Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Philosophy 2014 Year in Review: The M&M Report

Each December since 2010, I've dedicated a few posts to subject-specific "Year in Review" lists. (You can view my previous years' lists here.)  In the past, these lists have customarily appraised the highs and lows of politics, music, film, literature or pop culture for whatever year was drawing to its end.  That is to say, I've tended in the past to cover ALL of the main topics regularly treated on this blog except "philosophy."  I think we'd all concede that it's a rare year when Philosophy's truly, incredibly, even microscopically small corner of the Universe manages to generate enough news to warrant its own year-end list.

Not so for 2014.  We made the news. Would that it weren't so.

As a consequence, I've chosen to begin (what may be this year's only) 2014 Year in Review list with a look back at the discipline of Philosophy, something perhaps best described as the Academy's version of Jersey Shore.  Or maybe Black Mirror.  (Fair warning, don't click on either of those links if you are faint of heart.)  I'm titling this post an "M&M Report" in reference to "Morbidity and Mortality" conferences held at academic medical centers across the nation, at which doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners undertake a review of mistakes made in the execution of their duties. The objectives of a well-run M&M conference is "to learn from complications and errors, to modify behavior and judgment based on previous experiences, and to prevent repetition of errors leading to complications." We don't yet have anything like those in professional Philosophy, unfortunately.  (And with that, I just inaugurated the #MMXVPhilosophyResolutions hashtag on Twitter.  Feel free to contribute.)

In the interest of not confusing the dying with the dead, I've separated the following into "Morbidity Reports" and "Mortality Reports."  Because I can anticipate the nearly-dead scurrying to hide and objecting in a Monty-Python-esque manner that they're "getting better!" or that my announcement of their demise is "not regulation," I'll just concede that some of the following mortality reports may be premature or, a la Mark Twain, exaggerated.  Six one way, half-dozen the other, really.

Morbidity Reports

Case One: Philosophy's Gender and Racial Homogeneity
Philosophy remains one of the Whitest and most male-dominated disciplines in academia, an embarrassingly chronic condition that received more than its fair share of news coverage this year. (Finally!)  Eugene Sun Park's "Why I Left Academia: Philosophy's Homogeneity Needs Rethinking" showed the devastating consequences of this sickness. We're literally hemorrhaging smart, insightful and talented young thinkers, who would prefer to leave the discipline altogether than endure its indignities.  And, alas, there's been no slowdown of contributions to the soul-crushingly honest What It's Like To Be A Woman in Philosophy website, which records all-too-common anecdotal stories of sexism in the profession.  Despite the overwhelming evidence of our morbid, truly dis-eased state, there remains nonetheless a dedicated (if delusional) corps of philosophers committed to denying and justifying it.  (I'M LOOKING AT YOU, META-META-PHILOSOBROS.  Srsly, come at me, bros.  You'll have to forego the protection of anonymity to post here, however, which leaves me assured that I will hear nary a peep from any of you.) If we don't treat this malady post haste, we will surely die.

Case Two: Philosophy's Sexual Harassment AND Assault AND Intimidation AND CoverUp Problem(s)
It's been a while since I first started reporting on this blog about Philosophy's morbidly gross sexism.  Remember Vincent Hendricks, who used that image pictured left as an, ahem, "promo" for his logic course/? (ARE YOU FEELING LIKE OMG WTF SHOCKED?! Might as well buckle up now, grasshoppers.) I wrote about him here in a post titled "If P then WTF?" in March 2012. Yeah, well, it appears now that good ol' Dr. Hendricks was just playing triple-A ball.  At the beginning of 2014, I had to generate an entirely new subject-tag on this blog, Women and Gender Issues, in order to keep pace with the rapid-fire onslaught of men-behaving-badly stories coming out of Philosophy's ranks.  This year kicked off with a (well-publicized and) damning 15-page report from the APA's Committee on the Status of Women detailing "an environment with unacceptable sexual harassment, inappropriate sexualized unprofessional behavior, and divisive uncivil behavior" in the University of Colorado-Boulder's Philosophy Department.  Nipping at the tail of that report was the even more salacious, even more extended (and even more well-publicized) exposè of Prof. Peter Ludlow's (Northwestern) alleged exploits, and the very real ongoing litigations with respect to Ludlow's unprofessional (and possibly criminal) sexual involvements with a female grad student there. Alas, there were other, too many other, instances of sexual harassment and assault among our ranks this year. In September, the implicit sexism of Philosophy was given voice by one of its most prominent figures in the surprising-to-noone reveal of several of Brian Leiter's hostile, demeaning and threatening emails to his female faculty via the September Statement. (More on that below.)

[EDITORIAL NOTE:  I want to go on the record here as endorsing, verified in and by my own experience, the reality of the implicit and explicit, deeply embedded and far too often perfunctorily-excused, perniciously morbid epidemic of sexism in professional Philosophy.  Having spent my last 7yrs in an all-male Philosophy department, during which I suspect many of my well-intentioned colleagues would have genuinely (but erroneously) considered themselves "friendly" to women philosophers and feminist philosophy, even and despite cultivating what was in reality an environment utterly hostile to such, I can attest to professional Philosophy's covert, insidious and damaging sexism.]

