Monday, October 31, 2011

Against Stupid SPEP Resolutions

There is an online petition for SPEP members who want to separate themselves from the hypocritical and stupid resolution adopted by the organization in support of ego-stroking and immoral nonsense parading as information.

Given the hierarchical order and conformist norms that prevail within the organization, I strongly suspect that very few of those who see the stupidity of the resolution will be able to muster the fortitude to resist the pressure from above to remain silent.

Anyway, it seems worth a plug.

59 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the plug, Spiros. I am the author of the petition, and I admit that even I am staying anonymous for the time being in order to avoid potential professional repercussions. That might change if and when this builds momentum.

Rebecca Kukla said...

How f*cked up is it that this organization acts self-righteous while people are completely blatantly afraid of being punished if they cross it? They pass a resolution crying 'incivility' but there isn't even a pretense among the insiders that those with power aren't vindictive bullies. What other philosophy clique has people terrified not to hide behind anonymity? I honestly don't know who the people are who have all this amazing power to destroy people's professional lives and are so ready to use it, but whatever scaffolding is enabling them to exist is rotten.

I never cared about SPEP per se in any of the earlier discussions - I am still basically just interested in all of this because of how it impacts women. But it is just staggering to me how many grown adults are terrified of the wrath of these people. It's embarrassing to the rest of us to witness.

J. W. Showalter said...

New slogan for ubiquitous posting:

'Spank SPEP'.

Like it?

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:11 here. The title of the petition has been changed to "SPEP Members and Allies Against the Advocacy Committee Resolution." It is open to SPEP members as well as sympathetic allies.

Anonymous said...

"What other philosophy clique has people terrified not to hide behind anonymity?"

Speaking as a job-seeking graduate student in a poor economy I can vouch for the fact that SPEP isn't the only philosophy clique of which I'm terrified. There are others I fear far more. I wouldn't look upon the desire for anonymity on the part of those opposing the status quo as anything particular to SPEP. With so few jobs available these days it's best to keep your head low and try not to offend anyone. I only hope that one day with tenure (or at least on the tenure track) I'll feel more comfortable speaking out. Speaking out on controversial issues now only risks putting me in a position where I'll have even fewer opportunities to positively impact the profession because there won't be a place for me in it.

SPEP may be bullies but they are far from being the only bullies on the block.

Anonymous said...

Word up, 7:41. Sometimes it feels like the whole profession is populated by assholes.

Anonymous said...

well said 8:39 and 7:41.

Rebecca Kukla said...

I dunno, I just don't buy it. Yeah, job marketeers and untenured folks at risk are scared to say anything about anything, often, but the fear I have seen even among tenured folks seems to me unmatched in the rest of philosophy. You just don't hear about the logicians ostracizing and destroying people, or whatever. I am totally unconvinced.

Fritz J. McDonald said...

Rebecca Kukla is awesome. That is all.

Rebecca Kukla said...

Anyhow the comparative doesn't much matter, though I stand by it. The fact that people are feeling bullied and threatened for speaking their mind is totally unacceptable.

Back in July I got several private bullying emails trying to make me shut up about my worries about the climate guide. Luckily for me, I have tenure at a place that I love and I am naturally fairly immune to intimidation. But I was truly shocked to see how that background crap works. And I know of lots of others who have experienced other kinds of intimidation.

Rebecca Kukla said...

Wow, Fritz J MacDonald, thank you!

Rebecca Kukla said...

*McDonald. Sorry! :)

Anonymous said...

Yep I hear you, Dr. Kukla. Also, I read at least 10 philosophy blogs (I have no life) and once in awhile whole posts on "controversial" topics are inexplicably deleted. Have you ever noticed that? I'd bet cash money it's because the mods get bullied into taking them down. It happened over the summer a LOT.

Rebecca Kukla said...

Yep, Anon 9:45, I'd bet so too.

Anonymous said...

I generally agree with most of what is said here, but there is an important point that needs to be made, one which suggests that placing all the blame on the SPEP leadership, and characterizing them as bullies bullying around their membership, is a bit myopic. What's missing in this analysis is the fact that, somewhat analagous to other marginalized communities, being marginalized in the discipline contributes greatly to the possibility of such internal bullying. So, as a recent graduate of a continental-ish (SPEPerific?) program, I worry/realize that I may only be taken seriously as a candidate by other continental-ish departments, even though my work draws as much from the analytic tradition as the continental. This gives the members of those departments significant power and influence over us lowly grads/ job candidates/ untenured folk, power which increases in proportion to the general marginalization of continental philosophy in the discipline as a whole.

