Ways to Make some lives better

This is advice from Nicole Silverberg at the Guardian. I can think of places where this list might be posted, with some highlighted. On the other hand, I know a lot of men to whom these suggestions are hardly unfamiliar, and some women who ould learn from it..

Does anyone find any of this controversial?

[This article ended with “These also apply to how to better treat transgender and non-binary people, who are in more danger than cis women.”]

Talk to your friend who is “kind of a creep” at work.
Don’t talk over women.
If you are asked to be on a panel/team and see that it’s all men, say something. Maybe even refuse the spot!
When you see another guy talk over a woman, say: “Hey, she was saying something.”
Learn to read a fucking room.
Don’t call women “crazy” in a professional setting.
Don’t use your “feminism” as a way to get women to trust you. Show us in your day-to-day life, not in your self-congratulatory social media.
Don’t touch women you don’t know, and honestly, ask yourself why you feel the need to touch women in general.
Do you feel that any woman on earth owes you something? She doesn’t. Even if you’re like, “Hm, but what about basic respect?” ask yourself if you’ve shown her the same.
Don’t send pictures of your penis unless she just asked for them.
If a woman says no to a date, don’t ask her again.
If a woman has not given an enthusiastic “yes” to sex, back the hell off.
If a woman is really drunk, she cannot consent to you and she also cannot consent to your buddy who seems to be trying something. Your buddy is your responsibility, so say something and intervene.
If you do the right thing, don’t expect praise or payment or a pat on the back or even a “thank you from that woman”. Congratulations, you were baseline decent.
Involve women in your creative projects, then let them have equal part in them.
Don’t make misogynistic jokes.
Don’t expect women to be “nice” or “cute” and don’t get upset when they aren’t those things.
Don’t make assumptions about a woman’s intelligence, capabilities or desires based on how she dresses.
Pay women as much as you pay men.
If a woman tells you that you fucked up, and you feel like shit, don’t put it on that woman to make you feel better. Apologize without qualification and then go away.
Don’t punish women for witnessing your vulnerability.
Don’t get defensive when you get called out.
Don’t need to literally witness a man being horrible in order to believe that he’s horrible. Trust and believe women.
Don’t use your power to get women’s attention/company/sex/etc.
Be aware of your inherent power in situations and use it to protect women, especially via talking to other men.
Stop thinking that because you’re also marginalized or a survivor that you cannot inflict pain or oppress women.
If women’s pain makes you feel pain, don’t prize your pain above hers, or make that pain her problem.
Don’t read a list like this and think that most of these don’t apply to you.

Let me add that there are items I find too simplistic, and so maybe controversial. For example, the list seems to assume at times that women have little or no power. By and large, for example, I can take care of being talked over, so someone’s intervention in the situation may make me look weaker than I am.


Massimo Pigliucci has a piece in Aeon that presents a stoic account of anger. He is, we could say, anti-anger. I enjoyed reading his thoughtful work, though I ended up with a serious question.

Some of his recommendations are about avoiding getting angry:

Engage in preemptive meditation: think about what situations trigger your anger, and decide ahead of time how to deal with them.
*Check anger as soon as you feel its symptoms. Don’t wait, or it will get out of control…
*Play a musical instrument, or purposefully engage in whatever activity relaxes your mind. A relaxed mind does not get angry.
*Seek environments with pleasing, not irritating, colours. Manipulating external circumstances actually has an effect on our moods.

I started to wonder on reading this whether anger is getting a treatment similar to that which Paul Bloom gives to empathy in his recent book, Against Empathy. In each case, in thinking about the felt reaction, the author seems to think of feeling as at best poorly constrained by thought. For Pigliucci anger contrasts with indignation, which can be good. And for Bloom, empathy contrasts with compassion, which is really good.

Philosophy has for much of her history struggled with puzzles about reason and emotion, and we might ask whether this ancient conflict s simply reappearing in these authors. Or is what we see here a response to some other situation?

The morality of feeding the ducks and gulls

Outside my apartment, the Oxford canal looks calm on a lovely Sunday afternoon.

Yesterday a similar scene inspired me to get some stale bread (organic, wholemeal) to see if there were any ducks or gulls who felt like some bread crumbs. 50 or 60 birds later, i was overseeing what, it seemed to me, was a horrible combination of greed and disappointment.

