Friday, July 20, 2012

Sexism in Philosophy, or "The-Everybody-Did-It” (TEDI) Syndrome, or Hiding In The Herd (HITH) mentality

[What follows is based on ongoing conversation with my co-author, Merel Lefevere.--ES]

Institutions (that is, legally or corporately sactioned rules to be followed) can be designed or have been developed for solving particular problems or for particular aims. Yet, in the fullness of time outcomes under these institutions can reveal a pattern of unintended side-consequences. Let's say that one such unintended side-consequence is the fixation of certain (informal) norms or a pattern of exclusion. If some group (the insiders) benefits from this side-consequence they will sooner or later notice it often before the people who do not benefit from these. Human nature being what it is, often the disadvantaged outsiders are the first to speak up about the unintended side-consequence. The outsiders are at a disadvantage when they do so because if the side-consequence is really harmful they are fighting it with relatively slender resources while trying to figure out what the hell is going on. One especially pernicious aspect of the toy-example described here is that all the insiders think they have clean hands. While they actively benefit from an outcome pattern, they can always claim that none of them intended it or actively promoted it. So, when individuals are called out on, say, the informal norms and how these facilitate the pattern of exclusion, the more outspoken of the insider will fall back on variants of what we may call "The-Everybody-Did-It Syndrome" or (TEDI). Many other insiders prefer Hiding In the Herd (HITH) and focus on their work, career, etc.

In the real world we find TEDI annd HITH among bankers defending their bonuses even in the face of tax-funded bailouts as much as among academic philosophers defending a shameful pattern of sexual exclusion. TEDI is indicative of collective negligence and, if noticed, it becomes a collective action problem. Short of abolishing the institutions entirely (i.e., revolution, which is always dangerous for its potentially far worse unintended consequences to all), the best that can be hoped for is a change in the informal norms with which the institutions operate. This can happen when enough of the insiders are convinced that it is in their enlightened self-interest to change systematically how the rules are interpreted/applied or to alter the informal norms. Sometimes change comes from moral clarity, but in practice the insiders decide that it is not worth their energy to keep defending a crappy practice (to their peers, tax-payers, etc). The sad thing is that philosophers are no wiser than bankers in these matters.

wrong said...
I am, however, skeptical of all manner of academic efforts that seem primarily aimed at DE-legitimatizing Israel as a Jewish state. I have no trouble admitting that Israel was founded on historic injustice(s) many of which it continues to perpetuate. But I don't think Israel is particularly special in this regard (sadly), and I have never seen an argument for an academic boycott of Israel that wasn't also part of a wider campaign (including the persistent analogy with South Africa)--again, this is not to deny there are all kinds of second class citizens in Israel."
"One need not be a standpoint theorist to realize that not having Palestinians at the main table impoverishes the discussion." [adapted from Schliesser. The original referred to women]

Either "standpoint" is substantive or it is not. There's no need to get into the debates over degree. As often as not that's led to absurdity.

Eric Schliesser said in reply to wrong...
Why would you think I object to the idea that not having Palestinians at the main table impoverishes the discussion? I would very much welcome more inclusive conferences in Israel.
By the way, you clearly think this is some clever attack on me--but I don't call for an academic boycott of the Feyerabend conference. Rather, I think they should cancel and re-group (or revisit their program if that still can be done).

wrong said in reply to Eric Schliesser...
It's not about academic boycotts it's about perspectives, as theory and fact.
You defend an Israeli table as such, as just. People refer to Israel as "a Jewish and a democratic state" Is that possible?
Majorities either can or cannot be said "justly" to speak for minorities: men for women, heterosexuals for homosexuals, whites for black, Germans for Jews, Jews for Palestinians.
Is representative politics -and that's what this debate is about- justifiable as substance or simply as practical necessity, as epitomeology or obligatory annoyance?

I've always assumed representative government was built to accommodate standpoints as fact but now I'm reminded that "standpoint theory" is a recent development.
I'd forgotten things I learned when I dating a graduate student years ago.

