January 4, 2015

Chalmers' Pictures

Once when I was talking to Susanna Siegel in graduate school, she said, "Chalmers is a great example of how to do philosophy and to make it collaborative and open to everyone." I don't remember the context of the conversation in which she said this, but the comment stayed with me. I wanted to say something back to Siegel, to raise some fledgling objection, but as normally happened with me then, I swallowed whatever counter point I could have made. I might have seemed to Siegel as if I had withdraw from the conversation in that moment. As if mysteriously in the very instance when she was talking to me about opening the profession, I backed out of the conversation, as if I was unsure if I wanted to join the cause she was identifying with David Chalmers. But why did I withdraw?

Partly it was because I felt that if I told Siegel what my main relation to Chalmers was, she might have been disapproving, and perhaps even found it pathetic. Some years earlier she had seen me in the graduate computer lounge looking at Leiter Reports, and said, "Why are you wasting your time with that gossip? Forget that stuff and focus on your work." How then could I tell her in this instance that when I thought of Chalmers, the main thing I thought of wasn't his philosophical work, and not even my essay on Chalmers which was part of my dissertation, but rather his photo gallery on his website.

I had good friends in graduate school, and generally got along with the faculty and fellow graduate students. But I felt most at ease in talking to people one on one, or in a small groups of two or three, where it didn't feel as if our interaction was mediated by the philosophy profession. I often felt uneasy, withdrawn, lost in a dialogue within myself in group gatherings such as at talks, conferences, receptions, dinners after talks, parties at a graduate student's or faculty's place and so on. In these settings, which were the physical, public spaces in the profession where faculty and students were supposed to mingle as people, to get to each other a little better, I felt unsure of what I was supposed to do, of what I wanted to do, of how I wanted to be. As I experienced it, there was a kind of constant static in the air which made me unsure of how to go on, of how I could be one of the people here in an easy, natural way. I felt like someone who wasn't sure how to dance but who was on the dance floor. My own awkwardness and hesitancy in moving in a fluid way in the group made me feel more awkward and more self-conscious, often causing me leave the group just to catch my breath and feel grounded again. I had friends in the department, and the people around me were nice. Yet what I lacked was a sense of social solidarity, a feeling that I belonged to a group with which I shared a common cause.

In this light, I looked at Chalmers' pictures with a greedy enviousness. Most of the time I wasn't quite aware of my own alienation from the profession, lost as I was, as most academics are, in trying to figure out this or that argument, this or that text. But I knew I was missing something, and that I wanted desperately what I was missing, when I saw the pictures. The happy, smiling faces. The easy look of comradarie. The jokes, the dancing. The sense of an open, caring, loving profession in which every colleague is a friend, every friend a comrade, all nourished by the shared progressive values for the profession.

I was enthralled by the very happiness seemingly captured in the pictures. And by the sense that here were philosophers who, even though they might disagree with each other on this or that philosophical point, were sharing a drink, or breaking bread together, or dancing together, as if they had reached a kind of enlightenment which enabled them to transcend their disagreements. Alve Noe and Ned Block disagree about the neural correlates of consciousness, and here they are smiling playfully together. Wow, is that Fodor talking to Peacocke? Is that Frank Jackson talking to Dan Dennett? It was mesmerizing to see philosophers one read in class suddenly pop on the screen with, as it were, their guard down. To see the philosophers as people. Even though I was at Harvard, which is one of the innermost circles of the profession, I found myself unable to let myself enter into the social comradarie of the department. Ironically, though physically I was within such an inner circle, I felt it was only through the online pictures that I was able to see something of the social dynamics of the profession and of the very hallways I walked daily.

My desire to be like the people in the pictures was mixed with incomprehension for why exactly the people in the pictures were so damn happy with the profession. Even a cursory glance at the pictures showed just how white the profession was. Every once in a while a minority, say, an Asian or an African-American, would show up with the kind of exaggerated smile that Louis Armstrong sometimes had. But for the most part, it was one white person after another beaming for the camera, seemingly communicating just how how proud and glad they are to be a part of academic philosophy, as if smiling was itself a way, indeed the main, best way, of contributing to improving the profession. And equally strangely, though there were a fair number of white, women philosophers in the pictures in poses of dignity and confidence, every once in a while there were in the pictures what seemed to me like philosophy groupies: women, philosophers or not, who exuded a sexuality fit for a rock n roll party, and who seemed to have expressions of fawning admiration for the largely male, intellectual potency in the room. The pictures captured a strange mix of hippie gatherings, rock n roll rebellion, academic intellectuality and the wealth of elite, private universities (where presumably most of the bills of the parties and the dinners shown in the pictures were footed by the universities the philosophers were affiliated with).

The pictures seemed to me to capture quite well a particular mood I often sensed in social gatherings in academic philosophy: the sense that possibility and progress are in the air, as if the proletariat are starting to take over the elite, bourgeois structures. How were the people in the pictures able to be so happy, and project a sense of satisfaction with the profession? Was it because, like Quine or Allan Bloom, they were social conservatives? Definitely not. If anything, my sense was that many of the people in the pictures ascribed to a far left, quasi-Marxist, Chomsky-inspired idea of the need for resisting the general cultural imperialism of capitalism. Revolution was the name of the game. Change, progress, transformation were the ideals. I felt that the happiness being captured in the pictures was a kind of political statement: with each smile, and funny face and hand gesture, each person was committing to changing the philosophy profession from within. Saying, as it were, that this is what the new academic philosopher looks like. No, we don't look like those stodgy men from the 50s and 60s in their suits and grim expressions, which kept people at arm's length from the profession. No, we are open philosophers who are committed to lifting the people up and here we are, doing it right now, with our smiles and easy, happy-go-lucky demeanor.

There was no way for me to know for sure, but I had the feeling that many of the people in the pictures were new to positions of power in academic philosophy. Their parents weren't necessarily rich or had gone to prestigious colleges. Their self-narrative was that they had themselves worked hard, against the stream to get to where they were, and that now that they were in the peak positions - the same positions had in previous generations by Russell, Quine, Wittgenstein, Strawson, Anscombe, and so on - they were going to be in these positions in a new way, a more open way, a more smiling way, a more zen, hippy way. In a more Chalmers like way. That was the basic point of Siegel's comment about Chalmers. He had become a symbol for how one can work from within the system, even while cutting through with a smile and a camera the traditional limitations and privileges in the profession. In the midst of the departmental fighting and the disagreements between this and that group in professional philosophy, Chalmers seemed to be walking between the rain drops, climbing the hierarchy of professional recognition, but without being contaminated by the unfair, racist and misogynistic practices of his predecessors. All he seemed armed with was a Buddha-like countenance that suggested an openness to all people, and that anyone can be like him, and that he would do his very best to make that a reality for everyone.

Some people who were skeptical of this approach suggested - anonymously on blogs, or huddled in corners of departments - that the niceness was a sham, a cover. I never felt this. To me the niceness seemed genuine. Real. Honest. So why then wasn't I happy to be a part of the group? It was because I believed, and still believe, that niceness isn't enough. By this I don't mean that more anger, or self-rightousness or moral indignation is called for. No. Rather, I mean that beyond the niceness what was needed was speaking out, openly, honestly, bravely, with confidence and equanimity about the problems in the profession. To deal with the institutional problems of the profession as themselves philosophical problems of the highest order. That the question of how to have an open, fair profession was no less a thorny philosophical problem than whether there can be free will or the relation of the mind to the body.

Chalmers' pictures seemed to be a way in which Chalmers was trying to change the institutional culture, and in this regard I found them inspiring. As I did Chalmers' work on creating new online spaces for a more open profession. But where is Chalmers speaking out about the problems with the profession? It seemed like he was trying to help fix the situation without really saying, openly and explictly, what the problems he is trying to fix are. In this sense, the pictures themselves suggested limits to how much the general philosophical public can be "in the know". For what anyone could see through the pictures was how some of the philosophers were talking to each other, or what it looked like to have talks in fancy castles in Europe. But what was missing however was the audio of those post-talk dinners, or late night conversations in bars or parties at a colleagues' house. What were these smiling philosophers talking about? Even the conversations about normal philosophy topics would be enlightening: what happens when several well known philosophers sit at the same table at a dinner? Perhaps nothing much sometimes. Perhaps a lot at other times. Either way, it is lost to the public. Similarly, what were these philosophers talking about the issues facing the profession? Could it be that they were not talking about them at all, but were just smiling at each other the whole time? Of course not. These were smart, thoughtful, passionate, conflicted, politically charged people. Where was that energy in the pictures? Hidden from the public.

This was the root of my ambivalence in looking at the pictures. On the one hand, I wanted to be in such circles myself. But on the other hand, I didn't want to be part of such a group if it was going to perpetuate the same, old distinction of inside and outside conversations. If they were going to talk among themselves in one way, but then put on a happy demeanor when the public shows up. From this perspective, the same smile which seemed like an invitation also worked as a buffer, a way to keep people at bay. The smile was not just an invitation, but a defense mechanism as well. The smile which shines not like a beacon of change, but like the frozen, desperate smile adopted by family members when they refuse to address traumatic events in the family, and who use the smile as a way to keep control of the pace, context and vocabulary of how conversations in the family can happen. The smile which justifies the silence and is a mode of being silent. 


Three years ago I went to a meta-philosophy conference at Harvard. This was a few months after I left academia (I wrote earlier about the conference here). In between the talks I ran into Alison Simmons. We exchanged pleasantries, and she asked me what I was up to. I said that I had left academic philosophy, and gestured at the ornate, European looking room we were in, as if to say I had trouble understanding myself in such a space. Simmons looked at me, and smiled broadly. It was the last reaction I was expecting. Why was this nice person, with whom I get along, smiling upon hearing that I left the profession? Where was the concern, the sense that what had happened was perhaps unfortunate, the desire to find out more? She continued smiling benevolently and said, "Don't worry, I won't be offended." I thought to myself, perhaps you should be offended, but I didn't know what to say. The next talk was beginning, and we both smiled at each other and went to our separate seats.

Later in the afternoon, after another talk, I ran into Jason Stanley. We greeted each other, and he said, "Well, you have really grown up", as if to underline that he used to be my professor and superior, and that I was no longer the eighteen year old I was in college. He then smiled and asked how things were at Bryn Mawr. I told him that I had left the profession. He took a step back and said, "Well, we should really talk about that some time." He then said it was great seeing me, and turned around, and walked away. A couple hours later he gave this talk, defending academic philosophy and without acknowledging one problem there might be with the profession. The tone rather was a general defensiveness regarding how philosophers are misunderstood, and how the other humanities fail to understand the work of professional philosophers. I then understood that perhaps he didn't want to talk to me so close to his talk, since his talk was mainly a defense of academic philosophy, and I, one of his former students, was standing in front of him saying that in some deep way I found professional philosophy limiting. But it was the veneer of the smile under which my brief interaction with him happened which seemed most telling to me.

In the question and answer session of Stanley's talk, I asked a question (much of the Q&A, including my question, is left out of the video posted of the event). I asked Stanley how the focus on specialization he was defending is compatible with the democratic impulse that everyone can pursue philosophy in their own lives. He gave an initial response which I didn't catch, and then he asked me, "But, Bharath, I know that as a student you loved philosophy. Thinking about free will and problems of identity. Surely all of that was good?" I responded, "Yes, I do care, and did care, about those problems. But how do you know what about those problems I cared about? On the specialization model, what need is there for you as the professor to look to see what I as a student care about and where I am coming from? Did you actually know what I cared about?" Stanley gave a response, but I wasn't quite sure what he was saying. My time as a questioner was up, and so I sat down.

