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Dawkins talks Sociology… and Fails Miserably

Richard Dawkins, the celebrated biologist and oft-described member of the “four horsemen” of atheism has opened his mouth before thinking again. He recently put the following on Twitter:

All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.

While I understand the comparison he’s trying to make, he did it very poorly. When a prominent and very outspoken atheist goes onto a service with such a wide audience and says something like that, it invites backlash, and he got it in spades. In fact, Dawkins went so far as to respond to some of the criticisms he received in his very typical dismissive way.

Apparently, and I can only speculate as I rarely 1 use Twitter, the responses were mostly a variation on a theme of race and racism. Now, calling what Dawkins said racist is like calling the Pope’s remarks on homosexuality sexist. It’s not quite the same thing and you sound silly when you do it. So I won’t deny Dawkins a measure of retaliation for such ignorance.

However, in the middle of his written rant to the masses of his detractors, he went and did this:

Race is not a biological concept at all but a socially constructed one. In the sociological sense you can convert to a race because race is a social construction.

There may be sociologists who choose to redefine words to their own purpose, in which case we have a simple semantic disagreement. I have a right to choose to interpret “race” (and hence “racism”) according to the dictionary definition: “A limited group of people descended from a common ancestor”. Sociologists are entitled to redefine words in technical senses that they find useful, but they are not entitled to impose their new definitions on those of us who prefer common or dictionary usage. You can define naked mole rats as termites if you wish (they have similar social systems) but don’t blame the rest of us if we prefer to call them mammals because they are close genetic cousins to non-social mole rats and other rodents.

(emphasis his)

There is such a massive fallacy in that bolded sentence which he completely missed that I’m going to address it before I get on to roasting Dawkins over a slow fire.

One cannot “convert” to a race. That’s all. Michael Jackson, for all his riches, fame, notoriety, and skin conditions, was still a black man. He could not just wake up one day and say, “I’ve converted to white-ism! Don’t call me black anymore, I’m white.” Just like I can’t wake up one morning and text all my friends “Hey guys, I’ve decided to convert to black. I know it’s not going to be easy for you to accept, I’ve been white all my life, but I really feel that’s where I belong.” I would get laughed at and called an idiot. Just like I laughed at and called Dawkins an idiot for his ramblings on sociology.

Had Dawkins left it at what I just wrote, then I would have been happy, but no, he continued with his own snark at the expense of a discipline which he has not the first clue about.

Dawkins, like others I’ve encountered who try to use the dictionary like the Bible, stop with the first passage and forget that there are typically multiple accepted definitions for any given word. For example, Dawkins wrote “I have a right to choose to interpret “race” (and hence “racism”) according to the dictionary definition: ‘“A limited group of people descended from a common ancestor”’.” While that is the first sentence of the second definition of the term “race,” it is not the only definition and it is certainly not the main one.

In fact, as is usually the case with such ambiguous things, I have to ask Dawkins, which dictionary are you using sir? For example, Merriam-Webster’s entry (omitting the first two about competitions and running) goes like this:

3race noun
Definition of RACE

  1. : a breeding stock of animals
    1. : a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock
    2. : a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristics
    1. : an actually or potentially interbreeding group within a species; also : a taxonomic category (as a subspecies) representing such a group
    2. : breed
    3. : a category of humankind that shares certain distinctive physical traits
  2. obsolete : inherited temperament or disposition
  3. : distinctive flavor, taste, or strength

Now, according to Dictonary.com (which aggregates multiple sources across the world), one of the multiple entries goes like this:

