...that exactly four years ago Rick "I'm actually dumber than I appear to be" Perry was leading the polls at nearly 30% for the Repug nomination. In other words, there's a lot more mischief ahead of us, long after the Republican Establishment destroys Trump. It's true that Trump is the most overtly racist of the current contenders, but he's far more sane on almost every other issue than the rest of them. So watch what you wish for!
Let’s do away with this shit. Many millions of Americans want their next president to be Carly Fiorina—an inept, failed CEO with no experience of public service who spent last night threatening to make war on half the fucking planet. She was like the eighth most irresponsible psychopath on the stage, and the rest of them, down to the least of them, all represent vast constituencies. This isn’t a failure of the political system—this is the political system working, expressing the will of the governed.
Any polity that can produce such an outcome should be abolished. Dissolve the United States, replacing it with a set of city-states, villages, and thinly-peopled hinterlands; let every public that wants one have their own Carly Fiorina or Bobby Jindal, and let everyone else go about their business. The candidate who proposes that will be the one to get behind.
...from narcissistic Berkeley undergrads this time. They apparently didn't notice the course was called "classics" of social theory. They do not engage the content of these classics at all, just their demographics, as though it is astonishing that during millennia of sexism and racism, the only authors to survive are white and men (they might have at least noted Foucault was gay). And since they do not engage the content, they fail to note the extent to which the ideas of, for example, Marx and Foucault contribute to the most powerful critiques of Western modernity.
The mindlessness to one side, it is a fair question why if you're going to include a late 20th-century author like Foucault among the "classics" of social theory, one should not also include, say, Adorno or de Beauvoir? But that, alas, was not the question raised.
A number of readers have written to me about one William Bradford, who has a rather sordid history in legal academia; the latest development is here and follow the links therein for more about this strange character.
This rather odd piece is making the rounds (thanks to reader David Zimmerman for sending it to me initially). It is titled, "5 Reasons to Be Skeptical of 'Campus Coddling' Scare Pieces," alluding to this. Oddly, though, there's only one actual reason given, since the other four points are irrelevant to whether or not these "scare pieces" are accurate. Here are the five purported reasons:
1. Most of the examples to support these pieces are purely anecdotal
True, but what in the world would data even look like in this context? And the denial that there is a problem is, of course, anecdotal too. What's clear by now is that there are a lot of anecdotes from a lot of different places; if they have anything in common that would caution against generalizing it is that they come overwhelmingly from elite colleges and universities, which probably have disproportionate numbers of coddled, spoiled narcissists in the student body.
2. Conservatives are in fact more likely to be “sensitive” and “babyish” about content, yet all the alarm is about liberalism.
Even if this were true, it would be irrelevant to the claims about the "New Infantilism" on campus. But is it true? The author offers this further non-sequitur:
A recent op-ed in the Washington Post also used facts and numbers to push back on the idea that “political correctness” was a left-wing phenomenon. Citing a survey about censorship, Catherine Rampell noted that: “In almost every category, Republicans were more likely than Democrats to endorse book bans.” Why is no one calling these censorious types squeamish babies who demand to be coddled?
Well, for one things, the attempts to ban books are not happening at colleges, typically, but at the pre-collegiate public schools, and one typically calls those trying to ban books more unpleasant names, e.g., "fascists" or "the Texas Taliban."
3. There may be real ways that millennials have a different cultural outlook, but no one is exploring the cause and effect of technology and culture on that outlook.
The question is how widespread the New Infantilism is, the question about its cause is separate, so this is irrelevant.
4. There are crises in academia, but they are not solely curricular or student-caused.
The author mentions the problems confronting adjuncts, as one example. Who could disagree? But the truth of the presence of the New Infantilism on college campuses does not depend on whether there are other more serious crises in the academy.
5. PTSD is not a being a baby.
No one called those suffering from PTSD "babies." Someone with PTSD is entitled to systematic accomodations under the Americans with Disabilites Act, and should receive them.
Given how absurdly unresponsive this piece is, one might note that another problem confronting universities is graduating nitwits who can't reason--though, as a friend on facebook quipped, for a site called "flavorwire," coming up with one feeble reason out of five alleged ones isn't bad!