In the brief back and forth what jumped out at me was the work that the smiling enables. For whatever the intellectual content of the exchange with Stanley, what was clear was that he seemed hurt by the questions I was raising. As if I were betraying him as a friend somehow, as if I were failing to see what a good person he is, how well intentioned he is, how dedicated to the causes of the under-privileged he is, how he was fighting the system. I realized then that this was one of the reasons I had been quiet in my time in academia, for I had felt that it would be somehow wrong of me to speak up; that I would then be betraying my professors, who were also my friends, who were supposedly in the same position I was in, and that we were all changing the system together. That by speaking up I would be drawing a line between myself and them, the very line they were intent on erasing with all the smiling and the collegiality, as if to say there was no difference between us. The smiling worked as a defense mechanism because it forced on me the sense that I would be betraying my friends if I were to speak up in ways that they themselves weren't, or didn't want to, or weren't ready. The smiling was a way to control the modes of conversation, to keep it at the pace that the people doing the smiling from the positions of authority want the conversation to go at, a way for them to maintain control of the proceedings. 

As I realized this during Stanley's talk, I became intent on showing that we weren't friends in that way at all, that I was not betraying Stanley or Simmons or Siegel or anyone else. That the friendship was itself the outer covering of interactions which presupposed very much the same old hierarchical structures, and that the sense of easy friendship was covering over, rather than eliminating, those deeper structures. I thought of the book I was reading then, Ralph Ellison's Invisible man, and how the white communist leader in the book uses the veneer of friendship and common struggle to use the black narrator in the ideological struggles as defined by the white communist, and without ever really listening to the actual needs and situation of the narrator.

Almost without consciously thinking it through, I found a way which to me seemed to show the limits of the friendship. After Stanley's talk was over, the main group was headed to a restaurant for the post-conference dinner. Me and my wife (who also came to the conference) followed them, talking while heading to the restaurant with Carlin Romano, the person Stanley had debated. Romano seemed to pick up that he had a kind of ally in me, and so he said I should come along to the dinner as well. I sensed that this would not be possible, but I wanted to see how it would play out. We all made it to the restaurant, a nice place in Harvard Square, and I stood next to Stanley and a few of the other philosophers waiting for their seats. Stanley saw me, but didn't talk. I stood right next to them, thinking to myself, Hey, we are all friends, right? As a friend why can't I come to this dinner too? Aren't we all free spirits who don't follow set rules, and are open to everyone? The table got arranged, and all the philosophers (a group of about 15-20 people) went in: some faculty from Harvard and MIT, and speakers at the conference. I still stood there when one of the organizers of the conference, someone I didn't know, a post-doc or a graduate student, came up to me and apologized that there were no more seats available, and that I wouldn't be able to join in. I was standing outside the restaurant, and through the floor length glass window I could see the philosophers taking their seats, already seemingly oblivious to me. And the happy smiles were already visible on their countenances. My wife and I turned around and walked away talking of what happened and what to make of it.

Chalmers was also at the conference. He gave a talk on whether there can be convergence on the answers to the big questions of philosophy. A big picture talk about the nature and future of philosophy, which made no reference at all to the institutional structures of philosophy. And later he put up pictures of the conference.


  1. Bharath - I hope you will consider allowing this comment to be posted. First, I wish to express my sympathy for the structural critique you here provide. I am in agreement that niceness isn't enough. My comments address here the personal aspect, the anger directed against those who mediated the unjust structures you encountered. I want to apologize deeply for my treatment of you during the Harvard metaphilosophy conference. I also want you to allow me a minute to explain. I was about to give a thirty minute talk, one that hadn't really been coming together. Romano was responding to me. He assured me that he would say nothing negative about my comments, or me, and that he would be supportive. But I did not trust him, having read his review of MacKinnon's "Only Words", in which he verbally assaulted MacKinnon in the most disturbing possible way. I didn't trust Romano's responses. In short, I was extremely nervous. I know you don't think about me that way, as capable of being nervous. But I was very nervous nevertheless. The third point concerns the question session. As you know, Romano did not keep to his promise, and viciously attacked me, using my first book as an example about what is wrong with all of philosophy. I am in general an ally of yours and enjoy this blog. But in general I am concerned that on this blog you fail to understand that the people you criticize are also human beings. Romano's remarks were hurtful. They were presented in front of the Harvard philosophy department, many members of which do think of me as a shallow careerist (also an ethnic stereotype, may I add). If I stammered in response to your question, it's because I was thrown off by the attack. At any rate, that is just to respond to the personal elements of this post, many aspects of which I nevertheless regard as insightful. - Jason Stanley

    1. Jason, Thanks for your thoughtful comment and for your courage in posting it in the open. I am not moderating comments, but I would have approved it even if I were. And apology accepted. Thank you.

      I do think of you as capable of being nervous. I felt you were nervous that day, which is understandable. What I disagree with is how you dealt with that nervousness. You could have started by highlighting what you thought of Romano on MacKinnon, and moved on from there to dig deeper into your nervousness and think it through publically, in a way which would illuminate all sorts of interesting issues about what kind of philosophical disagreement you and Romano could have, and what it says about the possibilities, good and bad, about the philosophy profession. Instead, it seemed to me that the nervous energy turned into using jokes and laughter to buffer yourself with the help of your friends and colleagues against Romano. Which was entertaining in a certain way, but also avoided most of the interesting philosophical disagreement between you and Romano.

      My own feeling is that Romano underplayed his card by turning his criticism into editorial advice. But I do think it is a live question whether, for instance, your early work is illuminating or not; not because it lacks in quality, but because it is the kind of debate had even between Russell and Wittgenstein, or Ayer and Austin. I think a certain kind of collegiality is making it hard to have such deep metaphilosophical disagreements, where colleagues can disagree about what the profession should look like, and even be highly critical, while respectful, of whether and in what this or that kind of philosophy produces institutional change, or thwarts it. In this light, I don't think Romano viciously attacked you, but was trying to raise such issues.

      I agree the people I discuss on this blog are human beings. But I am only talking about things people have done or said in public spaces in the profession. If I say something about you or anyone else, it is in the same way one might say things about Obama or Bush. I am not talking about your personal life, as much as the position you hold, and what you do from within that position. There is here a middle ground between talking about your personality (which I don't) and talking only about your work (which I haven't so far). In this blog I am trying to find that middle ground.

    2. Thank you for your characteristically thoughtful reply. I have a criticism that I hope you don't mind if I air here. I think in your posts you run together two distinct issues. One is a cultural issue; can we do philosophy in a superficially egalitarian and less serious way, where humor is allowed, or must it be deadly serious? The other is a political issue: what is responsible for exclusionary practices? Romano didn't come on until after me, so in no way was I replying to him with the use of jokes and laughter. In his reply, he was extremely personal, essentially saying I exemplify all the problems of philosophy. I used humor in my presentation not to turn anyone against Romano (I didn't even mention Romano), but just because I always use humor. I don't think of humor as anti-intellectual. I am aware that a range of philosophers think of the use of humor in philosophy as problematic. As Crispin Wright once told me, when I asked a question with the use of humor "Jason, philosophy is a deadly serious matter. Humor is inappropriate." Warren Goldfarb also is deadly serious when he practices philosophy. You were always attracted to that model of philosophy; philosophy as deadly serious. I don't usually read blogs, but I read this one because it is by you. And a lot of your criticisms of me on this blog have specifically to do with my use of humor. That is just not a feature of my personality that I can do anything about, and I am not quite so sure it is as implicated in problematic practices as you often suggest. I use humor in presentations, even when I am discussing the most deadly serious of topics. And in one on one interaction. I also think this is responsible for a misunderstanding of Chalmers's photos. They are an attempt to suggest that we can play with ideas, we can be wrong and it's ok, that philosophical interaction can be experimental exchange, and it's ok to be wrong. And I worry that you are imbuing a distinction between styles of doing philosophy with a political distinction with which it does not align. You never say anything critical to say about folks at Harvard who practice philosophy is a deadly serious manner. But I would have thought that they are as responsible for problematic exclusionary practices as some of your other targets. And I suspect that's because you have a model of the practice of philosophy as deadly serious, not a joking matter, which you have run together with a political critique. And I think that is unfair.

    3. I am open to criticism, and thanks for engaging. I have no problem with humor in philosophy. Nor do I think that philosophy has to be deadly serious. But I do think some of the ways you use humor are institutionally very problematic. I give one example in my "What is Being?" post. Even beyond my own experience, I think it is pretty clear that the way you use humor when doing philosophy is an enormous privilege, and your seemingly uncritically assuming that privilage, as if you are entitled to it because it is your personality, is problematic.

      The metaphilosophy talk is good example. There is a difference between making some jokes and creating an atmosphere of jokiness, which keeps people who don't think like you at arm's length, and expecting that they have to accomodate to you and your personality. There is no way a marginal member of the profession can give talks the way you gave that metaphilosophy talk, or your talks in general. Perhaps it is your personality to talk that way. But then it seems like you are using your standing in the profession to not change your personality in any way, as if it is a great affront to you, when marginal members have to change their personalities in all sorts of ways, including much more painful ways than whether one can use humor in talks.

      Perhaps you defend your use of humor not because of your personality, but because you think that is a good way to do philosophy. It is a way to "play with ideas", etc. Again, this way of doing philosophy, like Wittgenstein's way of writing, can only be done by someone who has institutional clout. Same with Chalmers' pictures. You think someone marginal can take pictures of well known philosophers making funny faces, or having dinner with their friends, and put it on their website? By highlighting the institutional privilege Chalmers has I am not objecting to making philosophy playful. But I am saying that truly making philosophy playful requires creating playful activities and structures which anyone can participate in, not just those who can leverage their prestige to be playful.

    4. By the way, I apologize for my initial use of "stammer" in my post. I didn't mean it in a bad way, though I now see it can be taken that way. I changed it in the post, as it has nothing to do with the substantial issues I meant to raise, and which we have been discussing.

    5. Bharath - you have put your finger on one issue, which is that as one becomes more established, one needs to figure out how to adjust one's behavior accordingly in complex ways. This is true. But I deny that adjusting humor is one of these ways. You argue (a) humor "keeps people who don't think like [me] at arm's length" and (b) "I am using my standing in the profession to not change my personality in any way, as if it is a great affront to me, when marginal members have to change their personalities in all sorts of ways, including much ore painful ways than whether one can use humor in talks". Your two points are of course connected. There is only pressure to change one's personality if one's personality has features of the sort in (a). However, I'm just not convinced you have made the case for (a). Here is an alternative explanation, based on my knowledge of you, and what you have revealed in this blog. I know philosophy is very serious for you. You are much more comfortable in a humorless environment. You have on this blog expressed enormous admiration for the way in which Goldfarb and Moran do philosophy; they have not been subject to any critique at all; they seem in your eyes to be kind of immune from critique. And you have very heavily criticized me, Chalmers, Siegel, and Gendler. Yet I dissent from the position that we participate, by virtue of our humor-filled, egalitarian characters, in greater exclusionary practices than the figures whom you clearly admire and keep entirely free from criticism. In short, I maintain that the case for (a) has not been made. Knowing you for a long time, I know that you flourish much more with a old school Wittgenstein, very serious mode of philosophy, which you clearly found, and so eloquently describe, in the mode of Goldfarb's teaching. My objection is that you have conflated (I think unknowingly) your greater attraction to a hierarchical structure and desire to learn in that mode with political matters. Because of this, you find the kind of egalitarian attitude that folks like Chalmers and Siegel bring in to be problematic; it's just not how you like philosophy to be. But then you want to reveal it as false, as really being another method to be hierarchical, but a disingenuous one, and so worse than overt hierarchy. These are great political points; they remind me of Carl Schmitt's critiques of liberalism, and various Marxist critiques of equality. Yes, egalitarianism is often a method to disguise inegalitarianism. Those are very cool points (they are central to my forthcoming book in fact). And I think you elegantly bring out instances of them in our discipline. Yes, it's not simply to remove hierarchy, and one doesn't do so just by a pretense of egalitarianism. Those are good points. But I think you go way too far, and this is explicable by your bias towards explicit hierarchies. More specifically, having left the profession several years ago, are you really in a position to make the judgments you do, that the egalitarian attitude you criticize is at least as bad, if not worse than what it replaced? Are you really in a position to make the judgment that my humor keeps folks "at arm's length"? Do you know my students? Are you really in a position to make the claims you make about others as well? Have you kept actual track of what Chalmers and Siegel have done? I am skeptical.