Maybe I'm overestimating such marginalization, and maybe many non-continental, non-SPEP-y departments will recognize good work on its own merits, but I do frequently worry that getting my degree from a continental-ish school carries a stigma in some departments, regardless of the quality of my work as a whole, especially in a job market where search committees are looking for any small reason to narrow the field of applicants. So, if nothing else, I would encourage search committee members and others outside the SPEP inner circle to be wary about attributing problematic SPEP views to the graduates of SPEP-y schools, and also to recognize that the bullying power of SPEP derives in some ways from the exclusion and marginalization of continental philosophy in general.

Anonymous said...

1:22 moves from claiming that SPEP is marginalized (proof?) to a claim about "the general marginalization of continental philosophy in the discipline as a whole" (proof?). The "marginalization" story is an instrument employed by the bullies to keep you cowering. There is no "marginalization" of continental philosophy.

Anonymous said...

1:22 here.

To be clear, I never claimed that SPEP was marginalized. I did claim that continental philosophy in general was marginalized. I'm not sure what kind of proof would suffice to show that, but I get the impression that there is a general disparagement in the profession of a certain kind of philosophy that is represented by a certain subset of programs (including, yes, many of those that the "pluralist" guide identifies) that, at least understand themselves as "continental". Or, to put it a different way, in the U.S. at least, the analytic tradition has been, for many years, the dominant tradition, and those who do continental philosophy are, in a numerical sense at least, a minority. I thought that was rather obvious. Am I wrong about that?

Now, perhaps some of the disparagement is justified. I frequently agree with the criticisms of some of the more obscurantist varieties of so-called continental thought. The only point that I was making was that that kind of critique ought to focus on the philosophy and philosophers that it finds objectionable, rather than stigmatizing entire schools and perhaps even entire subfields of philosophy. Insofar as the discipline fails to refrain from this kind of stigmatization, it's not particularly surprising that the more vulnerable members of SPEP-y departments are hesitant to ruffle feathers in the few places they can count on to take them seriously.

Anonymous said...

So, as a recent graduate of a continental-ish (SPEPerific?) program, I worry/realize that I may only be taken seriously as a candidate by other continental-ish departments, even though my work draws as much from the analytic tradition as the continental. This gives the members of those departments significant power and influence over us lowly grads/ job candidates/ untenured folk, power which increases in proportion to the general marginalization of continental philosophy in the discipline as a whole.

Part of the problem is that 1) the coverage of analytic philosophy offered in some continental departments is comparatively poor; and 2) some "party-line" continental departments help marginalize continental philosophy by refusing to engage analytic philosophy.

Anonymous said...

24 hours later, the number of signatures for this petition is still in the single digits. Is there no "Other" within the SPEP?

Anonymous said...

1:22 writes: "Or, to put it a different way, in the U.S. at least, the analytic tradition has been, for many years, the dominant tradition, and those who do continental philosophy are, in a numerical sense at least, a minority. I thought that was rather obvious. Am I wrong about that?"

Yes, you are wrong. Or, better put, your are correct but only trivially. By "continental philosophy" you mean a small minority of philosophers, and by "analytic philosophy" you mean anyone who is not doing continental philosophy. Then you conflate two senses of "marginalized," one descriptive (any tiny minority is marginalized, viz., out of the mainstream) and the other normative (a tiny minority is "marginalized when it is the subject of unjust discrimination). If by "analytic philosophy" you mean roughly anyone who is not a member of the tiny clique you identify as "continental," then it's no wonder that you see analytic philosophy as the dominant "tradition." And if you conflate the descriptive sense of "marginalized" with the normative one, then follows that analytic philosophy has "marginalized" continental philosophy. But these are the strict implications of your gerrymandered terms, not obvious truths about the sociology of the profession.

The facts, I think, run like this: There is no "analytic philosophy" to dominate the profession. And there is no "continental philosophy" which is the subject of marginalization (in the normative sense). There are many philosophical programs which do not get the attention they (arguably) deserve from large numbers of philosophers. And there's no deep explanation of this fact (and certainly no conspiracy or persecution on behalf of an opposing mainstream). That's just the the way the cookie crumbles.

Anonymous said...

"That's just the way the cookie crumbles". What a profound explanation! From a proud product of the scholastics of modern times. But philosophy will survive your decades long destructive assault, as it did survive the medieval darkness.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:32, rather than offering insults why don't you engage with what 8:54 said? There are many people who read this blog who see things the way 8:54 does. Why/How are they mistaken? (Assuming they are, in fact, mistaken).

Anonymous said...

9:32 complains that 8:54 does not offer a "profound explanation" for something that 8:54 explicitly claims has no "deep explanation."

