A different perspective on Malala

from philosopher Saba Fatima:

However, some Pakistanis are wary of this recognition, precisely because it fits neatly into a Western narrative of backward Muslim countries. Yet again, the West rescues and honors brown women who defy their barbaric cultures. This is not to say that Malala is a stooge of the West (as some lunatic conspiracy theorist claim.) In fact, her agency is on full display and her strength shines through her character. Indeed she ought to be a source of pride for the country.

The wariness stems from the lack of outrage at death of young girls caused by acts in which the West is complicit in, such as drone strikes, and a simultaneous embrace of those girls that highlight Pakistan’s regression on women’s rights. For people in the west, indignation comes much easier at the oppression of women/girls’ rights by the Taliban in Pakistan’s northern regions, however, there is a glaring absence of any reflection (and a definite absence of outrage) on our complicity in these very same girls’ death by drones.

“But isn’t she way overreacting?”.

This post comes from a discussion I was having with someone happily unconnected to professional philosophy.  It concerns something I started thinking about some years ago, when I first heard about Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, which was supposed to be the first effective therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder.  I was very curious for a number of reason, not least of which was my perplexity at what could be called that.  And I think the book I’m going to quote from was the only thing at the time that didn’t cost a huge amount.

Still, lots of incidents over the last several years, and recent cyber discussions have reminded me that lots of us use an idea of normal emotional reactions.  And this idea has normative implications. The non-normal is wrong, bad, etc.
so it seems to me useful to remind ourselves that our baseline emotional reactions may vary a great.  One person who has an unpleasant encounter on Thurs may be struggling with it still a week later (or more) while another cannot understand why they cannot get over it.  So the empirically reasonably well-informed  Dialectical Behavioral Therapy tells us

A lot of people struggle with overwhelming emotions. It’s as if the knob is turned to maximum volume on much of what they feel. When they get angry or sad or scared, it shows up as a big, powerful wave that can sweep them off their feet.If you’ve faced overwhelming emotions in your life, you know what we’re talking about. There are days when your feelings hit you with the force of a tsunami. …

There’s a fair amount of research to suggest that the likelihood of developing intense, overwhelming emotions may be hardwired from birth. But it can also be greatly affected by trauma or neglect during childhood. Trauma at critical points in our development can literally alter our brain structure in ways that make us more vulnerable to intense, negative emotions. However, the fact that a propensity to intense emotions is often rooted in genetics or trauma doesn’t mean the problem can’t be overcome.


This sort of reaction is still seen as a problem because one may well have better things to do. And if pathology gets mixed in, it can become very socially destructive.

***this ends the didactic part of this post. What follows might be a quiz. ****

The book is actually full of internet stuff about mindfulness, but I was quit flummoxed by an early exercise. It concerns practicing radical acceptance. This means just accepting what’s happened without judgment or evaluation.

Here’s part of the list:

-Read a controversial story in the newspaper without being judgmental about what has occurred.

-The next time you get caught in heavy traffic, wait without being critical.

-Watch the world news on television without being critical of what’s happening.

-Listen to a news story or a political commentary on the radio without being judgmental.

I actually manage #2. I’m tempted to try a transcendental argument for the impossibility of the others. What do you think?

Helping Victims of Sexual Assault and Harassment: A guest post by Jennifer Lackey

It is not a secret that colleges and universities have been plagued by cases of sexual assault and sexual harassment. Too often, students find themselves victimized by members of their own communities, and we as faculty who are committed to fostering a safe and supportive learning and working environment must find constructive ways to respond.

Why there are these problems, and why they seem to occur with frequency in the academic world, are deep, important questions that I hope we will continue to have conversations about. But what I want to do here is to suggest two concrete proposals for moving forward.

Being sexually assaulted or harassed is a traumatizing and isolating experience, and students who suffer at the hands of members of their own communities often face a further traumatizing choice: be quiet and continue to share classrooms, colloquia, and departmental parties with those who have victimized them, or come forward and face a myriad of possible consequences, ranging from having their private lives subjected to public scrutiny to outright rejection by their peers.

