According to the Philosophy Metablog, philosopher Aidan McGlynn (Edinburgh) could not let the embarrassing reaction to a link to Les Green's piece on Greer earlier this week rest. Please note that what Dr. McGlynn referred to as a "problematic" and "offensive" article is this perfectly sensible and informed analysis of the sense in which gender is a social construct and its bearing on the question whether or not transgender women are women. The thought crime at issue was Justin Weinberg's linking to one small part of this essay by the Professor of the Philosophy of Law at Oxford University (who, as informed readers will know, has written quite a lot of important work about sexuality and gender). Here's McGlynn (in part):
I’m still disappointed with [Justin Weinberg]. The twitter post that created the fuss is still up, days after people pointed out how problematic it is, and Justin’s preferred tactic seems to be to ignore many of the people raising concerns (particularly Rachel)....First, some people don’t see anything wrong with linking to a problematic or offensive article so long as it’s made clear which bits one is cherry-picking. I don’t agree, and I don’t agree that it was clear in this instance....This discussion has nothing to do with ‘thought-policing’ (though in fairness, to my knowledge only one person has suggested otherwise). We’re not talking about Justin’s thoughts – we’re talking about what’s on the twitter feed associated with one of the places members of the profession need to go to for information and discussion concerning issues about the profession. Moreover, this is clearly how Justin took my remarks – he explicitly responded in terms of what he thought appropriate to take a stand on with the twitter feed associated with the Daily Nous [blog]. No one should expect Leiter to care about that distinction, of course....
It's fair to say I don't "care about" an irrelevant distinction, but put that aside. This finger-wagging produced a number of rude and sometimes quite apt rebukes at the Metablog, of which this one made me laugh:
The vocabulary is one of the main things I just can't stand: 'I'm still disappointed... deeply problematic...' Don't these people realize they sound like passive-aggressive schoolteachers, as reimagined by your worst nightmare? I actually prefer McKinnon's style to this, and that's really saying something.
And then there's the suggestion that it doesn't count as 'thought-policing' unless it involves the metaphysically impossible feat of actually policing people's thoughts. Does McGlynn seriously doubt that, if the relevant people could do that (whatever that would amount to), they would?
But the best was this gem, which is worth reposting and linking to anytime these "pathologically self-righteous...fundamentalists" start their sermons:
The vocab is hard to keep up with. Should we start a running glossary?
"Problematic": adj. (of arguments) false; (of pratices) must be banned; (of utterances) must be retracted and apologised for; (of tweets) must be deleted;
"Free speech": n. a problematic concept [see above]
"Censorship": n. the alleged suppression of problematic ideas, a largely mythical practice. [compare "silence"]
"Silence": v. (1) to ignore, not talk about. (2) to disagree with (3) to discuss a marginalized individual [see below] in terms they would prefer not to be discussed
"erase": v. synonym for silence
"identity": n. an (esp. marginalised) individual's conception of themself. NB all other definitions, such as those which have been explored by philosophers over the past two millennia, are problematic [see above]
"offense" - n. something nobody ever complained about [compare "harm"]
"harm" - the inevitable consequence of erasing [see above] an individuals identity [see above]
"listen" - (to a marginalised individual), agree with, show deference to,
"bully" - v. synonym for erase
"expert" - n. a marginalised person
"educate" - v. to inform a non-marginalised person of the correct opinion
"safe space" - one in which no identity is erased. Unsafe spaces are problematic [see above].
When I asked Dr. McGlynn via e-mail whether he had written the piece in question, he acknowledged doing so, but added, "I have been reflecting on this, and I have subsequently decided that I should not have written it. Therefore having initially edited it, I have taken down the entire post from my facebook page. Please accept my apologies." I am happy to accept his apology, though I don't feel he owes me one. I worry, alas, that the views expressed are consistent with the views he has expressed elsewhere, and are indicative of how some (hopefully small) portion of the profession thinks about these issues. Since this way of thinking is anathema to academic life, it's time for those who believe in freedom of thought and discourse to object, and object strenuously.
Meanwhile, Rachel McKinnon (Charleston) continues her twitter tirade against Justin Weinberg* (South Carolina), whom she apparently believed to be an "ally." (Her idea of an "ally" seems to be what everyone else would probably call "a spineless toady.") In any case, I will let Prof. McKinnon speak for herself:
*According to the Metablog, Weinberg apparently wrote on his Facebook page, explaining why he would not blog or tweet further about Prof. McKinnon, that "it has been my policy at Daily Nous to try to minimize the attention I give to people who behave badly on the internet. This is why, for example, there have been very few mentions of Brian Leiter or his blog on DN, despite his repeated grasping for my notice; same for the philosophy metametablog folks." (I knew Justin was a bit juvenile, but I didn't realize he was delusional too!) Apparently describing Prof. McKinnon as having "behaved badly" (as bad as big bad BL!) was too much for her. Weinberg has found a cleverer way to behave badly, namely, by letting anonymous commenters do the dirty work. (I should say for the record that, overall, I like Weinberg's blog [it's one of the few I look at regularly], despite his consistently awful judgment about professional matters. But he invests a huge amount of time and produces a lot of interesting and entertaining content.)
UPDATE: Philosopher Lisa Miracchi (Penn) weighs in on Facebook on the side of those who think Weinberg acted wrongfully by posting a link to Prof. Green's thoughtful piece on gender and social constructs (bear in mind the additional irony that Weinberg linked only to the last paragraph, not the substance of the essay). She writes:
There's a huge difference between trying to police someone's speech and trying to make academic philosophy a safer place. When one of the most visible members of our profession posts on a twitter feed associated with a professional blog (Daily Nous) supporting transphobic views, it's good to call it out for what it is. Why? Because Justin Weinberg has been a r...eal force for good in the profession. It is precisely because we think well of him that we have not let this drop. He hasn't dealt with this well, and it's okay to say so.
There's also a huge difference between trying to police someone's thoughts and trying to change people's minds. There is nothing wrong with trying to change people's minds about serious moral questions. (Indeed, aren't we in the business of changing people's minds for the better--including our own--through discussion?) If Weinberg and Leiter really see nothing immoral about the views highlighted in the linked post there's something really wrong, not with "how they think", but with what their views are about what is morally acceptable or not.
The first sentence makes no sense: the way in which McKinnon, Miracchi, and sympathizers propose to "make academic philosophy a safer place" is precisely by, in this case, "polic[ing] someone's speech," indeed, policing even what they link to. And Weinberg's failure was not only not to remove his link to Prof. Green's post but to fail to apologize for linking to it in the first place.
But what I find truly alarming is that Prof. Miracchi appears to believe that philosophy is "a safer place" if everyone could agree that it is not "morally acceptable" to offer an analysis of the sense in which gender is a social construct, and the bearing that has on whether or not transgender women are women. That was Prof. Green's thought crime, and Weinberg's failure and mine was not to see anything "immoral about the views" in Green's post. It is also very disingenuous to claim that she and the others are merely "trying to change people's minds": no, they are not. McGlynn, McKinnon and now Miracchi do not engage the substance of what Green writes, they just declare it beyond the pale and demand apologies for even acknowledging its existence. This is disgraceful behavior by philosophers and a threat to the integrity of the discipline.
(Prof. Miracchi also thinks that by posting McKinnon's tweets and commenting derisively on them I am "bullying" her (Prof. McKinnon, in fact, thanked me for publicizing her views about "allies"). I have had a pleasant correspondence with her about these issues, though one that makes clear how deep the disagreements go. Other observers, in any case, are not confused about who the "bully" is in this age of bullying inflation.)