National boycott and some small things philosophers can do to help

Yesterday, Shaun King at the New York Daily News announced a national boycott against “police brutality, racial violence and systemic injustice in America.” The boycott will start December 5, the anniversary of the 1955 start of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Here are some of the key features of the planned boycott, from the King article linked above:

1. We will not be releasing the names of the cities, states, businesses, and institutions that we will be boycotting until Dec. 5, 2016. Between now and then, we hope that cities and states around the country will begin to enact emergency legislation and policies to prevent police brutality and racial violence. Furthermore, we do not want any potential institutions to somehow undermine our efforts.

2. We can tell you this, our boycott will be national. That means we will be boycotting:

  • Entire cities and states much like what you see being done in North Carolina right now over the anti-LGBT House Bill 2.
  • Particular brands and corporations who partner with and profit from systemic oppression.
  • Particular brands and corporations headquartered in cities and states notorious for police brutality and racial violence, which say and do little to nothing about it.
  • Particular institutions, including banks, which fund, underwrite, inform, train or otherwise support systemic oppression and brutality.

8. We do expect this boycott to last for months, or even years, not days or weeks.

It’s worth reading the whole article to learn about the background and the other details. So, here it is again.

For those of us who intend to support the boycott, some planning is in order. We won’t know which particular cities/companies/institutions are subject to boycott until the day is upon us. But we can make some reasonable conjectures.

Here are a couple of small things philosophers can do to show solidarity with the movement. It is highly plausible that Baltimore will be among the boycotted cities. The 2017 Eastern APA will be held in Baltimore in early January. Philosophers who are in a position to do so may wish to hold off on pre-registering for the APA and purchasing airline tickets to Baltimore until we know whether or not Baltimore is subject to boycott. And, if Baltimore is targeted, those philosophers who are able to skip the meeting should seriously consider doing so. Further, philosophers, especially APA members, should consider writing to the APA to inform the Association that they will be joining in the boycott and hence will miss the Baltimore meeting if Baltimore is boycotted. They should therefore urge the Association to develop both an official position and a clear plan in case Baltimore is boycotted. Finally, we should speak with our colleagues in other disciplines and urge them to take similar tacks with their professional associations, who will similarly have meetings planned in cities that are likely to be boycotted.

(h/t SE for the links)

Firing Melissa Click was messed up, and you don’t have to like what she did to think so.

As I’m sure you already know, Melissa Click was fired from the University of Missouri on account of her conduct during the student protests last fall.  Faculty at Mizzou have already raised concerns about due process. I think those concerns are legitimate and worrisome irrespective of whether or not you think, at the end of the day, firing would have been the right thing to do.

But forget, just for a moment, about whether or not you think Click’s behavior contravened her duties as a professor, or what would have happened were her due process rights fully respected and consider this, from earlier this month, by way of contrast:

“A UCLA history professor involved in an ongoing Title IX lawsuit reached an agreement with UCLA that will allow him to return to teach.”

And what exactly is this lawsuit about? Two students accused a professor of sexual assault. Here’s what happened before UCLA decided to help him return to teaching:

[A]n earlier, independent investigation by UCLA found enough evidence to warrant a litany of punitive actions for Piterberg. Yet according to the settlement agreement that Takla and Glasgow’s lawyer released last week, Piterberg was given only a slap on the wrist – he paid the UC Board of Regents $3,000, was suspended last spring quarter and participated in a sexual harassment training session. The only other punishments set for Piterberg were just as inconsequential: He may now only speak with students during open-door office hours and cannot try to establish any romantic or otherwise inappropriate relationships with students.

But, as it turned out, the punishment was even less stringent than it sounds. Piterberg’s spring quarter suspension was spent in Europe as a fellow at the European University Institute. While it is unclear if UCLA knew of this fellowship before administering the punishment, the fact remains that a professor accused of sexually assaulting students got to spend his quarter off in Europe and return to the university 10 weeks later.

Well, that’s at UCLA, you might say — and Click was at Mizzou. Yes. But then there’s this story. And this one. And this one. Oh, and this one (I’d keep going, but this could quickly get very depressing).  As for Mizzou itself, it doesn’t have a great record of appropriately handling sexual misconduct. In the recent AAU survey, students at Mizzou reported the third highest rate of having been subject to sexual misconduct. They’ve received attention from Outside the Lines for their handling of misconduct by student athletes, including violence against women. And the university itself admitted in 2014 that it screwed up by failing to investigate the alleged rape of Sasha Menu Courey, who committed suicide a little over a year after the alleged incident. None of that resulted in a national outcry. None of that resulted in the state legislature threatening to cut the university’s budget.

