Curry on George Floyd and the “Fake Outrage” of Academic Philosophy


“The fake outrage of academic philosophy amazes me.”

Those are the words of Tommy J. Curry, professor of philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, in a recent public Facebook post.

Frank Bowling, “Middle Passage”

Professor Curry specializes in critical race studies, social and political philosophy, and black male studies, and is the author of The Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhood. Readers may recall that Professor Curry was the target of racist harassment and death threats while he was a professor at Texas A & M (see also here and here).

Here’s the full post:

The fake outrage of academic philosophy amazes me. Let’s ask ourselves something for the last 6 years we have had verifiable evidence that what happened to George Floyd happens to almost 300 Black men every year… how many panels have been held at APAs or organizational conferences addressing the murder of Black men and boys in the United States.

Now ask yourselves: How many panels have been held about MeToo and excluded Black men on those panels and in those sessions despite Black men reporting the highest rates of sexual assault in the United States.[*]

At a certain point we have to realize—its just built that way. You don’t care about most Black people, esp. Black men and boys.

Professor Curry’s remarks prompt consideration of what the institutions of academic philosophy should be doing in regard to issues facing black men and boys. Discussion of this is welcome, as are pointers to existing and planned work and events on these matters.

(*In response to questions from others about this claim, Curry points to The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey and his article, “Expendables for Whom: Terry Crews and the Erasure of Black Male Victims of Sexual Assault and Rape“.)

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Avalonian
1 year ago

Curry is right about one thing: our focus on patriarchy as an explanatory concept tends to obscure a fact that any genuinely intersectional approach must take seriously: sometimes, being a man makes you much more likely to be targeted for violence. This is eminently true of black men with respect to police and inner-city violence more generally. Such facts tend to be acknowledged but never seem to play a role in subsequent discussions concerning the nature of patriarchy. If we want to encourage a real cultural shift we can start to acknowledge these realities in the classroom.

But I’m looking at the CDC report and Curry’s statistical claims appear to be slightly murky. Someone correct me if I’m wrong here. Page 28 shows that the rates of contact sexual violence for black males at 19.8% over a lifetime. On page 21, the rate for Hispanic, white and black women is 26.9, 38.9 and 35.5 %, respectively. So the lifetime rate (not the 12-month rate) for white women is double what it is for black men. I’m not an expert, so I don’t understand how these numbers can be where they are and the 12-month ratios can be different; can someone weigh in on this?

We should also guard against what would be an extraordinary delusion, the idea that the energy and efforts of members of the discipline are always best directed at philosophy-related activities. We are an insular discipline with tenuous connections to real politics; APA panels, as a rule, can only encourage real change in a highly long-term and indirect way. On the other hand, members of the discipline might host discussions amongst family and friends, donate lots of money and time, attend protests, raise awareness of ways to help, etc. Many people I know in the field are doing this stuff, right now, and as such I think it’s preposterous to call this “fake outrage”. Many of us are mad as hell and are doing what we think will be most effective. But hey, maybe all of this is just my “white fragility” talking…Report

Maja Sidzinska
Maja Sidzinska
Reply to  Avalonian
1 year ago

It appears that the ‘lifetime’ percentages reflect incidents over the course of respondents’ lifetimes, while the ’12-month’ percentages reflect incidents that occurred in the 12 months prior to the interviews. To understand the implications of this, we’d have to look at what the participation criteria are (as in, if limited to adults, then childhood incidents will be reported in the ‘lifetime’ numbers, but not nearly as much in the ’12-month’ numbers).

And it seems that Black men did not report the highest rates of ‘contact sexual violence’–looking at ‘lifetime’ numbers, it appears that American Indian or Alaska Native women (page 21) and American Indian and Alaska Native men (page 28) reported the highest rates for their respective genders.

Furthermore, in general, men are not subject to rates or STI transmission that are on a par with women women in general (in other words, it’s easier for women in general to contract STIs), and men in general are not subject to pregnancy (and this is an ever greater concern as reproductive rights get eroded). So there are reasons we may want to be more or less concerned with sexual violence rates within or across groups that are independent of the simple rates.

Of course sexual violence is radicalized. Unless I am not reading the numbers properly, by Curry’s own lights we should be most concerned about sexual violence of American Indian and Alaska Native women.

In any case, we should be most concerned about the prevalence of sexual violence of various kinds proportional to the rates across groups. We should also measure our concern proportional to the impacts of sexual violence.Report

Maja Sidzinska
Maja Sidzinska
Reply to  Maja Sidzinska
1 year ago

Correction: NOT ‘radicalized’. RACIALIZED. Sexual violence is racialized.Report

Tommy J. Curry
Tommy J. Curry
Reply to  Maja Sidzinska
1 year ago

I explained below why I do not use lifetime prevalence numbers, and why this presented an issue for me in our research on Black male victims generally. But I want to understand the claim that “we should be most concerned about the prevalence….& measure our concern proportional to the impacts of sexual violence.”

I don’t want to presume your meaning, but you seem to suggest that all victims are not equal that there are some prevalences that do not or could not demonstrate the same impact. I would caution against this logic since we know that the rape of men leads to extremely damaging psychological & social impacts often with pathways tied to deviance, suicide, & violence.

I do not believe it is useful to decide who should be considered or attended to as a victim when we know so little of the scope concerning female perpetration of made to penetrate violence on men and boys.Report

Maja Sidzinska
Maja Sidzinska
Reply to  Tommy J. Curry
1 year ago

All victims are equal but they may not be equally impacted as the CDC report notes (pages 13-14).

If we don’t follow my logic then neither could we take into account the “extremely damaging psychological & social impacts often with pathways tied to deviance, suicide, & violence.”

I am not suggesting I know THE criteria to use to measure impact. But I am saying that potential forced parenthood (as a result of unwanted pregnancy) and its downstream effects (e.g. lower lifetime earnings; the psychological effects of being an unwanted child on the child, etc.), or, alternately the need to secure an abortion (also differentially difficult to access for Black, other minority, and lower class women), as well as risk of contracting STIs with potential lifelong consequences, should be part of the measurement. And if there are factors that lead to the impacts on Black men also being high or higher than we expect, especially factors that are often overlooked or unresearched, then I support including those in how we measure impacts and conducting the needed research.

If there are major data gaps, then no, we shouldn’t decide, at least not for all time, who deserves attention/resources as a victim, but once we have such data–which, based on your argument would include more/new data about Black mens’ experiences, I do think we (society as a whole, if not philosophers) should make ‘triage’ decisions about where to focus our attention/resources. (Again, not because victims aren’t equal but for roughly utilitarian social justice reasons (and this is not an endorsement of utilitarianism in general; it’s not to say there may not be reasons we shouldn’t use a utilitarian calculus for certain issues).)

As far as the methodological issue, I won’t comment further until/unless I learn more about what kind of information is lost when we measure one way or another.Report

Tommy J Curry
Tommy J Curry
Reply to  Maja Sidzinska
1 year ago

I apologize. I missed this comment. The standard in multiple authoritative works on sexual violence is 12-month prevalence. Previous research has shown for the last decade that men in the United States report similar levels of rape/made to penetrate violence as women. See Stemple, L., Flores, A., & Meyer, I. (2017). Sexual victimization perpetrated by women: Federal data reveal surprising prevalence. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 34, 302–311 and Stemple, L., & Meyer, I. (2014). The sexual victimization of men in America: New data challenge
old assumptions. American Journal of Public Health, 104(6), e19–e26.

To suggest that men, especially Black men who show greater rates should be evaluated as victims post the violence reeks of implicit anti-Black misandry. Black men who father children from rape by older women are still required by the state to pay for those children. Black men are systematically denied status as a victim, and on top of that rarely are female rapists punished or even stigmatized for raping males generally.

Pathways of early sexual debut result in higher rates of deviance and criminalization for Black males, and in the case where Black men have the worst demographic markers of any race/sex group in the U.S. (lower life expectancy, lower employment, lower high school, and college matriculation, lower overall earnings and benefits when looking at jobs worked and incarceration rates) it seems disingenuous to posit that victims need to be evaluated after violent acts to see who matters more.

Regarding no other human being would such calculus be proposed. No one would dare say rape of a rich woman should matter less because she has more resources to deal with it than a poor woman. The idea is that rape itself is an affront to their humanity and womanhood.

But when you see that Black men report the highest rates of rape/made to penetrate violence in the United States in 12-month prevalence, we need to evaluate their pain based on utilitarian calculus. So rape is less of a violence to Black men than it would be to women even though they are victimized by it more in period prevalences.Report

Maja Sidzinska
Maja Sidzinska
Reply to  Tommy J Curry
1 year ago

I don’t understand. Is the impact supposed to matter or is it not supposed to matter? If it DOESN’T matter, then I take the implication to be that the rates of sexual violence all by themselves give us the moral picture of this issue. If it DOES matter, then I take the implication to be that we can consider issues such as pathways tied to deviance, suicide, & violence that follow from sexual violence, as you mentioned, but then also pregnancy and abortion, as I mentioned.

