Notes and Comment Blog


May 8th, 2017 3:56 pm | By

Former acting Attorney-General Sally Yates is testifying before a Senate subcommittee.

Ms. Yates said that in the first days of the Trump administration, she told the White House counsel that Mr. Flynn was susceptible to Russian blackmail.

“General Flynn was compromised in regard to the Russians,” Ms. Yates said at the hearing.

She testified that Mr. Flynn’s conduct was “problematic.” Though Ms. Yates did not publicly reveal her underlying concerns, she did refer to discussions about sanctions between Mr. Flynn and the Russian ambassador to the United States.

The White House initially mischaracterized those discussions. Mr. Trump ultimately fired Mr. Flynn over those discrepancies.

“Mischaracterized” and “discrepancies” are polite ways of putting it. There are harsher ways.

The White House assured the public that Mr. Flynn and the Russian ambassador had not discussed sanctions.

Ms. Yates, a temporary holdover from the administration of President Barack Obama, knew otherwise. That is because the United States routinely intercepts and transcribes the phone calls of foreign diplomats.

On Jan. 26, she told Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, that the misstatements made Mr. Flynn vulnerable to foreign blackmail because Russian operatives would know that he had misled his bosses.

“To state the obvious: You don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians,” Ms. Yates said.

Well it’s apparently not obvious enough to Trump and his buddies.

Yates thought the White House would act on what she told them, but they didn’t. They hung on to Flynn for another two weeks, until the Post ran a story about the warnings.

Mr. Obama warned Mr. Trump against hiring Mr. Flynn when the two met in the Oval Office two days after Mr. Trump was elected, two former Obama administration officials said Monday.

Mr. Obama, who had fired Mr. Flynn as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told Mr. Trump that he would have profound concerns about Mr. Flynn becoming a top national security aide, said the administration officials, who were briefed on the Oval Office conversation. Mr. Trump ignored the advice, naming Mr. Flynn to be his national security adviser.

Stupid, arrogant, irresponsible, dangerous man. He doesn’t like Obama because Obama knows how stupid he is, so he names a compromised reckless hothead national security adviser.

And he was tweeting about the mess this morning.

The hearing was clearly on Mr. Trump’s mind hours before it started.

In addition to his tweet about Mr. Flynn’s security clearance, Mr. Trump also suggested on Twitter that Ms. Yates had tipped off journalists about Mr. Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador. That is a familiar beat for Mr. Trump, who has said repeatedly that the leaks of classified information are far more significant than the actual connections between Russian officials and the Trump campaign.

Because leaks are an affront to him, Donald from Queens Trump. That makes them more important than anything.

Many harmful aspects

May 8th, 2017 11:41 am | By

Kelly Oliver posted the link to her piece on Facebook. There are some extraordinary comments on the post.

Hanna Vered Lipkind I am sorry Kelly was insulted. But she reduces all of the outrage to petty insult and mischaracterizes the nature of the critiques and harms expressed by her trans and black colleagues, delegitimizing them, and doubling the harmful silencing effected by Tuvel’s article in the first place. How difficult would it be to acknowledge that, yes, there were many harmful aspects to Tuvel’s article, and there are very real contentions at play here? Real people with real pain this past week, folks. Reducing cries of epistemic injustice to “thought policing” is nowhere near a fair characterization. Generally, a staunch ally would want to cede some discursive space when accused of epistemic injustice.

Miss the point much? That’s just more of the same catastrophizing and hyperbole that made up this whole mess from the outset. There were no harms. Tuvel’s article did not harm anyone. It’s dishonest to keep repeating that malicious lie. Real people can work themselves into “real pain” and still be wrong about the putative source of the pain. Pain can be real and inaccurately attributed.

I wonder how much discursive space Hanna Lipkind would cede if I accused her of committing epistemic injustice against me. My guess is that the numerical value would hover right around zero.

Hanna Vered LipkindIf Kelly genuinely believes that the deadnaming is the most egregious thing about the article, then she severely misses the point of the outrage, and is consciously neglecting a host of critiques that have been expressed over the last week (not the least of which regards Tuvel’s characterization of trans being as “changing” genders) . But Oliver cannot characterize the outrage without taking on an ironic and defensive tone. What steps has she taken to sincerely legitimize the voices of those she means to ally with? Because I haven’t seen those steps taken here.

Ah so it’s a crime now to say that trans has to do with changing genders? Then what does “trans” mean? If it’s not changing genders, then it’s “cis,” no? And then, that bullying horseshit about having to “sincerely legitimize the voices of those she means to ally with” – by which of course she means agreeing with the voices, which is where all this started. We don’t have to agree with the voices.

Outrage has become the new truth

May 8th, 2017 10:58 am | By

Kelly Oliver, a philosophy professor at Vanderbilt, tells us about the backstage maneuvers in the Ostracism of Rebecca Tuvel.

The dust-up on social media over Rebecca Tuvel’s article, “In Defense of Transracialism” published in Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, has given a new meaning to the public/private split central to the history of feminism. For decades, feminists have argued the personal is political, and explored the politics of our private lives. The split between what people wrote to both Rebecca Tuvel and to me in private, and what they felt compelled to say in public is one indication that the explosion of personal insults and vicious attacks on social media is symptomatic of something much bigger than the actual issues discussed in Tuvel’s article. In private messages, some people commiserated, expressed support, and apologized for what was happening and for not going public with their support. As one academic wrote to me in a private message, “sorry I’m not saying this publicly (I have no interest in battling the mean girls on Facebook) but fwiw it’s totally obvious to me that you haven’t been committing acts of violence against marginalized scholars.” Later, this same scholar wrote, again in private, saying Tuvel’s article is “a tight piece of philosophy” that makes clear that the position that “transgender is totally legit, [and] transracial is not—can only be justified using convoluted essentialist metaphysics. I will write to her privately and tell her so.”

These are working academics, who are intimidated into public silence by the mean girls on Facebook. This is how we live now. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not blaming the academics for being intimidated, I’m blaming the mean girls for the intimidation. I’m blaming the panting eagerness with which feminist women rush to batter other feminist women into submission, or just plain into bruises and pain and defeat.

But that’s not even the worst of it.

Others went further and supported Tuvel in private while actually attacking her in public. In private messages, these people apologized for what she must be going through, while in public they fanned the flames of hatred and bile on social media.

That I blame them for. Not stepping up is one thing, and joining them in the stoning is another. That’s horrifying.

The feeding frenzy in response to Tuvel’s article couldn’t have happened without social media. The viciousness of the attacks was fueled by the mob mentality of Facebook. Dissenters, even those who just wanted a civil discussion of the issue, were shut down immediately or afraid to voice their opinions in public. Some who in private were sympathetic to Tuvel, felt compelled to join in the attacking mob. The thought police were in full force. Both Tuvel and the journal were under pressure to retract the article and apologize. In a private message to me, one of my academic friends said one editor’s Facebook apology for publishing such an “offensive” article, “sounded like something ISIS makes its captors read in a hostage video before beheading them.” Joking aside, there was (and still is) tremendous pressure to condemn Tuvel and her article. Some who joined in the protests later admitted in private that they hadn’t even read the article.

They didn’t have time; those insulting Facebook comments don’t write themselves.

I have to admit, I didn’t want to enter the Facebook shit-storm and face the wrath of the “mean girls” either. I felt the need to defend Rebecca Tuvel not only because she is a friend and former Ph.D. student of mine, but also because I respect her work, which is always well argued—whether or not you agree with it—and I found her arguments compelling. I summoned up the courage and entered the fray suggesting only that Hypatia invite critical responses to the article. This suggestion was met with ridicule and derision. I then asked critics to respond with philosophical arguments rather than lobbing insults, which was met with claims that I was doing “violence” to marginalized scholars.

The right to lob insults on Facebook is the most precious human right of all.

The most vocal figures on social media claimed they were harmed, even traumatized, by Tuvel’s article, and by my defense of its right to exist. Some said that Tuvel’s article harmed them, and I was doing violence to them, even triggering PTSD, just by calling for an open discussion of, and debate over, the arguments in the article. While I readily agree that words can do harm and that hate speech exists, my call for philosophical engagement with Tuvel’s article does not constitute harmful speech. In fact, if an essay that openly supports trans identity does violence, and defense of open debate causes PTSD, then by which name should we call the physical violence inflicted on trans people and others daily? What of the PTSD caused by domestic violence, rape, and hate crimes? If an essay written by a young feminist scholar in support of trans rights is violent and harmful, then haven’t we leveled all violence such that everything has become swept up by it, and the very notion of violence has lost its meaning?

Or, even worse, haven’t we brushed aside physical violence inflicted on women as well as trans people and others daily, in order to focus on small conceptual disagreements over what it means to identify as a race or a gender?

