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08/03/2018

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Stacey Goguen

I'll add another quote (paraphrase)
The only time a person can be brave is when they're afraid. -Ned Stark

In terms of taking risks online, there's a few different issues (obviously). One is the real risk of someone taking your remarks made on the internet out of context and using them to harass/slander you (e.g. Sarah Jeong, Tommy Currie, George Yancy, Saida Grundy, etc.) You might take this as a reason to be more strategic with what you say, but you can't 100% protect yourself from this not matter how reasonable you are, so to a certain extent, tweet away. If you're a woman/PoC/LGBTQ folk, you're going to get harassed for something, if you get visible/popular enough--which isn't fully under your control.

Another issue is what other people in the profession (with power to give you a job/money/opportunity) might think of you. Sometimes it might be good to be strategic and keep your cards close to your chest. But on the other hand, getting a job at a department where people would be shocked/outraged by your very reasonable opinions on the profession/white supremacy/etc. might not be good for your overall health. So I took some risks in being fairly 'open' about some things (e.g. feminist issues, professional norms) while on the job market, whenever it passed this test: "If saying this loses me a job, there's a very good chance that job would have been detrimental to my health/well-being (factoring in economic needs)."

Part of that came along with rejecting the idea that any job in philosophy > no job in philosophy. I decided that, if my options were (a) no job offer that year, or (b) a job offer at a very likely toxic department, I would choose (a). I recognize that I felt economically secure enough to take that risk and be able to look for an academic job the following year. Also, I wasn't trying to climb the research prestige ladder, so taking a job at a toxic department had less benefits for me. That is all to say, it's not always a decision due to fear, but I think it often is, and we're often told that it should be.

Marcus Arvan

A great, insightful comment Stacey - thank you for sharing your perspective! :)

JT

The point is put in terms of fear, but this is a bit overly sensational. Although people often *say* that they are fearful, it might not be fear that prevents them from being real (or that leads them to "hide themselves"). It might be more appropriate to say: they confidently believe that being real will not serve to promote their interests.

When put in these terms, the suggestion "not to live in fear" is strange. Notice, the suggestion not live in fear is the suggestion to be real. And this suggestion becomes the suggestion to do what you confidently believe will not serve to promote your interests. This is straightforwardly strange.

Furthermore, you indicate that being real has paid off for some people. Might it be that those who did this either did not confidently believe that doing so would not serve to promote their interests? Might it be that they were *not* members of groups that are most vulnerable to the phenomenon the post suggests is undesirable? I'm not sure. But I'm confident that the fact that being real has paid off for some is no *good* reason to be real, for many (if not most) of us who confidently believe that being real will not serve to promote our interests. As a member of many groups traditionally underrepresented in philosophy, this "reason" has no force whatsoever.

For many people like me, the suggestion that it is courageous to "be real"--i.e., to do what we confidently believe will not serve to promote our interests--is laughable. We are socioeconomically disadvantaged, women, persons of color, parents of young children, etc. who cannot afford to be "courageous." We, I guess, prefer to be genuinely courageous--i.e., to sacrifice being real for the benefit of feeding our kids, helping our parents pay their mortgage, being successful in a world that doesn't value our contributions as much as others *in virtue of being a member of those groups mentioned*.

I appreciate what your blog does for the profession, Marcus. But this post is mistaken. If I've made a mistake in any of the above, let me know.

Marcus Arvan

Hi JT: Thank you for the kind comments about the blog, and for registering your concerns about this post. If the post is mistaken--and I am interested in hearing what others have to say here as well (just to get a more complete picture on that)--I hope to learn from it, and hope the post is at least taken as having good intent.

But let me try to respond to a few of your concerns. You begin by writing: "The point is put in terms of fear, but this is a bit overly sensational. Although people often *say* that they are fearful, it might not be fear that prevents them from being real (or that leads them to "hide themselves"). It might be more appropriate to say: they confidently believe that being real will not serve to promote their interests."

I have no doubt that many people confidently believe that being real will not serve to promote their interests. What I was trying to suggest is three things. First, that it is a sad state of affairs--one I wish we could improve upon--that people find themselves in a situation in which they are confident that being real will not serve them. Second, that there may be things we can do to improve upon this (by not settling for it). And third, that here--as in other parts of life--*some* people's level of confidence may be misplaced.

This is one reason I shared so many quotations, and by people of quite diverse backgrounds. While I am myself admittedly a member of a number of privileged social identities (but not others), I found my own confidence--and confidence of others--about what I should expect by being myself online to be mostly off-base. For instance, I am about 100% certain that no one in my grad program--faculty or student--would have thought it a good idea to blog publicly. I especially don't think they would consider it a good idea to blog about my job-market struggles, sadness, difficulties publishing, or my many critiques of disciplinary practices and features of the profession. Indeed, I've had people tell me as much to my face. However, their confidence was misplaced. Sure, there may be people who haven't liked many things I've written. But the kind of fear-mongering--the certitude I've heard people express about blogging being a bad idea--just hasn't materialized in my case. Further, I know more than a few people with different social identities--including members of marginalized groups and vastly different political viewpoints--who have fared well in their careers despite being themselves. Here again I am fairly certain many people either told them or confidently thought their choices to be a mistake. But here again, in more than a few cases, that confidence seems to me to have been misplaced.

