APA Statement on Bullying and Harassment (Update: Coverage from IHE)


The American Philosophical Association (APA) has released a statement on bullying and harassment:

The American Philosophical Association appreciates the work of philosophers who bring their philosophical expertise to the public by way of op-ed essays, public forums, teach-ins, and other venues. We see this increased public engagement by philosophers as important to the health of the profession and to the well-being of our community.

Recently several authors of high-profile public essays have been subjected to vilification, racist and/or sexist verbal abuse, and outright threats of bodily harm. In the past few weeks, Professor George Yancy, in response to his essay “Dear White America” (New York Times, 24 Dec. 2015), has received harassing emails, phone calls, and letters containing racist slurs and threats of violence. This is one very egregious example of bullying and harassment that philosophers who speak out publicly endure, and there are many more, often taking racist, sexist, homophobic, and/or ableist forms.

Philosophers are gadflies, at least some of the time, and we must support those who take intellectual, ethical, and social risks in their work, including their public presentations. Bullying and harassment that target a person’s race, gender, class, sexual orientation or other status are especially abhorrent. We unequivocally condemn such behavior and stand in solidarity with our members who are subjected to this deplorable and discriminatory abuse.

Abusive speech directed at philosophers is not limited to responses by the public to published op-eds. A look at some of the anonymous philosophy blogs also reveals a host of examples of abusive speech by philosophers directed against other philosophers. Disagreement is fine and is not the issue. But bullying and ad hominem harassment of philosophers by other philosophers undermines civil disagreement and discourse and has no place in our community. Attacks that focus on a philosopher’s race, gender, or other status are unacceptable and in violation of the APA Statement on Nondiscrimination. We call upon any member who has engaged in such behaviors in the past to cease and desist.

The APA condemns the activities of those who seek to silence philosophers through bullying, abusive speech, intimidation, or threats of violence. We also call upon our membership to speak out against such attacks, whether from within the academy or from the public sphere.

APA statement bullying

UPDATE (2/15/16): Inside Higher Ed has an article about the statement, including quotes from Amy Ferrer, Brian Leiter, Jennifer Saul, George Yancy,  a Daily Nous commenter, and me. One excerpt:

“Some philosophers are worried they will be personally attacked elsewhere on the Internet, and so refrain from speaking out,” [Weinberg] said. “The stronger this worry, the fewer people speak out, and each who does is more likely to be a target.” In turn, he said, this pattern “increases the perceived cost to speaking up, and so the cycle of intimidation continues, choking discussion. It is a classic collective action problem. Weinberg added that he did not view the APA as trying to restrict speech, and that it couldn’t really do so if it tried. Rather, Weinberg said he viewed the APA statement as “calling for more speech,” in encouraging members to speak out against bullying. “We need to encourage a community of robust public disagreement, so that the voicing of unpopular or risky or offensive views is so common that the prospect of personal attack for expressing them is widely distributed, and felt less by each person,” he said.

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Joan Callahan
Joan Callahan
5 years ago

Very glad to see the APA step up on this.Report

Shane J. Ralston
5 years ago

After reading this statement, I have to confess that I’m glad I (i) did not renew my APA membership and (ii) no longer serve on the APA Public Philosophy committee. Uncivil speech is inevitably part of public discourse. Threats should not be. Call the police if you’re threatened with physical harm. Verbal attacks or insults directed at someone because of their race, sex/gender, age or disability status should be met with better arguments, not group censure or public shaming. Let the marketplace of ideas do it’s work. Cease and desist language is for lawyers, not philosophers.Report

The Doctor
The Doctor
Reply to  Shane J. Ralston
5 years ago

How does calling someone a name (or otherwise insulting a person due to their race, sex/gender, age, or disability status) ‘contribute to the marketplace of ideas’ exactly? Report

Jeremy Fantl
Jeremy Fantl
Reply to  Shane J. Ralston
5 years ago

Shane, I assume that you yourself don’t attack people on anonymous blogs on the basis of their race or gender. Presumably, the reason you don’t do this is not just personal preference; I presume you don’t do it because you think it’s inappropriate. If you think it’s inappropriate, I’m not sure why you’re so averse to a professional organization making an official statement calling it so, and calling on people to refrain from doing it.Report

Matt Drabek
Matt Drabek
Reply to  Shane J. Ralston
5 years ago

Police action just isn’t realistic here. The cops aren’t going to do anything about anonymous online threats. And even if they could, there are plenty of ethical issues about whether we should cooperate with police.Report

D.C.
D.C.
Reply to  Shane J. Ralston
5 years ago

“Cease and desist language is for lawyers, not philosophers.”