Through every medium imaginable, senior feminist scholars were pressuring, even threatening, Tuvel that she wouldn’t get tenure and her career would be ruined if she didn’t retract her article. When I called out the worst insulters for threatening an untenured junior feminist, they claimed they were the victims here not her. I wonder. Tuvel’s article in support of transgender and transracial identities didn’t threaten anyone, and didn’t jeopardize anyone’s career. Whereas those calling for a retraction were doing just that to a junior woman in a field, philosophy, nearly 80% of which is still populated by men and which is still resistant to feminism. A senior feminist philosopher called to warn Tuvel that she should be appealing to the “right people” if she wanted to get tenure and warned her not to publish her book on this topic or it would ruin her career and mark her as “all that is wrong with white feminism.”

This is some tyrannical shit right here.

Part of the problem with the response to Tuvel’s article is that some seem to feel that they are the only ones who have the legitimate right to talk about certain topics.

In particular, some trans women (I almost never see this from trans men) seem to feel that they are the only ones who have the legitimate right to talk about being a woman, what it means to be a woman, what (if anything) it means to “feel like” a woman, what relevance growing up female has to being a woman, what it means to “identify as” a woman, and similar questions. Women are now pretty much forbidden to talk about any of that, because it all belongs to trans women. Women are always just inches away from inadvertently saying something that might, if you squint at it in bad light, have an implication a trans woman might not like. Best just to shut up then, isn’t it – or if you must talk, use your talking to attack some other woman as a TERF.

Outrage has become the new truth. At one extreme, we have Trump and his supporters proudly embracing political incorrectness, and at the other, we have the political correctness police calling for censorship of a scholarly article written by someone working for social justice.

Right?? It’s a nightmare. Assholes on our right, assholes on our left – where the hell can we find a dry spot?

The importance of lived experience

May 7th, 2017 4:48 pm | By

A friend of Rebecca Tuvel’s, Alison Suen, writes at Daily Nous about what all this has been like from that “standpoint.”

Recently, amid the controversy over Hypatia’s publication of Rebecca Tuvel’s “In Defense of Transracialism,” there has been a lot of talk in the philosophical community about the importance of lived experience. I have been reflecting on my lived experience over the past week, as one of Rebecca’s friends. Speaking from the perspective of someone who has been on the sidelines watching this whole affair unfold, I am not sure if I am ready to, as Sally Haslanger says, “go forward,” and “not focus on Rebecca Tuvel, the individual and the philosopher, and to shift the conversation to broader issues.”

I agree completely that the conversation should have been about the issues, rather than the individual. Unfortunately, it did not begin that way. Instead it began with Rebecca receiving hate mail; it began with people trashing her paper without having read it.

And since it did begin that way, and went on that way for a considerable time, it’s too late for not focusing on Tuvel, because harms need to be undone. People demanded her paper be withdrawn; colleagues apologized for the publication of her paper.

Instead of reasoned dialogue, people called her names. Instead of mentorship, Rebecca received enormous pressure from senior feminists to apologize and retract her paper.

It would be terrible for this to happen to anyone, and it was extremely painful to watch it happen to someone I care about deeply. So I hope you’d understand why I struggle to “go forward” and examine the larger issues as if Rebecca had never been targeted, shamed, or threatened.

I do, and I think it’s a bad suggestion.

Reading it feels like eating scented cotton balls

May 7th, 2017 4:17 pm | By

Usually NPR is far too bland and timid and mainstream for me these days, but Annalisa Quinn’s review of Ivanka Trump’s “book” is pleasingly blunt.

Trump’s new book shares a name and a mission with her company’s marketing campaign: Women Who Work. Organized into sections with titles like “Dream Big” and “Make Your Mark,” Women Who Work is a sea of blandities, an extension of that 2014 commercial seeded with ideas lifted (“curated,” she calls it) from various well-known self-help authors. Reading it feels like eating scented cotton balls.

“My company was not just meeting the lifestyle needs of today’s modern professional woman with versatile, well-designed products,” Trump writes, undermining the care she has taken in interviews to avoid appearing as if she’s using her position to promote her brand. “It was celebrating those needs, at a price point she could afford.”

Marketingspeak all the way – lifestyle, lifestyle needs, modern, professional, versatile, well-designed, affordable…and price point. Just saying “price” is too shopkeeper-like, I guess, but “price point” makes it sound important. I bet the word “purchase” appears hundreds of times while “buy” isn’t there at all.

Ostensibly a business guide for women, Women Who Work is a long simper of a book, full of advice so anodyne (“I believe that we each get one life and it’s up to us to live it to the fullest”), you could almost scramble the sentences and come out with something just as coherent.

And that person has a job high up in the US administration!

“I’ve curated my best thinking, as well as that of so many others, in the pages of this book,” she writes (wordsmiths?), and what she means is that she rehashes her previous writings and borrows heavily from lifestyle gurus and corporate feminist authors like Sheryl Sandberg, while simultaneously claiming Women Who Work offers something radically new, “a hopeful, more authentic alternative to the way work has worked previously.”

At an affordable price point.

“[P]assion,” she writes elsewhere, “combined with perseverance, is a great equalizer, more important than education or experience in achieving your version of success.” If only the poor were more passionate.

Ah but more to the point – look how handy that is for Daddykins. He’s got zero relevant education or experience, and he’s thick as a plank, but what he does have could be called passion. It could also be called aggression, hostility, rage, sadism, narcissism, temper, thin skin, resentment…but passion is an available euphemism. There he is, orange with passion and flapping with perseverance, overcoming his total lack of education or experience or wisdom or ability to think. Awesome.

Trump’s lack of awareness, plus a habit of skimming from her sources, often results in spectacularly misapplied quotations — like one from Toni Morrison’s Beloved about the brutal psychological scars of slavery. “Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another,” is positioned in cute faux-handwritten capitals (and tagged #itwisewords) before a chapter on “working smarter.” In it, she asks: “Are you a slave to your time or the master of it? Despite your best intentions, it’s easy to be reactive and get caught up in returning calls, attending meetings, answering e-mails …”

Oh dear god.

In a section called “Staking Your Claim,” she writes, “Simply put, staking your claim means declaring something your own. Early in our country’s history, as new territories were acquired or opened — particularly during the gold rush — a citizen could literally put a stake in the ground and call the land theirs. The land itself, and everything on it, legally became that person’s property.” Over and over again, Trump’s message is: Take whatever you can get, and then print your name on it.

Not true. A stake was not all it took. A citizen also had to live on the land for five years.

Of course there’s also the fact that the land already belonged to other people, albeit in a communal sense as opposed to an individual possession sense – but whatever. I don’t expect Ivanka Trump to bother to learn anything about what she’s writing.

Many of the inspiring quotations Trump stakes a claim to here seem to have been culled from apocryphal inspiration memes. For instance, on the subject of asking for a raise, she quotes another black women writing on racism, Maya Angelou: “Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it.”

But the real, very different line is from Angelou’s memoir The Heart of a Woman, and it is a piece of advice about living in a racist world. “Ask for what you want,” Angelou’s mother tells her, “and be prepared to pay for what you get.”

At least she doesn’t tag that one #itwisewords, too, — I.T., standing, of course, for Ivanka Trump.

That’s how you make everything belong to you: you put your name on it.

H/t Gretchen

Time in prison for illegal campaign donations, tax evasion and witness tampering

May 7th, 2017 11:42 am | By

Corruption in action:

SHANGHAI — Like many American firms that come to China looking for money, Kushner Companies on Sunday tried to woo a Shanghai audience with promises of potentially big returns and a path toward living in the United States.

But for Bi Ting, who attended the event, part of the appeal was political: Jared Kushner is the son-in-law of — and a powerful adviser to — President Trump. Virtually unheard-of in China just months ago, he is now known here as a deeply influential figure in American politics.

“The Trump relationship is an extra point for me,” Ms. Bi said, adding that she and her husband had not decided whether to invest.

The Kushner Companies’ China roadshow, promoting $500,000 investments in New Jersey real estate as the path to a residency card in the United States, moved to Shanghai on Sunday after a similar pitch on Saturday in Beijing.

Could it be any more blatant and shameless? “Hi, my wife is the president of the US’s daughter, and we both work for him. Buy shares in our company!”

Mr. Kushner has said that he has stepped back from the day-to-day operations of the family business. But government ethics filings show that he and Ivanka Trump, his wife and the president’s daughter, continue to benefit from Kushner Companies’ real estate and investment businesses, a stake worth as much as $600 million, and probably much more.

They are using their connection to increase their profits. That is not supposed to happen.

There were security guards keeping journalists out of the event. Again, this should not be happening.

But some who attended described an investor pitch similar to the one in Beijing, and Mr. Trump’s political power was palpable at the Shanghai event even if his name went unsaid. As on Saturday in Beijing, one slide presented to the Shanghai audience on Sunday showed a photograph of Mr. Trump when describing who will decide the future of the visa program for foreign investors, according to a snapshot taken by an audience member.

The Kushner Companies’ marketing push comes as Mr. Kushner is emerging as a crucial voice on China relations, brokering meetings between his father-in-law and top Chinese government officials.

Corrupt and sleazy.

