Thanks for pressing the button, whether it was years ago or this week. Read more…
Despite good intentions, people’s prescriptions on how not to be prejudiced can often be misfires.
If someone were to ask me what actions or expressions would qualify a person as prejudiced – being guilty of sexism, for example – I would respond saying that statements such as ‘all X are filthy and immoral’ and actions such as not hiring people of X despite their being disposed to a job are examples of prejudice. I am inclined to give a general rule, but for the sake of brevity, I won’t.
However, some groups, notably those who claim to represent and advocate for ‘the oppressed’ are arguing for a far more inclusive and more easily achievable definitions for what is racist and sexist, etcetera. Such new definitions often exclude the possibility of much open discussion and opinion without the possibility of one being defined as prejudiced. This is a pattern which has been followed in other areas of society – notably the war on drugs – wherein politicians and activists feel as though they are fighting the good fight by enacting restrictive measures when, in fact, such actions usually result in rules and definitions which are meaningless, or even destructive.
The following is from a list of general actions and statements which are defined as prejudiced, they can be found on crooksandliars.com. Most of the items represent genuine instances of prejudice, though far too many items classify open discussion as a form of prejudice. I include only the offending items:–
4 – Refusing to hire, associate with or otherwise interact with members of the group, including segregating the group in society
I often wonder whether this is just a case of poor wording – which would be forgiveable but disappointing. Any person with the ability to hire new employees will have to refuse to hire an individual who is a member of a particular ethnic group, for example, if there were better-qualified person outside the group – it would be racist were the person in charge of personnel to refuse to hire them solely because of their ethnicity and to hire someone with inferior qualifications.
A reader might chastise me, saying that this is clearly what the writer, Kenneth Quinnell, meant. That may well be true, but the next worse thing to a bad rule is an unclear one, and such unclear expression is easy to correct yet remains uncorrected. I would not be so motivated to address this item were it not for the fact that some organisations actually use this list as a basis for their policy on prejudice.
5 – Opposing government programs that disproportionately help a group that faces a history or present marked by discrimination or mistreatment
Who decides which programmes are helping and which are hindering? Here, a libertarian who sees welfare as a curse is defined as prejudiced because they have a differing outlook. Rather than having an officially determined definition of help, with those who opposite it being defined as racist, for example, what is necessary is an open discussion on the best course of action.
Were I to agree, for the sake of argument, that such programmes do help, how much help should we give? Am I prejudiced if, in a discussion, I oppose a programme which disproportionately helps a disadvantaged group, but advocate one which helps them to a lesser extent or in a different way?
8 – Saying you know better than the group does what is happening to them or what is best for them
I can understand how a smug claim to superior knowledge, especially concerning one’s own situation, can be quite abrasive; it is hardly prejudiced, however. There are, necessarily, cases in which someone who is a member of a disadvantaged group will have less knowledge of the overall situation and the best way in which to proceed than an outsider.
This reminds of a tendency which I notice in a certain flavour of those who consider themselves representatives of underdogs – a thoughtless and aggressive attitude to the advantaged, the educated and the successful.
Any fool can lampoon a king or a bishop or a billionaire. A trifle more grit is required to face down a mob, or even a studio audience, that has decided it knows what it wants and is entitled to get it. – Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
Honestly, before I read that paragraph as a teenager I used to share something of this aggression, before I realised that in the case of non-victims or WASPs, while they are not necessarily right all the time, they are not necessarily wrong all the time, either. It is unavoidable in any significant conversation with a disadvantaged individual to say, or to imply, that one knows better.
9 – Denying real-life experiences or statistically-proven challenges that the group disproportionately faces
This is another example of one for which it is hard to discern the point. I don’t think anyone would actually deny someone’s account of their own experiences, short of accusing them of lying; such an accusation is not prejudiced in itself. I think, however, that Quinnell is referring to when people deny that anecdotes reflect a general condition within society – they don’t, of course; personal accounts can be enlightening, but for one anecdote one can always find a contradictory one – thus, only hard and universal facts should be used to make policy. Dear reader, you may have noticed how quack treatment/remedy sellers only publish personal testimonials, never hard research, on their products. Anyone can abuse anecdotal evidence.