Hey, speaking as a lawyer I assure you we are far more thick-skinned when it comes to issues of free speech than the current body of philosophers seem to be, based on what I’ve read on this and similar blogs.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
5 years ago

This would be great, if I knew precisely what the boundaries of ad hominem harassment were, and if I knew that the standards were applied equally to all kinds of bullying. The fact that “ableism” is cited, but religious animus is not, makes me suspect that the declaration is only focusing on certain types of bullying, not others.Report

Shane J Ralston
5 years ago

Remember that ad hominems (abusive and circumstantial) are fallacies of relevance. Why focus on them if they are irrelevant to the argument at hand? Personally, I bracket them, try to sort out the meaning of the idea or argument minus the racist, sexist, ageist or ableist insult. If I can’t find anything of merit I ignore the whole matter and move on. Civility is often a code word for what an institution ordains as acceptable behavior and/or speech (see your campus civility code). The APA should not be in the business of deciding what is or is not civil speech. I’m disabled. I don’t think much of it when someone tries to ridicule me because of my disability. But why focus on it? I wouldn’t scream “You’re an ableist!” or try to publicly shame them for insulting me. What would that achieve? It sounds like another ad hominem and attempt to avoid addressing their argument (assuming they have one). If they have something of merit to say I’ll listen. Otherwise I’ll ignore it and move on. Free speech is only free because we can be rude and uncivil to each other. Once someone ordains what is acceptable content in advance, then it’s no longer free. The implied threat of group censure and public shaming chills free expression. I don’t like political pundits and professors who defend racist and sexist ideas, but I would defend their right to express themselves however they choose (so long as they do not physically threaten or harm others). I served on the APA Public Philosophy Committee until this past spring. I saw it going down this road toward not only encouraging public philosophy, but also taking clear stands on issues. I recall refereeing the submissions for the Op-ed contest. Some of the positions taken by the authors were objectionable, even offensive, to me. But I tried to bracket these concerns and rate them based on how effective I imagined they were at contributing to the public discourse . I wish that the APA Public Philosophy Committee would back off on taking stands on public issues, rethink its present course and encourage public philosophy at large, no matter how uncivil or objectionable it might be. Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

I said something to this effect already on a facebook thread on the same topic, but I’ll repeat it here: I, too, am suspicious of calls to civility in general, but the APA didn’t call, in this instance, for civility per se — they called for refraining from ad hominems of a certain kind (that is, attacks focused on a persons race, gender, or other social status). I would have thought that not only fails to be contrary to the norms of our discipline, it’s already encoded in them (we wouldn’t take calls to avoid the fallacy of affirming the consequent to be inappropriately chilling, would we?) . Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

The problem is that it’s not clear at all what the statement is talking about when it refers to “bullying and ad hominem harassment”. It is not clear, for instance, whether the passage about “attacks that focus on a philosopher’s race, gender, or other status” is supposed to be an example of “bullying and ad hominem harassment” or a clarification of what the APA means by “bullying and ad hominem harassment”. Even if we knew for sure that it was the latter, it would remain extremely vague.

Not every ad hominem attack is an instance of the ad hominem *fallacy* and some ad hominem attacks are perfectly appropriate. Even attacks that focus on someone’s race or gender may sometimes be appropriate. For example, if someone benefited from some undue advantage because of his race and used the influence that advantage confers to him in order to harm people of another race, it would presumably be appropriate to attack that person in a way that makes his race salient. In fact, people are often attacked in ways that have to do with their being white, male and/or old, but as far as I know it never moved the APA to issue a statement condemning that practice. Presumably, it’s because people at the APA don’t think there is anything wrong with that kind of ad hominem attacks, and they may even be right about that, but those attacks nevertheless seem to fall under the prohibition of that statement.

Moreover, by including the disjunct “other status” in that sentence, the statement does not just prohibit ad hominem attacks that focus on race or gender but in effect seems to rule out as unacceptable any ad hominem attack whatsoever.

The reference to the APA’s statement on nondiscrimination also seems out of place in a paragraph that is focusing on what people say on anonymous philosophy blogs. The statement in question is about “graduate admissions, appointments, retention, promotion and tenure, manuscript evaluation, salary determination, or other professional activities in which APA members characteristically participate”. It seems a bit of a stretch, to say the least, to include commenting on anonymous philosophy blogs among those activities.

