Susan Bordo on straightforwardness, honesty, Clinton (and so much else)

Some super-important points here.


For several days, I’d been watching the media pundits salivate over last week’s poll results, in which Donald Trump rated 16 points better than Hillary Clinton in a question asking which one was “better” at “being honest and straightforward.” These astonishing results, amazingly, merely afforded the media an opportunity to chew yet again over one of their favorite topics: “Hillary’s honesty problem.” This week, it could be freshly juiced up because Bill Clinton had just put his foot and mouth into the wrong airplane. This allowed Chuck Todd, on Meet the Press, to smoothly segue into a discussion of how the “optics”of that event showed that “The Clintons” [sic] “don’t play by the same rules as other people.” Never mind that Hillary and Bill are, last time I looked, two separate people. As usual, Bill and Hillary, fact and “optics,”got smooshed together in the favored “narrative”of Hillary’s troubles getting people to trust her.

It never occurred to any of the pundits (or simply wasn’t journalistically hot enough) to question the poll question itself. As in: Which quality did respondents have in mind? Truthfulness? Or straighforwardness? As my daughter correctly pointed out, they aren’t the same thing at all. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “straightforward= easy to understand, simple; without unnecessary politeness” while “honest=truthful or able to be trusted; not likely to steal, cheat, or lie.” So, it’s perfectly possible to lie in a straightforward way (the best liars, in fact, do so baldly) OR to be truthful but not in a straightforward way—for example, when one is trying to tell someone something that will be hurtful or explain something complex or contradictory.


In fact, a good argument can be made that Trump is a perfect example of a straightforward liar, while Hillary, who (surprise!) is rated by PolitiFact as the most honest of all the candidates (Sanders runs second, Trump last), has, after decades of concocted scandals, developed her famous “honesty problem” precisely because she has learned to speak the truth so cautiously it seems phony.

And there’s more, including some really important points about the email server “scandal”.  Go read it!

Response to AAUP report on Title IX from Faculty Against Rape

Faculty Against Rape has drafted a response to the AAUP’s draft report on Title IX to submit by the end of the comment period tomorrow, and they are accepting signatures from academics in support of the letter. The full letter is here, and the form to add your name is here.

Here’s a passage from the introduction:

As members of Faculty Against Rape (FAR), a group of more than 300 faculty and civil rights activists from across the U.S., we write to express grave concerns regarding the American Association of University Professor’s (AAUP) draft report on Title IX.  We started FAR in the summer of 2014 as an ad-hoc volunteer collective whose mission is to get more faculty involved in preventing sexual assault and sexual harassment and improving campus responses. FAR is also committed to protecting faculty who experience retaliation for doing so. Over the past two years, FAR has provided resources for faculty to learn how to best support survivors, tools for faculty who want to get more involved in reform efforts, and support for faculty who face retaliation. Collectively, our members have supported literally hundreds of survivors at campuses across the country. Many of them have endured significant retaliation from university administrations who want to protect the university brand, even at the cost of the safety and well-being of students. We have seen the crisis of campus sexual violence, and the nature of Title IX enforcement as practiced, often inadequately, across campuses in the United States, first-hand.

Our experiences, as members of educational communities involved in these issues on the ground, have made evident that Title IX enforcement at institutions of higher education is, indeed, a matter of pressing concern. However, if the AAUP seeks to adequately understand, and competently comment on this issue, it must take care to, at the very least, attend to the body of existing expert scholarship— including scholarship by some of its own members— on this topic. As it stands, we are troubled by much of the framing, content, unrepresentative nature of, and failures of accuracy within, the draft report.

The overall impression given by the report is that the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is ‘overreaching’ in its mandated mission of providing guidance to universities and ‘abusing’ Title IX; this,  despite the fact that there is broad underreporting of campus sexual assault by universities. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) analyzed DOE data and found that 91% of colleges did not report any rapes in 2014, leading the AAUW to exclaim that “The data reported by the nation’s colleges simply defy reality and common sense,” given that they “don’t reflect campus climate surveys and academic research.”

