by Daniel A. Kaufman
Over the period in which I’ve been covering the frolics of philosophy’s Woke Brigade (PWB), I’ve tried to maintain an overall amused (and amusing) affect. These are, after all, very silly people behaving in very silly ways, and as I near the end of my time parenting a teenager, I’ve learned that when confronted with juvenile behavior, a humorous ribbing is usually more effective than a head-on collision. But there are actions so egregious, so malicious, so destructive that they cannot be dismissed as mere adolescent antics, and I’m afraid we have reached that point with the PWB. What they are doing now seriously threatens the professional credibility and public standing of our discipline, and anyone and everyone who cares about academic philosophy needs to oppose them in the strongest possible terms.
The latest shenanigans from the PWB involve the blog of the IAI (Institute of Arts and Ideas) and a symposium on sex and gender that was published there and which included contributions from a number of writers, representing different sides of the issue, specifically: Kathleen Stock; Holly Lawford-Smith; Julie Bindel; Robin Dembroff; Susan Stryker; and Rebecca Kukla. It was a useful, interesting clash of perspectives, civil in tone and offering a good overview of some of the major points of contention in the ongoing debate.
Today, you can only read the original symposium as a download. (1) This is because after being published, Dembroff, Stryker, and Kukla demanded that their contributions be retracted, to which the IAI acceded. If one goes to the website now, only the gender critical portions of the symposium remain – the pieces by Stock, Lawford-Smith, and Bindel – while the original offerings from Dembroff, Stryker, and Kukla have been replaced with a joint statement, appearing on a separate page, in which they attempt to explain themselves. (2)
The central complaint is that by including the contributions of Kukla and Co. alongside those of Stock, Lawford-Smith, and Bindel, the former have been subjected to a “non-consensual co-platforming,” by which they mean that they have been coerced into providing the three gender critical feminists with a platform. It is a strange objection. For one thing, it is IAI who provided the platform, not Kukla and Co. – which is why the gender critical feminists remain there, despite Kukla and Co. having evacuated – and for another, there is no such standard in our discipline, according to which when asked to contribute to something, one’s consent to appear alongside all the other contributors must be solicited, which in some cases may actually be impossible (e.g. where the contributor list is still being put together when the invitation is made or where a contributor may have to be replaced, mid-project, because another has dropped out). Early next year, a book on philosophies of life edited by Massimo Pigliucci, Skye Cleary, and me and including over a dozen contributors will be coming out on a major trade press. We did not ask our contributors whether they consented to being included in the volume alongside the others, nor was there (or should there have been) any expectation that we would.
Beyond this appeal to a wholly imaginary professional standard, the rest of the statement is standard PWB fare; the usual, foul mixture of: (a) garden variety misrepresentations and lies, such as when Kukla and Co. accuse the three gender critical contributors of “questioning transgender people’s fundamental legitimacy as people” and presupposing that “transgender people are by definition mentally ill or delusional” (a quick inspection of the three essays demonstrates that they do no such thing); (b) vile slanders, such as when Kukla and Co. suggest that platforming gender critical philosophers is akin to giving a platform to Holocaust deniers and compare Stock, Lawford-Smith, and Bindel, all of whom are lesbians, to those advocating “corrective rape to cure lesbianism”; and (c) the by now routine, cynical, disingenuous, obvious-to-anyone-over-six-years-old abuse of the harm principle, as in when Kukla and Co. claim that being featured on the same page as gender critical feminists puts their “basic safety at risk.” (Somewhat incongruously, Kukla elsewhere has professed to being a competitive weight lifter and boxer, with photos of her flexing her muscles and kicking ass to back it up. (3))
In a healthy institution or discipline, behavior like this would quickly turn you into a pariah, but academic philosophy today is not a healthy institution or discipline. It’s not just the ideologically captured APA, whose President co-authored the recent “Just Ideas? The Status and Future of Publication Ethics in Philosophy: A White Paper,” a transparent, cringeworthy effort to institutionalize the despicable conduct of the PWB in professional journals. Or Justin Weinberg’s seemingly inexhaustible commitment to use his philosophy news website, the Daily Nous, to shill on behalf of the PWB and perform hits on gender critical philosophers, by way of a selective posting of articles and links. (One can only admire the providential timing of his latest linking to a hit piece on gender critical thinkers and activists, over at Vox. (4)) It’s Sally Haslanger, one of philosophy’s most notable, venerable scholars using her position and prestige to pressure the highly respected Notre Dame Philosophy Reviews to “revisit their standards,” because they published a review written by Kathleen Stock, on a book about feminist ethics. It’s a herd of scholars, writing and signing a petition to get Rebecca Tuvel’s paper on transgenderism and transracialism removed from the journal, Hypatia, after it already had passed peer review and been published. It’s the PWB piling on 3AM Magazine for having dared to publish Richard Marshall’s interview with Holly Lawford-Smith and thereby driving him from the platform. (He’s had to re-open shop solo.) It’s Rachel McKinnon, of the College of Charleston, publicly celebrating the imminent death of a young, lesbian activist YouTuber from brain cancer and then doubling down when called on it. (5) And it’s the PWB’s next generation graduate students cyberstalking Kathleen Stock to compile a database of her tweets (for what purpose, one can only imagine) and being cheered on by one of the current PWB’s B-List members, Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa. (6)
Ours is becoming a sick, noxious discipline, in which a number of aspirant, philosopher tin-pot dictators try to intimidate and terrorize everyone else into permitting them to dominate our discipline’s institutions and mores. If allowed to continue in the manner they have pursued thus far, they will destroy the credibility of peer-review and publication in academic philosophy, which will compromise our standing within the University. And they will further alienate a general public, already turned off by the histrionic spectacles that so-called “progressive” campus activists have engaged in from Evergreen College to Middlebury College to Yale, in recent years.
We must all use whatever platforms we have to push back in the strongest possible terms; to reject no-platforming; to say a loud “No!” to smears and slanders; and to refuse to cooperate in what are now common and regular attacks on peoples’ jobs and other sources of livelihood. If we don’t, academic philosophy’s already tenuous position within the academy and reputation with the broader public will become a proverbial countdown to extinction.
102 responses to “Philosophy’s Aspirant Tin-Pot Dictators”
The original article is here:
I prefer your first analogy, that of teenagers, to your second one, that of dictators, since I do have some firsthand experience with dictators.
It’s like the worst aspects of high school, the “in” cliques, the psychological bullying, the way people who don’t fit in are excluded, insulted and treated like heretics, the sense of superiority because one is a member of the “in” group even though outside the microcosm of that one high school that “in” group counts for nothing at all, the willful cruelty towards anyone who is overly bright overly sensitive and above all, overly autonomous.
In my experience, most people never really grow out of high school. They never mature beyond the age of 17 or 18: they just get older and older. They resent people who have matured beyond that age, because they sense that they are never going to reach that level of autonomy and that there is something valuable in reaching that level of autonomy and so they wage war against autonomous individuals, just as they did back in high school.
I did say “aspirant.” And some of the stuff they are doing now goes way beyond adolescent antics.
I wouldn’t call the worst of high school “antics”. The “in” cliques seriously tried to destroy people who did not fit in and did not submit.
Not their livelihoods.