On that note, you write: "Furthermore, you indicate that being real has paid off for some people. Might it be that those who did this either did not confidently believe that doing so would not serve to promote their interests? Might it be that they were *not* members of groups that are most vulnerable to the phenomenon the post suggests is undesirable? I'm not sure."

I'm not sure either. But my sense from having a pretty big online footprint is that a pretty wide variety of people--with very different social identities, including individuals with the characteristics and identities you mention--choose to be themselves online. I cannot (and should not) pretend to speak for them or explain why they make that choice, nor can I (nor should I) speak for people who choose not to.

On that note, you write: "But I'm confident that the fact that being real has paid off for some is no *good* reason to be real, for many (if not most) of us who confidently believe that being real will not serve to promote our interests. As a member of many groups traditionally underrepresented in philosophy, this "reason" has no force whatsoever...For many people like me, the suggestion that it is courageous to "be real"--i.e., to do what we confidently believe will not serve to promote our interests--is laughable. We are socioeconomically disadvantaged, women, persons of color, parents of young children, etc. who cannot afford to be "courageous.""

I very much appreciate these concerns (at least, I try my best to). They are the concerns I worried about most while composing this post--and if they are the source of the wrongness of the post, then I understand and will do my best to learn from that. That being said, I really tried to be as careful and clear as possible in the post that I was *not* suggesting that everyone should adopt the standpoint or choices being presented. For example, I wrote,

"And while I won't pretend to tell others how to live their lives in the profession--in large part because, due to my own position, I cannot fully appreciate the situations and standpoints of others--I will say this: the best way to help realize a profession where people have less to fear may be for each of us who can do so to not give into that fear."

"I don't mean to suggest that everyone should do this: I have not walked a mile, let alone a lifetime, in any of your shoes."

I also wrote that "if you have it in you, my suggestion is: don't live in fear."

Each of these statements was intended to recognize as clearly as possible that I did not mean to imply that my perspective or suggestions are generalizable to everyone. If these kinds of caveats are insufficient--if, that is, the post oversteps despite them--then I apologize and resolve to do better.

In any case, thank you again for expressing your thoughts and raising the concerns you did here. Once again, I tried to put a lot of thought and care into this post, but if I failed I hope to learn from the mistakes made.

JT

Thanks for the response, Marcus. I believe that you were careful and had the best intentions.

With all your qualifications, your suggestion was this: those of you whose confidence (that being yourself will not serve you) is misplaced, and who have it in them to be real, be real. I guess I thought that your suggestion was directed toward more than a small number of people who meet these criteria.

Marcus Arvan

Thanks JT.

I think I would describe my suggestion more optimistically--as directed toward anyone it might speak to, a direction predicated in turn on the sincere hope that it might speak to more people rather than fewer.

I guess my further hope is that if it only speaks to a few people, then that would at least be better than not saying anything at all.

As a long-time blogger, my experience is that one never knows how many people a given post may speak to. Perhaps it will speak to no one. Perhaps it will speak to a few. Or perhaps it will speak to a lot. And perhaps it will be a mistake.

At the end of the day, I just try to do my best. I try to exercise as much care as I can, do right by people in what I write, and try to have faith that what I write will speak to someone or at least be taken in a spirit of good will. Aside from remaining silent, I am not sure what else I can do. But as long as I don't screw up too bad or too often, I have resolved to not be silent, but instead do what I can to do my part to improve things in whatever small way I can (even if, again, I don't always get things right).

JT

I understand, Marcus, and think you do a great job. Please don't understand my comments as taking a shot at your thoughtfulness or character. I think that what you do with this blog is worthwhile and admirable.

Amanda

Part of whether one should take risks and express their opinions publicly, might have to do with how this person takes criticism. No matter how overall successful public blogging might be, some people will be critical. If you are the sort of person who can't handle criticism (i.e. it devastates you in such a way it interferes with your life and work), then publicly blogging is probably a bad idea. Of course, it is likely in everyone's interest to not be this sensitive, but some have a hard time overcoming this sensitivity. And given that philosophers already have to deal with all sorts of criticism in all sorts of venues, adding something else to list might be a bad choice.

