Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Note on "The Archive"

This is just to let readers know that I continue to update the Archive of The Meltdown daily.  I'm trying to catch everything substantive that shows up in re the recent events surrounding Leiter, the PGR and the September Statement-- and I'm aiming to avoid redundancy as much as possible-- but there has been a lot of material and I cannot, alas, read the whole Internet every day. I am sure I've missed some things.  If you see glaring omissions, please leave links to them in the comments section below the original Archive post (or below this post), or you can email them to me at leigh.johnson@cbu.edu.

Predictably, and thankfully, it appears that the focus of many posts are moving away from the particular case of Brian Leiter or the PGR toward more general considerations of professional civility or the merits/demerits of rankings, respectively. To that end, I want to make note of a new page established by Richard Heck that aims to collect "Discussions of Philosophy Rankings"and to encourage readers to notify Heck when you write/read something that would be appropriate for inclusion at that page.  I will, of course, continue to add the same to my ongoing Archive here.

Until the number of relevant posts diminishes past the point of being worth tracking, I will continue to update the Archive on this blog daily, though probably only once daily (in the evening) going forward.

Thanks for your patience and assistance.  You can follow this blog on Facebook here or on Twitter here for more regular alerts.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Professional Philosophy Triage

Justice tempered by Mercy
Because I'm maintaining an Archive of (what I've called) The Meltdown here on this blog, I think I've read most, if not all, of what professional philosophers have said publicly in the last several days' scrum regarding  Brian Leiter's objectionable behaviors (or "civility" more generally) as well as the merits and demerits of the PGR (or "rankings" more generally). What professional philosophers are witnessing now must look, to non-philosophers, like something straight out of a Jonathan Franzen novel, replete with all of the deep, intra-familial dysfunction that tends to play itself out in brutish arguments over allegedly "shared" values via impossible-to-decipher shibboleths, subtext-laden misdirection, condensing, cathecting and projecting.  In my view, it would be flatly obtuse at this point, if not also egregiously unreflective and irresponsible, to not concede that something is very, very wrong here.  Professional philosophy has continued to run an infirm engine at full throttle, unattended and obviously overheating, for a long time now.  An incredible amount of cultural pressure has been building up, unabated, and now it appears we have have blown a gasket.  The blistering steam we see being released, from various fissures and clefts that have appeared where there were once (at least in principle) corrigible vulnerabilities, is manifesting in a number of predictable ways:  frustration, indignation, resentment, exasperation, vexation and, of course, anger.

It's time to triage.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Archive of The Meltdown [Updated]

If the current results of Brian Leiter's poll (which asks whether or not he should continue producing the Philosophical Gourmet Report) are any indication-- it's 1709 to 1118 in favor of "No" votes as I write this-- and if Leiter intends to take those poll results as some sort of mandate, then Philosophy may very well be witnessing the end of the PGR as we know it.

That's a pretty big deal all by itself... but it's happening coincidentally with what appears to be a bigger deal, i.e., the public unravelling of Leiter himself, one of the "biggest" (in terms of exposure, if not also influence) personalities in professional Philosophy.  Over the last 48 hours, Leiter has been publicly exposed as (and widely chastised for) being at best intemperate and uncivil, at worst bullying and threatening.  Things happen quickly and non-centrally in cyberspace, so I've decided to try to collect a running archive of the articles, letters, posts, petitions and the like related to  this incident, which may be a significant turning point in the professional life of academic Philosophy.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Normalizing Civility, Policing Critique, Enforcing Silence and Misunderstanding Collegiality

How we ought to understand the terms "civility" and "collegiality" and to what extent they can be enforced as professional norms are dominating discussions in academic journalism and the academic blogosphere right now.  (So much so, in fact, that it's practically impossible for me to select among the literally hundreds of recent articles/posts and provide for you links to the most representative here.)  Of course, the efficient cause of civility/collegiality debates' meteoric rise to prominence is the controversy surrounding Dr. Steven Salaita's firing (or de-hiring, depending on your read of the situation) by the University of Illinois only a month ago, but there are a host of longstanding, deeply contentious and previously seething-just-below-the-surface agendas that have been given just enough air now by the Salaita case to fan their smoldering duff into a blazing fire.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Witch-Hunting in the Digital Age

Much to my own embarrassment, I've neglected to post here on the Steven Salaita controversy thus far, an affair with far-reaching implications not only for how we determine what constitutes both the civic and academic limits to the "right to free speech," but also for a number of hiring-and-firing practices that are customary within the Academy but verboten (if not also illegal) under almost any other employment conditions.