I’m not claiming that what is occurring in philosophy is not serious, simply that when I look for an analogy, it’s high school (your first analogy too), not a dictator. The dictator whom I know best, Pinochet, functioned in a totally other way: he was pure power, without checks and balances, Machiavellian, while here we have the social pressure games, the tactics of social exclusion, the hypocrisy, the group-think, etc., that I recall from high school.
The choice was partly for purely literary reasons (don’t want to use the same metaphors over and over again). And I thought by the modifier “Tin-Pot” and the picture from The Producers, I would communicate that these were not aspirant-Dictators in the serious sense. But your point is well-taken.
PWB == Philosophy’s Woke Bullies
Bullying is an ever present phenomenon and I have noted that every forum/venue/organisation, without exception, has its bully or bullies. Its expression can vary from the overt to the subtle. It can lie dormant and then flare up when suitable targets present themselves. Bullies are always scanning their environment looking for suitable opportunities or targets.
What you describe is the convergence of bullies, a wolf-pack of bullies(WPB). Of all the forms of moral malfeasance I consider bullying to be the most despicable because of the express delight it takes in causing pain, psychological, emotional or physical. It can cause severe harm and result in suicide. Bullies are shrewd, manipulative people who often have an uncanny instinct for exploitable weaknesses. They never show concern or compassion, they are never conciliatory and are invariably intolerant of other views. Reaching out to a bully in a conciliatory way is always seen by the bully as an exhibition of exploitable weakness. They lack the ability to sincerely consider the perspectives of other people. They believe in their superiority, need to demonstrate their superiority but do so in defective ways because they lack natural aptitude.
What I have noted again and again is that bullies need an enabling environment and that is frequently overlooked when we condemn the bullies. It can be group think that isolates individuals, weakening them and making them likely targets for the bullies. It requires the subtle or tacit approval of power or authority figures to give bullies the space to operate and their complicity is seldom taken into account.
Here is an interesting article about the subject and it illustrates the complexity of the phenomenon.
(Understanding the Psychology of Bullying)
If you have ever watched predators in action against herds of ungulates in the savannas you will have seen the perfect and natural expression of bullying. They will run close to the herd searching for weaklings. When they identify one they will start harrying it and try to separate it from the herd. When that happens they will harry it with greater intensity until it is fatally weakened and then close in mercilessly for the kill. We used to operate in the same way when we practised persistence hunting but that skill in a dense, cooperative society is no longer useful. Bullies are the vestigial remnants of outdated and irrelevant skills. But they remain dangerous.
Modern Philosophy has been a dead letter sport for centuries. Unless you have read and understood the 6 books of Proclus on the Theology of Plato you dont have the right to call yourselves Philosophers. What have any of you added to Philosophy that hasn’t already been done? You all only have OPINIONS. Not one of you are deserving of the title Philosopher. You are merely self-serving, entitled commentators. Shame on you.
“Ours is becoming a sick, noxious discipline”
Yes, but that was already apparent a long time ago when militant atheist extremism took hold. Then it was applauded because of the approved target. You should have foreseen then that this manner of thinking would soon be extended to other targets.
“If allowed to continue in the manner they have pursued thus far, they will destroy the credibility of peer-review and publication in academic philosophy, which will compromise our standing within the University.”
Yes, but too late, and it affects far more than philosophy.
Charles Freeman coined the phrase, the closing of the Western mind, to describe what happened in the fourth to sixth centries, except that this is happening in the present century and not the fourth to sixth centuries.
The Western mind is closing. I call it fascist liberalism. And the fascist bullies are out in force to effect the closure.
But what really is happening? The success of science and the spread of scientific thinking has subtly altered our perceptions of truth. At one time truth was a slippery concept, coloured with nuance and context dependent, subject to debate. Human beings were recognised as unfathomably complex beings that could not be reduced to the simplicity of scientific certainty. But that has changed. With the success of science has come an intuitive assumption that the world can be characterised by ascertainable truths.
But this intuitive assumption brings with it a corollary. If truths are determinable and known, untruths cannot be permitted. They are falsehoods and must be suppressed. Debate about the validity of falsehoods simply cannot be permitted. It is a waste of energy and resources and may sow the seeds of doubt where none should exist.
Given all this, if you are one of the lucky few to possess these deep insights to inalienable truths, then you have the duty to use your insights to suppress falsehoods. Just as we suppress pseudo-science we should suppress all other false modes of thinking. After all we would never co-platform anti-vaxxers at a medical conference.
This mode of thinking I have just described is the natural end point of scientism which has become the default mode of viewing our world. And for those of you who are natural bullies this is a most welcome development. You are going to have a field day. We need you to enforce the new orthodoxy.
I recently read an interview with Robin Dembroff. The biographical stuff included a religious upbringing in a small town evangelical family. It made wonder how much of this kind of thing infuses American attitudes. Gender Identity makes a lot more sense in this light. It is not a normal academic concept, one that is open to criticism and discussion. It is more of a theological concept, one that must be assumed on faith in order to make a particular ideological position work out.
Likewise, the hatred of gender-critical feminists can more easily be understood as the hatred of a heresy. This is why they are attacked so ruthlessly while many other academics, especially male ones are just ignored. Furthermore, the language used when any criticism of Gender Identity is encountered always makes it sound as if the criticism is blasphemous for no other reason that it is a criticism. Finally, the constant appeal to the ‘literature’ begins to make sense when you interpret this as meaning Scripture. This is why demands to cite sources and provide links to this literature are never met. How do you cite Scripture?
“It’s Rachel McKinnon, of the College of Charleston, publicly celebrating the imminent death of a young, lesbian activist YouTuber from brain cancer and then doubling down when called on it. ”
That is truly obnoxious behaviour. It is also precisely the type of behaviour we expect from bullies. It is the typical callous-unemotional trait of the bully.
From “All Bullies are Narcissists”
This describes McKinnon rather well.
McKinnon is, to a high degree, shame prone and he tries to displace his shame when he “makes himself a winner at your expense, forcing you to become the shame-ridden loser.” The ultimate form of winning is to gloat at someone else’s death. Another way he does this is to compete against women.
From The Psychology of the Workplace Bully
To repeat part of the earlier quote
It is worth remembering this because it is a good test for the online bully.
“We must all use whatever platforms we have to push back in the strongest possible terms;”
Yes. And part of that is to identify the true, underlying process, as I have tried to do, thus strip away the pretences they use to disguise their behaviour.
McKinnon’s behaviour is more than obnoxious. My dress sense is obnoxious, but what she did is cruelty of the worst kind. If she is happy that this young woman died such an excruciating death at such a young age, and proudly so, then it’s hard to see this as anything but her declaring that a fit punishment for her alleged bigotry. This is a deeply disturbing attitude.
As for the comparison between woke philosophers and militant atheists, as far as I know the most prominent new atheists were mostly vigorous defenders of liberal speech values, even if they were hypocrites at times. Whereas this woke lot have quite obvious contempt for those values.
“Beyond this appeal to a wholly imaginary professional standard […] (b) vile slanders, such as when Kukla and Co. suggest that platforming gender critical philosophers is akin to giving a platform to Holocaust deniers
I think I understand the three’s retraction but find some of the characterizations and comparisons (like the above) used in their statement unproductive and would have benefited from a good editing and deescalation.
I think their main objection was that to appear, in that context, along side the gender critical feminists would in effect be validating more, what they understand those views to include, than they consider acceptable.
That would be an equally weird position for a philosopher to take.
