Professional Philosophy Inside the Ivory Bunker
Recently I’ve been re-reading Hannah Arendt’s brilliant Eichmann in Jerusalem and Paulo Freire’s equally brilliant Pedagogy of the Oppressed, alongside some work I’ve been doing in political philosophy.
One important idea is that Nazi-style banal evil can inhere in action-guiding institutional structures that we’re not reflectively aware of, guiding us towards terrible human oppression (Arendt’s thought).
And another important idea is that, with passionate commitment, we can also liberate ourselves from the grip of these sociopathic institutions by means of a dialogue-driven collective development of critical consciousness (Freire’s thought).
Cool stuff, yes? Then a strange thing happened.
Last Wednesday I read that the APA is providing grants to nine projects for 2016-2017 (see below).
Later that evening, I also read George Yancy’s controversial article in The Stone, “I am a Dangerous Professor.”
That night, I dreamed that George Yancy is actually Donald Trump’s illegitimate son.
But it gets even worse.
In the dream, Amy Ferrer found out about Trump’s paternity, then stuck her head out a window and started denouncing Trump by shrieking that he was an evil slave master who’d fathered Yancy by forcing his attentions on one of his female slaves.
Then I woke up from the nightmare.
OK. It was a crazy nightmare.
On reflection, however, it seemed increasingly ominous and meaningful, especially in the larger context of my re-reading Arendt and Freire, my recent edgy essay, Professional Philosophy in the Age of Trump, and Frodeman’s and Briggle’s re-posted Guardian essay, Why Policy Needs Philosophers As Much As It Needs Science.
Finally, I decided that via my nightmare, my pre-reflective philosophical mind was telling me that:
(1) contemporary professional academic philosophy has an unhealthy obsession with identity politics, and
(2) there is a direct dialectical relationship between
(2.1) Trump’s nativist, racist, anti-feminist, right-neoliberal, Know-Nothing identity-politics, and
(2.2) the unhealthy coercive moralist, left-liberal, Social Justice Warrior obsession with identity politics, under the rubric of “diversity and inclusiveness,” that is so fully exemplified by the APA.
In short, over the last 35+ years, since Reagan-POTUS 1, professional academics in general and professional academic philosophy in particular, driven by fear and hatred of their Republican-right political oppressor (Reagan-Bush-Trump + alt-right zealots), now oppress anything that offends them, and, in so doing, have turned their ivory tower into an ivory bunker.
Counter-oppression is no better, morally or politically speaking than original oppression: remember how the French Revolution started out with passionate, humanitarian resistance to oppression and then turned into The Terror?
Since the early 2000s, the professional academic gods will have blood.
So on the one hand, I applaud and respect Yancy for his passionate, humanitarian resistance to The Professor Watchlist.
But on the other hand, unfortunately, I think he also slides off into all-too-familiar counter-oppressive identity politics, and thereby further contributes to the sociopathic institutionalization of the contemporary USA in general, and professional academic philosophy in particular, by simply adding more layers to the already too-thick walls of professional philosophy’s ivory bunker.
Indeed, Rachel Barney’s new anti-authoritarian academic code of conduct is an almost perfect expression of the ivory-bunker mentality in professional academic philosophy.
Much of it is totally cool, i.e., rationally well-justified from a passionate humanitarian point of view, but at the same neither Barney nor her code of conduct has adequately faced up to what I’ve called Salovey’s Dilemma: the conflict between coercive moralist identity-politics and freedom of expression.
Believe it or not, it is possible to live autonomously, to respect human dignity, and to resist human oppression with all one’s heart, without turning other people or oneself into mere tokens of racial, ethnic, sexual, gender, economic-class, national, language-speaking, etc., etc., types.
Believe it or not, it is possible to know the difference between merely being offended and being oppressed.
This is because being oppressed is a moral phenomenon that necessarily involves coercion, whether primary coercion, involving violence or the threat of violence or secondary coercion, involving the imposition of salient harm or the threat of this–whereas merely being offended is a psychological phenomenon that does not involve coercion.
Ironically and catastrophically, the institutionalized sociopathy of identity politics is what Trump’s nativist, racist, anti-feminist, right-neoliberal, Know-Nothings + alt-right zealots on the one hand, and the left-liberal, Social Justice Warriors of diversity and inclusiveness inside or outside professional philosophy on the other hand, share in common.
Now the only way out of institutionalized sociopathy is a four-step process:
(1) by daring to think critically for oneself,
(2) by passionately resisting human oppression yet also empathizing with, and fully understanding the pathology of, the oppressor (this is the hardest thing of all, since it requires a passionately dispassionate intolerance of the oppressor’s oppression, without lapsing into counter-oppressive fear and hatred),
(3) by passionately engaging in collective free expression, constructive dialogue, and participatory decision-making, all at the grassroots level, and
(4) by collectively and resolutely dismantling sociopathic institutions and replacing them with open communities.
In the particular case of professional academic philosophy, this means collectively and resolutely dismantling the APA and dismantling professional academic philosophy as such, and replacing them both with open philosophy.
Only then can professional academic philosophers critically and freely break out of their ivory bunker and into the real world of actual humanity.
* * *
APA Provides Grants to Nine Projects for 2016–2017
American Philosophical Association
The American Philosophical Association is pleased to announce that the board of officers will provide grants to nine philosophy-related projects for 2016–2017.