    6. Stanley can't really be denying that humor--for example, in the context of 'in jokes' and all that is socially required for 'in jokes' to occur--can be off-putting and exclusionary, can he? Of course humor can also be a way of letting others in and creating a friendly atmosphere. But Vallabha need not deny that to make the claims he's making about the possible (and real) negative consequences of humor in certain contexts. Vallabha can argue that in trying to create a friendly atmosphere through humor philosophers unwittingly put other people off when they fail to realize how much their humor depends on the existence of an 'in'-group. I also don't understand why Stanley is saying Vallabha must prefer previous or past hierarchical structures. Vallabha is not committed to that at all. If he thinks that 'serious' philosophers create a more open environment for engagement with outsiders (if that is even part of Vallabha's claim and not just Stanley's reconstruction), that does not entail any particular preference for hierarchy.

    7. Jason - you ask: "[H]aving left the profession several years ago, are you really in a position to make the judgments you do..."

      If Bharath is in no position to be making judgments about the philosophy profession, then how can anyone in the wider public be in a position to do so? What about people in the profession who don't have personal connections with philosophers at elite institutions?

      Are the epistemic limits engendered by Bharath's temporal distance really greater than the epistemic limits that come with being an insider? Are you really in a position to know whether your humor keeps [which of] your students "at arm's length" given the power differential in that relationship?

      Surely it's more productive to stick to the specifics. If there's something specific Bharath has missed, point it out to him. If there's something he thinks you've missed, he'll point it out to you. In this way you both stand to gain from the conversation. But general skepticism about others' standing to make judgments seems most likely to serve to insulate 'insiders' from the possibility of critique.

    8. Of *course* humor can be used to keep people who don't think like you at arms length - by excluding those who either don't understand or don't agree with the premise of the joke from the joke. People in positions of power downplay or brush off views they don't agree with by making jokes of them all of the time.
      This, of course, isn't an argument that Stanley does this, or that he does it consciously. But I do think that it's something that happens all of the time in philosophy, and that it's a move that's exclusively available to those in a position of relative power within a particular conversation.
      Stanley positions himself as suggesting/implying that there's a heavy burden of proof to show that this kind of thing happens, but it just seems perfectly obvious to me that it does (again, notwithstanding whether he himself does it).

    9. Derek - Bharath is in an excellent position to make judgments about the philosophy profession, and I think I am not alone in regarding his blog as a great addition to the collective space in which such judgments are made. I am speaking rather to his specific critiques of individual members of the profession. Yes, humor can be used to exclude. But if one is focusing on a particular person's humor, in this case my own, the question becomes - what about *Stanley's* use of humor. Does *it* exclude? Or the other specific individuals whose personal interactions in classes or tutorials or in social spaces in conferences are here targeted. I'm saying that this kind of critique of individual persons' effect on the profession requires greater familiarity with those individuals and how they might have changed over time.

    10. Jason, I am not trying to defend hierarchy (a strange thing to do given that I left academia to get away from its hierarchy). Nor do I think philosophy has to be dour and serious. Yes, I used to like Wittgenstein as a thinker, but I think too many Wittgensteinians tend to be conservative, or at least, to not act on their beliefs beyond hand waving about what is wrong with this or that part of the profession, even while they are happily ensconced in their positions in the profession. Some of what I think about this can be found here:

      But the issue of Wittgenstein is orthogonal to the issue of humor, and how it can perpetuate in-groups. In response to Derek you say that focusing on a particular person's use of humor requires familiarity with them and with their changes over time. Agreed. The same thing can be said about whether a relationship is consensual or depends on problematic power dynamics. The mere fact that context and familiarity are required doesn't render the issue private, as if there can be no general, public opinion. If a person consistently uses humor in a certain way in public spaces in the profession, that particular person's use of humor can be open for comment. Especially if it is a well known person.

      As I see it, this is one of the main questions facing the profession: how to avoid the extremes of saying things like, say, "it's humor, and so you can't say anything about it, since it is my personality, or personal" and saying, in a group think kind of way, "only such and such uses of humor can be allowed; all else are forbidden." This is connected to the issue of whether character formation can be a topic for philosophy; not just theoretical discussion of character, but what kinds of character we together can foster. This is the issue of combining the ancient sense of character with the modern focus on freedom. The question of whether, and in what way, your use of humor is ok, is an instance of this bigger issue of reconciling ancient and modern conceptions of public discourse.

    11. Jason Stanley, mocking black culture:


    12. Anonymous, I think it would be helpful if you expressed your point not in terms of what the person in the picture is doing (which people are doing to differ on), but what your experience is of seeing the picture. I would say the way to foster good debate is to start with the different experiences and work our way to conceptual disagreement, rather than starting with claims of what is, or is not the case, as if we were stating facts like, "this is a red chair."

    13. Since when is gang culture synonymous with black culture?

  2. Hello, Bharath. Thanks for this. Just found about your blog at the Metametablog.

    Most of the way through, I could relate to exactly what you were saying. Many of your points are very astute, and it was good to be able to relate so closely to your experience.

    However, I think you may have misdiagnosed the root of the feeling you're having. I've had that feeling many times, and I'm a white male. Like you, I find something weirdly unsettling that I can't put my finger on in these pictures and in the general way these people act around each other. Like you, I think they probably see themselves as being sincere, and like you, I just can't relate to them but can't exactly say why.

    Here's one experience of my own to match with your awful Harvard Square story: I was at a conference with a bunch of these happy, wholesome, self-confident, new-vanguard, shiny people from great schools going great places together. Someone asked me the way to a restaurant, and when I started giving directions, another person in the group (who knew me) said, "Hey, you must come with us!" I had apprehensions just like yours, but went along. I actually got a seat, unlike you; but once seated, I was stuck between two people who literally turned their backs on me. One of them, as I recall, even turned his chair away. I tried to find my way into one of the enthusiastically fun conversations, but couldn't. The person I was talking to threw some one-word answers my way and avoided eye contact. I made up some lame excuse for leaving after the appetizers, and the person who had invited me barely looked up long enough to say, "Oh, you have to go? Take care!" I didn't even make it out of the restaurant, or away from the table, before they forgot all about me. And what were they talking about in one of the conversations? Inclusiveness!

    This is far from a rare experience for me. I hope that hearing it from someone 'outside your own skin' helps you feel less alone in it all.

    But what can be done? I wish I had an easier answer. Unlike you, I don't even think I have a grasp on how to express the problem (though your post is a great start). You seem to have identified the problem with 'issues in the profession', by which I presume you mean the number of white males of a similar political ideology. But being a white male of roughly that ideology, I don't feel any better than you.

    In fact, when I've sat with other groups at conferences (like feminist women at feminist philosophy talks), I've felt the same thing, just as badly. It's the same weird happy confidence and ingroup mentality. I haven't felt one iota better there.

    Here's a way we can test whether the issue has to do with people being serious about changing the profession. You mention Jason Stanley, and how marginalized you felt by him when he brushed you off and gave a talk on the importance of (analytic) philosophy. Well, Jason Stanley is now turning his attention to the sorts of issues you seem to hold to be more important. So, let's try this out: the next time you see Jason Stanley at a conference, and he's talking about the new issues, see whether you have the same feeling of being on the outside. I'll bet you will. The problem will persist no matter which topics these people choose to discuss. It's who they are and how they talk about them that's causing them.

    1. I agree with what you say here. I don't think the problem is that white, males are keeping everyone down. It makes perfect sense to me that as a white male you might feel something similar to what I felt in seeing the pictures.

      Part of the issue is it is unclear what exactly the problem is. If it isn't white males, or that the people in the prestigious positions care only about each other (which I don't think is true), what is the problem? I think it is this difficulty in even naming the problem that can make it seem as if smiling and talking about inclusivity will solve whatever the problem is. But as you say, it doesn't work that way.

      At least a beginning to articulating the problem is this: that there be an atmosphere where people can share openly their experiences, no matter what identities they have or don't have. What is needed are spaces where people, all people, can share their perspective, even if feels like it might hurt others. To learn how to have such conversations. The main problem I had with Chalmers' pictures was that it made such a space of sharing pain seem unnecessary, as if just by being nice to each other and smiling things will get better. That might not have been Chalmers' intentions, and perhaps he is not aware of it, but that is how the pictures came across to me, and, as you say, to others as well. Ironically, it came across as if the people in privileged positions were perfectly happy. But I think it is exactly people in such positions who need to speak out publically, and in a way which fosters group discussion, about their own difficulties in the profession, and not make it seem as if they don't have any difficulties. If they speak from a true space of their own difficulties, then that can be inspiring and not look like the well off are whining about not having more.

    2. Great, Bharath. In that case, I agree even more.

  3. David Chalmers seems like a great person, so I don’t want this criticism to be aimed at him, but I have long thought that the best test of privilege in the profession is ‘have you appeared in Chalmers’ photos?’ Are you part of the ‘in’ crowd?

    And I do sometimes wonder whether we would have ‘in’ crowds in the same way if we stopped seeing conferences as social events rather than as professional events. You say ‘but we can have both!’ To which I ask, ‘can we?’

    1. Interesting, 8:52.

      I think the rat race in the profession, which I think is largely the fruit of the job crisis that's been plaguing us for decades, is causing much of the problem. By the time we're in grad school, we've already been trained on how to look and how to present ourselves and how to capitalize on all the meetings we have with anyone in the profession. You'd better have the right connections if you want a job... you'd better present yourself well... if you don't want to be stuck at _that_ job forever, you'd better get to know lots of other people in the field... anyone can be on your next search committee, you know... it's there, always.

      And we all know it isn't enough to do great work anymore. There are hundreds of us up for whatever it is we're after at the time, most of them doing work that fits the bill. So you have to know and be liked by the right people. But everyone else has figured this out too, and we all know that. So we have to be better: we have to know and be liked by the right people even better than they know and like anyone else.

      Tell me that isn't a recipe for all these things being a massive schmoozefest.

      Chalmers' pictures are the 'who's who' section of the tabloid we're all reading. If you can make it there, you've arrived. But of course, you also have to mouth the right platitudes about the big news stories and scandals in the other parts of the tabloid, or you won't be as welcome in the next set of photographs. And you have to mouth the words very sincerely, which is easiest if you sincerely believe them. And that's possible if you just let the influential people in the crowd do your thinking for you. You'll never be far from the party line then. And what a fun party it is!

      I don't know how to fix this. If you legislate that conferences will be professional rather than social events, but keep the background conditions the same, people will find a way to keep up the somewhat artificial 'conviviality' that keeps the engine going. Don't you think?

