These are the remarks I’ll be given at the SPEP Advocacy Committee’s panel on Online Harassment at the SPEP Meeting at Penn State on October 19, 2018.
I was asked to speak on this panel in light of my experience as a series editor at the APA blog. I edit the Women in Philosophy series on the blog. As a series editor and as someone who has been a woman in philosophy on the internet for many years, I’ve spent some time thinking about comment moderation, diverse and inclusive posting, and dealing with trolls. For the record, the views I am sharing here are my own and not mine in any official capacity as part of the APA.
The first point I want to make is that I think blogs meant to serve a community require the same careful and nuanced thinking about what parameters and practices foster inclusive community as the scholarship that philosophers engage in about community requires. I’ve been thinking deeply about inclusive community for almost two decades. I have two points of departure. From Aristotle, I think we learn that community following a certain notion of nature has to remain concerned with what its purpose is and whether it is achieving its end in order to actually achieve it. This purpose is evidenced by who it includes. Aristotle counsels communities to be more just and more stable by being more inclusive. Who a community includes tells you what goals the community pursues and what it thinks is just. Who posts on a blog, whose other posts are linked to, who posts regularly in comment sections, these things tell you what goals the community pursues and what it thinks is just.
One of my favorite yoga teachers likes to say after particularly difficult poses in Bikram, have no reaction, just stand still. I’ve been thinking about how “having no reaction” seems like good Stoic practice for dealing with various frustrations in academic publishing.
A couple days ago I received a rejection from a top-tier journal on a paper that I’m pretty excited about. The reviewer said that my paper does not talk about one particular thing that everyone who writes on x has to talk about and that my lens for interpretation is not the useful key that I think it is. I do not think that x is that important to my reading or even really to the questions I am addressing and so I have no interest in talking about it. I do think my lens is a useful key. As I was reading the review, at first, I felt my blood beginning to rise. Then, my yoga teacher’s mantra occurred to me: have no reaction. I began to think about what it might mean to consider this response as information that the field gives about what it is like, but that positive or negative feelings do not need to be had in response to that information. Just stand still.
Everyone who knows me knows that I am not a Stoic. I have far too many opinions to be a Stoic. I usually so quickly go to the judgment that I have been wronged with these kinds of rejections. Sometimes, that’s true. More often than not, I go to the place of thinking that rejection is a personal judgment. It can feel like that. I think sometimes recognizing how rejections are unfair motivates us to raise important questions. I think that we need to get angry and organize to change the field, especially to become less narrow in its thinking about how publishing decisions are made. I’m working on that too. Read more
Having had some publishing success in my career, I’ve been rewarded with tons of requests to review article manuscripts in the last couple years. I am still not jaded enough to dislike being called on or not to need the recognition as an expert by editors such requests indicate. I appreciate having some influence on the field that this work affords. It also affords me the awareness of some common pitfalls. To avoid them, I offer this advice. Read more
Yesterday, Leigh Johnson posted at The Philosophers’ Cocoon in their “Real Jobs in Philosophy” series. She says something in the piece that brought me up short (honestly, she often does that). You should go read the whole thing; I want to focus on this one passage, the one under the heading “Research”:
I don’t get much time to do extended, concentrated, article-generating research—see above—though I am slowly realizing that I have exponentially more time for research, broadly-speaking, than I did at my previous position. That’s partly a consequence of not being buried in departmental business and new preps and the TT grind, but more so because I’m older now and I think about research much differently. I read a lot more and write (mostly digitally) a lot more than I used to, I do a lot of collaborative work, and I have more time to engage interests and concerns that are not primarily aimed at turning out peer-reviewed publications. I do some sort of research every day.
