[UPDATE: Just to be clear, I posted this in full consultation with Carrie Jenkins and with her approval. I would never have dreamed of posting it otherwise.]
[FURTHER UPDATE: Brian Leiter is now claiming publicly on his blog that Carrie ‘threatened’ him and that his tweet to her was in response to a tweet she sent to him (which is demonstrably false – she tweeted at Tim Crane and never once made any reference to Brian Leiter.) This makes the discussion below even more salient.]
In an update to the post I’m not linking to, Brian Leiter mentions that he sent the following email to Carrie Jenkins:
Dear Carrie: Laurie Paul and Heidi Lockwood tell me you were upset by the Twitter exchange from the other day. I am genuinely sorry for upsetting you, it was, truly, the opposite of my intention. May I please try to explain what I thought was going on?
Tim Crane and I had a series of back-and-forths on Twitter about the contested Nietzsche review, which he had commissioned for TLS. He needled me, and I needled back. I posted his comment in defense of the review on my Nietzsche blog, and he quipped that I would now call him a charlatan (I told him he was only a charlatan when it came to wine expertise in a separate tweet). You weighed in with a tweet that I took to mean, “Don’t worry, Brian calls lots of people charlatans, including me.” I thought that was funny and a friendly gesture, so I replied to say, “Well, I did once call you a sanctimonious arse, but never a charlatan, and in any case, I don’t dislike you and know there are lots of good things about you.” Unfortunately, that’s more than 140 characters.
Now as you know several months ago I did send you an intemperate e-mail, which I regret sending, but it was in response to something you had done which really upset me. I read your “pledge” back then (as did Catarina at NewApps, from whom I learned about it) as directed at me and as saying: “I am not going to treat Brian Leiter as a normal member of the profession.” I found that very offensive at the time. I should have cooled off for 24 hours, but instead I sent you an intemperate e-mail. I learned you then put it into public circulation, so I took that to be the context of the tweet exchange. Part of what I wanted to convey with the tweet exchange was only that I wasn’t annoyed about that earlier incident, and I took the fact that you tweeted what you did to mean you weren’t either.
I have spoken to Carrie at length about this email. It did not make things better for her. In fact, for quite understandable reasons, it made them worse.
After the July email Carrie received counseling during which she was advised very strongly that, in order to recover from the incident, she should under no circumstances enter into any further correspondence with Leiter. She attempted to comply by ensuring emails to her from his address were filtered so they would not appear in her inbox.
However, Leiter posted his message to her to the Facebook page of a mutual friend, making it impossible for her to avoid contact with him as she was attempting. Although she did not read it when it appeared (in her best attempt to follow her counselor’s advice), many friends saw it and discussed it with her, so she could not ignore its contents or avoid the further harms caused by them, which are described below.
In Leiter’s message, no awareness is evinced of the serious harm that has been caused to Carrie over the months since July. Hence there is no acknowledgement of responsibility for this harm and no apology for it. There is no attempt on Leiter’s part, in this message or anywhere else, to discover how she was affected by the events during and since July, or even why she was “upset” by the September tweet.
In addition to harm caused by the July email and September tweet, Carrie had been in a state of elevated anxiety in the meantime because of various of Leiter’s public comments on his blog and Twitter feed about “meaningless pledges”, how “fortunate” it is that other philosophers did not take the “kindness” pledge, how “funny” the FP post supporting her pledge post was, and so on.
The message posted to a friend’s facebook page, however, focuses on explanations of Leiter’s own perspectives and views.There is no apology for anything in the message except the fact that Carrie may have been “upset” by the September tweet.
Likewise, there are no regrets for anything expressed except for Leiter’s “intemperateness” in sending the July email. If at any point Leiter indeed regretted sending that email, he could at any point have written to Carrie to apologize and retract his remarks, to enquire as to whether any harm had been done, and to ask whether he could do anything that would help to put that harm right. None of the above has happened. (She has now checked through her previously filtered email messages to confirm this.)
Similarly, if Leiter genuinely wished to make a plausible apology for upsetting Carrie with the September tweet, he might have enquired how he might remedy the upset caused. But even the most minimal and obvious of remedies, taking down the tweet in question, is not offered or even considered in Leiter’s message. Indeed, at the time of writing (24 September) the tweet is still live and public on Leiter’s Twitter feed. It is therefore difficult for Carrie to feel that even the minimal apology offered consists in a genuine attempt to alleviate any of the damage done.
Instead of making an effort to understand Carrie’s experience of what has happened, the apology focuses primarily on Leiter himself, on his perspective and interpretations, and on claims about his intent. His intent, and how events were perceived and interpreted by him, does not determine the effects of his actions.
Moreover, the explanations proffered have been disturbing to Carrie and caused her further distress. From Leiter’s message it is clear that both on the occasion of the July email and the occasion of the September tweet, Leiter assumed that she was talking about him despite having made no mention of him anywhere on either occasion, nor having been in any prior contact with him at either time.
Carrie’s July blog post is written in very general terms. Many philosophers do not always behave in the ways she describes in that post, including, as she explicitly notes in the post, herself.
Carrie’s tweet to Tim Crane was to Tim Crane, and was about how philosophers being called ‘charlatan’ is nothing unusual. Moreover, though he offered plenty of insults to her, Leiter never once called Carrie a charlatan, making it particularly odd that he interpreted Carrie’s tweet as being somehow about him.
Carrie finds it very unsettling – scary, even – that Leiter assumed she was talking about him both times. It has made her afraid to post public content to the internet in future, for fear of similar interpretation, leading to similar results.
Another disturbing element of the message is that Leiter claims that Carrie put his July email to her into “public circulation”. In fact, she shared the email privately with some friends, via email and Facebook (on a private thread), because she was in need of their help and support in understanding and processing something very frightening that had happened to her. One of her friends then violated her trust and posted the email to the comments section of a blog. Thus the email was put into public circulation without her knowledge and without her consent, in a violation of her trust and privacy at a time when she was already scared and vulnerable.
Carrie was additionally disturbed to learn that Leiter interpreted her September tweet to Tim Crane as friendly to him (Leiter), and as treating the July incident in a light-hearted manner. This suggested that what for her had been a frightening and traumatic occurrence was something Leiter considered a fitting subject for light-hearted Twitter exchanges.
She was also upset by Leiter’s suggestion in his message that he used his own tweet to convey to her that he “wasn’t annoyed” by the earlier incident. She does not think he had a reason to be “annoyed” with her in connection with her post. And as mentioned above, had he genuinely wished to to convey any such thing to her, he could have contacted her at any time since his July email. Why would Leiter attempt a reconciliation using a public forum in which he is limited to 140 characters and then spend 18 of those characters making public his earlier insult and another 9 of them tutting at her as if she were a child?
I don’t dispute that Brian Leiter attempted to apologize to Carrie. But not all apologies are created equal. And sometimes, apologies only make things worse.