We continue awaiting the decision of a grand jury on whether or not to indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer, who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, exactly 15 weeks ago today on a suburban street in Ferguson, Missouri. News reporters from across the globe have been camped out in Ferguson for months, their expectation of an announcement teased and disappointed several times in the last week alone. On Monday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard in advance of the grand jury's decision. Yesterday, President Barack Obama, in what can only be judged to be an anticipation of Wilson's non-indictment, preemptively urged protesters not to use Ferguson as an "excuse for violence." In the meantime, demonstrators of various ilk remain on standby, rallying their troops, refining their organizational strategies, painting their oppositional signs, standing vigilantly at the ready for whatever may come.
But what are we waiting for, really, as we wait for Ferguson?
I've written before about the question of boundary policing in philosophy, occasioned at the time by a remarkable essay of Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman's. It's a question, and a habitual tendency within the discipline, that certainly continues to deserve our attention.
In the same spirit, I want to call readers' attention to an essay that Adriel Trott has published today on her blog. The piece is subtle and quite complex, beginning with four anecdotes and developing from there into a meditation on what it would mean to stop policing the borders of philosophy—but also engaging a series of related—and urgent—questions. How can philosophy remain attentive to the singularity of different sorts of experiences? How can philosophy embrace the insights of intersectionality? What, especially in light of these first two questions, might it mean to do philosophy while resisting the drive to universalize or ontologize? And how do we deal with the ever present danger of appropriation or colonization involved in our attempts to theorize or conceptualize what is at stake in lives at the border, even if we have given up attempting to police those borders?
The essay is carefully composed and deserves to be read on its own terms. But as a teaser, I will leave readers with this short section from Trott's conclusion, about which I will add a few remarks below the fold.
I am only just now coming to see that changing the way we think about philosophy in order to make it more inclusive means making those of us who are happy with the way the thinking in philosophy currently operates uncomfortable and not-quite-at-home with philosophy.
There are two important posts up today elsewhere in the philosophical blogopshere that deserve your attention—both of which raise the question of how those of us in the profession at large can support those members who, because of activism or simply their social position, are vulnerable to various official and non-official forms of retaliation.
Above the fold, I will simply point readers to the Open Letter of Support for "for people in our profession who are suffering various trials either as victims of harassment or as supporters of victims" published on DailyNous by John Greco, Don Howard, Michael Rea, Jonathan Kvanvig, and Mark Murphy: and to NewAPPS emeritus blogger Eric Schliesser's more concrete suggestion about how to address the retaliatory deployment of legal means against complainants. Both pieces deserve to be read and reflected upon.
In what follows, I'll say a bit more about my sense of the importance of both pieces, and the larger phenomenon of retaliation against those contesting the inequitable state of the profession.
As someone who has spent the better part of her career researching, analyzing and teaching not only about the structure and nature of oppressive power regimes, but also better and worse ways to resist or transform such regimes, I've nevertheless been unable to settle in my own mind, to my own satisfaction, my position with regard to the moral or political value of revolutionary violence. I can say that my core moral intuitions (for whatever those are worth) definitely incline me toward favoring nonviolence as a principled ethical commitment... though, over the years, I have found those intuitive inclinations fading in both intensity and persuasiveness. As a philosopher, a citizen and a moral agent, I continue to be deeply unsettled by my own ambivalence on this matter.