As far as this: “Regarding no other human being would such calculus be proposed. No one would dare say rape of a rich woman should matter less because she has more resources to deal with it than a poor woman. The idea is that rape itself is an affront to their humanity and womanhood.”—In an abstract moral sense, the rape of a rich woman is the same as the rape of a poor woman. Both rapes are affronts to the humanity of both people, if we follow some Kantian calculus. But assuming that the rich woman has, for instance, access to healthcare, including psychological healthcare, and, say, a level of epistemic authority when it comes to reporting her rape to authorities, then in terms of public policy, we should worry less about her rape and focus our social attention on providing resources to poor women. OR TO WHOEVER NEEDS IT MOST, which may very well be Black men. I thought your very argument was showing this… that Black men need attention and resources focused on them because of data that your research is bringing to light that shows the very severe and usually overlooked impacts on them. Is that not the case?Report

ehz
ehz
Reply to  Avalonian
1 year ago

As far as I can tell, the 12-month ratios can be disproportionate to the lifetime ratios if a certain subset of people are being assaulted over and over again. Suppose there are groups A and B. Among group A, each year a different subset of A people are assaulted, so the 12-month assault rate is 1/lifetime the lifetime rate. Among group B, the same subset of people are assaulted each year, so the 12-month rate equals the lifetime rate. So, it seems from the report that women are somewhat closer to A (at 36.% over a lifetime and 4.0% over 12 months) and men somewhat closer to B (at 17.1% over a lifetime and 3.7% over 12 months).Report

ehz
ehz
Reply to  ehz
1 year ago

Of course that is assuming that 12-month rates aren’t increasing over time.Report

CW
CW
Reply to  Avalonian
1 year ago

Curry talks a bit about the lifetime rates issue on the FB thread. He suggests there is a methodological problem.Report

Tommy J. Curry
Tommy J. Curry
Reply to  CW
1 year ago

Yes I prefer 12 month, but both are often referenced in the literature.Report

Bharath Vallabha
1 year ago

Agree strongly with Professor Curry. Though in what sense is the outrage fake?

Possibility 1: many academic philosophers don’t actually care. They say they do to look cool, or they are deluding themselves. I don’t think this is helpful, since judging self-delusion is pretty tricky.

Possibility 2: many academic philosophers care, but they think caring means changing _others_ politically: the white supremacists, the republicans, the uneducated, the non-philosophers, or whoever. So caring ends up meaning going to a protest, writing/arguing on facebook, willing to fight with one’s family, etc. But it never touches what they do professionally. Here there is a split in identity. The academic philosopher qua citizen cares A LOT, but qua academic philosopher acts as if those issues don’t touch their domain: the institutions they learnt in, the classes they teach, etc. The problem with this is obvious: if everyone takes this attitude, nothing changes. Everyone is intent on changing “them”, but not “us”. In my experience, in person and on line, this is very true for academic philosophers. Here “fake” means “passing the buck”.

Possibility 3: many academic philosophers care, and think philosophy should help, but think _falsely_ that the education they received, as it is traditionally, is well suited to the task. The line of thought is: “To question systemic racism we need to teach students to think for themselves, and to question everything. This is what Socrates, Descartes and the great philosophers did. So focusing on Kant or Wittgenstein, or teaching the same early modern philosophy or intro courses – _all that_ is in the service of reflection and so of overcoming racism.” Ironically, then, changing the world ends up meaning academic philosophy needs to keep the course, continue _the grand tradition_ as we got it. Here “reflection”, “thinking for oneself”, “challenging authority” are used so broadly that any philosophy, no matter how traditional, becomes by definition part of the solution. “Fake” here means “rather convenient”.

What would it mean then for outrage to not be fake? At least this: to seriously question whether the structures of academic philosophy are set up in a way to address the issues of racism. To be open to the possibility that we look at the previous epoch of analytic philosophy, of Quine or Wittgenstein or Putnam or Rorty or Rawls, the way Russell and Moore looked at the British Idealists – that is, as an old paradigm we need to move beyond to explore new domains, new questions, new methods. For even a chaired professor at a top department to be open to the idea that perhaps their training, though wonderful, was deeply limited, and they need to start afresh on these topics, to create new structures. Yes, to learn from thinkers like Professor Curry, but at root to really break with the past to think for oneself how to face the present.Report

Caligula's Goat
Caligula's Goat
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
1 year ago

I don’t jump into conversations about the discipline’s politics on race/gender/class all that often. I wasn’t born in the US and when I immigrated here with my family long ago we were dirt poor (i.e., go out on trash day and see if there were good pickings poor). Although I pass for white, I am multiracial (a peek at my parents and siblings would give it away immediately). I never in my life would have thought that I would have become a philosopher. Bharath, your post is wonderful, a great example of useful philosophical distinction, and it captures all manner of white folk in my department whom I’m often infuriated with.

If I’m being real, it’s such an alienating experience, in some ways, to find myself replicating certain aspects of analytic philosophy that I think are logic games for disaffected white dudes. Having said all that, I would do it all over again. The discipline is in the middle of becoming something far more interesting and more radical than it was and in some ways is slowly returning to its more radical roots (and I say this as someone who sometimes, but admittedly only rarely, agrees with Brian Leiter about the discipline!).

I do often wonder though about this focus that we have on our own. It’s not a bad thing to criticize our colleagues and their well meaning (but often annoying) white liberalism. I do feel that one reason I do it, when I do venture to do it, it’s because I feel like I have developed enough trust with them to possibly get them to move their positions in good ways (and so I’m relying on trust and emotion more than reasoned argument). But sometimes, discussions like these feel like cannibalism. George Floyd was murdered by police and if my white colleagues want to post a blacked out facebook profile, it’s silly but I’m okay with it if they’re donating to black organizations, working their own university level power to make things better, etc. That they sometimes talk about how none of this would have happened if Hillary were President…is annoying but, as Spencer noted, I’d rather direct my anger at Trump and white nationalism whenever I can spare it. These aren’t mutually exclusive and Curry is doing good work here too but outrage exhaustion is real. I have little to spare for my white liberal friends right now. Maybe, if Biden is President next year, I’ll yell at them some more.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Caligula's Goat
1 year ago

Thanks for thoughtful comment. Your talk of “white folk in my department” and “white liberalism” is understandable, but is not what I meant. I don’t think the difficulty of institutional change is mainly a matter of intention. If all philosophers felt guilty and made race issues the center of academic philosophy, not obvious that will lead to good progress. For the kind of change that is being sought can’t be done through castigation, but requires inspiration. To create new ideas and avenues so that people are mainly drawn to the change, rather than pushed towards it.

Interesting to hear about your immigrant experience. I too am a immigrant, though middle class. One reason I don’t make this a white issue is because many Indian-Americans as well, inc in my family, have racist habits, esp towards blacks. Also, when I am pulled over by a cop, I worry how it might affect my insurance rates, not whether I might live or be beaten. True, if there is a terrorist attack by brown men, I worry about that. But even that might not compare to what black men experience.

Why is it that even though I am an immigrant, I feel safer calling the cops than many blacks, whose families have been here for generations and contributed so much? My sense: it’s because there is a racial hierarchy embedded into our collective unconscious of the last four hundred years. In this hierarchy, there are whites at the top, then asians, then blacks (and various indigineous peoples). The issue isn’t primarily racial, as much as it is textual, as in: who has texts in their culture which are like the Bible and Plato? Indians and Chinese seem to have analogous texts, but unsure what counts as that for Africans or Native Americans, etc, and so they are seen as more “animal like” and less “civilized”. This racial hierarchy was basically crystallized into the origins of modern Western academic phil in the time of Kant and Hegel, and spread through British Idealism through the colonies. Analytic phil reacted against the idealism, but kept the background of the racial hierarchy and the focus on Western philosophy. So is there a connection between cops seeing black men as animal-like and dangerous and philosophy depts teaching mainly white philosophers? Are philosophers are more enlightened than the cops, or are the cops acting out subliminally the sense of hierarchy which even the phil depts are implicitly reenforcing?

Btw, yes, outrage exhaustion is real. But only if outrage is identified with feeling outraged. But one can be outraged as in committed to change, and be calm, self-questioning and compassionate.Report

Spencer Jay Case
Spencer Jay Case
1 year ago

I’d distinguish “fake outrage” from “selective outrage.” It seems clear that the outrage over the murder is selective. But I’m not sure that is a problem. There are just too many outrages in the world to expect us to all be equally outraged by them all. I doubt that’s psychologically possible and even if it were, we’d be perennially outraged if we reacted like this to every murder, or every relevantly similar murder. Anger can be somewhat arbitrary in terms of its focus without being “fake” or “phony.”Report

AD
AD
Reply to  Spencer Jay Case
1 year ago

^^^This is the right explanation — it makes a lot more sense than Curry’s.Report

Justin P.
Justin P.
Reply to  Spencer Jay Case
1 year ago

I think what the fake versus selective distinction misses is that both genuine and selective outrage are highly motivating. A lack of substantial action, doing the things an outraged human does, is more indicative of fake outrage than selective outrage.Report

AD
AD
Reply to  Justin P.
1 year ago

If it’s more indicative, it’s only insignificantly so. We all think beating children is bad. Few of us do anything about it. But if we see a video of a child being beaten, we get outraged.

