A Statement from Jason Stanley

I wanted to address the situation that has arisen from the series of articles in right-wing media outlets about me, and then me and Professor Kukla, that resulted from a private Facebook exchange being published and taken out of context, followed by a public thread that was a response to the fact that all of those messages were made public and taken out of context. I will begin by apologizing to Professor Richard Swinburne. I regret that he is involved at all, and I regret even bringing his name into the conversation in my public post.

The post of mine that was made public was not about Richard Swinburne. It was a comment, or a reply to a comment, on a private Facebook thread. The Facebook thread was about how the Swinburne episode reminded a gay colleague and friend of the harsh discrimination they had faced as a gay philosopher. I knew about what this person had experienced, and from whom. I saw that they were using Facebook to channel frustration about discrimination. So I used strong words, including expletives, to exhibit my support. But I simply was not talking about Richard Swinburne.

A screenshot of that comment, as well as other posts and comments from other philosophers, which were intended for specific audiences, were taken out of context and publicized on a blog. I faced a difficult situation, and the anger in my public post which followed was directed against those who made those comments public. I was both deeply frustrated at the violation of privacy, and worried that the others on that thread would face harsh recrimination, and felt that it was my responsibility, as a person with some power in the field, to take the heat. But I forgot that having my position at Yale makes anything I say part of the whole campus wars. For example, Rod Dreher was one of the main figures in November, 2015 who attacked our undergraduate students in very harsh terms. So that meant anything associated with me would be taken national.

For those who don’t know me, it may come as a surprise that the national discussion in right wing media has also been wounding to me, because I am sensitive to the difficulties many religious Christians face in academic settings. We live in a country, the vast majority of whose citizens are followers of one of the world’s great intellectual and moral systems, Christianity. And though the majority of philosophers in American are Christian or were raised as such, there is a significant difference between being in our intellectual community and being in America outside its walls.

I was almost always the only Jewish person in my classes growing up. In my high schools in tenth and eleventh grade, I was the first Jewish person to attend. I am very familiar with the isolation that is involved, even when there is no overt discrimination (though I grew up being asked if I had horns and such like, this was ignorance and not malice). It is woven into the tapestry of my existence what it is like to be in a minority faith among a majority. I can’t imagine what it must be like to go from a community in which one’s cultural traditions and many of its assumptions are just part of the ordinary tapestry of existence, to one in which that is considerably less so. I have tried in the departments I have been in to be very sensitive to this. And my own work, both academic and public, leaves theism in any form alone.

But this is not to say that the only issues here are the complete confusion caused by the publication of out of context private messages. I do have a dispute with those philosophers (Christian or otherwise) who irresponsibly espouse harmful theories about sexual minorities that are out of touch with the literature, current science, and the experiences of those minorities themselves. I also have another, distinct dispute with those who would violate the privacy of their friends by taking expressions of support and frustration — which were intentionally visible only to select audiences — out of context, publish them, and mislead the public as to their meaning. Anyone who thinks that is perfectly ordinary Christian behavior has a much lower opinion of Christians than I do. I also think both of these distinct disputes are ones we can have in public spaces in a respectful manner.

The last week has been very extreme for me. My family, which is the core of my existence, has been frightened. I can’t here explain everything that has happened, but it has been very ugly at times. But much worse than that is the legitimation of the very real discrimination that gay philosophers have to face on a daily basis from colleagues, from students, and from the media.

When gay philosophers try to speak up, even privately, about actual discrimination they face, they now know they risk a media storm against them. They see from my case that the student paper at their university may even add fuel to the fire.

So: do I regret that Swinburne has been sucked into this? I regret this very much. I apologize for bringing Swinburne in at all. I sincerely apologize for my error in judgment in even mentioning his name. But my central concern right now is entirely about our gay colleagues in academia who have been watching this episode in horror, rightly concerned that any complaints about discrimination they may raise, even in private spaces, will result in the kind of incredibly intense retribution that Rebecca Kukla and I have been singled out and subject to over the past week. And those concerns would be legitimate.

I need to end with the issue of anti-Semitism. On my public post, someone posted a disturbing comment about Swinburne’s death. I contemplated deleting it but then wanted to wait to see if anyone would ‘like’ it before addressing its horrors (no one did). It is hard to avoid the suspicion that the media discussion starting with the September 28th piece in The American Conservative, and then the Washington Times, is straightforwardly anti-Semitic. How did a non-story about the complexity of communication that results when screenshots from private conversations are made public, become a national story about two leftist Jewish professors and the dangers they pose?