Way to go 9:32! Rather than offering reasons, you offer an evidence-free diagnosis. Some (like me) will argue that it's likely you didn't even bother to read the post you're replying to. Keep on confirming the worst of what people think of those of us who identify with continental philosophy!

Anonymous said...

1:22 here again, responding to 8:54who says "There is no "analytic philosophy" to dominate the profession. And there is no "continental philosophy" which is the subject of marginalization."

If the point is that the distinction between analytic and continental philosophy isn't particularly illuminating, or conceptually defensible, I completely agree. After all, analytic philosophy in the precise Kantian sense has arguably been dead since logical positivism, and much if not most so-called continental philosophy is no longer done on the continent of Europe.

But as a professional distinction it is undeniable I think that some departments are perceived as continental, others are perceived as analytic, that the former are numerically fewer than the latter (that's what you call descriptive marginalization), and that, as you put it, "there are many philosophical programs which do not get the attention they (arguably) deserve from large numbers of philosophers." That, as far as I can tell, is normative marginalization, to again use your term.

Anyway, I wasn't trying to defend the distinction b/t analytic and continental philosophy, nor lambast anyone for marginalizing continental philosophy. I was merely making the point that the reluctance of certain members of certain departments to ruffle SPEP feathers is not particularly surprising given the general features of our discipline noted above.

And yes, I agree that SPEP-y departments can contribute to this kind of marginalization in the ways that 6:59 notes. But my point was simply to note that that's only a part of the story.

Anonymous said...

The fact that this one time Leiter is trying to bully bullies doesn't change the fact that he too is a bully, that people are rationally afraid to cross him or contradict him or get on his s*** list.

Anonymous said...

The upshot of this discussion seems to be that the profession is brimming with total assholes, "analytic" and "continental" alike. As Mark Lance likes to say, "a pox on both their houses." (Or, as I like to say, "fuck all y'all.)

Anonymous said...

10:59, I'm inclined to agree with you, but I'm confused. How did Leiter come into this? So far as I can see, no one is talking about him!

Anonymous said...

Re: Marginalization. is it not the case that the number of search committees that reflectively think "thesis on Heidegger; Cast it to the flames" is greater than exists for a thesis on Quine

I don't know anything about the SPEP. As a fan of existentialism and phenomenology, it does seem they are not doing the cause any good.

Anonymous said...

11:07 - This is a really bad example, there are many "analytic" search committees which would see anyone now working on Quine as horribly behind the times. For non-continental non-naturalist search committees, a diss on Quine would probably be dismissed, just as for non-continental naturalist search committees, a diss defending mathematical Platonism would similarly be looked at as non-serious.

What gets dismissed and by whom does not track any non-vacuous analytic/continental distinction.

Anonymous said...

10:59 am, If people were so afraid of Leiter, you'd think there'd be lest abusive crap about him on the Internet!

Anonymous said...

it shouldn't be overlooked that spep drove out and marginalized hundreds of ostensibly continental philosophers when it decided that critical theory and related programs were not properly "continental."

Anonymous said...

11:57

When and how did SPEP make this decision? I know nothing of it and I'm legitimately curious (that is, the question is in earnest, not meant to cast doubt on your claim).

B. Honest said...

"What other philosophy clique has people terrified...?"

Really? Look, I fall on the analytic side of whatever remains of the analytic/continental distinction, I think the Philosophical Gourmet Report is generally a good thing, I appreciate Brian Leiter's blog as a source of news about the profession, I agree with many of his central philosophical views, and from what I hear, in person, he is a pretty nice guy.

That said, anyone who has been reading Leiter's blog for the past, say, seven or so years, and is honest, knows that Leiter is capable of being a terrible bully. I'm not talking about spirited and even entertainingly obnoxious philosophical interchange. Yay for that. I'm talking, for example, about trying to make relatively junior folks in academia look like idiots. I know many people who fear crossing him out of concern that they will be excoriated or embarrassed in front of the entire philosophical world on his blog. (That he has a few visible critics doesn't contradict this.) And what some people find especially galling is his defensiveness about this point, which I would guess many people take as a sign of either insincerity or extraordinary lack of awareness.

So, sure, SPEP seems ridiculous, agreed. And yay for Philosophers Anonymous, yay for Kukla, and even, on balance, yay for Leiter. But let's not close our eyes to aspects of reality that don't fit with our narrative.

Anonymous said...

B. Honest: examples? Leiter is pretty wicked at times, but the examples I think of (e.g., Nagel and Intelligent Design) were both justified and involved rather senior people.

Anonymous said...

