So, Richard Dawkins has courted controversy on twitter, this tweet
Should I have used the sensitive subject of rape to illustrate a logical point? My answer is here http://t.co/tSPlTEbXwB
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) July 30, 2014
links to a blog of his about the controversy, and this post is an attempt by me to respond.
First off, Richard Dawkins, in his blog discusses the idea that all topics, no matter how sensitive, or controversial, should be open to rational, dispassionate, debate. Now on this point I agree, rational debate is important, and on particularly emotional subjects the only way to have meaningful debate is to do so dispassionately. However, that said, the thing about sensitive topics is that they are, well, sensitive and that means they need to be handled sensitively. That is where me and Richard Dawkins appear to differ. The tweets that started this controversy are discussed in the blog linked above (you really should read what he's done in his own words to understand the point I am trying to make) but they were about one evil being worse than a different, but related, evil. That is not the issue, the problem is that Richard Dawkins is a prominent man, who attracts a lot of media attention, went onto a very open, and public forum and raised the subject of rape, in an insensitive manner without (or possibly worse, with) considering the impact it would have on those who have suffered, and been traumatised by, rape. Now if I were to go into a busy town centre and yell "Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think
that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think." (a direct quote from the blog) what do you think would be my fate? I would probably be arrested for causing a breach of the peace, and possibly confronted violently by people upset by my choice of topic, and choice of method of airing that topic (hopefully I would be arrested before suffering serious harm). And this is the point I want to make. Open, rational, dispassionate, debate of sensitive topics needs to be done in a way that allows those who would be traumatised by the subject to refrain from taking part. Yelling about it in a crowded space is just wrong, getting upset with people made angry by your forcing them to face an emotionally loaded, potentially traumatic, subject is just silly, and Richard Dawkins, in posting that on twitter has essentially done the internet equivalent of walking into a crowded space and yelled at the top of his lungs about a massively emotional subject. Being a renowned evolutionary biologist, and self appointed spokesman for atheism, does not entitle you to be a massive dick!