I know you don’t like hearing this, but, again, this all started when the advocates of ‘marriage equality’ were hellbent on slandering their opponents as the moral equivalent of racists by lumping them in with the supporters of the anti-miscegenation laws. It’s all from the same playbook. You don’t support the re-definition of marriage? You’re as bigoted as a racist or a Nazi. You don’t support the re-definition of man- and womanhood? Well, same thing, then,
Tell me more about why you think it’s weird Dan? Here’s why I ask:
Dembroff, Kukla, and Stryker see the work of gender-critical feminists as on the same moral and scholarly level as Holocaust deniers. Now, this itself may be the weird thing, but if you had that view of gender-critical feminists, then why would it be weird to object to being hosted on the same platform as them? You just may not want to be around such noxious people.
Of course, even if it’s not weird, it may still be pointless. If you don’t share a stage with them, the deniers say you’re afraid. If you do share the stage, the deniers say this show they’re legitimate. Since the deniers will claim victory either way, my thinking is that if you do your best to refute their views, this is the most helpful thing you can do. What do you think, Dan — do you think it’s weird to refuse to publicly debate a Holocaust denier?
“but what she did is cruelty of the worst kind”
Yes, and this is typical of bullies. Bullies have callous-unemotional traits and have psychopathic tendencies. They also have anti-social personality traits but despite this tend to have higher social intelligence. This higher social intelligence allows them to accurately gauge when and how their bullying tactics will succeed. In this sense they are really quite cunning.
The key thing to remember is their underlying sense of shame about feelings of inadequacy. They attack the weak in order to demonstrate a sense of superiority which matches their self image and therefore will erase their shame about their feelings of inadequacy.
They accurately gauge membership of the herd and rightly conclude the members at its margins will not attract much support. And so they target these perceived weaklings. A dying member of the herd is regarded as disposable and so makes a good target.
It is a truly vicious form of conduct. Bullies can be found everywhere in all communities because it is a condition that is orthogonal to ideologies. But good communities will unite to expel the bullies. What is exceptional in this case is that the community in question has welcomed the bullies.
I think the invocation of Holocaust denial is illegitimate. And if the three really think this, their understanding/mores are seriously impaired.
But I don’t think they really do. Rather, it’s one of a number of dirty tactics in their toolbox.
“I think their main objection was that to appear, in that context, along side the gender critical feminists would in effect be validating more, what they understand those views to include, than they consider acceptable.”
You have tried to see the problem from their point of view and I commend you for that.
The counter-argument is that, if you have a good well argued position, you should welcome its placing in juxtaposition with those of your opponents. Because in that way others will immediately see that your arguments are superior to those of your opponents.
“Tell me more about why you think it’s weird Dan? Here’s why I ask:”
If you have a good, well reasoned position your arguments should be juxtaposed with those of your opponents because the strength of your arguments will immediately expose the weakness of your opponent’s arguments.
“Dembroff, Kukla, and Stryker see the work of gender-critical feminists as on the same moral and scholarly level as Holocaust deniers.”
Is that really true or is that dishonest and hyperbolic rhetoric used to put your interlocutor offside?
The comparison between Holocaust Denial and Gender Critical Feminism is inapt. The former can be answered and refuted whereas the latter cannot.
The latter. If the former, then they are too stupid/ignorant to be professors.
welcome to community.
Please introduce yourself. It will help if you tell us where you stand on some major issues in philosophy. Your cryptic reference to Proclus is intriguing. I will follow up on that.
That’s the counter-argument, but I think you’re being too optimistic when you write, “if you have a good well argued position, you should welcome its placing in juxtaposition with those of your opponents. Because in that way others will immediately see that your arguments are superior to those of your opponents.”
Why think that people will be able to see which argument is superior? Do you think that people are much moved by arguments? Obviously some people are, but I would bet that the vast majority are rarely moved by arguments when it comes to issues central to their identity, or when the argument comes from someone they don’t think is on their side.
Case in point: for decades, the Republican party was firmly in favor of free trade, but when Trump becomes their standard-bearer, people like Rush Limbaugh and Stephen Moore, for whom free trade was one of their signature positions, very quickly switch to a protectionist position. There are two explanations for this: (1) Moore and Limbaugh believed in free trade because the people they trusted were free traders, but when they people they trusted became protectionists, they became protectionists too; (2) Moore and Limbaugh believed in free trade on the basis of arguments, but when the people they trusted (as opposed to, say, union leaders) offered protectionist arguments, they began to find those arguments more compelling.
I think both may be true to some extent (though perhaps lust for power also plays a significant role in both fellows’ thinking). I think most people don’t really follow arguments for positions very closely. Instead, they find leaders whom they think are on their side. Then they believe what those leaders think. If the leaders do a 180, then the people will too, for a very simple reason: “these things are really hard for me to understand, so I’ll just trust what this leader says, since he’s really good at understanding it.” And that makes a lot of sense if you’re someone who’s not very good with argumentation.
I think they really think it. If you’re in a bubble with highly intelligent, very radical people, it’s easy to get even more radicalized.
I guess. All the more reason why these people should not be able to dictate our profession’s mores.
I think that IAI were too labile in acceding to the demand to retract/redact. When you use a forum and you know that your offerings are going to be published then there is an implicit contract. Folding before the extremists is an indication of how ‘the best lack all conviction’. This reminds me of the Richard Swinburne debacle when he was left out in the cold by the Society of Christian Philosophers for expressing what is a mainstream view for the majority of Christians. Pusillanimity rules and it is contagious.
I agree. What the IAI did was terrible.
I know dozens of people who have lost their jobs to this madness, including myself. Three lawyers, one nurse, two teachers… I also know more than one person who has had to leave the state, and one who had to leave the country due to serious harassment. This is beyond high school cliques. This is seriously impacting people’s survival. Please take this seriously. Please stand with us.
“Why think that people will be able to see which argument is superior? Do you think that people are much moved by arguments? Obviously some people are, but I would bet that the vast majority are rarely moved by arguments ”
Ha! You have brought up a large and important subject.
1) We are not talking about the vast majority of ordinary people. We are instead talking about a narrow circle of people who are accustomed to carefully and critically examining other people’s arguments.
2) We should not assume homogeneity in the audience. The audience consists partially of partisans for and partially of partisans against a position. They are motivated by confirmation bias when they read the papers and so are unlikely to change their position. But there tends to be a larger body in the audience who are open to reasonable persuasion. This quiet majority are usually invisible so we tend to discount them. But they are the people we are really speaking to.
3) No one instantly changes their mind in response to reasonable arguments. It is a gradual process in response to a body of arguments from many sources over a period of time as they incrementally adjust their worldview.
4) One person can’t push a crowd. Instead a crowd begins to inch in a certain direction, perhaps chaotically, as consensus spreads through the crowd from person to person.
5) I have found again and again the clarity matters. Clearly and simply stated arguments are surprisingly effective although the recipients will seldom admit it as they slowly begin to adjust their position.
6) We dare not proceed as though reasonable arguments do not matter because in that direction lies chaos.
“The counter-argument is that, if you have a good well argued position, you should welcome its placing in juxtaposition with those of your opponents. Because in that way others will immediately see that your arguments are superior to those of your opponents.”
As Robert said often better arguments aren’t recognized as such. Especially with complex subjects, it can also be tiresome to have to respond to the same arguments over and over, and I gather they feel that at least most of the arguments have been addressed satisfactorily or in a more productive manner in academic settings and peer reviewed journals.