Any statement that purports to police speech was bound to run into that kind of problems, which I think is exactly why the APA should not have attempted to do it.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

I would have thought in the instance of attack based on race that you offer as appropriate, the actual appropriate target of critique would be undue advantage, not racial identity. Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

Sure, but the APA’s statement doesn’t condemn attacks whose target is the race or gender of someone, but “attacks that focus on a philosopher’s race, gender or other status”. My point is precisely that it’s too vague to unambiguously exclude the kind of attacks that many people, including those who support the APA’s statement, would find acceptable even though they arguably focus on someone’s race, gender, age, sexual orientation or whatnot. If the APA had phrased that sentence in the way you propose, there would have been no point in talking about what people say on anonymous philosophy blogs, because I doubt that even on the metablog people are saying things like “this philosopher is a cretin but it’s not surprising given that he’s black and black people are stupid” or “this philosopher is nasty but that’s to be expected given that she is a woman and women are nasty”.Report

Nikolay Sokolov
Reply to  Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

Philippe, someone such as yourself and your allies needs not point further than to the curious case and aftermath of Jean-Yves Beziau, who was and is bullied extensively and expansively for his masculinist perspectives on maths and logic. Is that not correct?

On the topic of “metablog” you may be right. All I can find there are summaries of biographies of philosophers and their research!

Philippe, do you know what happened to Beziau??Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

Criticizing someone is not in itself to commit an ad hominem argument. We commit ad hominem when we treat such criticism as establishing that their position is false or argument not cogent. I can criticize Trump’s actions and reasoning and even character without it being ad hominem. But if I treat the existence of his privilege as establishing that he’s wrong on some point, that would be ad hominem.Report

Chris Rawls
Chris Rawls
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Dr. Yancy was not being “criticized” as much as his life was being threatened through continued and various forms of harassment, both from within and from without professional philosophy circles. There is a big difference. I applaud and support the APA’s decision in this matter. I will be renewing my membership!Report

Another Justin
Another Justin
Reply to  Chris Rawls
5 years ago

Hi, Chris Rawls. My impression is that the harassment and threats Professor Yancy received came only from outside of professional philosophy circles. Do you have information to the contrary?Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

We can be even more specific than this. An ad hominem can really only have the highly specific form of: “a is B and B is bad, therefore a is wrong about X”, *WITHOUT* recourse to auxiliary premises. There are quite a few non-fallacious arguments that reference the qualities of the person who puts forth the claim. For instance, “a would benefit from her study having the result it does, the result is not expected, and the study’s methods are highly opaque, therefore we have good reason to distrust the study” is not a fallacy at all but rather an abduction, and probably a good one at that. However, this is *NOT* explicitly ruled out by the APA statement as an ad hominem attack. That’s the absurdity of using legal language like “cease and desist” while also not defining any of the major terminology used by the statement.

This statement will do absolutely nothing to limit the abuse of random anonymous internet trolls. The only thing it has the potential to do is lay the groundwork for silencing anyone who criticizes work done by those whose ideology the APA favors on the grounds that they are self-interested. Report

Jerry Dworkin
Jerry Dworkin
5 years ago

As a test case of the APA position we might take the following statements as an example.
“You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing.”
“[Jeffrey Goldberg’s] story should have ended at the pointy end of a shiv.”
“If you’re defending Israel right now, you are an awful human being.”
Does the APA statement condemn these and call for the person who utters them–were he/she a philosopher– to “cease and desist.”?
Those interested in my take on these statements, and the larger issues, to which condemnation might lead can look at this:
http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2014/09/speech-civility-and-the-salaita-case.htmlReport

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Paying attention to abusive people on the internet only encourages them. I hope that we philosophers recognize that bullying, harassment, abusiveness, and ad hominem arguments are not appropriate. We also need to take actual threats of harm seriously. But denouncing the internet for being rude is what is known as “feeding the trolls”. That is, it is more of an encouragement to bullies and harassers than a discouragement.Report

Diogenes of Sinope
5 years ago

It’s clear from the reactions on all blogs that the APA leadership is engaged in an ideological crusade that most members don’t agree with. Perhaps the Righteous Ones don’t care about the opinions of the unenlightened, but they do seem to care about their membership dues. Speaking of how those dues are used: the APA Executive Director has a BA in women’s studies and an MPA. There are scores of unemployed philosophy PhDs. What does this tell us about the APA’s priorities?Report

Ligurio
Ligurio
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
5 years ago

I take it that Diogenes’ point was rather that the administrative hierarchy of the APA was significantly out of touch with the working culture of most of its members.

How is your response not also a defense of the legitimacy of PhDs in University Leadership and Administration who claim to “lead” a university faculty about whose actual working culture they remain practically ignorant?

