I bid on some repair work on a house recently purchased by a psychotherapist. The work wasn’t much but some of it wasn’t right for me or needed to be done in warmer weather, though conceivably it could be done in the cold. But to me it could wait. For him he seemed anxious to have it done. I’ll have to figure out how to parse this in the bid for him.
We were talking about his bad knee, the dangers of ladders, and so forth when he noted he doesn’t like to call it a bad knee but a surgically corrected knee. This helps him keep a positive attitude about it and helps heal it. This led to more discussion where he praised homeopathy. I responded that I certainly believed in the placebo effect but homeopathy not so much as more than that. This clearly concerned him and he went on about how he had had this horrible disease that was only cured by homeopathy. Further that James Randi had backed out of a homeopathy test, presumably because he thought it would pass and he’d have to pay the million.
I noted that the placebo effect works on depression and pain more than say cancer and then even with cancer some types are more amenable to it. That it was a complicated subject. Further that many homeopaths spend considerable time with their patients rather than the typical 11-minute doctor visit; that medicine had shot itself in the foot with its inability to inform and develop relationships.
Driving home I felt I could have handled it a bit better. Rather than arguing even as lightly as I had I could have just flown over it by saying that I was glad he was better but I had questions about homeopathy and how it really worked. When is arguing appropriate or necessary? How do we do it to be effective? What words nudge people in the right direction without alienating? It’s a difficult process that even the best do poorly. Tim Minchin has talked about this and certainly comedy or self effacing indulgence has a way of sliding in change,
Richard Dawkins doubled down on his controversial remarks in a recent article.
“I don’t take back anything that I’ve said,” Dawkins said from a shady spot in the leafy backyard of one of his Bay Area supporters. “I would not say it again, however, because I am now accustomed to being misunderstood and so I will … ”
He trailed off momentarily, gazing at his hands resting on a patio table.
“I feel muzzled, and a lot of other people do as well,” he said. “There is a climate of bullying, a climate of intransigent thought police which is highly influential in the sense that it suppresses people like me.”
Ok, let’s back up a bit. Especially since I am one of the so-called thought police (an idiotic phrase since there is no authoritarian power or mandate) that has made many comments trying to get this famous thought leader (an odious phrase at best) to broaden his perspective or at least to learn how to phrase his opinions more accurately and kindly. I have also previously contextualized Dawkins to his background to show he is at least consistent and we should not be surprised, but nevertheless annoyed if not angry. Most of the issues Dawkins abrades people with is based on priorities and the comparative ills of different sorts of issues from abuse to women to choices in birthing.
Many atheists are aware that Dawkins dismissed another atheist’s remarks (Rebecca Watson) who stated that there is still sexism, too much, in our culture and particularly in atheism. Certainly not surprising considering the history of American atheism in spite of women like EC Stanton, MM O’hare, and many more, often unspoken. It doesn’t take a math pro to see that for decades atheist groups and boards were dominated by men, usually older white men, and still are.
What Dawkins was trying to do was dismiss Watson’s voice of concern by saying there are far worse crimes against women in other parts of the world to which we should all be focusing our attention as completely as possible. It’s a classic big tent concentration tactic where the hope is if everyone fights fewer issues there will be more success. Pick the biggest and worst problem(s) and focus on it.
This tactic rarely works unless there is an obvious biggest priority such as aliens have attacked the Earth and we all must fight them or die. Even then there will be disagreement on how best to do that. It also leads to the kind of intransigent bipolar politics everyone claims to hate.
In our diversity people choose a way based on their history, interests, and and what they think is important to them. This is also based on the style of social interaction and politics. If a platform is a single-issue platform then leaders will tend to focus on that platform only. Much like people will vote on a candidate on a single issue like abortion, or gun rights, or even color of skin or gender. Makes decisions more easy. Others though see nuances or many divisions in a platform and interconnectedness within issues. A person committed to women’s rights may see immigration, gun control, equal representation, and abortion rights as all being part of the same pathology of a culture where you can’t comment on one without commenting on the rest.
I believe it was Voltaire who said we must tend our on gardens first. It is not an idiotic, unusual, or unpopular position that feminists take when they say we need to pay attention to what’s happening here and that it is intricately connected to what’s happening there.
As another example, Dawkins also made a leaked personal comment recommending that a woman whose child tested for Down’s Syndrome simply abort and try again as many do and as is often recommended, medical status quo. Of course those who have chosen not to abort told him roughly to go to hell. Dawkins unfamiliar with being criticized by his own kind, fellow atheists, reacted as you would expect with facts and data showing how much more difficult one is and why doctors might recommend the one over the other. All clear as glass to him. As if the others hadn’t worked through the reasoning already and chosen another way.
We have seen similar in another example where EO Wilson has called Dawkins a journalist now and Dawkins has responded with a recent book (published 20 some years ago) as contrary argument. Ants do look a lot like group selection and many have said that the Selfish Gene is out dated–just how many degrees of separation are required. Now we have two scientists bashing each other as well as is too often the case. That a scientist is called a journalist as ultimate hate speech has any reasonable person laughing in the aisle and leaving for a whiskey or whisky.
Oh, fuck all this meta shit. The fact is Dawkins is a conservative that doesn’t get how to be an activist. Nor does he get that people can have differences in choices that are equally worthy of respect. It is quite possible for one woman to say I don’t want to have a child that has tested for Down’s Syndrome as it is for another to say I do. To dismiss either position as a farce is to deny the very real freedom to choose for good reason. To make facile utilitarian comparisons that it is so much more effort to do one than the other is quite irrelevant. It’s what the individual chooses to do that counts. What’s important is the right to make that choice. If a society were to make it illegal to have a child with Down’s Syndrome then we actually have a real political issue, such as a similar but converse issue where women aren’t allowed to abort. Otherwise it gets rather personal. It’s why we almost all react negatively to Singer’s and Harris’s utilitarianism, a philosophy Fred Hagen used to castigate as belonging to that blockhead Mill. It’s too much like the mathematics of war where death is just a number and strategists lose all humanity in calculating tactics. Nor the ability to look broadly enough to see how comprehensiveness has more value than myopia.
That scientists go this way is often due to making logic god, bad logic that is. That human consciousness should come together in a supercomputer that could make such a choice perfect for all is a nightmare of oppression. I am sure the people will destroy such a computer once it exists. The bludgeon of logical perfection is too often used to perpetuate what is at best a guess. Even the famous at Risk Analysis throttle narrow logical assessments as Nassim Taleb does when he makes clear that the dangers of GMO use have nothing to do with data and evidence but must incorporate pure math, not evidence, and then shows how the logic of feeding all with one product is a recipe for disaster. It points both ways, evidence doesn’t count nor more compartmentalized logic.
Dawkins is like the classic Anglo, Roman, or Hoplite soldier convinced that battle occurs in one style best, only. And as the British, Romans, and Greeks were defeated by guerrilla tactics, thinking that one way is best for all is doomed logically to failure because risk analysis doesn’t work that way. Nor does science if you follow the math.
Sadly, the lack of desire for the virtue of care negates the ability to consider a contrary view as viable. It’s why logicians are taught to argue both sides and scientists to consider what it means if the available data is all wrong.
Finally, if Dawkins is seeking allies it would be productive to find more common ground and more inclusive ground than to continue bickering over who’s the most right. If he’s not seeking allies then stop complaining.
For those who dismiss Dawkins and burn his books I would say that perhaps they would benefit from paying attention to what he says is true to them and ignoring what is not. It is a sad world where every person is on one side of a dividing line or not. But that’s just my take. For me if I had to choose a philosopher who is most correct I would be at a complete loss.
Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com