There’s also the issue of validating GCF* positions by appearing along side them, and IAI’s framing of the article as a debate between sides which I have the impression wasn’t the way things were presented to them when they submitted their contributions under the subject matter of “How Can Philosophy Help Us Understand Transgender Experiences?”
Dan I get the impression anyone might have objected if the framing of their contributions changed once they had submitted them. I’ll elaborate in another comment.
Marc, as I said in the essay, this is not how invitations to contribute work
“There’s also the issue of validating GCF* positions by appearing along side them”
Arguing against a position does not mean validating that position. It means the opposite. And ignoring a position does not make it go away, but it does make one look rather petty. When supporters of a certain position adopt child-like petulance they look childish and they do their own cause harm.
There’s also the issue of validating GCF* positions by appearing along side them.
= = = =
By this logic, one should never appear in any forum with anyone with whom one disagrees in any serious sense.
It seems to me like you are going to pretty extraordinary lengths to justify what seems pretty transparently unprofessional (and unethical) behavior, in a social environment that is already so fraught it is producing terrible effects. Why?
If you’re in a position of social weakness, you’ll want people to debate with you. You have nothing to lose.
If you’re in a position of social strength, you won’t want debate. You have nothing to gain.
Dembroff et al are in a position of social strength. You can bet that if they were socially weak, they would invoke liberal principles.
It’s like the use of pronouns: trans-rights advocates used to say, and still say, that if you identify as, say, female, then others should call you by your preferred pronouns. It’s a matter of simple respect. Now, Dembroff argues that, no matter what anyone wants, everyone should be called “they” or “them”—it’s needed for trans-liberation.
I think Robin Dembroff, Rebecca Kukla, and Susan Stryker retracted their submissions once they realized the intended framing of the article had shifted away from contributions on the topic “How Can Philosophy Help Us Understand Transgender Experiences?” which they felt positive, towards a “debate”, that can apparently be divide into sides, equal or not, which I assume they felt was counter productive and gave some views more legitimacy than they though they deserved.
Without using the inflammatory holocaust denial analogy I think it’s possible to understand their position, and so even if one doesn’t approve of it.
When first published the editorial introduction framed the contributions as “sides in a debate”:
“We ask philosophers on all **sides of the debate**”
“The current transgender debate polarizes Western societies like no other. Most strikingly, it divides some of the most vulnerable minorities – radical feminists and lesbian rights activists, and transgender activists. The Institute of Art and Ideas values dialogue and plurality. That is why we asked a range of thinkers, on different **sides of the debate**, to express their views on what philosophy needs to do to help us all better understand the transgender experience.”
And IAI has since (rightly I think) removed those references:
I’m sure in some situations that is the case but I expect there are limits to what someone can do with a contribution, possibly legal agreements or implied agreements verbal or otherwise, or it might just be done after the fact through mutual agreement.
Wow, I really disagree with you on this. I think the IAI should have left it as it originally was, and I don’t think Kukla and Co. have a leg to stand on.
“Arguing against a position does not mean validating that position.”
As far as I can tell they weren’t expecting a debate and felt that the contributions being presented as arguments between sides provide a space for GCF to expose their views which wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
And that is exactly what philosophers shouldn’t be about.
“By this logic, one should never appear in any forum with anyone with whom one disagrees in any serious sense.”
No, when I say the issue of validating GCF I’m referring to the idea that maybe in this case they didn’t expect nor wish to enter into a debate with them. I believe the framing has an effect. Whether they are right to worry about it here is not what I’m trying to point out.
“It seems to me like you are going to pretty extraordinary lengths to justify what seems pretty transparently unprofessional (and unethical) behavior, in a social environment that is already so fraught it is producing terrible effects. Why?”
Because I don’t see it as pretty transparently unprofessional (and unethical) behavior, or going to extraordinary lengths, anymore than others taking part in the conversation.
The point of the exercise is part of an ongoing effort to intimidate and shame institutions into no-platform gender critical thinkers. I’m surprised you don’t see that.
Interesting hypothesis about public decision-making, but it doesn’t cohere well with the retraction statement, which includes:
“We each accepted the invitation because we are philosophers and/or gender theorists who work on this topic and are committed to public scholarship.”
Why commit to public scholarship if there is no hope for rational persuasion in public contexts?
Of course, one could think that rational persuasion is possible but not appropriate in a particular case, as the statement continues:
“There are limits to civil and intellectual discourse…”
This seems to be the nub of the claim: that the GCFs refuse to engage in rational discourse so that they, presumably, fail to merit rational engagement in response. But since people may reason badly or be misinformed for good faith reasons, thereby deserving rational engagement, the assumption here must be that the arguments of the GCFs are in bad faith, intended merely to cause pain. As an outsider, I must admit that that doesn’t seem to be the case – expressing delight in someone’s death from cancer is a rather different story – but the point is that there are accomplished professionals on both sides of an acrimonious divide, so what is needed is *more* rational engagement, not less. The retraction is, effectively, a call for the latter.
It is probably obvious, but from my perspective there is only one way forward: an unwavering commitment to freedom of speech and rational engagement from all sides, from start to finish. As things are currently moving, the philosophy profession, and academia more broadly, looks to be well on its way to civil war.
“If you’re in a position of social weakness, you’ll want people to debate with you. You have nothing to lose.”
You have everything to lose. You may lose the argument and weaken your social position even further. If you are in a weak position debate is a risky proposition.
“If you’re in a position of social strength, you won’t want debate. You have nothing to gain.”
You have everything to gain. You can consolidate your social position by buttressing it with good arguments. And you win points for good behaviour. And your opponents become even weaker. It sounds like a win-win proposition.
Robert, you mounted a valiant defence but it just doesn’t work.
The truth of the matter is that they are engaged in some nasty political jostling because that is the kind of people they are. In their eagerness for a moment’s nasty gain they failed to correctly calculate the odds, as I have tried to outline above.
I suspect they understand that their social position is precarious because GCF comes from a position of hard won respect. I think they also fear the strength of GCF arguments. Consequently it is expedient to avoid debate.
But most of all I am astounded by the lack of wisdom evidenced by them, in a profession that ostensibly worships wisdom.
“The point of the exercise is part of an ongoing effort to intimidate and shame institutions into no-platform gender critical thinkers.”
Yes, that is exactly what is going on.
This form of behaviour has far reaching implications. Political methods are being validated as a means of dealing with the arguments of opponents and this has disastrous implications for the future of free debate.
“If you’re in a position of social weakness, you’ll want people to debate with you. You have nothing to lose.
If you’re in a position of social strength, you won’t want debate. You have nothing to gain.
Dembroff et al are in a position of social strength. You can bet that if they were socially weak, they would invoke liberal principles. ” (quote from Professor Gressis)
Thaf sums up what’s going on.
No problem, I’m basing my ideas on the original agreement which we can only guess at.
“And that is exactly what philosophers shouldn’t be about.”
I don’t think we can make it a general rule that will apply to all situations in all contexts. What I think we’re disagreeing about is whether or not we can reasonably judge this situation that way.
Well, that’s what brings us back to the Holocaust and “lesbian corrective rape” remarks. Which simply make the trio look even worse.
There’s no way to parse this, on which the three are not behaving terribly. Really. And when you examine their behavior in other related contexts — Kukla’s vulgar denunciations of octogenarian Richard Swinburne for saying Christian things at a Christian context — this most recent episode is revealed to be just one part in an ongoing pattern of unprofessional and unethical behavior in our discipline.