First, a preliminary autobiographical anecdote: I spent a year between undergraduate and gradate school in the nonprofit sector, as the Director of the M.K.Gandhi Institute for the Study of Nonviolence. (That was back in 2000, when the Gandhi Institute was still housed at Christian Brothers University in Memphis, which is now my academic home, evidencing the kind of bizarro turn-of-fate that can only be credited to some particularly clever-- or ironically humorous-- supernatural bureaucrat.) I went to the Gandhi Institute initially because nonviolence was an all-but-unquestioned moral virtue for me at the time. But, after a few years in graduate school and consistently since, the many and varied until-then-unposed questions about the moral or political legitimacy of violence pressed their way to the fore of my mind. In roughly chronological order, I'd say that the combination of (1) my first real engagement with Frantz Fanon's argument in "Concerning Violence" (from his Wretched of the Earth), the arguments by Marx (and Marxists) in various texts advocating more or less violent revolution, and Noam Chomsky's considerations of the same, (2) my extensive research into human rights violations, transitional justice and transitional democracies, postcolonial theory, feminist theory and critical race theory, which collectively constituted the subject of my dissertation, (3) the radically dramatic shift in what counts as properly-speaking "political" and/or "revolutionary" violence in the post-9/11 world and (4) my own experiences, from near and afar, with the increasing number of (threatened, proto-, aborted, defeated and/or more-or-less successful) revolutions taking place in my adult lifetime (e.g., OWS, the Arab Spring and, much closer to home and far less violent, the current and ongoing academic revolution surrounding the Salaita case), all worked together to contribute to my rethinking the merits and demerits of violence as a way of resisting/combatting/correcting oppressive, exclusionary or otherwise unjust power regimes.
Only a couple of weeks after the Ferguson shooting, and only about three miles away, St. Louis police shot and killed another black man, Kajieme Powell, after he apparently shoplifted from a convenience store. The details of what happened in Ferguson are in dispute, which has allowed the law and order crowd to defend putting six bullets into unarmed Mike Brown – two into his head – as a proportional act of self-defense.
No such ambiguity exists in the Powell case. The police released cellphone video yesterday, and it is absolutely chilling. Powell emerges from the convenience store with a pair of canned drinks. He seems a little confused – puts them down, paces around, and so on. Then the police show up in a white SUV, and jump out, guns drawn (already! They decide to escalate before even arriving at the scene). Powell backs away, says “just shoot me” a couple of times, climbs up on a retaining wall, takes a couple of steps in the direction of the police… and then they shoot him dead. Total time between the police arrival and his death? About 15 seconds.
The video, of course, completely contradicts the police department’s story about a drawn knife and aggression on Powell’s part. When confronted with the contradiction, the police chief replied that “in a lethal situation, they used lethal force.” The only thing harder to understand from that video clip than why killing Powell was justified by the situation is how anyone can continue to deny that the problem is structural. I am not accusing the officers or the police chief of lying. It’s much, much worse than that: I’d be pretty sure they really did think their lives were in immediate danger.
After reading some discussion at the Daily Nous about the Ferguson situation (also addressed in this post by Leigh Johnson), it struck me that it might be helpful to open a forum dedicated to discussing steps for improvement and change. Some ideas for improvement and change may reasonably focus on specific issues at the intersection of race, law, and legal force. One article linked in the comments goes in a more general direction, targeting economic inequality and economic reparation:
But this story is neither old nor unfamiliar. Rather than asking “why,” let’s focus on the banal laws and policies needed to redirect the distribution of wealth — stolen from black Americans, such that whites can no longer summon police, law or politicians on their behalf to erase or suppress black Americans, and other minorities. That will require more than revealing the name of the police officer who shot Michael Brown; it will require asking who, in the next round of city council elections, state elections and, of course, presidential elections, is ready to compromise their political career in order to work toward redirecting wealth, jobs, opportunities toward black and Latino populations that constitute the majority of the United States. Only when wealth changes hands will black Americans have a fighting chance to resist police power and violence.