I think it’s pretty silly to think that a large number of philosophers (or people) are expressive “fake outrage.” And I doubt Curry thinks this either — he’s too smart to think that. More likely, he’s being hyperbolic to illustrate one (of many case of hypocrisy or oversight by philosophers.Report

Tommy J. Curry
Tommy J. Curry
Reply to  AD
1 year ago

Perhaps I am not as “smart” as would be required. I would suggest you entertain the “pretext” of the comment. Works in dehumanization would be helpful here. Perhaps the work of David Livingstone Smith or my own work on Black males in The Man-Not.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
1 year ago

Interesting (and sad) to hear about black male victims of sexual assault and rape.

There’s another way in which a question about harm to innocent black people seems to have been conspicuously absent from the #Metoo discussion, as I’ve seen it. I’m thinking of the widespread and long-standing injustice done to black men falsely accused of rape and then convicted or lynched without due process.

One of the most common reasons why black men were lynched by the Klan and other racist groups was a mere allegation that they had raped a white woman. This also led to countless unjust imprisonments of black people in cases that gripped the nation: the Groveland Four, the Scottsboro Boys, and so many others. These terrible injustices were attacked by Ida Wells and Frederick Douglass, who called for due process and the presumption of innocence to be upheld. One of the common responses to Wells, Douglass, and others seeking to end these injustices was that due process would require that the (white) women allegedly victimized by the accused black people would be victimized again by having to take the stand.

Perhaps this would be a mere historical footnote if black men didn’t continue to be accused disproportionately often of sexual assault. But I’m not sure that this is true. Certainly, in some of the prominent recent cases of false sexual assault accusations, the accused were black. If, as is often said, black male defendants already tend to face injustice in the legal system, the tension here would seem to merit considerable thinking-through. Perhaps I’m missing something big, but I don’t recall ever having seen that discussed by philosophers in any of the #Metoo conversations.Report

SadGradNo2828837
SadGradNo2828837
1 year ago

Racism exists and is terrible; some philosophers and some philosophies have been racist; and people of colour are often made to struggle in academic philosophy. For all those reasons and more, it is good for the profession to reflect on (say) its racist biases. It also seems to follow that political philosophers who fail to pay due attention to racism in their philosophical work are probably failing to do what they at least sometimes ought to be doing.

Sometimes, though, it is said or suggested that philosophers as a whole need to pay due attention to racism, and other socially important phenomena, within their philosophical work. Bharath Vallabha, for instance, writes in these comments that:

What would it mean then for outrage to not be fake? At least this: to seriously question whether the structures of academic philosophy are set up in a way to address the issues of racism. To be open to the possibility that we look at the previous epoch of analytic philosophy, of Quine or Wittgenstein or Putnam or Rorty or Rawls, the way Russell and Moore looked at the British Idealists – that is, as an old paradigm we need to move beyond to explore new domains, new questions, new methods. For even a chaired professor at a top department to be open to the idea that perhaps their training, though wonderful, was deeply limited, and they need to start afresh on these topics, to create new structures. Yes, to learn from thinkers like Professor Curry, but at root to really break with the past to think for oneself how to face the present.

To my mind, Vallabha is suggesting at least two markers of progress: (i) that academic philosophers seriously question the structure of their workplace, and (ii) that academic philosophers seriously question the topics, questions and methods of (say) the analytic philosophy old-school, on the grounds that doing so might bring us closer to important insights about racism (and, presumably, other socially important phenomena). I agree with (i), though only (very) partially with (ii).

The most plausible aspect of philosophy for which (ii) might be desirable is political philosophy. I’m not a political philosopher, however, so I will leave that at that. I’m more interested in the question of whether we should give up on the analytic philosophy old-school on the grounds suggested above.

Presumably, the claim here is not that these thinkers have had no important insights about (say) language, knowledge, reality, the self, action, agency – about topics which have fascinated philosophers all over the world for centuries. So, the claim must be something like this: in spite of the richness of this thought, it is worth taking a break from the serious study of its thinkers, because this raises our odds of arriving at important insights about racism.

But this seems wrong. Firstly, these figures may help us understand important phenomena, which some have suggested are intimately related to racism e.g. social construction, or the nature of racist language. Secondly, philosophy often changes for the better because of its detailed, critical and fair-minded interaction with past thinkers. Finally, we might worry that this line of thought could be generalised as follows: for any domain of inquiry which, like philosophy, brings with it no obvious and immediate benefit to our understanding of racism, or to our ability to combat it, researchers in the field should consider ‘starting afresh’ and ‘breaking with the past’, so as to ‘address the issue of racism’. I take it that this suggestion would (rightly?) be considered extreme with regards to (say) maths or physics. For that reason, I would be interested to hear why philosophy might be a fair target for reform.

I hope I did not misunderstand.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  SadGradNo2828837
1 year ago

Thanks for comment. The point isn’t we need to stop working on traditional analytic phil. People can only work on whatever they want to work on. The point is: I think we shouldn’t take the categories and conceptual spaces of views as understood by Quine, Rawls et al at face value anymore, but put those categories and histories within the context of racism. This doesn’t mean Quine, et al were wrong or racist; it means that the insights they had _came at a cost_, of not thinking about philosophy in other ways . To paraphrase Nietzsche, great things are usually born of blood and power. The options aren’t: either Quine is great and so his philosophy is pure and free of race issues, or Quine’s context was racially biased and so his work is bad. Rather: the work can be great, but also merged with social blindspots. Which means it is a choice we now face: are we going to continue that work with the blindspots in place, or try to do it without the blindspots, and if so, what that means.

What is being lost – and it is good thing – is a kind of “innocence” Quine, Austin or Kant, Hume, etc could assume. I admire Quine, Austin, Putnam, Cavell, and many of that generation. But it obvious they didn’t have to face as starkly the choice we are facing now, of what to make of the fact that Russell or Moore didn’t engage with colonialism, or think critically about how the Western philosophy syllabus they taught was constructed in the 19th century. Of course Russell, Carnap, et al were very political engaged, but one can hardly tell it from their philosophical work (the early work in Russell’s case). I take Curry’s point partly to be: you can’t be outraged by what happened to George Floyd and still want to retain the kind of innocence of how Quine, Austin, et al did philosophy.

Re whether all this belongs to a part of political philosophy, this kind of compartmentalization is part of the problem. It becomes an easy way to pass the buck. When the scientific revolution happened, would it right for the Scholastics to say to Descartes, “Your work belongs in the philosophy of dreaming or the phil of science, and I don’t work on that”? That seems wrong because the issues of the scientific revolution wasn’t one subtopic of a sub topic of a field of philosophy, but were so vast that they required rethinking nature of philosophy more broadly, and much else as a result. We are at a similar inflection point as a society.Report

SadGradNo2828837
SadGradNo2828837
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
1 year ago

Great, thanks for clarifying.

Many of your points seem to be directed at the institution of academic philosophy. I agree that we should ask questions about racism within the academy, past and present, and that we should be sensitive to cultural blind spots. Relatedly, we should also seek to overcome a partial or distorted view of the history of philosophy.

I also agree that we shouldn’t do too much compartmentalizing. Of course, however, there are certain questions which seem to be much more closely allied to the political side of the philosophical spectrum than to others. Questions about racism, about society’s response to it, and about the role that philosophy ought to play in understanding and combating it – these are all political or ethical questions.

If Curry’s point is what you say it is, then I disagree. If someone is working on the philosophy of quantum mechanics, or in the foundations of decision theory, or in meta-ethics, I just don’t see how they cannot – whilst maintaining a distance from issues of racism within their work, and therefore remaining somewhat ‘innocent’ – feel and express legitimate and genuine outrage at what’s going on. Again, I think that the analogy with maths and physics is apt.

Of course, what you might be saying is that anyone who does philosophy has good reason to direct at least some of their scholarly attention towards these issues. I think that this would be a more plausible point.Report

SadGradNo2828837
SadGradNo2828837
Reply to  SadGradNo2828837
1 year ago

About seeing Quine and co in the context of racism –

I’ve always been appalled by aspects of these thinkers’ texts, like allusions to ‘jungle natives’ in Quine. From the point of view of reforming the workplace of philosophy, it is crucial to be mindful of this stuff.

But would we learn much that is very substantial about (say) radical interpretation by focusing on the racist aspects of these thought experiments? I’m just not sure, though I certainly would be fascinated to see a cogent defence of that idea. (I’ve read some papers which tried to establish this point, though to my mind unsuccessfully.)