Dictionary.com Unabridged

race
2 [reys] Show IPA
noun

    1. a group of persons related by common descent or heredity.
    2. a population so related.
    3. Anthropology
      1. any of the traditional divisions of humankind, the commonest being the caucasian, Mongoloid, and Negro, characterized by supposedly distinctive and universal physical characteristics: no longer in technical use.
      2. an arbitrary classification of modern humans, sometimes, especially formerly, based on any or a combination of various physical characteristics, as skin color, facial form, or eye shape, and now frequently based on such genetic markers as blood groups.
      3. a human population partially isolated reproductively from other populations, whose members share a greater degree of physical and genetic similarity with one another than with other humans.
    4. a group of tribes or peoples forming an ethnic stock: the Slavic race.
    5. any people united by common history, language, cultural traits, etc.: the Dutch race.
    6. the human race or family; humankind: Nuclear weapons pose a threat to the race.
    7. Zoology . a variety; subspecies.

etc.,

Nowhere, except for a standard google search for the definition of race, do I find the text “A limited group of people descended from a common ancestor.” I have to wonder whether Dawkins made up his “dictionary definition” of race. Obviously the definition of something he sees as common changes depending on the source.

Race is not as simple a concept as you try to make it out to be. In the biological sense, race is definitely a simple concept, but the race you are trying to talk about is not race in the biological sense, but in the sociological. To say there is only one definition of race and thus, racism, is to ignore the social reality race presents across the globe for those disenfranchised by the phenomenon.

Take, for example, the profiling of muslims by the U.S. and other governments in the aftermath of 9/11 and other bombings. These profiles are based on physical and cultural characteristics such as facial hair, skin color, clothes, company kept, and similar aspects of a person’s life. Merriam-Webster’s 2:b definition of race fits all of these aspects. Thus, according to the dictionary definition, this would be called racial profiling.

I’m not saying we can or should separate the biological aspects of race from the concept, but we also cannot separate the cultural aspects of race from the concept either.

The final thing I’ll say on this matter is that by Dawkins logic of a “common or dictionary definition” then the common or majority must overrule an expert’s opinion. This means that Dawkins has, in one sentence, undermined everything he has fought for in the realm of science vs. creationism. Good job sir.

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Notes:

  1. I have an account, but I only use it anymore to promote this blog

Podcast? PODCAST!

Holy balls you guize! I’m on a podcast!

Steven Olsen of Carl Sagan’s Dance Party, co-author of “Unbelievable History“, and all-around small ball of awesomeness, got together with the Skepchick Events Team and started a podcast centered around organizing topics in the skeptic/freethought/atheist community some time ago. “Some Assembly Required: Organizing Freethinkers” was born. He invited me to join in and it was awesome.

This time around, we were talking about “Ask an Atheist” events. I’ve been involved with a few events like these and I even blogged about my first time. You can watch it at the link below

Go check out Carl Sagan’s Dance Party and Some Assembly Required: Organizing Freethinkers on Facebook.

Who are atheists?

When last we left our hero, he was blissfully unaware of how much work was really 1 expected of him…

In the course of meandering my way through this first week, I’ve hit on a couple of possible topics for my sociological discourse on the atheism movement in the United States.

First is the so-called “New” atheists. First of all, what does that even mean? Are we second wave, third wave, fifteenth wave, none of the above, or something altogether different? I know bloggers all around the internet have given treatises ad nausea on what, who, how, why, and whether it exists or is complete bollocks, but I’ve yet to see any comprehensive research on the topic. Second is what makes atheists a group beyond their shared disbelief. Two example research questions would be “What are the sociopolitical ideologies among atheists in the United States” and “What sociopolitical struggles/lives do those who openly identify as atheists have/lead?” We’ve talked quite a bit on how we’ve been afraid to come out for fear of reprisal in work, family, and public lives. While we have plenty of anecdotal evidence from speakers (whose experiences I don’t mean to diminish), we have precious little hard data to go on. As mentioned in my previous post what we don’t know about who we are as a group is frightening.

I wonder if I could get funding to do this?