Statistically proven? Quinnell must be aware that our understanding of the facts changes, people who gather and interpret statistics can be mistaken (or even malicious), and their methods can be fallacious and are often improved. To choose a topical example, the statistics on false rape allegations range from 1.5% to 45% – is it possible that some of these studies have fallacious methods? I’m sure that my reader will be familiar with questions which, asked in a certain way, can condition for a certain response.
If I don’t accept a given set of statistics which indicate disadvantage, am I prejudiced? No – statistics require constant challenge and conversation, one cannot simply accept a certain piece of research as revealed truth and define anyone who disagrees as prejudiced. Our understanding changes constantly and we require an open and flexible discussion which reflects such dynamism.
11 – Ignorance of the history, challenges, language and culture that causes the group problems
12 – Being blind to the differences between the group and other groups
Everyone is, thus, prejudiced with respect to at least one group; I won’t tolerate hatred and hasty judgements, but I respect anyone’s choice to choose their own research topics.
13 – Stating that your group faces the same problems as a group that statistically faces more of the problem or more intense versions of the problem
I have never actually heard an example of this. To choose another current example, I have heard men claim that they suffer domestic violence too, usually quoting a proportion of around 40% though I’ve never heard them say that such conditions are ‘the same’.
Once more: Whose statistics? Are there reasons to think that they’re false? We always have cause to challenge them.
If there were people who wrongly claim that their group faces ‘the same’ problems as another, this can only be a case of misinformation or stupidity – it is hardly malice.
14 – Telling members of the group that they shouldn’t be “sensitive” about problems that they face
This, of course, depends on the definition of sensitive and, once more, it’s difficult to tell what he means. I think it might be best to respond with a personal example – do comment or contact me if I have totally misunderstood this.
In one discussion, a member of a disadvantaged group directed some personal comments to me, I responded cordially, saying that their behaviour was undesirable; their response was to say that they are, as a member of a disadvantaged group, entitled to such behaviour because of their experiences. This is backward – the same standard, politeness and good form should be expected of everyone; I understand, if someone has had a difficult experience, that they might get upset during a discussion and I’m very willing to forgive them if they apologise. It is my prerogative, as the person who was insulted, to forgive; rather, they didn’t apologise and forgave themselves.
I think that my actions are what Quinnell is addressing. I understand that people might often be sensitive, but a system which entitles a section of people to speak as they please while others can’t, while being unfair, can only to more aggression, profanity and personal attacks.
15 – Using the term “politically correct” (or some variation) to dismiss complaints from the group about discrimination or prejudice directed at them
Politically Correct: demonstrating progressive ideals, esp by avoiding vocabulary that is considered offensive, discriminatory, or judgmental, esp concerning race and gender – World English Dictionary
It always amuses me when concepts like this and Health and Safety, usually with the obligatory ‘gone mad’, are transformed from well-intentioned policies into insults. If one defines ‘politically correct’ to mean, colloquially, the over-bearing or irrelevant application of the original definition, then I hope, dear reader, you have already thought of some redolent examples.
In 1999, Mayor Anthony A. Williams, Mayor of Washington D.C., accepted the resignation of David Howard for the offence of using the word ‘niggardly’, due, apparently, to its containing the same phonemes as a certain racist epithet. Williams later re-hired Howard. Nonetheless, is this not an example of political correctness in the derogatory sense, maybe even ‘gone mad’?
I have learned that the person who brought the complaint against Howard was Marshall Brown, but I haven’t been able to learn his race. Race doesn’t matter to me, statements and actions stand on their own. But, if I were to find that he is African-American, would his claims about ‘niggardly’ be valid? and invalid if he is white? Quinnell’s point would imply that this is the case.
Unfortunately, sometimes people’s well-intentioned claims, whether they are or are not a member of the group in question, can be misfires. As a society we must discuss such cases, to determine their validity, it is not enough to simply accept one testimony and define disagreement as prejudice. Society needs people who call out statements that are well-intentioned but wrong for what they are.
