A decade ago, comedian Ricky Gervais did a brief interview with the UK-based magazine New Humanist. Interestingly enough, when talking about offending audiences, he offered this example of a line he wouldn’t cross: “I don’t like racist jokes. But not because they are offensive. I don’t like them because they’re not funny. And they’re not funny because they’re not true.”
It was a sensible thing to say… and utterly ironic given that he’s now known as one of those supposedly edgy comedians who mocks trans people.
But the most noteworthy thing about that interview was the image used for the cover of the magazine.
It was a picture Gervais had previously hoped to use for a Rolling Stone cover… but since they passed, New Humanist took him up on it.
Gervais portrayed himself as crucified for being an open atheist, I guess, and talking about it in his comedy. It was completely over the top because he was never “cancelled.” He never has been. He’s been putting out TV series, podcasts, and comedy specials for years — some good, most of it forgettable — and his career hasn’t suffered in the slightest.
I bring that up because Richard Dawkins is the focus of a new piece in the Sunday Times to promote his forthcoming book, Flights of Fancy, and he did the exact same thing: He took a picture in which he’s portrayed as a crucified Jesus.
It’s cleverly in front of a bird with an outstretched wingspan — a nod to his new book — but there’s no denying the intention.
He doesn’t do himself any favors in the interview either. (Listen: If a newspaper has to insert a picture of Rachel Dolezal in a profile of you, you need to rethink your life decisions.)
The reporter fairly brings up the recent controversy in which Dawkins was stripped of his old “Humanist of the Year” title from the American Humanist Association after tweeting about how “Some men choose to identify as women, and some women choose to identify as men.” He was basically comparing trans people to Dolezal, a white woman who famously and controversially self-identified as Black. He suggested trans people also “choose” their identities.
It wasn’t a simple misstatement. It wasn’t just an old guy not understanding modern language; he’s done this before, he’s been called out on it, and he’s doubled down on his ignorance in subsequent interviews.
He did it this time as well:
He recalls reading the historian Jan Morris’s 1974 book Conundrum on transitioning to become a woman. “She felt herself to be a woman trapped in a man’s body,” Dawkins says. “I think that’s a real phenomenon. I have sympathy. But when trans people insist that you say she is a woman, you redefine something. If you define a woman as a human with an XX carrier type, then she’s not a woman. If you define a woman as someone who identifies as a woman, feels they are a woman and has maybe had an operation, then by that definition she is a woman. From a scientific point of view, she’s not a woman. From a personal point of view, she is.”
I don’t need to rehash the problem with his statement here because it’s been done so many times already. But the bottom line is Dawkins thinks trans people are, at their core, lying. He doesn’t accept them. He think he’s doing them a courtesy by using their pronouns and that should be enough.
And he definitely cannot handle being criticized about this from other liberals:
Dawkins is worried that the illiberalism of the left is helping to fuel right-wing populism, driving continued support to Donald Trump and the like. “Every time a lecturer is cancelled from an American university, that’s another God knows how many votes for Trump,” he says. He finds it particularly bothersome when his “own team” attacks him. “I’m much more hurt by attacks from the left,” he says. “When I get hate mail from my own people, that hurts in a way that getting it from creationists doesn’t.”
That’s because he knows we’re more likely to have a good point. Calling out someone’s bigotry — or, as Dawkins puts it, cancelling them — doesn’t create Trump supporters. Those people were just looking for an excuse to do it. They were probably already susceptible to bad ideas, fans of terrible YouTubers and podcasters, and the sort of gullible people who think being loud and confident grants someone credibility. Maybe they were religious zealots, or conspiracists, or just fans of watching others suffer.
Dawkins is mistaking good-faith criticism for bad-faith propaganda.
As I’ve said before, it’s frustrating that someone who’s frequently right about religion is wrong about so many other contemporary issues — and apparently surrounded by people who refuse to educate him. (The Center for Inquiry, which merged with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science years ago, has been virtually silent on all these controversies involving Dawkins.)
The biggest irony is that the piece opens by pointing out that one of Dawkins’ fears is “being cancelled by the left.” He says this in a major news publication while promoting his second book this year.
He’s doing fine. He’ll always be fine. If he’s worried about getting criticized by liberals, he should stop saying idiotic things worthy of that criticism. His biggest fear shouldn’t be people like me. It should be the guy staring back at him in the mirror.