“The Institute of Art and Ideas values dialogue and plurality. That is why we asked a range of thinkers, on different **sides of the debate**, to express their views on what philosophy needs to do to help us all better understand the transgender experience”
I fail to see anything wrong with this goal. In fact it seems like a jolly good idea. And it goes to the heart of good philosophy, to entertain a range of ideas and examining them from different perspectives, testing them against each other.
At the heart of the debate lies a simple, four part claim:
In this way certain claims have been made untouchable by elevating them beyond the reach of rational argument.
Is this permissible?
They are borrowing the feminine experience of harm and are expropriating that to cover themselves.
Is that permissible?
Life has always been robust. We jostle each other, digging our elbows in each other, literally, verbally and figuratively. We endure bullying, gossip, disloyalty and other forms of harm. In the process we become resilient, tolerant and forgiving.
Yes, there are some forms of harm that are intolerable and that is why we have a criminal code. However the minor forms of harm fly under the radar of the criminal code and we deal with it using a variety of societal measures.
That is until now.
Are we losing an essential part of the experience of being human, our robust resilience?
“New Atheists” don’t take a backseat to anyone when it comes to toxicity with their weaponized “Free Speech” cant.
It is difficult to have much sympathy with the feminists when the transactivists are simply subjecting them to the very same tactics which feminists developed to suppress any critical discussion of feminist dogmas and to the very same hate mobbing which the feminists do to men.
The main difference is that philosophers in the marriage equality camp were usually willing to debate their opponents. There might have been some slander, but there was also real debate. That’s not the case when it comes to trans issues. It’s one of the most fascinating aspects of this whole saga and probably the main reason I keep following it. The most prominent critics of GC feminism, including some very big names in academic philosophy, largely refuse to engage in sincere debate. Why is that? What are they afraid of? I think they know they would lose an honest debate and are just looking for ways to silence their opponents. It’s very sad to watch. Academic philosophy is in a bad place, as is the American left more generally.
“Well, that’s what brings us back to the Holocaust and “lesbian corrective rape” remarks. Which simply make the trio look even worse.”
Rereading the retraction I more or less follow their points, some I agree with and some I can consider but I’m not sure where I stand. But on the points you mention it’s another matter, on the holocaust denial analogy I’m actually less concerned about it now, but I still find it doesn’t help their argument, even works against it, and I wish they had used a less charged analogy.
But the corrective rape remark I find seriously out of place and inappropriate, especially considering the concern for others the three express in their retraction, and I’m surprised the remark didn’t jump out at me more the first time around.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with debate. We don’t know the original agreement between the three and IAI but if the framing was changed I think it’s their right to pull out if they feel the original agreement was not respected, we can speculate but we don’t know either way.
“The point of the exercise is part of an ongoing effort to intimidate and shame institutions into no-platform gender critical thinkers. I’m surprised you don’t see that. ”
Whether concerted or not, I don’t agree with the use of tactics like that.
Well, true to some extent, but the claim about ‘marriage equality’ that prevailed and was accepted by the courts (see, for example, Windsor) was the claim that the only reason to define marriage heterosexually is to demean and oppress gays. This is a demonstrably false claim. Sparta, for instance, defined marriage heterosexually but instead of demeaning homosexuality celebrated it and even mandated it in the military. The claim even goes against the reasoning of earlier rulings, like Baehr, in which the court allowed for the possibility of heterosexual same-sex “marriages”. If same-sex “marriage” can be either homosexual or heterosexual, then opposition to its civil recognition cannot be explained by an anti-gay animus. Yet, this claim that if you oppose the recognition of same-sex “marriage”, you are a homophobic bigot is now enshrined in our jurisprudence. Furthermore, Obergefell actually cites Loving as a precedent, thereby cementing the libel that those who oppose the civil recognition of same-sex ‘marriage’ are as bigoted as the racists who supported the anti-miscegenation laws. The analogy between the actual prohibition and criminalization of interracial marriage and the non-recognition of same-sex ‘marriage’ is simply laughable, but the advocates of ‘marriage equality’ used it all the time to smear their opponents and shame them into silence. It was one of THE central talking points of the ‘marriage equality’ movement, and now this demonstrable libel, too, is enshrined in our jurisprudence.
“We don’t know the original agreement between the three and IAI but if the framing was changed I think it’s their right to pull out if they feel the original agreement was not respected”
Invitations are normally made in writing and the parameters are spelled out carefully. If not there will be clarification queries.
So where is the record? If Kukla, etc. had such a record I would expect them to produce it in support of their actions.
On reading their retraction letter what is striking is that only one sentence is devoted to their “re-framing” objection. The overwhelming majority of the content expresses their objections to appearing on the same platform as gender critical feminists. It is readily apparent that this is the real issue.
They claim to support public scholarship but seek to suppress the public scholarship of their opponents by denying them an opportunity for a genuine debate. This is a deeply hypocritical stance.
There’s a casteist pollution element about not sharing a platform with untouchables. It’s the obnoxious end of the same stick of twitchiness about interlocutors not being epistemic peers. Who should I talk to? Upon whom should I confer the blessing of my invaluable discourse? Let every day be a Commination Day. My favourite and apposite in the present IAI retraction: Cursed is he that removeth his neighbour’s land-mark. To extend the metaphor, here the attempt is to enclose the commons and drive off the rebarbative peasants.
I am surprised by people employing the red herring of Holocaust Denial. Apart from the fact that thinking that asserting that biological sex exists is somehow similar to Holocaust denial displays a seriously unhinged view of the world, academics have never been shy of attacking ideas that they view as pernicious and wrong. Holocaust denial, evolution denial, climate denial, vaccination denial; All of these see large numbers of academics engaging with the skeptics, and debating and discussing these topics at most opportunities. Jerry Coyne recently took David Gelernter to task for the latter’s ignorant view on evolution. Did he do it by labeling Gelenter as a Holocaust denier, refusing to engage with him or his ideas, or have a hissy fit about him not being familiar with the ‘Literature’. No he explicitly makes sure to engage his ideas head on with the statement:
‘So when well-known Yale professor and computer scientist David Gelernter rejected Darwinian evolution in his recent essay, ‘Giving Up Darwin,’ we can’t dismiss him simply because he’s not a biologist.’
Therefore the intellectual cowardice of the Gender Identity academics has absolutely nothing to do with the fear of hurting trans people, or validating someone’s ugly views. It is because the know that Gender Identity is a regressive form biological essentialism that would be laughed out of any serious discussion if it was subjected to intelligent criticism. This is why even in trans-friendly and heavily woke media, you still do not get any discussion allowed of the concept. This is why they are trying to achieve their policy aims via stealth. This is why they try to frame all discussions as helping people with gender dysphoria, instead of talking about translesbianism, multiple genders, and so on.
It’s also why I think they carry the seeds of their own destruction. The public is certainly very sympathetic when you frame it in terms of traditional trans people suffering. But you can only keep people ignorant for so long. As more and more consequences of Gender Identity become apparent, the public is going to realise that there is something else going on here. The ensuing ridicule with completely eradicate the concept.
“‘So when well-known Yale professor and computer scientist David Gelernter rejected Darwinian evolution in his recent essay, ‘Giving Up Darwin,’ we can’t dismiss him simply because he’s not a biologist.’”