To conclude, rules such as these appear to be well-intentioned, but this doesn’t proof them against being wrong and ultimately destructive. I hope to always be wary of edicts which assume knowledge which is unchallengeable, and ones which prescribe double standards. On a similar note to one I mentioned earlier: underdogs are not necessarily wrong all the time, but they are not necessarily right all the time, either. Everything must be challenged.
When functioning on a small budget, or any budget, carefully choosing the most economic purchases is a top way to save money, requiring very little time and effort.
Once you’ve taken care of your accommodation and other regular bills, economising on your other necessities is a great way to save money. I’m not talking about buying and cooking a chicken, cooking it and freezing it in pieces rather than buying one of those stupid plastic tubs of chicken bits – which you should do. I’m talking about which brand of muesli you buy; with negligible difference in taste and significant savings, what is to lose? If anything that I advise seems obvious, sorry, though I only address what I’ve actually noticed people doing.
I recommend No Logo by Naomi Klein (though I, by no means, share her politics) – in her book, she discusses the economic transition between generic products which were produced locally and the modern situation in which companies build a relationship with their customers through a brand-identity. Today, to a large extent, the products are the same, differentiated only by the strength of their respective ethoses, colour-schemes and logos.
It can be difficult to choose another company’s product when one has a relationship with your normal choice, especially if it is the choice of one’s own family. Don’t mistake this for a socialist argument, I’m using my own free choice within the capitalist marketplace; this is the type of choice which the customer who economises will have to make.
There will be times when a premium brand product will be superior to a supermarket own-brand or a cheaper name-brand but, generally, the difference is negligible. In most cases, the top products are there because they have good marketing.
Get used to scanning the shelves in a shop to take in all the products, not just the ones on eye level. Familiarise yourself with the labelling system, particularly the statement which advertises the price per weight (e.g. 16p per 100g). Allowing for similar quality between products – which you can test for yourself – the price per weight is your main consideration.
For example, in my local supermarket, the premium muesli and granola are at eye level and above, while the supermarket ones, with essentially the same ingredients, are below. The supermarket choice retails at around a quarter the price of the premium types. Buy it and try it, it’ll probably be decent.
Those pasta sauces which come in jars are one of the biggest scams – don’t get the cheaper version, get a some tinned tomatoes and some herbs. This will cost a fraction of the price and will taste better, you can add different herbs according to your taste and create your own recipe.
One caveat is that the cheapest meat and eggs often involve the unforgivable treatment of animals. If you want meat or eggs at a reduced price, pick up the free-range choices but from the cut-price area in your supermarket, or buy from a shop where good treatment is always guaranteed. If today is the use-by date and you don’t need it, put it in the freezer. Freezing eggs on their use-by date works too if you want them for cooking, crack them into a take-away container or a tuperware before freezing. The best option for animal products, especially eggs, is to get them from someone in your local community where you can see whether the animals are being treated properly.
I find that people often go through this process for food, but not for choices like pharmaceuticals or other non-edible products.
For most of the time that I’ve been making my own purchasing choices, I’ve bought supermarket own-brand toothpaste and toothbrushes. I think that this is an area, especially for toothbrushes, where there is a lot of talk but not much difference between the brands. My toothbrush and toothpaste are both a fraction of the price of the big brands but both are endorsed by the British Dental Health Foundation.
The same is probably the case for shampoo. I know people who are quite particular about their choice of shampoo, but I’m sceptical. Try this: buy the cheapo brand and your favourite brand, and have your partner or a close friend squeeze a bit of a either one into your hand without telling you which when you’re in the shower. Do this a couple of times and see the extent to which there is any difference.
Razors are the same, the supermarket brands work fine, but people are aggressively marketed the more expensive choices. The only problem that I have with a cheap razor is that (when I’ve been lazy) my long stubble gets stuck in the blades, which doesn’t happen with the more expensive ones. My solution to this is to use a retired toothbrush to scape out the hairs, which takes a few seconds, thus saving on the pounds.