As the newly released e-mails show, these two geniuses (Burbules and Tolliver) aided and abetted and rationalized the unlawful behavior by the Chancellor. The University of Illinois may be rid of Wise (who comes across as a remarkable lightweight in these e-mails), but no one there should rest easy until these two miscreants are removed from all administrative positions.
UPDATE: Corey Robin points out one e-mail in which Chancellor Wise admits to trying to destroy and conceal what would otherwise be discoverable evidence. Not smart, or prudent. That admission will be costly, I expect.
After the Kipnis fiasco several weeks ago, one in which, unfortunately, philosophers played a starring role, a law colleague asked me "Are all philosophers nuts?" Well, not all, but certainly plenty of them lack professional judgment, as we have had occasion to note before. Still, given the awful publicity for academic philosophy, one might hope that philosophers would think twice before providing further evidence to an unflattering narrative about the field. But, as Sartre said, one must live without hope.
Toronto's Joseph Heath wrote an insightful and sensible piece about the overblown rhetoric in the media about "political correctness," but then identified a more serious problem with one current of academic work:
Often when journalists talk about [political correctness], what they have in mind is old-fashioned language policing. Now I must admit, it is still possible to find this sort of thing in the nooks and crannies of academia. For example, one academic reviewer took exception to a line on the dust-jacket of my recent book: “Over the last twenty years, the political systems of the Western world have become increasingly divided—not between right and left, but between crazy and non-crazy,” condemning my use of the term “crazy.” Apparently it is “ableist.”
So yeah, this sort of thing still exists. What’s important is that it is no longer taken very seriously. This sort of verbal policing is the academic equivalent of a stupid pet trick – one that everyone knows how to do, and most people get over by end of undergraduate. In mixed company, using a term like “ableist” provokes a lot of eyeball-rolling, and is generally recognized as a good way of ensuring that no one outside your own very small circle will take you seriously.
There is, however, a deeper problem that has not gone away. This is the phenomenon that we refer to as “me” studies....
[S]ome people take the advice, to “follow your passion,” as an invitation to choose a thesis project that is essentially about themselves. For example, an old friend of mine in Montreal studying anthropology wrote her Master’s thesis on, I can’t remember the exact title, but it was something like, “Negotiations of difference in Quebecois-Jewish couples on the Montreal Plateau.” At the time, she was living with a Jewish guy on – you guessed it – the Plateau. So she basically wrote an MA thesis about issues in her own relationship. This is classic “me” studies....
Where “me” studies can easily become more problematic is when people decide to study, not their own lives per se, but rather their own oppression. Now of course oppression, in its various forms, is a perfectly legitimate topic of inquiry. Indeed, many of the forms of social inequality that we tried to eliminate, over the course of the 20th 1century, have proven remarkably recalcitrant in the face of our efforts....
[W]ho is best positioned to study these various forms of oppression. After all, we all live in the same world that we are studying. So who is best positioned – those who suffer from it, or those who do not? The inevitable conclusion is that neither are particularly well-positioned, since both will be biased in the direction of producing theories that are, at some level, self-serving, or self-exculpatory. Thus the best arrangement will be one in which lots of different people study these questions, then challenge one another to robust debate, which will tend to correct the various biases. This is, unfortunately, not how things usually play out. Instead, the field of study tends to attract, sometimes overwhelmingly, people who suffer from the relevant form of oppression – partly just for the obvious “me” studies reason, that the issue is greater interest to them, because it speaks to their personal ambitions and frustrations. But it can also set in motion a dynamic that can crowd out everyone who does not suffer from that particular form of oppression.
In terms of the quality of academic work, the results of this can be really disastrous. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met, who specialize in some form or another of “critical studies,” who are among the worst critical thinkers I’ve met. It’s because they lack the most important skill in critical thinking, which is self-criticism – the capacity to question one’s own view, and correct one’s own biases. And the reason that they’re so bad at it is that they have never had their views seriously challenged....
The problem is that, when you’re studying your own oppression, and you’re obviously a member of the oppressed group in question, people who are basically sympathetic to your situation, but who disagree with your specific claims, are going to be extremely hesitant to challenge you, because they don’t want to appear unsympathetic.....So you are only going to hear from two types of people – those who are sympathetic but want to take a more radical stance, and those who we might label, for convenience, “jerks,” which is to say, people who are both unsympathetic and who are, for one reason or another, immune to any consideration of what others think of them....