More generally, I suppose I struggle to see how old-school work in the foundations of mathematics, or mereology, or error-theory, or truth… could be much improved upon – in a purely theoretical sense – by this kind of attention.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  SadGradNo2828837
1 year ago

Someone working in QM or logic is also, normally, someone who teaches intro to phil, advices students, is a member of the profession in all sorts of ways – and so engages with the structural racism implicit in the profession. The options aren’t just responding qua person or qua philosopher as in qua logician. Responding qua philosopher also includes many institutional roles and intellectual issues, which can’t be simply put into dichotomies of a priori/a posteriori, or universal/political, etc.

I don’t claim to be making Curry’s point. Just one point I took from what he wrote. From his post and comment, it is clear he is also making more particular points about the studies of black men. I don’t want to take attention away from his points and have just a general discussion, so I will end here.Report

SadGradNo2828837
SadGradNo2828837
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
1 year ago

Cool – I don’t think anything I said is in tension with the above. All of that sounds like stuff we can and should do to change the workplace/environment. I had emphasised that we agreed on this point.

Any disagreement was directed towards elements of your comments which, to my mind, suggested that the content of one’s philosophy should be sensitive to these issues. My point was: surely not always.Report

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  SadGradNo2828837
1 year ago

”Of course, what you might be saying is that anyone who does philosophy has good reason to direct at least some of their scholarly attention towards these issues. I think that this would be a more plausible point.”

But why? Is it so that there are no topics worthy of scholarly attention beside social ones?Report

Patternminds
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
1 year ago

HI Bharath,

I found your dissection of the academic responses to this murder very interesting and equally your subsequent comments about how the discipline might reform. Here is where I agree:

“The point isn’t we need to stop working on traditional analytic phil. People can only work on whatever they want to work on. The point is: I think we shouldn’t take the categories and conceptual spaces of views as understood by Quine, Rawls et al at face value anymore, but put those categories and histories within the context of racism. This doesn’t mean Quine, et al were wrong or racist; it means that the insights they had _came at a cost_, of not thinking about philosophy in other ways . To paraphrase Nietzsche, great things are usually born of blood and power. The options aren’t: either Quine is great and so his philosophy is pure and free of race issues, or Quine’s context was racially biased and so his work is bad. Rather: the work can be great, but also merged with social blindspots. Which means it is a choice we now face: are we going to continue that work with the blindspots in place, or try to do it without the blindspots, and if so, what that means.

What is being lost – and it is good thing – is a kind of “innocence” Quine, Austin or Kant, Hume, etc could assume. I admire Quine, Austin, Putnam, Cavell, and many of that generation. But it obvious they didn’t have to face as starkly the choice we are facing now…”

I think this is absolutely crucial. In literature, for example, the ‘great writers’ are studied for their greatness, but they are criticised, they are historicised, contextualised. They had blindspots. And you are right, there was an innocence about the analytic turn in philosophy (Ironic that it took place over the course of two transformative wars). A lingering belief in the purity of reason. We can’t, if we are to be true to knowledge, be ignorant of our humanity – that there is no purity, and, especially when it comes to axiological issues, we need all be mindful that the view from nowhere is a fantasy. That doesn’t mean, however, that everything is up in the air. Quine was a white man so what he wrote isn’t true for a black man. This variety of relativism is racism carrying a rainbow flag. What is needed is contextualisation, recalibration: not philosophy becoming a discipline committed to a political cause, but one that is true to its roots of asking questions which are difficult to answer. Just as developments in logic and mathematics led to the revolt against Idealism, a globalised, multicultural world should lead to a revolt against Pure Reason. The neurophilosophers have their own vision of how things should go – perhaps by drawing solely from the neurological, and reconceptualising our philosophical notions that way we can dispel some cultured myths. I have my reservations however, could such a reconceptualisation could not easily be dented by the same tools which have chiselled away at the hardened analytic mindset? Moreover, such an ideology is in keeping with the dominant technocratic class. Mostly male, yes; mostly white, yes – but not exclusively, and certainly it is in the interest of the Silicon Valley genii to make it seem that the doors are open for anyone in the world if they have the requisite skills. Perhaps there is a parallel here with our elite philosophy institutions.

Here is where I disagree with you Bharath:

‘Someone working in QM or logic is also, normally, someone who teaches intro to phil, advices students, is a member of the profession in all sorts of ways – and so engages with the structural racism implicit in the profession… ‘

You are individualising the issue here, and placing negative moral qualities on the shoulders of people who may well wish nothing but good for the world, or may simply have no thoughts on the matter at all. No positive outcome will ever come from this way of thinking. Insofar as we look at one another as political actors, playing a role from one social identity or another, we are doomed to ethnonationalism.

I am not American (British-Irish) so have been fortunate not to experience the extremities of racial politics that seem so dominant in the States. When I was an undergraduate, an American girl I was seeing (Southeast Asian background but born and bred in San Francisco) told me ‘race in America is like class in England’. There’s a lot of truth in that: the US has a unique history, both as a nation whose populace were by and large once immigrants, and also one which (I know it isn’t this simple) fought a civil war over slavery. Lest you think, that when it comes to problematic race relations, I consider Britain to be some kind of exception, I can only point to the recent Windrush scandal in this country. But Britain’s history is different to America’s. Perhaps it is worse, I’ve no interest in the debate. It matters little when you have a man being choked to death on the tarmac, treated not like a human, not even like an organism, but like a machine that has malfunctioned and which its operator feels the need to get back into working order. A hard reboot. That is what I felt when I watched the video of George Floyd being murdered.

Is that what every protester out for the past few nights has been thinking? Some maybe, for others the tipping point – I’m sick of this fuck the lot of you -, some a moral protest, some defiance, some hatred of the regime, some simply want to go wild while they can. I’m not a politician, so fortunately I can say: I do not blame them. Perhaps some of the looters and vandals are not particularly decent people, but given the power imbalance, I cannot apportion much approbation. What do they want? Some may have specific aims: an overhaul of the entire policing system in America, others, an overhaul of a corrupt society, some a revolution along the lines Trump promised his base. Many will may have no aims, just rage.

We have seen similar protests, in solidarity, in the major European capitals. There have been, to my knowledge, no burning of buildings, no tear-gas, no rubber bullets. But what does this show? To me it demonstrates that the particularities, the sheer drama of the American political landscape combined with its cultural power have captivated what some call the ‘Brahmin Left’ of the West. Likely the same people who attended these protests, attended the protests for a second referendum on Britain leaving EU. In America, these might perhaps be classed as the guilty white liberals or some such. Such terms, I might add, should fall out of favour. White, guilty, liberal or not, we need everyone we can, protesting, resisting, fighting not as an ally for an abstract cause, but for themselves, their loved ones, their friends, their home, their community. Protesting, rebelling needs to become something that isn’t seen to just be done by minorities and left-liberals. It needs to be normalised, it needs to be shorn of the individualistic culture which has toxified the Western world. The image of the protester – toking a joint, dreadlocks, CND peace necklace – still exists in the popular imagination. It needs to go. We need people to rise up for a cause that affects them personally, that touches them, that enrages them. Even those who score high on the social privilege chart can do this, if, and only if, they do not identify protesting with a political cause for which they have no regard. The gilets jaunts in France are a good example. Protest, rebellion, revolt, resistance needs to be what it was for thousands of years – dangerous but necessary.

I have had nothing but the greatest sympathy for the millions of Americans who did not vote for Trump. In fighting back as they have done recently, they’ve done themselves and their country a great honour.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Patternminds
1 year ago

I don’t think we disagree. The point about logicians wasn’t meant to single out anyone or any group. It was only to point out the truism that even in a field as far from racism qua content as imaginable, the logician qua academic is enmeshed in the same structures as other academic philosophers, and is as responsible for fighting structural racism of the profession. Whether individual people, logicians or not, choose to do that is of course up to them.Report

William Peden
William Peden
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
1 year ago

“Of course Russell, Carnap, et al were very political engaged, but one can hardly tell it from their philosophical work (the early work in Russell’s case).”

(1) This seems to conflate “It’s blindlingly obvious that X is political” with “X is not politically engaged”. If you know the historical context, “On Denoting” has actually quite a lot to do with colonialism and especially imperialism, but also authority/individualism in general. I don’t see why we need to suggest a guilt in Russell (or at least a lack of “innocence”) for the contemporary popularity of reading that article out of its historical context. Similar points hold for more or less all of Russell’s work – he was a deeply politically motivated thinker.

(2) Even for those unwilling to do the leg-work in putting his work in historical context, Russell’s first book is literally titled “German Social Democracy”. I haven’t read it, but I suspect that there’s some politics in there. At times, he wouldn’t have called such a book “philosophical”, but we would today.

(3) If you’re looking for politically apathetic philosophers (or those lacking the proper Current Year political sentiments among most academic philosophers) Russell is an astonishingly bad example.