The academy and democracy have always had an uneasy relationship.

Eric Schliesser said in reply to wrong...
Wrong, it would be nice that in your attempt to play *gotcha* with me you kept your facts straight. (Given that you are a fake email address, I will give you the benefit of the doubt this once, but if you keep doing that and in the absence of a verifiable email address, I will remove further comment from the thread.) First, I have not used the rhetoric of "a Jewish and democratic state" (certainly not in the thread to which you refer). Even the quote you highlighted above ought to make it clear that I abhor that kind of rhetoric, and I certainly do not defend an "Israeli table as such" (whatever that means). You are conflating me with some imagined evil-doer. Second, in that thread I try to articulate a very minimal principle: that we should try (i) to get our own academic houses in order (I mention my concern over plagiarism in context) before (ii) we try to use boycotts for other political ends--we end up being way too selective (not to mention futile) in (ii). It's that principle which makes my views on these matter relative consistent. (You may not like the principle, but it is at the principle you should direct your sarcasm.) Third, there is an important dis-anology, I am not trying to discredit universities that hot or the topics discussed at male-only-keynoted workshops. All I am trying to do is try change a norm within academic philosophy. Finally, we agree that the academy and democracy have always had an uneasy relationship--something I have written about on this blog.

wrong [posted with working email address] said...
"Why would you think I object to the idea that not having Palestinians at the main table impoverishes the discussion? "
"I am, however, skeptical of all manner of academic efforts that seem primarily aimed at DE-legitimatizing Israel as a Jewish state. "
"But I don't think Israel is particularly special in this regard (sadly)" Maybe you don't consider Israel a democratic state, in which case you're defending it as a non-democratic state under the logic of EDI or HITH.
Peter Beinart: "I'm not even asking it to allow full, equal citizenship to Arab Israelis, since that would require Israel no longer being a Jewish state. I'm actually pretty willing to compromise my liberalism for Israel's security and for its status as a Jewish state."

My argument is simple: A Jewish State for a Jewish people iff a German state for a German people.
You may disagree, and I would accept that. I'm asking for either a consistent logic, or a defense of casuistry / situational ethics.
I'm hearing an amalgam that works as neither.

Eric Schliesser said in reply to wrong...
The Germans have their state, too.
You should take your disagremeent with Beinart elsewhere.

wrong said...
The Germans changed theirs laws in 2000. As it is, as Jason Stanley noted a few years ago: own expected happy homecoming into German society wasn't necessarily working out as planned. One of the teachers at the Gymnasium told me that Heinrich Heine wasn't really a "German" poet, but rather was a "European" poet. My absurdly well-meaning and wonderful hostfather regularly repeated that "Deutschland ist kein Einwanderungsland" (which is, as Schneider points out, a common theme among Germans of a certain generation). Whenever I told people I was of German descent, they would argue with me -- then upon discovering that I was Jewish, would say "Oh, so you're not German, you're Jewish" (strangely, I never heard anyone say to someone, upon discovering that they were Christian, "Oh, so you're not German, you're Christian"). Among my German friends, there was a pervasive sense of the strangeness of other cultures, which alternately manifested itself as either irrational disdain or irrational admiration.
Stanley either exhibits or makes use of the common confusion regarding Jews as believers in a faith and as an ethnic group. Christians are not "a people". Israel was founded as a secular state and as a homeland for the Jewish people, not the Jewish religion.
"So, when individuals are called out on, say, the informal norms and how these facilitate the pattern of exclusion..." An explicit attack of the logic of Zionism written by a defender of the thing itself. Schliesser and Smilansky.
Schliesser removed the last comment but left the earlier ones, explaining his decision in an email. I appreciate that he left the others up, but not the distinction.
more above
I've quoted the email since so I'll add the relevant part here as well:
" a German Jew living in the Netherlands and working in Belgium, I really do not need your lectures on these matters."

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