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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Horseshoes, Hand Grenades, and the APA's "Code of Conduct"

by Edward Kazarian and Leigh M. Johnson
A little over two years ago, more than 600 philosophers petitioned the American Philosophical Association to “produce a code of conduct and a statement of professional ethics for the academic discipline of Philosophy.” The immediate motivation for the petition was several high-profile cases of sexual misconduct by philosophers, which together amplified what many viewed—rightly, in our estimation—as a widespread and endemic culture of hostility, predation, exploitation, and intimidation within the profession.  Shortly thereafter, in March 2014, we co-authored a piece entitled “Please Do NOT Revise Your Tone,” articulating our concerns about the problematic effects of tone-policing, generally, and about the drafting and institution of a “Code of Conduct” by the APA, specifically.  In that piece, we argued that there was good reason to worry that such a Code would:

1) impose a disproportionate burden of changing their behavior to "fit in" on those who are members of out- (that is, underrepresented or minority) groups within the profession; 2) likely be applied disproportionately against those expressing dissenting views or criticizing colleagues for lapses in judgment or perception; and 3) tend to reinforce or provide opportunities to reiterate the structures of privilege and exclusion already operating within the profession. 

The Executive Board of the APA subsequently decided in favor of producing the document and, earlier this week, published the final version of the discipline’s official “Code of Conduct” here.

Reading that document over, our original worries remain unassuaged and unabated. We are especially concerned now that this quasi-official document—which elaborates a set of norms, but does not include any mechanisms for enforcement, adjudication, or sanction—will inevitably be used at the local (department-, college-, or university) level in unofficial, ad-hoc ways to undermine or sabotage already vulnerable members of the profession. Worse, we worry that this document will provide pretext for attempts to pressure APA members by complaining to their employers that they have in some instance or another behaved ‘unprofessionally.’ We recognize that any law or regulative code as such allows for the possibility of perverse application, but we maintain that the current iteration of this Code of Conduct is particularly susceptible to manipulation for a number of reasons.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Sick Of This Sh*t: On Professional Philosophy's Boiling Frogs

There's an old anecdote about boiling frogs that is often employed by philosophers to explain the sorites paradox. If you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water, the story goes, it will immediately sense the heat and the danger, jump out of the pot, and be spared its life.  But if you put a frog into a pot of cold water and only incrementally increase the heat, the frog will not realize it is boiling until it's already too late.

I was reminded of the boiling frog syndrome last night as I watched the 24-hour news cycle shills practically induce their own brain aneurysms attempting to feign shock at Donald Trump's most recently revealed buffoonery. Of course, there is nothing in the least bit surprising about "new" news of Trump's crass misogyny, pathological narcissism, or boundless sense of entitlement. But here they were on my television-- CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, the whole lot-- collectively gasping, double-taking, and fanning-themselves like Southern debutantes, exclaiming who could ever believe such a thing?! as if Trump had just donned a post-Labor-Day seersucker suit.  And here we are with them, we American frogs, looking around at our cushy, comfy democratic melting pot and saying, yeah, how DID it got so hot in here all of the sudden?

It didn't get so hot in here all of the sudden.  We've been blissfully basking in increasingly warmer water for a long, long time.

Mirroring the very worst of American politics, my discipline of professional philosophy also experienced a cranking up of the climate-heat this past week, If you have international friends, you are doubtlessly already aware how hard it is to explain the complete sh*t show that the 2016 Presidential election season has become here in the United States. Now, imagine if the phenomenon you were trying to describe included not distant and powerful plutocrats like Trump and Clinton, but your actual friends and colleagues.  And imagine if, instead of being a metaphorical sh*t show, it involved actual feces.

Yes, you read that right.  Actual feces.