This is a powerful suggestion that leads me to wonder about how economic change might address the problems of racial injustice we have seen in Ferguson and elsewhere. Although racial injustice and economic inequality are no doubt related, the former is a distinct problem from the latter, as was noted during the Occupy Movement. In January of this year, the Pew Research Center presented data showing that not only has economic inequality worsened since 1967 but that "the black-white income gap in the U.S. has persisted" since that time. Thus, although it is possible that "narrowing the gap" of economic inequality may partially and indirectly improve the problem of racial injustice, we ought not forget the specific issue of racial inequality in seeking economic change. To improve economic inequality, Standard and Poor recommends investment in education. Here are some bullet points from the overview of a recent report:
For they know they are not animals. And at the very moment when they discover their humanity, they begin to sharpen their weapons to secure its victory. --Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth America has been and remains an apartheid state. That sad but increasingly undeniable fact was made apparent last night in Ferguson, Missouri to a group of peaceful protesters amidst tanks, deafening LRADs, a haze of tear gas and a firestorm of rubber (and real) bullets. The other tragic fact made apparent in Ferguson last night is that America is only ever a hair's-breadth away from a police state... if we understand by "police"not a regulated body of law-enforcement peacekeepers empowered to serve and protect the citizenry, but rather a heavily-armed, extra-constitutional, militarized cadre of domestic soldiers who provoke and terrorize with impunity. Much of the time, we are able to forget or ignore these unfortunate truths about contemporary America-- and by "we" I mean our elected officials, our bureaucrats and financiers, and a lot of self-delusionally "post-racial," though really white, people-- but the mean truth of gross inequality, both de facto and de jure, remains ever-present in spite of our disavowals, simmering steadily just below the allegedly free and fair democratic veneer of our polis.
Greg Howard, journalist and parrhesiates, said it about as plainly as it can be said this past Tuesday in his article for Deadspin: America is not for black people. The truth of "American apartheid" should make us all ashamed, saddened, angry, deeply troubled as moral and political agents. And, what is more, it should frighten us all.
I'm spinning out a series of posts at The Splintered Mind, based on a new citation database my son built for me, from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Maybe it will be of interest to some NewAPPS readers.
Over at Feminist Philosophers, they've posted the CFP for a conference on Diversity in Philosophy that, I'm proud to say, is being hosted and co-sposored by my alma mater, Villanova University, along with Hypatia and the APA's Committee for the Status of Women.
The conference will be held at Villanova on May 28-30, 2015 and the deadline for submissions of 250-500 word proposals is January 1, 2015.
More info and the full CFP follows after the break.
In an earlier post, I discussed Nicholas Wade provocative new book, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History, and mentioned that it had been getting a lot of reviews and attention because of its controversial claim that contemporary science supports the view that biological races really exist after all. But now, the definitive review has been written and posted to the Gentopia blog. Stephen Colbert couldn't have said it better himself. Check it out.
Nicholas Wade's new book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History is barely off the presses and it has already been the subject of numerous reviews, largely because of its provocative argument for the reality of human races, based on recent studies that associate different statistical genetic clusters with particular continental groups. I have yet to read the book, but one author of such reviews in particular caught my eye: Agustin Fuentes (see here and here), in part because of his assertion that:
If you are making a scientific argument about genetic variation, you need to focus on populations -- and be clear about your definitions. Throughout the book, Wade uses the words "cluster," "population," "group," "race," "subrace" and "ethnicity" in a range of ways, with few concrete definitions, and occasionally interchangeably.
I focused on the connection between the concepts of race and population – and time – in a recent talk; for those who want the gory details, it's at minute 43 of this video. (I recommend the other talks as well!)
In my role as intructional faculty, I aim to grade everything anonymously, which is a provision I enjoyed as an undergraduate. My current method is to ask students to write their names on the back of their papers and exams, which also helps me to return them. One of my students remarked that I must do this because I am particularly biased. She may be right. But there is reason to believe that we are all biased against minority groups in our grading practices. Take this publication on the perception of grammatical and spelling errors by partners at 22 law firms: "The exact same memo averaged a 3.2/5.0 rating under our hypothetical 'African American' Thomas Meyer and a 4.1/5.0 rating under hypothetical 'Caucasian' Thomas Meyer. The qualitative comments on memos, consistently, were also more positive for the 'Caucasian' Thomas Meyer than our 'African American' Thomas Meyer." It seems obvious to me that these effects could have an impact on the grading of philosophy papers and exams. (It may be worth noting that the gender/race/ethnicity of the partner did not affect these findings, although "female partners generally found more errors and wrote longer narratives"). And take this publication on faculty assessment of a student applicant, mentioned a couple of years ago here at NewAPPS: "Our results revealed that both male and female faculty judged a female student to be less competent and less worthy of being hired than an identical male student, and also offered her a smaller starting salary and less career mentoring." The difference in mean rated competence, hireability, and mentor-worthiness was of the order of 10%. Again, it seems obvious to me that these effects could have an impact on the grading of philosophy papers and exams, which could be a grade-letter difference (i.e. the difference between a B and a C). Since perceived differences in grading standards could have an impact on whether students choose to stay in philosophy, it seems to me that anonymous grading would both be more just and would encourage a more diverse range of participants in philosophy (see other suggestions on this over at Daily Nous). What does everyone else think? Do you grade anonymously? If not, why not?
