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Friday, October 3, 2014

Can You Sign the September Statement If You Object to PGR in Principle?

I have had several people write me now to explain that they can't sign the "September Statement" because doing so would be implicitly to endorse PGR. This is the weirdest flipside ever of Leiter's insistence that the true agenda of the authors of the September Statement is to destroy PGR.

The worry seems to be focused on two sentences near the end of the Statement:
We are only declining to volunteer our services to the PGR while it is under the control of Brian Leiter. With a different leadership structure, the benefits of the guide might be achieved without detriment to our colleague.
Some people seem to think that these statements contain some sort of implicature that, if PGR were not under Leiter's control, we'd all be on board. Or, as John Protevi has now said publicly, that there are (net) "benefits" to PGR that could better be achieved without Leiter as leader.

This is just wrong. In the remarks quoted, the authors of the September Statement (of whom I am not one) are simply trying to make it clear that they are not targeting the PGR as such. That is, the purpose of the remarks is to forestall the predictable response from Leiter (which we have, of course, heard, and to which I will not link) that this is just another group of party line right-wing feminazi continentalist PGR-haters trying to destroy what he has so selflessly offered the field.

The point, that is to say, is that this particular effort targets PGR only because and in so far and so long as Brian Leiter is its editor, not because of general objections to it. That does not imply that there aren't general objections to it, nor that the signatories do not have such objections—which, as is well known, I do.

Look: It is patently absurd to suppose that the authors of the Statement meant to exclude people from signing who have general objections to rankings! To the contrary: What they are trying to do is make it possible for people who do not have such objections to sign. (I'd have thought it was equally absurd to suppose that anyone would think that those of us who have signed have thereby expressed our enthusiasm for rankings, but I guess I've just been surprised.)

So I disagree with Protevi: The last sentence quoted above does not beg the question whether PGR has (net) benefits. The sentence in question should be read:
With a different leadership structure, the benefits of the guide, such as they are (and we are not taking a stand on that), might be achieved without detriment to our colleague.
Nothing in the Statement turns on any other reading, so the charitable reading is the one just indicated (as Daniel Elstein has also said).

With all due respect, I therefore have to disagree with Jessica Wilson, too:
...[I]t is a major distraction to take the upshot of [Leiter's misbehavior] to be that Leiter should step down from the PGR, since in so doing the deeper crisis affecting our profession—the fact of and destructive impact of implicit bias—will remain unaddressed and moreover be perpetuated. The problem with the PGR is not Leiter, but the associated ranking system, which is tailor-made to encourage and encode implicit bias.
Yes, yes, but no. This just misunderstands the goal of this effort. Wilson writes as if the goal were to solve a "problem with the PGR": to improve it by getting Leiter to step down. But that too is just wrong. The goal is to deprive Leiter of one major source of the power that he has been abusing. The fact that, in doing so, we do not also address the role that PGR plays in propagating implicit bias is, so far as I can see, not relevant.

Which is not to say that addressing that other issue isn't important. Of course it is. But I simply do not see how trying to put an end to a long-standing pattern of behavior that Wilson herself characterizes as "seriously injurious" can possibly be dismissed as a "distraction" from the problem of implicit bias.

Do Protevi, Wilson, et alia, really want to help Leiter split the opposition? Because that is what they are doing.

UPDATE (10/4): Jonahtan Jenkins Ichikawa has explained the thinking behind the language mentioned above in a comment at Feminist Philosophers. Jonathan writes: "The intention was that the statement be explicitly neutral on what attitudes signatories might have toward other possible versions of the PGR. So I can confirm with what I think is some authority...that the language was never intended to imply that a Leiter-free PGR would be better than no PGR at all." He goes on the concede, however, "...that in our efforts to avoid giving the impression that the September Statement represented an anti-PGR stance, we may have inadvertently chosen wording that is suggestive of the opposite...".

1 comment:

  1. Jessica Wilson writes:

    Richard, I don't think either I or others who oppose the rankings "suppose that the authors of the Statement meant to exclude people from signing who have general objections to rankings". Even if the inclusion of the remarks about benefits were rather positively directed at getting people who have no objections to sign, the fact remains that the statement contains an implication and called-for course of action with which I and some others disagree.

    As for the fact that the statement is primarily directed at removing power from or more generally sending a message to Leiter as opposed to improving the PGR: I get that. But as I've said elsewhere, I don't see a need to take a public stand against bullying in a context where my signature thereby implies that I am endorsing the continuation of a system which I do not endorse. Of course I'm against bullying, and of course I stand in support of Carrie and other of Leiter's targets---I'm appalled on her and others's behalf at Leiter's completely inappropriate threats. If someone wants to start a petition that simply calls for everyone (Leiter, in particular---but not just him, everyone who bullies others, and here I will just note that uncharitably claiming that those who have tried to articulate their reasons for not signing are making "patently absurd" suppositions counts, in my view, as a mild form of bullying) to cut that shit out, I will happily sign it. What I hope to !
    do by call
    ing attention to the reasons for my not signing the September statement is to flag the further, extremely injurious, and extremely widespread issue of implicit bias and its codification in rankings systems. We are all victims of this system, and my remarks are mainly intended to flag that there is an alternative, and to my mind, much better, course of action that is available to us here.

    In any case, as I've also said, I respect the position of the signatories. Perhaps my position can serve not as encouraging "splitting", but as a reminder about where we as a profession should be heading. I want to break free of the jail, not just get a better guard.


    (Sorry if people are havign trouble posting comments. I don't know why that is.)


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