I’m not sure I could have enough for everyone, since the group was getting larger all the time. As it was, some birds were bound not to get a share. Occasionally a little gull would get up on the railing I was leaning on and make a terrrible noise. I’d put a piece of bread on the railing and move away quickly, hoping a big gull wouldn’t beat the little one to it.

So I left wondering whether my inciting this behavior was really morally ok. What do you think?

Balliol College opts for inclusion

As its leading web page says

Academic excellence
Balliol College is a place where people of exceptional potential study with academics who are experts in their field.
Social responsibility
In this community in the centre of Oxford, Balliol generates ideas and educates people who seek to change the world for the better.

And now: Dame Helen Ghosh

THE head of the National Trust has stepped down to take on the role of Master of Balliol College.

Dame Helen Ghosh will be taking up the post at Oxford University in April 2018.

It will be a blast from the past for Dame Helen as she returns to the University after she studied Modern History at St Hugh’s College in the 1970s.

She said: “I am honoured to have been chosen by the Fellows of Balliol as their new Master.

“The college has a remarkable tradition of outstanding scholarship, research and teaching, which I believe will be as important in helping society meet the challenges of the 21st century as it has been at any time in its 754-year history…

The above is from the Oxford Mail. More telling is the Guardian’s input:

Dame Helen Ghosh is to leave her job as director general of the National Trust to become the first woman master of Balliol College, Oxford. She will join 11 other women who currently head Oxford colleges, under the leadership of the university’s first female vice-chancellor, Prof Louise Richardson.

The announcement came as a surprise to colleagues at the National Trust, where her tenure has not been without controversy. During her leadership, the trust found itself drawn into debates about fracking and windfarms. Earlier this year it also found itself at the centre of a row over the use of the word “Easter” in publicity for its egg hunt.

Critics have argued that the charity has become distracted from its main purpose of conservation, and in its efforts to be inclusive has been accused of dumbing down.

Good on you, Balliol, for taking on a criticized champion of inclusion as your new head.

Another problem with “we’ll just hire the best.”

So your department resists the idea of intentionally making a minority hire. They think the most just approach is to hire the best of the candidates. However, that recommendation assumes we can achieve a success that might be even more difficult than recent work on biases may make us aware.

One factor is that people in a particular ingroup tend to remember the excellencies achieved by members of that ingroup than those of members of an outgroup. (Gaertner, S. L., & Dovidio, J. F. (2000). Reducing intergroup bias : the common ingroup identity model. Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press.) Supposing this is true, what will the effect be when a white male philosophers is asked to assess overall the quality of student contributions to a seminar he gave? He will have found the white male students, e.g., were sometimes particularly outstanding, while the white female students and minority members were often enough good, but not as outstanding as some of the others.

Perhaps much worse, when looking back over the job candidates, the white males will be more outstanding to the white males on the selection committee, other things being equal. A woman can end up arguing that a female candidate’s cv is as good as a male candidates. One unfortunate consequence is that the female candidate’s qualifications are clarified in an argumentative situation. It all can indeed turn quickly into who is in favor of which gender.

At the risk of making this seem to be more about me than I want to, let me recount what may be an instance of the bias I am describing. About 60 days after my tenure as faculty senate president ended, I discovered that a group of the faculty senate guys had gotten together to nominate our administrator for an award. I asked why I had not been included in the project. I was told that the group just included the present faculty senate president and past presidents. It may of course been that their association with “past faculty senate presidents’ were wholly male. Or it may have been that I was already forgotten. The hypothesis we have looked at here would make sense of the latter possibility.

First female head of Oxford: It’s not my job to make students feel comfortable.

As reported very recently in the Oxford Times, Louise Richardson has said, “I have had many conversations with students who have come to me and say they don’t feel comfortable because their professor has expressed views against homosexuality. They don’t feel comfortable being in the classroom with somebody with those views.

“And I say ‘I’m sorry, but my job is not to make you feel comfortable. Education is not about being comfortable. In fact, I’m interested in making you uncomfortable. And if you don’t like his views, you challenge them and engage with them and figure out how a smart person like that can have views like that. And figure out how you can persuade him to change his mind’.

Interestingly, she expressed such views sometime ago, in Jan 2016, as you can see in the video below.