Yesterday’s event in Beijing was also corrupt and sleazy, not to mention furtive.

On Saturday afternoon, Mr. Kushner’s sister Nicole Meyer made a pitch to attract $150 million in financing for a Jersey City housing development, known as One Journal Square, to more than 100 Chinese investors gathered at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Beijing.

The money would be provided through a much-criticized government program known as EB-5 that awards foreign investors a path to citizenship in exchange for investments of at least $500,000 in American development projects.

His relatives’ embrace of the EB-5 program may also pose complications for Mr. Kushner. The program has been labeled “U.S. citizenship for sale,” and it has come under scrutiny after a series of fraud and abuse scandals. Watchdogs have noted the program’s lax safeguards against illicit sources of money.

Yes but it’s money. What else matters?

Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal nonprofit group, said the sales pitch by Kushner Companies in China was “highly problematic” and could be interpreted as selling access to Mr. Kushner. He called on Mr. Kushner to recuse himself from any decisions related to the EB-5 program.

Lawmakers are considering major changes to the program, through which investors, mostly from mainland China, receive about 10,000 visas each year. Some critics have urged the government to abolish it entirely. A slide displayed at the event on Saturday identified Mr. Trump as a “key decision maker” on the fate of the EB-5 program.

Plus Daddy-in-law.

On Saturday, Ms. Meyer talked about how family values had shaped Kushner Companies. She spoke of her grandparents, who survived the Holocaust, and about her father, Charles Kushner, who founded the company in 1985. He later spent time in prison for illegal campaign donations, tax evasion and witness tampering.

So that’s how family values shaped Kushner Companies. Good to know.

As Ms. Meyer spoke, journalists for The New York Times and The Washington Post were removed from the ballroom and told by organizers it was a “private event,” even though it had been publicly advertised. It was hosted by Qiaowai, a Chinese immigration agency that helps Chinese families move abroad. Ms. Meyer is scheduled to appear in other Chinese cities in the coming days.

Ms. Meyer was asked after the event whether she was concerned about possible conflicts of interest facing her brother, but she did not respond. A man accompanying her, growing angry, shouted, “Please leave us alone!”

Yeah, please leave them alone so that they can milk their connections to Donnie Trump for maximum profit.

C’est Macron

May 7th, 2017 11:03 am | By

Editors must stand behind the authors of accepted papers

May 7th, 2017 9:56 am | By

The editor of Hypatia repudiates the apology by the Associate Editors.

Critics blasted the article as a product of white and cisgender privilege, said it discounted important scholarly work by transgender and black academics, and accused its author of using harmful language.

Hundreds of scholars signed their names to an open letter calling on the journal to retract the article.

The journal didn’t go that far, but the apology, which came with a pledge to reconsider Hypatia’s review process, still seemed like an extraordinary step. Some academics applauded the swift response to widespread criticism; others criticized the unorthodox action of a journal in condemning its own publication of an article.

And, especially, the venomous lie-filled attack on an untenured junior colleague.

Meanwhile a divide in opinion has emerged not just among academics in the field, but also within Hypatia itself. Despite the public stance taken by the majority of the journal’s associate editors, Hypatia’s editor, Sally Scholz, stands behind the article’s publication and the integrity of the journal’s review process.

In a statement sent to The Chronicle, Ms. Scholz said she believes it is “utterly inappropriate for editors to repudiate an article they have accepted for publication (barring issues of plagiarism or falsification of data).”

“Editors must stand behind the authors of accepted papers,” said Ms. Scholz in the statement. “This is where I stand. Professor Tuvel’s paper went through the peer review process and was accepted by the reviewers and me.”

She added that the associate board of editors had “acted independently in drafting and posting their statement” on Facebook.

Miriam Solomon, president of the board of directors of Hypatia Inc. — the nonprofit corporation that oversees the journal and other activities, such as conferences — echoed Ms. Scholz’s disavowal. The apology did not represent the views of Hypatia’s editor, its local editorial advisers, or its editorial board, she said. “The associate editors are speaking for themselves.”

But they’re doing it on Hypatia‘s Facebook page, so it looks as if they are in fact speaking for Hypatia.

[Solomon] cited several concerns about how the statement arose. She was worried that it had not been clear to readers that the statement did not represent the views of the entire Hypatia editorial system. (Indeed, many observers either congratulated or condemned the journal after the Facebook statement appeared.) She also said she was aware that the post “was produced in a rush, in response to outcry on social media,” which she described as a “new challenge for the community.”

“Everything seems terribly urgent, and people feel like they have to make a response right away,” she said. She also noted that she did not know “how seriously an attempt was made to mediate the issues with the editor. I think the editor was blindsided by it.”

These are philosophers though. They’re academics. They’re adults. You’d think they would know how to take an outcry on social media with some degree of detachment. They don’t have to jump just because Zoé Samudzi says jump.

Like Ms. Scholz, Ms. Solomon defended Hypatia’s review processes, which she said are in line with the standards of the American Philosophical Association. Submissions to Hypatia are received by a managing editor, who anonymizes them before forwarding them to the editor. The editor then selects two reviewers to assess each article. The final decision to accept, revise and resubmit, or reject a piece lies with the editor. To her knowledge, Ms. Solomon said, there was “nothing unusual” about the process for the review of the article by Ms. Tuvel.

Well, maybe they should revise the processes, to add ten additional reviewers for any submission that discusses trans issues or race, with at least five of those reviewers being tweeters with a minimum of ten thousand followers.

One charge levied against the journal was that Ms. Tuvel’s article [might] not have been approved if Hypatia had asked a black or transgender scholar to review it. The associate editors’ apology appeared to entertain that view, pledging “to develop additional advisory guidelines to ensure that feminist theorists from groups underrepresented in our profession, including trans people and people of color, are integrated in the various editorial stages.”

Would one expect trans people to be much represented in their profession? There aren’t many academic philosophers total, and trans people are a tiny percentage of the population, so how represented could they be?

Although Hypatia has not retracted the article, it issued a small but significant “correction” on Thursday. At Ms. Tuvel’s request, the journal removed a parenthetical reference to Ms. Jenner’s birth name. The “deadnaming” of Ms. Jenner, as the practice of identifying transgender people by their birth names is known, was among the objections raised in the open letter.

“I regret the deadnaming of Caitlyn Jenner in the article,” Ms. Tuvel said in a statement issued before the correction’s appearance. “Even though she does this herself in her book, I understand that it is not for outsiders to do and that such a practice can perpetuate harm against transgender individuals, and I apologize.”

I don’t think they should have done that. I don’t think Tuvel should have said that. I’m not just being bloody-minded about it; the thing is that it’s highly relevant who Jenner was before transitioning, so that shouldn’t be concealed out of some hyperbolic Sensitivity.

Tina Fernandes Botts, an assistant professor of philosophy at California State University at Fresno, first read Ms. Tuvel’s paper before the January meeting of the American Philosophical Association’s Eastern Division, where Ms. Tuvel presented her work. Ms. Botts found the work to be “out of step” with research in critical philosophy of race and the black experience. She was scheduled to be a commenter on the paper but was unable to attend.

In a paper presented to the Res Philosophica conference at Saint Louis University last weekend, however, Ms. Botts presented her refutation in full.

She said Ms. Tuvel was correct in her assertion that both race and gender are socially constructed but had failed to understand how they are constructed in different ways. Ms. Botts argued, contra Ms. Tuvel, that race is a function of ancestry, while gender is not — which makes gender more of an individual experience. Put plainly, because race is tied to ancestry in the world, a person cannot declare being a black person trapped in a white person’s body, as Rachel Dolezal has described herself. Only someone with black ancestors can count as black.

That’s one argument, but there are others. It’s an argument; it’s not a proof or a slam-dunk demonstration or anything like that. I don’t find it remotely convincing. I think this stuff is wildly arbitrary and flimsy, while it’s being forced on us with threats and punishments. That’s not a very philosophical situation.

In the days after the article first attracted attention, a backlash to the backlash coalesced. Scholars and other critics argued that Ms. Tuvel had been the victim of a “witch hunt” and was punished for her work’s perceived political incorrectness, not its actual content. “The idea that any article in a specialized feminist journal causes harm, and even violence, as the signatories to an open letter to the journal claim, is a grave misuse of the term ‘harm,’ wrote Suzanna Danuta Walters, editor of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, in The Chronicle Review.

Brian Leiter, director of the Center for Law, Philosophy, and Human Values at the University of Chicago, argued that Ms. Tuvel could weigh a defamation suit against the Hypatia editors who publicly dressed down her scholarship. “I wonder,” he wrote on his influential philosophy blog, “did any of those professing solidarity with those who specialize in taking offense consider the very tangible harm they are doing to the author of this article?”

Nora Berenstain, an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, took issue with many of those criticisms. “It’s disingenuous to claim that this is an issue of free speech,” she said. “The criticisms of the original paper were calls for accountability.”