A

Thanks for this post, Marcus. I also wish more philosophers would share their struggles, and I agree that it's a sad fact about our discipline that people feel they need to hide them.
I'd like to highlight another sad fact: the fact that so many people struggle in our discipline. This is another thing we should aspire to change. Sometimes I worry that normalizing conversations about struggles has the unintended consequence of normalizing the damage that is done to early career philosophers. When people do share their struggles, I hear a lot of things like "the job market sucks, stay strong", or "seek therapy, it really helped me". Such sayings are helpful in a way,but I'd love to hear more senior philosophers say things like "the system is built in a way that makes young philosophers misurable, and we should talk about how to change it". Put differently, I find it discouraging that there isn't more attention to the systematic problems that make so many of us misurable. It's not OK to make young scholars suffer through through depression, anxity, financial crises, exploitation, and so on. My point is that I agree that we need to talk about our struggles, but it can't be at the cost of normalizing the fact the our discipline is causing this much suffering.

Treading Water

Thank you for this post, Marcus. It was nice to read after reading Kukla's anxiety inducing "advice". Recently a (junior, pre-tenure) philosopher on my feed posted an article they just had published, and in the post they said something to the effect of "this got rejected by journals X and Y outright, rejected after a rewrite at journal Z, and had to go through two rewrites before getting published here..." I thought, "wow, this is refreshing!" I never would post about a publication like that! I don't want people to know how many rejections I get or how long I struggle with rewrites just to get something out. I want to present myself as someone with a steady stream of publications, a smooth sailor with no hiccups. I would think Kukla would advise against disclosing your reject and rewrite count. That's just not good branding. I thought this person's post took courage, and I am thankful for it. It made me think "OK, you know what, good people out there are getting rejections and rewrites (and rejections on their rewrites!) all the time, it's not just me."

Fool

Thanks for an interesting post. I seem to have a different idea of the kinds of "realness" likely to be punished in professional philosophy from many of the contributors above. JT and Stacey talk about overt feminism or womanhood as the kind of things that one could suffer from expressing. But George Yancy's research - https://dailynous.com/2018/04/10/philosophers-less-willing-hire/ - shows that, for example, philosophers are less put off hiring trans people than republicans, all other things considered. And a pretty consistent element of Rebecca Kukla's post (mainly the part of Trump-voters) and her own social media presence more generally is a willingness to write off anyone whose political beliefs can't be reconciled with her own.

My own experience seems to bear out some of this: I both do a lot of work with sexual assault prevention and supervising minority student programs on campus (because I'm persuaded both of the empirical reality of the problems and of the measurable usefulness of the response), but am also "gender critical" and sympathetic to the kind of empirical challenges that Adolph Reed or Philip Lemoine have raised to narratives about the pervasiveness of anti-black violence in the US, or Kathleen Stock to the narratives about comparative levels of violence endured by trans women and cis women, or various people to the non-pipeline explanations of women's low representation in philosophy.

I don't think anyone will be surprised to know that I'm able to be extremely open about the former work, and indeed have received professional advancement opportunities on the basis of it, while whenever I've poked my head above the parapet on the latter I've been stigmatized and have lost friends, including philosophy-profession friends. My own experience has been that there's much more to fear professionally from conversationally deliberating evidence that challenges progressive shibboleths than from overt activism in progressive fields.

Taking my experience together with JT's, I think, probably backs up Marcus' claims about how pervasive the climate of fear about expressing personal convictions is in this field. And I agree that working together to mitigate this should be an urgent priority for the field as a whole.

JT

It seems to me that, to resolve the problem of "fear of being real," there needs to be agreement about what counts as acceptable fear. Let me explain.

Most will agree, I'd bet, about the unacceptability of fear of being real that arises under certain conditions. Consider the following hypothetical fear: fear of expressing favorable attitudes toward equal opportunity that arises because early-career philosophers believe that expressing such attitudes undermines one's prospects for landing a job. We will all likely agree that this sort of fear, if it were actual, would be unacceptable and would call for the profession to change. I'm sure we can come up with many other examples like this.

But I'd bet most will agree about the *acceptability* of fear that arises in certain other conditions. Consider fear of expressing favorable attitudes toward racist discrimination that arises because early-career philosophers believe that expressing these attitudes undermines job prospects. We will all likely agree that this sort of fear is completely acceptable. Similarly, we'd agree, I think, about fear of expressing one's distaste for feminist philosophy that arises because early-career philosophers believe that expressing such distaste undermines one's prospects for a job doing feminist research. There are many other examples like these that we could come imagine.

What we need to resolve the problem in the profession is agreement about how to distinguish between acceptable fear in the profession and unacceptable fear. That is, we need to have an account of unacceptable fear: in our profession, it is unacceptable for there to be widespread fear of x that arises because doing x diminishes early-career philosophers' prospects for y iff ...x...y...

I'd expect never to achieve agreement about any such account. So it seems to me that the problem cannot be resolved.

elisa freschi

Marcus, I appreciate your concern and, as you might easily imagine, I share your puzzlement about why do not people write more on blogs they say they like. However, in my opinion, the main reason is not fear, but rather lack of motivation. Most of my colleagues don't particularly enjoy writing (in this sense, you are a happy exception). Writing takes for them time and effort and they would therefore not start writing unless they can get something out of it, e.g., a peer-reviewed article. Selflessness is a luxury they believe they can't afford.

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