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.
People seem generally agreed that 2016 was a crap year. The best people died and the worst people won. In the face of this crappiness, I sat down to think about the happy things of this past year. I made this list before Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds died and before a colleague was harassed by white supremacists for mocking their racist concepts and now I don’t have much enthusiasm for sharing it. I’m concerned about focusing on my individual successes in the face of collective adversity. I know that the political losses of this year and the emboldening of the agents of injustice will require vigilance and thoughtfulness for the sake of creating a new and better world. I recall the good things of the year then in the spirit of possibility for doing that work.
- It was my first year as a tenured professor.
- I’m on my first sabbatical.
- We bought a house!
- We moved to a big(gish) city.
- I turned 40.
- Some really great people came to visit.
Leigh Johnson made her way to Indianapolis for a weekend-long jam session.
Villanova in Indiana
Jay Blossom sighting
The Johnsons stopped in all the way from Sharyland, TX.
Happy birthday to me with nieces and nephew who visited us in Indiana for my birthday.
- I had a gloriously sunny Cape May vacation with the nieces and nephews and sisters.
The Nabors kids in Cape May.
- I gave some good talks and got some good feedback on the book project I’m working on.
- I went to the Eastern APA, philoSophia, Ancient Philosophy Society, Wonder and the Natural World, Feminist Ethics, Methodologies, Metaphysics and Science Studies, SPEP, Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy, IPA conferences this year.
- I reconnected with old friends in Philadelphia and New York City.
- I attended a dear friend’s wedding.
- I found a running group in Indianapolis.
- I’ve been doing a reading group on some stuff I’ve been thinking about in the background for awhile and am glad to get into deeper.
- I made some new friends in Indianapolis.
I’ve been in close contact with alum from the last three institutions I’ve taught at (Wabash, UTPA, and Bryn Mawr).
Wabash in Broad Ripple
Lunch with Wes Chamblee in South Bend
The celebrity deaths, the lack of indictments for police shootings of Black people, emboldened racism, anti-Semitism and misogyny, Brexit, the political situation in Turkey, the surprising election all made it a year of possibilities foreclosed. At the same time, it was for me a year that established new possibilities- a new house, a new city, the tenured life, sabbatical. I’m not entirely sure how to hold these things together. I’m working to make my own new possibilities a place from which to address and resist the foreclosed ones.
The featured image is of the lighthouse at Cape May, NJ, lit by the sun. I leave it here as a metaphorical demand for lighthouses.
Last January, inspired by Jill Stauffer and looking to blog more regularly, I decided to blog every day of January. It was hard, but it was good for me. It was an opportunity to think through some things that had been rattling around in my head, to write up some reviews of books, and to better articulate my thoughts on what was happening in the world. No doubt there were days that were hard, but it broke through some of my blogging anxieties making it easier for me to drop a post without too much concern over whether my contribution really was a contribution.
Now a year later, those anxieties have not remained at bay. This is partly due to my efforts to address multiple audiences at once and partly due to my conflicted feelings about the philosophy blogosphere. Instead of getting into that here, I am going to start with my positive account of how I would like to think about blogging, my community of bloggers and my audience.
- I would like to be writing for a community of philosophers and non philosophers alike. This means a whole bunch of things that I think should lower the stakes of regular blogging. For one, it means writing plainly without trying to prove philosophy credentials. That means writing from a place of my expertise, but without the formal structures that demand that expertise be proven at every turn.
- For another, it means writing things because I think about them and am interested in sharing them. I know some things, I know the world in which these things are discussed. I have specific investments and concerns about how we think about political life, about nature, about gender, about reading certain texts that I am interested in writing about. I’m going to actively strive to overcome my resistance to posting when I am unsure whether what I write has been said before. A, I don’t think it has and B, this is not a formal academic project that depends on the principles of academic research. Unfortunately, this sense that it is is often enforced on women bloggers while many allowances are made for men bloggers.
- I would like to have a community around blogging that responds graciously and thoughtfully, reading with a hermeneutics of sympathy, giving the author the benefit of the doubt, respecting her authority on those things in which she is an authority. This is a principle that often leads to false equivalences, something I hope to write about in the days to come. I’ll just say that recognizing social and disciplinary positioning and responding thoughtfully in light of those positions would make this a better blog world.
One reason I have an uneasy relationship to blogging is that I want to treat it as a kind of public note-taking of my thinking about the world, much as Chris Long writes about using Twitter. By being public I am compelled to work things out that might otherwise be left inchoate. But also by being public I find myself internalizing possible criticisms and concerns from comers on all sides. This Big O Other, law of the father, this gaze, whatever you want to call it is a view I’d like to better ignore. So this month I’d like to blog more consciously for myself. If that’s something you’re interested in following, I hope you do. I’ll let you know at month’s end how we fare.
