A Tentative Explanation of “the kids today”

In Cheshire Calhoun’s “The Virtue of Civility,” she articulates a standard for civil conduct that I think is remarkably useful: We ought be civil to views that social consensus has not yet taken “off the table” – i.e., views that we collectively via consensus have not yet settled. This makes practicing civility quite experientially hard of course – there will be many views I personally think ought to be settled that are not – but its logic resides in recognizing the areas where we need very much to keep talking. Civility is the mechanism that keeps dialogue going and can enable persuasion. Implicit in this is that a social-moral goal is consensus seeking, with a priority on recognizing that none of us are well equipped to sort things out on our own, using only our own moral frameworks. So we display respect and toleration for views we can’t endorse in an effort to maintain humility and engage in the long, arduous persuasive work social-moral progress would require.

In teaching Calhoun in the current political atmosphere, it seems increasingly to me that there is something of a crisis in consensus formation. It isn’t simply that we do not enjoy consensus but that many are foundationally cynical about what consensus means. “Consensus” is perceived by many to belong to them, to some group of people other than me and mine. Because of this, uncivil conduct and speech is not simply protesting views with which I disagree, but protesting the systems by which views get “settled” or “taken off the table.” Here’s a little of what I mean.Read More »

The Work (again)

Eric Schliesser has taken another pass at discussing philosophy with reference to The Work – that is, with reference to the seriousness with which we take philosophy. I agree wholeheartedly with what he says here and find his irony especially cheering. But I also want to set out a little more plainly what I meant in distinguishing between “a bit of work” and “The Work.” People’s responses made me think this through more, and more carefully, for whatever it’s worth.

Most of the reactions to my earlier post and to Eric’s were, I think, responding in part to the ambiguity attached to discussion of “philosophy.” There is a) philosophy qua profession and academic discipline; b) philosophy qua historically situated tradition of reflection, investigation, and reasoning; and c) a form of philosophy that transcends even history – call it the “love of wisdom.”

These overlap experientially for some, and for some likely more easily than others. My own sensibilities regarding philosophy not being The Work (for me) have to do with how the a) version often experientially swamps the b) and c) versions and can seem quite incompatible with them. Some of this is a matter of earning a living: working in the a) version entails much scutwork, to be sure, but it also entails engaging with institutional structures that, for my own part, are ill-fitting, often alienating and demoralizing.

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The Work or a bit of work

Eric Schliesser has lovely post ruminating on how to orient oneself toward research, writing, and scholarly production. It is happily not a work/life balance post – I at least tire of these since they inevitably make me feel like achieving a work/life balance is, well, one more bit of work I’m meant to do. Instead, Schliesser creates a taxonomy regarding the ways people orient themselves toward academic work, describing 3 types and focusing on the last:

A: It pays the bills; work is work.

B: It’s a fun and challenging way to earn a decent salary, but there is more to living.

C: It’s the best form of escapism from the rest of reality (recall here) and (let’s stipulate), luckily, it is also justified by way of the best available argument.

I think it would be consistent with what Schliesser offers to understand C with a little broader latitude and include not just escapism but perhaps what he intimates later in the piece, deriving (some significant measure of) well-being via one’s contributions to scholarly conversations one finds meaningful and valuable. Maybe what matters most for my purposes is that Schliesser’s C is what I think of as the “all in” attitude, the orientation we take when, on the whole if not every day, we identify scholarly work as an enormously prominent life priority or life-governing project.

Schliesser’s post is largely concerned with what sorts of strategies can bring a C-orientation together with other important life goods and projects. I don’t want to summarize what he offers – please do go read it! Instead, I want to make what I think sometimes gets treated as a shameful confession: I’m a B person. Rather, I have over time become a B person. And I suspect there are other B people out there who, like me, feel a bit sheepish about it. The sheepishness is why I’m writing this post, since I circumspectly think it unwarranted and wish it were a more commonplace admission (assuming there are in fact other B people out there).Read More »