In academia, students’ cameras are treated as more sacred than students’ bodies. And whether or not you think Melissa Click was in the wrong, that seems pretty messed up.

Wheaton, Larycia Hawkins, and what it means to worship the same God

Wheaton College has recommended that tenured Prof. Larycia Hawkins be terminated for her statements in solidarity with Muslims, citing tension between her statements (that Muslims and Christians are “people of the book” and “worship the same God”) and Wheaton’s doctrinal convictions (see here).

Of course, I think there are very serious worries raised by the mere fact that Wheaton thinks termination might be an appropriate response at all to the expression of solidarity in the face of discrimination — but it doesn’t even appear that Prof. Hawkin’s statements are clearly in tension with Wheaton’s doctrinal convictions in the first place.  Following her suspension last month, Michael Rea (Notre Dame) wrote an op-ed, “On Worshiping the Same God” calling into question whether any tension between her statements and Wheaton’s statement of faith can be found without first making substantive (and controversial) theological and philosophical assumptions not found in the statement of faith itself:

One would hope that there are complexities to this situation known only to Wheaton insiders, because from the outside Wheaton’s position looks puzzling at best, and politically, rather than theologically, motivated at worst. Their statement of faith affirms, in its opening line, belief in one God; it then goes on to affirm a variety of familiar and distinctively Christian beliefs about the nature and actions of God, many of which are indeed inconsistent with traditional Islamic doctrines. Anyone suitably informed about Islam would be correct to conclude that someone who fully believes the Wheaton statement of faith ought to think that Muslims are deeply mistaken about what God is like. But surely one can be mistaken–even deeply mistaken–about what God is like and still worship God.

Christians and Muslims have very different beliefs about God; but they agree on this much: there is exactly one God. This common point of agreement is logically equivalent to thesis that all Gods are the same God. In other words, everyone who worships a God worships the same God, no matter how different their views about God might be.

On the assumption that there is exactly one God, then, saying that someone does not worship the same God as Christians do–as, for example, might be the case with someone who claims to worship a perfectly evil being–amounts to saying that they have not managed to worship any God at all. To say this of someone is to go well beyond saying that they are deeply mistaken about what God is like; it is to go well beyond saying that they are not worshipping in a way that is acceptable or pleasing to God. It is to say that the acts that they call ‘worship’ do not even manage to qualify as defective worship, that they are so wrong about what God is like that the word ‘God’ in their mouths is absolutely meaningless, or that they are inadvertently using the word ‘God’ to refer to some other thing that they mistakenly believe to be divine–e.g., a mere human being, an animal or plant, an inanimate object like a rock or a star, or an abstract object like a number, or love, or some such thing. There might well be interesting reasons for Christians to affirm such claims about Muslims, or for Muslims to affirm them about Christians; but it can hardly be said that any such view is a straightforward implication of Wheaton College’s statement of faith.

Those who think that Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God commonly justify their opinion by appeal to the vast dissimilarity in Christian and Muslim beliefs about the nature of God. But one should be careful here, for this is a maneuver that threatens more division among religious believers than most Christians would want to accept. God as understood within some quarters of American evangelicalism looks very different from God as understood by the majority of Christian theologians in the Middle Ages. But we do not say that contemporary evangelicals worship a God different from the one medieval Catholics worshipped. God as understood by Jonathan Edwards looks very different from God as understood by Rob Bell; but who would go so far as to say that Edwards and Bell worship different Gods? It is hard to imagine that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob believed that their God was triune; but most Christians do not for this reason deny that we worship the same God that they did.

Rea’s full piece can be read here.

Nonviolence, Ideal Theory, and Epistemic Injustice

Jacob Levy has a great post up at Bleeding Heart Libertarians – Folk ideal theory in action (with thanks to Daily Nous for bringing it to my attention) – which made me want to say something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. Earlier, we posted Ta-Nehisi Coates’ piece on nonviolence as compliance; as human beings, and many of us, American citizens, the issues Coates raises are of general interest, but there are important philosophical questions, I think, we should be asking ourselves now too. I know some philosophers bristle at the thought that our academic work should be constrained by such things as goals of social justice —  but set that aside. Shouldn’t the modes of thinking we encourage at least not make things worse?

