On Feb. 5th Richard Dawkins experienced a stroke while at home, on the cusp of traveling to New Zealand and Australia for a speaking tour. Fortunately it was a minor stroke, and he was allowed to return home after four days to begin recuperating. He reported later that it was a hemorrhagic stroke in the right basal ganglion, which “affects left-side coordination but does not affect higher cerebral function.”
That update comes from this recording of Dawkins describing what happened. In it he sounds very frail, but not a bit less lucid– quite to the contrary, he takes the opportunity quote both Steven Pinker and his own previous writings on the evolutionary marvel of the human hand. Dawkins’ own left hand’s functioning had been diminished by the stroke to the point that manipulating buttons became difficult. He goes on to reflect that he’d been thought slow as a child for being a late learner of button manipulation as well as shoe-tying, having started life in Africa and not requiring such fastenings on his clothing at the time because of the ambient weather.
And this part of the recording I will simply transcribe, because listeners have reached radically different conclusions about its meaning:
The doctors, obviously, were worried about what caused it. I’d been having blood pressure problems for a while, which the GP and I’d thought were under control, but apparently not. The doctors asked me whether I’d been suffering from stress, and I had to say, yes I had. They keep advising me not to get involved in controversy, and I’m afraid I had to tell them that controversy– that not getting involved in controversy is not one of the things I’m terribly talented at.
I told them that I’d had a certain amount of controversy and was very distressed, and on the 28th of January I was dis-invited from a conference in America to which I’d previously been asked. This upset me very much. I’m used to getting hate from religious nuts and creationists but when I get hate from what I think of as my own people…the left, liberals, feminists and so on, that directly hurt me. And I might’ve been expected to get a stroke after that, if ever.
But paradoxically, the stroke came after I got a bit of good news. On the morning of February the fifth, I had a very gracious letter from the conference organizers, the committee, graciously apologizing for dis-inviting me and re-inviting me, and I was overjoyed at that. And you might think that’s the last time I’ve have got a stroke, but it was actually the evening of that same day that I got the stroke.
It’s to be assumed that the conference Dawkins is talking about here is NECSS, from which he was dis-invited last month for having approvingly tweeted a video claiming that feminists and Islamists share a commonly ideology.
I did some searching for verification that Dawkins had been re-invited to NECSS, but didn’t find anything. There isn’t any notice of such on their web site— the most recent announcement regarding Dawkins is their declaration to dis-invite him on January 27th called Concerning Richard Dawkins. I don’t see anything on their Twitter feed, either. So….who knows?
If I were PolitiFact, I would probably give the claim that Dawkins blamed feminists for his stroke a rating of “half true.” He said that he could’ve been expected to have a stroke, “if ever,” from the “hate” directed toward him by his “own people,” which includes the left, liberals, and feminists. But in this speculation, he notes that the stroke was more immediately preceded by receiving notification of being re-invited to NECSS.
Matthew Facciani at Patheos wrote a blog post that was originally titled “Dawkins blames feminists for his stroke,” and then changed it after getting some heat from readers. His post concludes:
I hope Dawkins continues to make a full recovery and I also hope that some of his words from this interview can impact people. 1) It’s another reminder how precious life is and how we should cherish every moment. and 2) It’s also a reminder that we should try to be decent to one another even when we disagree. Perhaps the many Dawkins fans who scoffed at the harassment women face online can take note how serious such behavior can be.
It wasn’t just Dawkins’ fans, but he himself who scoffed at the harassment women face online– and even endorsed such harassment, in the case of Chanty Binx. I suppose that’s just because he decided that she was “nasty” and therefore “deserves abundant mockery, the more the merrier.”
But here’s the thing– given Dawkins’ comments above, it seems like he needs to make a decision. Either “abundant mockery” can potentially cause a person to have a stroke, or people can “deserve abundant mockery, the more the merrier.” I suppose a third option could exist– that both are true, and therefore some people deserve to have a stroke caused by abundant mockery– but I don’t want to believe that anyone genuinely thinks that.
It’s common knowledge that there are many feminists, including Chanty Binx, who have become the targets of sustained harassment both on the internet and off because they are well-known feminists. Each of these women has suffered from it. Each has had to make a choice, perhaps repeated choices, about whether to continue speaking out, and to what extent they can handle doing so. Most of these women do not have anything like the platform and hordes of admirers that Dawkins has, factors that– along with other privileges– have enabled him to have considerable insulation from such ridicule. It’s a really good thing none of them have had strokes (that we know of) as a result……so far…..isn’t it?