Despite the risks, some students do report the crimes to officials at their institutions, and some do so precisely because they believe that it is the morally right thing to do. Reporting such incidents is a courageous step in protecting oneself and others from being harmed. There is, however, one possible consequence of coming forward that is particularly pernicious: this very act of seeking justice and fostering safety might itself result in further harm to victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment, by rendering them vulnerable to lawsuits brought against them by the people who have already victimized them.

Faculty members are employees of colleges and universities and, so long as they are acting within the scope of their employment, they are indemnified by their employers—that is, their employers will cover legal expenses and damages that may arise in the course of their fulfilling their professional obligations. However, students, both undergraduate and graduate, are not employees and may not automatically enjoy this protection. While some institutions readily agree to defend and indemnify students who face legal action against them, absent such indemnification, a student may face significant legal expenses in defending against a lawsuit filed by someone who typically has greater financial resources. This very possibility can have a chilling impact on our communities, for it provides an extremely effective means of silencing victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Here is where my first proposal comes in: should a student report to you that she has been victimized by one of your students or colleagues, fight aggressively on her behalf for the college or university to indemnify her.* You are in a far more powerful position than she is in, and you have far more resources to appeal to in negotiating and advocating on her behalf. Tell your institution how it is in its own interest in the long run to cultivate an environment in which students can seek justice and safety for themselves and others without the added risk of financial ruin. You can assure them that indemnifying students in this way is not without precedent.

In addition to the issue of indemnification, it is also important to recognize that lawsuits often force the defendant into silence. This silence, and the social isolation that comes with it, can be emotionally devastating. My second proposal, then, is that we, as members of the academic community, reach out to victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment, to let them know that they do not stand alone and that their position in our profession is secure. If you believe a victim, tell her that you do. If you feel that she suffered an appalling violation, convey this to her. If you know of a professional opportunity for which she is well-suited, invite her. Send her an e-mail, post a collective letter of public support, include her in academic discussions and gatherings. In caring for those who have already taken the courageous step of standing up for justice, we will not only make it easier for future victims to find their voices, we will also foster a community in which our most vulnerable members can flourish.

* Although I use the feminine pronoun here, these issues apply to all victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Please note: Comments are being pre-moderated. We will be exceptionally strict about which comments we let through. In particular, we will not allow any comments revealing specifics about cases or individuals, or speculating about motivations. We will also not allow anything which could serve to support a culture of victim-blaming. We will also err on the side of caution, so I’d expect that some perfectly well-intentioned comments won’t be let through. Please don’t be offended by this– we are fallible humans with day jobs, and we’re doing the best we can. Finally, we won’t be allowing any discussion of our commenting policies. We’re just one blog: if you don’t like our commenting policies, I’m sure you can find a place more congenial to you elsewhere.

Kate Manne in the NY Times

Kate Manne writes this week’s The Stone column in the NY Times, focusing on humanity, humanism, and race- and gender-based oppression. Here’s an excerpt:

I used to be a humanist in this sense of the term. But I am fast losing my religion. Dehumanization increasingly seems to me to be merely a symptom of the problem. The problem being precisely that black people are being seen as people — and they are seen as being threatening, and taken down, because of it.

The humanist line on Ferguson is unduly optimistic, and rests on a psychologically dubious assumption. Namely, that when people who have historically enjoyed a dominant position in society (in this case white men) come to recognize historically subordinated people (racial minorities, women) as their moral and social equals, they will welcome the newcomers.  But seeing others as similar to ourselves can lead to hostility and resentment under certain conditions. It’s true that Orwell’s vision of a person running across the battlefield holding up his trousers during the Spanish civil war transformed an enemy combatant into a vulnerable human being in his eyes — someone who must have been undressed or indisposed moments before the gunfire started. But this humanizing vision involved no loss of status for Orwell. He felt sorry for the man. He saw him as ridiculous.

The situation is different when it comes to white men’s perception of non-whites and women. Over time, as the fight for equality has allowed some advancement and social mobility for racial minorities, as well as for women, toward what we might call the inner circle of humanity, white men have experienced a relative loss of status. And they now have more rivals for desirable positions. Add to that the fact that they may find themselves surpassed by those they tacitly expected to be in social positions beneath them, and we have a recipe for resentment and the desire to regain dominance.