This kind of thing happens now and then in the academy, I am pretty sure.

Report

Lysias
Reply to  Ligurio
5 years ago

Ligurio,

As I understand it, one of the Ten Commandments of the New Consensus is: Thou Shalt Resolve Intellectual Disagreements by Contacting Someone In Human Resources. Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

So the APA is asking people who engage in a very ill-defined kind of speech to “cease and desist”, but we’re supposed to conclude that it isn’t “trying to restrict speech”. When you read that, it’s hard not to be reminded of the slogan of the English Socialist Party of Oceania in 1984, “war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength”. Of course, I understand that you think the APA is trying to encourage some people to speak, but let’s be clear that it’s trying to do that by restricting the speech of others, on the ground that it has a silencing effect. This attack of freedom of expression in the name of freedom of expression has unfortunately become very common, but that doesn’t make it right, as anyone who has read Mill can tell. I also find the notion that people who support the APA’s statement are generally in favor of encouraging the expression of unpopular views preposterous. My impression was that, for instance, many of them didn’t think there was anything wrong with suing Kipnis for the unpopular views she expressed in CHE. But the most outrageous quote in that article is probably Amy Ferrer’s, who apparently can’t tell the difference between the racist insults and death threats that Prof. Yancy received and what people say on blogs, which confirms if there was any doubt left that people at the APA are badly confused.Report

Merriam Webster
Merriam Webster
Reply to  Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

“a very ill-defined kind of speech”

• Abuse : language that condemns or vilifies, usually unjustly, intemperately, and angrily

• Bullying : browbeating; especially :  habitual cruelty to others who are weaker

• Harassment : uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct

Constructive suggestions for further definition are welcome.
Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
Reply to  Merriam Webster
5 years ago

What is sad is that you probably think that your response addresses my concerns. Since apparently you can’t see why quoting a dictionary won’t help, let me spell it out for you. Let’s say, for instance, that we interpret the word “harassment” in the APA’s statement as per the definition you quote. Now imagine that someone uses a racial slur to insult a black person and that, in response to that deplorable behavior, I call that person a scumbag and other niceties. My reaction certainly qualifies as harassment according to the definition you quote, but clearly the APA didn’t mean to condemn that kind of speech, so Merriam-Webster isn’t so helpful after all. Well, at least you had the good sense of making that ridiculous comment anonymously, if not the courage to publish it under your real name…Report

Merriam Webster
Merriam Webster
Reply to  Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

Constructive suggestions for further (needful) revision of the standard definitions are welcome.Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
Reply to  Merriam Webster
5 years ago

Fair enough, that made me laugh, so all is forgiven 🙂Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

I’m well aware that, fortunately, the APA is not in a position to issue restrictions on speech. But, given the vocabulary they used in the statement (“cease and desist”), I’m not sure people at the APA are. And, if they are, it certainly looks as though they wish things were different.

But even if the APA is not in a position to issue restrictions on speech, it’s supposed to be the public face of the profession and, as such, its statements have a moral authority that mine or yours or those of any other individual don’t. Although, if it keeps publishing such nonsense, I don’t think that’s going to be true for much longer. I think it’s becoming increasingly obvious that it doesn’t represent the majority of the profession.

I’m also aware of the tensions between Mill’s defense of freedom of speech and his concerns about social tyranny. But I’m nevertheless confident that, if we had a debate about the APA’s statement, I wouldn’t have a hard time showing that it was a mistake, for exactly the kind of reasons that Mill would have given. If you don’t think that’s true, we can always have that debate.

First, I would ask people who support the statement why it’s only condemning what people say on anonymous philosophy blogs, but not what other people say on non-anonymous philosophy blogs. Why, for instance, don’t they condemn the kind of vilification to which Béziau, Leiter and many others have been subjected by philosophers on non-anonymous blogs?

Of course, that’s a rhetorical question, we all know why. It’s because people at the APA don’t think that there was anything wrong with the way in which Béziau or Leiter were treated on non-anonymous philosophy blogs, but they do think that the way in which their friends were treated on anonymous philosophy blogs is unacceptable.

So, if a lot of people — the majority of them, in fact, if the likes on this blog are any indication — didn’t read the APA’s statement as simply saying “hey people, including philosophers, please don’t be assholes”, it’s because it’s obvious to everyone that it’s not what the statement is saying.

What the statement is really saying is something like “hey you, people who *we* — the folks who wrote that statement and their friends — don’t like, stop saying shit *we* think constitute assholery”, which is not the same thing at all. They may even be right about what kind of speech constitutes assholery and what kind of speech doesn’t, but that’s not the point. The point is that it’s not their role, as officers of the APA, to make that kind of decision for everybody.

