Leiter on Thought Crimes Watch

Brian Leiter has two posts on the monstering of Rebecca Tuvel. The first is nicely titled Thought crimes watch: comparing trans-racialism to transgenderism verboten!

A majority of the editorial board of an allegedly scholarly journal apologizes for publishing an article (which presumably went through whatever passes for peer review there) called “In Defense of Transracialism,” by Rebecca Tuvel, an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Rhodes College.  Here’s the abstract for the thought crime article:

Former NAACP chapter head Rachel Dolezal’s attempted transition from the white to the black race occasioned heated controversy. Her story gained notoriety at the same time that Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner graced the cover of Vanity Fair, signaling a growing acceptance of transgender identity. Yet criticisms of Dolezal for misrepresenting her birth race indicate a widespread social perception that it is neither possible nor acceptable to change one’s race in the way it might be to change one’s sex. Considerations that support transgenderism seem to apply equally to transracialism. Although Dolezal herself may or may not represent a genuine case of a transracial person, her story and the public reaction to it serve helpful illustrative purposes.

Apparently the “harm” to Prof. Tuvel of a public apology by the majority of the editorial board of the journal that published her article was outweighed by the “harm” of her thought crime to transgender people.  (Addendum:  no thought crime is complete without a public letter of protest.  What is chilling about this is that instead of this campaign of vilification of a junior faculty member and demand for “retraction” of her article, someone could have written a response piece and sent it to the same journal.  But this is obviously not a scholarly community, but a political one.  Those familiar with the history of 20th-century Marxist movements will recognize what’s going on here, and it isn’t a happy sight.)

It’s ugly. Ugly ugly ugly.

The second is even harsher (I don’t say that disapprovingly – I think harshness is well deserved here): The defamation of Rebecca Tuvel by the Board of Associate Editors of Hypatia and the authors of the Open Letter.

I just want to flag something else about the remarkable “apology” issued by the Associate Editors of Hypatia, which a couple of readers flagged for me.  It contains the following:

It is our position that the harms that have ensued from the publication of this article could and should have been prevented by a more effective review process. We are deeply troubled by this and are taking this opportunity to seriously reconsider our review policies and practices. While nothing can change the fact that the article was published, we are dedicated to doing what we can to make things right. Clearly, the article should not have been published, and we believe that the fault for this lies in the review process. In addition to the harms listed above imposed upon trans people and people of color, publishing the article risked exposing its author to heated critique that was both predictable and justifiable. A better review process would have both anticipated the criticisms that quickly followed the publication, and required that revisions be made to improve the argument in light of those criticisms.

The “open letter” is even more explicit that Prof. Tuvel is not, in the view of the signatories, a competent professional scholar, stating that, “Many published articles include some minor defects of scholarship; however, together the problems with this article are glaring,” so much so that they demand retraction.

I confess I’ve never seen anything like this in academic philosophy (admittedly most signatories to the “open letter” are not academic philosophers, but some are).  A tenure-track assistant professor submits her article to a journal, it passes peer review, it is published, others take offense, and the Associate Editors of the journal declare that “Clearly, the article should not have been published” and that the abuse to which the author is being subjected is “both predictable and justifiable.”

Yes. It’s horrible. It’s familiar but it’s none the less horrible for that.

I hope that Prof. Tuvel consults a lawyer about this defamation; and while it looks to me like defamation per se (i.e., damages are presumed since the critics are impugning her competence in her profession), I would imagine showing damage would not be hard.  How can Prof. Tuvel, for example, now use this repudiated but allegedly peer-reviewed article as part of her tenure process?   Indeed, how can her department or college support her for tenure when she has been so vilified as a scholar and professional by people who work in her fields?  I wonder 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?

I really doubt it. I think they were too busy frotting their imaginations over the imaginary harm Tuvel’s article would cause to imagined victims.

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