Lots of nice reflections here about how fear undermines our vocation. Though much of it is (appropriately) scary, there's some optimism too. Arvan's post ends with:
The only final thing I would suggest--following Zombie's remarks above as well as my experience with the Cocoon--is that whatever risks you take, whether they are blogging or whatever, commit yourself to pursuing those risks kindly, and helpfully. As I mentioned above, early in my career I found the discipline to be a rather scary place, full of judgmental people. Part of this, I think, was just my fear talking (I "saw" judgmentalism everywhere). But it was not all fear talking: there are judgmental people here and there. But, what I will say is this: if you commit yourself to pursuing your career--your "risks"--kindly, you may be surprised just how many people of good will are out there. In my experience running the Cocoon, there are a ton of people out there looking for more kindness in the discipline. Be among them, and be among those who contribute kindness. If you do, you have little to fear.
This is an important thing to remember. There are so many kind and helpful people studying and teaching philosophy. Their kindness usually (though not always) precludes them from being that great at tooting their own horns, but if you stay in the biz long enough you'll be humbled by the amount of supererogation you run into. This is really pronounced with respect to people who agree to write letters for tenure files. The letter writers get nothing out of it. It's just a lot of work, and you don't get any money for it and it doesn't go on your CV. But at this point I've witnessed dozens of philosophers give up a month or so of their summer to charitably assess one of my colleague's works and then explain it in a way that is accessible to LSU administrators. It's one of the most inspiring things I've experienced. And some non-trivial amount of journal reviewers put in a lot of extra work giving the author helpful advice about how to rewrite the paper. Twice when I was not tenured I got new paper ideas from the reviewers' comments. I couldn't thank the person by name because it was anonymous.
Arvan's discussion is a little bit related to some of the discussion at the Daily Nous about the culture of meanness in philosophy. My favorite comment is Susan's:
I would like to say “only in Philosophy” would it be the case that a reasonable defense of being accused of rudeness is to protest, hey, I’m rude to everyone all the time, but I imagine the climate is similarly unfriendly in at least a few other disciplines or professions. Telemarketing and other high-pressure sales environments spring to mind.
The question is, why do philosophers tolerate this situation? Why do we attend so closely to the squeakiest hinges? We could insist on basic civility, but we choose not to by valuing many, many people who fail to consistently achieve it.
I have heard several philosophers argue that rudely dismissing ideas you consider sub-par is almost a moral imperative, lest the bad ideas spread and infect others through want of a sufficiently devastating criticism. I have read journal submission reviews and rejections (alas, not only for my own articles!) that appeared to be inspired by the conviction that it is insufficient merely to reject a piece and explain its errors or required improvements; only the most scorching rhetoric can successfully purify the world of shoddy ideas and writing! Why is that, exactly? I’ve never quite understood. I’m no Emily Post but I’ve often felt like an alien outsider in my own profession because my mama didn’t raise me to act that way. Maybe people are ready to begin seriously reflecting about whether this atmosphere is healthy for the continued success of our discipline in the increasingly competitive financial environment of universities.
Susan is right. I've been to linguistics, theology, narratology, and theatre conferences and the norms of basic politeness in those fields are radically different from philosophy. If your question isn't charitable and helpful, the whole room will frown at you and the moderator will just call on someone else. You can't just do the philosopher thing of just trying to score dialectical points against the speaker.
We think that our nastiness is evidence of our rigor, but that's hogwash. Very, very few of us are anywhere near as rigorous as computational linguists!
After reading about Brian Leiter (see the update here) accusing female academics who disagree with him of wallowing in a cult of victimhood (a recent popular right-wing sexist trope, cf. George Will) and wanting to be treated like children, I was pretty depressed. I mean, this business of infantalizing women who disagree with you is supposed to be old hat at this point. . . Educated people of good will are supposed to not tolerate that kind of thing. But here we are.This being said, Arvan and Susan's meditations give me hope. There's so much good out there. A lot of us agree with Susan and are trying to act in the way that Arvan describes. Check out this pledge at feminist philosophers. It's not utopian to see this as a mark of progress. And I think it should be clear from the Smoker, Daily Nous, and Philosophers' Cocoon that those who fight monsters don't have to turn into them. The void might be staring back into you, but so what? Let it stare.