Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Who Can Afford to Be Out of the Loop?

Recently, I had an interesting online exchange with a famous philosopher who works in a top department (someone, incidentally, whose philosophical work I admire and who, according to sources I consider reliable, is a really nice person, so none of what follows is meant to cast any shadow on his character). Let me call this philosopher, Prof. X.

The exchange started after Prof. X said on the Facebook thread of another famous philosopher that he hadn't made up his mind about signing the "September Statement" because of concerns similar to those expressed by Alexander Rosenberg in this post. (As a side note, it's incredible how much issues in the professions are discussed behind the walls of Facebook these days! (more on that in a possible future post?)) I replied that I thought that those concerns had been amply addressed in some of the comments below Rosenberg's post. Prof. X told me that he did not have time to read enough blog posts and comment threads to form an informed opinion on the matter and that, in fact, he didn't have time to continue that exchange (to be fair, he said that much more nicely than it might be coming across from my summary!). And than he added something that I have have heard already many times from other philosophers in positions similar to Prof. X's. Namely, he said (more of less verbatim) "I'm not a blogging kind of guy" and "I'm sort of out of the loop".

My reply (and the point I'd like to make more publicly in this post) is that not having enough time and being out of the loop in this sort of contexts can be symptoms of privilege. It's easier to say that one doesn't have time to think about y and take action on y when one is not directly affected (and would be very unlikely to be in a position of being ever directly affected) by a certain (sort of) behaviour. It's easier to say that, say, one don't have time to think whether we should revoke an invitation to speak in our department to someone who has been accused of sexual assault when someone is unlikely to ever be (or have been) themselves a victim of sexual assault. It's easier to say that one does not have time to sign the "September Statement" when one is unlikely to ever be in the position of being publicly attacked by someone in a more powerful position (or when one can easily dismiss those attacks).

What the "out-of-the-loop-ers" don't seem to understand is that we'd all be rather doing philosophy or dealing with the many items on our to-do list rather than spending time thinking and talking about the philosophy profession, but some of us can't afford to do that! (Believe me, I'd rather be working on that paper right now!) So it's a luxury and a symptom of privilege to be able to say "I don't have time to think about this". I often think of all the time and energy so many of my colleagues are putting into making the philosophy profession a more inclusive and hospitable place and I am thankful for that, especially considering that those who are doing so often are the ones that occupy less privileged positions and this takes a further toll on them (what if they spent that time writing or reading or thinking or...?).

If you can stay out of the loop and you don't have time to think about the issue in the profession, it's probably because you can afford it, but remember that this is one of those situations where not to be part of the solution is to be part of the problem, for inaction is just a way to perpetuate an often unjust status quo!

1 comment:

  1. I climb out of my philosophical hermit hole and what do I see? I see a self-perpetuating problem of privilege in philosophy looking at me.

    Thanks Gabriele for pointing to the problem that has no (clear enough) name.

    The validation I find in your post and many others helps me resist a return to my (un)comfortable hermit hole. Perhaps I'll crawl under a rock instead ;-)