I think it’s obvious to most people who follow the philosophy blogosphere that many of those who support the APA’s statement are worse than everyone else when it comes to vilifying people they disagree with and trying to shut them up. The world is full of people whose actions betray the noble intentions they profess.

In fact, you should probably know that more than anyone else, given the emails that you must receive from people who ask you to delete comments they don’t like on your blog. Can you honestly tell me that you don’t think that people who send you that kind of emails are more likely to also be the kind of people who support the APA’s statement? I don’t think so.Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
Reply to  Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

Sorry, this was meant to be a reply to Justin’s comment above, I just didn’t use the reply function as I should have.Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
5 years ago

I think it would have been better if the statement had included more examples of the kind of speech it condemns, because at least it wouldn’t have been so transparently partisan, but I still think it would have been misguided.

The problem is that people disagree about what kind of speech is acceptable and it’s simply not the role of the APA to make that kind of decisions for people. But, if the APA nevertheless insists on issuing a statement condemning certain kinds of speech, that statement is either going to make controversial assumptions about what kind of speech is acceptable and the APA will have stepped outside of its role or the statement won’t make any such assumptions and it will be completely vacuous. If the statement doesn’t make any controversial assumptions about what kind of speech is acceptable, it will in effect just ask people not to be assholes, as you say. But we don’t need the APA to tell us that and, in any case, a statement from the APA to the effect that people shouldn’t be assholes isn’t going to keep assholes from being assholes if they want to be assholes.

But, in any case, the APA’s statement did *not* include any example of the kind of speech it condemns beside what people say on anonymous philosophy blogs (which to make things worse they lumped together with the death threats and racists abuse that Prof. Yancy received), so we’re talking about a hypothetical scenario. You want me to believe that, even though the people who wrote that statement didn’t include any other example, they really intended to talk about all kinds of abuse. Well, I’m really sorry, but I’m not buying it. I don’t know who wrote that statement, but I know a number of people who support it, yet vilify people they disagree with on a regular basis, exclude them from their social media circles, censor their comments on blogs where they have the power to do so, etc. For example, not so long ago, I have seen people say the worst things about Béziau on Facebook. I find it hard to believe that you didn’t also see it.

Over the years I have seen philosophers who I’m sure are in favor of the APA’s statement call other people racist, homophobes, misogynist, rape apologists, etc. with absolutely no good reason. I think you recently posted something about a panel at the APA meeting on abuse of philosophers on the Internet to which you participated. I doubt that people on that panel expressed a lot of concern over the abuse to which conservatives, for instance, are frequently subjected in academia. So you will have to forgive me if I find it hard to accept the rather innocent reading that you make of the APA’s statement. Given the context, I simply don’t accept that interpretation and I don’t think anyone should. Indeed, judging by what I see here and elsewhere, it seems that a lot of people don’t either. In fact, if I had to bet, I would say that a majority of philosophers don’t. If the authors of the APA’s statement really intended to say what you say they did, which I don’t believe for a moment, they should probably ask themselves why that is.

Having said all that, I want to add that I appreciate the rather gracious way in which you replied to me, it at least seems that we have some kind of constructive debate going on here.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

Wait — who is getting excluded from social media circles and how, and, more importantly, why is that relevant to this statement? Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

Well, I for example was unfriended by someone on Facebook not so long ago for criticizing the students who protested against Christakis at Yale, but there are other examples. As for why it’s relevant to the APA’s statement, I already explained it, but I’ll do it again in case that wasn’t clear the first time.

The point is basically that the context matters when you’re trying to interpret something as vague as the statement issued by the APA.

Here the context is that, in the past few months/years, the APA has more and more openly embraced a form of political activism that many philosophers (I think a majority of them) disapprove, either because they disagree with the ideology behind it or because they don’t think it’s the role of the APA to engage in any kind of political activism.

Moreover, many of the people who are on board with that agenda, not all of them of course but many, regularly engage in the vilification of people who have said things they don’t like, insult them, etc. More generally, they are definitely *not* the kind of people who want people to be comfortable expressing views they disagree with, as Justin put it.

Excluding someone from your group of friends on Facebook merely because they disagreed with you on some issue was just one example. I just think one has to be amazingly illiberal to do that. It simply wouldn’t occur to me to unfriend someone on Facebook for that reason. On the contrary, I like having friends who disagree with me, because thanks to that I read things I wouldn’t otherwise have read and think about things I wouldn’t otherwise have thought about.