Notes:

  1. as the second years giggle maniacally in the background

On a Sociology of Atheism

So here’s something a bit daring. I start my first quarter of grad school next week and I’m going to be BUSY 1. We had orientation yesterday which I swear is ironically-named. I felt totally disoriented and wanted to throw up afterward, but it did spark a few ideas.
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Notes:

  1. capital-fuck-my-social-life BUSY

The Myth of the Ice Cream Social

The other day , I wrote a post on the insanity those who disagree with Atheism+ have posted. And then I get to read this:

One can be an atheist and like chocolate chip ice cream. This does not mean that it is a good idea to form a club that excludes, and sees as enemies, anyone who does not like chocolate chip ice cream, or who actually prefer some other flavors.

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On Atheism+ and Lolwut?

Atheism+ has received quite a bit of flack for attempting to be something atheism isn’t, or for dividing the movement, or for just being a ridiculous stance. I don’t quite understand the vitriol thrown toward the people who want to be involved with this. Take this guy:

It’s one of the least inflammatory comments out there and still manages to completely make everything up. Did I miss a meeting where the Atheism+ people sat down and said “you’re either with us or against us”? Oh yeah, a few of us got together for a Google+ hangout, and while the discussion was fun, nothing solid about what Atheism+ is was hammered out. So I have to wonder where this douchenozzle got the idea that we’re wanting to turn the tables? A feat of that magnitude would require us to be able to force you to stop blogging, or make you feel unsafe at conventions, or make you fear for your safety and the safety of your family. We’re obviously not doing that. Also, here’s the fun part: if anyone is actively doing such a thing and claiming they represent the Atheist+ cadre, all you need do is let us know and we’ll send the signal to make their secret decoder ring explode.

Seriously though, what part of this actually makes you so angry? The response has been just utterly bizarre. For example, in this wonderful rant:

Let me clue you in – it means “hatred of women”. Do you understand this phrase? HATRED of women. Not bullying, not chiding, not sexist and/or inappropriate remarks. It is the hatred of women. Do any of the three of you understand what that is? I can tell you from my standpoint that the hatred of women will culminate in rape. Not always but it does. That is *nothing* in comparison with some random guy asking you back to his place for coffee. That had the opportunity of saying no and moving on. But clearly one of you thinks this is just over the top and had to make a fucking public spectical of the entire situation. And that’s where I have a problem. Saying no and meaning no while moving on does not mean deride and publicly (even if you don’t give out the person’s name) vilify the originating asker. That’s just plain bullying. Yes, bullying. You’re no better than a school yard thug.

When did Rebecca Watson or anyone intimately familiar with that whole episode (which, for the life of me, I can’t understand WHY people are still talking about this) ever say that the guy was a misogynist? Didn’t happen. This diatribe is so out-of-your-mind what the fuck that I’m sure she will probably say I’m dismissing her opinion and gaslighting her. I don’t think she’s crazy, I think she’s either misinformed, willfully ignorant, or something else I can’t quite put my finger on. Calling us thugs though, that will surely get your point across. You are acting in the exact way that made us want to form something else in the first place.

And you know what, that’s fine. We don’t like that kind of behavior, so we’re taking our toys and going over here. Guess what? YOU DON’T HAVE TO HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH US. We’re not forcing you to join. We’re not mandating that no one else can use the Atheism label unless they’re working toward social justice too. The people like Doctor Faustus can have their He-Man Woman-Hater’s Club of Atheists© and party with their token women all they want, and while we don’t like that, we’re not going to say you CAN’T. All we can say is that you won’t be with us. You obviously don’t want to anyway, so why all the blustering? Why all the hate?

We’re still trying to sort out what Atheism+ will do. Social justice is obviously right on top. Morality and ethics is up there too. Just like many of the posts talked about, we’re proclaiming that we are not only atheists, but we’re plus other things.

Implying that Atheism can’t be about something other than a lack of belief in gods is like saying that Christianity doesn’t impact all aspects of a believer’s life. Where is the logical consistency there?

The-Bystander-Effect

Oh Hell No

I’ve been gone for a while for several reasons. First and most importantly because I was running through a bout of depression, and after medication and a bit of therapy I’m feeling so much better now. Second, I felt there were far more talented people out there doing what I was and doing it better. Until today.