I say that we should all use our place in a capitalist economy to make the best choices for ourselves – don’t let yourself be mislead or buy something through habit. If you know that a premium brand is better and you can afford it, it makes sense to buy it. There is no reason, however, to buy the expensive option if the cheapest one is just as good or if you haven’t even tried it. This way, you can have more money left over with minimal effort.
Some people act as though their mind isn’t part of their body, rather like it’s an ethereal object, floating somewhere behind and to the left of their head. Of course, the brain is an organ like any other and a proper breakfast on your exam morning is an undemanding way to improve your performance.
I will share what I think is one of the top breakfasts for the day of an exam, given the criteria of energy and mental demands. I recommend that you get up early having had a good night’s sleep then eat early – this will give you a chance to properly digest your meal. Yesterday, my exam was at 10, I woke at 6:40 and ate as soon as I could.
You may have heard that most most Westerners eat far too much of this. Protein, of course, is fundamental to all manner of bodily functions, especially to thinking. Therefore, a breakfast which lends itself to best exam performance should contain a sensible amount of protein — nothing so large as a full English, because it takes a good deal of energy to digest in itself.
I recommend a sausage and a small slice of wholemeal bread and butter. Bertie Wooster will tell us that food has a motivational as well as a nutritional dimension – nobody can get me to start the day with a spoonful of whey-powder or a hummus sandwich.
Ideally, it’s best to grill the sausage, but for one eater this can be a bit of a faff. The way in which to do this properly is to lay foil over the parts of the grill which aren’t being used, stopping them from burning. If your housemates turn the grill into a horrorshow, you can fry your sausage gently in the black cast-iron pan which every individual should own.
Fry it on a gentle heat in oil, till the skin is slightly browned and you can see that the inside is light brown and opaque. At this point, chop the sausage down its middle – you’ll probably find that the centre is pink, which wouldn’t happen with grilling. Simply turn it over so that the inside is in contact with the pan and let it cook through.
Simple and Complex Carbohydrates
Complex carbohydrates like starch release energy slowly, while simple ones like sugar make it available almost immediately. I find that a breakfast which contains both sorts works best, helping me to keep going through a three-hour exam (the brain runs on glucose, essentially, and carbohydrates are a good source).
Yesterday I had granola after my sausage, though muesli would have been best. The oats and rye grains in muesli contain complex carbs which will provide energy for a long period, while the papaya and dried banana contain simple carbs which should give you the energy to get moving immediately.
This was sufficient sustenance to keep me going until my post-exam pint at 1:15.
Choosing the right way to think about an academic question can sometimes be as important as your level of intelligence or your knowledge.
It is better to sit alone in the mountains, qin resting on one’s lap, and let the breeze pluck the strings.
When approaching a difficult academic task, it is sometimes tempting to assume that its completion requires a great deal of the strongest thinking.My experience – namely in writing essays on English Literature – suggests that the nature of each task demands a different style of thinking. I can only speak for myself, but I’m reasonably confident that most of what I find will be useful to others, too. A qin is a Chinese zither, usually referring, confusingly, to the guqin.
You will, dear reader, be aware that a given mental task requires only a certain amount of attention – some will allow you to listen to talk radio, some to music, while others demand your full and intense attention. In many cases, the mental faculties can be bored by lack of stimulus, making your productivity with something to occupy the excess brain function often greater than when you offer your all.
I’ve found that some questions look as though they will need my full attention, but are more soluble when I don’t press them. On many occasions when I was writing my most recent literature essays, I would reach a point in my argument in which I could not reason my way forward.
Here, I think that its useful to refer to the Tao, this being the Chinese concept of ‘the path’ and the originating state of the universe. By analogy only, of course.
Take actions before things occur.
Manage before things get out of order.
A huge tree grows from a tiny sprout;
A nine-story high terrace is built from heaps of earth.
A journey of thousand miles begins from the first step.
He who acts with desire shall fail.
He who tries to possess shall lose.
Therefore, the saint acts without effort and so he does not fail.