Her recent remarks were met with the sort of views one would think would have already led her to modify her speech at least. As the New Statesman said:

Richardson’s advice to “work out how you can persuade him to change his mind” relies on the false assumption that hatred can be overcome by a sophisticated line of argument. It takes a special kind of arrogance to think that a “smart person” can only hate others based on their sexuality (or race, or religion) because no one has debated them skilfully enough to change their minds…

It’s hardly surprising that, at a time when 20 homophobic hate crimes are reported every day, university students feel uncomfortable about tutors who disagree with homosexuality… Her comments also demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of how power relationships work. There is, on occasion, some value in exposing bigoted views by preserving freedom of speech, but a tutor-student scenario is vastly different from usual contexts in which this could occur. How is a student meant to feel confident enough to debate their own identity with the professor who will mark their final exams?

Richardson is a representative of a university known to be a reserve of the straight, white, male elite. Her comments are symptomatic of an institution which encourages marginalised groups to see no structural problems, but only problems with themselves. They reinforce the idea that students who are members of minority groups are only welcome in academic spaces if they conceal their identities, or offer them up for debate.

As of now, however, there seems a standoff of sorts, one that leaves on unclear about how she sees the relationship between speech and action.

From the Telegraph:

Meanwhile an open letter to the vice-Chancellor, which gained over 2,000 signatures from students, staff and alumni, warned that her remarks could make gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students feel “unsafe” at university.

Now Prof Richardson has now issued a statement on the university website saying it is a “matter of great regret” that her comments are “being used to call into question this impressive, sustained endeavour to make Oxford a diverse and inclusive university”.

Houston, Harvey, and survivor guilt

from Houston:

It is very difficult to live in the middle of a catastrophe even if you have survived relatively unharmed. The grief feels palpable, though that sense may be due to the fact that you know too many people who are suffering. The television is full of images of very stressed people who are helping out on a volunteer basis. The elderly, the very young, pregnant women are trying to escape circumstances that they might well not be able to survive without help. And the animals. Not so much cats, I worry, but dogs of all sizes are being carted around, carried down ladders, sheltered in the GRB Convention center and help tightly. None of them is finding it fun.

There are some sweet reminders that we are, after all, in Texas. Thus down the street of some adjacent area 50 cows are herded to higher ground by lots of dogs, men on horseback, and police cars. And Lousiana cajuns – the “Cajun navy” – have appeared with boats to rescue people. There is a Dunkirk look to many scenes, though the Dunkirk rescue may have been better planned.

What is so stunning is that so much is done by volunteers who seem often to be working outside any official parameters. They get a phone call, head off down a particular street, and find hundreds of people at corners looking to be rescued. A lot of fairly robust people, sometimes with young children, are walking on the edges of flooded freeways, hoping to get to their friend’s home five miles away. One young man, who was featured in many reports, had walked 12 miles hoping to find his father. He did and was crying as he talked on the phone to him, one presumably lent by the press people who had interviewed him.

News reporters are joining in rescues, flagging down people with boats to tell them of others trapped in their cars.

So what about survivor’s guilt? Well, my partner and I and our three cats are just fine. No flooding and full electricity. The waste water processing is way overworked, so we’re not supposed to create a lot more of it. No showers, no washing machines running. But if we do take a shower, any damage we cause will be to our house, so it we’ve tried some quick ones.

So why do I feel so horrible about being just fine? Part of it may be the sort of emotional contagion Hume described, where proximity is a big factor. Just knowing that there is a lot of fear and pain very, very near is awful. That sense is close to grief.

Of course, I whipped through some search engines to see what I could find. Survivor guilt can be caused by a sense that one is responsible. It would, however, be hard to feel that even irrationally in this situation. There is so little control anywhere. Relatedly, it can feel just wrong that you survived and another did not. Nothing explains the difference.

In fact, I suspect it is the lack of explanation that may be at the heart of it. The ill-feeling that can feel like guilt is closer to fear as one realizes that there are things influencing results and one has little to no idea of what they are. However much you try and work toward goals, nothing is remotely guaranteed. It can all be quickly undone.

As a young Roman Catholic I was told that God, being just, never left a good deed unrewarded. Hence, if you were going to Hell, you had to get the rewards while you were alive. There are no rewards in Hell.