(4) Russell literally wrote a whole article about colonization, and plenty about race (which, at BEST, is creepily eugenicist) so it’s not a “fact that Russell or Moore didn’t engage with colonialism”. It’s a fact that we don’t engage with what Russell said about colonialism, perhap because it’s not very interesting. It also isn’t very interesting that Moore didn’t “engage with” colonialism, at least in his writing (as far as I know) because there are lots of important issues that people don’t engage with all the time, and it’s not generally the best use of our very brief time alive to think about why and maybe judge them for it.Report

Baffled
Baffled
Reply to  William Peden
1 year ago

What does “On Denoting” have to do with colonialism?Report

William Peden
William Peden
Reply to  Baffled
1 year ago

19th century idealism had a political element: see Hegel. (I’m not going to try to explain Hegelianism and the connections of the metaphysics with the politcs here!) Early objectors to idealism, like Russell, must have been conscious that in objecting to idealism and defending a conception of reality in which knowing the entire Whole was not necessary for truly knowing each of its part, they were objecting the collectivist and exceptionalist politics (including those behind colonisation) that were seen as consequences of Hegelianism.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  William Peden
1 year ago

All for bringing out the historical contexts of these texts. And sure Russell thought of “On Denoting” within the context that you suggest. But that doesn’t make “On Denoting” a work about and/or fighting colonialism. If “On Denoting” is a work which concerns colonialism, is teaching “On Denoting” also part of fighting structural racism? To me that seems pretty crazy, and also pretty convenient.

Similarly, Carnap wrote the Aufbau as part of his fight against fascist thinking. In general, for the positivists doing philosophy in a scientific manner was also about creating social change and justice. But context is key. Seems off to say someone working on Carnap now is just in virtue of that fighting against racism. This seems like a desperate attempt to keep the old greats in play, when there are so many others philosophers from that time and now who more explicitly address philosophical questions re racism, and who speak more to our moment now.Report

William Peden
William Peden
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
1 year ago

I actually don’t particularly LIKE teaching “On Denoting”. And obviously I wouldn’t assign it in a philosophy of race course, but that’s consistent with everyting I said. And I plan to continue avoiding ever teaching the Aufbau.

I did teach Quine once, ironically in a seminar about rhetoric, where we talked about some of the racial undertones of “On What There Is”, and comparing its style with some of Du Bois’s work: the students came into the class convinced that there was no rhetoric in Quine’s style and loads in Du Bois; they left realising that both philosophers made a lot of use of rhetoric, and that some of Quine’s choices of metaphor are more than a little dodgy.

So I don’t think that those are good explanations of why I said that Russell’s work, when put in historical context, can make it clear that he was politically engaged. Still, I admire your courage in your ability to interpret the intentions of others online. 😉Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
1 year ago

I didn’t mean to say anything about your teaching or intentions. I was thinking more generally of what it might mean to think of “On Denoting” as relevant to colonialism. Your class discussing Quine and Du Bois sounds fascinating.Report

William Peden
William Peden
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
1 year ago

Ah, fair enough.

That was part of the weirdest course I ever TA’d on (it was an almost random mix of things from modal logic to Heidegger) but it was a great experience. I’d been a Du Bois fan since I read him as a teenager after randomly (again!) coming across his name in a list of writers whom someone else had read (Mike Tyson or Don King, I think) and I’d never expected that I would have the opportunity to talk about his work with a class.Report

William Peden
William Peden
Reply to  Baffled
1 year ago

And whether reality can make sense to an individual, as opposed to a social consciousness coming to know itself, is a big question for the role of political authority. Orwell touches on this in the later parts of 1984.Report

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
1 year ago

”People can only work on whatever they want to work on.”

and

”you can’t be outraged by what happened to George Floyd and still want to retain the kind of innocence of how Quine, Austin, et al did philosophy.”

These two are in tension.

I don’t really know what is this ”innocence” you talk about us attributing to past analytic philosophers. From what I’ve read about him, Quine wasn’t a very pleasant person. Russell was weird in some respects. Wittgenstein seems to have been utterly obnoxious. But so what? Those facts do not mean they were wrong in things they said about language, mind, knowledge… If your claim is that only if I knew in detail their attitudes about racial or colonial topics, then I would see why their claims about language, mind, knowledge were wrong, well, then I think I can say plausibly that you seem to be projecting from their social attitudes onto their metaphysical and epistemological attitudes. If Quine is wrong on sets, Russell on descriptions, and Austin on illocution, it should be evident from their writings and perhaps data concerning those topics directly (e.g. evidence from linguistics or contemporary math). If I need to know the entire personal history of the author to see why he was wrong in a particular philosophical debate, I’m not sure we’re still doing philosophy. Whatever Aristotle thought about women, or barbarians, his claims on change, cause and substance don’t seem to have much to do with the former.

At least it seems so to me.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  krell_154
1 year ago

I don’t see a tension. The first expresses that philosophers can’t be guilted into what they work on – that gets in the way of creativity. The second expresses that _if_ an academic philosopher is outraged by Floyd’s murder, then one needs to look at how academic phil reaffirms background conceptual schemes of which police brutality against blacks is one expression.

Re innocence, I am not talking about personal characteristics. Yes, the greats of analytic phil wrote amazing things about language, mind, metaphilosophy, etc. But they very much took for granted the structures of academic phil in which they did that great work. They functioned with an institutional innocence which suggests that academic phil goes back to Plato (true) and so modern academic phil institutions stand apart from recent historical pressures (false). They failed to achieve self consciousness of the very institutions they were a part of. They were blissfully unaware of how in its modern origins in the early 1800s (following a Hegelian rather than a Leibnizian take on global philosophy – as J. E. H Smith recently wrote) academic phil was used to reaffrirm European society’s sense of racial hierarchies. In churches it was how only Europeans discovered true religion, and in academia it was how only Europeans discovered philosophy. For the greats of analytic phil, it was just an “obvious truth” that philosophy is a European discovery, but they failed to see how this obvious truth was also, coincidentally, the intellectual foundation of racial hierarchies propping up white supremacy.

None of this negates Quine’s work on language or Russell’s work in logic. But they were innocent in that they didn’t explicitly face a choice between working on reference vs coming to grips with the structural racism of the institutions in which they can do that work. It’s not like they faced the choice and still said, “Screw structural racism in my department, I am going to focus on my talents on reference.” Don’t think Russell or Carnap would have said that. But for us now, the choice is more and more conscious. My sense is, as the choice becomes more explicit, the answer also becomes more obvious.Report

David Mathers
David Mathers
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
1 year ago

‘ how academic phil reaffirms background conceptual schemes of which police brutality against blacks is one expression’

What sort of conceptual schemes do you have in mind?Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  David Mathers
1 year ago

For example, most relevant to Floyd’s murder, that intellectually there is a hierarchy, in terms of culture and history, with Europeans/whites at the top and Africans/blacks towards the bottom. No academic philosopher I know would say this, or even believe it. But the sense of a hierarchy need not be a belief as much as it is a schema for conceptualizing the world, for how to categorize things, what to give priority to, who belongs more in the center of discussion and so on. A conceptual scheme which people like Hegel did believe explicitly, and used that to embed it as part of academic philosophical practice. What has changed since Hegel is we have given up on the explicit affirmation of the scheme, but have left unearthed many of the structural manifestations of that schema.

Curry writes: “At a certain point we have to realize—its just built that way. You don’t care about most Black people, esp. Black men and boys.” I take it this means: it isn’t enough to have feelings of care about black people. That would be like seeing a person caught in a trap, and feeling for them, but not moving towards helping them get free. To act on the care means to see the schemas that the cops are acting out of is rooted all around us, including in our classrooms. The cop who killed Floyd saw Floyd as not requiring basic respect, because he saw Floyd through the prism of the hierarchy. Academics who are content to think philosophy was a European discovery and so phil can be eurocentric are acting out of that same prism, just at a higher order of abstraction.Report

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
1 year ago

”But they were innocent in that they didn’t explicitly face a choice between working on reference vs coming to grips with the structural racism of the institutions in which they can do that work. It’s not like they faced the choice and still said, “Screw structural racism in my department, I am going to focus on my talents on reference.” Don’t think Russell or Carnap would have said that. But for us now, the choice is more and more conscious. My sense is, as the choice becomes more explicit, the answer also becomes more obvious.”

But then, your point actually is that we should stop working on traditional anayltic philosophy, contrary to what you said earlier.

I think it’s obvious I disagree with that.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  krell_154
1 year ago

I am not saying that. I think Russell and Moore rebelling against British Idealism was a great thing, but I also think British Idealism had lots of amazing aspects. Don’t think we need stark statements like “this tradition has to stop”, “If X doesn’t devote some of his time to combating racism, he is racist”, etc. People make choices for all sorts of reasons, and find inspiration or creative juices flowing in any number of directions.