While we would ordinarily join with the AAUP in resisting the corporatization of institutions of higher learning, we are deeply concerned that the AAUP’s analysis of this issue as it pertains to Title IX, by pitting student concerns for campus safety against faculty interests, reinforces the symptoms instead of addresses the problem. Students and faculty alike are rightfully alarmed by universities and colleges placing the protection of their reputation before the integrity of their campus communities — but these concerns ought to unite, rather than divide us. The AAUP is right to remind us that administrative overreach into the classroom may be driven by a misguided focus on public relations, but we should also acknowledge that it is this very feature of the contemporary university that victims of campus sexual misconduct have been decrying as they witness justice, safety, and prevention sacrificed time and again for the sake of the bottom line.

What’s Wrong with the AAUP’s Report on Title IX: Preponderance of the Evidence Standard Redux

I posted a couple of days ago about some of the problems with the AAUP’s recent report on Title IX. I think there are others, but for considerations of space, just mentioned two: one of which was the AAUP’s resistance to the preponderance of the evidence standard, the other was the AAUP’s confusion regarding the increase and manner of OCR investigations. At some point, I think it would be valuable to discuss some of those other issues (I’ll draw on a couple of points from this letter from the National Women’s Law Center below, but I encourage you to read it in full as it pertains to some of the other issues in the report as well), but first, more on the justification for the preponderance standard.

Brian Leiter wrote a reply to my post, taking issue with this passage:

But, more to the point, if Title IX complaints were held to a higher standard than a preponderance of the evidence when other civil rights claims are adjudicated by exactly that standard, then it would follow that complainants would be held to a higher standard, i.e., disadvantaged, on the basis of sex, i.e., they would be subject to sexual discrimination.

I cited Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education in the explanation of my thinking, and in an update on his post, Leiter writes, “that retaliation for reporting sex discrimination is actionable sex discrimination for purposes of Title IX does nothing to establish that a higher standard of proof to prevail on a sex discrimination claim is sex discrimination.” Leiter is right that, in itself, that retaliation in the context of Title IX constitutes sex discrimination says nothing about standards of proof, but I didn’t say that it did. What I did say is that I think the courts’ reasoning in the course of determining whether or not retaliation constitutes discrimination – i.e., how the court defined what it is for something to constitute “discrimination on the basis of sex” – does.

Here’s that language again (emphasis mine):

In all of these cases, we relied on the text of Title IX, which, subject to a list of narrow exceptions not at issue here, broadly prohibits a funding recipient from subjecting any person to “discrimination” “on the basis of sex.” 20 U. S. C. ß1681. Retaliation against a person because that person has complained of sex discrimination is another form of intentional sex discrimination encompassed by Title IX’s private cause of action. Retaliation is, by definition, an intentional act. It is a form of “discrimination” because the complainant is being subjected to differential treatment. See generally Olmstead v. L. C., 527 U. S. 581, 614 (1999) (KENNEDY, J., concurring in judgment) (the “normal definition of discrimination” is “differential treatment”); see also Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. v. EEOC, 462 U. S. 669, 682, n. 22 (1983) (discrimination means “less favorable” treatment). Moreover, retaliation is discrimination “on the basis of sex because” it is an intentional response to the nature of the complaint: an allegation of sex discrimination. . .

The import of the Jackson language quoted is not that the retaliation was a response to the person (Roderick Jackson) but to the claim (in Jackson’s case, a series of complaints about unequal treatment that he felt were prohibited by Title IX).  It can be analogized to campus responses to sexual assault cases in the following way: when a victim makes a complaint that s/he was sexually assaulted, under Title IX that is a claim of sex discrimination, because sexual assault is a severe form of sexual harassment, and sexual harassment has been confirmed by SCOTUS to be a form of sex discrimination.  Therefore, if the school responds to that claim using a process that requires a higher standard of proof than the standard of proof that the school uses for other claims, ones that do not implicate Title IX and do not allege sex discrimination, that is, in the words of the Court in Jackson, “differential treatment.”  So if a student made a complaint that s/he was the victim of harassment based on his/her race, the school would be required under Title VI to use a preponderance of the evidence standard.  If the school were still using “clear and convincing evidence” for sexual assault cases, this would mean that claims of sex discrimination (severe sexual harassment in the form of sexual assault) would be treated differently, and less favorably, by the school from claims of race discrimination (racial harassment).

