Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Of Richard Dawkins And His Godawful Tweeting

Put that i-Phone down, Richard!

It's fair to say Richard Dawkins's adventures in Twitter-land have been, for the main, pretty disastrous. He's always been a remarkably clear thinker--anyone reading his books can tell that--but not a compact one. Here's his latest lamentable qwerty-dive:

"Mehdi Hasan admits to believing Muhamed [sic] flew to heaven on a winged horse. And New Statesman sees fit to print him as a serious journalist."
 Yeah. Not his most nuanced work, let's face it. To me it's more like some hastily scribbled thespian snark in Kenneth Williams' diary ("Hancock doing his stuff in too slow a tempo. He and Sid James' conversation real pleb stuff. Don't care for them at all") than one of the world's foremost explainers.

Self-destructive? Not 'alf! Online atheism, after all, is surrounded by hordes who'll willfully misread its every utterance, as the columns of the UK's press--both self-pleasuring right and de-clawed left--well attest. 'Dawkins Screams All Muslim Journos Should Be Sacked' swiftly became the Web's Tabla Rasa.

 Andrew Brown inevitably stuck his conk in, while this time around even faux-eccentric MP Tom Watson gleaned another self-aggrandizing freebie with 'You're a gratuitously unpleasant man'. He'd never felt safe enough to say that to Murdoch, even.

The sad part, at least to me, was that the tweet forever tarnished one of Dawkins's best moments. In a debate for Al Jazeera, he asks Mehdi Hassan (whose journalism I generally admire, I hasten to add) if he believes Muhammad flew up to heaven on a Horse. Hassan replies yes. Not as a metaphor--rich as the tale of Buraq is with that--but literally.

Watch this clip. Watch it and forget whatever preconceptions about RD you may have. There's no red-faced secular-nazi-pope Strawkins here; just calm, reasoned inquiry into the privileged indolence of religious literalism. 'Why up?' is a bloody good question. 'Yes, let's' is very funny. Hassan knows he's being enfiladed here because he's an intelligent guy, but that same intelligence is reduced to spinning about in a tight shell of religious upbringing. It's as plain as day.

Dawkins has posted an apology for the crudity of his tweet up on his site, explaining what he meant to say. It's an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff however, for the media won't have the nuance or objectivity to print or link to it. It's doesn't fit the narrative. I just hope Dawkins learns to use Twitter as a means to link to longer pieces because, as things stand, theists and faitheists--like Christ with his loaves--can stretch 140 characters into a heckuva feast.

Speaking as a non-believer it's his irresponsibility that depresses me most. He should know by now that a million arsewits lie in the cyber-heather, ready to pounce at his slightest gob-wrong. They intend to make him an irrelevancy.

It's funny. People talk about the pigheadedness of atheism but no one speaks of how atheism's critics subconsciously will it to be pigheaded. The mere act of being an atheist puts peoples' noses out of joint. They've loved ones who've passed away and it's understandable they want those loved ones' to still exist somewhere, somewhere where they will meet again. But daily, with each new scientific insight (the scale of the universe compared to us, the increasingly explicable chemical emergence of DNA etc), that very human need is increasingly weighed upon. Few, if any, like to be reminded.

Laugh if you like, but I'm one of that silent chunk of non-believers who wish people would just accept them as openly atheist and leave it at that (OK, so I rant about religions extremes but so do many theists). But in social situations it never works out like that. It's assumed I am angry.

Once I'm 'outed' someone will get irritable and pick and prod. Eventually, dammit, I bite: I like a debate as much as the next pub boor. Things heat up and almost always it becomes an unpleasant experience. My opponents mouths will be sneering and laughing, but their eyes...

...their eyes dammit, have this pleading look (You'll see it in Mehdi Hassan's in the above vid. The body language is archetypal too). An atheist among believers becomes a sort of totemic death's head, a raven mocked by jays. It's no longer a debate, because you've become the death of a parent, a dear friend or, ultimately, themselves. Seeing this, my mouth keeps up the bravado but my heart loses resolve. My heart--sap that it is--wants only to reassure my friends, tell them I'm sorry and that everything will be fine.

As below so above. The media plays upon these fears, fear equaling click-bait, and a minor industry has emerged of columnists who'll soothe the reader's brow by dismissing atheism with intelligent-sounding sentences. 'What these atheists don't understand about faith...', 'It's a sort of religion, with Dawkins its fundamentalist pope...' etc. You know the drill.

In such an atmosphere, whether your non-belief is strident or conciliatory, you have to accept there's something like a -20% modifier to any statement you make being understood, let alone accepted. On Twitter it is something more like 40% (If this blog's anything to go by men are particularly susceptible to its inherent traps, with anger, privilege and--in my own case--swagger being clumsy y-chromosome hooves.).

Any self-aware atheist--which I once took Richard Dawkins to be--would do well to remain wary of that. Every utterance should be checked over for clarity, for leaks of comprehension. In fact it's a responsibility. The other side never have to, of course, so it's not a fair fight. But it never has been.     


  1. I've tried that same debate, using the holocaust and both world wars as evidence. With some people its like a light goes off in thier heads whilst thier mouths hit dogma autopilot.

    I can understand why Dawkins gets the way that he does, he loses paitence all too quickly, like a new secondary school teacher in front of a class of council estate kids.

    He just needs to adapt. As an advocate of evolution I'm sure he'll manage.

    1. Odd thing is he never really loses it in person, just when writing. It's like he needs to see a face, no matter how livid that face is.

  2. I've adopted a new approach to those times a theist insists on prodding- I be the arsehole we're so often dipicted as, but on my terms. I tell them that most athiests are earnest, well-meaning types that are really concerned about people devoting their lives to a fallacy, but I am not. I tell them that stupidity is a crime that is it's own punishment, and if they insist on wandering off a clearly sign-posted cliff it's not my probllem, but the minute they forget their place and try to impose their halfwit ideas on me and my life, they'll get crushed like bugs.
    I'm well aware of the shortcomings in this approach, but you do get left in peace pretty sharpish, and as I don't encounter many extremist loonies in day to day life, challenging them just feels like a big pile of academic washing up I can't be arsed to do.

    1. Somewhat ironically--and very surreally--I take consolation from a line in the Qur'an:

      "Fighting is obligatory for you, however much you detest it."