I admire David Gelernter for his courage in challenging this powerful orthodoxy. Of course orthodoxies should be questioned, re-examined and challenged. This is how we make progress, by re-examining what we know, searching for their weaknesses and finding new ways to further develop the subject. Questioning minds like his are our most valuable asset. We should not stifle them but encourage them to roam freely. Sometimes they will roam over sensitive territory. So be it.
Of course Jerry Coyne would vent his outspoken opinions about this. He is an ardent anti-religionist completely obsessed with the subject. He seems to think that evolution has dealt religion a knock-out blow. In fact the reverse is true. Evolution is a supporting argument for religion and his obsession is so great that he is unable to see this.
The argument is simple enough. If a creator God exists then he necessarily created the laws of nature. And therefore God’s intent and modus operandi can be discerned by examining the laws of nature. And therefore evolution is the means that God chose to develop life forms. In the beauty of life and the beauty of evolution we can discern the beauty of God’s mind.
And so evolution cannot possibly be used as an argument against God’s existence. Jerry Coyne has based his entire raison d’etre on a false conception of religion.
Is David Gelernter correct? I don’t know and have no way of finding out. But it doesn’t matter from a theist’s point of view. A creator God would necessarily work through the laws of nature, having created them, and therefore we will ultimately find a ‘natural’ explanation. In this case a ‘natural’ explanation would mean in accordance with the laws of nature. Why else would a creator God create the laws of nature?
I don’t think what’s going on is scientism. Most of the people you decry are, in fact, quite skeptical of scientific knowledge, in that they see it as almost inextricably bound up with racist and sexist assumptions. Here’s a representative passage from Jason Stanley’s book, _How Propaganda Works_:
“During my entire adult life in the United States, scientific ‘experts,’ from medical doctors to ‘expert’ police interrogators, have packaged racial bias as objective fact.” (xv)
The basic idea is this: America is a racist, sexist culture; scientists who work in America cannot help but to imbibe this culture’s assumptions; these assumptions affect their work; therefore, their work is racist and sexist (especially when it comes to issues directly relating to race and sex, but almost certainly when it comes to other issues too).
Now, perhaps scientism led to this certainty, and then they kicked the ladder away, but I see bouts of such certainty all throughout world history (not that I have great historical knowledge).
I’m struck by how juvenile this all sounds.
“Invitations are normally made in writing and the parameters are spelled out carefully. If not there will be clarification queries”
Possibly, there’s of lot of possibilities on how the situation ended up as it did, but maybe the parties where satisfied with the current arrangement. I don’t feel anyone needs to justify themselves more.
“On reading their retraction letter what is striking is that only one sentence is devoted to their “re-framing” objection. The overwhelming majority of the content expresses their objections to appearing on the same platform as gender critical feminists. It is readily apparent that this is the real issue.”
That’s not how I read it, the first paragraph is on the re-framing into a debate and the bulk of the second paragraph seems to me an explanation of why they feel the debate framing moved them into into an area they didn’t agree to participate in, one of the main reasons being the co-platform issues that are implied, especially in light of how some contributors chose to answer the question of “Help Us Understand Transgender Experiences”.
So I’m not seeing anything hypocritical about what happened.
It’s both unethical and unprofessional.
IAI solicited essays on the subject and the participants agreed.
There is no such standard in our discipline — or any other — according to which one must solicit the approval of contributors to appear alongside other contributors. It doesn’t exist.
By doing what they did, they not only slandered three lesbian feminists, they further damaged the integrity of philosophy’s already fragile institutions. And one of them — Kukla — is a repeat offender, having been involved in the Tuvel fiasco.
At this point, you’re engaged in special pleading, though I’m not sure why. These are pretty repellent characters who are doing a lot of damage to philosophy.
“There is no such standard in our discipline — or any other — according to which one must solicit the approval of contributors to appear alongside other contributors. It doesn’t exist.”
That’s not what I’m saying, and I’m not seeing where anyone else is saying it.
“At this point, you’re engaged in special pleading”
I don’t think so, I know you’re reading of whats going on here and else where is different than mine, but if there are points I find problematic I think I acknowledge them.
I propose just one question, given the following: the academy is being gutted, warped from the inside from corporatism and profit seeking. More and more professors are being paid poverty level wages (with no academic freedom whatsoever), more and more programs are being deemed nonprofitable and being shuttered, students are more and more being trained to view education merely as a means to get a job and to devalue any “impractical” knowledge, standards are dropping in order to satisfy the customer (even rules against plagiarism are starting to slip). Given all that my question is the following:
Are “woke” students really the most pressing concern academia is facing right now?
Of course they said it, when they said they were coerced into “involuntary co platforming.” That implies they should have a say in who else appears. Furthermore it wasnt a debate. It was six freestanding pieces.
Not mutually exclusive. And I have written about the other problems at some length.
And we are not talking about students here, but rather, professors, some of them very influential.
“Of course they said it, when they said they were coerced into “involuntary co platforming.”
I’m not reading it that way.
“Furthermore it wasn’t a debate. It was six freestanding pieces.”
Not in the usual sense, I agree. IAI presented the texts as contributions from the different “sides in a debate”.
Lets agree to disagree on this for now. I’m not sure I can add anything more that will help our understanding and you’ve made a lot of good points.
Yes if course. I shouldn’t badger you. My apologies.
So, Myles Power debates the Holocaust deniers point by point. That must mean–if we accept the logic of Dembroff, Kukla, and Stryker–that Mr. Power thinks Holocaust Denial is a legitimate, respectable position. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PyoMvdLFd_I
IAI has allowed Holly Lawford-Smith to provide a statement, its quite good.
Bunsen thanks for that link.
What Holly Lawford-Smith says is powerful stuff
But she responds in such a reasonable way:
I am heartened that there still reasonable, decent people in play.
I loved this little dig from Holly Lawford Smith
I couldn’t tell whether the two female people were supposed to be Kukla and Dembroff (on the grounds that Stryker is a transwoman, and so is a male person) or were supposed to be Kukla and Stryker (on the grounds that Dembroff uses “they/their” rather than “she/her” to as their preferred pronoun).
I didn’t care enough to ask for a clarification. I think all three of them are flat out nutters.
After looking into this Kukla character I am now convinced that in order to save philosophy from this ideological attack, we need a moratorium on hiring professors with hair dyed unnatural colours.
“I think all three of them are flat out nutters.”
Oh my gosh, I have just snorted my red wine, (cough, cough, splutter, splutter) as I absorbed your possibly unintended double entendre. This is pure genius.
Completely unintended. Lol.
All good Muslims are quietly chuckling with glee at this inevitable descent of effeminate Western culture into insanity. They would tell us that the burka would solve all problems of this sort. After all no ‘man’ would willingly make such a transition.
and we wouldn’t care about those who did since they would be safely hidden away beneath the burka.
Stepping back for a moment to look at the larger picture. The last few hundred years have been concerned with extending freedoms to individuals: freedom of movement, freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of opportunity, freedom to choose our identity, etc. The result is what we call the liberal society. This process, if taken to its logical extreme, gives us the ultimate freedom to defy reality and choose unreality. This is evidenced in things like our fascination with gaming and role playing. We see this especially in our growing absorption with the artificial narratives fed to us by the media world. Essentially they allow us to inhabit other worlds of our choosing. We have finally arrived at the absurd consequence where we can choose a gender in complete disregard of biology. This must be the final freedom. Or is it? I shudder to think what might be next.