I blogged every day in January. It was not easy. I’m glad I did it, though. It helped snap me out of certain inhibitions that I have had about blogging, which I have discussed here and here. If you have a blog and you struggle to blog regularly, or if you don’t even know whether you want to blog regularly, I recommend giving yourself the month-long challenge. Here’s some things I learned. Read more
I’m coming to the end of my 31 days of blogging and I’ve been thinking about how this practice has changed my habits. Like blogging when I travel, I think blogging every day for a month has made me pay more attention to the thoughts that flit in and out of my head. They’ve also made me think about whether I want to develop something I’ve already written about a bit or if it matters enough to me. At the end of last year, I was recognizing a reticence in myself to write whatever insight or thought I had in a way that it looked to me that many people–mostly men–on social media did not have. I felt like I would circle around the idea four or five times and wonder whether it was worth putting in the world, which I talked about in my mid-month reflection on blogging.
Naming that problem has not necessarily changed it. Right now, I’m having one of those moments. I don’t know if my thought is worth sharing — I felt a little like this about yesterday’s post too — or if everyone already knows this except me. But I decided in these moments that the blog was just as much for me as for the world, and if it was important to me, it was worth sharing. Blogging about it gave me the opportunity to work through and clarify an idea that was percolating. I also tried to get out of my head the idea that my audience was other philosophers. In fact, I think this might be one thing that keeps philosophers from effectively engaging in public philosophy: we’re so tough on each other, we end up being more concerned with crafting the argument to be unassailable and original that either we just don’t write or we write to an audience that already is our audience!
The thought I had this morning was about the notion that women are more associated with their bodies than men that I discussed yesterday. I had always thought that the reason for this is that women bear children and so their work is literally in their body. But this morning I was thinking that is not sufficient. After a week of discussing Anne Fausto-Sterling’s work, it occurs to me that we think of men as less involved in reproduction because of our views of women as more their bodies and men less so, not the other way around. Read more
I have now blogged everyday for fifteen days in a row!
The most regular blogging I have done up until now was during my trips to Greece. I blogged about blogging the first trip, and looking back, blogging a trip is not that different from giving yourself a 31-day blogging challenge. In both cases, I find myself bringing added attention to my experiences because I know I am going to have to blog about something. One of my biggest obstacles to blogging more regularly before this month is that I’ll have ideas about something I could potentially blog about and I’ll think that it isn’t important or interesting enough or that I’m not the one to say it (sometimes, this is a legit concern and the philosophy blogosphere might be a better place if more white cisgender men asked them whether they should be the ones to say the thought they have). Read more
I spent my day writing syllabi, and so I’ve been thinking about what to do to inspire learning and what I’ve done that seems to have led most successfully to student learning. Last fall, I taught an upper-level course in which students had to post or comment on the class blog for every class session. I am here to testify that it raised the level of discussion in class and the depth of written work for the class better than anything else I’ve tried. This post is for those of you who might also be preparing to begin your semester, who are wondering whether having students blog is worth it and how to set it up. Read more
I’ve been watching the Making of a Murderer. I’m on Episode 4. If you haven’t started it yet, don’t worry, there are no spoilers here. I think this is an unspoilable series because, well, you know everything when you start watching. Not everything, but the gist, and that’s why you start watching. The gist is that a man in Wisconsin was falsely convicted of sexual assault, spent 18 years in prison, was exonerated on the basis of DNA evidence, and then, was possibly framed by police when he sued the police department for wrongful conviction. It was that last bit that motivated me to watch. Read more
I have always been someone who prided myself on being willing and able to eat whatever was put in front of me. Once, the guy who lived in the apartment downstairs from me in West Philly invited me to an after-hours event at Vientiane Café, a Thai restaurant on Baltimore Avenue. He was hosting a private dinner where they were going to serve even more authentic Thai food. This included water bug pâté, which I ate. So the first time I had to positively answer the question whether I had any dietary restrictions, I was embarrassed. Even just last weekend, when a friend asked, “You guys eat everything, right?” I took it as a point of pride that we were thought to be “those kind of people,” the people who weren’t fussy. Then I had to say, well, no, I’m gluten-free. Read more
On New Year’s Day, I visited my Uncle Jon in Chicago. He is a member of JPUSA, a Christian commune in Uptown. He’s a feminist progressive Christian who is more aware of his white male privilege than any Christian man I know, so it’s refreshing to spend time with him. He was telling us about his changing views on evangelism. He described a certain perspective on efforts at conversion that he called, “dive bombing.” “Dive bombing” is when you come from above and attempt to strip your target of their (false) understanding of the world so that you can then replace it with yours. This approach, he pointed out, is very condescending. And it works by establishing that someone else is wrong. So it’s basically gaslighting evangelism. Read more