Ms. Berenstain wrote a critique of Ms. Tuvel’s article on Facebook before the publication of the open letter calling for the article’s retraction. The post, which she has since made private, described the article as having “egregious levels of liberal white ignorance and discursive transmisogynistic violence.”

Wouldn’t you just love to have her as a colleague?

Her post itself got some backlash, including from conservatives. (Duh. If I were a conservative this would be like a box of diamonds to me.)

In response, she said, “I think that people who have no real stake in this issue and no relevant expertise have been using this issue as clickbait.”

Ms. Berenstain said her post “was a call to feminist philosophers — particularly cisgender white women — to hold ourselves to higher standards. It wasn’t aimed at anyone outside of the discipline.”

“Most of the people who responded did not have the conceptual competence to engage with the post,” she said, “as is evidenced by the reaction to my use of the word ‘violence.’ ” She said her use of the term was a reference to the scholarly concept of structural violence, which describes “a range of systemic harms that go beyond direct interpersonal physical contact.”

Here’s an interesting fact. Something can be a “scholarly concept” and still be bullshit. It can also be a non-bullshit “scholarly concept” and be misapplied.

There’s a lot of that going on in this quarrel.

Ireland and Pakistan, BFFs

May 6th, 2017 6:17 pm | By

I said good evening but that was before I saw this BBC item:

Police in the Republic of Ireland have launched an investigation after a viewer claimed comments made by Stephen Fry on a TV show were blasphemous.

Officers are understood to be examining whether the British comedian committed a criminal offence under the Defamation Act when he appeared on RTE in 2015.

Fry had asked why he should “respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world…. full of injustice”.

I’ve said all that, many times. Come and get me.

Appearing on The Meaning of Life, hosted by Gay Byrne, in February 2015, Fry had been asked what he might say to God at the gates of heaven.

Fry said: “How dare you create a world in which there is such misery? It’s not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?”

He went on to say that Greek gods “didn’t present themselves as being all seeing, all wise, all beneficent”, adding “the god who created this universe, if it was created by god, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish”.

The Irish Independent reported a member of the public made a complaint to police in Ennis in the same month the programme was broadcast. He was recently contacted by a detective to say they were looking into his complaint.

Hungry for publicity, are they?

The Code of Publishing Ethics

May 6th, 2017 6:09 pm | By

A series of useful comments at Daily Nous:

David Wallace:

Most of the discussion above seems to concern the academic and moral rights and wrongs of Professor Tuvel’s article. But the “open letter” is not simply a criticism of that article: it is a demand that Hypatia retract the article (and take various other actions going forward).

Hypatia is published by Wiley and so falls under Wiley’s policy on retraction, which reads, in relevant part: “On occasion, it is necessary to retract articles. This may be due to major scientific error which would invalidate the conclusions of the article, or in cases of ethical issues, such as duplicate publication, plagiarism, inappropriate authorship, etc.” Wiley also subscribes to the Code of Publishing Ethics (COPE), which give further guidance on dealing with direct and social-media reports of problems with papers, including a requirement to contact the author and get a response from them, and an instruction to separate complaints that “contain specific and detailed evidence” from those which do not.

At least on the basis of what’s in the public domain, there seems to be no case at all for retraction:

1) The “open letter” can’t plausibly be taken as providing the “specific and detailed evidence” noted in the COPE guidelines: the four numbered complaints (discussed by Justin, above) are in total only 164 words and follow an explicit disclaimer by the letter’s author that “it is not the aim of this letter to provide an exhaustive list of problems that this article exhibits”. The very fact that the letter is open and signed by hundreds of people supports the idea that it’s intended to communicate to Hypatia *that many people think there are problems with the article* not *what the specific problems are and that they are serious enough to warrant retraction*. (Number of signatories can communicate strength of community feeling; it can’t plausibly add weight to an academic argument.)

2) If (1) is set aside and the open letter is interpreted as a list of problems meriting retraction, it seems pretty clear that it falls wildly short of Wiley’s retraction policy. There is no suggestion that there are any ethical problems with Professor Tuvel *in the sense meant by Wiley’s policy* : she does not fabricate data nor plagiarise; she conducts no formal research with subjects and so cannot have failed to get research permission; she has not published the article elsewhere. (Her alleged failure to “seek out and sufficiently engage with scholarly work by those who are most vulnerable to the intersection of racial and gender oppressions” would fall ridiculously short of counting as an ethical failing in this sense, even if the open letter provided specifics.)

So retraction would have to rely on “major scientific error which would invalidate the conclusions of the article”. In scientific contexts, that normally means straightforward errors with mathematical or technical tools, of the kind that everyone in the field – including the author(s) themselves – would recognise as invalidating the conclusions of the article. (It’s telling that COPE doesn’t even give guidelines of how to handle disputes with an author on “error” issues of this kind, presumably because scientists themselves would want to retract a paper if it had a straightforward error of this kind).

I’m not sure that *anything* could count as “major scientific error” in a philosophy article (except when that paper borrows the formal methods of other disciplines, but there is no mathematics or scientific technique in Prof. Tuvel’s article). In any case, as can be seen from this thread itself the errors in Professor Tuvel’s article, if any, are a matter of academic dispute between members of the community and so fall far short of this standard.

3) The open letter itself urges retraction not primarily on the grounds of academic failings but on wider moral grounds. (“More importantly, these failures of scholarship do harm to the communities who might expect better from Hypatia.”) But there is absolutely nothing in Wiley’s retraction policy (or COPE’s guidelines on such policies) permitting retraction on those kinds of grounds.

In addition to this, Hypatia’s own response is odd, to say the least:

4) I don’t know for certain whether Hypatia followed the COPE guidelines and contacted Professor Tuvel, and received a response from her, before their public comment. But I think it’s most unlikely: the “open letter” appears to have been in circulation for only 48 hours or so, and Professor Tuvel’s own comments don’t give any indication that she has been in correspondence with the journal since then.

5) The comment is on Hypatia’s public Facebook page, and so appears to be official in some regard; and it begins “We, the members of Hypatia’s Board of Associate Editors”. But it ends by noting that it’s signed by “a majority of the associate editors”, which strongly suggests that it’s a collective statement by that group and not an offical statement of the journal. So I don’t know what status it has. (In particular, it’s unclear whether it’s speaking for the editor of the journal.) If it *is* an unofficial statement, it seems in tension with COPE guidelines requiring confidentiality during investigations of research misconduct and the like. If it’s an official statement, it seems to have pre-empted a proper investigation, again in tension with COPE guidelines.

6) The letter mentions retraction only after its extensive mea culpa and its declaration that publishing the article was a mistake, saying “Several further types of responses have been suggested to us, including issuing a retraction … we continue to consider those responses and all of their potential ramifications thoughtfully.” I’m rather struck by the lack of any indication that the Board of Associate Editors know that their journal has an official policy and process for retraction. (One might argue, in their defense, that they’re not sufficiently close to the running of the journal to know things like that, but if so, they probably shouldn’t be writing as if they speak for the journal and take responsibility for its process.)

7) Most strikingly, the letter (insofar as it does speak for Hypatia) seems to tread a most uneasy middle way. A journal that has carried out a standard arms-length review process and on that basis published a paper has well-established responses available to subsequent criticism: it can defend its decision on grounds of academic freedom and due process, or it can carry out a proper investigation of whether there are academic or ethical grounds for retraction or correction, and then make that retraction or correction if indeed there are such grounds. The Associate Editors’ Board, in condemning publication (and themselves) ahead of any formal retraction investigation, seem to be on procedurally thin ice, and leave Professor Tuvel in a very awkward position: her paper remains published; there is a declaration, by some part of the journal team but possibly not the journal itself, that it should not have been published; in the absence of a formal process she doesn’t seem to have any appropriate scholarly recourse. In her position, I think I’d be talking to a lawyer.

That’s useful because it confirms the impression many of us have that the Associate Editors did a wildly unprofessional thing.

My friend Udo Schuklenk:

You said it, David. I found disturbing that among the signatories of the letter demanding a retraction were a number of current and former journal editors who should have known better than demanding a retraction in the absence of providing an actual justification for that demand, a justification that meets the standards of international ethical guidelines that are binding on the journal. The response from various people attached to the journal’s editorial management structure (ie an essentially anonymous letter of ‘the majority’ of Associate Editors) is truly something else. It seems oblivious to guidelines that are binding on the journal (COPE anyone?) To be fair, probably a lot of folks who are on journal editorial boards are not familiar with those sorts of guidelines, but still, they ought to be. An uncharitable interpretation of their letter would suggest that they do not believe procedural justice is owed to the author. There are formal processes in place to address concerns about published content, anonymous letters on behalf of ‘the majority’ of editorial board members are not quite part of those processes. Unless I have missed something, there has been silence from the actual Editor of the journal. I understand there will be Errata w/ re to the deadnaming and transgenderism issue.