It seems to me, following Charles Mills, that ideal-theory approaches entrench substantial epistemic hindrances for theorizing justice. While we can attempt to engage in thought experiment, e.g., regarding what we might agree to behind a veil of ignorance if we knew nothing about our own social identity, we cannot engage in that thought experiment without thereby deploying a conceptual framework which is, itself, deeply shaped by our existing, non-ideal, social circumstances.  Taking Rawls’ for example, by choosing to set the non-ideal to the side until an account of the ideal can be developed, Rawls cut himself off from the means by which we might check the profound impact of inequality and injustice on our very form of thought. An ideal-theory approach to justice is not problematic merely because it is structured in such a way as to fail to offer sufficient guidance in a non-ideal world, but also because it obscures, and consequently risks transmitting the consequences of, that some of our very concepts have been shaped in ways that implicate matters of justice in the first place. There is a distinctive form of conceptual epistemic injustice which ideal theory is disposed to inherit, and engagement with the non-ideal is requisite for correction.

When I say that there is a distinctive form of conceptual epistemic injustice, I do not mean just hermeneutical injustice, as Miranda Fricker discusses (though, that’s relevant too), where we may lack some concept because the social group which could develop it lacks the social power or organization to do so. I mean instead that we have concepts which we take to have normative force – like nonviolence as an ideal (or ‘genius‘, or ‘atonement‘) – and these concepts may be perfectly worthy in some sense (that is, the sense in which mean for that concept to aim at), but in actuality they can be perverse, both ethically and epistemically. Note: It is not that I think nonviolence is in anyway perverse itself, and I do not mean that I advocate in any way for violence. What I do mean, though, is that our concept of nonviolence is confused. When embedded in our broader social-conceptual framework, nonviolence becomes something that is expected of those who are subjected to oppression, and violence against them as enacted by certain dominant social groups, or certain forms of the state, fails to be recognized as violence at all. It’s that moment when someone tells you in the span of just a few breaths that yet another death of a black man at the hands of police is an unfortunate event, but that they are saddened, or even heartbroken, by the destructive protests which followed. Violence against persons of color is conceptualized as unfortunate, whereas the destruction of property is conceptualized as violent. The concept of nonviolence is socially limited so as to be unequal in its application.

As Angela Davis said once in an interview:

If you’re a Black person and you live in the Black community, all your life, you walk out on the street every day, seeing white policeman surrounding you. When I was living in Los Angeles, for instance…I was constantly stopped. The police didn’t know who I was, but I was a Black woman, and I had a natural, and I suppose they thought that I might be a “militant”…

You live under that situation constantly, and then you ask me whether I approve of violence. I mean, that just doesn’t make any sense at all.

Whether I approve of guns? I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. Some very, very good friends of mine were killed by bombs–bombs that were planted by racists…From the time I was very, very small, I remember the sounds of bombs exploding across the street, our house shaking. I remember my father having to have guns at his disposal at all times because of the fact that at any moment, we might expect to be attacked . . .

In fact, when [one] bombing occurred, one of the mothers of one of the young girls called my mother and said, “Can you take me down to the church? I have to pick up Carole, we heard about the bombing, and I don’t have my car.”

And they went down there, and what did they find? They found limbs and heads strewn all over the place. And then after that, in my neighborhood, all of the men organized themselves into an armed patrol. They had to take their guns and control our community every night because they did not want that to happen again.

I mean, that’s why when someone asks me about violence, I just find it incredible. Because what it means is the person who’s asking that question has absolutely no idea what Black people have gone through–what Black people have experienced in this country since the time the first Black person was kidnapped from the shores of Africa.

Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Riots in Baltimore

In the Atlantic:

Now, tonight, I turn on the news and I see politicians calling for young people in Baltimore to remain peaceful and “nonviolent.” These well-intended pleas strike me as the right answer to the wrong question. To understand the question, it’s worth remembering what, specifically, happened to Freddie Gray. An officer made eye contact with Gray. Gray, for unknown reasons, ran. The officer and his colleagues then detained Gray. They found him in possession of a switchblade. They arrested him while he yelled in pain. And then, within an hour, his spine was mostly severed. A week later, he was dead. What specifically was the crime here? What particular threat did Freddie Gray pose? Why is mere eye contact and then running worthy of detention at the hands of the state? Why is Freddie Gray dead? . . . When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the rioters themselves.

