People, This is Embarrassing

I wanted to note that reading one paragraph from an earlier post was spiritually rejuvenating. It made me feel less suffocated, and less alone. Thank you for publishing it.

 “Several of my closest friends are academic philosophers, yet I find the culture of academic philosophy off-putting.  Philosophy is not as imaginative, dynamic, timely, publicly engaged, worldly and inclusive as it could or should be.  Other disciplines have left philosophy in the dust.  I prefer being around historians, lawyers, artists, sociologists, nanoscientists—almost any other group.  Among philosophers I feel especially self-conscious.  I cannot be myself.  For example, I attended an analytic philosophy symposium in a major philosophy department a few weeks ago.  The audience was 90% male.  98% of the audience was white.   Most of the white women seemed extremely smart but guarded and intellectually artificial. (Did they care about what they were talking about?)  Some of the older men used inappropriate examples. (Really? Did he say that?)  I felt out of place and decided to skip the event dinner.”

 I am lucky to have a humane, deeply intelligent, no-bullshit advisor; without her I would have left the profession years ago, feeling like an utter failure. With her, I am more confident in thinking that it is the profession that is failing: it is unimaginative, narrow-minded, and arrogant. Its dominant culture is one that celebrates and rewards the very ways of thinking that I, naively, thought that philosophy is supposed to guard against. Should I choose to leave the profession now, it’ll feel like immigrating to a land of opportunity.

I won’t share particular anecdotes because the problems are systemic. It is comically absurd the level of ignorance that I have encountered about race and gender in the field. I don’t even mean ignorance about philosophy about race and gender (that is a whole separate and important issue), I mean simply the ways in which race and gender exist as salient properties in the lives of people who are not white, and not male. It’s not cute to deny the existence of these things because you hold some obscure metaphysical principle – yes, I realize how much explanatory power your account has. It’s not cute to insist that your favorite political theory can handle issues of race and gender because those properties are just as arbitrary and as morally insignificant as hair-color or the length of one’s toes – yup, I’m aware that your view doesn’t rely on positing any spooky properties!

People, this is embarrassing.

Finally: it’s just plain rotten to then place the epistemic burden on those whose entire lives are shaped by these categories to prove their existence or importance to you, or to react to the anger or disappointment of these people as though it is insane, or irrational. We’re already being erased by your project, and our voices are getting hoarse.

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