  4. bharath,

    thanks for your very thoughtful post. i'm sorry that you've left the profession of philosophy. i'm especially sorry that it was unhappiness with the profession that drove you to leave. the profession could use more people as reflective as you. reading this blog post reminds me vividly of our one long philosophical conversation a number of years ago sitting on the grass somewhere in cambridge. as with what you said about consciousness and action then, your remarks in this blog post contain both plenty of insight and plenty to argue with.

    of course i recognize that this post isn't really about me. it's about the profession and your feelings about it, and i'm serving as a sort of idealized archetype onto which those feelings are projected. still, since you do say some quite personal things about me, and we don't know each other very well, let me address those parts, pointing out some ways in which the reality and the archetype diverge.

    first, i'm certainly no buddha-like figure who's been uncontaminated by the unfair practices of profesional philosophy. i'm a flawed human being who's as self-interested and strategic as the next person, and who is deeply complicit in the practices of professional philosophy. i've participated in and perpetuated all sorts of exclusionary practices (one mea culpa is mentioned below; there could be many more). as with many of us, it has taken some time for the extent of this exclusion to become clear to me, and i'm sure i'm still oblivious to a lot of it.

    second, you ask "where is Chalmers speaking out about the problems with the profession?". you're right that i've had a preference for action rather than speech here. with some googling you'll find things i've said here and there: e.g. about inclusiveness with respect to non-western philosophy, a mea culpa about my ridiculously male philosophy of mind anthology, comments on racial diversity in australasian philosophy, and recommendations of norms for respectful discussion, not to mention some public statements about the gourmet report. perhaps i should have said more, but there's already a lot of speech on these matters, and actions matter too. i'd like to think e.g. that philpapers, philjobs, and philevents have helped to some extent with opening up the profession of philosophy to people outside various charmed circles, and that the very active committee for climate, diversity, and inclusiveness at NYU (which i've co-chaired since its inception two years ago) is helping to bring about some important changes there. others have done a lot more than me, and there's a long way to go, but if enough of us speak and enough of us act, hopefully we'll collectively get somewhere.

    finally, about the photos: obviously posting these has been more fraught with meanings that i ever expected when i started. they're just snapshots, reflecting surface rather than depth in the way that snapshots do. my original thought had been that the photos might help to humanize and demystify the profession, but it's now clear that there are costs as well as benefits. i've usually tried not to simply concentrate on "insiders" in my photos, but obviously one common effect (judging by comments here) has been to perpetuate the sense of an inside all the same. regarding your own reactions, i'm sorry that my photos have seemed to you to play down the need to work on problems in the profession, and i especially hate to think that my photos of philosophers from underrepresented groups have activated offensive stereotypes involving "louis armstrong smiles" and "philosophy groupies". i haven't posted any more photos publically since 2010 (though i've continued to sometimes post photos on facebook). i had thought about updating the public site one of these days with photos from the last few years, but i'll try to weigh up the benefits against the costs before making a decision about that.

  5. David, Thanks for your honest and open comments. I also remember our talk in Cambridge. It might be worth saying now that in that conversation it was pretty hard for me to focus on talking about consciousness, as many thoughts a la this post were going through my mind in a subconscious way. This was generally true for me when I was talking to anyone “well known” or was insitutionally above me.

    Thanks for the distinction between archetype and reality. I would distinguish three things: (a) the position (professorship at NYU), (b) the person qua occupant of the position (the public actions of this or that professor at NYU-where my sense of public is pretty broad), and c) the person outside that position (you as a person in your private life, who I don't know). What I say about you concerns (b). I think we can be critical not only about the theoretical coherence of one’s views, but also to what extent one shows practical skill in taking on an identity such as (b). Just as you and I differ on whether a zombie world is concievable, it seems to me perfectly natural that you and I might differ on what counts as taking on a role like (b) well. Yes, I think the way you and others are handling (b) is not optimal and can be much better. I see this as a philosophical disagreement (which has emotions and identites tied up with it), and not a personal attack. I appreciate you not taking it as personal.

    Re speaking out more: I don’t deny all that you are doing. But as the profession becomes more aware of its Eurocentrism, and not having many minorities, etc., the question of what it is to have a fair, open profession looms large. This is not ultimately a matter of being nicer to, or hiring more, women, or blacks, etc. (though that is necessary). I think it is a matter of tackling this meta-profession question head on, and treating it as a philosophical question, and changing public habits of conversation in the profession. That involves the well known people not simply saying a blog comment here or there, but themselves actively spending some portion of their job time to creating new kinds of public conversation in the profession. It is a question of the well known people leading the public conversations. There is such venom and lack of trust on both sides on heated topics, such as PGR or the site visits, etc. If the “better” philosophers are better in some sense, should it not be in the sense of trying to heal such rifts and trying to find a middle ground? That is the kind of thing I have in mind.

    When I mention “louis armstrong smile”, etc., I am not judging particular minorities in the pictures. The point rather is that if one is such a minority that mostly one is surrounded by whites, then even a normal, heartfelt smile will look like a “louis armstrong smile” (in fact, I think that was true of Satchmo, who I consider a great person). It is a point about the context of the pictures, not the individuals. How do you think it would be for someone who feels far removed from the spaces captured in the pictures to look at the pictures? Perhaps if you had an essay on that theme, it would change the context of the pictures. Or if you took pictures of people struggling in the profession. Or any number of other things, which show you recognize that as a well known person your pictures are never just fun pictures, but carry more institutional weight.

  6. http://consc.net/pics/aap2008@@/michaeletal.jpg – "Michael Devitt and friends"

    1. ok, that photo is probably ready for retirement. the "friends" in it aren't philosophers or "philosophy groupies", they're lively young women having a night out in melbourne who we fell into conversation with for a minute or two on the way out of a restaurant. they and michael were good sports about the photo. but since the photo seems to be triggering hendricks-esque "groupie" stereotypes, it probably make sense to delete it (as i've just done).

    2. I think you mean this:

    3. For the record: https://web.archive.org/web/20130625053117/http://consc.net/pics/aap2008@@/michaeletal.jpg

  7. Thank-you for this interesting post, and especially for highlighting the role of the Chalmers photo archive. As DC says above it is interesting and illuminating to realise the impact that it has had on you and your perception of the profession.

    I just want to point out that I think it had a far more positive effect on me, though I hasten to add that I view them from a position of significant privilege. I saw in those pictures the collegiality and camaraderie that philosophical 'foes' could come to have. The snarling, vicious and aggressive archetype which I have heard so much of (and, blessedly, seen so little of) seems completely incompatible with what I see in the photos. I also seriously appreciated being able put faces to names as this helps me distinguish positions, ideas and voice in a way that black text on white paper does not on its own (I note again the possibility that bias creeps in when you see age/race/gender etc.). I also got to see my supervisor in his pomp, which I never will in person. I add all this on the positive side of the balance.

    I also want to note that I have a passing acquaintance with three of the philosophers you mention and I think, as JS and DC both say above, that remembering you are dealing with perfectly ordinary people with flaws and quirks is really important. I believe that the deference that junior philosophers show to senior philosophers *on matters unrelated to their work in philosophy* is the source of a great deal of anguish within the profession. The ones I know do not put themselves on the pedestal, others do it for them and that is where at least some of the problems rooted in status-anxiety begin. Or so I think at least.

    Once again, thanks for a really thought-provoking post.

    1. I don't deny some positive effects of the pictures, such as, as you say, showing that philosophical discourse can be collegial, even friendly, rather than a kind of fighting. Agreed. At the same time, it would be even more wonderful if it could be shown how people can get along not only when they disagree about some philosophical issues (dualism vs materialism), but even when they disagree about other, emotionally and practically trenchant philosophical issues (such as whether there should be rankings or how to change the curriculum). My concern is that the kind of collegiality shown in the pictures doesn't help with how to develop the latter kind of collegiality. And that ironically, the pictures could seem, as they did to me, as if they create more divisions but suggesting there are in-groups and out-groups.

      Regarding the point about not putting senior philosophers on pedastals, I agree. Simlarly that they are have flaws. That is part of my point. I think it is flaw of Chalmers to put up the pictures as he did, as I think it is a flaw of Stanley to use humor as he does. If they were marginal philosophers, many other people would have already told them to not act that way, and they would have had no choice but to comply. It seems to me that the people who are not mentioning this publically are the one putting well known philosophers on a pedestal.

  8. Dear Dr. Vallabha,

    I join the others who have thanked you for such a thought-provoking post. However, my reaction to it is different from the others who have commented in that it is entirely negative. Since many will think I'm a complete asshole for the following, I've been reluctant to post. However, given the level of attention your post is getting, I think it may be worth it for another point of view to be expressed here.

    I find the lack of self-reflection and self-awareness in your post(s) utterly baffling in someone who is otherwise so clearly thoughtful and perceptive. Though the following point may have occurred to you (and, given how obvious it is, I'd be shocked if it hadn't), one wouldn't know it from reading your post(s): what you're talking about has at least as much, if not more, to do with your personality, particularly your own feelings of insecurity, than with the philosophy profession.

    It's unfortunate that, instead of taking seriously the possibility that this is about you, you publicly fault the profession, whose highest echelons you were fortunate to occupy, as well as individuals who seem to genuinely care about, admire, and respect you. Your indictment of professional philosophy bespeaks an enormous and immature sense of entitlement. Would it were so that the world would accommodate our insecurities and anxieties. But the fact that it isn't that way is not a lamentable injustice. It's simply that people have their own schedules and commitments and responsibilities and pressures and misfortunes and mortgages and deadlines and hangups and preferences and ambitions and relationships and emotional limitations...that don't allow them to make sure we always feel loved and accepted. (This is not to deny, of course, that there are genuine issues of exclusion and injustice in the profession. Your self-esteem isn't one of them though.)

    Matt McAdam

    1. Matt, Thanks for your comment and honesty. I don't think you are being an asshole, but are raising a legitimate issue. In fact, it is an issue I thought about for a long time before I started to speak up.

      For a long time I wondered if perhaps I am missing something. If, as you say, it is my insecurity, rather then issues in the profession, which is keeping me from being happy with the profession. Perhaps the fault is with me. Yes, I have been lucky to study where I did, to have the teachers I had, to get the tenure-track job I did. Many people would love to have the opportunities I have had. I thought like this for more than fifteen years, and there is truth in it.

      But as I see it, at a certain point a person just can't keep blaming themselves. They have to take their feelings - such as my feeling of dissatisfaction - and say that if it has persisted so long, there must be something in it. Or at least, it is better for me to commit to understand it, rather than to keep blaming myself. After all, I am not the only person who has feelings of insecurity or dissatisfaction. Everyone does. And what they do with those feelings is what creates social change and conversation. I am not saying that because I felt a certain way when seeing the pictures, therefore they must be wrong. But if I share how I felt when seeing the pictures, and it turns out some other people felt that too, then that suggests there might be more structural features at play. That some others might have felt that way also doesn't show that the pictures are wrong. But it does create a space for discussing whether something about the pictures, or the way they are put up, is problematic.

    2. Bharath, thank you for your kind and patient response to my note. I completely agree with your claim that everyone feels the kinds of insecurities you and others have expressed here. The recent popularity of your blog attests to that. I think other people find it reassuring to see such an open expression of feelings they have or had while in professional philosophy. If you were simply expressing these things or even both expressing them and raising the question whether they signal structural problems with the profession or inviting reflection on that question, then I would heartily applaud your efforts. But this is not what you do. This form of expression has a modesty and self-awareness completely missing from your posts. As your talk of "blaming yourself" reveals, you see something blameworthy here, and you have a culprit. I don't understand why you or anybody else has to be to blame. (I trained in one of the most nurturing departments around, and I and my colleagues all felt insecure and intimidated at times, some people all the time. It wasn't anybody's fault.) Moreover, on their own neither the persistence of an individual's feelings of insecurity nor the fact that many others feel them is evidence of anything structural. I think, in fact, you're the living counterexample to this. The fact that someone with your pedigree and past opportunities felt/feels this way just shows that everyone does, and it isn't anyone's or the professions's fault.

      Of course, maybe I'm wrong. But I think you need a lot more than how Chalmers's pics made you feel, how Stanley addressed you and a speaker during a stressful moment, or the fact that your committee wouldn't let you write your proposal like the Tractatus to show this. (And "Agreeing in part", who wasn't satisfied with getting invited to dinner nor with an expression of dismay at his or her early departure from it, has even more work to do.)

    3. Matt, Let's distinguish (a) structural features of the profession which are becoming out-dated, (b) people in their positions as professors who are perpetuating (a), and (c) the people themselves just as people. I agree it is not an issue of blaming in the sense of commenting on (c). But one can say (a) and (b) are happening, and one way to bring that out is by showing how especially people in positions of power are implicitly, even unconsciously, doing (b).

      But is (a) true? Are there outdated structural features? I agree that to show this more is needed than talking about photos, or conference interactions, etc. What is needed is to show broad scale issues of how structures which are modeled on European intellectual communities from 400 years ago are currently breaking down in light of academia becoming much more open than it was back then. It is necessary to show that in order to accommodate the influx of new energy, new structures are needed. Exploring these themes is the aim of this blog. But in my experience, when one starts by talking in a more abstract way about these issues, the dialogue gets mired in unhelpful blame and counter-blame about identity politics. So instead I have been starting with particular events or experiences, and trying to get to more abstract, bigger issues, rather than starting with those abstract issues directly.