That view could explain how this situation feels. Surviving nearly untouched by this horrible, terrible catastrophe feels like a huge reward. God knows why I got it. Omigod, am I heading for Hell?

PS: let me acknowledge that we might feel better if we got out and helped. But we are still truly flooded in. The official word is that the situation is life-threatening, with snakes, spiders, alligators and rafts of fire ants in the water we would need to get through. I believe that.

A national movement? An addition

Sheet cake for flags and guns?

Maryscott O’Connor on Facebook draws our attention to an extended line of criticism of Fey’s piece. The idea is that it is the height of white privilege to look at the the scene in Charlottesville and start eating cake.

I think I see it differently, but that doesn’t delegitimize people who have found it very offensive.

Sex and socialism: what happens when women’s needs matter

Among the other effects of socialism: twice as many orgasms. In a quite riveting piece, we are told

“.. it was so easy for women before the Wall fell,” Daniela Gruber, East Germany, told me, referring to the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989. “They had kindergartens and crèches, and they could take maternity leave and have their jobs held for them. I work contract to contract, and don’t have time to get pregnant.”

This generational divide between daughters and mothers who reached adulthood on either side of 1989 supports the idea that women had more fulfilling lives during the Communist era. And they owed this quality of life, in part, to the fact that these regimes saw women’s emancipation as central to advanced “scientific socialist” societies, as they saw themselves.

The author of this fascinating piece, however, thinks we cannot achieve the same situation today. I myself am doubtful of her explanation of the obstacles:

Some liberal feminists in the West grudgingly acknowledged those accomplishments but were critical of the achievements of state socialism because they did not emerge from independent women’s movements, but represented a type of emancipation from above. Many academic feminists today celebrate choice but also embrace a cultural relativism dictated by the imperatives of intersectionality. Any top-down political program that seeks to impose a universalist set of values like equal rights for women is seriously out of fashion.

The job search is almost over

And you are down to two candidates. One is a young man, with two very professional articles in good journals, in addition to a PhD from a very good dept. The other, a middle-aged woman whose appearance among the finalists is due to some pesky people, has some early lackluster articles, and a spotty employment record. She has support among people who speak of her originality, but in highly analytic philosophy the best work is done by the young. Right?

If the older woman is not chosen, your department’s loss may be very significant. Marina Ratner, whose career in some ways reflects the lack of support she had, did extremely important and influential work after 50. Her work underpins that of two people who won Fields Medal, the Nobel Prize of mathematics. From the NY Times:

Her dynamics research helped unravel mathematical problems that had resisted more direct, traditional approaches of attack.

Dr. Avila said Dr. Ratner’s work had been the basis for that of younger mathematicians like Elon Lindenstrauss and Maryam Mirzakhani, two winners of the Fields Medal, the most prestigious honor in mathematics. Dr. Mirzakhani, the first woman to win a Fields, also died this month.

“What is remarkable about these results of Ratner is how many unexpected applications they had,” Dr. Lindenstrauss said in an email. “It is almost as if this dynamical fact was a philosopher’s stone that allowed many mathematicians to show quite remarkable things, in remarkably diverse situations.”

She found little support in Russia, where she was born, and not much in Israel.

“She had a very hard time in Russia,” said Alexandre Chorin, a colleague at the University of California, Berkeley. “The Russians took a variety of steps to penalize her.”

Dr. Ratner and her daughter immigrated to Israel in 1971, where she was a lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She was able to pursue her mathematical research but was unable to find a permanent position.

Her work caught the attention of Rufus Bowen, however, at Berkeley, and he lobbied the university to hire her. It did, in 1975, initially for a temporary position, and even that, given her relatively meager record, was controversial in the department. She eventually became a tenured professor.

So this brilliant woman who produced transformative work started out as an adjunct! Awwwkkk!

Your hiring choice is clear.

An aside: the article remarks

Dr. Ratner’s style of working may have contributed to her not receiving as much acclaim as some thought she deserved. She always worked alone. At Berkeley, she earned high marks as a teacher of undergraduates but was the thesis adviser to only one doctoral student.

The remark seems naive to me. Her survival may have depended on her being able to work alone. In any case, many women in a dept are not included in the community of researchers.

Finally, is she really the cause of her not having grad students?