Small Grant Program
Each year, the APA Eastern Division provides $25,000 for the APA’s Small Grant Program. This year’s grant application process was quite competitive, with 15 proposals requesting a total of $61,785 from our $25,000 grant fund. The following seven programs will receive funding:
Ethics and Aesthetics of Stand-Up Comedy
The proposed conference will stimulate philosophical work on the topic of stand-up comedy by bringing together scholars from a range of disciplines and perspectives to share new work on this neglected area of inquiry. The Ethics and Aesthetics of Stand-Up Comedy Conference will be interdisciplinary and participatory and will converse on the many aesthetic and ethical issues raised by the theory, culture(s), and practice of stand-up comedy. The APA has funded this program at $5,000.
Gender in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
This project seeks to examine the gender distribution in one of the most influential online resources of philosophy, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, by providing statistical measures of female representation in authorship and rates of citation, investigating patterns of a citation for potential biases, comparing the SEP gender distribution to the more general demographics of the field, and exploring whether the content of SEP articles written by women is different than articles written solely by men, or with mixed-gender authorship. The information found through this project will assist SEP authors and editors to identify specific areas in which they can work to ensure equitable representation in the SEP. The APA has funded this program at $3,000.
Mexican Indigenous Knowledge, Chican@ Identity, and Philosophy for Children
This project aims to explore the connections between Mexican indigenous knowledge, Chican@ identity, and philosophy for children through teaching, learning, and collaborative scholarship. To this end, they will hold an interactive, one-day workshop on these themes for approximately 40 undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) who are involved in the UTEP Philosophy for Children in the Borderlands program. The APA has funded this program at $900.
Non-Academic Placement Data and Analysis
This is an expansion of an existing project—Academic Placement Data and Analysis (APDA). APDA has the aim of collecting and analyzing data on placement for graduates of doctoral programs in philosophy. This year the project hopes to achieve substantial progress on recording non-academic placements. They will employ the help of some undergraduates to research the status of graduates with unknown placements and categorize all non-academic placements into areas of special interest. They will then conduct a new survey that focuses on those with non-academic placements. The APA has funded this program at $5,000.
Prejudice: An Interdisciplinary Workshop
This grant will be used to fund an inaugural interdisciplinary workshop on the philosophy of prejudice at Washington University in St Louis in late fall 2017. They will bring together leading scholars studying prejudice, across disciplinary lines, to develop a better understanding of the nature of prejudice and to develop effective interventions. Afterward, the proceedings will be collected into a published volume reflecting the collective insights and interdisciplinary connections, making the results of this conference available to the wider academic community. The APA has funded this program at $3,000.
Second Annual Undergraduate Women in Philosophy Conference
The MSU Denver’s Undergraduate Women in Philosophy Conference provides a supportive space for undergraduate female-identified students to present and comment on philosophy papers and build community. The conference also provides a workshop on the climate of women in philosophy and a keynote lecture. To maximize the impact of this important conference, they will extend the conference to two full days, allowing more students to participate. Supporting female-identified undergraduate students’ ability to participate in this conference is a central and essential way to support the APA’s long-standing commitment to diversity and underrepresented groups in the profession. The APA has funded this program at $5,000.
Workshop for Early Career Women in Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy
This grant will fund a one-day workshop for early-career women working in Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy, areas of philosophy in which women scholars are conspicuously underrepresented. The workshop would aim to achieve three goals: (1) to provide an opportunity for early-career women working in the area to present their work and receive feedback, (2) to help foster networking opportunities with medieval philosophers working in the NYC area, and (3) to help increase the visibility of research in the area and women’s contributions to it. The APA has funded this program at $3,000.
Diversity and Inclusiveness Grants
The board of officers committed $20,000 for 2016–2017 to support one or two programs aiming to increase the presence and participation of women, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, people of low socioeconomic status, and other underrepresented groups in philosophy. Learn more. Out of 19 applications, the board chose to fund the following two projects for 2016–2017.
Ethics and Society at Rice University
Ethics and Society at Rice University is a three-week summer enrichment program for rising juniors and seniors who qualify for free or reduced-price meals in Houston-area public and charter schools. The program both addresses a deep disparity in educational opportunities and has the potential to contribute to diversity within the field of philosophy. By opening the program to students from economically disadvantaged families, their student body is constituted by demographic groups that are underrepresented in the field. The APA has funded this program at $10,000.
Inclusive Summer High School Institute for Philosophy (ISHIP) at the Prindle Institute for Ethics
The Inclusive Summer High School Institute for Philosophy (ISHIP) is a weeklong summer enrichment program designed for high school juniors from historically underrepresented groups in philosophy. The primary goal of ISHIP is to introduce high school students to philosophy through texts, skills-based presentations, speakers, and ethics bowl participation. In addition, ISHIP encourages attendees to consider future study in the field of philosophy by demonstrating how the skills of philosophy can enrich their college experience. ISHIP has the potential to transform the discipline of philosophy by creating more space in the field for individuals whose voices have been previously underrepresented, while also inviting students to identify the ways in which philosophy could positively contribute to their academic goals and beyond. The APA has funded this program at $10,000.
Congratulations to all of the recipients!
All the best,
Amy E. Ferrer
The American Philosophical Association
University of Delaware
31 Amstel Avenue, Newark, DE 19716