Update: Other posts on this topic are here and here.
In a post last month for Demos, Matt Bruenig argued that if one in fact cares about childhood poverty, a recent conservative position promoting marriage as a means of reducing childhood poverty rates is as cruel as it is misguided (http://www.demos.org/blog/4/14/14/single-mother-child-poverty-myth). In a nutshell, Bruenig notes that countries with low childhood poverty rates have not achieved this success via promoting marriage, nor are their rates of single-parenthood markedly different from those in the U.S.
One way to put this basic observation is that people promoting marriage are deliberately ignoring most of the variation that matters. Yes, it is true (ceteris paribus, of course!) that in the international sample Bruenig looks at, in every country, the children of single parents are more likely to be poor than the children of married parents living together.* But far more variation in childhood poverty rates is associated with different policies in the different countries, and not with the relationship status of the parents; indeed, even if the child poverty rate in the U.S. dropped to the level associated with children living with married parents living together in the U.S. today, it would still be substantially higher, indeed, quite grossly higher, than in the other countries Bruenig looks at.
On the basis of this year’s partial hiring data, Marcus Arvan notes that the majority of tenure track hires (a whopping 88%) are from people of Leiter-ranked programs. Only 12% of hires are from people of unranked programs. Also, 37% of all tenure track hires come from just 5 schools, the Leiter top 5 list - this is amazing if one ponders it, and one may wonder at the direction philosophy is going to, if most of its future tenured workforce comes from just a few select programs.
This has caused a lot of debate: why would people go to grad school in unranked programs at all? Why attend an unranked program if you can’t get into a highly ranked one? But what is often overlooked are the many factors, such as class and ethnic background, may contribute to someone not getting (or, as I will examine in more detail below), even applying to get into top programs. In fact, going for pedigree may be a particularly effective way to screen out people who come from poorer backgrounds and of different ethnicities.
Over at Times Higher Education, Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman has written an important piece calling the discipline on the carpet for its overall failure to critically engage its own whiteness.*
There is a lot of remarkable stuff in the piece, which is organized around the paired questions of "who 'gets to do' philosophy?" and "who 'gets done' in philosophy?." It should be read in its entirety. As a teaser, however, let me just reproduce the following paragraph, which I'll discuss a bit below:
In a 2012 blog posting titled “What could leave philosophy?”, Brian Weatherson, professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan, argues that “[f]or a few areas [of philosophy], it is easy to imagine them being in other departments, because they already overlap so substantially with work done in other departments”. Thus, instead of seeing overlap as an opportunity to collaborate across disciplinary boundaries, Weatherson sees overlap as an opportunity to police, enforce and constrict the boundary around philosophy. This narrow-mindedness is an example of what Kristie Dotson, assistant professor of philosophy at Michigan State University, has called philosophy’s “culture of justification” – not the legitimate demand that one justify the conclusion of one’s arguments, no, but the illegitimate demand that one justify that what one is doing counts as “philosophy”.
Is an African American political prisoner in the US. He was convicted of killing a police officer in the course of resistance work with the armed wing of the New African Liberation Army. He has been held in solitary confinement for the last 30 years, in violation of numerious international agreements, and under conditions that clearly constitute torture. Below is a letter from various Nobel Laureates calling for his release into the general population, and information on how to support him.
