Naomi Wolf on the end of America: What do you think?

“A very controversial writer,” according to Viera, the host.  Notice that this is hardly a friendly interview.

A longer and friendlier interview, which goes much further in her claims, can be found here.  Among the things she mentions is the threat of martial law described here.  A worry one might have is that the theory is much more loaded than the actual data.  But what do you think?

Obama and the complexities of racism

I just read an interesting article here about the (at first) surprising fact that some people with explicitly negative beliefs about African Americans are planning to vote for Obama. On reflection, or course, it’s not surprising at all. Even openly bigoted people of the most extreme sort– those who think black people are inferior to white people, and will say so out loud– will generally allow that there are exceptions. This is why the classic black best friend really doesn’t (on its own) show that someone isn’t a racist. So *of course* one may hold negative beliefs about African Americans and still support Obama. But it’s well worth remembering– especially given all the articles I’ve seen assuming that whole regions are not worth fighting for because there’s so much racism. (I’m pleased to see, though, that Obama’s people really don’t seem to have accepted these “give up on x arguments” at all.)

I also began thinking, though, about the effect that it has on people when they do make that black friend. Their racist beliefs may well get shaken a bit (of course they also may not). And it got me wondering about the effect that Obama may be having on people’s beliefs, and also their unconscious biases. After all, one of the fascinating things about unconscious bias is the sort of thing that can reduce it:

There is growing evidence that implicit attitudes can be changed through exposure to counter-stereotypes. When the race test is administered by a black man, test takers’ implicit bias toward blacks is reduced, says Irene Blair, a University of Colorado psychologist who recently conducted a review of studies that looked at how attitudes could be changed. Volunteers who mentally visualized a strong woman for a few seconds — some thought of athletes, some thought of professionals, some thought of the strength it takes to be a homemaker — had lower bias scores on gender tests. Having people think of black exemplars such as Bill Cosby or Michael Jordan lowered race bias scores. One experiment found that stereotypes about women became weaker after test takers watched a Chinese woman use chopsticks and became stronger after they watched the woman put on makeup. Interventions as brief as a few seconds had effects that lasted at least as long as 24 hours.

I wonder what the effect might be of being regularly exposed to images of a black Presidential candidate, or even a black President.

Prevent Election Theft

It’s sadly no surprise to learn that Republicans are trying to purge legitimate voters from the rolls in time for the November 4 election. But what can we do to fight this– to ensure that all legitimate voters are able to vote, and to get their votes counted? Several things (many, though not all, are directed at those who are US citizens/live in the US):

Vote early if you can, and urge friends and family to do so too. Find out about early voting options for your state here.
Distribute voter education materials: Download and print them here. Since many of our readers are academics, it’s worth mentioning that students are a group who frequently have trouble voting– distribute these at your university!
If you can afford it, contribute to People for the American Way’s election protection efforts here.
Write a letter to your local paper alerting people to possible problems in your state, and reminding citizens of their rights– including the right to a provisional ballot if for some reason their right to vote is questioned on polling day.

Voting rights are absolutely fundamental, and we’ve seen how is it is for these to be denied– and the effects of this. We need to do everything we can to help make sure that rights are protected in this election. (Thanks, Lydia, for the reminder!)

Domestic Violence Classes

Rhode Island now requires schools to teach about violence in relationships: how to recognise warning signs and how to get help. This is good. But it strikes me that something is missing here:

Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch, who shepherded the proposal through the legislature last year, said domestic violence is a disturbingly common crime, yet education about it is scarce and haphazard.

“You teach sex ed, you teach ‘don’t do drugs,’ you teach ‘don’t drink,’ you should also be teaching ‘don’t be a victim of domestic violence,'” said Lynch, whose office receives about 5,000 cases a year.

It’s not enough to teach people “don’t get in a car with a drunk driver”, as Lynch clearly recognises. You also teach them not to drive drunk. So why stop at teaching people not to be a *victim* of domestic violence?? (Thanks, Jender-Parents!)


The Society for Philosophy and Psychology, one of the original ‘cognitive science’ societies, has formed a committee on diversity.  The committee’s initial – but not exclusionary – focus will be on women in philosophy.  One reason for this is that the representation of women is considerably lower in philosophy than it is in the other disciplines that are represented by the society.

The committee on diversity has a blog, and a first shot at an initial set-up can be found at  It hasn’t gone officially public yet, and the chair would like feedback from FP readers before it does.

The blog will post newsletters, information about conferences, funding opportunites, and so on.  The initial post are trying to set up a problematic:  Philosophy has supposedly been making an effort to hire women for some time.  The results are pretty dismal.  One thing we might consider is the amount of unconscious bias against women.

So see what you think.  And helpful comments you might have should be left here; the diversity blog isn’t yet really set up for comments.

We might note that there’s some reason to think this might have some positive effect.  If we could get a number of philosophy faculty somewhat versed in the problems of diversity, decisions about  who gets what might change a bit.

The author of the posts is the chair of the committee.

Just how hard is it for women to get published?

Not as hard as it is to *believe* that she has had work published, apparently:

Female philosopher with gender ambiguous name gets published. In editorial, she is referred to as ‘he’.

Presumably the editors were made aware of their mistake, as in the current issue the editorial contains this helpful note:

Image of the first page of the fulltext

[Some people are having trouble with the image, the editorial from the current issue of Ethical Theory and Moral Practice. The key bit reads: “We have to rectify a mistake. In the editorial of this volume’s issue 3, we unjustly assumed that Jules Holroyd is a female. He is not. Our sincere apologies.]

Sigh. ‘he’ or ‘she’. if it isn’t ‘he’…

A cry out for gender neutral pronouns?

True or false: gifted/creative = early achiever?

Are all geniuses prodigies?  No, according to Malcolm Gladwell, in the New Yorker.  Following an economist at the University of Chicago, David Galenson, he argues that there are two different paradigms;

Prodigies like Picasso, Galenson argues, rarely engage in … open-ended exploration. They tend to be “conceptual,” Galenson says, in the sense that they start with a clear idea of where they want to go, and then they execute it….

But late bloomers, Galenson says, tend to work the other way around. Their approach is experimental. “Their goals are imprecise, so their procedure is tentative and incremental,”

Much in Western economic life favors the early bloomer and not the late.  Academia is a good case.  Start out a star and you are set for life; find yourself immense in the possibilities and unable to be highly productive at the beginning, and your career may end.  Importantly, as the article points out, the late-bloomer needs mentors or some sort of support.

Is the possibility of this sort of difference of interest to feminists?  At the very least, it raises some questions, one of which is whether men and women are equally distributed among the types.  Of course, it is hard to tell how the distinctions would look if they were described in less vague language, but the second sounds much more like the way at least groups of women philosophers in my experience tend to approach philosophical problems.  

And though the study seems focused on the arts, it may generalize to fields like philosophy.  In which case we can also remind ourselves that an early start,  which for fairly extraneous reasons is too often difficult for women, may get one a much better job and much better opportunies, it really need not indicate superior talent.

Well, we did know that.  But a reminder is a good thing.