    4. Bharatha, you ask if the following is true: (a) are there "structural features of the profession which are becoming out-dated"? You think (a) is true, and you identify your aim in this blog as (in part) exposing this truth. I agree that (a) is true (as is what's captured in your (b)), if what you're pointing to are the issues, such as bullying and sexual harassment, that have recently been getting well-needed attention - the kinds of things Justin Weinberg at Daily Nous was getting at with his talk of a "new consensus". You give yourself an undeserved pat on the back, however, if you think anything you discuss in the above posts rises to the level of these real and morally urgent issues.

    5. Matt, I agree. I am not saying anything I discuss in the post is as morally urgent as bullying or sexual harassment. Those are very big scale issues, while what I discuss in the post are miniscule issues by comparison. But that doesn't render what I do discuss trivial or irrelevant. Seeing the difficulties with making progress even on the miniscule issues can shed light on difficulties in making more progress with the big scale issues.

  9. I'm a white male from the disgustingly rich Norway, my parents are middle class with 7 year university education. I’m also a Chalmers student. It hardly gets more privileged than that. I’m aware that there’s probably a lot here that I don’t understand. So the below is to be read with that epistemic caveat in mind.
    Also, I tried unsuccessfully to post the below several times from my phone (in a kid’s room, late at night) about 24 hours ago, and it may have made more sense in that spot in the conversation.
    Nevertheless, I still want to weigh in here, because this here really pisses me off: “But of course, you also have to mouth the right platitudes about the big news stories and scandals in the other parts of the tabloid, or you won't be as welcome in the next set of photographs.”
    This pisses me off, because it’s false. I /know/ that, from personal experience. I never knew the goss about anything, was always the last to hear, was quite rarely out anyway, and when I spoke up it was often ill-considered, belligerent, and contrary. And yet for all that I always felt welcome. So the accusation of exclusion on the basis of similar interest (in the goss of the profession) or, worse still, in the same opinions (about that or other things) is false, at least about the paradigm instance.
    [I really wish what follows had appeared earlier.] Although I do look up to my thesis, I do not regard him as a paragon of all virtues. There are areas in which he, as everyone, can improve notably, and I try to mention to them when it’s appropriate. But, in a similar vein as an earlier reply (Jason Stanley @ 3:03), I think Chalmers has done a fair bit in recent years to work against exclusion. In addition to the things he mention himself, his hiring practices are to me worth noting (anyone can go back and check them), as are his organising a number of workshops with a really low threshold to participating, as are his standardly stopping big-shot speakers running rough-shod over e.g. grads in Q&As, as is his extremely heartfelt “that was the best question EVER!” to a person I’m pretty sure had felt quite insecure in posing it (at a NYU grad seminar), partly because the person’s English wasn’t 100% fluent, as is, indeed, his many parties, where visiting students from anywhere, undergrad as well as grad, were as welcome as the invited bigshots. Getting tipsy and silly is important. It humanises, it lowers the threshold for participating. (Routinely wearing mismatched socks and airport t-shirts helps too.)

    1. Ole, I don't agree with the commentator who said that one has to "mouth the right platitudes" to be invited to the party (though the broader point of that commentator is interesting). I think you are right about this.

      Still, the fact that you felt welcome, and that many people might feel welcome (which I don't deny) by how Chalmers is doesn't mean that everyone would feel welcome. This is not a slight against Chalmers. He is probably more welcoming than most anyone I knew in academic philosophy, and that should be applauded. But if some people don't feel welcome, that is also interesting and important. Speaking for myself, I didn't feel comfortable going to social gathering that looked like the pictures because it is precisely the sense that we can all get along by getting tipsy or silly that I found uninviting. Most of the time when I was in public spaces in academic philosophy, I had my guard up high; I didn't let people in, or share what I was feeling. This was not because people weren't nice, but because I think it is a legitimate open question what a neutral public space can look like. For example, one mode of doing philosophy that I was drawn to was that of, say, doing philosophy together while fasting as a group, as a kind of spiritual exercise. I was also happy to do philosophy while drinking or at a restaurant. But I also valued that other way. If this other is not even acknowledged in the general professional culture, that is the kind of thing that can make one feel unwelcome. Which is how I felt, that the mode of how we as a group can become humanized to each other was being dictated to me, as if this was the main way in which the threshold for participating can be lowered.

      I realize one has to put things in perspective. Chalmers can throw parties however he wants, and he doesn't have to accommodate to, say, the idea of group fasting as a form of social gathering. Other people can do it that way if they want. But I think what happened is that because there were not other representations of group gatherings, certain forms seemed like the only, or main, or natural way to have gatherings, as if it were just mere common sense. And the more it was treated like common sense, the more I resisted it because it felt like it was being dictated to me. As we have a more multi-cultural profession, it is not just ideas and texts which have to be integrated, but we also have to navigate things like this, of social norms and modes of being with each other which are intuitive to some and not to others. The fact that I felt distant from the modes facilitated by one of the most welcoming philosophers made me feel even more distant, as if it was hopeless. I hope it is clear none of this is to blame Chalmers. I am merely using him as an example.

  10. Hi Bharath,

    It made me sad to read how you've interpreted David's photos. I can see why this is the case. And, at the same time, you do not know me nor do you speak for my experience.

    I’m one of the "nobodies" that are among the smiling faces in David's online picture album.

    Things were so different in Australia when it came to some forms of professional elitism. At the AAP annual conference, I was shocked to see that in Oz so-called "elites" turned up for papers of all sorts by people at all stages of the profession and actively engaged authors (and vice-versa!). I was so used to the APA and status-seeking behaviors, that I was unprepared for how open discussion was in Australia, how ideas were engaged without fuss about "who" was speaking. People told me this had to do with an Oz-thing, "cutting down the tall poppies." In any case, this experience of doing things another way was very much why I was smiling. It was the first time at a conference where I didn't feel awkward and excluded and marginalized -- a "nobody" philosophy teacher at a "no-place" institution-- in the way I'd always felt at conferences in the US. In Oz, no one treated me like a second-class philosopher because I am a teacher first and foremost and am not at a research university.

    I didn't feel I had "made it" professionally by being in David's photos then and I have not "made it" now, having been included. I remember the great time I had not feeling the pressure of having "made it" or "not made it” when the shutter snapped. I realize this context cannot be seen in a photo. And there are many photos of many other people in David's album. But this is the story of one of them.

    You can say that you are "only using David's photos as a Example." What if it's a bad one? What if you've produced a narrative the runs roughshod over the experiences of a good number of the actual people photographed and then slapped on a disclaimer "Just and Example" ? As a woman in philosophy, may I suggest the worry that you might be yet another man theorizing to everyone what to think about other people's personal experiences?

    1. Maureen, Thanks for your comment and for sharing your experience. Let me first say to clarify: I didn't write anything about people in the photos being "nobodies" or having made it by being in Chalmers' pictures. I don't think that. Nor do I think that the people smiling in the pictures are being fake, or unjustified. Your experience makes sense to me. If someone is taking a picture, I would smile too, especially if I was having a positive experience. I am sure for many people the pictures reflect just good experiences they had. What I wrote in my post is my experience in seeing the pictures, given my situation and experience in academia. This is not meant to run roughshod over any one else's experiences. I respect your experience. I am not trying as a man to belittle other's experiences.

      What is interesting is that you and I could have such different experiences of the same thing. Especially of something as seemingly innocuous as some pictures of people being nice to each other. Let us say something is "neutrally good" if it can be experienced as good by everyone. One of the things I find interesting about contemporary academia, as well as culture at large, is whether there are any neutrally good things, which can bring us together as people just in virtue of being the good things they are. I think part of being in a diverse profession (or society) is that there are no neutrally good things in that sense. Anything can be experienced from multiple perspectives, where from some perspective it will look good and from another perspective bad. This doesn't invalidate either experience. If people are to act harmoniously together in a diverse space, I think we should give up on finding neutrally good things, and instead share our diverse experiences, and then build solidarity through acknowledging each other's experiences.

      When I say I am using Chalmers' photos as an example, I mean I am using them as an example of artifacts in the profession to think through if they are neutrally good. I could as well have picked Descartes' Meditations, or PGR, or the furniture in a department lounge. One might have thought that something as simple as pictures of nice people having a nice time together would be a neutral good. But my point is that even that isn't a neutral good.

    2. Hi Bharath,
      It does not seem as though we disagree about there being no neutral, well, anything. And it does not seem that we disagree that there can be multiple perspectives on the same phenomena. However, we do seem to disagree about there being a difference between "drawing on examples" and "making an example of."

      I intentionally brought in the "nobody" experience because you, yourself, seemed quite content to see people in David's photos as "tenured and tenure-track faculty and graduate students at top universities - able to be so happy, and project a sense of satisfaction with the profession" when, as a matter of fact, that is false for a number of people in the pictures including myself. You have no idea whatsoever how "the little people" at non-elite (not at all "top") universities work and cope and you still can't pretend to speak for me and the work that I do with my students. I am not seeing how you could draw the points you're making without recourse the the specific example of David's photos given the claims you make in your OP. And you have improperly projected onto to photos your own sense of who these people are, without actually asking anyone named in them. Sure, photos are up for interpretation. Sure, there's no neutral ground. But that is not a license to project falsely.

    3. Maureen, Yes, I agree. I apologize for writing as if everyone in the pictures is from top universities. You are right that I don't know who all are in the pictures, and how people at non-elite places work and cope, since that wasn't my situation. I went from Cornell to Harvard to Bryn Mawr to out of academia.

      Does my false projection about who is in the pictures nullify my own experience of the pictures? If I knew everyone in the pictures and what their academic situation is, would I not have experienced the pictures as I did? I probably would have enjoyed and identified with the pictures more, since I would have known better some of the good they are doing. Still, I think many of my qualms would have remained.

      Also, I never claimed to speak for you, your work, your experiences in academia, and so on. Nor am I claiming to speak for anyone else in that way. I am simply speaking for myself.

    4. Wow. You've had opportunities I've never had going to Cornell and then to Bryn Mawr. I came up through CUNY, undergrad and grad, and then to a regional state school. To me, you're an "elite" even if you walked away.

      The two people you've made examples of, David and Jason, so happen to be *precisely* two people who have never, never treated me as a second-rate "nobody" philosopher. They have given their time, *over years* to helping me provide my students with the education I believe everyone deserves. They've never asked for anything in return. My students are predominately first-generation, they work full time, they are parents and family care-givers, they bag groceries at Stop and Shop and deliver pizzas. I had a homeless student last semester. The police have disrupted my classroom to remove students accused of crimes. With the vocationalization of higher ed hitting campuses like mine full-on, it is being decided that these students don't deserve degrees in philosophy. A common Humanities department floats as a threat. Saving my department is what keeps me up at night. There won't be any actual diversity in philosophy if the very sites of diverse access are eliminated. Both David and Jason are aware of this. Very aware. Even if you see them as unaware, as not speaking out enough, as representing contradictions inherent in the system, all I've ever needed to do was ask. Really. All I've ever needed to do is ask them for help. You had the privilege of walking away from philosophy. We will just get retrenched. You're perfectly entitled to having qualms about photos, but I have complaints, and need help.

    5. Look, here's a picture you don't need to have qualms about:


    6. I have certainly had great privileges. In addition to my education, my family is middle/upper middle class, and I never had to worry about taking care of my family members, or have it affect my possibilities. I haven't struggled with disabilities. Even being an Asian male philosopher comes with some social prestige in a society that values at least images of Gandhi, Dalai Lama, etc. If you discount a few key dimensions (which are significant), I am not that different from the males I talk about in my post.

      What you say about your and your students' conditions as philosophers is very important. By saying this, I am not trying to identity myself with your situation. And you and others in your situation need help. And yes, Chalmers and Stanley help a great deal. I am not denying that.