I don’t know how many talks I’ve been to where the question period goes this way. Someone presents a view that a solid majority of people in the room think is totally wrong-headed. But no one is willing to say things like: “I don’t think that what you are saying makes any sense” or “you have no evidence to support this contention” or “the policies you are promoting are excessively self-serving.” The questions that will be asked come in only two flavours: “I’m concerned that your analysis is unable to sustain a truly emancipatory social praxis” (i.e. “I don’t think you’re left-wing enough”), or else “you people are always whingeing about your problems” (i.e. “I’m a huge, insensitive jerk”).
Then of course, out in the hallway after the talk, people say what they really thought of the presentation – at this point, a whole bunch of entirely reasonable criticisms will get made, points that probably would have been really helpful to the presenter had they been communicated. The end result is a perfect example of what Timur Kuran refers to as belief falsification (not a great term, but Kuran’s work on this is very interesting). So basically, practitioners of “me” studies suffer from a huge handicap, when it comes to improving the quality of their work, which is that only people who are extremists of one sort or another are willing to give them honest feedback....
This dynamic may help to explain why the reaction that so many “me” studies practitioners have to criticism becomes so highly moralized. They begin to think that all criticism of their views arises from some morally suspect motive. This is what then gets referred to as “political correctness,” namely, the tendency to moralize all disagreement, so that, instead of engaging with intellectual criticism intellectually, they respond to it punitively.
At the FP blog, Jenny Saul (Sheffield) then called attention to a "great piece" by philosopher Audrey Yap (Victoria) responding to Heath; Saul singled out this passage in particular as evidence of the "greatness":
Western philosophy in general has too much in the way of “me” studies, namely straight, upper-middle-class, cis, heterosexual white men studying other straight, upper-middle-class, cis, heterosexual white men. This, as far as I can tell, has narrowed the discipline in general, much to its detriment.
This was such an obvious non-sequitur on Heath's argument, that I originally thought it had to be misquotation, but, alas, it was not. Apparently the author thinks that the philosophical systems of Descartes, Hume, and Kant are usefully explained as being about their own experience as "straight, upper-middle-class, cis, heterosexual white men." This kind of mindless identity politics is not the face that philosophy should put before the world.
UPDATE: Reader S. Wallerstein writes:
In fact, contrary to what Audrey Yap claims, traditional philosophy does not represent the point of view of heterosexual males, because so many famous philosophers were probably gay (if that term has any meaning before the mid 20th century) or did not marry (were they asexual or homosexual?). Philosophy begins with Plato, who seems not to have been heterosexual. The term "upper middle class" refers to mid 20th century and early 21th century social conditions and I doubt that anyone would call Plato "upper middle class" nor could they call Hume "upper middle class" nor Descartes nor Nietzsche nor Marx nor Engels nor Spinoza. Professor Yap should study some history and she would learn that "white, heterosexual upper-middle-class" is a category that only makes sense within the context of contemporary U.S. and Western European societies.
By the way, it's Foucault, whom I always thought was beloved by the "me studies" crowd, who points out that the term "gay" (and hence, the term "heterosexual") has no meaning before the late 19th century, that's there a history of sexuality, of how we categorize these things. I don't know if Foucault's research can always be relied on, but it's obvious that the Greeks had no idea of "heterosexuality" and "homosexuality" in our sense and it seems that in Shakespeare's time, in England at least, they didn't see things that way either.
ADDENDUM: Audrey Yap claims she doesn't understand the point of the preceding. I will help: the point was to call attention to mindless identity politics of a kind that philosophers should oppose. The point of posting Mr. Wallerstein's comment was that it made some nice points, and was funny. Prof. Yap thinks this is 'adversarial': well, yes, I was criticizing something I thought deeply misguided. Prof. Yap's reply is also "adversarial" and tries to score points.