I am one of the AEs and want to clarify a couple of things.
1. Hypatia has a complicated (feminist and procedure oriented) organizational structure where the Associate Editors select the Editors, which makes us share the responsibility with the Editors for what gets published in the journal. The AE statement is the official Hypatia statement. It was signed “A Majority of Hypatia’s board of Associate Editors” at first because time was of the essence and members were offline. This did not signify a disagreement on the board.
2. I can say that from my perspective, apart from the deadnaming (which should be relatively easy to fix) the central issue is not the topic or the conclusion, but rather to whom we consider ourselves accountable and how we theorize about other people. Hypatia is a philosophy journal, but it is not a standard one in that it is committed to the feminist community and to fighting against the ignoring and silencing of marginalized and minority voices. That practical commitment translates into a methodological one: when we theorize about other people and their experiences, we need to listen to and read what they themselves say and have said on the matter. Papers published in Hypatia should reflect that commitment.

What to do? I personally think the journal owed an apology and we need to change our review process and naming policies but a retraction is a different matter. And I absolutely condemn the attacks on the author of the article. This is not about her, the topic, or the conclusion. It is about our own journal standards.

That’s insulting. And from a philosopher! Of course it’s “about her” – it’s not possible to trash her in public without its being about her. Yes it damn well is about her, and that “absolute” condemnation is not worth spit.

But another, less personal thing. This:

That practical commitment translates into a methodological one: when we theorize about other people and their experiences, we need to listen to and read what they themselves say and have said on the matter.

Who is “they”? How does anyone know which members of a given “they” to listen to and read? How does anyone then know how representative the chosen members of “they” actually are? Do all trans people think the same thing? Do they all have the same experiences? Do all non-white people?

Good evening.

A grave misuse of the term “harm”

May 6th, 2017 5:36 pm | By

The CHE has a piece by Suzanna Danuta Walters, the editor of Signson the Hypatia mess.

A young philosopher, Rebecca Tuvel, writes an article in which she considers claims to transracial and transgender identities. The result is a firestorm of condemnation — nasty emails, a petition to retract the article, and, worse, a journal that will not stand up for its own peer-reviewed articles. (That last point is complicated by an internal rift within the journal, Hypatia. The editor, Sally J. Scholz, does stand by the article. It was, she writes in a statement, the associate editorial board that disavowed Tuvel’s paper.)

“Disavowed” meaning they shat all over it.

There are scholars whose work needs to be not only critically engaged with but rendered moot, who, through fabricated data or improper vetting or suspicious funding, have produced work of demonstrable falsehood, with clear intent to mislead and to provide ammunition for retrogressive policy. The poster child here might be Mark Regnerus, a sociologist who argued the innate inferiority of gay and lesbian families, data be damned.

Tuvel’s paper — which I actually read — does not even remotely reach that bar. It uses the case of Rachel Dolezal as an entry point to explore questions of identity, the body, biological determinism, social constructionism, and analogies between racial and gender classification. It is a wholly legitimate, if provocative, philosophical endeavor. One can agree or disagree, or wish the author had done more of this or less of that. But the assertion that broaching the very subject produces inevitable harm is specious, to say the least. Indeed, the idea that any article in a specialized feminist journal causes harm, and even violence, as the signatories to an open letter to the journal claim, is a grave misuse of the term “harm.”

And we know why they do it, of course. It’s to justify their own shitty behavior, and to make Tuvel appear to deserve their venomous attack, and to pretend that they’re not poisonous colleagues and human beings. It’s to give them an excuse for doing a revolting, unnecessary, mean thing. It’s to pretend it’s ok to harm Tuvel.

By any measure, Tuvel is a committed feminist philosopher who repeatedly and clearly states her absolute support of trans rights. She is not Coulter or Murray or even the predictably contrarian Camille Paglia. Surely, Tuvel should not be immune to critique — none of us are. But to organize a petition and demand retraction should be an action reserved for work that is willfully erroneous, improperly vetted, and riven with demonstrable falsehoods. If those of us on the left are unable to make distinctions between legitimate intellectual disagreements and damaging lies, we will be hoist with our own petard. Our eyes aren’t on the prize but on mutual evisceration in the name of holier-than-thou rectitude. This isn’t substantive intellectual debate. It’s schoolyard name-calling.

Wouldn’t you think these people would be old enough to know better? And philosophical enough?

As a feminist journal editor, I am not only shocked by the policing move of the signatories and their weak, vague, and easily refutable argument. I am astonished by the immediate and hyperbolic “apology” by the associate editorial board of the journal, an apology that the editor herself did not sign and has in fact rebutted. Indeed, the apology doubles down on the notion of the “harms” caused by the publication of the article. Nowhere does this apology challenge the inaccuracies and empty accusations made by Tuvel’s critics. It simply reiterates them as if they were fact. And nowhere, but nowhere, does this “majority” of the associate editorial board defend the right of a junior feminist philosophy professor to make an argument.

Not only do the board members insult Tuvel; they undermine the whole process of peer review and the principles of scholarly debate and engagement. Hypatia presumably followed its rigorous and standard review process here. No one is claiming that they didn’t. To state, as the apology does, that “clearly, the article should not have been published” indicts the good-faith labor of peer reviewers and the editorial decision-making of the journal itself. I can’t recall a similar capitulation. Do the signatories really believe that this article shouldn’t have been published because some readers contest it? I thought edgy, challenging, thoughtful work that elicits debate was exactly what feminist journals should be publishing.

Not when it comes to trans issues. No way. On that subject you had better repeat the Authorized Formulas and nothing else.

I read manuscripts submitted to Signs every day. I read hundreds a year. So let me state categorically that this attack is way out of line; that nothing in the article merits it, and that both the attack and the apology feed into the right-wing discourse of lefty thought police, at a moment when we can ill afford it.

The right-wing discourse isn’t altogether wrong on that subject, is it.

Motivated reasoning?

May 6th, 2017 4:51 pm | By

There’s one thing about the Hypatia Associate Editors’ attack on Rebecca Tuvel’s paper and self…

From Justin Weinberg’s post:

Between the complaints on social media and the open letter, sufficient pressure has been put on Hypatia that members of its board of associate editors have already issued an apology for publishing Tuvel’s essay in which they state that “Clearly, the article should not have been published.” The speed with which this has all happened is extraordinary.

The apology is in the form of a public Facebook post from Cressida Heyes, Canada Research Chair in Philosophy of Gender and Sexuality at the University of Alberta.

A friend pointed out to me that Tuvel discusses an argument of Heyes’s in the ostracized paper.

In her argument defending the moral permissibility of transgenderism but not of transracialism, Cressida Heyes makes just this point. Heyes suggests that arguments in defense of transracialism, like that of Christine Overall (Overall 2004), discount the fact that society’s dominant belief structure limits the available resources one has to claim different forms of identification. As Heyes puts it, “beliefs about the kind of thing race is shape the possibilities for race change. In particular,… the belief that an individual’s racial identity derives from her biological ancestors undermines the possibility of changing race, in ways that contrast with sex-gender” (Heyes 2009, 142). According to Heyes, because sex-gender has been understood to be a “property of the individual’s body,” the possibility of changing one’s sex-gender through bodily modification is acceptable in our society. However, because race has been understood to be a matter of “both the body and ancestry,” one cannot alter one’s body to become a different race (139; emphasis added).

The problem with this argument is that it dangerously appears to limit to the status quo the possibilities for changing one’s membership in an identity category. Indeed, American society has not always granted recognition to those who felt their gender did not align with their sexed bodies. Would Heyes’s argument imply that, during this time, a person born with male genitalia, but who identified as a woman, would not be permitted to affirm her self-identity, because the available social resources were not yet in place? Or, imagine a transgender person born in a country today where such forms of identification are not tolerated, because the understanding of sex-gender identity is firmly restricted to the genitalia one possesses at birth. Would that person be justly forced to renounce her felt sex-gender, because she was born into a society where “beliefs about the kind of thing [sex-gender] is shape the possibilities for [sex-gender] change” (142)? The implications of such a position for the normative question of whether one should be allowed to change race are more radical than Heyes might appreciate. Indeed, if we hold the legitimacy of a particular act hostage to the status quo, or to what Heyes calls the “range of actually available possibilities for sustaining and transforming oneself,” it is difficult to see how we can make any social progress at all (149). Accordingly, to say “this is how racial categorization currently operates in our society” is to provide a very poor reason to the person asking how racial categorization should operate. And this type of reason is even more disappointing when it comes alongside Heyes’s acknowledgment that “the actions of individuals, now and in the future, will be constitutive of new norms of racial and gendered identity” (149).

And Heyes wrote that attack on Tuvel smarmily disguised as an “apology” for Hypatia.

My friend pointed out that that looks a lot like a conflict of interest.

A privileged group relative to much of the population

May 6th, 2017 11:53 am | By

There’s a guest post at Crooked Timber on the Hypatia wharblegarble by Holly Lawford-Smith, a political philosopher at the University of Melbourne. She starts with a comparative versions exercise.