[UPDATE, Sat 18 Jan 2014: 4:00 pm CST: Moving to front to highlight this very important post by Tommy Curry and John Drabinski, with thoughtful comments by Jason Stanley.]
Many people have already read this important piece in NYT's The Stone. I have seen a few online reactions as well, including this one and this one by Eric Schliesser. Here's one by Peter Levine. What I'd like to do here is offer the comments to further reactions and / or to links of other online discussion.
A few days ago, while trying to open the interwebs thingy to allow me to start entering my grades, I was prevented from doing so by a pop-up menu that referenced LSU's Policy Statement 67. The text included unsubstantiated and highly dubious claims such as that most workplace problems are the result of drugs and alcohol abuse by workers. And this was only a few weeks after all of the chairs at LSU had to provide verification that every single faculty member had read a hysterical message from our staff and administrative overlords that justified expanding the extension of pee-tested employees at LSU to now include faculty. The wretched communiqué justified pee-testing faculty because of new evidence showing that marijuana is harmful to 13 year olds.*
Anyhow, when I scrolled to the bottom of the popup, I had to click a button saying not only that I read the document but also that I "agreed" with it.
I honestly don't get this. Are my beliefs a condition of employment at LSU? There was no button that said I read it but didn't agree with it.
The debate around the Black Pete tradition in the
Netherlands rages on: while many outspoken voices have presented different
arguments on why the tradition should be at the very least severely modified (I
recommend in particular the pieces by Asha ten Broeke), a very large portion of
the population has expressed its support and fondness for the tradition as is,
in particular by ‘liking’ a Facebook page, a ‘Pete-tion’, defending the
continuation of the tradition. As of now, more than 2 million Facebook users
have ‘liked’ this page, and last Saturday supporters gathered for a rally in
Interestingly, in its most recent update, the Pete-tion FB
page (Pietitie, in Dutch) proudly announces that it is ‘against racism, let us
be clear on that’. Now, what they mean by ‘racism’ here must surely be
different from what Black Pete critics mean when they describe the tradition as
racist. More generally, and as often the case, it seems that those involved in
the debate may at least to some extent be talking past each other because
different meanings of ‘racism’ are floating around. (To be clear, I do not
think this is a merely verbal dispute; there does seem to be a core of true
disagreement.) Well, one of the skills we philosophers pride ourselves on is the skill of language precisification and conceptual analysis. So in what
follows I’ll attempt to distinguish some of the different meanings of racism
underpinning the debate, in the hope that such a clarification may somehow
contribute to its advancement. (Full disclosure: what I really want to accomplish is to
convince my many intelligent, well-meaning friends who do not see the racist
component of the tradition that it is there,
and that it is problematic.)
There is a growing body of evidence that student evaluations not only 1) do not measure teaching effectiveness, and may well be negatively correlated with it, but also 2) that women and other visible minorities fare worse across the board on them. In other words, they're ineffective at measuring what they are frequently seen to measure and highly discriminatory in what they do measure.
The current state of the research is nicely summarized by Philip Stark in this post at The Berkeley Blog, which should be read in its entirety. Even having previously known about much of what Stark discusses, I was particularly stunned by the following:
• students’ ratings of instructors can be predicted from the students’ reaction to 30 seconds of silent video of the instructor: first impressions may dictate end-of-course evaluation scores, and physical attractiveness matters
• the genders and ethnicities of the instructor and student matter, as does the age of the instructor
It's enough to make one wonder how we have allowed the practice of conducting these evaluations to go on for so long and why anyone takes them seriously at all.