Johnson says she does some form of research everyday, but this research is not focused on peer-reviewed publications and it’s mostly digital. I’m going to go out on a limb and speak for the philosophical community when I say that philosophers generally don’t think that our digital work is research. Further on the limb, we don’t think this work is research, not only because we tend to think that whatever is meant for public consumption can’t be that good, but also because we tend to think public philosophy is either popularizing philosophical concepts developed in the quiet corners of the ivory tower or applying these same concepts
same to some relevant area of public life. Both popularizing and applying tend to be viewed as not as rigorous philosophy, not really philosophy itself but a possible use for philosophy.* When Johnson says she does some sort of research every day and that this research is not aiming toward peer-review academic publication, she seems to be saying that her public philosophy is itself the production of philosophical ideas, not just the application of those ideas to contemporary issues. Read more
I finished reading How Propaganda Works over the weekend. I think his analysis of ideology in terms of practice and social groups is fruitful. And the argument that the content of ideology matters for how we value it in democracy shows how the analysis puts us in some relationship to truth and justice which I like for its way of binding epistemological analyses to political and ethical ones. I’m particularly interested in how the focus on the ideal in contrast to critiques of ideals have divided analytic and continental political philosophy, thus questioning whether and how the ideals work in analytic philosophy opens up possibilities for conversations across the divide. Read more
The APA Committee on Public Philosophy hosted a panel yesterday entitled, “Navigating the Perils of Public Cyberspace: Toward New Norms of Public Engagement.” Read more
In his book Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, Philip Mirowski argues that economists were unable to respond adequately to the economic crisis of 2008-2009 because they were subject to “intellectual capture.” Observers of markets have long complained of “regulatory capture” where those who regulate Wall Street are too cozy with those they regulate and thus held hostage or “captured” by those relationships and so unable to sufficiently regulate their old buddies. Mirowski argues that many economists were similarly beholden to Wall Street, and unwilling to call foul on the theories that supported the governmental intervention to save Wall Street.
But it isn’t just economists and Wall Street. The academy, I think the academy in general, but definitely philosophy, suffers a similar intellectual capture. It works like this. Junior faculty earn credibility by having senior faculty who vouch for them. If you are a junior faculty member, you hesitate to call out those who seem to operate in the community of your own protectorate because that is what gives you credibility. If you need the protectorate to be strong for your position to be strong, you can’t question it. Especially more vulnerable members of underpresented groups within the community both need the protectorate for others to pay attention to them and are structurally unable to challenge the workings of the protectorate without their own position becoming more vulnerable. You might not even call out other junior faculty because of fear of their protectorate. And while justice would seem to demand it, the structure of the academy gives you no incentive to point out the ways your own community is patriarchal and racist, but rather to protect those who perpetuate those practices because it would seem to protect you. This is one reason we need more women and people of color in the academy.
As academics become more engaged in activism within their institutions and beyond, we need to be thinking about how the structures of activism, in the name of changing the conditions in which we work, repeat them, and repeat them in a way that seems to structurally deny any real critical voice from within regarding how we are repeating them.
Last week, one of the tone-setting figures in the field of philosophy, University of Chicago law professor Brian Leiter, allowed for some speculation on the reasons for the employment of a nontenured woman philosopher on a thread on his blog (see comment #2 by AnonUntenured). That thread did not take long to deteriorate into a #MRA meltdown where anonymous trolls insist that it is men not women who are the true victims in the current state of the discipline. The target of the initial speculation, Leigh Johnson of Christian Brothers University, submitted a comment in reply to the moderated thread where the speculation first arose but it was not approved. Johnson included that comment in a response which articulated pretty clearly that she is one among many women in philosophy who is just not going to take it anymore. I witnessed some discussion on social media in light of Johnson’s response where there was disagreement over whether Johnson, and not just Johnson but anyone who was upset that a very senior very influential person was allowing speculation over the legitimacy of a junior woman philosopher’s employment, should bring attention to this behavior by addressing it head on or just ignore it. I’ve been thinking all week about why I think this kind of thing needs to be publicized rather than ignored. Her post received 12,000 hits in the first 24 hours it was up in an effort, as she said quoting Gilles Deleuze, “to harm stupidity, to make stupidity shameful.” I completely support that reasoning for publicizing it, but I want to add another. Read more
1. At a conference several years ago I found myself in an argument with a philosopher who works in an area of philosophy commonly dismissed as not philosophy. We were considering the claim a third party had made that a fourth party’s work was not philosophy. I agreed that the third party’s claims were dubious, “But,” I asked, “Don’t you think we need to make some distinctions between what is or is not philosophy? Otherwise the original and specific contributions of philosophy will be disregarded.” Read more
The quickly burgeoning philosophy blogosphere has made it possible for philosophers to have more low-stakes discussions and debates not only about their work, but about the field. In my view, this has largely been a good thing. I live in small town in Indiana. Up until about fifteen months ago, I lived in deep south Texas. Sometimes the philosophy world feels far away. I’m glad to be able to see what other people are thinking about and to engage, sometimes just as a voyeur, in these discussions and debates. I’m also invested in digital humanities and the idea that we can lower the barriers that prevent non-academics from participating in these engagements. Read more