– Laozi; Tao Te Ching: Chapter 64
Laozi describes the Taoist concept of ‘non-doing’, the way in which inaction or pursuit without avarice can often be most successful. I often found this to be the case when learning a new skill, where simply trying harder with respect to a problem would often lead to more stress, when I should have relaxed and let the skill learn itself.
Many elements of the Confucian philosophy depend upon the Tao.
The Master said: When one rules by means of virtue it is like the North Star – it dwells in its place and the other stars pay reverence to it.
– Confucius; Analects: Book 2
The best kings do least, allowing their people to live and to organise the country for themselves. Sometimes I find it best to approach apparently insoluble questions within an essay with like this, as though the king is your will, and his country is the many semi-conscious and sub-conscious elements of the mind.
When you come to a point where a piece of reasoning seems to be insoluble, go for a walk. The constant footsteps and the changing scenery should occupy the restless mental faculties which can encumber thought; hold the problem in your mind but don’t press it, let the non-directed parts of your brain do the thinking. With surprising frequency I find that this method is what provided a compelling but previously illusive answer. This is to say nothing, of course, for the associated benefits of a change of scene, exercise and fresh air.
I’m sure that the reader has heard several religious people arguing over differing interpretations of the book to which all subscribe. Yet, this discussion represents only the partition of territory after the region has been occupied and conquered. More than is the case for most other areas of argument, such discussions have a literary and a utilitarian aspect; what I wish to move is that all actionable derivations from religious texts are equally valid from a literary perspective – the texts themselves are contradictory and lend themselves to elaboration and selectivity. Clearly these derivations will have an ethical rank, but this has nothing to do with scripture but rather with the experience of humans. As such, a given derivation can be an exemplar for malice, but, by definition, has parity with all others if it has literary support. The peril is that if one actually believes in a holy book, one can only ever advance beyond its morality by abandoning it – until that point, the believer will derive their morality arbitrarily and will only live the good life by accident.
To focus (for example) on whether Jesus considered women to be inferior or equal to men is to focus on the pixel and to ignore the image, which is that both contenders believe that they have access to the word of God. Amusingly, it is often the interpretations which are the most tenuous and metaphorical and in some ways weakest, which are the least harmful. It is amusing, also, how believers in a holy book frantically metaphor their way into something like compliance with nature or actual ethics while emphasizing the book’s supremacy – the onus being on them to stop trying to square the circle and to seize the true square.
People who make the claim that absolute truth can be found in an ancient tome dignify all others who do so. Even those, such as the Rowan Williams and the Rabi Jonathan Sachs (whose worldviews are clearly centred around human wellbeing and liberty, they only pretend that they are based on texts) make those who extrapolate rules straight from the pages into their lives seem a little less insane. As I mentioned before, so many religious people behave with decency and intelligence but still labour with their compass and straight edge, attempting to have their book comply with the social precepts of dignity and productivity which civilisation has developed for itself; the true and worthy contention is not between High and Low Church, between Catholic and Orthadox, or between Hindu and Muslim, rather it is between those who think that morality is developed and those who think that it is revealed.
So, I don’t care much for that style of debate, the true cause of humanitarianism is the human, and, while there is a moral gulf between radical and moderate religion, the gulf between believing innocuous impossible nonsense for no reason and believing deadly impossible nonsense for no reason is far smaller than that which lies between those two and not believing in anything without the proper evidence – people can and do traverse the former gulf. The first two categories include, of course, Lysenkoism, Homeopathy, Dianetics and all those other absurdities which people force themselves to believe. Really, such derivations from holy books are correct only when is impossible to be wrong (in as much as the way a poem makes you feel cannot be wrong) and when it is possible to be right are usually wrong – in the domain of human experience, where wellbeing can be measured and tested.
Reza Aslan, whose appearance on Fox News was viral recently, once expressed this dichotomy exactly. He spoke words to the effect of: ‘When religion goes bad, people blame religion; when science goes bad, people don’t blame science. Science should be blamed when it messes up.’ Definitionally, his argument is backwards. If falsehood and/or harm result when a scientist fabricates their results or permits sloppy technique, their actions are no longer science; when someone diverges from the scientific method they are no longer a scientist. Different readings of religious books, however, aren’t so categorical – the Jehovah’s Whitnesses’ reading of the Christian bible is just as supported, patchy and picky as that of any other denomination. The only meaningful distinction between denominations is external, id est how they affect their adherents. In instances in which science is wrong or harmful it will have been diverted from the principles of openness, repeatability and double-blind testing; when religions are violent, backward and prejudiced, faith will be present to the same extent as when they are mild.