Similarly, if one white, male, heterosexual student accused another white, male, heterosexual student of punching him in the face and the school used a preponderance of the evidence standard in its process for responding to that assault, but was still using “clear and convincing” in its process for sexual assault, that would be differential treatment based on the nature of the claim, where the claim alleging discrimination based on sex got “‘less favorable treatment” (see language from Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. v. EEOC, 462 U.S. 669, 682, n. 22, 103 S.Ct. 2622, 77 L.Ed.2d 89 (1983) included in Jackson) than the claim not alleging discrimination based on sex.

The National Women’s Law Center (lead counsel in Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education) seems to agree that parity with other claims justifies the use of the preponderance standard in Title IX claims: Given that Title IX was modeled after Title VI, and preponderance of the evidence is the standard used in claims brought under Title VI, it is also the standard that applies to Title IX claims. The preponderance standard is also used in litigation of claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, regarding sex discrimination in employment. Thus, it is the correct standard for allegations of sexual harassment, including violence.” (If you doubt that courts have taken up this standard, note the footnotes to this passage in their letter.)

Likewise, Nancy Cantalupo, in the piece I linked to a few days ago, writes,

Allowing schools to adopt a criminalized standard of proof such as “clear and convincing” evidence or “beyond a reasonable doubt,” . . . would also create legal and administrative barriers for student survivors of gender-based violence that do not apply to the vast majority of comparable populations involved in civil or civil rights proceedings, all of which use the preponderance standard. To name just a few, these groups include: other students alleging other kinds of sex discrimination; students alleging discrimination based on other protected categories, like race or disability; gender-based violence survivors seeking protection orders in civil court; students alleging other forms of student misconduct; and students accused of sexual or any other misconduct who sue their schools in civil court. In reality the preponderance standard is used in the vast majority of cases, not only in internal disciplinary proceedings but also in other administrative or civil court proceedings and under other civil rights statutes that protect equality . . . Indeed, separating out sexual violence victims for different procedural treatment would enact a new kind of damaging “exceptionality [for] rape,” as Michelle Anderson discusses in her paper for the September 25 Conversation. Using anything more stringent than a preponderance standard would symbolize that we as a society are comfortable with giving one group of women and girls, as well as men and boys who are gender-minorities and victimized because of it, unequal treatment when compared to everyone else.

In a footnote on this passage, Cantalupo notes:

Research shows that the majority of higher education institutions had voluntarily adopted a preponderance of the evidence standard for all student conduct proceedings by the early 2000s. See Michelle J. Anderson, Sexual The Legacy of the Prompt Complaint Requirement, Corroboration Requirement, and Cautionary Instructions on Campus Assault, 84 B.U. L. Rev. 945, 1000 (2004); Heather M. Karjane et al., Campus Sexual Assault: How America’s Institutions of Higher Education Respond 122 tbl.6.12 (2002),  []. Therefore, using a different standard from the preponderance standard in cases involving sexual or other forms of gender-based violence would mean that student victims of gender-based violence would be less protected than students who are victimized by another student in any other way.

Now, Geoffrey Stone has argued against the preponderance standard as follows (emphasis mine):

To justify its insistence on the preponderance of the evidence standard, the Department of Education draws an analogy to civil actions in court. In the typical civil law suit for damages, whether the issue is a car accident, a breach of contract, or an assault, the standard is preponderance of the evidence. But this is a bad analogy. For a college or university to expel a student for sexual assault is a matter of grave consequence both for the institution and for the student. Such an expulsion will haunt the students for the rest of his days, especially in the world of the Internet. Indeed, it may well destroy his chosen career prospects. This is especially likely, for example, for law students.

