There’s been a bit of hooha over the past day or two about some comments that Richard Dawkins made on twitter. Essentially these comments provoked a lot of extreme reactions from people because they centred around the issues of sexual assault and rape. And I’m torn because in all honesty I agree with Dawkins’ basic argument it’s just such a shame that he can’t get out of his own way and present things in a manner that doesn’t piss so many people off.
I used to be a big fan of Richard Dawkins when I was a teenager and was in my angry atheist years. Now that I’m a little older I guess I’m slightly less sure. Not about the atheist part, I’m still pretty convinced of that, but of the best way to present those arguments to the world. Something that seems pretty obvious is that offending people and calling them stupid doesn’t work.
Anyways, back to what he said the other day. You can find the info here and Dawkins’ defence of it here (it’s pretty long so I’m kindly summing it up for you below in case you can’t be bothered to read it).
Dawkins makes the point, if in a somewhat unnecessarily harsh and blunt manner, that there are some types of sexual crimes that are worse than others.Which in an abstract sense seems to me to be a statement of fact.
What we’re asking judges to do when they make rulings on sexual assault and paedophilia cases is to quantify the severity of these offences. The point of the legal system is to make rational and logical decisions about the appropriate punishment for a crime. An issue which is so fraught with emotional responses such as this means that it’s extremely vulnerable to being influenced by these responses.
If you ask a mother, father, sibling or the victim of sexual assault themselves what the punishment for the perpetrator of the crime should be, of course they would wish all sorts of pain and suffering on them. Most people would, which is why we aren’t the ones making the decisions.
Those people that make the decisions need to feel free to make these choices in as fair a way as they see possible. Often they’re unimaginable choices but they have to be made by somebody. We all want to live in a world where this isn’t an issue but for now locking up anyone who has committed a sexual offence for the rest of their lives isn’t a viable solution. Everyone makes mistakes.
I hope I’m not coming across as dismissive of those people who have gone through an experience of sexual abuse, I’m so sorry if that’s you and I have so much sympathy with you. All I want to say is that if we’re going to have a scale for the severity of crimes which has to exist in order to help us to decide on their punishment then that needs to exist for sexual crimes as much as it does for killing or stealing or harming another person.
When we hear about rape we immediately have an emotional response which is often more extreme than for other crimes because the resulting damage can be so awful, to allow that to cloud judgement of a situation, however, is wrong. I believe that was what Dawkins was trying to say, I just wish he’d said it without insulting so many people. When he makes the point that this issue is one which provokes a lot of extreme emotions, then it seems he should have considered that when he made those statements, there was definitely a better way to make the point he was trying to make.
I doubt he’ll change, he’s a man in his seventies who believes in logic above anything else and has made a career out of being divisive, but it’s a shame because he does sometimes makes a good point. Hopefully this time he’s at least learned that 140 characters is nowhere enough to talk about rape.
That’s all for now