The Richard Dawkins Facepalm Watch, Vol. II

So, Richard Dawkins has once again become an unintentional social media star with a sequence of tweets:

And when he received some mockery for this, he got grumpy:

Just to be clear, the point isn’t that Dawkins is wrong when he complains about airport security theater. I agree that ridiculous rules like this are a waste of time and don’t make us any safer. They’re the product of a metastasizing security state, of unimaginative bureaucrats who need to justify their existence by making us think they’re doing something valuable, and cynical politicians who find it useful to top up a climate of fear.

I don’t even object to Dawkins’ laughably overwrought hyperbole, although admittedly that’s easy to mock. Since Osama bin Laden’s corpse is currently being nibbled by fishes on the bottom of the Indian Ocean, I don’t think he’s “won”. Even if he were still alive, I doubt that subjecting airport travelers to petty inconvenience was ever his primary goal.

No, what I object to is the hypocrisy of a man who hits the roof over being slightly irked at an airport checkpoint, and justifies this reaction with a great show of Standing on Principle, when that same man previously wrote this:

Dear Muslima

Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and… yawn… don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.

It takes a serious deficit of self-awareness to not notice how these situations are comparable. In his infamous “Dear Muslima” letter, as well as other remarks published since, Dawkins has sneered at women who objected to creepy solicitations, sexist condescension and harassment, insisting either that they’re overreacting to a trivial matter or that they brought it on themselves, and if their genitals aren’t being mutilated with a razor blade, they have no right to complain about anything that happens to them. But it clearly doesn’t even cross his mind to apply the same standard to the things that bother him. (The “less objectionable than having your genitals mutilated with a razor blade” standard would rule out a lot of complaints from all of us.)

Dawkins insists that although he doesn’t really care about a jar of honey, this was a matter of principle. Very well. It’s also a matter of principle that women in the secular community shouldn’t be subjected to inappropriate behavior or unwanted sexual come-ons, even if they don’t suffer any lasting harm from it. The fact that he can’t seem to see this parallel – that he casts himself as taking a brave stand on principle, while everyone else is just being petulant and whiny – suggests a troubling lack of empathy for perspectives other than his own.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.