The facts of the Salaita case are, minimally, as follows:  Steven Salaita, tenured Professor of English at Virginia Tech University, was offered a position at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign (henceforth, UIUC), which he accepted.  As is customary in academia, Salaita's new position came "with tenure" (after already having been thoroughly vetted for and awarded tenure at Virginia Tech) and, as is also customary in academia, Salaita resigned his position at Virginia Tech at the end of the last school year in advance of taking up his position at UIUC in the fall.  In the interim, however, and as a consequence of a number of tweets that Dr. Salaita posted over the summer in response to the increasingly violent Israeli-Gaza conflict, UIUC withdrew its offer of employment to Dr. Salaita (who is Palestinian and whose tweets were critical of Israeli state policy).  only two weeks before the he was to take up his new position at UIUC  According to UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise's official statement, the offer was rescinded because Dr. Salaita's tweets constituted a violation of UIUC principles, i.e., Salaita's tweets "demean[ed] and abuse[ed]" those whose views disagreed with his and, consequently, that they also constituted sufficient evidence that Salaita would be unable to discharge his duty to "allow new concepts and differing points of view to be discussed inside and outside of the classroom in a scholarly, civil and productive manner."

Friday, September 05, 2014

The Ferguson Lesson: Another Way To "Take Up Arms"

As someone who has spent the better part of her career researching, analyzing and teaching not only about the structure and nature of oppressive power regimes, but also better and worse ways to resist or transform such regimes, I've nevertheless been unable to settle in my own mind, to my own satisfaction, my position with regard to the moral or political value of revolutionary violence.  I can say that my core moral intuitions (for whatever those are worth) definitely incline me toward favoring nonviolence as a principled ethical commitment... though, over the years, I have found those intuitive inclinations fading in both intensity and persuasiveness.  As a philosopher, a citizen and a moral agent, I continue to be deeply unsettled by my own ambivalence on this matter.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ferguson Syllabus for Philosophers

Many of you have probably seen the excellent "Ferguson Syllabus" created by Sociologists for Justice, which has been circulated widely over the last several days and which provides a collection of research articles used to inform the arguments and positions represented in their Statement on Ferguson.  I strongly encourage you to keep circulating that document, and to use Sociologists' for Justice suggested hashtag #socforjustice when you do.

If you work in academia but outside of a Sociology Department, as I do, I suspect you've thought to yourself how helpful it would be if a corresponding syllabus were produced and circulated for your own discipline, as I have.  (Would that it were the case that professional Philosophers could agree on something like a"Statement on Ferguson," but I'm not holding my breath for that!)  Below, I've attempted to BEGIN the construction of a "Ferguson Syllabus" for the discipline of Philosophy.  The list of materials I have here is, of course, non-exhaustive and incomplete, so I welcome any amendments or additions from readers who specialize in Philosophy, Political Theory, Critical Race Studies and the like.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Democracy Must Always Be Severe