Now, the APA releases a statement formulated in extremely vague terms that condemn certain kinds of attacks against philosophers, but the only examples the authors of that statement give are attacks on their friends or at least people who support the recent ideological turn of the organization. Moreover, despite the the fact that, as I pointed out above, many philosophers who are *not* on board with that ideological turn had been subjected to various kinds of vicious attacks before that, no statement was ever released to condemn personal attacks of philosophers until they targeted ideological friends of the people who now run the APA.

All I’m saying is that, given that context, it is very hard to accept Justin’s innocuous reading of the APA’s statement and not to see it for the partisan statement that it so obviously is. And, even if I didn’t think it was partisan in that way, I would still disapprove the initiative for reasons I have explained above in reply to Justin.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

The reference to social media in the context of a complaint about an ideological bent makes sense, I think, only if it fits in some broader trend of progressives shunning conservatives because of their views — and that you were unfriended by someone doesn’t seem to demonstrate this, and that’s why I don’t understand the reference. Insofar as anecdotes are evidential, I’m a progressive and I have been unfriended by conservatives after posting something political, and for my own part I have a general personal policy against unfriending (I think I’ve unfriended one person in the last six years, and he was was a fellow progressive). And if people don’t want to be my Facebook friend that’s fine — even when it’s politically motivated I wouldn’t think it amounts to a vicious attack. It’s their newsfeed. Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
Reply to  Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

You must not have read the clarification I made below before you wrote your comment. I made it clear that I didn’t bring that up as an example of vicious attack. I also don’t care much if people unfriend me on Facebook, I just think it reflects poorly on their character, regardless of their political orientation. I also don’t know why you seem to think that I think progressives are more likely to shun conservatives for their views than the other way around. Whether or not they are, it’s completely irrelevant to the point I was making, which is that in the past a lot of people who disagree with the ideological turn of the APA and most likely don’t support the statement were viciously attacked by people who do, but it never prompted a statement from the APA to protest against that. To be clear, I’m not saying the APA should have issued such a statement then. I think it had no more business releasing such a statement back then than it does now. What I’m saying is that the fact that people at the APA didn’t issue a statement then but do it now that some of their friends have been attacked, plus the fact that many of them have themselves attacked people in such a way in the past and often continue to do so, makes Justin’s interpretation of the statement very hard to believe.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

You’re right — I didn’t see that. My question was specifically about people being excluded from social media circles and what that had to do with the statement (hence my wondering if you think exclusion is tracking the ideological leaning you are concerned by). And, I take it the answer to that question is nothing? Is that right?Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
Reply to  Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

Justin defends a benign interpretation of the APA’s statement according to which it was only meant to make sure that everyone feels comfortable expressing their views even when they have to reason to think they are unpopular. I just pointed out that sympathizers of the APA’s ideological agenda, such as the philosopher who unfriended me on Facebook, have been shunning people who expressed views they didn’t like in a lot of different ways for years but it has never moved the people who are now in charge of the APA to issue a statement condemning them, which makes that benign interpretation of the statement hard to buy. Indeed, shunning people for expressing views you don’t like, be it by excluding them from your social media circles, vilifying them on the Internet, censoring their comments on blogs when you have the power to do so or even suing them, clearly isn’t a very good way to ensure that everyone feels comfortable expressing unpopular views. The exclusion from one’s social media circles is just one of the examples I mentioned and my case doesn’t hinge on that example nor on any other in particular, so even though I don’t understand what’s so mysterious about what I’m saying, if it can end this ridiculous conversation I’m happy to grant you anything you want about the significance of that particular example.Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

Just to be clear, when I talk about people not on board with the ideology that is increasingly being embrace by the APA being subjected to various kinds of vicious attacks, I’m obviously not referring to me being unfriended by someone on Facebook because I criticized the students who protested against Christakis at Yale. I honestly couldn’t care less about that. I only mentioned that example because of what it says about the character of people who do that, namely that they are not the kind of people who want everyone to feel comfortable expressing their views, even when they are unpopular.Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
5 years ago

I’m deeply disappointed by the APA’s statement. I second many of the points made above about the appeal to “civility” which has always been used to silence the speech of the less powerful.
And could we just leave talk of “bullying” on the school playground?

We can use this blog as an example of how these restrictions work in practice. I’ve been called a troll simply for expressing views that run counter to supposedly progressive positions. Recently, a commentor dismissed someone s/he disagreed with as a “tone policer” and suggested he not participate in the discussions until he changed the content of his speech. None of the self-indentified progressives active on this site denounced this move. And that’s how the appeal to civility always works: it is used to shut down unpopular speech.