Prof. Yap reports she believes that "everyone's social position affects their thinking." I believe that too; I think the class position of academics is, for example, quite important to understanding what they spend their time on; indeed, I think it's very helpful in understanding a lot of academic identity politics. (Even more important, with Nietzsche, I think one needs to understand the non-rational psychology of people [their cruelty, malice, envy, resentment, fearfulness etc.] to really understand the meaning of what they say and do, superficial appearances notwithstanding.) But Prof. Heath's original essay was not disputing this: indeed, he conceded that the social situation of those studying the oppressed will bias their approach, whether they are oppressor or oppressed. His point, as I read him, was that when the oppressed study themselves, they tend to do so extremely uncritically, moralizing their positions instead of defending them with evidence and arguments. Yap's reply was a non-sequitur with regard to Heath's article, though she now says she was being "sarcastic." Sarcasm only works, however, if it's responsive to what was being said.
At the FP blog (where there isn't even a link to this post!), a commenter "Susan" makes a nice point:
Audrey, I don’t think that you’re reading Leiter’s response to you correctly or charitably. Leiter called your response to the Heath piece a “non-sequitur,” and hence, he gave a philosophical reason for his implicit conclusion that your piece, whatever its independent merits, was not argumentatively relevant to the Heath piece that you took yourself to be responding to. Many top-notch articles and books in philosophy, as well as blog posts, personal conversations, etc. correctly and non-aggressively use a charge of “non-sequitur” to advance an argument. Thus, your claims that Leiter “wrote a dismissal” and that this dismissal was caused by a “preoccupation with adversariality” are simply false and unfounded, respectively. A dismissal, on the other hand, would not have provided a compelling reason for thinking that your piece was not argumentatively relevant to the Heath piece. In honesty, I agree with Leiter here that your piece does not engage with the claims made by Heath, changes the subject, and then declares a conclusion irrelevant to Heath’s to be probable or proven.
I can not resist noting, for the annals of the New Infantilism, that instead of linking to this post directly, Prof. Yap uses something called "do not link" to link to it. Yap and co-conspirators apparently believe that by doing this, they do not add to the google prominence of this blog. Alas, it's way too late for that.
...and gives money to charity and now feels good about himself. How much harm is he doing by working at the hedge fund? I guess that doesn't count. How much good would he and the hedge fund managers do if they gave all their money to Bernie Sanders? Can't be measured effectively, so doesn't count.
I first began tweeting my support of Donald Trump for the Republican nomination a few days ago and now the latest poll shows that Trump has surged to the head of the Republican pack. Well done philosophers!
UPDATE: Reader Howard Berman writes: "You know of course, if Trump actually gets elected, he’ll redo the Whitehouse into the Taj Mahal financed by a regressive tax on the middle class and poor. People I know in the business class detest him, perhaps for them he's like their reflection in a funhouse mirror. I recall the late Roman Empire had her Trumps too."
ANOTHER: I was startled that some readers think the Trump Bump in the polls was due to his rude remarks about Senator McCain, rather than my endorsement. I realize the American electorate is an appalling sewer of stupidity, but, let's be real: the idea that even Republican voters would gravitate towards a draft-dodging rich kid who insults a veteran, well that's insulting. Seriously, do you think Republican voters are that base and stupid? If you do, you probably believe in the Marxian theory of false consciousness. Jeez.
The University of Wisconsin System would see $250 million in cuts and sweeping changes in its operations, under a proposal put forward by GOP lawmakers Friday that would still be less dramatic than changes proposed by Gov. Scott Walker.
Lawmakers on the Legislature's budget committee are poised to reduce Walker's controversial proposed cuts to the UW System from $300 million over two years to $250 million, which UW System leaders praised, but faculty members on campuses said was not nearly enough. The extra $50 million would be distributed to campuses around the state that are judged by UW leaders to be hardest hit by the cuts, according to a GOP motion.
The Joint Finance Committee would continue for another two years the freeze on tuition for undergraduate state residents that was proposed by the governor and likely 2016 presidential candidate.
In addition, the provisions of academic tenure for professors would no longer be included in state law. The UW Board of Regents could choose to retain tenure under its rules or decline to do so, which would allow it to lay off any faculty in cases of budget difficulties or changes to academic programs.
