Richard Dawkins, who prior to becoming a jester of the Twittersphere was apparently a well respected author, used the opportunity of International Women’s Day to blast the “loathsome religion” of Islam. He tweeted a photo of three Afghani women in short skirts in the 1970s next to a photo of three Afghani women cloaked in the burqa today, alongside the words: “How can anyone defend this loathsome religion?” He means Islam. He always means Islam. He has a real problem with Islam.
UK Telegraph By Brendan O’Neill His “loathsome religion” tweet was hotly followed by another suggesting that the Halal ritual slaughter of animals for faith reasons should be banned. “Many complex considerations should influence our treatment of animals. ‘Sincerely held religious beliefs’ are not among them,” he said. He followed this up with yet another shouty tweet, saying: “‘Beliefs’? BELIEFS!”
It seems he doesn’t like belief. Or the idea that society should allow people to hold and act on beliefs that run counter to what the rest of us consider to be normal and decent. Which is weird, considering that the entire Enlightenment – to which Dawkins claims to be an adherent – began from a conviction that men must be free to worship as they see fit, regardless of whether their ideas or behaviour offend the majority.
Dawkins is forever landing himself in hot water over his tweets. He’s tweeted about how few Nobel Prizes Muslims have won, followed by a barb disguised as a compliment: “They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”
He’s tweeted his bamboozlement as to why the New Statesman employed a practising Muslim as its political editor. His tweets are generously peppered with exclamation marks and CAPITAL LETTERS and hectoring phraseology, making it pretty clear that we are getting a glimpse into his unedited thoughts, into the inner recesses of his mind, into that part of the human brain that has always existed – the bovine, often prejudiced bit – but which until recent times was not given public expression. We are seeing how Dawkins’s mind works prior to his exercise of thought and self-editing, and it isn’t pretty.
To be fair, this isn’t a Dawkins-specific problem. Twitter by its very nature invites its users to express unedited thoughts which in earlier eras would have lingered at the back of our minds or been spoken only to small groups of people, perhaps over a pint. In the past, there was a clearer distinction between private man and public man, between what we thought and what we said, between the inner workings of our brains and the public utterances that later fell from our mouths.
Today, that divide has been muddied almost into oblivion, so that now it is perfectly normal to see people tweet their instant, unformulated feelings about an event, a person, a religion, or whatever. Twitter isn’t single-handedly responsible for the detonation of the dividing line between private thought and public speech, of course, but it is the technological tool that has most explicitly moulded itself around the corrosion of the private/public split, inviting us, cajoling us in fact, to instantly share our half-baked thoughts on just about everything.
The end result is that even someone like Dawkins can now be better known for his late-night blabbing than for his intellectual works. I’m sure that to young people in particular, who don’t remember that time when Dawkins was taken seriously and who get the vast majority of their info via the Twittersphere, Dawkins is now just “that bloke what says weird stuff on Twitter”.
Dawkins’s fate – his self-demotion from serious author to barking tweeter – should be a lesson to everyone: beware Twitter, for it is the technological facilitator of the most backward cultural trend of our age – the Oprahite urge to spill, sputter and speak every thought, idea and feeling that pops into our heads.
There’s an idea – which I blame on the Sixties – that it is the height of honesty to give voice to our every feeling; that the only good, authentic way to live is to keep nothing private and instead to wear your heart on your sleeve and splash your mind across the internet. But this isn’t true. In fact, sometimes our initial thoughts about something, our instantaneous reactions to an event, are deceptive and untrustworthy, being fuelled more by instinct and cloudy prejudice than by considered analysis. The erosion of the private sphere and the private mind is really bad news, because it deprives us of the space in which we once worked out what we really think about other people and world events, and instead encourages us to express our instant feelings about them.
So I don’t buy the idea that Dawkins’s intolerant tweeting shows us the “real man”, as some suggest. I think it shows us something that we shouldn’t really have the right to see, and certainly would never have seen in earlier eras: that is, the half-formed thoughts of a human being who is only as silly and ill-spoken as the rest of us are in our homes, pubs or inner mind monologues. If the real Dawkins wants to preserve his reputation, then he should retire, or at least reprimand, the emotionally incontinent private Dawkins who keeps tweeting whatever comes into his head. And a great many other people in the modern world should do likewise.