Case Three: Philosophy's "Civility" 
Let me be the first, though of course not at all the first, to concede that professional Philosophy cultivates... I don't know, what exactly is the right descriptor?

Oh yes, A-holes.

I also want to say again and once more, as I have said repeatedly on this blog:  I am no fan of so-called "civility codes." That said, I am and remain, for the record, an advocate of (non-coerced) civility in our profession.

Way back in March of this year, before things started to get really ugly in the Philososphere, before I wrote about the Steven Salaita case, before I wrote about Ferguson, before I wrote about the #BlackLivesMatter or #ICantBreathe campaigns, even before I began maintaining an Archive of the most uncivil behavior in professional Philosophy I've ever seen (my attempt at a triageof such here)... BEFORE ALL OF THAT, there was this:

"Please do NOT revise your tone" (Click this link. Read it. Then read it again.)

That's an essay Ed Kazarian and I wrote (posted originally at NewAPPS Blog) in which we argued that the best-- and the worst-- among us are better off NOT devising codes intended to police tone, collegiality or civility.  (Or, at least, not devising codes that, lacking any legal force, can only be enforced "socially" and, as a consequence, are likely to be perverted in their enforcement.) My colleagues in other disciplines are often quite literally shocked to read/hear about how grossly incivil and uncollegial Philosophy is (especially to women and racial minorities), but that culture is so old, so sedimented and so familiar to those of us on the inside that it's often difficult to recognize it as the sickness it is anymore.  It is an infirmity, though.  It debilitates and deforms both thinkers and thinking.

Case Four: Philosophy's "Public" and "Digital" Problems
Philosophy, bless its heart.  It tries, it really does try, to do right.  Unfortunately, we just can't seem to get all our ducks in a row when it comes to doing the two things that would aid most in ameliorating many of our perpetual ills, namely, (1) figuring out how to make what those of us who do philosophy inside the Academy do available and accessible to the broader public and (2) figuring out how to make the largely-digital productions of those of us who have figured out (1) recognizably valuable to those handing out jobs, promotions and pay-raises inside of the Academy.  The Public Philosophy Journal, along with the APA's Committee on Public Philosophy both made valiant efforts this year, but it still seems (to me, at least) that they're not really capitalizing on some of most valuable resources at their disposable, i.e., the growing number of digitally-literate and social-media-savvy philosophers who regularly think, speak and write in the public sphere.  We've got ideas, LOTS of ideas, about how to do better and more effectively what PPJ and the APA-CPP are doing.  Just take the time to ask.  I know this is true because I've heard it from (or said it myself as a member of) a generation of public/digital philosophers that could make a real and positive change in our discipline if the old farts would just make a minimal effort at standardizing, distributing and validating in some more-or-less recognizable "assessment" language the value of what we do.  (Shoutsout to Adriel Trott, Robin James, John Protevi, Bob Vallier, James Stanescu, Cori Wong, John Drabinski, and all the folks at Feminist Philosophers and xcphilosophy blogs, all of whom continue to forge on into thankless territories.)  We're here, we're public, we're digital and we aren't going anywhere.  Also, hey there Philosophy, hit us up sometime.  We've got the cure for what ails ya.

Mortality Reports

Case One: The Isolated Thinker 
The notion that the primary work of Philosophy is pure, conceptual analysis-- unencumbered by the messiness of the actual world or influenced by the reflections of other disciplines-- is dead.  That's not to say that there aren't still philosophers out there hanging around at Isolated Thinker's wake, hoping beyond hope for a miraculous resurrection, but they're looking more like sad, pathetic friends trapped in a kind of pathological denial, seemingly more anachronistic and more delusional as their numbers diminish.  Philosophy has always needed to tear down its walls, of course, but in the last several years a number of factors-- the corporatization of higher education, the so-called "crisis" in the humanities, the blurring of disciplinary lines across academia-- has in effect sounded the death knell of our poor, beloved Isolated Thinker.   R.I.P., dear Thinker.  You had an impressive run, you fought like a champ at the end, you did not go softly--in fact, you raged, RAGED against the dying of your light.  But like all mortal things, your time expired.  Say goodnight, Gracie.