The news of Jen McCreight (aka Blag Hag) quitting her blog hit me a bit harder than I expected. As you may know, she has been one of the strongest voices in the Atheist movement in the United States. She recently went so far as to promote another wave of atheism, Atheism+. As a social researcher, I’m all sorts of on board with that. However, for the same reasons she started Atheism+ (rampant misogyny, anti-feminism, anti-woman, anti-diversity, threats of death, rape, and torture directed toward herself and anyone who agreed with her, to name a few), she has decided to allow these thugs to silence her. I’m not going to, nor am I asking that anyone, condemn her for this decision. In the end, we’re only human and there is only so much we can take. I wish her well and hope we get to hear her voice in one form or another sooner rather than later.

This post and my return was conceived when I read one of the comments on Jen’s post about her leaving:

Jadehawk says:
September 4, 2012 at 9:26 PM
take care of yourself.

also: fuck. I’ll miss your writing.
also also: lest this be seen as a win for the haters, I think I’m going to redouble my own personal efforts in promoting atheism, feminism, etc. on the net. you know, hydra, heads, all that.

This. This is another thing that Atheism+ needs to be about. These people, who cause so much pain and spew so much bile, cannot win. To steal a quote from the MARVEL comics group HYDRA 1 “cut off a limb and two more shall take its place,” I think we should aim to do this.

I may not be the most talented voice, and I may not do the best of jobs, but as Edmund Burke coined “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” I consider myself a good and decent person who sometimes goes about doing things in an indecent way 2. There are many more out there like me who think they don’t need to lend their voices to the cause. We need to let these bullies know that no matter how much they bluster or how much they blow, if they manage to win a single battle, they will not win the war. As JT said in response to Jen’s decision; [the people who caused this] are an embarrassment to this movement and to humanity. Now lets go kick ‘em out.

In 2011, I conducted some research on the Bystander Effect. Essentially, the bystander effect states that as the number of people viewing a situation increases, the likelihood that any one or more people in that group will lend aid significantly decreases 3 4. Do a youtube search for the bystander effect and watch the videos, you may come back with a lowered expectation for humanity. The original study has been replicated hundreds of times and the research hasn’t really budged since. However, I took the study from the lab to the outside (where quite a few studies fall right on their face) and was able to replicate the initial findings. I tell you this because I know about this effect. I studied this effect. I manipulated people into falling for this effect. Yet I was still unable to overcome the effect to do anything for the ongoing “many women don’t feel safe or welcome in the atheist movement” debacle.

I’m going to redouble my efforts. I will not stand idly by. I hope you don’t either.

I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom from Tracy Morgan:

Notes:

  1. Yes, I realize HYDRA is an evil group, but even bad guys can have good ideas from time to time. Also I’m not suggesting we “stoop to their level.”
  2. I swear. A lot.
  3. Darley, J. M. & Latané, B. (1969). Bystander “apathy.” American Scientist, 57, 244-268.
  4. Soloman, L.Z, Solomon, H., & Stone, R. (1978). Helping as a function of number of bystanders and ambiguity of emergency. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 4, 318-321.
The Revolution Will Be Live

The Revolution will not be Televised

It’s been a while since I last wrote anything on here. Partially because I was wrapped up in trying to find a job while getting my application package finished and submitted to Portland State University’s Sociology graduate program, and partially because I found little to get me riled up enough to devote the time. The former is done, as I am gainfully employed and the application package was submitted on time. The latter, on the other hand, took until this morning to finally break through my fuckitall.

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Democratic-Party

What part of “party” don’t you get?

I guess it’s time to start talking about politics in earnest again since 1: President Obama has already started on the campaign trail, 2: the GOP is winnowing the wheat from the chaff that are their candidates for president, and 3: friends who would normally be logical and thoughtful start pondering their place in the political machine and get ground up in the process. Take, for example, this facebook conversation I saw several weeks ago:
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