The hypocrisy is that they reduce funding but freeze tuition: they should take their own neoliberal ideology seriously. Let the University of Wisconsin be a private university, which is what it's becoming. Let it charge what the fabled "market" will bear, but don't slash its funding and freeze its tuition, that's just hypocrisy and cowardice. Let the universities raise salaries to compensate for eliminating tenure, since tenure is the single most important form of non-monetary compensation faculty receive.
Unless the Neanderthal Scott Walker and the Repugs in Wisconsin are soundly defeated, this is America's future.
UPDATE: More on the legislative attack on tenure and other mischief. Comments open for more information, insight, perspective.
Totally believable and totally disgusting. In a civilized society, these pointless people would be separated from the money that makes their excesses possible. (And it's an illusion that this behavior is confined only to the Upper East Side.)
[H]er latest publication, For the New Intellectual, offers a selection of those passages, with an overtly philosophical introduction which places the rest of the system in perspective. At last the eager student can get some sort of overview of the intellectual edifice which is presented for his acceptance. I must say at the outset that I have not found the offering very palatable. Not, let me hasten to add, because I disagree with the conclusions—free trade, a minimum of governmental interference in the economy, the immorality of altruism, are, I think, eminently justifiable intellectual positions. Rather it is the paucity of rational arguments, the frequency with which nonsense is offered as self-evident truth, the hysterical ranting against opponents who have had their views distorted beyond recognition, the amateurish psychologizing—in a word, the sloppiness of the whole thing, which forces me to regard it as a paradigm of philosophical incompetence. The temptation is to see it as a huge joke, a farce by means of which its creator can laugh at the gullible. But at the risk of being taken in I shall treat this book seriously, with perhaps only the popularity of the doctrine to justify the enterprise. My method shall be the following—I shall quote, sometimes at length, from the book, and then comment on the material presented.
And this from the conclusion equally sharp:
It is not difficult to understand the attraction Ayn Rand has for the uninstructed. She appears, I suppose, to be the spokesman for freedom, for self-esteem, and other equally noble ideals. However, patient examination reveals her pronouncements to be but a shroud beneath which lies the corpse of illogic. Those who are concerned with discovering the principles of a sound social philosophy can read and study libertarian thought at its best. The ludicrously mistitled “philosophy of Ayn Rand” is a sham. To those who are travelling her road I can only suggest its abandonment—for that way madness lies.
(1)....If a professor fails to attain a minimum threshold of performance based on the student evaluations used to assess the professor’s teaching effectiveness, in accordance with the criteria and rating system adopted by the board, the institution shall terminate the professor’s employment regardless of tenure status or contract. (2) The names of the five professors who rank lowest on their institution’s evaluation for the semester, but who scored above the minimum threshold of performance, shall be published on the institution’s internet site and the student body shall be offered an opportunity to vote on the question of whether any of the five professors will be retained as employees of the institution. The employment of the professor receiving the fewest votes approving retention shall be terminated by the institution regardless of tenure status or contract.
The first provision is bad enough--a legislatively authorized breach of contract and due process--but the second is just vicious and insane.
(Thanks to Chris Surprenant for the pointer.)
UPDATE: Reader Prabhu Venkataraman calls to my attention that this nasty piece of legislation has been killed in committee.
What a great phrase; I owe it to a philosopher in the UK, who used it with reference to this. (He gave permission to quote, initially with his name, but then he got worried he would fall prey to SJWs, so asked that I not use his name.)
Periodically, readers call my attention to the bizarre Wikipedia page on Critchley, which if he didn't write it himself, must have been written by his research assistants or students. (He links to it from his homepage, a giveaway.) There are serious philosophers profiled on Wikipedia (see, e.g., Quine or Adorno), and their entries do not contain summaries of all their books, as Critchley's does, as though they were significant works of philosophy. Nothing is included that would indicate his actual reputation as a lightweight hack, even among scholars of the Continental traditions. Wikipedia is often a disaster when it comes to profiles of living people, but this is really an embarrassment. (I should note that his Wikipedia entry was first called to my attention long before his drinking buddy at the New York Times brought him on as "moderator" of The Stone blog. It has been this ridiculous for awhile.)
Continental Philosophy Farhang Erfani, a philosopher at American University, provides a useful set of links to news, events, interviews, reviews, videos, etc. related to "Continental philosophy" (broadly construed)