Case Two: The 800lb Gorilla
It may still be too early-- only just barely-- to officially pronounce the death of the PGR, but after a year of behavior that was at times bizarre, at times offensive, at times pathetic and at other times completely delusional, we can now at least announce the end of Brian Leiter's almost three decades-long reign and, in so doing, at long last call the death of Philosophy's 800lb Gorilla. Leiter created one of the first Philosophy blogs many years ago, the first and last thing with which I will pay him credit.  That blog (#sorrynotsorry for neglecting to link) remains one of the most widely-visited Philosophy blogs and has, as a result, enabled him to speak and act with almost unchallenged impunity for far too long.  Leiter's prize "possession" (the appropriately-named Philosophical "Gourmet" Report, to which he owns the copyright, an investment that will be valuable for posterity and nothing else) quite literally helped to transform and shape the contours of our discipline over the last 20 years, but its influence suffered a number of near-fatal blows this year.  Most serious among those was a serious gut-shot from increasingly suspicious (and embarrassed) members of his PGR Advisory Board, who asked Leiter to step away from the project in order to preserve what was left of its rapidly waning integrity.  At year-end, Leiter nevertheless remains at the unofficial helm of the PGR and continues to defend its honor, despite having been at the epicenter of a historically embarrassing meltdown in professional Philosophy.  You can read more in the Archive of the Meltdown that I kept here on this blog, or view the Interactive Timelime of its early events that I created in October.  I discontinued my Archive a couple of months ago, but since then Prof. Mitchell Aboulafia has undertaken a more extended, careful and devastating critique of the PGR here, which I encourage everyone to read.  The latest development in #Leitergate involves his threat to sue in Canadian court (for "upwards of 6 figures") eminently admirable and fearlessly public philosophers Carrie Jenkins and Jonathan Ichikawa.  Shame on Brian Leiter, a bully and a blowhard, a molder of minions, the smallest and most proudly small of small minds, a pox on the profession, even if also a man with an incredible foresight and a (significantly less incredible) talent wasted.  I'm glad to celebrate the death of your influence, Prof. Leiter. You've done us all a disservice.

Case Three: Philosophy's Luddism
Pace "Morbidity Case Four" above, I do think we have at last laid to rest the Philosophy Luddite.  It seems that Philosophy is always the last to the party, but this may very well have been the year that philosophers finally overcame their congenitally anti-social inclinations, dragged themselves into the 21st C, joined the digital humanities party and found a way to quit their tragic love affair with Luddism.  Philosophers live-tweeted #SPEP14, #Leitergate and even, just this last week, the notoriously stodgy #APAeastern. There's an impressive and growing list of Philosophers on Twitter (each of whom have at least 1000 followers).  Philosophy Matters (administrated by Bob Vallier, Ammon Allred and myself) is followed by almost 15K people on Facebook.  The Leiter/PGR debacle, which  may very well be, when all is said and done, the most important transformation in professional Philosophy since the Vienna Circle happened almost entirely online this year.   In sum, Philosophy's Luddites have breathed their last.  They may continue to rattle and moan like spectres in the attic are wont to do, but they are without substance or form, and they frighten noone any longer.


What a year it's been for Philosophy!  Here's to never, ever again seeing another like it.  I'm a far better diagnostician than a prognostician, but for whatever it's worth, if I were Philosophy's doctor (or therapist), here's what my advice would be as s/he left my office today and embarked upon the new year:

1.  You're sick.  You've been sick for a long time, so don't overdo it.  The worst possible thing you can do in 2015 is to think you can continue on as you did 2014 (or 1914, or 1814, or 1714... oh hell, whatevs, as you have since you've been born.)  If you can't treat the causes of your disease, at least make an effort to treat the symptoms.

2.  Let the people who care about your health, care for your health.  It's time to change your environment, breathe in fresh air, get some new friends, look after your own well-being.  If you sleep too close to the edge of the bed, you're going to fall off.  There's never a good time for something to go wrong, but you've left yourself no latitude here.  Tread carefully.

3.  Break up with your boyfriend.  Your relationship with Brian Leiter is a pathological, abusive and pathetic relationship.  It's killing you.  Kick him to the curb. Post haste.

4. Don't forget that people are desperate for what (the healthiest version of) you have to offer, even and especially those who think they aren't, .  Stop being such a snob.  Stop despising the hoi polloi so.  The citizens and moral agents around you can think seriously, they want to think seriously, about the world they live in, the people with whom they inhabit that world, the ideologies and institutions that structure both that world and the people who share it.  They cannot do so without you.  Hey, Philosophy, IT'S YOUR SANDBOX.  Everyone else is just playing in it.  You've got at least two millennia of human wisdom to share, more than half of which you've not yet fully mined, and now you've got a venue to distribute it that makes the printing press look practically Neanderthal.  Quit your bitching and get back to work.  Nobody's going to call the whaaambulance for you just because you had a rough year.  

Here's to 2015, Philosophy!  Let's make this year better than the last.


Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

Thanks for posting this, Leigh. You cover a lot of ground here, and I'm looking forward to a constructive conversation about how to move towards a more healthy profession.

But in the meantime, on a personal note, this reminds me that I really need to start blogging more again.

Anonymous said...

Nice post! Just one question: where are you getting the 'upwards of 6 figures' number for the Leitergate suit? I haven't seen a number before.

Leigh M. Johnson said...

@a=Anonymous: "upwards of 6figures" comes from BL's own blog:

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I looked over the post again; I don't see the 6 figures remark. Am I missing it?

Anonymous said...

I saw the six figure plus statement in an update that he ended up deleting from his blog. In it, he also stated that he is thankful that Ichikawa keeps making posts because they are a source of evidence for Leiter.