Brian Leiter has posted my name on a list of people he claims tried to “destroy” Hypatia. I write here under a pseudonym but I am Amy Olberding. I’ve outed myself before, also under provocation from Leiter, and I now do so again for two reasons.
First, I protest Leiter’s characterization of me and want to provide people an opportunity to judge for themselves. Because I do blog under a pseudonym, I have no idea if Leiter’s accusations about my role in Hypatia using my name will associate for many with who I am on this blog – i.e., “Prof Manners.” So, for the record, all of my public comments on the Hypatia situation are here, here, and here. In them, my consistent plea was for greater calm and kindness to all involved. Moreover, for clarity, I made no social media posts or otherwise communicated about the issue other than what you see in these public statements – i.e., my private conduct is reflected in the public statements.
Second and far more importantly, I do not wish to talk here about Hypatia. I want to talk about Brian Leiter. Upon my posting the “Have Mercy” entry (second link above), he sent me an email with the subject heading “your latest dishonesty.” Since I was unaware of having any earlier “dishonesty” to which he could refer, this came as some shock, as did his remarks about my “general rudeness.” I did not reply. However, now I find that he has included me by name on a list of bad actors he says tried to “destroy” Hypatia and I am not content to forego reply.
One of the posts I wrote in light of the Hypatia affair was about fear in the discipline, about how many, simply and reasonably, cannot tolerate the high tax of participating in our public discussions. I write this in part to register my own fears with respect to Leiter’s actions so far. So, here are my fears.
-My temperament is such that I dislike being held up to public scorn. I find it unpleasant and do not wish to countenance more of it.
-There may now be a brutal postmortem on the Hypatia affair and because Leiter has publicly named me, I will be held accountable for things that have little to do with me or with anything I have said. He may go on naming me in this context until I become associated with the issue in ways that distort both my views and my own actions.
-I have seen enough of Leiter’s blogging practices to worry about what his escalation from emailing me to naming me on his blog portends. I am concerned that my name will now casually feature alongside juvenile, sneering characterizations such as “miscreant,” “unhinged,” or as one of his “usual suspects.” I also worry that I will receive additional unpleasant email from him. Until yesterday, I was unaware that there are other bloggers at FP who have needed to resort to blocking technology in order not to receive his hostile emails. Now that I know, my concerns about this are only amplified.
-In my judgment (but certainly, judge for yourself), everything I have said about the Hypatia affair was incredibly benign. If this is all it takes to be included as one who ought to be disesteemed within the profession, then I think I am incapable of any comment that will not earn me that treatment. Hence, I anticipate that any and every new blog post I make will require calculating my tolerance for renewals of his unpleasant attentions.
-I am presently working on a project with others to provide all sorts of teaching materials for people interested in diversity. We hoped to bring it out publicly this month but I now worry that having my name associated with it will draw negative attention to the project via Leiter. The project is beautiful, I think, but it also involves people whose positions in the profession are not secure. So I am faced with the worry that my presence on the project may invite uncharitable or even hostile response that will serve to demoralize and undermine others, sullying what I think is wonderful work they have undertaken in optimism and hope.
-Finally, I worry that this dynamic will simply go on as it has apparently long gone on. Individuals in the profession may need blocking technology on their email accounts, they may wince and be privately pained by public insult, but on the whole, the profession will continue to collectively behave as if this is both normal and acceptable, all the while some percentage of its youngest members take this model onboard as the way to interact with professional colleagues.
To be very clear, from everything that I understand and have seen, Professor Leiter’s treatment of me is neither unusual nor his worst. Others have had it far worse than mention of me in a single blog post and I do not need email blocking.
I say all of this publicly, with my own name attached, because the only other alternatives are even less appealing. I can go quietly, stop blogging, and let this render me timid so as to avoid unpleasant experiences. I can continue as always and pretend that it does not bother me despite the fears I outline above. Or I can do this, publicly pull back the curtain and own the fact that I intensely dislike this experience and its attendant worries. I choose public response because I decline to treat managing this as my own private problem. I did not make this dynamic, but I will not suffer it alone in silence and thereby behave as if doing so is a reasonable expectation of being in this profession.
Professor Leiter, just to be clear: If you email me again, I will post it publicly.
[I include the below from the comments to clarify what I see at issue here.]
Since some commenters are either consoling me or correcting me about my reading of what Leiter said, let me address the bigger picture. Now that I have complained publicly about Leiter’s posting my name on his blog, there’s a pretty predictable pattern I expect. It’s the way the profession tends to deal with insult and demeaning interactions. Some will now carefully parse Leiter’s post and suggest readings that minimize its effect. To engage with this adequately on my part thus requires that I act as if blog posts are textual artifacts to be carefully parsed for precise meaning. So, in this instance, we can say, as Leiter himself suggests, that *only* the parts about “rationalization, obfuscation, and a false moral equivalency” apply to me personally. All the rest, the comments about journal-wreckers and the extended quote about schoolyard bullies, well, those apply to the others on the list or to some subset of them – who knows? If any of them object as well, then we can commence seeing what pieces of the litany of complaints apply to them, evaluating the claims Leiter actually makes about what we ourselves know about the named individuals’ conduct.
Part of what I want to insist is that this dynamic is ridiculous. Sure, we can all put our hermeneutical thinking caps on and carefully parse Leiter’s insults to see which bits of them actually stick or have some kind of traction in reality as we recognize it. And there will likely often be readings that aren’t as insulting as the surface seems. But all that *care* in the parsing of insult in search of precision obscures the want of precision on the front end – in the insult itself. But so long as we’re game to do this – to give precise, careful reading to imprecise, sloppy insult – we just contribute to a demeaning dynamic. Leiter can just go on, making sloppy insults and then, when challenged, fall back upon the hermeneutical efforts of others to sort out *some* kind of justice in some scrap of all he said. And of course most of the people he insults, after seeing this dynamic often enough, won’t bother objecting to what he says. Objecting just gets you condescendingly schooled on how it’s not as bad as you think, if only you were a more careful reader of blog insults directed at yourself.
The broader reason I raise all of this is that it all strikes me as an abuse of philosophical reasoning. We are creatures trained in precision but sometimes precision-seeking is precision-mongering, and I think this is one of those cases. It is also a perverse employment of the principle of charity, as if sloppy insult were again a text that obligates us to seek the most reality-tracking reading. To imagine that a stream of insult operates – that it does what it is *meant* to do – via careful attachment of just the defensible bits to the appropriate targets seems very naïve. That readers of my blog post are now returning to what Leiter wrote to bring it a hermeneutical care is the product of my objecting to what he wrote, not a natural approach to reading insults. Such is to say that even if carefully hermeneutically parsing this insult makes it somehow less objectionable, this declines to acknowledge that the vast majority of his insults pass without such scrutiny. They just get whatever uptake they get in the sloppy, imprecise way he actually makes them. And of course, it’s the sloppy, imprecise stuff on the front end that matters to the one insulted. Nor is it any consolation that with some hermeneutical heavy lifting, it can all be rendered less objectionable.