Leiter can criticize someone or mock their ideas, but how is that bullying? Where are the people whose careers were halted by the all powerful Leiter? There's too much paranoia floating around, and the evidence of all the Leiter abuse on other blogs is pretty good evidence that the paranoia is unfounded.

Now can we get back to the topic?

Anonymous said...

Only 12 signatures last I checked. John Cogburn's early prediction was that the Resolution wouldn't even come to a vote. At what point do we get to conclude that the SPEP membership simply approves of the PG2P?

Anonymous said...

I think it would help if Leiter had the link to the petition on his blog given that he has (I assume) the biggest readership for any philosophy blog.

Fritz J. McDonald said...

All Brian Leiter ever did was an incredible service to the profession by making information about the judgment of informed individuals about the qualities of graduate student faculties available to the public. He also provided a great deal of useful information by himself in what he wrote on his site, information that is incredibly important for me when I am advising students who are thinking of going to graduate school. His blog is great and provides a wealth of useful information--to cite just one example, it provides a way to know whom was hired for the positions advertised every year. His reward for his tireless work on behalf of the profession of philosophy is anonymous nitwits sniping at him on the internet on the basis of no evidence whatsoever.

Spiros said...

What Fritz said.

Benj Hellie said...

You people are misusing the concept of bullying. Randall Collins engages in some conceptual geography of social violence here: http://sociological-eye.blogspot.com/2011/07/inflation-of-bullying-from-fagging-to.html

Anonymous said...

RE: "on the basis of no evidence whatsoever."

Are you kidding me? Do you READ his blog? I agree its not clear what goes on there amounts to bullying, and that the targets of the verbal abuse are often in the wrong. But that's not really the point, is it?

Anonymous said...

7:18, do I have this right. It's not bullying. Those criticized are "often in the wrong." So what's the issue? Did mean Brian use a naughty word that upset you?

Anonymous said...

7:18 here. Adults can and do verbal abuse other adults. And no, I'm not personally upset .... I just don't think it's appropriate behavior on a professional blog. Make sense?

Anonymous said...

@anon12:39

http://www.newappsblog.com/2011/11/come-on-in-the-waters-fine.html#comments

Anonymous said...

Good find 8:07 AM! Leiter bullies 2500 SPEP members IN THE COMMENT SECTION OF SOMEONE ELSE'S BLOG! Q.E.D.

Anonymous said...

RE: "Leiter bullies 2500 SPEP members."

He did no such thing. He insulted and demeaned them. That's not the same.

Anonymous said...

Since there seems to be some question as to whether Brian Leiter actually bullies anyone on his blog, let me offer up the following example:

Link

Now I appreciate that the cite here is from a right wing source (and one who failed to disclose his own connection to the ID movement), but look to the body of the complaint: the sheer vehemence with which he attacked a mere student -- little different, one would think, from, say, a second year student in a philosophy program.

Of course, the student was hardly arguing for a position that any significant number of philosophers would admire: he was, in effect, defending the legal/Constitutional legitimacy of teaching Intelligent Design.

Now I'm as much against teaching ID, and opposed to its legal legitimacy, as the next philosopher. But, you know, I don't believe that everyone who thinks otherwise even at a tender age must be the spawn of Satan and be so treated.

And Leiter's attack here is fairly typical of how it is that he bullies: he locates a figure and/or a position he knows will be quite unsympathetic to most philosophers, and then attacks that target without mercy or sense of proportion. If someone objects to this attack, he has his answer ready: what, you are going to defend this person/position? How dare you! This will be followed by a round of applause from the gathered profession.

It is perhaps a defect of the profession of philosophers that developing a sense of proportion in matters having to do with morality or political belief does not come easy. For too many philosophers, if something is deemed wrong, then it is deemed terribly, terribly wrong; there can be no tolerance of the offending position.

Leiter seems to represent about the worst of this tendency, I think, and he builds his cases because he seems to realize that he can quite readily get the great majority of the profession on board.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 1:17 PM cites an article by Hunter Baker, without mentioning that this person was Francis Beckwith's graduate assistant -- a serious conflict of interest not disclosed in the cited article.

More importantly, Anonymous at 1:17 PM conveniently fails to link to Leiter's critique of the book review of Beckwith's article. Judge for yourself: http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2004/03/harvard_law_rev.html. Leiter points to concrete statements of the book review, and argues why they are seriously mistaken. Given how politically damaging and dishonest the intelligent design political movement is in general, and Francis Beckwith in particular, to my mind Leiter is right to criticize its supporters -- especially if the support in form of a positive book review is riddled with long-debunked falsehoods.

Anonymous said...