      I think you and I are having a legitimate philosophical disagreement. What is the best way to provide help for, say, the students' in your classes? Having well known people do good things and to treat such well known people as already exemplifying how to be good is one way. But I worry that way leads to overlooking how even such good, committed well known people are unwittingly contributing to the larger background forces which make much more change hard. An alternate way is for well known people to be exemplars for showing how to accept that everyone, including them, is part of the same background habits, and for them to focus on bringing to light and changing their deepest habits. This way of doing things requires doing it in public spaces which anyone can see. I am not saying every kind of help one does has to be publicized; definitely not. But I think certain ways of helping requires putting oneself in such a vulnerable position in public, so that the very fame one has can be used to model what changing one's deepest habits can look like. A wonderful example is Stanley's great comment below about the pressure he feels in imaging him changing; that is vulnerable and honest, and I find inspiring.

      Yes, I have no qualms at all about the picture you link to. And I agree that Chalmers' pictures were taken in very same spirit. But the contexts of the picture you link to and Chalmers' pictures are quite different. If that difference in context was more explicitly acknowledged by Chalmers in posting the pictures, my experience of them would be different. Part of the issue is that in the course of the decade of those pictures his public stature grew, which I think changed the context.

    7. Bharath, if I may,

      I have to agree with Maureen in saying "Wow".

      The significant majority of professional philosophers, and an overwhelming majority of those students who at some point take a philosophy course, are nowhere near the elite circles you've traveled in, and yet you represent those circles as 'the profession'. I spent my first years post-secondary at a community college, attended a university you've probably never even heard of, and after that spent over a decade doing mostly adjunct work at community colleges and underfunded state universities where the idea of having funds to travel around to professional conferences and fraternize with the big names does not really occur to people. No, the problems there have to do, as Maureen says, with trying to teach big courses at 4/4 or higher and give something of value to students who are often struggling with poverty, drugs, the need to work two full-time jobs while taking courses, or trying to reorient themselves after being divorced, laid off or released from prison (yes, really). And, as Maureen says, during the off-hours from this you have to attend meetings to strategize about how not to have your department eliminated for another year of budget cuts. The profession, Bharath, is largely constituted by people working and learning under those conditions, year in and year out. And yet you, whose whole experience is apparently limited to Cornell, Harvard, and Bryn Mawr, claim to speak to some general 'problems in the profession'.

      Yes, there are such problems. Massive problems. Perhaps the greatest are that philosophy departments, particularly at all the schools you've never heard of, are under attack, that many people working in the profession are being paid horrible wages and asked to work under near-impossible circumstances with no job security, and that grad programs produce an unacceptably high ratio of highly qualified PhDs who will never find jobs. Compared with this, the vague set of problems you seem to be alluding to seem to me, quite frankly, trivial at best.

      I wonder: when you began to have these feelings that there was something stifling about the elite philosophical circles that not only accepted you but apparently (from the above comments) continue to have an interest in your well-being, did it never occur to you that there is a vast world out there of students who, unlike all the people you met in the courses you took and taught, did not show up scrubbed, polished, ready to go, and briefed by their private high schools and educated families on how to approach university, and that someone with your enviable background might have something to offer these students? Who knows, perhaps with your connections and impeccable pedigree, you could also have brought some real grant money there and made the gift of philosophy a real possibility for some future students. Or your work and pedigree could have given a department chair or dean one more reason to argue that the department cannot be cut. Certainly, you would never again have spent much time, if any, in ornate rooms with impressive European furniture to gesture at, if that's what bothers you. But you chose instead to remain in your little world at the top and cause grief to a couple of prominent philosophers by including their names in your little memoir. You could have easily related the Jason Stanley incident without mentioning his name, but you chose not to. And all the while, you assume not only that your psychological reactions reflect the problems of 'the profession', but that it is somehow incumbent upon others to 'change' if they care at all about making 'the profession' better.

    8. Also, Bharath, how, and why, are these people to change? You've certainly called out Jason Stanley here. He's already explained to you above that he tends to be nervous around others. You know Jason well, and presumably knew this about him already. But now you've made him say it outright on a public blog, and you don't seem at all bothered by it. In fact, you equate the discomfort you've caused him with the discomfort you would otherwise have felt at not mentioning him by name on a very public blog for committing some offense whose nature is difficult to fathom. He's already told you that he now feels even more nervous giving his upcoming talks, and will continue to feel that way in perpetuity, since he doesn't know what minor transgression of your unclear guidelines he might commit. And you think that, on balance, the profession would be better if you used his name in your online diary and he tried to change to suit your obscure personal set of whims, while under public scrutiny now, than if you had just not mentioned him? Seriously?

      And for that matter, what exactly is Jason to do if he wants to embrace the change you personally advocate? As far as I can tell, your major gripe with Jason is that he has a jokey way of speaking when he does philosophy. You claim that is a sign of elite power and privilege. Well, having spent over a decade in the schools where you didn't deign to set foot, I can tell you that that is flatly, empirically false. I myself, while teaching at several community colleges as a freeway flier, used a jokey attitude in all my courses. I was not an 'elite', nor did I think of myself that way. Not remotely. I did this even when I was about to be let go at one job. So did two of my former colleagues that I know of, habitually. Both grew up as poor, self-described redneck farm boys, and one made his way through school courtesy of being a grunt in the marines. I've seen several women in the profession, as well as nonwhite people, adopt a similar jokey tone in talks. You present no evidence for your view about jokiness aside from what appears to be mere introspection. And yet, you've now saddled Jason with something to worry about constantly. And if he were to stop being jokey, would that be the end of it? You seem to be leaving open the possibility that being jokey is only the tip of the iceberg and that, as Jason 'tries to change' for you, you'll come up with more and more problems with 'the profession' that will compel him to change still further. Or are you prepared to assure us, here and now, that you're only opposed to jokiness, and that as long as none of us are jokey anymore, you'll leave us be?

      And if I were David Chalmers, I'd be no less baffled about how to 'change' to help heal 'the profession'. The big message I get for David from your post is that he should definitely not take any more pictures of philosophers smiling and having a good time, and certainly not post them; and in particular that he must insist that women look very much unlike groupies and that nonwhite people in his pictures avoid smiling like Louis Armstrong. Is that definitely all? Or is there more? If David stops being fun and jokey, and stops taking pictures altogether and removes all the old ones, will you note on your blog that he's now a member of the profession in good standing? Or is there some chance that you'll come up with another vague but uncomfortable feeling about professional philosophy and associate it with something else about him, so that this whole process of your offhandedly blogging about it and David apologizing and obeying your directives enters a new round?

      For all that you feel like an outsider, I can tell you that if most people in the profession expressed a sense of inexplicable annoyance at the apparently harmless activities of famous philosophers, the famous philosophers would not be paying much attention or lauding them as greatly perceptive critics. You are a lucky man.

    9. I'm glad someone said this. I've lost track of what larger issues are illuminated by Stanley's being nervous about a talk and responding to a question in a way the questioner found unsatisfying. For any way poor Stanley tries to change, there's a Vallabha-prime who objects to that revised level of nervousness or jokiness, or who doesn't get to ask a question because Stanley takes more time to respond to Actual Vallabha.

    10. Justin, Thank you for your comments. I agree with quite a bit you say. I agree that there are much, much bigger problems than if Stanley's demeanor as a professor made me feel distant. And I didn't mean to speak about the profession as if I am speaking about every philosophy institution. Given my education I mean to capture my experiences in the profession.

      The issues you raise about teaching loads at lower-tier places, the struggles of students, keeping the department active, and so on are some of the most important issues in the profession. Part of what I am reacting to is that in my time as a student or professor, in the places I was at, these issues never came up for discussion in the normal public spaces of the departments. Sure, some people no doubt talked about it, and cared a lot about it, and would discuss it late at night or behind closed doors, but in my experience, the general outward demeanor was one that suggested that everything is fine. What was discussed mainly in departmental parties or dinners after talks was, beyond the actual philosophy, things like whether this famous philosopher was going to leave this top place for that top place, who is the best philosopher of the century, whether Heidegger is a philosopher, etc. As if these are the most pressing things to think about. If you have not been at a top place, then let me put forward the thought that facing this kind of surface indifference (because I don't claim the people are indifferent, but the culture promotes it) day in and day out is exhausting and depleting.

      Perhaps for someone who sees and interacts with a well known person from a distance, their good actions geared towards change shine out brightly. But from within the "elite" departments, which I was lucky to be part of, what can be frustrating is to see the well known people who are committed to change navigating the inertia and self-satisfaction that comes from being at top places, and in some ways accepting that inertia and contributing to it. I am not blaming anyone for this. I was a part of it. Given my trajectory in academia, it would be ridiculous if I stood up and talked up the hardships facing, say, community colleges. I can speak to what I went through, the places I was at, and how those places can change.

    11. Anonymous at 8:51, you make a great point. This is partly why I am out of academia. In academia I couldn't say much of these things because collegiality would put pressure against saying them. Where collegiality partly means that I should be mindful of not taking up any more time than any one else, or not put undue pressure on people.

      That is not true now. No one is obligated to read my blog. I am not asking anyone to change their ways, as if they owed it to me. Anyone who wants to read what I write, or engage with you (to agree or disagree) is welcome and am thankful for their engagement. But I am not bound by questions of how much time Stanley or anyone else can spend thinking about me. That is a question for Stanley for anyone else. This means that to some extent I don't know how this kind of conversation can happen in academia right now. But if this, or some other such conversation which seem uncomfortable, don't happen, it is also hard to see how change can happen in academia.

      Given that I am out of academia, am I not supposed to use names even now? What is the difference between, say, a politician and a professor such that it is ok for people on blogs to talk about politicians and their interactions with politicians, but not with academics? I don't see there is a difference, though I am open to changing my mind.

    12. Thanks for your response, Bharath, but you haven't yet addressed the point in my second comment above and in 8:51's comment.

      You continue to write about the actions of Jason Stanley, David Chalmers and others as problematic. But that hasn't been established. At best, we have your personal feelings of discomfort whose causes you've attributed to things they did. But the things they did -- being jokey in giving philosophy lectures and taking and displaying fun pictures of philosophers -- aren't obviously objectionable at all. Yes, you've mentioned that you dislike them for reasons that are still far from clear to me. But you've now heard from several others who have the opposite reaction to them. This is the point 8:51 is also making.

      Also, as I explained, it is far from clear what exactly Jason, David, and the other philosophers who for you constitute 'the profession' are supposed to do to make you happier.

      Let me illustrate the first of these problems with a specific case. As it happens, I often feel uncomfortable listening to lectures by people who seem stuck up to me, and so Jason's being jokey makes me less comfortable. You've just got on Jason's case about being jokey. Suppose Jason agrees to make you more comfortable by never being jokey again. From now on, he tells fewer jokes, and during the non-jokey bits of his talks, he's very serious. But now suppose I then start my own blog and publicly point my finger at him for typifying what is wrong with the profession by _not_ making jokes. If, as I presume, you agree that my comfort levels are as worthy of moral consideration as yours are, then what must Jason do to fix the 'problems of the profession' after reading my blog? Be half jokey and half not jokey? Or perhaps you think he should prepare a jokey talk and a non-jokey talk and present whichever one seems to fit the desires of the greatest number of people who show up. But even that wouldn't suffice, since you seem to have several other axes of evaluation other than jokiness. I guess he'd have to prepare hundreds or thousands of alternate talks. But even if you set out for Jason and others how to maximally satisfy your current set of desires, and even if Jason somehow felt that moral or etiquette norms of the profession demand that he modify his personality so as to maximally satisfy everyone's wishes, what he should do in cases of conflict like this one are not clear.

      This is a problem over and above the problem that you haven't yet explained why you think anyone has these professional obligations, and the different problem that it's very difficult to discern what would even constitute satisfying the desires you've mentioned already.

      All this would make a little more sense if you discussed it as _your_ problems with the profession. But instead, you talk about _the_ problems with the profession, which suggests that the problems you mention in this post and others reflect something general. But you now know from the feedback you've received that it doesn't.