What I am saying: if academic phil ten years from now is still focused on the same heros of the last century, it’s not going to make much progress on structural racism in the profession. Because those greats didn’t have much to say on those issues. We can read all sort of things out of Russell, Quine and Strawson, and say how their work can be expanded to meet the current moment. But why do that when there are many other philosophers – as Curry notes – who are working on these topics more directly? This can seem painful, like looking anew at what philosophy could mean and stepping back from the authors and topics we took to define the subject. This connects to what it means for outrage to not be fake (as in, not just an expression of outrage) but to have some bite: it is for us to go through that pain and step into the new reality of what philosophy can be.Report

Tommy Jermaine Curry
Tommy Jermaine Curry
1 year ago

A point of clarification to a poster above. My work uses 12-month prevalence not lifetime prevalence. There has been some debate in the public health & epidemiology literature about the reliability of memory and recall concerning lifetime prevalence. Also we know that Black males, despite having the earliest sexual debut of any group in the United States, do not often identify coercive early sexual experiences as rape or made to penetrate violence. This is merely a complication in the survey which is why I use 12-month prevalence in my work, not lifetime to speak about the rates of sexual violence among Blacks in the U.S. and in comparison to whites.

The article I suggested to readers in addition to She Touched Me which was published in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal was a piece on Terry Crews that asked why Black men are not centered as victims of sexual coercion and made to penetrate violence but primarily as perpetrators.

Philosophy has been extremely negligent in addressing theories of Black manhood and boyhood compared to other fields and the most up to date data coming out of social sciences. In fact, such research is actually discouraged outright and censored by philosophy journals. My point is very simple: How can philosophy as a discipline be outraged at these deaths when so much of the literature on Black men and boys perpetuate the idea that they are subcultures of poverty, violence, and deviance. In my mind, this a stark contradiction to the outrage being showcased on social media. To my knowledge, no scholars studying Black men and boys deaths, sexual abuse, or histories have been hired specifically to do so. There are no jobs advertised in these areas despite multiple studies documenting that police killings are a leading cause of death for this group.

This is a real problem.Report

SadGradNo2828837
SadGradNo2828837
Reply to  Tommy Jermaine Curry
1 year ago

I suppose that at least part of the reason why not much philosophical work is done or accepted on this subject is this: philosophy has often been concerned with the highly general, or abstract, or necessary, or a priori. The abuse and death and history of black men and boys, however, is a subject which seems to be closer to the specific, concrete, contingent and a posteriori side of the spectrum.

It is because philosophy has often been concerned with the formation of worldviews, and often in response to ethereal questions, that philosophers like Barry Stroud have criticised the increasing specialisation in academic philosophy. We seem to be losing sight of the bigger picture that philosophers have always strived for.

I think that there’s more than a grain of truth in Stroud’s anxieties. (I’m thinking here of what sometimes gets called ‘theoretical philosophy’. Different considerations no doubt bear on political philosophy.) I also think that a proper wordlview must discuss things like the nature of race, in so far as the discussion is recognisably philosophical.

Of course, since so much philosophy is now specialised, an explanation of the lack of attention given to black men and boys should probably be supplemented with the usual candidates e.g. racist biases. Obviously, those are there anyway.Report

NN
NN
Reply to  Tommy Jermaine Curry
1 year ago

Thanks for chiming in!
What do you mean that police killings are a “leading cause of death” for Black men and boys?Report

NN
NN
Reply to  NN
1 year ago

Nevermind, I found the relevant research and more specific numbers. Thanks!Report

ehz
ehz
1 year ago

“How can philosophy as a discipline be outraged at these deaths when so much of the literature on Black men and boys perpetuate the idea that they are subcultures of poverty, violence, and deviance. In my mind, this a stark contradiction to the outrage being showcased on social media.”

If there is a contradiction between being outraged by the murder of George Floyd by the police and perpetuating the idea that Black men and boys are ״subcultures of poverty, violence, and deviance״, then that means, what, that those who are guilty of the latter must think that murdering an innocent black guy is okay? That seems a little extreme, so surely that’s not what you mean. But then where is the contradiction exactly?Report

ehz
ehz
Reply to  ehz
1 year ago

This is in reply to Tommy Jermaine Curry above.Report

Tommy J. Curry
Tommy J. Curry
1 year ago

The subculture of violence theory (Wolfgang & Feracutti, 1967) argues that Black people in America have fundamentally different values based on aggression and violence and this is why you had higher levels of homicide among American Blacks. This was used by Menachem Amir (1971) to speak beyond homicide to sexual violence and rape. This was of course used later by Susan Brownmiller and other white feminists to construct the idea of Black men as being more likely to commit rape from Amir’s Patterns of Forcible Rape.
I am saying that if philosophy’s default position is that Black men are subcultural–naturally violent and deviant–then it becomes impossible to fully disagree with and suspend the views of white police officers and white vigilantes which hold Black men and boys to be aggressive, threats, and deviants. We have seen this very same idea stated by George Zimmerman, Darren Wilson, etc. as a justification to kill Black men and boys. So these ideas are both the reasons for our indifference towards higher sanctions and discrimination against Black men and our inability to see them as victims of sexual abuse.Report

Skef
Skef
Reply to  Tommy J. Curry
1 year ago

I’m not sure how Korsgaaard gets away with her double meanings, puns, and obfuscations but at least she’s not usually talking about such inflammatory topics.

Without taking a position on the facts “subculture” is generally used in the same way as “subset” — to pick out a group with members that share related cultural aspects where the members are also part of a larger culture. There’s no strong implication of how the subculture arose other than that the distinctive aspects are *cultural*. If they weren’t cultural some other term would be more appropriate. “Subculture” also doesn’t imply a source of responsibility — one could result from decadence, oppression, confusion, or could be a good thing.

You’re imposing a meaning on the term of “below the cultured”, and saying that whoever talked about a subculture of violence was thinking in terms of “natural” characteristics. Rhetorical points for cleverness, but that’s not what those people were saying. If you want to argue that it’s what they were thinking, fine: make an argument. It doesn’t fall out of the language.

And if you want to look for hypocracy in academic philosophy you need look no further than all the “radical” thinkers relentlessly pursuing and protecting their bourgeois existences.Report

Ruby Tamariz
Ruby Tamariz
Reply to  Skef
1 year ago

Skef, you seem to be zeroing in on Professor Curry’s use of the word “natural” in his description of the subculture of violence theory, and this seems to be missing his larger point. I haven’t read the primary sources that detail this theory myself, but a cursory Google search led to this summary:

“….Central to their [Wolfgang and Ferracuti] discussion was the idea that higher rates of violence amongst lower-class and racialized populations could be explained by the fact that these groups have embraced values and norms that are more permissive of violence. This theorization assumes the existence of distinct subcultural, pro-violent values that develop in opposition to dominant or middle-class norms and values.” (Ontario Ministry of Children, Community, and Social Services, “The Root Causes of Youth Violence: A Review of Major Theoretical Perspectives”).

Sure, it doesn’t seem like the theory is exactly claiming that the perceived violent traits are natural in the sense you use, but it is claiming that the traits, in fact, exist as social norms, and that a probable source of these norms of is the group’s embracing of pro-violent values. This seems to be enough of an idea to make sense of Professor Curry’s claim that such ideas explain general indifference to the abuse of black men.Report

Skef
Skef
Reply to  Ruby Tamariz
1 year ago

I zeroed in on the rhetoric I found most specious.

As to the “larger” point, he says of the subculture of violence view “then it becomes impossible to fully disagree with and suspend the views of white police officers and white vigilantes which hold Black men and boys to be aggressive, threats, and deviants.” Someone can think a given subgroup is violent for cultural reasons without thinking they’re violent by nature, as you point out. So by your interpretation why would it be “impossible” to disagree that “Black men and boys [are] aggressive, threats, and deviants”, as opposed to, for example, thinking that *some* Black men and boys are victims of circumstance?

One can of course rewrite any statement to make it less specific and more anodyne. I’m talking about the one posted above.Report

Some Grad Student
Some Grad Student
Reply to  Skef
1 year ago

Congrats on stumbling into the “one of the good ones” narrative about Black people and Black cultureReport

Tommy J. Curry
Tommy J. Curry
Reply to  Skef
1 year ago

This really just requires a familiarity with the literature. The theory presupposes poverty because it was initially written to capture the values of segregated Black communities in the 1960s. In the 1970s, there were arguments that were made by subculture & contra-culture theorists that argued these was an endemic disposition of Black men.

As to your point about the qualifier of some. Two problems emerge. As my research shows formidability studies show that whites react to Black male names with heightened anxiety and threat perception. The very sight of a Black male body translates into anxiety. Second, the question is the exceptionality of the group. If you think most Black men and boys are aggressive and dangerous, then you are bound to misperceive any number of individuals from this group. For example, there are non-poisonous snakes. But we as a society do not treat snakes as non-poisonous because we know that many are, hence non-poisonous snakes become the norm of how we engage the group even though we know some are non-poisonous. The threat defines the engagement for all, even though we know scientifically it is some.Report

Tommy J. Curry
Tommy J. Curry
Reply to  Ruby Tamariz
1 year ago

Subcultures are natural in the sense that they are expected manifestations of social order and as such “naturally occurring” forms of social organization in American society.

Now the claim does not entail biological kinds or traits as causal, though there certainly were some of this thinking among its authors, but these are racist environmental theories coming in the post-Boas era and building from “ghetto culture” studies such as John Dollard, Ulf Hannerz, etc.