At first, the story was solely about me. Then, the other Jewish philosopher who posted on that thread, Rebecca Kukla, was also targeted. What ensued was a terrible anti-Semitic narrative, channeling a virulent 20th century form of anti-Semitism, now present in Russia; that leftist Jews seek to use the issue of homosexuality to target the Christian faith. I hope we can, as a profession, have a respectful discussion about the two disputes I mentioned above. I responded to disrespect in kind, and I regret that this may have made it more difficult. We need to have these conversations, though, in a way that does not invite retribution against our gay colleagues, whose experiences of discrimination need to be highlighted, rather than forced ever more into the shadows. And we need to have it in a way that does not help bring in the stain of anti-Semitism.

13 thoughts on “A Statement from Jason Stanley

  1. At the end of a semester of freshman comp, sometime in the 70s, a student walked up to my father and pounded his fist on the desk. “Fuck the nuns.”
    He’d been lied to all his life.
    My father loved telling that story. it made him proud.
    It’s amazing how far things have fallen.

    And again I’m taken aback by Jason Stanley’s odd relation to his Jewishness. He refers to it again and again as a faith, as if religion were the only thing keeping him from being German. Look at your face Jason, at your Jewish face. It’s a Semitic face, a Palestinian face. Zionists were secularists. Religion was peasant belief. The Jews are a people. But I have as much patience for Zionism as I have for god.

  2. There is much to be said, but let me start by repeating a passage from what Jason says,

    “I also have another, distinct dispute with those who would violate the privacy of their friends by taking expressions of support and frustration — which were intentionally visible only to select audiences — out of context, publish them, and mislead the public as to their meaning. Anyone who thinks that is perfectly ordinary Christian behavior has a much lower opinion of Christians than I do. I also think both of these distinct disputes are ones we can have in public spaces in a respectful manner.”

    There have been many failures of respect. Let’s not let that happen here.

  3. An extraordinarily thoughtful and perceptive piece, Jason. It is too trite to say that “this too, will pass” — though I’m sure it will, and I hope you know how many of us in and out of the academia have your back on this.

    But your statement also reminds us that much of this — the matter of respecting the privacy of quiet conversations, the matter of not taking statements out of context to score cheap political points, the matter of ensuring that gay persons are able to freely move in philosophical (or any other) circles, the matter of ensuring that persons of diverse backgrounds and experiences feel included and free to participate as equals in our profession — should not pass, but should be raised openly and forthrightly, in accordance with the best standards of thoughtful, charitable intellectual engagement.

    Your statement is a great example of how such a conversation can proceed, even in a very difficult time for you, and that is also worth giving our backing.

  4. I know firsthand, having been his colleague for quite a few years, that Jason is highly sensitive to the fact that Christians are something of a minority within philosophy. There were several Christian graduate students at Rutgers while Jason was here, and with whom he interacted frequently, and I am confident that none of them ever felt disrespected by Jason because of their faith. To the contrary, in my experience Jason seems to optimistically and automatically think well of his Christian colleagues and students — as though he could count on serious Christians to exemplify the virtues we profess. I’m grateful that he doesn’t lump us all in with political conservatives who are hijacking religious language, some of whom will apparently use any means to inflict psychic damage upon those they perceive as their “enemies”. Thank you, Jason.

  5. How was the Washington Times or Rod Dreher “anti-semitic”? Neither column (or even the commenters!) so much as mentioned the fact that Stanley or Kukla are Jewish.

  6. WT, if you read Stanley more closely, you’ll see he’s raising a question about the broader narrative, and the role those pieces may have played. Suppose that there was some dispute between a few men, I, a woman, made a controversial comment on a friend’s facebook page, as did many others, someone screenshotted it, and suddenly the story is getting much broader attention, but the story was about me now, not about the controversy underlying it, nor about the the other men who similarly said controversial things. Suppose further that I was being subject to explicitly sexist comments about it, getting harassed online, emailed by angry men, etc. It would be odd, right? People make controversial comments on facebook all the time. One explanation in my hypothetical scenario is sexism.