All instances in which speakers claim that science caused suffering are ones in which the scientific principles were jettisoned. In the case of Nazi policies (for example), which people often cite as following the principles of Natural Selection, their prescriptions were contrary to Natural Selection, which favoured diversity (to say nothing of how the leaders are supposed to have extrapolated social policy from a theory which only explained things as they are). When religious fanatics act on their beliefs one has no recourse to scripture, the warrant for all their crimes can be found there, the only recourse is to reality and to the freedom, wellbeing and suffering of conscious creatures. This is the only domain in which truth can be apprehended and the only domain which matters.
Of course, the above makes no reference to the spiritual or to questions of art or music. Nevertheless, these questions can no more be true or false than they can be tested, and why would one want to do so? People will be moved by scripture, by spiritual practice or by art, and the reality of their experience is as true it is possible for things to be. Danger exists when the subjective reasoning which is used to determine these questions is used to make claims on legal or cosmic subjects, as religions always do. The only way in which one can address subjects such as whether a given work is moving is subjectively – when one speaks with this sort of reasoning on questions which do have factual and testable answers, the results are impoverishing.
The above probably represent two of the most significant con-jobs in the history of thought – the idea that something which manifests beyond the confines of the mind is true simply because it resonates, and the idea that responsibility for ethics can be transferred to scripture which supposedly transcends humanity. This is alongside the idea that faith can mean anything in a discussion of reality.
Lawrence Krauss tells a very amusing story about science and theology. To summarize, he asks an individual from a given scientific field to name the way in which their field has advanced human knowledge; for example a biologist would answer that their discipline helped to discover the enzymes which operate human biochemistry. The answers are of this sort for most sciences. Then Krauss reaches a theologian, who, when asked ‘How has your field advanced human knowledge.’, answers: ‘What do you mean by “knowledge”.’ I move that these three cons represent the bulk of the explanation for why a theologian would answer in this way, and why so many religions claim knowledge which they can’t have – with about as much to show for it in the real world as one would expect given these premises.
I feel that I too often encounter a positive reaction to a pronouncement by the brilliant Dawkins alongside an admonition of his character and his method of operation. This is rather a shame, in that those who admonish really should be allied with the man. My first theory for this reaction related the pitch and tone of his voice – I proposed that a few cigarettes a day could have provided him with the more general affection which is gathered by Christopher Hitchens’ purr. My latest theory is that Dawkins suffers from the British Martin Amis effect. That is, Dawkins is able, successful, right, rich, and is doing what a lot of us want to do, so we hate him for it.
Martin Amis’ astounding writing ability rewarded him with renown and wealth (for those who haven’t read him, I commend ‘Money’). He enjoyed this status for a while, then many in the British press began to suffer envy at the young man’s glittering career, some reacting with something like moral indignation at his being paid a £500,000 advance on The Information, and generally hating on him in most areas of his life. In some ways also, it could be said that Amis is someone who one would want to be – charm, voice, wit, smoking-style. Amis then moved to America, a country far more tolerant of extremes, such as size and wealth, where people actually accepted his success as a product of the economic system which most of his critics support. Everyone is invited to this British pastime, such as when the tiresome Shirley Williams denounced Salman Rushdie’s knighthood because he had offended Muslims (a reprimand which sparkled with envy at his success), and when the more interesting Terry Eagleton accused Amis of Islamophobia.
Islamophobia, which Eagleton as a literary critic and a man of words should boycott, returns us to Dawkins. So, when I hear someone say that they agree with what Dawkins says but that they don’t like him, I often conclude that they wish that they had published a string of lovely books and had influenced as many people and had earned as much money as he has. When they call him strident, they wish that they wish that they had written The God Delusion when he did.
