This post was written by an anonymous reader:
My friend has been abused in her home for years now. She’s isolated by her abusers; threatened and bullied into keeping quiet; kept away from friends or officials who might help. She had the courage to start whispering. At the school gate, to other mums who seemed friendly. I say courage, because we were strangers to her, totally cut off from and ignorant of her horrible isolated world. But whispering was all she could do. So she did it. And we listened, but we were powerless to act: the woman herself needs to give the signal, she needs to be the one to ask for help. We got lots of great advice from the domestic abuse hotline, from a wonderful charity (and from wonderful feminist philosophers!), but no one could actually do anything until she asked. And she couldn’t. She had literally no way to speak without endangering herself.
Three days ago, she found her chance. She had a doctor’s appointment. And she whispered to the doctor. And, certainly betraying all my pessimistic expectations, the doctor listened and acted. Her doctor rang the police. The police immediately started working; the school got involved to help; the charity and the domestic abuse hotline chipped in. There was an amazing whirlwind of planning and information-gathering and coordinating over the course of 24 hours. And then it just happened: smoothly, calmly and quietly, as if it were nothing (when in fact it was a whole life to this woman) they whisked her away. She got out. She’s out!
I’m a bit afraid of her abusers, too. I don’t ever want them to know my role. So, I need to keep quiet. But I want desperately to say thank you to her GP, and the head teacher, and the police, and social services, and the domestic abuse hotline, the friends who gave advice and the mums who donated clothes. A lot of people—a lot of strangers—have done a very amazing thing this week.
Since I can’t say thank you, could you? If you know a police officer, or a teacher, or a doctor, or a charity worker or social worker, or indeed anyone who does amazing things for strangers, shake their hand for me today. Tell them I say thank you.
Over at Disabled Philosophers, we’ve been getting a lot of submissions from people expressing concern about whether their disabilities will prevent them from becoming successful philosophers. Reading these posts, I’ve inevitably started to think about to what extent the practice of philosophy as it’s currently conducted is discriminatory (particularly against the disabled – but the concerns generalize).
Let’s be clear: that the practice of philosophy excludes people with certain types of disabilities is not, by itself, enough to justify the charge that philosophy is practiced in ways which are unfair or unjust. That a discipline or practice excludes some disabled people doesn’t by itself entail any unfairness or discrimination. Because of my disability, I could not have been a neurosurgeon. Neurosurgery requires extraordinarily precise fine motor control, and most days I have the fine motor skills of a drunk toddler. The practice of neurosurgery isn’t thereby being unfair in excluding me. It’s simply that I lack skills which are essential to the practice of neurosurgery. I happen to lack those skills because of a disability, but that doesn’t mean neurosurgery is discriminatory for requiring those skills.
It’s not bad or unjust if philosophy excludes some people – even if some such exclusions are related to disability. But it is unjust if philosophy excludes people because they can’t participate in (or don’t do as well at) things which aren’t essential to the practice of philosophy. What I’ve noticed is that the concerns expressed aren’t of the form: I’m afraid that my disability will keep me from being a good philosopher. Rather, they are of the form: I’m afraid that my disability will keep me from doing the kinds of things philosophers are expected to do (things like attend conferences, give public talks, do well in high-pressure q&a sessions, hang out in bars and talk about philosophy for hours, etc).
I suspect – though I don’t have that much evidence for this – that in philosophy we haven’t given much thought to what’s essential to the practice of philosophy. And perhaps as a result, I likewise suspect that we often base judgements about philosophical quality at least in part on things that are separable from being a good philosopher (like performing well in talks, being quick on your feet, etc). If that’s the case, then the charge of discrimination is fair – and worrisome.
I’d love to hear others thoughts on this, particularly with regard to:
(i) What really is essential to the practice of philosophy? (Are the social aspects of philosophy – like giving a talk or performing well in a q&a part of what it is to be a good philosopher?)
(ii) Do we often judge philosophical quality based in part on things that aren’t essential to being a good philosopher? (Apart from the obvious, like implicit bias. I’m thinking here about things you could explicitly bring up as evidence in discussion of philosophical quality that are in fact orthogonal to philosophical quality.)
In 2008, Rizwaan Sabir – an MA student at the University of Nottingham – was reported to the police by the university for downloading a copy of the al-Quaeda training manual and emailing it to his friend, Hich Yezza, who worked as an administrator. Yezza was helping Sabir put together a PhD proposal on counter-terrorism. He downloaded the manual from a US government site. A longer version, containing more material, can be purchased from any bookshop. However, when another administrator found the manual on Yezza’s computer, the university immediately called the police, who arrested Sabir and Yezza. Sabir was held for seven days before being released without charge. However, despite his innocence, information was kept on record, and as a result, he endured various forms of harassment from the authorities. (Yezza’s treatment was even worse: he was imprisoned for several months in an immigration holding unit as the UK tried to deport him. It took two years, and thousands of pounds in legal proceedings to halt the deportation and win back his residency papers. Again, he was completely innocent of any connection with terrorism.)
The Nottinghamshire police have now paid Sabir £20,000 in an out of court settlement, over their handling of the affair. Let’s hope this changes the way that such cases are dealt with in the future. You can read more here.