"Democracy must always be severe. Without either desire or dread of paradox, we may go even further. Democracy must always be unpopular. It is a religion, and the essence of a religion is that it constrains. Like every other religion, it asks men to do what they cannot do; to think steadily about the important things. Like every other religion, it asks men to consider the dark, fugitive, erratic realities, to ignore the gigantic, glaring and overpowering trivialites. It rests upon the fact that the things which men have in common, such as a soul and a stomach, such as the love of children or the fear of death, are to infinity more important than the things in which they differ, such as a landed estate or an ear for music, the capacity to found an empire or to make a bow. And it has, like any other religion, to deal with the immense primary difficulty that the unimportant things are by far the most graphic and arresting, that millions see how a man founds an empire, and only a few how he faces death, and that a man may make several thousand bows in a year and go on improving in them, while in the art of being born he is only allowed one somewhat private experiment. In politics, in philosophy, in everything, it is sufficiently obvious that the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal. And the thing which is most undiscoverable in all human affairs, the thing which is most elusive, most secret, most hopelessly sealed from our sight is, and always must be, the thing which is most common to us all. Every little variety we have we gossip and boast of eagerly; it is upon uniformity that we preserve the silence of terrified conspirators. There are only two things that are absolutely common to all of us, more common than bread or sunlight, death and birth. And it is considered morbid to talk about the one and indecent to talk about the other. It is the nature of man to talk, so to speak, largely and eagerly about every new feather he sticks in his hair, but to conceal like a deformity the fact that he has a head. This is the secret of the permanent austerity of the democratic idea, of its eternal failure and its eternal recurrence, of the fact that it can never be popular and can never be killed. It withers into nothingness in the light of a naked spirituality those special badges and uniforms which we all love so much, since they mark us out as kings or schoolmasters, or gentlemen or philanthropists. It declares with a brutal benignity that all men are brothers just at the very moment that every one feels himself to be the good grandfather of every one else. To our human nature it commonly seems quite a pitiful exchange to cease from being poets or vestrymen, and be put off with being the images of the everlasting. That is the secret, as I say, of the austerity of republicanism, of its continual historic association with the stoical philosophy, of its continual defeat at the hands of heated mobs. It strikes men down from the high places of their human fads and callings, and lays them all level upon a dull plane of the divine."

--G.K. Chesterton, The Fortnight Review, Vol. LXXIV., July to December, 1903.

Friday, August 15, 2014

"Somehow Philosophy Got Left Behind"

There's a really great essay by Eugene Sun Park entitled "Why I Left Academia: Philosophy's Homogeneity Needs Rethinking"  that appeared yesterday on HIPPO Reads.  Stop whatever you're doing and go read it now.

I've posted a fair bit of material on this blog addressing the racial and gender disparity in professional Philosophy, which remains truly embarrassing, but Park's first-person narrative of his experience is a telling account. After stipulating that Western academia has long been guilty of excluding women and minorities both from the Academy and from the canon, Park (citing Hollinger) concedes that much progress has been made in the last half-century to correct these errors and to broaden the humanities... BUT (Park notes in a transitional sentence that speaks more truth than its syntactical position suggests) "somehow Philosophy got left behind."  Unlike other disciplines in the humanities, Philosophy remains woefully "behind" when it comes to the inclusion of women and minorities not only in its professional representation, but also in "publications, citations and overall disciplinary influence."

Thursday, August 14, 2014

American Apartheid

For they know they are not animals. And at the very moment when they discover their humanity, they begin to sharpen their weapons to secure its victory.
--Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

America has always been and remains an apartheid state.  The latter part of that sad but increasingly undeniable fact was made apparent last night in Ferguson, Missouri to a group of peaceful protesters amidst tanks, deafening LRADs, a haze of tear gas and a firestorm of rubber (and real) bullets.  The other tragic fact made apparent in Ferguson last night is that America is only ever a hair's-breadth away from a police state... if we understand by "police" not a regulated body of law-enforcement peacekeepers empowered to serve and protect the citizenry, but rather a heavily-armed, extra-constitutional, militarized cadre of domestic soldiers who provoke and terrorize with impunity.  Much of the time, we are able to forget or ignore these unfortunate truths about contemporary America-- and by "we" I mean our elected officials, our bureaucrats and financiers, and a lot of self-delusionally "post-racial," though really white, people-- but the mean truth of gross inequality, both de facto and de jure, remains ever-present in spite of our disavowals, simmering steadily just below the allegedly free and fair democratic veneer of our polis.