To the extent that analogy between internal Title IX complaints at an educational institution and action in courts is apt (there is a substantive difference in that what happens in court is thereby public record), the analogy to civil action is far more apt than an analogy to criminal proceedings. In addition to the fact that in criminal cases it is the state, and not the alleged victim, who is party to the proceedings, as Stone writes, civil law adjudicated by a preponderance of the evidence standard provides relief for assault. Again, from the National Women’s Law Center:

The preponderance of the evidence standard is appropriate even in cases where there could be criminal sanctions for the defendant’s actions. For example, it is used in civil proceedings between two private parties, where—like a campus grievance proceeding for a complaint of sexual harassment—each party “has an extremely important, but nevertheless relatively equal, interest in the outcome.” This includes civil proceedings arising out of conduct that can also be criminal, but where there is no authority to impose criminal sanctions, such as a civil tort action for battery, robbery, or murder.

This goes, too, for civil cases regarding sexual violence. For instance, cases brought under California Civil Code Section 52.4, or Illinois’ Gender Violence Act.

Of course, Stone is right that expulsion may haunt a student. We should absolutely take that seriously, and I do. At the same time, let’s not forget how many students are expelled for infractions like plagiarism as compared to sexual assault; let’s not forget having been subject to sexual violence may haunt a victim; let’s not forget that being subject to sexual discrimination (including sexual harassment and assault) might, and in a number of cases has, destroyed victims’ chosen career prospects; let’s not forget that victims are often forced to transfer schools, or drop out; let’s not forget that victims have also been dragged through the nasty trenches of the internet, nor that some have been driven to suicide as a result. Moreover, let’s not forget that it is exactly these kinds of effects that educational institutions are legally obligated to address insofar as they impact one’s access to education; that is, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Effect of gender role threat on vote preference

This is a really important finding, and indicates something that we will very much need to find a way to fight, should Clinton be the Democratic candidate.


 Volumes of research in sociology have shown how men respond to perceived threats to their masculinity: in the face of personal or societal threats to their masculine identity, some men become more likely to endorse anti-gay stances, pro-gun policies, or anti-abortion views…

In the study, a randomized experiment was embedded in an otherwise normal political survey of likely voters in New Jersey. Half of the respondents were asked about the distribution of income in their own households – whether they or their spouse earned more money – before being asked about their preference in the Presidential general election. The other half were only asked about the distribution of income in their household at the end of the survey. This question was designed to remind people of disruption to traditional gender roles, without explicitly mentioning Clinton or a female president, and simulate the sorts of subtle gender-based attacks that can be expected when Clinton is a general election candidate.

The effects of the gender role threat question are enormous. As Figure 1 shows, men who weren’t asked about spousal income until after being asked about the Presidential election preferred Clinton over Trump, 49 to 33. However, those who were reminded about the threat to gender roles embodied by Clinton preferred Trump over Clinton, 50 to 42. Concerns about gender role threat shifted men from preferring Clinton by 16 to preferring Trump by 8, a 24 point shift…

The case that this is really about Clinton’s gender, rather than her party is made clearer by the fact that the same experiment has almost no effect on support for Sanders in the match-up with Trump.

This seems pretty compelling, and very worrying.


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.

Invitation to Join an Amicus Brief

I’m sharing an invitation to join a friend of the court brief in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, a case that’s heading to the Supreme Court challenging the Texas law, HB2 (which, you might remember by way of Wendy Davis’s filibuster), arguing that targeted regulation of abortion providers (or TRAP laws) are unjust irrespective of one’s views on abortion itself. The brief is being organized by an attorney at  Fish & Richardson P.C, on behalf of theologians, and academics who work in religious ethics and philosophy of religion. If you work in one of those areas, you can read more about the brief below, and contact them if you are interested in signing through a link at the end.


