguments are made based on emotion rather than raw logic (well, several reasons). First, and probably most importantly, they work. Second, most people aren’t really good at logic, and wouldn’t like the actual results of purely logical deduction if they had to abide by the results. Third, the assumptions behind any deductions are usually based on emotive guesses and impulses, so we really aren’t getting away from emotion.

    I think we’d be better off if people would simply acknowledge that simple fact, and move on. Recognize where your emotions and biases lie, integrate them conciously (this is where most people fall of the train, IMO) and then make your points.

  21. 27

    Thanks, Stephanie! You put rather elegantly what I’ve been frustrated about in the atheist community:

    Is there anyone who doesn’t notice that these brave taboo busters are extremely selective in the taboos they go after?

    Worse are the ones who treat online harassment like it’s something that can’t be changed…that take a “That’s just the way the world works” attitude toward it. (Actually, that goes for activists of any stripe.)

  22. 28

    Not sure Señor Ranum’s phrasing in the first line was exactly as intended. ?

    I was probably being too cute; sorry about that. I was trying to pretend to be doing a “dictionary atheism plus” and pretending to be hyper-literal. As in, literally “atheism plus .. what?” etc.

  23. 29

    I should also give a nod to Ashley Miller, for beating me to the punch with another study.

    According to several critics, many experiences that are being called acquaintance rape by feminist researchers are not actually rape, and these exaggerated figures are being used to support a feminist political agenda. These concerns are based partly on the findings that many women identified as victims do not define themselves as such and continue to have sexual relations with their alleged assailants.

    In this study, the authors examined what kinds of data might be relevant to assessing whether acquaintance rape is a real problem. Two studies were conducted using different measures and populations to examine this issue. The Ss in the 1st study were 70 self-identified female rape victims seen by the staff of a hospital-based rape crisis program; Ss in the 2nd study were 58 female college students identified as rape victims via their Sexual Experiences Survey responses. Both studies compared victims of acquaintance and stranger rape in terms of postrape symptoms and self-blame.

    Results of both studies suggest that victims of acquaintance rape are as traumatized as victims of stranger rape. Specifically, they report equal (and high) levels of depression, anxiety, hostility, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, suggesting that acquaintance rape is a real and serious problem and not merely the fabrication of feminist researchers.
    Frazier, Patricia A., and Lisa M. Seales. “Acquaintance rape is real rape.” (1997).

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