Predictably, I suppose, some pontificators on social media are mystified that the irresponsible APA statement could be at all controversial. Indeed, philosopher Jenny Saul (Sheffield) has reiterated her view that controversy about the statement reflects badly on the state of the profession. My view is, unsurprisingly, different: the absence of controversy in certain parts of academic philosophy is what suggests the "profession" is populated with people who are not really grown up. The deficiencies of the APA statement are so obvious that it should hardly be surprising that, for example, no group of academic lawyers has promulgated a statement so ridiculous.
Let us recall what the statement said--not regarding the criminal threats and racist abuse suffered by Prof. Yancy--but regarding the lawful anonymous speech on metablogs:
Abusive speech directed at philosophers is not limited to responses by the public to published op-eds. A look at some of the anonymous philosophy blogs also reveals a host of examples of abusive speech by philosophers directed against other philosophers. Disagreement is fine and is not the issue. But bullying and ad hominem harassment of philosophers by other philosophers undermines civil disagreement and discourse and has no place in our community.
I'm not entirely sure why the statement targets anonymous speech, since it seems to me there are many possible examples of speech that runs afoul of the APA statement that was not anonymous. But they all raise the question: what exactly is the "abusive speech" that is now according to a handful of philosophers at the APA forbidden? Consider:
1. Philosopher Rachel McKinnon (Charleston) launched a Twitter tirade against Justin Weinberg (South Carolina), because he had linked to a part of a discussion by Leslie Green (Oxford) of whether Germaine Greer was correct about transgender women. Prof. McKinnon wrote, inter alia, that those she attacked should "suck it up, buttercup," and proudly proclaimed "we're not polite" after denouncing Weinberg for having "fuck[ed] up just now." Indeed, she regularly calls her opponents "philosophy asshat," "fuckwhistles" and tells them to "shut the fuck up" and "fuck off." Surely this speech violate the APA's new policy! If so, what is the APA going to do about it?
2. I have, on multiple occasions, made harsh criticisms of anti-gay bigotry in the philosophy profession, for example, here, here, and here. Does this speech violate the APA's new policy? (Admittedly, if it does, the APA can't do anything about it, since I am not a member.)
3. After I criticized a badly reasoned opinion piece co-authored by Jason Stanley (Yale), he denounced me on his very public Facebook page before hundreds if not thousands of my colleagues, dismissing me as "old, dated, shrill, and frightened." This certainly sounds like ad hominem abuse (though admittedly it did lead dozens of philosophers to friend me on Facebook!). Does this volate the APA's new policy on speech? If not, why not?
My own view is that (a) all of this speech ought to be legal; and (b) none of it should be the object of sanction or opporobium by a purportedly professional organization. Yet all of it appears to fall within the scope of the APA's careless statement. And the reason why professionals in other fields, especially law, don't promulgate statements like this is precisely because such standards are vague and overbroad and thus inconsistent with the values of freedom of expression central to all intellectual and political life. That the APA has been captured by some academics who don't see this should be a cause for concern.
UPDATE: An amusing take on all this from philosopher Crispin Sartwell.
ANOTHER: Philosopher Steven Hales (Bloomsburg) writes:
I'm quite in agreement with your latest post. I wonder what the APA would make of Nietzsche's uncivil comments about Kant, or Russell's insults of Hegel. Then there is this: http://flavorwire.com/469065/the-30-harshest-philosopher-on-philosopher-insults-in-history. I guess the APA would tell them all to cease and desist.