Again part of my point is that many of the theories being articulated about Black men in philosophy under the label of gender theory, or masculinity theory is really just subculture of violence theory repackaged. I am not talking about overlap, I am arguing that some of these theories are almost verbatim.Report

Skef
Skef
Reply to  Tommy J. Curry
1 year ago

Take these two theories:

1. Men are naturally violent compared with women.

2. The patriarchy socializes most men in a way that makes them more violent than women. This is part of a system that advantages men over women overall but often disadvantages particular men, and also disadvantages most men in particular ways.

Setting aside the truth of either of these views, I would say that recent feminism has trended towards something more like 2.

Now, if someone were to say that 2 is really just 1 “repackaged” I would consider that an inaccurate and uncharitable strawman. To do that is more or less to say that advocates of 2 are lying or confused about their motivations. And I think someone who has problems with both theories can still see the difference between them and understand that conflating them is a mistake of interpretation.

You’re not talking about 1 and 2 exactly, but what you’re doing in a neighboring domain is just as specious.Report

Tommy J. Curry
Tommy J. Curry
Reply to  Skef
1 year ago

Instead of making theoretical claims you could do something much simpler. Read the literature and ask yourself why subculture of violence theory is being used as the basis of feminist analyses of masculinity from 1970s forward.

Your natural inclination is to refute rather than simply know…this is a question that you could just look up.Report

David Mathers
David Mathers
Reply to  Skef
1 year ago

I don’t think your analogy works, Skeft. Tommy Curry was comparing one environmental theory to another, not a biological theory to an environmental one. (He did briefly use the word ‘natural’, but it’s clear from what he said about the ‘violent subculture’ theory that it’s not a biological one.)Report

Tommy J. Curry
Tommy J. Curry
Reply to  David Mathers
1 year ago

Correct, as a criminological theory, it assumes crime is a natural part of society, and violence will occur within subcultures–hence natural to the social structures of said societies.

Again not a theoretical argument merely who these authors are citing as authoritative and informing their theories of Black masculinity.Report

Skef
Skef
Reply to  David Mathers
1 year ago

Even limiting the discussion to environmental views, there are differences among such theories. How is “then it becomes impossible to fully disagree with and suspend the views of white police officers and white vigilantes which hold Black men and boys to be aggressive, threats, and deviants” a supportable, general conclusion?

Reading some papers from particular eras won’t settle this unless the fallacy of origins isn’t one. The claim is that all views within the class he’s referring to have this aspect.

Separately, let me point out that the language “Black men are subcultural” would be a very strange phrase to use unless “natural” in the clause has its more common meaning. This sounds more like strategic retreat than clarification to me.Report

Tommy J Curry
Tommy J Curry
Reply to  David Mathers
1 year ago

You are making this an unnecessary complication b/c you do not understand the premises of the debates and theories. The argument is very simple. The first theories about Black masculinity come from sociologists studying segregation & ghetto culture in America. These theories are the basis of subculture of violence theory. Subculture of violence theory was citing and accepted as the basis of feminist interpretations of Black masculinity. Today, current theories about Black masculinity mirror these subculture of violence theories of old.Report

Tommy J Curry
Tommy J Curry
Reply to  Skef
1 year ago

Again you are making an inaccurate point. It doesn’t matter what you think the “general” case about feminist notions of patriarchy are, you must demonstrate this is the case concerning Black men. So it can be true that feminist theory now asserts patriarchy is socialized, but it does not hold true that such a view is (1) applied to Black men in that way, and (2) that when applied to Black men said accounts do not mirror subculture of violence theories.

You are creating a strawman.Report

Greg
Greg
Reply to  Skef
1 year ago

I realize he is not a philosopher but in interest of diversity of opinion within a community, some may find this of interest. From Oxford.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pv7hsiUirUUReport

Virginia
Virginia
1 year ago

How Racial Disparity Does Not Help Make Sense of Patterns of Police Violence: https://nonsite.org/editorial/how-racial-disparity-does-not-help-make-sense-of-patterns-of-police-violenceReport

Greg
Greg
1 year ago

As long as academic philosophy embraces intersectionality, I think it will be difficult for it to help black men. Progress will be limited if philosophy is shackled by a belief that social relations must be defined within a construct oppressed, oppressor, and victimization.

However, there is some reason to hope. One is this most excellent article by Kenneth Taylor of Stanford, “Transcending Intersectionality”. Enjoy.

https://www.philosophytalk.org/blog/transcending-intersectionalityReport

Ben
Ben
Reply to  Greg
1 year ago

I have to say, the piece here (“Transcending Intersectionality”) is pretty frustrating. While Taylor positions himself as opposed to intersectionality, it’s never clear what the target is exactly. Taylor doesn’t cite anyone in particular as advocating intersectionality as he imagines it. He talks quite a bit about the impulse to “bracket” race and class when discussing gender, then asserts that intersectionality doesn’t actually resist this move, at which point I’ve completely lost the thread as to which if any actual advocates of intersectionality Taylor has in mind. Certainly I don’t recognize Kimberle Crenshaw or Patricia Hill Collins is whatever Taylor takes himself to be arguing against.Report

Tommy J. Curry
Tommy J. Curry
Reply to  Greg
1 year ago

I think Taylor is correct and does reiterate some of the criticisms against intersectionality more generally. There are post-intersectional critiques of Crenshaw that uses very similar language.Report

Josh
Josh
Reply to  Tommy J. Curry
1 year ago

Greg doesn’t seem understand what intersectionality is, but I’m surprised to see Tommy Curry agree with the critique. Isn’t Curry’s point largely an intersectional one? That is, isn’t Curry trying to show that blackness and maleness combine to create unique forms of discrimination (in this case with regard to sexual exploitation) not captured by blackness or maleness individually?Report

Tommy J. Curry
Tommy J. Curry
Reply to  Josh
1 year ago

Again Josh this is a lack of familiarity with the actual literature and ideas being debated here. My work criticizes intersectionality on this very point. You can read my book or an article I wrote entitled Killing Boogeymen for more clarification.

Additionally, more empirical works in intersectionality are based on the idea of intersectional invisibility. This argument suggests that racism is targeted toward outgroup males (this is Jim Sidanius & Felicia Pratto’s Subordinate Male Target Hypothesis) & suggest that femaleness actually is a protective force from lethal violence in Western capitalist patriarchal societies.

So my argument does not in fact depend on the intersection of Black & maleness but the specific entity of Black males in relation to other groups. I am not interested in “uniqueness” but disaggregation from the general group.Report

Josh
Josh
Reply to  Tommy J. Curry
1 year ago

I read the paper, and it seems you largely are objecting to the way some gender theorists have applied the theory to black males, not the underlying theoretical structure.Report

Tommy J Curry
Tommy J Curry
Reply to  Josh
1 year ago

That is an incorrect understanding of my argument in Killing Boogeymen and the arrangement of analysis presented by Jim Sidanius and Felicia Pratto. I would suggest a closer reading.Report

Josh
Josh
Reply to  Tommy J. Curry
1 year ago

I should note I’m not disagreeing with you, it does seem weird that theorists are jumping through hoops to ensure that masculinity is hegemonic and femininity is not. But I don’t see why recognizing this requires doing away with the intersectional framework.Report

Tommy J Curry
Tommy J Curry
Reply to  Josh
1 year ago

Again this is well explained by the paper. Including the specific debates concerning why the method and male category as understood by intersectionality cannot be swapped out. I suggest you do a closer reading of the section on intersectional invisibility as well as a detailed understanding a/b the assumptions concerning the interaction of categories.Report

Josh
Josh
Reply to  Tommy J. Curry
1 year ago

And I’m pretty sure I could just swap out ‘unique’ with ‘dis-aggregated’ in my previous postReport

Tommy J Curry
Tommy J Curry
Reply to  Josh
1 year ago

And no you couldn’t because then we would be discussing the elimination of causal relationships and the dissolution of “particular experiences.” Disaggregation would show there are no “unique” experiences only propensities for specific kinds of violence.Report

JTD
JTD
1 year ago

A minor point of clarification (that I think is more important than it initially seems). Presumably, Curry meant to say “The fake outrage of academic philosophy amazes me.” If this isn’t obvious, consider the following. Suppose that I am a Japanese philosopher. Among all the bad things in the world to lament and be outraged by, racial injustice in the US is probably of lower priority. I should probably prioritize issues of injustice in Japan, or in my region. And, insofar as I should have a global outlook, issues like the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, honor killings in south Asia, and the tens of thousands of poor African migrants who die trying to cross the Mediterranean seem more pressing. Now suppose one morning I read in the Asahi Shimbun about racial injustice in the US and think “that’s outrageous”. I can hardly be criticized for having fake outrage in the way Curry suggests.