Something bad happened recently. Here’s what I thought it was: a member of a marginalized group within our profession (a pre-tenure woman) published a paper; a group of philosophers were angry about the paper; those same philosophers signed an open letter to Hypatia calling for retraction of the paper; Hypatia issued an apology for publishing the paper; another group of philosophers rallied in defence of paper’s author, against both the journal and the group of philosophers who were angry about the paper in the first place. This would be bad, because the way we deal with disagreement in our profession―both about form and about substance―is not to demand retractions but to write replies. Also, we generally try to encourage and support junior and marginalized scholars, not pile on in attacking them when they make mistakes.

Here’s what actually happened: a member of a marginalized group within our profession, but of a privileged group relative to much of the population (being both white and university-employed) published a paper; a few philosophers together with a great many more non-philosophers from marginalized groups within society at large were angry about the paper and expressed this in online venues; Hypatia’s initial response was dismissive; as a result of Hypatia’s unsatisfactory response an open letter to Hypatia was written, calling for retraction of the paper, and attracting more than 500 signatures; finally Hypatia issued an apology for publishing the paper; and then many philosophers rallied in defence of the paper’s author.

It’s useful, in a way, that she spells out this peculiar idea that “cis white” women are now among the oppressors. Yes, women can have many forms of privilege, as anyone can. Caitlyn Jenner makes a nice illustration of that all by herself. The house in Malibu, the gold medals, the fatal traffic accident with no prison time?

Also, that “a few philosophers together with a great many more non-philosophers from marginalized groups within society at large were angry about the paper” – really? A great many non-philosophers were angry about the paper? I don’t believe that. Philosophy papers are not a matter of interest to a great many people.

Hypatia is a journal of feminist philosophy explicitly committed to both ‘interdisciplinarity’ and ‘diversity’, positioned as both ‘accessible’ and a resource for ‘the wider women’s studies community’ (see their website). It’s true that some of the anger was directed at Tuvel, but much more was directed at Hypatia for not catching many of the offensive aspects of the paper during the review process (or, some think, for not outright rejecting the paper). The open letter was addressed to Hypatia, not to Tuvel. Journals that are explicitly interdisciplinary are bound by the norms of all of the disciplines they include, so whether a retraction of the paper is warranted is not settled by the fact that it wouldn’t be warranted in Philosophy. More importantly, Hypatia does something that no other journal in Philosophy does, with its commitment to diversity. Hypatia is like your male best friend, who calls himself a feminist and an ally, and who suddenly does something horribly misogynistic. You’re not surprised that there are misogynists in the world, you just feel betrayed because you didn’t think your best friend was one of them.

Nice illustration except that Tuvel didn’t do anything that’s the equivalent of “horribly misogynistic.” You can see examples of “horribly misogynistic” on Twitter without getting your hair mussed, and they don’t look anything like Tuvel’s paper.

What are the risks of a ‘dangerous idea’ like Tuvel’s?

First of all, trans people and activists for trans rights might worry that the structural analogy Tuvel draws between race and gender will undermine claims to the social acceptance of trans identities. That is to say, that although Tuvel herself thinks we have good reasons to accept transgender identities, and that those same reasons support accepting ‘transracial’ identities, others may take the parallel as a reductio ad absurdum. Many people find ‘transracial’ claims absurd, so drawing a parallel between the two might have the effect of weakening the former rather than strengthening the latter.

But if the two are parallel, if the two do rest on the same basic idea (a particular idea of identity for instance), then how can we not discuss them in those terms? Ideas about trans identity are very new, and it seems way too early to close off discussion of them.

Second of all, black people might worry that Tuvel’s conclusion will legitimize more Dolezal-type cases, which they find problematic for a whole host of reasons.

Ah. There we have it. Yes, so they might, but so might women. So might women, and it is not obvious that the worries of black people should be taken seriously while the worries of women should be treated as evil and contemptible.

Even if the paper had been published in Ethics, Philosophy’s problem of being dominated at all levels by cisgender white men entails that many members of marginalized groups (including trans black people) will be located outside the discipline, and so, conversely, work done outside the discipline may in fact be philosopy. In that case, the problem of whose work must be read and engaged with becomes a lot more difficult. At the very least, it should include those who identify as philosophers, wherever they work.

Really?? I thought that was one of those reductio ad absurdum claims we weren’t supposed to make, like “anybody who identifies as a pilot / neurosurgeon / dentist should be accepted as such.” There are countless Twitter jockeys who identify as philosophers; does Lawford-Smith really think their work must be read and engaged with?

Jimmy Lenman commented:

So let me see if I understand.

I write a paper which a journal’s editor, editorial board and referees agree is of the high quality to merit publication there, so they publish it. Some people then write to the journal’s editor to say my paper is offensive and incompetent. The journal’s editor is now wondering what to do. Does she rubbish my moral and professional reputation by making a public apology, endorsing the complaint? (And of course it is my reputation first and foremost that suffers here. It may have been the journal and not myself at whom the anger was targeted – “directed” – but it is me that gets the bullet as everyone concerned could very readily anticipate.) Or does she stand by me and my paper and tell the complainants to get lost?

Some will say the former. Some the latter. But here is a third view. What she needs to do is write back to the complainants and seek further information. What, she must ask, are your, er, demographics? Are you male, female, black, white, cis, trans, gay, straight, able-bodied, disabled, employed as philosophers, not so employed, whatever? Only when I have correctly put you and all others concerned in the right identity politics boxes will I be clear what would be a right or wrong course of action here. Give me one answer and hanging Lenman out to dry would be a shocking wrong and an affront to the basic norms of our profession. Given me another and doing so would really be no big deal and there would be nothing much here to make a big fuss about, “no particular need to rally in defence of our professional norms”. Because it’s really not such a big deal to kick someone in the teeth so long as you have, or the person or persons urging you on has, a special pass saying ‘marginalized group’ and they don’t.

No. Surely, that can’t be it. Can it?

Yes, sadly, it can.


May 6th, 2017 10:47 am | By

I mentioned that doolally conversation at Feminist Philosophers over “Becky” the other day.

Prof Manners introduced Becky in her first paragraph:

I’ve watched the last few days as philosophy social media and now blogs lit up with the crisis at Hypatia over Rebecca Tuvel’s article on transracialism. (Summary of some of the commentary here.) Throughout, I have been dismayed by the way that people I respect or whose work I admire have taken out after each other, engaging in pugilistic, hostile, sneering interactions that now apparently pass for debate. Along the way I acquired a more current insult vocabulary by osmosis. I learned that calling someone “Becky” is an insult, among other things.

And again in her last:

Behaving as if solving the “Tuvel problem” will alter the deep problems we have conscripted her into personifying is, I believe, to wrong her. But even if you disagree with me about that and imagine that what she has likely endured the last few days is wholly warranted by what she wrote, consider the litany of problems above, consider the litany of systemic problems we have conscripted her into personifying and ask whether addressing her solves any of those problems. I don’t think it does. Worse, it risks certifying as acceptable laying the mountain of our profession’s problems on one untenured scholar. To be clear, we heap burdens on scholars in inequitable ways with a disturbing frequency – our professional gate-keeping is one iteration of how we do this. Treating one scholar, one untenured woman scholar, as the symbolic personification of the profession’s ills – raising petitions against her work, engaging in public insult of her (see: Becky), and so forth – will not fix what ails us. It is a symptom of what ails us. And what ails us is legion.

You’ll never guess what happened next.

Rebecca Kukla commented:

So I’m deeply sympathetic to your core point about structures versus individuals, but this bothers me: in order to not have known already that ‘Becky’ is an insult, you have to have completely insulated yourself from even the very most mainstream products of Black culture. And you sound almost proud of that ignorance here.And that’s kind of the problem, right? This is why people of color (and trans folks) are suspicious. Because they are being judged by people who kind of willfully know nothing about them.

I don’t want this to come off as hostile. There is a lot that I like about this post, but there are also points here that need to be made about white ignorance and epistemic justice.

I didn’t look up Rebecca Kukla until yesterday. When I did I was gobsmacked to learn that she’s a grownup academic, at Georgetown, with a string of publications.

Prof Manners responded:

Rebecca, I am not proud of my ignorance and admit that I only discovered the meaning of “Becky” by googling it after seeing it thrown around on Facebook feeds. It did come as a surprise to me that it derives from Black culture, as all of the many I saw using it on Facebook were white commentators. I then also asked my child about it and apparently her high school experience is similar – it has been, at least in some quarters, appropriated as a white-on-white insult. This too is apparently a cultural fact and one I find unsettling in several ways.

To the more general point about insularity though and at risk of sounding defensive, I am not at all up to date on most of popular culture of any sort. That too is an ignorance that I am not boasting about, but just a fact of my own overstretched life. I do protest the idea that fluency in contemporary insult is an expectation of epistemic justice. I am confident that my epistemic limitations are many, but this?

I protest that idea too. Well no I don’t, I point at it and say it’s ludicrous and an insult to the intelligence of everyone present.

