Is Richard Dawkins an Asshole?

It seems to me that Aaron James captures at least a lot of what it is to be an asshole in this three part definition from his book Assholes: A Theory.  An asshole...

Now, a book about assholes would be no fun if it included no examples, and James doesn't disappoint.  But I do wonder about some of his examples.  Is he really applying his own definition when he identifies Richard Dawkins as a specimen of the "smug asshole"? The allegation of smugness is supported with this complaint:
He writes cocksurely that the views of millions of reasonable and intelligent people (even if ultimately mistaken) have no merit whatsoever and feels entitled to give sloppy treatment to arguments for the existence of God that have seriously engaged philosophers for thousands of years.
Even if that were all true, to be an asshole is not just to be smug. It's to have a sense of entitlement that immunizes one against the complaints of other people.  Is Dawkins like that? James doesn't offer evidence to that effect.

James's three conditions are part of the story of assholery, but I wonder if they're the whole story. There's such a thing as earned entitlement. You feel entitled because you are entitled. For example, suppose you're a professor who's given an exam on X, and you're an expert on X.  A student complains that you've graded her exam incorrectly, and the answer is really such and such. You pull rank on her, saying that it's up to you to decide what counts as the right answer. You do this not to gratify your ego, but because you realize she will contest her grade endlessly, if you don't firmly establish your authority.  You do feel immune to her complaints, but based on a well earned sense of entitlement.  I can imagine the student going away and calling you an asshole, but were you really one?

Now, to the extent that Dawkins does act as if he's entitled and immune to complaints--to repeat, James doesn't provide evidence of this--it could be a case of earned entitlement and earned immunity.  Must Dawkins really take creationists seriously, despite the fact that he understands evolution much better than they do?  I wouldn't call someone an asshole for being aware of the expert-amateur gradient, and taking some complaints less seriously than others. Note:  I have a sneaking suspicion that James discusses this somewhere in the book, but (a) I'm not done, and (b) I'm reading it on a Kindle, so it's hard to look things up. 

This is a book full of goodies, such as a discussion of the difference between bitches and assholes, and an argument that assholery is largely a product of socially constructed masculinity.  Most assholes, he argues, are men. A bitch is inches away from being an asshole, but has more empathy.  Women are socially conditioned to stop at bitch-hood, and not go full asshole.

Fun stuff! I met some first class assholes at a Shins concert last month, and find this book gives me exactly the right tools to dissect what was so annoying about them.  So--more about assholes to come, in my next TPM column.


Wayne said...

Is the professor an asshole? Yeah... I would say so, if their justification is "Because I said so."

It seems like the professor owes a better explanation of his/her judgment on the answer than just because I determine what is correct, to assert authority. The authority of the professor comes from their knowledge, and they need to evidence that every semester to their new students.

But okay, to Dawkins.. Is he an Asshole? I haven't read Asshole yet, but judging from his definition, it sounds like he's pigeonholeing Dawkins into a subset of assholes, those that are smug. I'm not sure how he defines smug, I'm assuming he'd have something as good for his definition of Asshole.

I'm not sure what special advantages he's enjoying. Popularity?

To the point of your post, does a good argument entitle you to something? Dawkins has pretty good arguments against God, but he's preaching to the choir to me. So an argument MIGHT entitle you to something... like belief in X, or in this case, non-belief in X. But is this the special advantage that James is referring to under condition 1? Surely not.

I might agree that he satisfy condition 3... He doesn't seem to give much thought to other reasons one might want to live religiously. But I've also heard him/seen him sitting down with critics and having a good reasonable discussion about God too. But I would imagine one condition satisfied, wouldn't make an Asshole.

ianbargain said...

It seems to me that the earned entitlement argument wrt Dawkins is not relevant when he is not talking about evolution but relegious beliefs in general, not just creationism.
Not that he is wrong but he is more akin to the student who considers the whole course to be pointless and tells the Professor and other students so.

Dave Ricks said...

Richard Dawkins is not an asshole.

Deepak Shetty said...

The definition seems to be unnecessarily broad. it can for e.g. be used to classify anyone who believes his/her religion to be true as an asshole

Anonymous said...

Dawkins is presenting facts supported by forensic/DNA evidence. He is dialectically engaging individuals, who, according to leading psychologists and Homeland Security, are mired in ideology out of their fear of death. Their ideology allows them to adopt a narrow worldview by replacing portions of reality with delusion. I know--I was raised as a bible fundamentalist. Dawkins acknowledges, as all scientists do, that precious little should be taken as 100% true or accurate, for doing so would preclude any further search for knowledge; whereas his oppponents smugly insist they have 100% truth and lnowledge in the pages of their typical, Bronze-Age mythology bible. So WHO is the smug asshole who thinks they are priveleged to tell everyone else what is right and wrong, what is moral and immoral? WHO is the smug asshole who thinks they have 100% truth and knowledge? Aaron James's complete twisting of reality smacks of professional jealousy against one who is clearly his intellectual superior.

LanceSackless said...

No, sorry Anon. Dawkins is an asshole trapped in his own philosophy; he will never bend to anyone else's will because he truly believes he is right, which makes him just as dangerous as his polar opposites(example: Westboro Baptist Church). And you sound like one of his disciples Not only that your "proof" because you were raised in a strict-fundamentalist complete repudiates your whole 100% theory; you have one bad instance and you can now say that's all religious people? Hate is an ugly emotion, my friend.