As a feminist and someone who cares about racial justice, I’m troubled that so many on the left are falling in line behind this statement and other attempts to restrict speech by appeals to civility. The reasons for backlash are no doubt multiple, but I think progressive (and often feminist) attempts to silence speech in this way are one cause of the backlash against women and feminism and affirmative action that is evident on the metametablog and other on-line forums. At this point, I’m almost embarrassed to call myself a feminist, and I don’t bother to read the “Feminist Philosophers” blog because the comment policy is infuriatingly restrictive.

If you care about social justice, and if you take seriously the idea of philosophers as gadflies, you should be outraged by the suggestion that philosophers should be bound by norms of civility which, in practice, always limit the speech of the less powerful. Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Professor Plum
5 years ago

When philosophers stop bullying, we can stop the talk of “bullying” in philosophy. In the meantime, abandoning civility shifts power to the side with the most and loudest voices. It is the last thing someone concerned about social justice should want to see happen. Yes, “civility” has been used as an excuse to shut down criticism, but everything good can be and is used as an excuse for bad things. I put it to you that if people were to respond to you in this thread in a way that isn’t civil, it would not be productive and you would not approve.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Professor Plum
5 years ago

If I’m remembering correctly, when you were called a troll you took a hiatus from commenting — again, if I’m remembering right because you found it exhausting and were tired of having malicious intentions attributed to you. I also think (again, I may not be remembering accurately, so please do correct me if I’m wrong) I posted that I hoped you wouldn’t leave (at the time you had said it would be permanent). I take your point about the ills of the ways in which calls to civility can be used to discourage unpopular speech, but it also seems like if being mistreated under a pseudonym can have the effect of seriously discouraging your willingness to participate here, things like having folks speculate about your sexual history or preferences or being accused of criminal conduct by anonymous persons online outside of any system of accountability and without further evidence, while at the same time being subject to gendered or racial insults (and these things have happened) — all of this with your actual name attached to it — might do the same or more, and that seems like it’s a bad thing, and I’m not sure why we shouldn’t say it’s a bad thing. Which is to say, yes, we can err in calls to civility — but it also seems like we can err in other ways too. Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

I stopped commenting for some time because I was frustrated by the double standards on this blog. Despite the fact that I don’t engage in personal attacks, I had *many* comments refused publication, and I became troubled by how conversations on controversial topics were being shaped by the moderator. Things seem to have gotten better on that front. If you want to go back to that particular event, I was called a troll because I dared to criticize a program run by some powerful people at Princeton (who I didn’t specifically name), and I said I enjoyed stirring the pot from time to time. My hiatus had nothing to do with hurt feelings; being dismissed as a troll by pseudoprogressives is an honor and a privilege.

You seem to be missing my point concerning that example: no matter how good one’s intentions, history has shown that appeals to civility are used more frequently and more effectively against people expressing unpopular opinions. Increasingly, the powerful are using it to silence and, in some cases, even fire those who disagree with them. In the face of those facts, philosophers, especially those who endorse the picture of philosopher as gadfly, should be very suspicious of appeals to civility and should recognize its dangers. Deal with people’s arguments; don’t take the childish way out and attempt to have people removed from the conversation (or their jobs!) by calling for the civility police, all the while patting yourself on the back for being oh so committed to justice and inclusion. Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
5 years ago

This statement seems pretty innocuous and toothless as far as things go. Of course people should try to be civil and respectful (particularly in philosophy, where disagreement is expected and open inquiry an ideal), and if the APA wants to say something to that affect, that’s all well and good. What I don’t want to see is the APA going down the road of the American Anthropological Association and engaging in explicitly political activities; unlike some other posters, this statement really doesn’t seem like a first step down that path. Report

Nikolay Sokolov
5 years ago

Philippe Lemoine writes above that some of the bullies are “suing them [people with public statements they do not like very much!]”. This seems like yet anoteher condemnation of Brian Leiter that is let through on this blog! Surely there are better ways for Philippe to blog his beefs with Brian! Also I thought BL always explains quite clearly how philosophers do not know the way the lawsuits work – so they complain about them.