I don’t want this to distract from the point Curry is trying to make. I agree that if you come from, or live in the US, then the issue he raises should probably be one of your top priorities. However, I am making this point because I think that it is an important one and not mere pedantry. There is a tendency among US philosophers to act and talk as if is (as can be seen in numerous posts at Daily Nous that conflate the two). It is part of a moral general trend of people from the US to act and talk as if, for any x (movies, sports, politics, etc.) it is the same as US x. This is a problematic phenomena related to the way that US culture dominates the world and the “cultural privilege” that people in the US get from the dominance. One consequence of this is that injustice in the US get far more coverage and attention world wide than injustice in places that lack cultural dominance. One consequence of this in academic philosophy is that philosophical issues and related cultural phenomenon that are especially of interest to US philosophers dominate and those that are mainly of interest to non-US philosophers are pushed into the background. Another consequence is that some topics in philosophy are pursued in a US-centric way. For example, a lot of work in the philosophy of race focuses excessively on racial politics in the US, yet presents itself as reaching general conclusions that apply everywhere. Yet many of those conclusions don’t obviously apply to the ways that racial injustice and politics plays out in other parts of the world.Report

Greg
Greg
Reply to  JTD
1 year ago

JTD,
Agree and may add in a slightly different direction. Let’s assume I am a philosopher who cares deeply about poverty. I care about the poverty of green men, but also red and blue men (any men, really). Let’s assume I believe that because poverty is “trans-color”, many of the causes of poverty are not color-based… even though the rate of poverty may be greater for green men than blue men. Therefore, I can help green men (whom I care about) by addressing the causes of poverty without specifically addressing “green man poverty”. This has the added moral benefit of bringing people together based on shared humanity, rather than emphasizing differences which drive people apart based on their color.

Now let’s say that I have a conference and I have no green men on the panel. I may be accused of “faking” my concern for green men. Not true. First, because my issue is shared across colors, I don’t need all colors represented. I just need men who experienced poverty represented. Second, I have a limited budget. Let’s say I include green men; dark or light green? Some social science professors will accuse me of not caring for dark green men if I only include light. Men come in many colors; greens, reds, blues, and oranges… a wonderful diversity but I only have so many chairs. And we haven’t addressed gender. Do I include a man who identifies as a woman? A woman who identified as a man?

I don’t have enough room on the panel to represent everyone who believes they are underrepresented based on a certain “intersectional” interpretation.

In conclusion; let’s start by focusing on issues of common humanity that contribute to our well being (Aristotle-ish).Report

Vaughan
Vaughan
1 year ago

The only appropriate way to explain differentIal assignments of subjective “outrage” levels, among those assessing a large finite set of competing social-malady candidates, is by appealing to some credible theory of aesthetics. Ultimately we most readily condemn that villainy which most produces some personal amenity in virtue of our abhorring it. Clothing these processes in the garb of objectivist moral imperatives misses the point. And turning the Outrage Olympics into a statistical exercise – as if prevalence of a condition dominates perceptual factors – only takes one farther afield. Empiricism knows what to count, perhaps. But empiricism cannot show us what counts. To plumb the depths of some outrage, first strive to understand the outraged, along with the fulfillment they realize in pursuit of that indulgence. (I won’t question your moral fixation so long as you leave me mine.)Report

Chandra
Chandra
1 year ago

I can share one perspective on the cruelty that Professor Curry is pointing out. I worked in community mental health in a few places and I’ve made home visits in the Fifth Ward in Houston and the Tenderloin in San Francisco. These are places where being brutalized and violently victimized is just an ordinary part of day to day life. You learn to calibrate based on the community. A violent sexual assault happens. In the Sunset district, this is grounds for PTSD. For someone in the Tenderloin, it is just a casual aside about something that happened a couple of days ago — as in I forgot to mention doc, here is a thing I am still pissed about…

This is not normal and it does not have to be this way, and we are all somewhat complicit in letting this go on year after year, decade after decade.Report

Tommy J. Curry
Tommy J. Curry
Reply to  Chandra
1 year ago

Exactly, the killing of Black males is not new. It is the civility and performative outrage that is being highlighted. BLM has been going on for 7 or 8 years now, and not one philosophy department thought it prudent to engage the death of Black men? I am not buying it.Report

Aaron V Garrett
Aaron V Garrett
1 year ago

Is there a reason to preserve anonymity in a discussion like this? It seems bizarre, and unfair, to have Professor Curry responding to many anonymous commentators. I have no idea if they are even philosophers.Report

Candlesticks
Candlesticks
Reply to  Aaron V Garrett
1 year ago

“Is there a reason to preserve anonymity in a discussion like this?”

http://dailynous.com/2017/07/17/anonymous-peer-reviewed-philosophy-journal/

“I have no idea if they are even philosophers.” What a weirdly insular thing to say.Report

Aaron V Garrett
Aaron V Garrett
Reply to  Candlesticks
1 year ago

All I meant by knowing whether the people I’m discussing with are philosophers is that the subtitle of Daily Nous is “News for and About the Philosophy Profession”. So in absence of information about who I am speaking to I might assume minimally that they are philosophers, which I take in the most inclusive sense possible. But I can’t assume this since they might be trolls who have no interest with or identification with philosophy under any description. Perhaps Justin weeds this all out. But I meant nothing insular.

As to anonymity there are some contexts like voting where I’m all for it. But I do think in discussion on controversial issues people tend to be far less charitable when they can hide behind anonymity. And there often aren’t very good reasons to. In cases like this in particular, where someone is presenting strong and in some quarters unpopular views (which I happen to entirely agree with) under their own name, I feel like people engaging with them critically and often presenting less unpopular views should do so as well.

Now I will return to the aether — I always regret posting!Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Aaron V Garrett
1 year ago

Speaking as someone who has suffered serious backlash when colleagues didn’t like my opinions, I post anonymously because I’m afraid.Report

Greg
Greg
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
1 year ago

Strongly agree; particularly on certain topics.
There is evidence of being “run-out-of town” if you express disagreement with the mob.
One might argue that this provides a safe space to discuss legitimate opinions away from the mob.Report

ajkreider
ajkreider
1 year ago

I strongly agree with the point about black men and boys being left out of (professional philosophy’s) discussions in which they clearly belong, and with professional philosophy’s failing in this regard. It is clear as day, and sad that Dr. Curry has had to point it out, repeatedly.

This bit of rhetoric, though, is not helpful:

“Let’s ask ourselves something for the last 6 years we have had verifiable evidence that what happened to George Floyd happens to almost 300 Black men every year… ”

I assume professor Curry is speaking about the WaPo database on police shootings. Unless one takes the claim that all police shootings are comparable to what happened to George Floyd, there is no way this claim comes out to be close to true. Police shootings of unarmed black men and boys is about 25 a year and trending down. It is a win for BLM (incomplete though it may be) that in 2019, there were 14 such killings. So far this year, 6.

One is too many. Each is a tragedy. That is a tragedy visited upon the victims by the state make the tragedy greater. That the tragedy is visited, by the state, upon victims that are members of a group that has historically been so victimized makes it greater still. Sadly, Floyd’s case (and Garner’s and . . .) make it clear that shootings are not the only way the state can murder it’s citizens. Neither is is true that the victim’s being armed means that police shootings are not murder.

But these truths do not mean that professional philosophy is justified in being loose with such statistics, in order to make a point that doesn’t need hyperbole. Doing so is yet another way to destroy our credibility, though in the name of a just cause, and unnecessarily so.

*I’m reticent to post this, in this environment. Now may not be the time. Though the blog editor does not need my permission, he needn’t be shy about removing.Report

Tommy J Curry
Tommy J Curry
Reply to  ajkreider
1 year ago

This is not something you can just eyeball. Various empirical studies are looking at the leading cause of death and death over life-course as issues to consider as the background of the “N” you are highlighting. Also given that BM are usually thought to have weapons or in the case of Philando Castilo legally armed it does not give any assured claim to a downward trend. In fact, some studies show that being armed or unarmed does not matter in Black men’s risk of being shot by police. I would urge you to look at the “Risk of being killed by police use of force in the United States by age, race-ethnicity, and sex. It becomes clear your interpretation of the trends is not correct.

https://www.pnas.org/content/116/34/16793Report

Tommy J Curry
Tommy J Curry
Reply to  ajkreider
1 year ago

Your interpretation is incorrect and assumes a causal relationship between BLM and the decrease of unarmed Black male deaths which is merely asserted without evidence. Recent studies show that Black men are almost 20x more likely than their Black female counterparts to be killed by police (over life course), and 13x more likely than white unarmed men to be killed by police. The N you are pointing to does not do justice to the complexity of the issue when compared to other populations in the U.S.

There are some studies that suggest being Black and male are enough to explain the disproportionate rates of violence in police shootings and the use of deadly force, meaning being armed or unarmed is not significant. (https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/S0195-744920180000020008/full/html).

While other studies show not only that police homicide is a leading cause of death but Black men are disproportionately at risk compared to other groups (https://www.pnas.org/content/116/34/16793?ijkey=51ac6377514286abe3fe922ac3bedd4a3365cff7&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha)

As always, I am astounded the presumed knowledge many analytically trained philosophers assert they have of the correlative and causal relationships into Black male death in the United States given the lack of publications, classes, and conversations on these matters in the discipline of philosophy.Report