The above remained in my drafts for several months, and I was convinced to resume it by the irrelevant reaction to Dawkins’ Islam tweet. I’ve chosen the first article in the Google results page for ‘Dawkins’, and a New Statesman piece quite representative of its new Masochistic-Left output – the article has one interesting sentence, the last, and at that an adaptation of Oscar Wilde.
The author states that there is actually nothing factual in the tweet. While I don’t hold the committee which gave a prize to Obama as being an exemplar for sound judgement, it is at least partially representative; Dawkins’ equation, while crude, is interesting. Of course, the scientific output of a nation is due to an almost innumerable number of factors – is it at least plausible to say that among them could be the nature of the beliefs of people, specifically whether they believe that one book is the true, final and unalterable word of a deity? Or even that there could be an antagonism between faith and science? Many Muslim countries (distinct, of course, from ‘Muslims’) are rapidly developing their scientific output, I look forward to seeing this trend continue – of course, it will necessitate that Muslims will have either to stop believing the Koran or to partition (as Francis Collins does) their religious and scientific mindsets. In addition, I think that the link between religion and distress (and distress and religion) is quite compelling, specifically such that as the most religious countries permit more education so will their religiousness decline, permitting even more education, and so fourth.
He continued to state that Dawkins’ tweet was racist, doing so with a gallery of vague analogies which weren’t quite a non-sequitur, but nor were they an argument. So far as I can tell, he said that the tweet was racist because Muslims are predominantly from a certain geographic area. I may have totally missed our author’s point, but this line of reasoning is absurd – identifying a group of people through one factor and for that grouping to be crudely concurrent with another factor cannot be regarded as identifying them according to the second factor. If people do so, that’s their problem, not Dawkins’.
The New Statesman’s author neared, but didn’t mention, the difficult situation which presents on questions of Islam – those who can’t differentiate between people of Middle-Eastern descent and an adherent of Islam are noisy and destructive currently; simultaneously, people who really believe in the book are attempting to run countries according to it, children are attending British schools which are essentially Islamic (I oppose any official religion in school) while Hamza Tzortzis, whose leaflets on Science and the Koran were handed out at Liverpool University some months back, considers that the punishment for apostasy should be beheading with a sword. It would be quick, he observed, and I suppose that I would choose it before the gas chamber or the electric chair. The objective is to discuss these questions politically, scientifically and philosophically – to react like this author is to fail at this imperative. Finally, it is necessary that all criticisms of religion don’t have to address every religion, and true that all religions aren’t equally destructive.
I’m also rather perplexed by the question of whether Islam can be confused with an ethnic group. The major Muslim populations are in North Africa, the Middle-East, in India and in Indonesia; while I’m bored by ‘races’ and questions of ethnic ‘groups’, clearly this list describes a particularly diverse population. So, let us not tiptoe around those who can’t tell a Muslim from someone of Middle-Eastern origin. Rather, when one hears talk of these groups as an ‘ethnicity’ or of Islam as synonymous with Middle-Eastern, one should correct the speaker. Particularly, to adjust one’s critique of religion because of a common misapprehension is failure.
Richard Dawkins is often called patronising. Firstly, this title is frequently awarded frivolously (I gained it by citing a dictionary definition for ‘oppression’). Secondly, when someone uses the term patronising, it is often an inversion of the truth – when Lord Winston called Dawkins’ God Delusion patronising because of the word ‘delusion’, his argument was backwards; people reserve their most honest criticism for the people they respect, the watery acceptance and silence is designed for the creepy racists who lurk on public transport, longing to chat. Dawkins respected all those who he addressed in that book a great deal, most of all the believers who he didn’t fear or didn’t wish to condescend to – he wrote his mind, reminding us that there is no factual distinction between the belief that Elvis is still alive than that Christ is still alive. Dawkins truly broke ground here, these beliefs and the people who want to base policy on them or have them taught to our children have far less impunity than pre-God Delusion times. Dawkins is responsible for a great deal of that progress and he made a lot of money and gained a lot of influence in doing so, and people’s envy has become mean.