Social Class, Gender, and Bias

A new study on law school internship hiring has yielded interesting and dismaying results regarding the influence of both social class and gender on hiring. A c.v. study found that call back rates for men track class indicators, with men having c.v.s indicating lower class origins markedly disfavored relative to men with markers for higher class origins. The beneficial effects of higher class origins disappear for women, however, and women with markers for higher class origins received the lower callback rates than their lower class peers. A follow up study suggests that these women were perceived as the greatest “flight risk”:

Attorneys cited “family” as a primary reason these women would leave. Parenting strategies vary between social classes, and the intensive style of mothering that is more popular among the affluent was seen as conflicting with the “all or nothing” nature of work as a Big Law associate. One female attorney we interviewed described this negative view of higher-class women, which she observed while working on her firm’s hiring committee. The perception, she said, was that higher-class women do not need a job because they “have enough money,” are “married to somebody rich,” or are “going to end up being a helicopter mom.” This commitment penalty that higher-class women faced negated any advantages they received on account of their social class.

The study itself is disturbing in multiple ways, not least because the class penalties emerge in response to what would otherwise be laudatory information (e.g., working as a peer-mentor for first generation college students) or benign information (e.g., liking country music or sports with low cost). Moreover, the benefits accrued to higher class men relative to both women and their lower class male peers were dramatic: The higher class man “had a callback rate more than four times of other applicants and received more invitations to interview than all other applicants in our study combined.”

 

Yale Gives up Calhoun for Murray

Calhoun College at Yale University will no longer be named for ardent slavery advocate John C. Calhoun.  The College will now bear the name of Grace Murray Hopper:

A trailblazing computer scientist, brilliant mathematician and teacher, and dedicated public servant, Hopper received a master’s degree in mathematics (1930) and a Ph.D. in mathematics and mathematical physics (1934) from Yale. She taught mathematics at Vassar for nearly a decade before enlisting in the U.S. Navy, where she used her mathematical knowledge to fight fascism during World War II. A collaborator on the earliest computers, Hopper made her greatest contributions in the realm of software. In 1952 she and her team developed the first computer language “compiler,” which would make it possible to write programs for multiple computers rather than a single machine. Hopper then pioneered the development of word-based computer languages, and she was instrumental in developing COBOL, the most widely used computer language in the world by the 1970s. Hopper’s groundbreaking work helped make computers more accessible to a wider range of users and vastly expanded their application. A naval reservist for 20 years, she was recalled to active service at the age of 60. Hopper retired as a rear admiral at the age of 79, the oldest serving officer in the U.S. armed forces at that time.

In addition to the overdue re-naming of Calhoun College, Yale developed a set of principles for re-consideration of named institutions and entities at the university.  Read more about all of it here.

Karen Stohr on Contempt

Karen Stohr has a wonderful essay on contempt and the current political discourse in the NYTimes Stone section today.  An excerpt:

It may seem as though the best response to Trump’s contempt is to return it in kind, treating him the same way he treats others. The trouble, though, is that contempt toward Trump does not function in the same way that his contempt toward others functions. Even if we grant that Trump deserves contempt for his attitudes and behaviors, his powerful social position insulates him from the worst of contempt’s effects. It is simply not possible to disregard or diminish the agency of the president of the United States. This means that contempt is not a particularly useful weapon in the battle against bigotry or misogyny. The socially vulnerable cannot wield it effectively precisely because of their social vulnerability.

The better strategy for those who are already disempowered is to reject contempt on its face. Returning contempt for contempt legitimizes its presence in the public sphere. The only ones who benefit from this legitimacy are the people powerful enough to use contempt to draw the boundaries of the political community as they see fit. Socially vulnerable people cannot win the battle for respect by using contempt as a way to demand it. In an environment where contempt is an acceptable language of communication, those who already lack social power stand to lose the most by being its targets. The only real defense against contempt is the consistent, strong and loud insistence that each one of us be regarded as a full participant in our shared political life, entitled to hold all others accountable for how we are treated.

