May. 9th, 2017

tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)

Lots and lots of people are falling for the "trans people are destroying free speech and intellectual freedom!!11" articles that are going around. For context, a good one to start with is:
"Why Tuvel’s Article So Troubled Its Critics" by Shannon Winnubst:

As one of the many scholars involved in writing the open letter calling on Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy to retract the essay "In Defense of Transracialism," by Rebecca Tuvel, I am compelled to come forward and attempt to reclaim a narrative spinning increasingly out of control.
First, I want to clarify the anonymity of the authorship of the letter. The writing was a collective effort by a dozen or more scholars — the majority faculty members and all of us in philosophy — weighing in on drafts, contributing to and editing sections, requesting additions, and demanding deletions. Many of us became involved at the request of black and/or trans scholars who feel completely demoralized by Tuvel’s article and the failure of peer review that it represents. Speaking for myself, I signed and circulated the letter because I know, firsthand, of the damage this kind of scholarship does to marginalized groups, especially black and trans scholars, in philosophy.

The letter was addressed specifically to Hypatia’s editor and associate editors. All of those involved in the writing of the letter care deeply about the journal, and our effort is itself an expression of our commitment to it. Given our various roles as authors, readers, and longstanding reviewers for the journal, we were alarmed about the failure of the peer-review process that allowed the publication of Tuvel’s article. Some readers have stepped back and come to understand our dismay.
Tuvel received substantive critical feedback at conferences from scholars in critical race theory and trans studies. We do not understand how this failed to shape the review process and can only assume that such scholars were not selected as peer reviewers. We argue, then, that the peer-review process failed, in this instance, in at least two ways. First, it failed a junior scholar, Tuvel, by allowing subpar scholarship to be published in a flagship journal. Second, it failed the field of feminist philosophy as a subdiscipline that continues to struggle to break from the longstanding habits of the broader discipline of philosophy. More specifically, the article’s publication signals an arrogant disregard for the broad, well-established, interdisciplinary scholarly fields of both critical race theory and trans studies. For an article that is explicitly about the concepts of the transracial and transgender, that omission is egregious.

While feminist philosophy should imply a critique of the field of philosophy itself, the open letter to Hypatia wasn’t aimed at the discipline over all. None of us ever expected it to circulate so widely, to garner so many signatures, or to become the object of news stories. Yet, largely due to the fast response by Brian Leiter, the letter and the quickly issued apology by a majority of associate editors of Hypatia quickly became whipping girls, as it were, for the discipline as a whole. This has been, for me, the most astonishing part of the saga. Why would a discipline that has shown a systemic disregard for feminist scholarship suddenly care about this critical dialogue within it?


An article by Julia Serano
Regardless of what you think about the specifics of this case, what happened next is unconscionable: Jesse Singal of NY Mag (who has a penchant for writing high profile articles that depict transgender activists as out-of-control and anti-science, and with whom I've had previous run-ins) decided to write an alarmist article decrying the open letter to Hypatia as a "witch hunt." This helped to inspire a "pile on," as pundits far and wide who couldn't give two-shits about feminist philosophy weighed in on the matter, and attempted to portray this as yet another liberal-attack-on-free-speech (a position that I've previously critiqued as disingenuous and hypocritical).

Historically, "witch hunts" refer to when the masses, consumed by moral panic, attack people on the margins based on the assumption that these marginalized groups will infect or contaminate greater society with their wayward or evil beliefs and practices. So it seems extremely farcical (not to mention scaremongering) for people in the dominant majority to complain that one of their own kind is the victim of a "witch hunt" solely because a few people in the marginalized minority have challenged or critiqued their views.


A third article by Noah Berlatsky:

So, a scholar failed to follow best practices around the treatment of marginalized communities. Critics pointed out the problem. She acknowledged her error and the harm it caused, corrected it, and apologized. Truly, this is a crisis of totalitarianism in the academy.


You have the option of reading those articles, by authors who patiently explain the problems with the Tuvel article and the manufactured controversy about it, at length, or you can read tweet-length summaries. Your choice!

From TransTheory on Twitter: https://twitter.com/TransTheory/status/862046791444738048

"I want to consider (1) core commitments of Trans Studies/Philosophy in the context of Hypatia and (2) irresponsible contrapositives.

Trans Studies/Philosophy demands awareness of the ways academia exploits our bodies, which are highly politicized

In this vein, the “In Defense of Transracialism” article already fails by not addressing that it is wrapped up in this politicization.

In most Philosophy journals this may have flown, but Hypatia (a feminist journal) professes to do better. JS's article decontextualizes this"

From Sara Ahmed on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/SaraNAhmed/status/861325050502410242

"Baby tip: be very skeptical of articles using 'poisonous call out culture' and 'witch hunt' to describe critiques of transphobia & racism."

https://twitter.com/SaraNAhmed/status/861325585716568067

"The work of exposing how transphobia and anti-black racism is reproduced by how philosophy is reproduced is vital, brave and risky."

https://twitter.com/SaraNAhmed/status/861327260955144192

"I learnt from working on sexual harassment that 'witch hunt' tends to be used to describe what you are doing when you contest power."

More from @TransTheory:

https://twitter.com/TransTheory/status/861331441875013637...

"excited that Philosophy & the opinion magazine community expanded which groups have a sacred right to reduce others' lives to tenure fuel

this is a great step forward for professional feminist philosophy, which no longer has to worry about pesky things like feminist commitments" (read the twitter thread for more)

An excerpt from Julia Serano's book, Outspoken, about cis people claiming to be experts on trans issues: https://mobile.twitter.com/JuliaSerano/status/860672214324068353?s=08

In short:

  • If you're defending an article you haven't read while simultaneously refusing to even read what actual trans people are saying in response, consider whether maybe it isn't intellectual freedom that you're defending.
  • When you're used to controlling a conversation, you may feel upset when people you've traditionally been able to silence get to say anything at all. This doesn't mean their presence is stopping you from speaking. If you claim you want an intellectual debate, reacting to hearing the other side by throwing a tantrum about evil call-out culture is inadvisable.
  • The patterns of elevating an intra-community disagreement to a campaign by evil trans people to silence differing views, and of framing the presence of speech by marginalized people as somehow repressive of speech by privileged people, are familiar from GamerGate.
  • Try not to engage in cis fragility: the process of centering your own discomfort with being criticized by trans people to the point where you demand that trans people be silent in order to make you feel more comfortable. (By analogy with the concept of white fragility.)
  • Have some tissues for your cissues.

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Tim Chevalier

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