Our very own Catarina has taken sides in the exchange between Rebecca Kukla (who started it in this very interesting interview), and Jennifer Saul. But in doing so, Catarina (a) endorses what I take to be a mythic origin birth of philosophy. (I hesitate to disagree with one of the great historians of philosophy of my generation!) This matters because consequently, Catarina (b) overlooks plausible alternative ways of doing philosophy available at the 'origin' of philosophy. But even if I were wrong about (a) and (b), Catarina's argument (c) tacitly embraces optimal institutional design (whereas I am skeptical that we can attain the circumstances in which we would endorse those institutions). At one point Catarina writes:
As Rebecca points out, this
argumentative model of inquiry is at the very birth of Western philosophy in
Ancient Greece. Philosophy has always been a dialogue of people disagreeing
with each other, and this is precisely what makes it a worthwhile enterprise.
First, I doubt that a "dialogue of people disagreeing
with each other" is "precisely what makes" philosophy "a worthwhile enterprise." I believe it's the searching after certain ends (truth, illumination, liberation, beauty, good, etc.) and the various to-be-expected by-products it generates (wonder, joy, insight, self-doubt, critical stance, etc.) that make philosophy a worthwhile enterprise. Second, Catarina endorses here an origin-myth of philosophy that is quite plausible if we focus on Platonic dialogues, but less so if we take a more expansive view of the origins of philosophy. For example, Parminedes' poem is very philosophical (with important reflections on the nature of reason). It certainly has dialogical elements in it. But its predominant mode is a magisterial stance.
Description: Critical Philosophy of Race will examine issues raised by the concept of race, the practices and mechanisms of racialization, and the persistence of various forms of racism across the world. It opposes racism in all forms; it rejects the pseudosciences of old-fashioned biological racialism; it denies that anti-racism and anti-racialism summarily eliminate race as a meaningful category of analysis. The journal is sponsored by the Rock Ethics Institute at The Pennsylvania State University.
It would be unjust to allow Erik Loomis's presence in the blogosphere to be defined only as someone to whom those concerned with free speech rallied when he was attacked in the wake of the Newtown massacre. For Loomis is also the author of an extraordinary series of posts at Lawyers, Guns, and Money entitled "This Day in Labor History."
On January 25, 1941, A. Philip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the most important civil rights leader of the World War II era, called for a March on Washington to protest discrimination in defense industry work. The success of this movement in convincing the government to act on employment discrimination both opened unprecedented economic opportunities for African-Americans during the war and helped lay the groundwork for the modern civil rights movement after the war.
One of the key insights:
Roosevelt was desperate to avoid the embarrassment of a nation preparing to fight fascism having its own caste system publicized before the world.
this influence, and despite the
reception Dingler's ideas found in Paul Lorenzen's constructivist
“Erlangen School” from 1950 on, today neither philosophers nor
historians take notice of Dingler's original approach. One reason for
this might be his concessions to National Socialist politics,
which pale, however, in comparison to those of a certain Martin
My friend Barbara said the other day, “There are so many books I would like to have on my shelf. But no one has written them yet!” One of the books I would like to have on my shelf is about Frantz Fanon, activist models of decentralized political organization, and 4E cognitive science models of the brain as a distributed network. If you want to write this book, here are a few quotes from The Wretched of the Earth to get you started. If it’s already been written and I just haven’t found it yet, please post the title, and I will fill that spot on my shelf.
“The meeting of the local cell or the committee meeting is a liturgical act. It is a privileged opportunity for the individual to listen and speak. At every meeting the brain multiplies the association of ideas and the eye discovers a wider human panorama” (136).
“Let us reexamine the question of cerebral reality, the brain mass of humanity in its entirety whose affinities must be increased, whose connections must be diversified and whose communications must be humanized again” (237-8).
“No, it is not a question of back to nature. It is the very basic question of not dragging man in directions which mutilate him, of not imposing on his brain tempos that rapidly obliterate and unhinge it. The notion of catching up must not be used as a pretext to brutalize man, to tear him from himself and his inner consciousness, to break him, to kill him” (238).
My theory, which belongs to me, and is mine, is that Schaefer Riley is *trying* to get fired, so she can drive up her lecture fee on the “woe is me, the liberals have deprived me of my First Amendment rights” circuit as well as ditch the Chronicle for the greener pastures of Fox News.