Charity and Anonymity

Brian Leiter has recently posted a complaint about the APA Code of Conduct’s recommendations urging caution regarding online anonymity. He targets this blog in particular for criticism (in addition to another blog I have not seen and thus leave aside here in all that follows). He writes:

‘In what possible sense is anonymity “sometimes unavoidable”?  One can either post using one’s name or not.  And what constitutes “judicious” usage of anonymity?   Surely, for example, a blog like Feminist Philosophers with many pseudonymous posters operating for years under their pseudonyms–e.g., “Philodaria,” “Monkey,” “Magical Ersatz,” “Lady Day,” “Prof Manners”–are not using anonymity “judiciously”:  they are using it to shield themselves from being accountable for what they write.  And such anonymity is clearly avoidable, as others (for example, the philosophers Anne Jacobson and Jennifer Saul) post under their own names at the very same blog…. And for those who take the APA Code of Conduct seriously–maybe at least its drafters (about whom more soon) if no one else–do they not have an obligation now to “out” these philosophers using anonymity unjudiciously, and thus in “violation” of the Code?’

I want to take this opportunity to address a few issues attached to the use of anonymity in both blogging and in comments, speaking only for myself and not for the bloggers here as a whole of course.

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Talking Turkey: Practical Strategy

Here in the U.S., the holidays are coming and that means some of us will be sitting down with family and reconnecting with more distant friends. I think there has to be a high priority on talking with those in our social circles who voted for Trump. Let me lay out a little more what I mean.

First, I’m mostly talking to white readers, and especially to white readers, since this is largely our experience and, I think, our responsibility. (Comments welcome from all of course!)

Second, if you’re white and have no kin or acquaintances who voted for Trump, I implore you to wonder why. This is not, I think, something to be proud of but is, rather, indicative of how we got here. If progressive white people don’t know white people unlike themselves, we’re abandoning the work of persuasion where it could be most effective. There’s much talk of the bubbles in which we surround ourselves, so if you’re in one, please get out of it for a spell.

Most importantly, the election is over so that means the temptation to go back to “normal” is strong, going along and passing the potatoes while leaving politics and other bits of “unpleasantness” aside. I think this temptation should be resisted. The election is over, but what’s coming next is not. It’s not clear what power we all have but my guess is that remorseful Trump voters would be a help. So too would Trump voters encouraged to oppose things they may have let slide when it was all ostensibly in service to “campaigning.”

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Us

It is now increasingly clear that white women bear a substantial share in electing Donald Trump. Since I am a white woman, I want to talk about us. Not about them – those who voted for Trump – but about us, white American women in general.

 

My abiding, albeit deeply shaken, conviction is that one of the only things human beings have as a shared moral resource is talking. So we need urgently to talk about white women. I say we need to talk about us, thereby implicitly excluding all the non-us readers (people who aren’t white women) not because I don’t want to hear from them, but because asking them what the hell is wrong with us would be an affront. As if they don’t have enough to worry about and have time to address our delicate agonies. So if you’re not one of us, feel free to chime in but feel free to avert your gaze in disgust too since we earned at least that.

 

I think I understand – though surely not as deeply as I ought – that many white women have some, several, or all of the afflictions shot through the Trump campaign: racism, xenophobia, misogyny, nativism, white dominance. And one of the challenges, I think, after all this is how to address all this, especially how all of this nets together rather than existing as discrete problems. Still, let me just focus on what might be the lowest hanging fruit for us.

 

Extraordinary numbers of white women voted for a man who boasts of sexual assault, who has been accused of sexual assault by a long line of women, and who has, in almost every conceivable way to hand for a politician, expressed disdain for women. So somehow millions of white women voters said… what? “Yeah, but…” What? “What he really stands for is…?” What? In other words, even if these women care not a whit for all of the other deeply morally objectionable things Trump professed and laid out as plans, they could have cared about this. Leave them all the other vices and their dignity as women could have revolted and broke the other way. So, why didn’t it?

 

I don’t think it’s enough to explain this by saying that white women may labor under internalized patriarchy and misogyny. Or, if they do, why do they? More pointedly, where is feminism? White women have historically pretty much run the show where feminism is concerned, so here too, this is us. I think this is one of the things we have a duty to try sort out, though I don’t myself know where or how to begin. So, please, talk.