    Since people are confused about this point, I’m going to reproduce here just one example (there are many others) of an anti-Semitic comment (this one is viewable publicly online, but I’m not going to link to it) that has been directed at Jason in the wake of this [CW for Racism]:

    Stanley’s lack of self-awareness is astounding. He suggests that there may be something sinister in the fact that it was–surprise!–“two leftist Jews” who were the focus of all this concern about anti-Christian bigotry and warns everyone to be “very careful” about associating such people with such sentiments.

    But reality has some rights here too. Since the time of Marx through the many Bolshevik mass murderers like Kaganovich through to the present era of “whiteness studies” (i.e., anti-white-gentile studies) rammed with ethnocentric anti-white Jews, there is no group of people on earth who have been more venomously effective in the propagation of anti-Christian bigotry than leftist Jews. No group is more privileged or powerful or tribalistic.

    Yes, there has been bigotry on both sides. But the fact that the merest hint of something that just might conceivably indicate “anti-semitism” is regarded as a big problem–and a handy excuse for anti-Christian bigotry–while we pretend to not even notuce that Jews have often hated and harmed Christians. Jews enabled the Moors to take Spain. Jews traded in Christian slaves in huge numbers through the middle ages. Jewish wealth funded the rabidly Christophobic Bolsheviks. The Talmud tells us Christ is in hell boiling in excrement. All major Jewish organizations righteously demand that we flood Christian lands with unvetted limitless numbers of Muslims while making no similar demands on Israel. Let’s admit, at least, that the Jewish self-image as nothing more than gentle scholars and persecuted innocents is sonewhat ethnocentric and simplistic.

    When Stanley says it’s “very dangerous” to single out leftist Jews for criticism–even when the criticism has nothing to do with their Jewishness–he is right. It’s very dangerous for you, the critic, not for him–as he absurdly suggests. Stanley would love to have one or two examples of “anti-semitism” to bolster his laughable self-image as a plucky underdog speaking truth to power. (No doubt this little comment will be seized on as an example of the dire menace to those poor little leftist Jews.)

    So his pose of vulnerability is really a threat: dare to hint at our obvious ethnocentric bias and contempt for you little people and there’ll be hell to pay.

  7. Philodaria, I’m not comfortable with the implication that if a Jewish person is criticized for profanity and impoliteness, without the slightest mention of Jewishness or any clue whatsoever in that regard, then if some other anonymous commenter somewhere online says something anti-Semitic, THAT further development somehow tarnishes the original criticism with anti-Semitism. Based on the sadly typical torrent of hatred that characterizes online commentary, that standard would mean Jewish people can never be criticized for anything by anyone.

  8. Excuse me, but,

    1. What evidence is there that anyone outside their immediate families could, with trivial effort, discover that these two philosophers happen to be of Jewish descent? It is not as if either is named “Goldberg,” or some similar cliché. Perhaps “Kukla” is a last-name distinctively associated with Judaism? (Some linguistic distortion of “Kohen” I’ve never heard of, perhaps?) …but if such an association exists, I have not noticed a widespread “goy” awareness of the fact! Surely one cannot expect any but (I suppose) the most intense antisemites to have become experts at Judaica in pursuit of their chosen boogeymen.

    2. What evidence is there that the persons making critical remark about these two philosophers aren’t anti-leftist rather than anti-Jew? If Benjamin Netanyahu, say, doesn’t come in for the same treatment, or Shmuley Boteach, or Jacob Neusner, or even Adam Sandler, then I suspect it isn’t the Jewishness that accounts for that treatment.

  9. Just so folks know, there have been a large number of comments on this post that I have not approved, partly because I have been travelling, but mostly because they all seemed to violate our comments policy.

    That said, R.C., I’m approving yours now because I want to be sure to answer it.

    With regard to your one, are you not a philosopher? If you aren’t, that would go some way towards understanding where your question is coming from since it is widely known in the discipline. But, regardless, Google. Both Kukla and Stanley have been quite public with their backgrounds well before any of this happened.

    With regard to your two, the fact that Kukla and Stanley’s were picked out from among many others for the kind of criticism they received, the fact that some of those who seem most interested in this matter have been either explicitly spouting anti-Semitic comments, or allowing their platform to be used as a venue for those comments.

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