"A mere student." What Leiter had to say about that at the time is also relevant:

I must say that, at first, I was astonished by the "pity the poor student" response of some of VanDyke's defenders. Mr. VanDyke is in the elite of the elite of professional school students (foreign reader: remember that law is a post-graduate degree here, these are grown-ups, not adolescents), a member of the Harvard Law Review, who can, without a doubt, get any job at any prestigious law firm in the country that he wants. He chose to publish an incompetent book review in a prestigious, professional publication; in doing so, he entered the corridors of professional legal scholarship, and may be held accountable, accordingly. His book review was not prefaced by a disclaimer saying, "This review was written by a mere student, and therefore should not be thought reliable or accurate." If one purports to be a professional, one is in no position to complain about being assessed by professional standards.

Source: http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2004/03/the_denouement_.html

Spiros said...

If you have something to say about BL, take it somewhere else. This has gone on long enough.

Steven Crowell said...

Let me repeat what I posted on Leiter's blog after the resolution was passed at the SPEP business meeting: SPEP is a large and diverse organization, the vast majority of whose members do not show up at the business meeting to vote on resolutions. This is a serious problem of governance, but one cannot draw any conclusions about "SPEP membership's" support (or lack thereof) of the resolution from the fact of its passing. Nor can one draw any conclusions from whether SPEP members do or do not sign some on-line petition in the blogosphere. Some people, like me, just don't think that this is a very good venue for airing issues of importance or carrying on philosophical discussions (just look at the comments, above, about bullying, or whether there is or is not any "marginalization" in the profession). To say nothing of the fact that many SPEP members, and others, just don't even know about the petition. Bottom line: I was and am against all the resolutions that passed at the recent SPEP business meeting, but I don't feel that it is my professional responsibility to do penance for them. It is clear that this discussion has become an excuse to dump on SPEP as an organization, but remember: the "Pluralist" Guide is not, in fact, a SPEP organ (the Executive Committee had nothing to do with it), and the vote in support of it was passed by a tiny majority of SPEP's membership. The reasons why Leiter and others can employ synechdoche to label it the "SPEP Guide" are just as interesting to consider, philosophically, as is the fact that this or that SPEP member does or does not sign some on line petition.

Jon Cogburn said...

Open letter from Todd May resigning from the Pluralist Guide advisory board at http://www.newappsblog.com/2011/11/an-open-letter-from-prof-todd-may-on-the-climate-guide.html .

Word.

Anonymous said...

Good to see Todd is still on the anti-Leiter team! Nice hypocrisy there.

Jon Cogburn said...

Anon 10:15

I'm just not getting this. Where's the hypocrisy?

If he was on the "anti-Brian Leiter team" he would not have resigned. No?

Jon

Anonymous said...

He pronounces he's not on any "team" and then goes out of his way to say, "But don't worry I'm still on the anti-Leiter team." Really pretty funny.

Jon Cogburn said...

You are being ridiculously uncharitable, and in this context it is in fact quite ugly.

I should not have to say this, but here goes. May said what he did about the Critchley issue to demonstrate as clearly as possible that the dichotomy between Leiter vs. SPEP is a false one. One can hate the climate for women guide without supporting Brian's view of American Continental Philosophy, or the over the top things he's said about Derrida, Critchley, et. al. This is something that must be said to members of SPEP, who May rightly castigates for raising further the walls of our own ghetto.

I find your anonymous snark here to be entirely dispiriting.
As May makes clear in his contribution to the discussion following the newapps post, this is an important issue that could well have substantial negative impact on people's lives.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Jon.

Professor Leiter is fortunate to have a loyal (sycophantic) following (cult? posse?) which simply refuses--seemingly on principle--to take exception to anything he does, no matter how excessive, irresponsible, etc. Interestingly, these same people typically accuse Leiter's critics of being secret SPEP agents (kind of like Mossad, but trained by Critchley...). Unfortunately pro-PG/anti-Leiter/anti-PGR folks in SPEP have proven themselves to be just as obnoxious. This is precisely why more people like Professor May (and you, frankly) need to speak out often and loudly. The whole Leiter vs. SPEP thing is so f'ing juvenile. As Mark Lance says, "a pox on both their houses"! I'm sick of all of them.

Anonymous said...

Jon, this is an important issue (the damage the irresponsible Climate for Women report will do), and that's why it's a good thing Leiter called them on it straight away and forecefully. He called it out for the bullshit it was back in the summer. For Todd May to wake up in November and say, "Oh I don't want to be part of this" is a joke.

Anonymous said...

Word up, 8.39: It is, for the most part. That is why everything is so hard.