Thursday, September 25, 2014

Some Basic Facts About Carrie Jenkins's Now Famous Blog Post

Some elementary facts about Carrie Jenkins's now famous post and Brian Leiter's now infamous response to it, adapted from a comment I posted at Feminist Philosophers.
  1. Carrie’s post involved a general characterization of certain sorts of behaviors that are widespread in our profession but that she regards as unacceptable, and a pledge publicly to name such behaviors and to work to reduce or eliminate them. There is no way that making such a declaration can possibly be regarded as anything other than praiseworthy, given the sorry state of our field in this respect.

  2. Though hardly the only one, Leiter was at the time, and would have been at any time, a salient individual whose behavior is well known not to conform to Carrie’s standards.

  3. It follows that, at least in some weak sense,1 Carrie is implicating that she intends no longer to tolerate Leiter’s behavior—or that of others who violate the standards she had articulated.

  4. If you think this is a “threat”, then in response I quote Karate Bearfighter, who said over at Lawyers, Guns, and Money: “If Carrie Jenkins’ blog post was an unacceptable ‘attack’ on Leiter because it criticized behaviors Leiter has exhibited, then Leiter effectively immunizes behaviors from any criticism or discussion just by exhibiting them. Which, in terms of public displays of narcissism and thin skin, is just one small step up from that kid on the Twilight Zone who wishes people into the cornfield.”

  5. Power dynamics matter. Carrie was threatened with repeated public humiliation by someone who is arguably the most powerful single person in our profession and who has made it clear, by doing so repeatedly in the past, that he is absolutely prepared to carry out that threat. (Yeah, I would kind of know. And no, I won't link to that.) Why else would Leiter have needed to ‘reassure’ Carrie by writing: “P.S. Don’t worry I’m not going to embarrass you in public about this…”?

    If this still isn’t clear, then please read the comment from Aimai over at Lawyers, Guns, and Money. (There are some minor factual inaccuracies, but the basic point is sound.)

  6. Proportionality matters. Even if Leiter, for some reason, rational or irrational, thought Carrie was “attacking” him, his response to her is so unbelievably over the top that it cannot possibly be regarded as appropriate, by any measure.

  7. Patterns of behavior matter. This is not, by a long shot, an isolated incident. It is one of at least half a dozen this year alone, all of which have targeted either women, junior faculty, or graduate students.* There have been boatloads of such incidents over the last fifteen years or so. It would not surprise me if the number of Leiter’s victims had reached triple digits at this point.

  8. It is high time we put an end to this. And we should thank Carrie for getting us to do it.
It looks now as if something like that is going to happen. So thanks, Carrie. Sorry you had to go through hell to get us here.

1 As it happens, I have written on this weak sense of implicature, in "Reason and Language". See especially §1.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, a speaker's implicating something in this sense doesn't require that the speaker have any intention to do so. That's why it's a very weak sense of implicature. So I am not at all saying that Carrie intended to be conveying anything at all about Leiter and his behavior.

* UPDATE: To clarify, this remark does not concern Leiter's habit of making derogatory comments about people. Part of what made the incidents recounted on the "Recent Events" website so troubling to many of us was how extreme they seemed: far beyond the sorry standard Leiter has previously set. So, while Lieter has, to be sure, made derogatory comments about a lot more than half a dozen people in recent months (as he pointed out on his blog), I am not talking about those sorts of incidents. I am specifically talking about cases in which Leiter threatened or insulted people or said extremely derogatory things about people over whom he has some sort of power. (Tom Stern, a junior philosopher who works on Nietzsche, would fall into this category.) See also this post for further discussion of this issue and Simon Cabuela May's second point here.


  1. So, yeah, weird to comment on your own post. But Carrie is claiming (on Facebook) that she doesn't deserve the praise at (8).
    Well, she does! Nothing that has happened has happened without her consent
    and, given what has happened in the past to people who have stood up to Leiter, it took a LOT of courage for her to do so. I, as I have said, know.
    There are other people too who deserve our praise and thanks, but I'll leave that until the denouement has concluded.