Another commenter:

Hi Rebecca, perhaps you are epistemically well placed to learn that ‘Becky’ is an insult because your first name is Rebecca. I first learnt this about a year ago, watching Beyonce’s Lemonade video album. As bell hooks pointed out, this is a particularly well calibrated commodification of black American womanist culture. Do you have better suggestions for remedying white ignorance? Following people on black twitter? Personally, I wouldn’t hold ignorance of a twitter insult against anyone.

At that point, the other day, I googled it and the Urban Dictionary told me it has to do with blow jobs. Becky’s generous with them, or doesn’t charge much, or something along those lines.

Kukla explained why she was right:

It has nothing to do with my being named Rebecca. The insult goes back to Vanity Fair but has been live in black culture from Sir Mix-a-Lot and Beyonce. Those are two really hard popular figures to know nothing about. Look, people are not responsible for knowing about pop culture. But when something is associated with a towering, maximally mainstream icon of black culture, I think being snarky about not knowing it or acting like it is arcane knowledge is inappropriate in this conversation.


The conversation goes on for many more comments. It doesn’t improve.

Will it be outsourcing peer review to social media?

May 5th, 2017 5:29 pm | By

The Hypatia thread is still going. There are interesting comments from colleagues of the Hypatia editors (in other words, philosophers).

Like this one:

Shaun ODwyer I’m writing this as someone who has published with Hypatia in the past, and who has appreciated the peer review feedback and editorial support provided for my submissions. Now I and I’m sure other authors would like to know the following: 1. Will you be retracting Tuvel’s article? 2. Will Hypatia continue to be a blind peer reviewed journal, or will it be outsourcing peer review to social media as well? 3. Will it now be your policy, from time to time, to denounce your authors’ scholarship in public, pour encourager les autres?

And this one:

Clark WolfColleagues and friends: If you signed this letter and do not regret having done so, I think you should own up and defend your position. If you regret having signed it — it was signed by people I deeply respect but I think they should regret it– I earnestly ask that you make your regret known and remove your name. Having read Tuvel’s paper, the un-peer-reviewed letter, and evaluations of this controversy in DalyNous and elsewhere, I’m driven to conclude that this is indeed an inappropriate and inexcusable attack on a serious junior feminist scholar. The critical arguments in the letter appear to me to be unfounded, poorly structured, badly reasoned, and ill considered. By contrast, I found Rebecca Tuvel’s paper interesting, intelligent, well-written, and well-argued. I found much of it persuasive. I will use it in class. But I’d be glad to pair it, in my syllabus, with credible and respectful scholarly response.


Clark WolfÁsta Kristjana Sveinsdóttir, this apology from the editors does damage to the journal Hypatia. Tuvel’s paper should indeed have been published. The editorial committee’s claim that Hypatia is not the place for such a paper leads me to fear that my deep respect for the journal has been misplaced. The author might have been advised that the convention she employed might be taken as deadnaming by some people, but it is clearly not ‘deadnaming’ in the harmful or shameful sense. Deadnaming is worst when it is done by people who deny the identity of trans persons, and use the former name in an effort to express that denial. Deadnaming is an insulting effort to shame. But this is very clearly not what Tuvel was doing. It should be clear to anyone reading Tuvel’s article that she is a supporter who makes an effort to use trans-friendly language. If her usage was a misstep, it was not one that reflects animus. As for the other ‘harms’ your letter notes, they seem to me to be philosophically interesting issues. I might agree with your claims about the ways that race and gender differ, but that’s a philosophical point to be made in a philosophical reply. Such a reply should be written up and submitted for peer review. The fact that you have a counter argument is not a reason to disparage Tuvel’s well-written and well argued philosophical work.

I’m glad there are comments of that kind, because otherwise I would despair.

There’s no excuse for not being rich

May 5th, 2017 4:53 pm | By

Robert Reich boils down a Washington Post piece on why the Republican “health care bill” isn’t.

The 2 biggest lies at the heart of Trumpcare are:

1. It covers people with preexisting health conditions. It doesn’t. Trumpcare sets aside $138 billion over the next decade to cover such people. But the estimated cost of really doing so ranges from $150 billion to $330 billion. Worse yet, states could use the money to offset the health insurance costs of healthy people who buy insurance as individuals — which is what the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office expects they’ll do.

2. It’s a healthcare bill. It’s not. It’s a trillion dollar tax cut for the richest 2 percent that’s paid for with a trillion dollars of health-care cuts for the poor and middle class.

In reality, Trumpcare is a massive transfer from Americans who are poorer and sicker to those who are richer and healthier. Not being rich is the ultimate preexisting condition.

Meanwhile Trump sits there like a toad saying over and over “It will be great, premiums will go down, the care will be great.” When premiums go down because the insurance doesn’t cover anything, that’s not “great.”

Guest post: At the pinnacle of privilege all these years

May 5th, 2017 11:58 am | By

Originally a comment by iknklast on Those theorists whose lives are most directly affected.

I hate the idea of no longer calling myself a feminist, but I also hate the idea of being associated with this brand of repressive ideology. Maybe we just need to invent a term that can let people know we stand for equality without having to take on all this baggage.

I am also white and feminist; I suffered my entire life (and still do) from the whims of people who believe that gender is essential, and that I therefore am some sort of grotesque mutant who isn’t a woman at all – but not a man, either, because reasons. As a teenager, I was forced into high heels, make up, and dresses. We were not allowed to wear anything but dresses to school until I was a freshman in high school, and even then, it had to be “pant suits” with matching tops and pants. When I was a senior, they finally (grudgingly) allowed girls to wear jeans, which the guys had been wearing all along. I was required to take Home Ec, and was discouraged from taking Calculus or Economics, for which I had to wait until college. I was shuffled into the slow Biology class because that was all I could take that didn’t conflict with honors English (the assumption being that, since girls are good at English and boys are good at Science, you wouldn’t have people who were eligible for both classes…in fact, my entire honors English class was filled with people who qualified for both, but none of us could stand the pain of going back through this is a noun, this is a verb, see John run, which is the noun which is the verb…).

I have been beaten for being insufficiently female, for reading the wrong books, taking the wrong classes, thinking the wrong thoughts. I was vilified and pressured until eventually I found someone and got married, more to prove that I was a woman than out of love (I realize that now; I didn’t then). He (my ex) was getting married to prove he wasn’t gay (he was). It was a marriage doomed, and would never have happened if I hadn’t been put into the spot of being expected to “prove” I was a woman, and he hadn’t been put in the spot of being expected to “prove” he was a man.

The young feminists doing all this screaming have no concept of what the earlier feminists went through to gain these rights, and they don’t really care, because they have convinced themselves that these rights were only gained for white, cis-hetero women. Not true – they apply to all women, even those, like my mother, who would rather die than make use of most of these rights.

Now, I find out in the declining years of my life that I have lived at the pinnacle of privilege all these years, a pinnacle apparently even higher than that of the rich white males who just took health care away from millions and continue to do everything they can to make choice an impossible option.

Guest post: She is told to shut up about her body and experience

May 5th, 2017 11:55 am | By

Originally a comment by Myrhinme on Those theorists whose lives are most directly affected.

I recently decided to stop identifying as a feminist. This was a big decision for me but the recent developments in feminism have bothered me too much. There was a time that I would have said that any woman (and even any man) who supports equality is a feminist. I was puzzled when I heard women who often talked about equality saying that they were not feminists. I assumed it was because of negative stereotypes.

In recent years, feminism has become fashionable and I was glad to see young women becoming engaged. I still am glad that young women want to stand up against sexual violence and other problems that they face. However, I now see a situation where any woman who wants to call herself a feminist is told that she must actively support a range of causes even if she knows little about them or simply disagrees with some parts. She is told to accept orthodoxies about gender, that she may never question a trans woman’s understanding of what it is to be female but that a trans woman may question hers and trash her if it does not toe the party line. She is told to shut up about her body and experience and definitely not to utter the heresy that she only feels female because she has a female body.

If a feminist is white, she can expect to walk on eggshells. She can talk about race but if anyone disagrees they can call her a “white feminist”. This is an insult but if she protests that it is wrong to use a description of what she is as an insult she’s just demonstrating what a spoiled privileged white women she is. She can diplomatically avoid the subject of race but then she’s a white feminist who only cares about white woman things (as if no other women are raped, or suffer domestic violence or need contraception and abortion). What is the alternative? Absolute submission. She must defer absolutely to the views declared orthodox and never disagree with a person from a marginalized group. She must accept that she is racist but she can pay Everday Feminism a fee to help her atone and heal from her toxic whiteness.

I could not encourage girls to get involved in feminism if it means being submissive and letting people treat them like shit. They, like everybody else, should feel entitled to a basic level of respect. They should be encouraged to question orthodox views and form their own opinions.

There have always been feminists that I had a problem with but they were usually on the fringes. The ones I have a problem with now are dominating the discourse and I don’t want to be associated with them. I have a background in human rights activism and want to continue with that rather than waste time with people who would argue whether I am a proper feminist or a white feminist or whatever. I want to get things done that will really make a difference.

