“Our brains have evolved to help our bodies find their way around the world on the scale at which those bodies operate.”
—Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion
To Richard Dawkins, DSc, FRS, FRSL:
Following up on your recent Twitter Conference on rape rankings, I wonder whether you might be willing to answer the following questions. Your reasoning ability is much needed. One of your conclusions follows:
Following up on this, and taking advantage of the copious space afforded off-Tweet, a few questions follow. I would like to get at some of the subtleties of your point of view—ones you could not have expressed in a mere 140 characters.
1. Which is bad and which is worse: to agree to go on a rape date without being informed that it is to be that sort of date, or to be held at knifepoint and raped by a stranger without being informed ahead of time?
1a. Which rape date is worse: one with someone you have met in a bar and never have to see again? Or one with an acquaintance you will see in evo-bio class on Tuesday? Or one you were introduced to by your best friend?
1b. Which is bad and which is worse: to be threatened by a dull carving knife, or a sharp serrated knife? Or to submit to the rape in order not to be cut? Or to be cut and raped both? And if so, by which knife?
1c. Which is bad and which is worse: to dress up, go on a rape date and have a nice dinner first, including fine wine? Or to dress casually, go on a rape date and get raped before dinner and drinks? Or, to go on a rape date and later be interrogated about what you drank? And wore?
1d. Which is bad and which is worse: to be raped by a classmate and receive little or no assistance from campus authorities? Or to be raped by a stranger and receive little or no support from the legal system?
1e. Which is bad and which is worse: to be raped by several young men in your school, and for them to put pictures and/or videos on the Internet, and, as a result, to take your own life at the age of 15? Or to be raped and take one’s own life right away?
1d. Which is bad and which is worse: to be raped by your partner? Or by your mother’s partner? And does a pregnancy resulting from either experience change the ranking?
1e. Which is bad and which is worse: to be sexually assaulted (without penetration) by one’s father at 6, or to be raped (with penetration) by one’s uncle at 3? (Those are ages, not times of day.)
1f. Which is bad and which is worse: to be sexually abused by a distant family member and to keep quiet about it for decades? Or to be ostracized by the family when you at last choose to speak out?
1g. Which is bad and which is worse: to witness a man without understanding or compassion opine on grades of rape in 140 characters? Or for him to publish more than one 140-character statement? Or more? Or for these micro-statements to get so much news coverage that you cannot but see him everywhere?
1h. Which is bad and which is worse: that inhumane acts such as sexualized violence continue to be tolerated, or that a prominent male intellectual, whose speciality lies elsewhere, chooses to focus on degrees of suffering rather than degrees of misdoing? Or, just to leave the discussion to those who are equipped to undertake it? (To “go away,” one might say.) And, if he is taken seriously on the topic of rape, does that mean we should believe what Jenny McCarthy has to say about the link between vaccination and autism? And should we all be making appointments with homeopaths?
1g. Which is bad and which is worse: to opine on the significance and degree of others’ suffering without listening to what they have to say themselves? Or to deny others’ suffering altogether? Or to consider oneself irreproachable by virtue of one’s (ostensibly) superior intellect?
1h. You say that you can reverse the “X and Y”—that is the rape date and the aggravated assault—and retain the same logic. Might one contend then, that “acupuncture is bad, and that homeopathy is worse?” And that neither is commendable? And then reverse the X and the Y? Could one say that sudden death is bad but slow, agonizing death is worse, and then reverse that? Or that death by 1000 cuts is bad, but by 1001 is worse, or maybe the opposite? Could one say that one offensive tweet is bad and two are worse and reverse that too? That confronting inhumanity before death is bad and that finding it the afterlife too—hypothetically speaking, of course—would be worse? Or would the afterlife, even in the presence of others who scorn compassion and mutual understanding, have other advantages that make the big picture worth it?
Semantics, Virtuality, God, and Delusion
Richard, please tell us what, in this era of virtuality, “go away” means. If there is an “away,” must there be a “here”? Are we to assume that “here” is where you are? If so, most of us, statistically speaking, are likely “away” already. And to confuse matters, I have a hard time thinking of the sofa on which I sit as anything but “here,” though if I expend some effort, I can understand that to you it may be considered “away.” Where, then, am I to “go”?
Richard, do I understand correctly that your experience of sexual abuse was rendered innocuous because you did not believe in evil (and, presumably, God)? You mention that your schoolmates suffered (more) at the hands of the same offender while your “mental trauma was soon exorcised.” Does that mean that God, not the human being who did the “fondling,” sexually abused these children? And if God does not exist, who sexually abused these children? Who is responsible for their suffering? (Extra credit: can you explain your choice of the word “exorcised”?)
Describing your resilience, you write, “Thank goodness, I have never personally experienced what it is like to believe – really and truly and deeply believe – in hell. But I think it can be plausibly argued that such a deeply held belief might cause a child more long-lasting mental trauma than the temporary embarrassment of mild physical abuse.”
So, Richard, why are you speaking out about degrees of sexualized assault? And why are you comparing the effects of different sorts of rape if you yourself were so unaffected by your childhood experience? If your trauma was “exorcised,” why do you think rape is “bad” and can be even “worse”? Can’t those who have experienced rape access your form of “exorcism” too? Isn’t the real offender, not the sexual predator, but God? And since there is no God to hold accountable, does that mean that rape does not exist?
And how is it that your brain is helping your body find its way around the world? Does it help you find your way around Twitter? Maybe your brain could help me figure out where I should go to learn to think. I would like to think better. Although, like you, I hold a doctoral degree and a professorship,—albeit without such a public profile—I am not sure that my Ph.D. in Music Theory and Composition qualifies me to compare different degrees of rape. But you appear to know better than I do about applying one’s training in unexpected areas.
Richard, please critique the following statement: “As an eminent evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins has become known as a public intellectual. As an eminent evolutionary biologist and public intellectual, Richard Dawkins compares varieties of sexual assault in order to rank them. As an eminent evolutionary biologist and public intellectual who compares varieties of sexual assault in order to rank them, Richard Dawkins unwittingly exposes the limitations of logic.”
I like to think that your brain can help my brain help my body find its way around. I will appreciate any assistance you can offer.
Oh—one more question: Can you define “syllogism” for me? Is it something like “solipsism”?