      If you think these are not just _your_ problems with the profession but _the_ problems with the profession, I think a clear argument to that effect would be helpful. Thanks.

    13. * That should have read "Jason's being jokey makes me feel more comfortable."

    14. Justin, a few different points. First, Chalmers, Jason and so on don't constitute the profession for me. The people I have named on this blog are some of the people I came in contact with in my time in academic. In publically writing about my experiences in academia, I have mentioned them. Not because I think they are somehow the essence of the profession. I don't think that.

      Second, you are right that I haven't yet connected (a) my experiences with (b) the problems with the profession. Hence my posts about my experiences are meant to be snapshots of how I experienced this or that aspect of the profession. It is a kind of phenomenology. So far that's it. I am doing it this way because I have found that starting with "the problems in the profession" renders most discussions kind of stale, with each side going over the same well worn terrain (a version of what you nicely put in one of your comments). My thought is to start with my experiences and make my way to the more abstract themes. Perhaps one thing that is coming out in the comments is I need to move beyond autobiography for a while, and think through the abstract issues themselves, and make the connection to the issues in the profession more explicitly. Also, thereby back off of referencing this or that philosopher in a personal way, and focus just on ideas. That might be what I should do.

      Third, about the key issue you and 8:51 raise: the issue isn't about making jokes in talks. I have seen other people make jokes in talks, or be informal in a certain way which is based on one's personality, and I am fine with that. What I am concerned about comes up with being overly serious also. For the issue is someone being in a public space in a way that most other members of the profession cannot be. If we take Stanley's metaphilosophy talk, for example, most philosophers do not have the leeway to give a talk that way. The problem isn't the use of humor as such; it is being allowed to use humor any which way one wants, and nobody being able to say anything about it at all. This is the kind of thing only some, very small number of academics get to have. Another example I think is Michael Thompson, where it is common knowledge (at least in some circles) that his personality comes through a lot when he is giving a talk. Like with Stanley, I think Thompson is a wonderful philosopher. Perhaps Stanley and Thompson are similar in that both become nervous when in groups, and I am not trying to legislate that, or be critical of conditions people have, if they are conditions. But what concerns me is that some people are allowed that, while others, more marginal people, wouldn't get the chance because they would be deemed as not being professional. But then all sorts of background habits are allowed that way. And because these are well known philosophers, unwittingly those background habits become more reaffirmed in the culture. So it is not an issue of I might want Stanley to talk this way, and someone else might want him to talk that way. Certainly a person can't decide how to be based on polling people, and trying to please everyone. But the issue is what extreme forms of behavior are allowed for some people that are not for others, and what that says not about the people themselves (who might be just good people, as I think is the case here), but about the institutional structures.

    15. Bharath,

      Do you realize that you're still telling me what I should do when it comes to my life's work?
      "But I worry that way leads to overlooking how even such good, committed well known people are unwittingly contributing to the larger background forces which make much more change hard. An alternate way is for well known people to be exemplars for showing how to accept that everyone, including them, is part of the same background habits, and for them to focus on bringing to light and changing their deepest habits. This way of doing things requires doing it in public spaces which anyone can see."

      Let me sharpen this pencil: MY CLASSROOM IS A PUBLIC SPACE.

      Every classroom is a public space. There is no blog or website or Twitter account that is anything more than a partial and ephemeral "public space," and none of them are the most fundamental space where we interact with people whose lives we directly effect in word and deed. That you have no sense of this fundamental state of affairs is holding you back.

      The HARD PROBLEM: Until the Uprising and Revolution occur (consider that the Hard Problem prime), each state in the US needs to return to funding approximately 75% of state university budgets. Right now, we're at something like 12%. This massive defunding is the hard problem. The political will to change this is not forthcoming.

      The EASY PROBLEM: SInce no one ever asks me, but everyone, including you, has plenty of ideas about what should be done, let me, for one time, explain.

      There is nothing, nothing whatsoever, that should stop us from helping each other across divides the philosophical "haves" and "have nots." There is even a category of faculty evaluation, Service to the Discipline, to which everyone can refer when wondering where such activities fit in. The fact that the category of Service has been historically disparaged and continues to be treated as an afterthought for which a "satisfactory" rating on account of minimal committee work is sufficient is, in reality, something we, ourselves, can change. One can apply vision to Service, and there's nothing preventing us from valorizing this activity everywhere for everyone committed. People can laugh and say how can improving the categories of faculty evaluation matter? How can that do anything? But I will say it has been right in front of us all along. Technologically we now have everything we need to transform the boundaries of our classrooms. David, especially, has experimented with me for years with this. (I won a teaching with technology award for my work with him using Skype in the classroom).*

      I think we are already on the road to transformation. It is invisible to you, perhaps, but that doesn't mean that PIKSI wasn't able to raise enough funds through crowd-funding to cover their program expenses and expand. There are very real, very meaningful projects at hand that are collaborative -- that call upon the "haves" to help at the ground-level, the classroom -- and people are rising to these challenges. MAP (Minorities and Philosophy) is now helping. Individual colleagues have already and still do step up. The Public Sphere of philosophy is first and foremost the classroom and the innovations going on are actually visible, but you have to know where to look. And you haven't.

      Dave's pictures are five years old (and older) stopping at 2010. It's kind of an insult that your fixation on them has blinded you from seeing what I experience as a huge transformation -- as help that's been arriving.

      *There was this one time that Dave was Skyping-in to one of my classes and the bandwidth failed. He spent the whole class time Instant Messaging with the students, instead. It was fabulous.

    16. Thanks for your response, Bharath.

      So if I understand correctly, you're arguing as follows?

      P1. Jason Stanley feels free to be jokey as much as he wants to in his talks.
      P2. David Chalmers and the people in his photographs feel free to smile and have fun in the photographs, and to publicize those photographs.
      P3. But Bharath Vallabha, for idiosyncratic personal reasons, does not feel comfortable doing those things.
      P4. And in an inclusive professional environment, nobody should do anything that some people would not feel comfortable doing.
      P5. And we should do whatever would promote an inclusive professional environment.
      C. Therefore, nobody in the profession should be freely jokey in talks, in pictures, at dinners, etc. and nobody should publish those sorts of pictures.

      Is that the argument? If not, where am I getting it wrong, please? Thanks.

    17. Maureen, I am not trying to tell you what to do. If anything I said made it seem that way, I take it back. And I am not denying all the progress that is being made, and how Chalmers is contributing to that. What you say about the classroom is fascinating and very interesting, but I am not going to comment on to it here since it is not related to my post.

      You say: "It's kind of an insult that your fixation on them [the pictures] has blinded you from seeing what I experience as a huge transformation -- as help that's been arriving." Yes, I felt alienated when I was in grad school. No, talking to Chalmers or anyone else didn't cover me over with a halo of goodness. Yes, because of my feelings of alienation I saw many things through a prism, including the pictures. I don't deny that I didn't see things properly. I am not saying that the way I saw things back then was completely correct. That is not the point of the post. The point is that was how I experienced things. It is a statement of my experiences. And they matter to me because they are my experiences. Because the pain I had was real. It doesn't mean there aren't others with their own pains which are very important. But this post was about my pain.

      The fact that I went to elite schools, and am a man, doesn't negate that pain. I can say that my pain had to do with the fact that I am Indian and the curriculum made no mention of non-Western philosophy. But I am not going to do that, since I don't need a reason to care about my pain. The fact that it was my pain is reason enough for me to care about it. You don't have to care about my experience. But the way I experienced those pictures was part of my pain. This is not a claim about the people in the pictures, nor about their experiences. Your association with the pictures maybe good; I understand that. But you can't tell me what my association with the pictures ought to be, because you don't know my situation. And no, simply saying I am privileged or am a man doesn't tell you what my situation is. You might not resonate with my experience; that's fine. But others (including men and women I have gotten emails from who didn't go to elite schools) do resonate with my experience, and it is helpful for me, and for them, to see that each of us weren't the only ones to feel that way.

    18. Anonymous, that's not my argument. In fact, my post is not an argument. It is an attempt to articulate some experiences I had, of how I felt, as someone feeling alienated from my education.

    19. One thing that confuses me at this point, Bharath, is that you seem to be doing two inconsistent things. Some of the time, you represent your aim as merely articulating your personal psychological feelings without making any judgment on the rights and wrongs of them, such that it's absolutely fine for others to not take your side (taking your side would then seem to be a matter of sharing your feelings of alienation or something). But at other times, you talk as though you're articulating objective problems: you speak of ways in which Jason might _defend_ his use of humor, etc.

      I don't see how you can have it both ways. If you are being sincere in telling us that you view your sense of alienation as just something that you happen to feel, that you didn't feel like you fit in but that was your problem, then there's no reason for these people to defend their actions or ways of being. But if you think there is a general problem in what they do, then it isn't really consistent to slip into the mode of saying that you aren't judging them when they object that their actions weren't wrongful.

      To take an example from my own life, I've never been interested in sports. I've actually made a point of not learning the rules of any. If I'm visiting with people and they turn on the big game and start cheering and screaming at the TV set, I feel alienated. When this happens, I can decide to hang around with these people some other time, or not to hang around with them at all, or I can choose to deal with my feelings and stay, or I can tell them that I'd rather not be watching sports and ask to do something else together.

      Asking to do something else together could be very inconsiderate on my part. If I know that everyone else has been looking forward to watching the game together, then it would presumably be quite inconsiderate of me to insist that we do something else when I could just leave. And hanging around telling them all the way through that I'm not having a good time isn't very productive, either.

      I don't know your whole story, but it looks to me as if you're calling up your old friends and telling them that you really hated every day you spent with them because you were always watching football when you could have gone out for a walk instead, and that you're pretty sure some people who still hang out with them hate every minute they spend together because there's so much football, and that if they had even a modicum of concern for these other people, they'd just switch the set off. If you are saying that, then I think you have to admit that you're calling them mighty inconsiderate.

      Conversely, if you're just glad to be doing your own thing now and enjoying your Sunday walks, and have made your peace with the fact that you and the old football-watching gang just wanted different things, then what's the sense in suggesting that their choices need to be defended, or are indicative of some objective problems?

    20. Justin, Thank you again for your thoughtful comments. I am starting to think that something you, Maureen and others have been saying is really onto something, which I might have been missing. I will think about it. Perhaps it is time I accepted that yes, I just wanted something different, and be at peace with that fact.

  11. Bharath - one time maybe six years ago I ran into Noam Chomsky at the Left Forum. It was dinner, and we were all standing around. I was kind of lurking around him, and he was surrounded by people, ignoring me. After awhile I went up to him and introduced myself politely. He looked at me with weariness and said "Jason, I know perfectly well who you are.", and turned away. I'm no Noam Chomsky, and never will be. It stung me a bit personally but I never thought anything of it. I'm kind of embarrassed even mentioning it now. The reason I mention it is because I didn't go write about it with a grand theory. I surmised that there were many people there that Chomsky wanted to speak to more than he wanted to speak to me. Who cares, even if he is Noam Chomsky, he is still a human being. Maybe he doesn't like talking to me. Maybe he thinks other people are more interesting or more important. *Who cares*.

    1. Jason, In your first comment above, you write, "I want to apologize deeply for my treatment of you during the Harvard metaphilosophy conference." You seemed to care when you wrote that sentence. But if it now seems as if it is not worth caring about, that's fine. No problem.

    2. Jason's new response is exactly what one should expect from people committing microaggressions when these are pointed out to them. I've never seen any different kind of response, to be honest, and I wonder if there's any point in trying to point out these things. Depressing.

  12. Bharath - I apologized because it hurt you. I care about you, and I feel terribly for having hurt you. I remain sorry about that. But when I reflect about the pressure it places on my future behavior with every single interaction, it is a bit too intense to bear. I can't imagine living life where I can't be nervous and distracted. I am still very sorry to have caused you pain. But heading into a bunch of talks this January, I somehow have to get it out of my head that each and every interaction is a potential explosive blog post about my awful behavior in five years. It makes me a bit stressed to interact with people, to be honest. I hope that makes sense. It's consistent with my regret at having caused you harm. Something about this strikes me as the human condition.

