I make a joke comparing Dawkins to the Borg, the Cybermen and the Daleks. ("He's like a rather ridiculous hyper logical robot in TV science fiction serial.")
Someone takes me to be insinuating that Dawkins wants to kill everyone who doesn't agree with him, as due to my use of the Dalek catch-phrase "exterminate". He goes so far as to invoke the blood libel, forsooth.
I read back over the essay, realize that gosh-dammit you could read it that way because I hadn't done enough set-up for the "Dalek" gag. If I had written "exterminate! exterminate" or "ex-ter-min-ate" instead of "exterminate" the ambiguity wouldn't have arisen. I clarify my point, and make an alteration to the text to fix it.
The original critic continues to repeat the original point (which I have conceded) as if nothing had happened.
Some time ago I wrote an essay called "The Impossibility of Argument in the Mind of Someone On the Internet". I do rather wish I'd stopped at that point.
Yes, indeed it is "only a joke"; and yes indeed you can say hurtful things under the cover of "joking". But respond to the joke I actually made, not the one that I have made it clear that I didn't make. "Ha-ha Dawkins is a bit like a robotic sci fi baddie" not "Ha-ha Dawkins wants to kill everybody in the whole wide world."
Even if you think that the exact letter of the text could be read in the second way, it's not fair to continue reading it that way after I have explained how I intended it to be read. It means you are focusing, at best, on a stylistic problem (Andrew sometimes allows ambiguity to creep into his jokes) rather than on substantive point (Andrew thinks some of the new atheists are ridiculous because of their obsession with logic and nothing but.)
It is a little like arguing with a Dalek about religious texts.
"CHRISTIANS BELIEVE THAT NAUGHTY SCHOOL CHILDREN SHOULD BE EXECUTED."
"Er, no, actually, I have never met one who does believe that."
"CHRISTIANS BELIEVE THAT NAUGHTY SCHOOL CHILDREN SHOULD BE EXECUTED. IT SAYS SO ON PAGE 143 VERSE 16 OF THE APPENDIX TO THE APOCRYPHA".
"But they don't interpret that passage as meaning that, and never have done; in fact, they specifically think that those pages have lapsed."
"AREN'T YOU LISTENING? CHRISTIANS BELIEVE IN STONING NAUGHTY CHILDREN. IT SAYS SO IN THEIR BOOK. IT SAYS SO IN THEIR BOOK. IT SAYS SO IN THEIR BOOK."
See also: flying horses.
Not that the interpretation of my internet essays is as complex and controversial as Biblical hermenuitics, of course.
It just sometimes feels that way.
If we are quoting C.S Lewis, something which we hardly ever do in this forum, surely the relevant passage is from The Four Loves:
time, when I had been addressing an undergraduate society and some
discussion (very properly) followed my paper, a young man with an
expression as tense as that of a rodent so dealt with me that I had
to say, "Look, sir. Twice in the last five minutes you have as good
as called me a liar. If you cannot discuss a question of criticism
without that kind of thing I must leave." I expected he would do
one of two things; lose his temper and redouble his insults, or else
blush and apologise. The startling thing is that he did neither. No
new perturbation was added to the habitual malaise of his expression.
He did not repeat the Lie Direct; but apart from that he went on just
as before. One had come up against an iron curtain. He was forearmed
against the risk of any strictly personal relation, either friendly
or hostile, with such as me.
Behind this, almost certainly, there
lies a circle of the Titanic sort—self-dubbed Knights Ternplars
perpetually in arms to defend a critical Baphomet. We—who are they
to them—do not exist as persons at all. We are specimens; specimens
of various Age Groups, Types, Climates of Opinion, or Interests, to
be exterminated. Deprived of one weapon, they coolly take up another.
They are not, in the ordinary human sense, meeting us at all; they
are merely doing a job of work—spraying (I have heard one use that