The U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to consider the most important abortion case in nearly 25 years. This creates a rare opportunity for theologians and religious ethicists from across the country to come together and bring the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas and other key theologians and religious philosophers to the Court’s attention, and urge the Court to rule against unjust laws that disproportionately hurt poorer women while undermining public faith in the rule of law.

The Case: Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole

The case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, challenges onerous regulations in a Texas law known as HB2 that would force more than 75% of abortion clinics in the state to close, depriving women of access to safe, legal, high-quality reproductive health care in Texas. At issue are requirements that doctors who provide abortion services obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals and that women obtain abortions only at ambulatory surgery centers, which are mini-hospitals that are not intended for a simple office procedure. These are requirements that the American Medical Association, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and other leading health care experts say serve no medical purpose and do nothing to promote women’s health; instead, the widespread clinic closures directly threaten the health, safety, and well-being of women, particularly low-income women who live in rural areas.

Summary of the Brief

A number of theologians and religious ethicists from various faiths are planning to file an amicus brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down Texas’s Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (“TRAP”) law, which imposes two sets of restrictions on abortion providers that medical experts, including the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have recognized are unnecessary to protect the health of the woman yet have caused many clinics throughout the state to close, imposing a substantial obstacle on a woman’s ability to obtain an early, safe abortion, especially for poorer women.

These theologians plan to argue that TRAP laws are morally unjust, regardless of an individual’s stance on abortion. From the perspectives of the Catholic faith and other Christian denominations, including the writings of Catholic theologian and philosopher Saint Thomas Aquinas, TRAP laws are not a legitimate exercise of state power because they are irrational, pretextual in nature, and cause more harm than good. Under the guise of improving women’s health, TRAP laws seek instead to subvert settled law through dishonest means. But instead of furthering the state’s interests in improving women’s health, TRAP laws disproportionately attack the dignity of low-income and geographically isolated women, make the process of seeking an abortion more difficult and dangerous for these women by creating unjustifiable barriers to their healthcare. Texas’s regulations may even drive poor women to seek later, illegal procedures or try aborting at home, risking their health and lives. And because laws such as HB2 simply disguise the illegalization of abortion through unwarranted burdens on women’s exercise
of their constitutionally protected rights, they also risk fomenting widespread civil disobedience and undermining public faith in the rule of law.

Moreover, TRAP laws seek to surreptitiously undermine the current legal status of abortion, effectively imposing a specific moral viewpoint on the general population and overriding the interests of women who may subscribe to any of the broad plurality of views within the world’s religions on the morality of abortion—including within Christianity itself. Those who seek to ban abortion at all stages should argue openly and forthrightly about the morality of their position, and not use TRAP laws as an underhanded tactic.

For these reasons, even from the perspective of one who believes that abortion is gravely immoral, TRAP laws like HB2 are not ad bonum commune (that is, they do not promote the common good) and should not stand. This amicus brief will draw heavily from Saint Thomas’s Summa Theologiae and writings from other religions to explain to the Court how the intent and anticipated effect of HB2 are contrary to Christian and other religions’ teachings on building a just society.

Please contact me about signing the amicus brief of Theologians by clicking here.

If you have expressed your interest through the above link, we will send the brief via email for your review by December 23, 2015. To add your signature to the brief, you will need to respond to the instructions in the transmittal email by December 28, 2015.

Why One Philosopher Uses Trigger Warnings

Kate Manne in the New York Times:

Triggered reactions can be intense and unpleasant, and may even overtake our consciousness, as with a flashback experienced by a war veteran. But even more common conditions can have this effect. Think, for example, about the experience of intense nausea. It comes upon a person unbidden, without rational reflection. And you can no more reason your way out of it than you reasoned your way into it. It’s also hard, if not impossible, to engage productively with other matters while you are in the grip of it. You might say that such states temporarily eclipse our rational capacities.

For someone who has experienced major trauma, vivid reminders can serve to induce states of body and mind that are rationally eclipsing in much the same manner. A common symptom of PTSD is panic attacks. Those undergoing these attacks may be flooded with anxiety to the point of struggling to draw breath, and feeling disoriented, dizzy and nauseated. Under conditions such as these, it’s impossible to think straight.