I can only add that I am female, bisexual and have suffered from a disabling chronic condition since I was a teenager that has blighted by life. I am exactly the sort of person that social justice enthusiasts claim to represent. However, I want nothing to do with people who shut down all dissent, vilify everyone they disagree with, however small the disagreement, and attack free speech. I care too much about human rights and intellectual freedom for that.

So, I’d rather not call myself a feminist. I want to go back to being a human rights activist and I’ll choose independence of thought over dogma.

Surprise quiz

May 5th, 2017 11:23 am | By

Seen on Facebook:

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A President who is judged to be mentally unfit

May 5th, 2017 11:15 am | By

Evan Osnos at the New Yorker takes a close look at the chances for removing Trump from this job he’s incapable of doing. On the way he provides interesting details of Trump’s incapacity.

By this point in George W. Bush’s term, Bush had travelled to twenty-three states and a foreign country. Trump has visited just nine states and has never stayed the night. He inhabits a closed world that one adviser recently described to me as “Fortress Trump.” Rarely venturing beyond the White House and Mar-a-Lago, he measures his fortunes through reports from friends, staff, and a feast of television coverage of himself. Media is Trump’s “drug of choice,” Sam Nunberg, an adviser on his campaign, told me recently. “He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t do drugs. His drug is himself.”

But not only that. His recreation is himself, his job is himself, his body of knowledge is himself, his field of study is himself, his love is for himself, his respect and admiration are for himself, his hero is himself. Trump’s Self is his whole world.

Trump’s approval rating is forty per cent—the lowest of any newly elected President since Gallup started measuring it. Even before Trump entered the White House, the F.B.I. and four congressional committees were investigating potential collusion between his associates and the Russian government. Since then, Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, have become senior White House officials, prompting intense criticism over potential conflicts of interest involving their private businesses. Between October and March, the U.S. Office of Government Ethics received more than thirty-nine thousand public inquiries and complaints, an increase of five thousand per cent over the same period at the start of the Obama Administration. Nobody occupies the White House without criticism, but Trump is besieged by doubts of a different order, centering on the overt, specific, and, at times, bipartisan discussion of whether he will be engulfed by any one of myriad problems before he has completed even one term in office—and, if he is, how he might be removed.

Trump’s critics are actively exploring the path to impeachment or the invocation of the Twenty-fifth Amendment, which allows for the replacement of a President who is judged to be mentally unfit.

The Twenty-fifth Amendment should have been invoked right after he took the oath of office. He is conspicuously and unmistakably mentally unfit to do the job he’s pretending to do.

Although some of my sources maintained that laws and politics protect the President to a degree that his critics underestimate, others argued that he has already set in motion a process of his undoing. All agree that Trump is unlike his predecessors in ways that intensify his political, legal, and personal risks. He is the first President with no prior experience in government or the military, the first to retain ownership of a business empire, and the oldest person ever to assume the Presidency.

But also the stupidest, the most ignorant, the most aggressive and belligerent, the most reckless and irresponsible, the most dangerous.

I asked Jerry Taylor, the president of the Niskanen Center, a libertarian think tank, if he had ever seen so much skepticism so early in a Presidency. “No, nobody has,” he said. “But we’ve never lived in a Third World banana republic. I don’t mean that gratuitously. I mean the reality is he is governing as if he is the President of a Third World country: power is held by family and incompetent loyalists whose main calling card is the fact that Donald Trump can trust them, not whether they have any expertise.”

He’s violating many rules and standards to do it, and apparently no one can stop him.

It’s not clear how fully Trump apprehends the threats to his Presidency. Unlike previous Republican Administrations, Fortress Trump contains no party elder with the stature to check the President’s decisions. “There is no one around him who has the ability to restrain any of his impulses, on any issue ever, for any reason,” Steve Schmidt, a veteran Republican consultant, said, adding, “Where is the ‘What the fuck’ chorus?”

So much for the claims that Ivanka and her husband can and do restrain his worst impulses. I never did find that very credible – not to mention the horror that the only adults around are those two shallow spoiled know-nothing rich kids.

[I]n 1973, the American Psychiatric Association added to its code of ethics the so-called “Goldwater rule,” which forbade making a diagnosis without an in-person examination and without receiving permission to discuss the findings publicly. Professional associations for psychologists, social workers, and others followed suit. With regard to Trump, however, the rule has been broken repeatedly. More than fifty thousand mental-health professionals have signed a petition stating that Trump is “too seriously mentally ill to perform the duties of president and should be removed” under the Twenty-fifth Amendment.

Lance Dodes, a retired assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, believes that, in this instance, the Goldwater rule is outweighed by another ethical commitment: a “duty to warn” others when he assesses that a person might harm them. Dodes told me, “Trump is going to face challenges from people who are not going to bend to his will. If you have a President who takes it as a personal attack on him, which he does, and flies into a paranoid rage, that’s how you start a war.”

Like many of his colleagues, Dodes speculates that Trump fits the description of someone with malignant narcissism, which is characterized by grandiosity, a need for admiration, sadism, and a tendency toward unrealistic fantasies. On February 13th, in a letter to the Times, Dodes and thirty-four other mental-health professionals wrote, “We fear that too much is at stake to be silent any longer.”

Other professionals disagree. One says that all that fits Trump but it doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he’s not impaired. He’s not?

To some mental-health professionals, the debate over diagnoses and the Goldwater rule distracts from a larger point. “This issue is not whether Donald Trump is mentally ill but whether he’s dangerous,” James Gilligan, a professor of psychiatry at New York University, told attendees at a recent public meeting at Yale School of Medicine on the topic of Trump’s mental health. “He publicly boasts of violence and has threatened violence. He has urged followers to beat up protesters. He approves of torture. He has boasted of his ability to commit and get away with sexual assault,” Gilligan said.

Yes but it’s both, surely. He’s an evil monster, and he’s too cracked to restrain himself.

(Pause for the usual despairing question. How on earth did we manage to make the worst human being on earth president of the US?)

Here’s an interesting detail:

Bruce Blair, a research scholar at the Program on Science and Global Security, at Princeton, told me that if Trump were an officer in the Air Force, with any connection to nuclear weapons, he would need to pass the Personnel Reliability Program, which includes thirty-seven questions about financial history, emotional volatility, and physical health. (Question No. 28: Do you often lose your temper?) “There’s no doubt in my mind that Trump would never pass muster,” Blair, who was a ballistic-missile launch-control officer in the Army, told me. “Any of us that had our hands anywhere near nuclear weapons had to pass the system. If you were having any arguments, or were in financial trouble, that was a problem. For all we know, Trump is on the brink of that, but the President is exempt from everything.”

Great. Fabulous. If you have a military connection to nukes, you get strictly tested, and rejected if you fail. If you’re the guy who has the ability to send them out – no test.

I learned the other day, I forget where, that Kissinger made a new rule that if Nixon sent an order to release the nukes in the middle of the night the order was not to be obeyed without consulting Kissinger. I despise Kissinger, but I wish someone had that sort of arrangement in this administration. Only there’s no Kissinger-equivalent. Rex Tillerson? Please.

In early April, Representative Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat and a professor of constitutional law at American University, and twenty co-sponsors introduced a bill that would expand the authority of medical personnel and former senior officials to assess the mental fitness of a President. The bill has no chance of coming up for a vote anytime soon, but its sponsors believe that they have a constitutional duty to convene a body to assess Trump’s health. Representative Earl Blumenauer, of Oregon, introduced a similar bill, which would also give former Presidents and Vice-Presidents a voice in evaluating a President’s mental stability. Of Trump, he said, “The serial repetition of proven falsehoods—Is this an act? Is this a tactic? Is he just wired weird? It raises the question in my mind about the nature of Presidential disability.”

It should raise it in everyone’s mind. This is not normal and it’s not ok.

Lawrence C. Mohr, who became a White House physician in 1987 and remained in the job until 1993, came to believe that Presidential disability must be understood to encompass “very subtle manifestations” that might impair the President’s capacity to do the job. A President should be evaluated for “alertness, cognitive function, judgment, appropriate behavior, the ability to choose among options and the ability to communicate clearly,” Mohr told a researcher in 2010. “If any of these are impaired, it is my opinion that the powers of the President should be transferred to the Vice-President until the impairment resolves.”

This is what I’m saying. All of those were impaired before he took the damn oath, with the possible exception of alertness. (But even that – really? Those photo ops where he slumps next to the other head of state, looking around like a bored toddler? Not all that alert.)

In practice, however, unless the President were unconscious, the public could see the use of the amendment as a constitutional coup. Measuring deterioration over time would be difficult in Trump’s case, given that his “judgment” and “ability to communicate clearly” were, in the view of many Americans, impaired before he took office. For those reasons, Robert Gilbert, the Presidential-health specialist, told me, “If the statements get too strange, then the Vice-President might be able to do something. But if the President is just being himself—talking in the same way that he talked during the campaign—then the Vice-President and the Cabinet would find it very difficult.”

And he has the key to the nukes.