Philosophy’s Aspirant Tin-Pot Dictators
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.