The thought behind trigger warnings isn’t just that these states are highly unpleasant (although they certainly are). It’s that they temporarily render people unable to focus, regardless of their desire or determination to do so. Trigger warnings can work to prevent or counteract this.

As teachers, we can’t foresee every instance of potentially triggering material; some triggers are unpredictable. But others are easy enough to anticipate, specifically, depictions or discussions of the very kinds of experiences that often result in post-traumatic stress and even, for some, a clinical disorder. With appropriate warnings in place, vulnerable students may be able to employ effective anxiety management techniques, by meditating or taking prescribed medication . . .  It’s not about coddling anyone. It’s about enabling everyone’s rational engagement.

On the Syrian Refugee Crisis

A few pieces on the Syrian refugee crisis have been published by philosophers in the last couple of days. If you know of others please do mention them in the comments.

William MacAskill writes in The Guardian:

The question of how many refugees to accept is purely a political one, not an economic one. Government officials have claimed that it’s a better use of public funds to help abroad. But that’s completely wrong. If we let refugees in and allow them to work (as they would be keen to do), the evidence shows that the standard of living and unemployment rates for UK natives would remain about the same; the main effect is to radically increase the quality of life for the refugee. Compare the situation now to the Hungarian revolution of 1956: Austria, still broken from the second world war, took in 2% of its population in refugees, and emerged even stronger as a result. The UK could welcome hundreds of thousands of refugees to work here without damaging our economy.

Calum Miller writes in the Huffington Post:

This is not about us. It is not entirely clear whether we would suffer from increasing our refugee intake. But suppose we did. How could we possibly lose anything close to what these families would gain from being here? And how is it that our being lucky enough to be born into affluence could possibly justify not sacrificing some of that for those born into warzones? How can we talk so much about our own economic growth and yet ignore the families torn apart around the world, who come humbly to us, knocking on our door for help? Economics is important. And practical politics is important. But it is all worthless if it is not put to the service of those who need our help most desperately.

And our own Jenny Saul writes in the NewStatesman:

To some, this attack [on the use of the term ‘migrant’] is baffling. A migrant is just a person who migrates, surely, and these people are migrating. What can be wrong with this truthful description? One thing that might be wrong with it, however, is that, according to the UN, that’s not what a migrant is:

The term ‘migrant’… should be understood as covering all cases where the decision to migrate is taken freely by the individual concerned, for reasons of ‘personal convenience’ and without intervention of an external compelling factor.

While maybe among the desperate risking their lives to escape places like Syria and Afghanistan, there is a person or two who has joined them for reasons of “convenience”, these people are surely vanishingly rare. According to the UN, then, it is simply factually wrong to call these people migrants.

But why, a more compelling objection goes, should we even care about language? People are dying and need help, and there goes the left again worrying about words. The reason to care about language is that the language we deliberate in shapes our deliberations.


How not to address sexual harassment

Missouri legislature edition (via HuffPo):

“We need a good, modest, conservative dress code for both the males and females,” state Rep. Nick King (R) said in an email to colleagues. “Removing one more distraction will help everyone keep their focus on legislative matters.”

The state legislature began working on its new intern program policies after Missouri House Speaker John Diehl (R) resigned in May, when the Kansas City Star revealed he sent sexually suggestive text messages to a 19-year-old intern.

Two months later, Sen. Paul LeVota (D) resigned after two interns accused him of sexual harassment. In a statement, he denied any wrongdoing.

But the problem appears to be more widespread. Dozens of women have said they were sexually harassed while working at the state capitol. In that report, a former state senator called the culture in Jefferson City “very anything goes.”

On Monday, state Rep. Kevin Engler (R) sent out a list of proposed changes for the program to his fellow House members. The Kansas City Star reported that that’s when several legislators, initiated by state Rep. Bill Kidd (R), responded by suggesting Engler should add an intern dress code to the list.