  2. Thank you for your kind words Richard. I really appreciate your support.

    A little-known factoid: when I was writing Day One, not only was I not writing about Leiter in particular, I genuinely wasn't sure if any of Leiter's behaviour was even described by the wording, and I still am not.

    I wrote in part 1 about what I planned to do "in my professional capacity". I wondered at the time whether that was too minimal. I was thinking: maybe things like blogging aren't done "in one's professional capacity". It is, at least, something of a grey area in the case of a blog like Leiter's, say, which carries all sorts of content.

    I was thinking, in the first instance, of what I do "in my professional capacity" as convering teaching, conferences, colloquia, seminars, etc. I wondered if maybe I should say something about philosophy blogging and related activities too, but I just thought it would be better to go for the most minimal option, at first, then think later about what else I might add.

    1. So it was, in that sense, more along the lines of Chalmers's norms for discussion? but extended a bit further? In that case, one thing we might add to the list of "professional activities" would be refereeing. I'm sure we've both seen referee reports that don't meet the standards articulated in Part 1.

    2. I for one definitely need to think more about how I approach refereeing.

      Chalmers's norms are, helpfully, much more specific and worked out (and if I remember rightly, specific to seminar discussions?) My post was really meant to be just a couple of minimal things I wanted to bear in mind for the future.

    3. “We’re all smart. Distinguish yourself by being kind.” — Anne Galloway, via Daily Nous

      I will do my best and hope my Voice is soothing.

      I am naught but a vulgar observer -- so please read my comment with intent, but also with that understanding. Upon first reading your Day One Manifesto, I did so in relation to myself... it said to me, "Do this, but also know at least some among your betters are striving to do the same." In relation to the referenced strife, especially when observing the action and the reaction as one, you seemed quite worthy of praise.

      Here and elsewhere a deeper meaning began to take form in my mind. In some small measure, I hope I see your intent. In some meager portion, I hope I understand your feelings.

      The Internet is an amazing tool, but sometimes we forget how dehumanizing it can be. When experiencing cause and effect, we do not perceive them to be the same instance. A quarter of a thousand people stand by your side and more have been galvanized to positive action (or intent, at least) by a series of events... how difficult it must be, having felt so helpless, to see what we see... to see yourself as having incited that action.

      Along the shadow of time past, have you questioned each word, each syllable, of your declaration? In that deep dark time of night, you know the one - just past midnight when the imagining of other worlds takes on a grimmer cast, do you wonder how Pandora felt? Or Eve? Whether right or wrong, there is certainly a theme among those progenitors of wisdom... and one I cannot help but find relevant.

      Just past one, or sometimes as late as two, the darkness begins to swallow me. The symptom, of course, is humanity. With all their potential for weal and woe. I think you love them as much as I do... so based on my experience with those foul humors I would like to offer this humble, if presumptuous, advice:

      Turn to your past self. What she wrote was full of hope and wisdom; she looked into the future with a smile ready for the world! Her heart was beautiful and her words had meaning - She was just like you.

      You know her faults so well I don't think you could ever call her a hero... in fact, it seems like it would be impossible for anyone to designate themselves a hero - why would they need to, except for vanity? It is the people who need heroes, it is the people who call for heroes. So, please forgive me when I call her what you will not and know it is because I believe she has the strength:

      Thank you for being a hero. Not a cartoon hero; they are impermeable to dearth or depth. Not a fully matured hero; for the Hero's Journey is an endless cycle. No; thank you for being an Odyssean Hero.

    4. Warren, I'm just going to be honest here. That's kind of strange in places, but it is beautiful in the end.

    5. It's incredibly strange; I hate presuming to know enough to write something so personal to someone I don't know... I know how wrong I could be, and I know it is possible I could do more harm than good. But, sometimes it seems more important to say something than it does to avoid being foolish. Thank you for your thoughts, and thank you for your understanding.

    6. These kinds of sentiments are very hard to express. That's why we have poetry.


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