The Sunday Cat’s heart goes out to opossum mothers.

Even if they are adoptive mothers:

There’s some discussion on youtube about whether this cat is happy in its role.  Cats will adopt an amazing range of creatures, so I suppose we should consider whether they really want to.  I mean, there’s this particularly self-sacrificing species, the domestic cat, that gets taken advantage … wait!  The domestic cat is not known for selless altruism.  Hmmmmm. 


“the country could have spared itself a ton of grief”

That phrase ends David Brooks’ suprising essay on leadership style.  So what does great leadership require?

Cojones? Chest-beating self-confidence?  Or sustained awareness of one’s limits.  The creation of a surrounding structure to compensate for one’s weaknesses?  Perhaps there isn’t precisely a dichotomy,** but one style seems clearly to be the dominant paradigm, at least in the US.

Books instead  points out  the dangers of a hyper-masculine leadership style, and argues for the importance of style often attributed to women.  It’s the same style that can be invoked to explain why women aren’t among the leaders; that is, women’s supposed possession of the style is given as a reason for why they are few among the  CEO’s, university presidents, and so on.  We are, then, talking about a conflict between what works and what is thought to work, with the familiar  result that women are seen as  not good enough, and so are kept in positions below what their talents could take  them.

The details are worth looking at if you envisage getting trapped by someone who wants to explain why women are meant to be in the second ranks.  Or, if David Brooks is right, if you want to explain a very great problem the US has.  But here’s a sample of what he has to say:

What having the  cojones gets one:

Some leaders are boardroom lions. They are superconfident, forceful and charismatic. They call for relentless transformational change. … We can all point to successful leaders who display this kind of self-confidence. It’s the sort of self-assurance that nearly every politician tries to present. …

Yet much research suggests that extremely self-confident leaders can also be risky… charismatic C.E.O.’s often produce volatile company performances. These leaders swing for the home run and sometimes end up striking out. They make more daring acquisitions, shift into new fields and abruptly change strategies.

One the other hand:

[Research has found) found that many of the reliably successful leaders combine “extreme personal humility with intense professional will.**

Alongside the boardroom lion model of leadership, you can imagine a humble hound model. The humble hound leader thinks less about her mental strengths than about her weaknesses. ….

In short, she spends a lot of time on metacognition — thinking about her thinking — and then building external scaffolding devices to compensate for her weaknesses.

She knows the world is too complex and irregular to be known, so life is about navigating uncertainty. … It is complex beyond reckoning.

She spends more time seeing than analyzing. Analytic skills differ modestly from person to person, but perceptual skills vary enormously. Anybody can analyze, but the valuable people can pick out the impermanent but crucial elements of a moment or effectively grasp a context. This sort of perception takes modesty; strong personalities distort the information field around them. …

Brooks concludes, “If this leadership style were more widely admired, the country could have spared itself a ton of grief.”


**attributed to Jim Collins, the author of “Good to Great” and “How the Mighty Fall

**in fact the highlighted reader’s comments tend to say that someone can have both:  e.g., Obama has both  charisma and humility.  But I think Brooks’ essay aims to crticize our models for leadership, for which we – in the US and perhaps elsewhere – have simplistic ideas on the basis of which bad  choices are  made.

(Not so subtle) Ways women are excluded

We talk a lot here about subtle ways that women get excluded from or marginalised within philosophy– the workings of networks, implicit bias, and so on. Sometimes, it’s not so subtle. Reader E sends us this tale:

a good friend of mine (a tenured philosophy professor in the states) was just accepted to an NEH summer seminar in [European city]. She’s a single mom and, obviously, wants to bring her son along. But she says she: “has just been given 12 hours to “demonstrate” that she has full-time childcare arrangements for her son for the month of July that “are to the [completely unspecified] satisfaction” of the Institute directors; if she fails to meet this requirement, she has been told her accceptance in the program will be withdrawn. She was notified of said acceptance on Monday.”

12 hours to find childcare in a foreign city on another continent, and the requirement to prove this to the satisfaction of some committee. As E says, “Sometimes the ways women get excluded in philosophy are subtle and complicated. Sometimes they are so fucking obvious they make you want to scream. . .”