These freedoms were, for a long time, sensibly exercised within a larger regulatory framework that protected the functioning of society. There was a working balance between freedoms, responsibilities and obligations. But freedom, once experienced, has its own momentum as we seek to extend the scope of freedom ever further. And we do that by dismantling, if at all possible, the controls that restrain us. And so we discard our responsibilities wherever we can. And we dilute the invisible controls, the obligations, or oughts. Broadly speaking, the state is the custodian of our responsibilities and religion was the custodian of our obligations. And so we loosen the control of the state and we discard religion as fast as we can. No god can be permitted to stand between us and our lusts.
But in order to discard religion we must also attack the idea of free will, since that underpins religion. Consequently we produce ingenious arguments that show free will is not possible[*].
And here we encounter the fundamental contradiction of a-religious liberalism. Liberalism is predicated on the very free will that it says is not possible. If you have no free will, then the exercise of freedom, foundational to liberalism cannot be possible. If we exercise freedom we must possess free will and no amount of ingenious word juggling can change that simple fact.
And this brings us to the basic hypocrisy of modern liberalism as it insists on freedoms while pretending we do not possess free will. And if you can hold such a contradiction in your mind you can readily embrace other contradictions, such as believing in freedom while denying others the right to exercise their freedoms, or choosing a gender in defiance of biology.
[*] The only way possible to prove that God does not exist is to show that we do not possess free will. But that is a whole other discussion.
It doesn’t follow from the fact that religion affirms free will that you have to show there is no free will in order to prove there is no God, just as the fact that atheists affirm the finality of death doesn’t mean that you have to prove that there is an afterlife to show there is a God. That just seems like affirming the consequent to me. Also, while religion may affirm free will, that does not preclude an incompatibility between them, for example if the religion in question affirms divine foreknowledge.
It doesn’t follow from the fact that a religion affirms that free will exist that we have to disprove that free will exists in order to disprove religion. Likewise one doesn’t have to prove an afterlife to prove God simply because atheists deny there is an afterlife. That’s just affirming the consequent.
Moreover the fact that a religion affirms free will does not preclude their incompatibility and many have argued that there is such an incompatibility if you define God as having perfect foreknowledge.
And lastly, I don’t see the necessary connection between metaphysical feee will and political freedom. You can have a fairly unsophisticated and undemanding notion of agency and still supremely value people being allowed to exercise it.
I was a little provocative when I tossed this idea in the ring so I can’t complain when I provoked an answer 🙂 Your disagreement is noted and I note my disagreement. This is a good subject for debate and deserves to be explored in more detail, but not here. I look forward to a more suitable occasion when we can enjoy the delights of friendly debate about the subject.
Even when it was about civil unions for gay couples, though, the “traditional marriage” crowd balked heavily, even though they had no other solution on offer that wouldn’t continue the marginalization of gay couples. Did they care about such a stark marginalizing of gay couples, and if so, what did they say or do to demonstrate such concern? If they did demonstrate it, their concern wasn’t made well-known by any stretch. Nowhere was there some prominent and well-heard “traditional marriage” advocate saying anything remotely along the lines of, “I support the traditional definition of marriage but here’s what we should do for gay couples instead….” Their attitude came off more along the lines of, “tough shit, gay people,” along with arguments that looked suspiciously religiously-based as distinct from arguments along the lines of what modern principles of civil society should look like. (I can only hope that a “traditional marriage” proponent such as Robert George (Princeton Law prof) were ready and eager to make *some* accommodation to same-sex couples if same-sex marriage rights aren’t acceptable to him.)
Absent some really clear-cut and evenly-applicable standards well-established within the profession (of philosophy, or in the academy generally), this whole platforming/no-platforming business invites all sorts of abuse. *We’re still the process of figuring out* – via the presentation of putatively good-faith arguments – whether GCFs are in a category similar to holocaust denial, and the PWB is preemptively making that determination — unless they’ve already made their knock-down case that any reasonable public observer could acknowledge . . . as is presumably the case with holocaust denial . . . . So what is this knock-down case against the (charitably interpreted, of course) GCF arguments, which many of us have somehow not been able to identify? (If the GCFs – professional philosophers – aren’t able to identify those arguments and thereby concede their position, then how can the rest of us be expected to do so?)
The way that this no/platforming business is open to abuse in this case, is that the three PWB philosophers didn’t merely issue statements after the publication to indicate their objections to how their contributions were framed, but rather chose to remove themselves from the discussion entirely on grounds that are prima facie dubious to a public observer. Again, what are the knock-down arguments they supposedly produced in the articles which they have now retracted from public viewing? Do they have some privileged epistemic access the rest of us lack? Is this what epistemic justice is supposed to look like?
I don’t have a “side” I favor in this debate (insofar as there is a debate happening…); I am among those who would follow the arguments where they lead. My comments pertain to the way someone of a philosophical mindset with a commitment to epistemic transparency conducts or partakes in debates. And I get lots and lots of bad vibes from the PWB crowd on this point, basically pushing me to the “other side” by default (as it relates not to the positions being advocated, but to the epistemic conduct of the advocates — and what the PWB signals to the laypublic with their pattern of behavior is that their position is epistemically suspect [probably masking some other agenda] and too vulnerable in the face of a genuinely transparent debate; presumably they don’t want that resulting assessment in the lay-mind, but that’s what they are achieving).
“the” feminists? (What do you mean by “feminist”?)
Isn’t there a rule (at least an informal one) in philosophy that all arguments presented in putatively good-faith merit a response? Unless there is any evidence that the GCFs are not arguing in good faith, the PWB or Gender Identity crowd have a no-brainer obligation to seriously address the arguments (as charitably interpreted, of course).
Heck, even if the arguments are presented not in good faith – for all we know, the person could be playing Devils Advocate – unless the existing, overwhelming, knock-down, easily-referenced, easily-accessible, arguments and data refuting the arguments are available (and, as stipulated, readily pointed to), then what grounds are there AT ALL for avoiding a debate? There are none.
Epistemic justice and transparency demand that the PWB/GI crowd put up or shut up – to point us all to the readily available knock-down arguments and data in support of their position, or to accept the verdict that their position is weak. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that they are, in their capacity as professional philosophers, making the determination/accusation that the GCFs are not arguing in good faith. (On what OTHER grounds would they, qua philosophers, argue for no-platforming anyone? The only alternative grounds for such I see here is that the GCFs are not professionally competent arguers. Seems pretty simple: either the GCFs are disingenuous/dishonest, or somehow ended up in the wrong profession. The PWB/GI crowd should clarify which they think is the case.) So let’s see the no-brainer evidence.
Many of the rest of us are tiring of what they see as an agenda-driven charade (but which must of course encounter the strongest pushback from the philosophy profession as long as their MO is dubious and their arguments/positions not dialectically vetted).
“This process [individual freedoms/liberalization], if taken to its logical extreme, gives us the ultimate freedom to defy reality and choose unreality.”
Oh come on. That isn’t the liberalism of Adam Smith or J.S. Mill, or other philosophically serious advocates of political liberalism. It may well be the MO of many of today’s ‘liberal’ (leftist) fools who don’t think carefully and who abandoned the best elements of classical liberalism, but don’t you want to argue against the strongest representatives of a position? Mill, for instance, argued in favor of free expression on the grounds that it would enhance epistemic transparency – to place new and unfamiliar ideas on a fair and level playing field against traditional ideas (so we can better figure out which new ideas are too harebrained to be viable, as well as which traditional ideas need to be overturned). So we have something of an openness and looseness but with double-edged-sword qualities that would preclude defying reality and choosing unreality.
