English is my native language. My words mean what I intend. If you read them differently because of "social context" that's your problem.
Prof Richard Dawkins
Prof Richard Dawkins
Analogy is to a man arguing on the internet as a banana skin on the pavement is to a fat lady in a silent comedy.
In 2012, One Of Those Clergymen was reported as having said that gay marriage was just as wicked as slavery. He won an award for being the most homophobic man in the UK.
Naturally, this wasn't quite what he had said. What he had said was that his church though gay sex was taboo, on religious grounds, and that he didn't agree with gay people getting married as that gave religious approval to the taboo thing. (He may not have phrased it in quite such temperate language.) People told him that this was okay; he was entitled to his beliefs; no church was going to have to solemnize same-sex marriages if it didn't want to. He retorted that this was neither here nor there: you can't defend legalizing a bad thing on the ground that you aren't making the bad thing compulsory.
And he was quite right. You can't. "X is not compulsory" is no kind of a response to "X should not be permitted." If you are against bringing back slavery, then you are against bringing back slavery even if you personally won't have to own any slaves if you don't want to.
Rilstone's third law states that when someone says something very stupid, the internet will immediately claim that they said a different very stupid thing. Rilstone's second law states that the person who points this out will immediately be suspected of agreeing with the very stupid thing that the original person didn't say. When I suggested that, well, no, Father O'Bigot hadn't really said that gays were as wicked as slave owners, the Spartist wing of my fan-base claimed that I was using the concept of analogy to "give him a pass".
I am not entirely sure what "give him a pass" means. We don't use the expression in this country. I think it has to do with American school children getting permission to leave the classroom to go to the toilet.
It is very clear that Father O'Bigot had, in fact, said something very stupid. The analogy between slave-ownership and allowing gay couples to get married in church is a tenuous one. If it is wrong to own slaves, then it is wrong for anyone to own slaves, because slave ownership does obvious harm, mostly to slaves. If you personally believe that gay sex is taboo then it is hard to see how other people doing the taboo thing harms anyone else. (When the equal marriage debate was at its silliest, some religious groups attempted to claim that allow gay couples to get married would somehow make straight couples less married: I don't understand what they meant, and still don't.)
And he deliberately chose an incendiary example. If what you want to have is a discussion as opposed to a shouting match, then incendiary examples are not terribly helpful. And if your example is sufficiently toxic, well, naturally, everyone is going to focus on the example, rather than the substantive point, however valid the substantive point might be. If an MP says "I think that Prime Minister should roll up his sleeves and the give the striking dock workers a jolly good black eye, just as he would to his own wife if he got home and she didn't have his dinner ready" then I don't think we would be very surprised if the story in the papers the next day was that an MP appeared to take wife-beating for granted. Even if he had a good point about prosecuting the strikers with utmost severity.
So. The question before us today is whether or not Prof Richard Dawkins should be allowed to visit the bathroom over his recent twitter pronouncements about sexual assault and pedophilia.