And in the words of Martin Luther King Jr.,

America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.

Islamophobic ads vs. Ms. Marvel

A while back the Freedom Defense Initiative started taking out Islamophobic ads on buses around San Francisco (the original ads are not pictured; they are offensive enough I didn’t think it was worth it). Turns out, a vigilante (presumably, without super powers) has found a way to improve them — the ads are being defaced with new wording, and images of Kamala Khan, who is both the latest woman in the Marvel universe to take on the title of Ms. Marvel and Marvel’s first Muslim headlining character.  Via Toybox at io9.

Ms. Marvel bus ad

Northwestern suspends plans to mediate, and a statement

Huffington Post has the story here. 

And a statement from the student who is being sued:

“There has been so much in the news lately about the many and horrifying failings of university administrations’ dealing with Title IX issues. We are all familiar with these catastrophic miscarriages of justice, and frankly, we are all worn weary with worry and heartache. Today however, the Northwestern community has taken a real step in the direction of modeling what it’s like for a university to be an ally in the fight against sexual harassment and sexual assault. Today, in response to criticism from the student population, who were in turn vocalizing my objections as the graduate student named in Peter Ludlow’s lawsuit, Northwestern’s administration has agreed to halt all mediation proceedings with Ludlow’s attorneys. To be clear: I voiced my concerns, the broader Northwestern community mobilized on my behalf (in only 24 hours), and the administration heard our cry, in turn responding appropriately by suspending all mediation proceedings — this, while ordering hot chocolate for the student protestors, and helping them to put up their protest signs outside the president’s office.  The administration and I are now engaged in further discussions about my wishes and needs throughout this process.

Putting the victim first should not be such an uncommonly outstanding occasion. Yet in this moment, I feel compelled to sing loudly the praises of Northwestern’s administration. Let this be a message to all universities: Stand by your students, stand by your victims. Protect their voices. Together, let’s make Northwestern a model.”

Sit-In at Northwestern Today

From the Organisers’ FB page.

It has come to our attention that Northwestern is looking to quickly mediate in their lawsuit with Peter Ludlow–a lawsuit in which they are not the only defendant (a graduate student who filed a Title IX complaint against him, and a professor who assisted her, are also named as well, and accused of defamation). NU is planning to mediate, regardless of the desires of their co-defendants.

While we admire Northwestern’s intention to mitigate the stressful nature of the legal situation for all involved, Northwestern should stand by their actions rather than agree to write a check now to avoid potential litigation costs later. Sexual violence is an epidemic on college campuses that persists, in part, because perpetrators are shielded by universities’ interests in avoiding public relations scandals and protecting their bottom line, and by the damage caused to victims’ credibility when universities do mistreat perpetrators.If Ludlow has engaged in a pattern of predatory behavior, he should not be rewarded just for the sake of avoiding the costs of litigation, nor should he be able to walk away with plausible deniability. If he has not, the university should be responsible for their mistreatment of him; not only for his sake, but for the sake of victims everywhere who have a vested interest in universities properly handling Title IX complaints. Negotiating in this way, before both sides can be heard, would also simultaneously send a chilling message to victims on campuses everywhere, that if they come forward, they will need to consider the legal and financial costs given this new precedent, and deny an alleged victim, and the faculty member who assisted in bringing her complaint forward, any chance of vindicating their credibility that they have.

Anger and its importance

‘Angry blacks’, ‘angry muslims’, ‘angry feminists’! For many, such labels conjure up unpleasant or frightening images. They distract from causes of the anger and instead focus attention on the now problematic bearers of the labels. That phenomenon could cost us dearly, as Amia Srinivasan’s talk on the BBC Argues. Her talk is largely about the need for anger in protesting against injustice. Anger is a form of moral seeing, she maintains.

Yesterday I was thinking about similar thoughts as expressed by Jesse Prinz, mentioned here. Walking to a checkout counter in Whole Foods I saw that the Sept issue of Shambhala Sun had a section on ‘The Wisdom of Anger’, which the Bhuddas think is very important once transformed into wisdom and compassion. A convergence of thought.

Anger can both focus us on a problem and motivate us to take action.    However, it is unlikely to lead misbehaving colleagues to rethink their actions.  The latter is something to remember.


Some images of anger from Shambhala Sun:

photo