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.

Read More »

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.”

Read More »

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.

Them

Like many, I was up most of the night last night, patently unable to believe what was happening. I had a lot of time to think, albeit not thinking very clearly. Lots of people with actual expertise will be weighing in on what happened but here’s something I want to say. In laying out who They are, those who voted for Trump, I think a lot is missing. We see most often those “white working class” sorts who are willing to wear t-shirts calling Clinton a cunt or bitch, eager to call for her imprisonment, people in thrall to rightwing or alt-right news sources. Apart from the fact that wealthy white folk had a substantial, ugly share in this result, I don’t recognize the “white working class” or, more accurately, “rural whites” as I know them in these portrayals. I have no interest here in trying to rehabilitate the choice to vote for Trump as other than a catastrophic choice, but I’m struggling to find my way through my reactions, the most distressing of which is running up against the reality that many of these voters are “my people” in a deep sense. I come from them, I am them, and I love many of them.

 

When I’m not doing philosophy, I farm. I am the fourth generation in my family entrusted with a beautiful few hundred acres resting in the hills of the Ozarks, hillbilly country. Philosophy, I often tell myself, is just my town job: If you’re going to own a farm, you need town job since making a living at farming makes academia look like easy money. But because I do farm and come from rural white people, I live half my life with them.

 

My extended family and farm neighbors include many farmers, some schoolteachers, veterans, waitresses, folks living on government assistance, and some who make their money in mysterious ways best not closely examined. In my generation, my kin all did finish high school – I am, perversely, the lone high school drop out. Some have more than others but none are financially comfortable; some live on a financial knife’s edge and see collecting walnuts in fall at $15/hundredweight income they can’t decline, though gathering walnuts at this price entails getting far below minimum wage for pretty miserable work. Still, those walnuts are like money just laying there on the ground.

Read More »

The APA Code and Perils of the Explicit

I doubt we need one more discussion about the APA’s new Code of Conduct, yet I do want to raise something I haven’t seen addressed. The Code is, I think, a failure, but maybe not for the reasons raised so far. To my mind, it’s a failure because it exists, because it is needed.

 

Early Confucianism is all over the importance of moral micropractices (i.e., manners) and one insightful result of this is their recognizing the difference between unstated, socially shared, collective norms and explicit rule or law. Flourishing social environments largely operate by the former, enjoying a shared ethos that governs interaction without ever having to be made explicit. People tend to accommodate themselves to the ethos, influenced by the atmospherics it provides and, optimally, internalizing its values. Law and rule are seen as safeguards – the ugly stuff you have to bring in when ethos has failed. So, rules are always failures of a sort or, more precisely, they remark social failures and try to repair these. And they’re always going to be disappointing and problematic, for they’ll have to work by rendering explicit and into something formula-like what a shared ethos does more naturally, fluidly, and with a commendable, happy vagueness. All this is tricky business. Rules will often appear to replace situational judgment with abstract, general principle, have to try defining values very difficult to capture precisely, and by their explicit nature have a coercive feel. By their nature, they have to say, “We can’t rely on you to be ‘good’ or ‘collegial’ or ‘respectful’ or…” And they thus can affront and insult, making good conduct feel less voluntary. Because of all this, while law or rule can be necessary, their necessity, whether the need to make them or to appeal to them, is always a disappointment, always a symptom that things have gone wrong or are not well-functioning.

 

The difference the early Confucians were remarking is one I think we all experience. E.g., every time I have to add a new rule or policy to my syllabi, I feel a little sigh of disappointment since each of these confess some new domain in which I can’t rely on my students to simply fulfill the expectations attached to being students. I have to tell them how to be instead of relying on an educational ethos. In contrast, I’m happy to say I work in a department where we don’t need this kind of code, for while we regularly disagree about various things, our disagreements seem answerable to a collective ethos. I can’t define that ethos because it’s but a subtle sostenuto beneath interaction, but that’s sort of the point. When it works, it doesn’t need precise accounting. And that’s a fine thing.

 

I know all that I’m here saying elides many complexities and doesn’t address the APA Code itself. I understand that many critics have lodged reservations about specifics within the APA Code, but that seems rather inevitable given the kind of document it is. But the kind of document it is owes far less to the work of those constructing it than to the profession as a whole, to the failures out of which it became needed. Consequently, even if we have strong disagreements with how the committee framed the Code, I wish any criticism were first framed by hearty, collective self-accusation: “Look what we made them do!” That might be – maybe – the first step in restoring an ethos or building one for the first time.