Unless you think that the grounds for, say, getting rid of sodomy laws leads to skepticism/relativism/nihilism? What grounds, aside from something like “your life isn’t the state’s to dispose of,” leads to that? If it’s an argument about the role of the state in human affairs, how does that entail epistemic anarchy?
My suggestion is to critique the various advocates of “liberalism” today who don’t couple it with a broader vision of the good life or virtue (as some of the best of America’s framers had argued is the enduring basis for a free society). Individual freedom “taken to its logical extreme” is only that: freedom.
Some conservatives were willing to put up with civil unions, but the question is itself really disingenuous: “What about the gay couples stranded without legal and financial benefits?” as if the heterosexual definition of marriage had been specifically designed to stiff same-sex couples of the ability to file joint tax returns, put each other on insurance plans, etc. As Elizabeth Brake has pointed out, lots of different relationships don’t have access to these various benefits such as, for instance, four straight males who have shared an apartment in Manhattan for eighteen years. So, I suppose if you oppose the civil recognition of flatmate “marriage”, you are in fact telling all the bachelor pads in this country, “tough shit!” Right? This is so very silly. Almost as silly as debating whether girls have penises, but that debate is sillier. Not by much, though.
Paul: I’d be careful about hurling accusations of disingenuousness. After all, you liken (for purposes of this discussion) four hetero flatmates to a committed long-term gay couple, even though doing so flagrantly sidesteps the objection about marginalizing gay couples (and indeed, engages in the very same marginalization). Do you somehow find it surprising when the courts, hearing from advocate Ted Olson, didn’t find such comparisons compelling? (Likewise, they didn’t find it compelling when the “traditional marriage” advocates said that same-sex marriage is a slippery slope to bigamy, or marriages between adults and children (the NAMBLA thing), or marriages between humans and animals. It’s like they simply couldn’t comprehend that, for all relevant legal purposes in modern civil society, gay relationships are normal (unlike, say, pedophilia or bestiality).)
It doesn’t sound like you’ve really thought this through, because if you had, I think you would have anticipated and met the (rather obvious?) criticism I just made. It simply isn’t plausible on its face to treat (for this sort of discussion) four straight flatmates in just the same way we would treat a gay couple.
It’s unfortunate that America never saw the intellectual treat of a Olson vs. George debate (i.e., two conservatives working out the crucial nuances so that we don’t have governments enacting policies that are too a-holish in one direction or another . . . and I find the “bake my cake / wax my balls, bigot” stuff to be a-holish in the so-called “woke/progressive” direction . . . which is where conservatives are a lot more likely to find cultural leverage than in their ever-shrinking-minority opposition to same-sex marriage as such). I would encourage you, or anyone else for that matter, to envision as best they can how such a debate might ensue (which would require close familiarity with their published arguments), because the quality of public debate on this and many other issues is quite disappointing.
All that said, marriage should come with certain legal and cultural strings attached. In this connection the idea that anyone under a zany “progressive” regime could identify willy-nilly as this or that gender comes up against a certain common sense notion: once you identify as this or that, the identity should be stable/enduring over time. So a man who identified all along as male couldn’t just decide to switch genders in order to use a women’s bathroom or locker room (and then just switch back afterwards). (If a man begins to identify as a woman, then the identification is presumed to be stable and enduring and if it isn’t, then such a flaky identification should meet with negative consequences, including distrust.) Likewise with the seriousness of commitment involved in a marriage. Prima facie a same-sex couple is serious about their commitment, and there should be legal measures (or social pressures) in place to ensure that non-serious couples don’t game the system for tax benefits. The legal concept of estoppel or something similar might come into play here, as it binds people to previous commitments or affirmations. If there is some marriage-related benefit or right claimed by a same-sex (or any other) couple, then it should come with this or that burden or responsibility commensurate with the seriousness of marriage. (And mainstream Americans have enough of a developed moral sense to reject people trying to have their cake and eat it too . . . much as with the gay couple insisting on having their wedding cake baked regardless of the views of the baker. It’s the far-left crazies who are pushing to be the Democrat/”progressive” mainstream who seek benefits without burdens, rights without responsibilities, all on the pretext that it’s necessary to combat structural injustice or whatever. Even the more moderate Dems are getting sick of this irresponsible extremism and the effects it has on the process of nominating an electable candidate, for instance. And just to re-state what a great many people have already noticed: these radicals aren’t really in the business of arguing their positions on a level field of play. Heck, just see the original OP above for discussion of such behavior coming from *philosophy professors* no less.)
Mr. Cathcart, would you please not address me by my first name? Thanks. I have given this a lot of thought, and if we should grant committed same-sex couples benefits, I see no reason why we should not grant the same benefits to committed flatmates. After all, eighteen years of living together is longer than a lot of ‘marriages’, isn’t it? Your argument is that the courts did not find this argument compelling. So? The courts also have mandated ‘same-sex birth certificates’ which are on their face glaring absurdities.
Elizabeth Brake notes in her book “Minimizing Marriage” that groups of friends can be just as committed to one another as romantic couples and that the state really has no reason to privilege the latter and not the former. Why the deuce is the state privileging dyadic relationships as ‘marriages’ anyway? Because they are erotic relationships? How is that a compelling state interest? If there is no compelling interest, then ‘marriage’ simply becomes an honorific, and an egalitarian society has no business deciding which relationships deserve to be honored and which do not. Elizabeth Brake and Tamara Metz identify the state’s interest in ‘marriage’ in the promotion of caretaking relationships, and both are quick to note that groups of friends can be caretaking relationships just as much as dyadic romantic relationships. I find this argument compelling even if the courts ignored it. So, if it is bigotry to deny the recognition of same-sex relationships as ‘marriages’, well, it is also bigotry to deny such a recognition to a committed group of friends.
You make admissible points about the state’s interests in marriage (already a problematic thing in my case, being a libertarian individualist who takes the interests of individuals as primary), which is why the same-sex marriage (SSM) advocates have tended toward equal-protection arguments (and given that man-woman couples can marry with no purpose of raising kids). Your point about committed relationships, however, can only come off as strained and not really even necessary as support for your admissible points. You are not drawing a comparison between relevantly similarly situated people. All kinds of caretaking relationships can occur, after all, but that’s not the only consideration. The (monogamous) erotic component isn’t the only consideration, either. And the admissible points you make about marriage don’t work against civil unions (which you say were supported by conservatives who either weren’t very vocal about that or were drowned out by voices who seemed much less concerned about full recognition and dignity for gay couples, whatever other legitimate concerns they did raise).
Fine, please, would you tell me, O dictator of what is admissible and what is not, what are all the relevant considerations for ‘marriage’?
I’m seeing good on both supposed sides and some bad too, but maybe first, I find how they’re *all* going about their disagreements unproductive and dismissive.
IAI’s seems to have contributed to the strife too, if only a bit, but surely more than I first thought, now it seems the ‘sides’ aren’t even speaking as if they received the same question for their contributions: “How Can Philosophy Help Us Understand Transgender Experiences?” vs “How can philosophy change the way we understand the transgender experience and identity?”.