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Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
Reply to  Nikolay Sokolov
5 years ago

Although I don’t agree with everything Prof. Leiter has said or done, which I’m sure he wouldn’t be surprised to learn, I can assure you that he is not at all who I had in mind in that comment. In fact, it’s pretty clear that he agrees with me on the APA’s statement and, in my opinion, he’s been consistently on the right side of the various controversies that have kept the philosophy blogosphere occupied in the past few years.Report

Nikolay Sokolov
Reply to  Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

Hi Philippe thank u for replying to me. I am however very confused by your comments. In my researches into the philosophy world (as on my blog you can see mostly maths and science in my history since I began to blog several years ago) I have found that B Leiter does lots and prominent suing for not nice things people say about him. (Your initials sake in philosophy actually did the same thing I think!) Philosophers do not like this as B explains with cogence. And you are now another philosopher not liking suing on a philosophy blog. You are now saying that B’s suings are good suings? Why are you saying you disagree with B has said and done? What examples?

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Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
Reply to  Nikolay Sokolov
5 years ago

Having now checked out your website, I’m afraid that you’re confused about a lot of things, not just what I say in my comments… But to answer your question, of course not every lawsuit is bad, sometimes a lawsuit can be perfectly justified. For instance, if someone has been defamed, he is within his rights if he decides to seek reparation in a court of law. I’m not aware that Prof. Leiter ever filed a frivolous lawsuit to shut someone up because they had expressed unpopular views. I just know that he once threatened to sue Prof. Jenkins, which I think was a mistake, but I certainly don’t think it was motivated by the desire to stifle freedom of expression. On the contrary, as far as I can tell based on his public statements (I don’t know him personally), Prof. Leiter is deeply committed to freedom of expression, as I think his reaction to the APA’s statement shows again. I don’t need to agree with him on everything to recognize that he’s been consistently on (what I consider to be) the right side of the controversies that have been discussed on the philosophy blogosphere in the past few years.Report

Nikolay Sokolov
Reply to  Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

Ok well not we may count me as confused! I am trying to follow things and everybody says they DO NOT like lawsuits that are bad but that they DO like lawsuits when they are not bad… but all of the lawsuits are given NOT for what you say – “unpopular views”! No one sued for “these views are unpopular!” but instead for other stated reasons described by them! But everyone says the same about the OTHER lawsuits they don’t like! I cap for emphasizing. Do you gather my point? You do friendship mind-reading for suings that you LIKE and enemy mind-reading for suings that you HATE. This might be good philosophy but it is not good science…

And…. you now made me awkward by personally attacking my blog. This happens already on the metablog a lot and I wish it wouldn’t also happen on a supposedly “safe space” like this. If you have something to refute to me, refute it on my blog!

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Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
Reply to  Nikolay Sokolov
5 years ago

Of course, nobody who files a lawsuit is going to say that it’s frivolous, but it doesn’t mean that everyone is equally right or wrong on the matter. And, if you don’t want people to attack your website, my advice is not to call it “Science and math defeated” or claim that you have proved that infinite cardinals and negative numbers don’t exist…Report

Diogenes of Sinope
5 years ago

Ferrer was either dishonest or singularly tone deaf in her interview for the IHE:

“Freedom of speech and expression are paramount; the statement released today fully respects those fundamental freedoms,” Ferrer said. “But freedom of speech does not extend to hate speech or threats of violence, to which some of our members — such as George Yancy — have recently been subjected in response to public essays on controversial topics. We have seen this happen in many venues across the blogosphere and social media, as well as in personal communications. The statement expresses that the APA stands against such attacks, wherever they occur, and stands with our members when they are attacked with the kind of vitriol that Yancy and others have received.”

Who could possibly disagree with a statement condemning threats of violence and hate speech such as Prof. Yancy has suffered recently? What is at stake in this whole discussion is the APA’s slight of hand in lumping that illegal speech (presumably by members of the general public) with the lawful yet sometimes uncivil speech by philosophers on the anonymous blogs. This kind of sophistry is what makes us very unlikely to “cease and desist” anytime soon.Report

D.C.
D.C.
Reply to  Diogenes of Sinope
5 years ago

“the APA’s slight of hand in lumping that illegal speech (presumably by members of the general public) with the lawful yet sometimes uncivil speech by philosophers on the anonymous blogs”

Just wanted to note that “hate speech” is not illegal in this country and is entitled to First Amendment protection.Report

Da Vinci's Pendulum
Da Vinci's Pendulum
5 years ago

There’s a long tradition of satirizing/mocking/spoofing public figures’ remarks and public figures themselves — for example, when public figures publicly engage in thinly veiled self-promotion in the guise of fighting for the public good; or when public figures’ public remarks are otherwise cringe-inducing, tone deaf, dog whistling, etc. Does this satirizing/mocking/spoofing count as “bullying”? I’d rather not get into a terminological dispute. But if Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin impersonations count as “bullying”, then some bullying is OK.

Now there’s the vexed question of what makes you a public figure in Philosophy, and what remarks count as “public”. Discuss.Report