    1. Jason, Thank you for this honest statement. Yes, I imagine it would be a lot of pressure when trying to change. This is exactly why I never mentioned to you in the past about how I felt in some of our interactions. Because I assumed that imposing that level of pressure onto a person can't be right. That if I did that, I would be doing something wrong, selfish, imposing myself onto other people's lives, as if I was needy and that I was asking them to change for me. As if I was acting in an entitled way, rather than just trusting others and feeling they have my best interests at heart. Maybe I should be the one who has to change, every moment, every day, to take that pressure onto myself instead of putting it on others.

      Same with my interactions with other professors and colleagues. Can I ask Shoemaker in the personal identity class why we are not reading any Eastern philosophers? If he gives a pat response, can I press him on that? If I did, wouldn't he feel bad every time he saw me in class? Then perhaps he could lose his focus and attention as a teacher, and he would be upset, or sad. And the whole class would suffer. Just because I spoke up and asked him a question, I might ruin the class for everyone. It would be to put too much pressure on Shoemaker, asking him to change in ways he never imagined, asking him to change some of his deepest habits.

      It took me leaving academia to tell myself that it would have been worth it to press Shoemaker or any other professor. If Shoemaker is unnerved by what I asked about a pluralistic curriculum, that is not my fault. And if being unnerved, he has to change his lecture for the day, that is not bad. This is how change happens. I would say the same to you about your talks in January. You can give those talks just the way you have given them for the past twenty years. Or you can change your habit when giving them. These talks might not go as well as you hope, but down the line, once your new habits become natural for you, your talks will be that much more powerful, because they will part of a newer, more open profession.

    2. "This is exactly why I never mentioned to you in the past about how I felt in some of our interactions. Because I assumed that imposing that level of pressure onto a person can't be right."

      Interesting that you thought it would be inappropriate to say these things to Jason Stanley in person but you have no qualms about publishing them on the World Wide Web. You know, publishing something on a blog is just as much publishing it as publishing it in a newspaper or a professional journal. And you've certainly managed to draw the attention of a lot of professional philosophers, including very prominent ones, to your claims -- more than the vast majority of published philosophy papers even in top journals manage to do. Well, good for you, but maybe in the future you could think more about how the claims you make about people you know on your blog may impact their reputations?

    3. I agree that wantonly saying things about people can harm reputations. And many people might think that is what I am doing in this post. But on that point, I differ. I don't think what I said in this post should be taken as harming anyone's reputation.

      For example, above I mention Shoemaker. Have I thereby harmed his reputation? I would have if I said he did something morally wrong; and even there whether I can say that publically depends on the situation, and is complicated. But if I say I felt I couldn't talk to him about his syllabus, I am not accusing him of a moral wrong. I am seeking to highlight a wrong, but one which is more like a communal wrong, one which concerns the background habits we all partake in. I could have made the same point about any philosopher, including myself when I was teaching. If I use a well known person to make the point, it isn't because they aren't human. It is because they have the most institutional security, and so the distinction between their doing something personally morally wrong and their expressing communal habits which are wrong is easier to see. If I made the same points about lesser known philosophers, no one would care because we would treat it as a reflection on just those philosophers, and so actually treat as an individual wrong. Talking about well know philosophers, at least initially, is what enables seeing the communal background practices better. As I see it, this is the tradeoff one makes in becoming well known, that they are accepting that their actions no longer can be treated as just individual actions, but reflect communal habits.

  13. Bharath - I also wanted to add that you misunderstood my talk. You write, "A couple hours later he gave this talk, defending academic philosophy and without acknowledging one problem there might be with the profession. The tone rather was a general defensiveness regarding how philosophers are misunderstood, and how the other humanities fail to understand the work of professional philosophers." To be honest, this comment puzzled me. I thought I clearly articulated (a) that truth-relativists thought they were addressing the concerns of post-colonial theorists and (b) that truth-relativists were doing no such thing. In fact, some of my humor was directed at analytic philosophy's attempts to engage, like when I concluded that argument by saying "adding another parameter to the circumstance of evaluation does not explain how the language of objective truth gets misused by colonialists". I am really puzzled by your reading of my talk and I wonder if your pre-existing stereotype of me wasn't getting in the way of understanding.

  14. The point of a lot of the talk was to suggest that we need different methodologies to address the problems addressed in other humanities disciplines. It is true I did not conclude by saying that there is nothing that the methodology of philosophical logic is addressing; I said it is addressing something. But there is a clear critique there that remains central to my forthcoming work; philosophy needs critical social theory. I took that to be one of the main points of my talk.

    1. Jason, My sense of your talk was that there was a deep ambivalence in it. This is how I read you comment earlier that you were nervous: not that you were nervous about Romano, but that there was some part of you which was thinking out loud, back and forth, about what you yourself think about the kind of work you do. I missed this that day, since I imagined then that my own ambivalence was reflected by you defending academic philosophy, and Romano critiquing it, as if the two of you were externalizing the ambivalence I had. I see now this might not have been true. I get what you mean about your critique of truth-relativists. I missed it because it was couched within a talk mainly emphasizing some of the positives of current academic philosophy. I can see how the point about what the truth-relativists are not doing links up with the idea that philosophy needs critical social theory. But I think that link was not clear in the talk.

  15. That is exactly right.

  16. It's a sign of the times that you've been able to antagonize two important philosophers with your post, complaining about being momentarily mildly slighted by Stanley (though you now know it wasn't even that, and hearing him tell a clean, inoffensive joke, and seeing Chalmers' pictures -- not grotesque or pornographic or demeaning pictures, but friendly and fun and innocent ones that offend you got some reason you can't even articulate -- and that those two philosophers whose good names you impugn on unclear and piffling charges are thereby brought to their knees and feel they have to apologize in public for absolutely nothing.

    I hope this is as far as it goes before the profession comes to its senses.

    How astonishing that you feel your comfort is worth this much more than Stanley's. And how horrible that Chalmers may actually feel compelled to care about your bizarre, self-indulgent opinion sufficiently to alert his picture-posting habits.

    1. Pallas, I don't think I am impugning Chalmers' or Stanley's names. They are philosophers who are rightly well known, and it is not like they in particular did something wrong here. The issue is about background habits which are pervasive, including with myself (an instance of which Maureen above rightly points out).

      You say how astonishing it is that I feel my comfort is worth so much more than Stanley's (and Chalmers'). I would put it differently: my comfort is worth exactly as much as theirs, even though they are well known and I am not, and even if they are better philosophers than me. If the background habits in the profession cause me pain and force me to continually question myself, should I accept that because my comfort is worth less than theirs? I don't think so.

      You might wonder what background habits caused me pain. True, it is silly to think that Stanley once walking away from me, or Chalmers' pictures considered in the abstract as just pictures could cause such pain. But if Stanley's actions or Chalmers' pictures are part of broader habits they have, and which are part of the background habits in the profession more generally, then I think even these simple things can shed on broader issues.

    2. "...if Stanley's actions or Chalmers' pictures are part of broader habits they have, and which are part of the background habits in the profession more generally, then I think even these simple things can shed on broader issues."

      It is arguable, then, that they are cases of microagression.

  17. "equally strangely, though there were a fair number of white, women philosophers in the pictures in poses of dignity and confidence, every once in a while there were in the pictures what seemed to me like philosophy groupies: women, philosophers or not, who exuded a sexuality fit for a rock n roll party, and who seemed to have expressions of fawning admiration for the largely male, intellectual potency in the room."

    What exactly made these women, sometimes philosophers (!), read to you as "philosophy groupies"?

    1. Analogous to what I say in response to Chalmers above about "Louis Armstrong smiles", the point about "philosophy groupies" isn't a point about the women in the pictures. The photo Chalmers deleted (which I think it was good to delete) is an outlier; you could see one women's underwear, others' clothes were quite revealing, etc.But even there the point isn't about the women, as if they have low morals or are easy. I didn't believe that. The point is that in the context of a picture of with an older man, who is completely covered, the very difference in between the man in the picture and the women makes the situation seem incredibly imbalanced.

      As I say, that kind of picture is an outlier. But the point applies broadly in a way. If a guy in room mainly full of guys wears a T-shirt which hangs loosely on him, we think nothing of it. But a women who wears the same kind of T-shirt in the same loose way in the room full mainly of guys can create a sense of something else. The conclusion isn't that women should dress formally, or some such; everyone can wear as they see fit, especially at parties. But if the sense of women being subordinate is to be overcome, there have to be more women in that room; it is not an issue of how the few women in the room are supposed to dress or act. So I see the point not as about particular people, but about the culture of the profession. I hope a women philosopher who is in the pictures who reads my post doesn't feel that I am calling her a groupie. That is far from my intention. If something I wrote made it come across that way, I will revise it.

  18. Great question. I'm in some of those pictures. I'm not a woman, but I know a quite a few of the women philosophers in those pictures. I don't know which pictures featuring which women are being referred to here and I'd really hate to be one of the women philosophers featured in Chalmers' photos wondering the same thing. Bharath, don't you think you owe some people some kind of an apology? What is the outcome that you want? That Chalmers deletes all of the photos featuring any women? (Or perhaps just the young ones? Or the young and [to whom?] attractive ones?) He's already deleted one -- unwisely, I think. Now I worry: which of the pictures featuring my friends might disappear because someone might think that they trigger "philosophy groupie" (a category I didn't know existed before I read this discussion thread) stereotypes? How would the women philosophers featured in those pictures then feel, knowing that their pictures were removed from Chalmers' gallery because some people thought they looked like "groupies"? This is not good.

  19. I think this is all getting a little bit too personal. It's fine for you, Barath, to post your deeply personal musings about the state of the profession on the web -- I've enjoyed reading some of them -- but I wish you'd be more sensitive to the fact that other people who you don't know at all might not want you to make examples of in your posts. Do you want you blog to become the TMZ of academic philosophy?

    1. Sorry about misspelling your name, Bharath, and for the other typos. I'm mildly agitated, as you can probably tell.

    2. Philosophy Metabro, As I say to anonymous at 10:22, my point wasn't about the women in the pictures, but the culture in the profession. I don't deny the pictures also empower women by in many instances showing them rightly as equals to men. Does that imply that the public events the pictures are capturing have somehow overcome gender issues, as if the pictures are capturing an ideal version of how the profession can be? I think not. To say this is not say that Chalmers is against feminism, or any such. Obviously he is not. But it is to say it is at least an open issue, worth publically discussing, what public spaces where everyone can feel welcome ought to look like. What I was resisting was the sense which I experienced as a graduate student that that open issue had already been settled, because there are people like Chalmers already creating such open spaces. This is not to find fault with Chalmers, but I wanted my own say in what kind of public spaces I want to be a part of, of what counts for me as enabling me to relax and getting to know my colleagues. The way I saw it, it was Chalmers' prestige which was enabling him to change modes of how we can engage with each other. A great use of his institutional standing. Only, I didn't feel comfortable in such setting. Is that because I am at fault? Am I too moody, too self-involved, too contrarian, trying to attract attention to myself and my needs? I have heard this kind of description of me pretty much throughout my education. An alternate way to look at it is: I felt that my sense for what pubic spaces can look like, and what public discourse can be, was not being heard, as if I were being merely a naysayer if I wasn't happy with the obviously wonderful, progressive spaces which were being created by someone like Chalmers. I wanted to be able to say, "this is not helping me", and I tried whatever methods I could think of to try to communicate this. I was not successful, partly because of how the culture was, and partly I could have done a better job of speaking up.

      I am not saying Chalmers should take down the pictures (though I think it is good he took down that particular picture). But I do think given that he is now a well known figure, many more people look to him than the number of people who might relax in the same way he does. I think he needs to be mindful of that if he is going to put up the pictures.

      And no, I definitely don't want this blog to be like TMZ. I don't want anyone to worry about god knows what new thing might be said on this blog, and who might be "called out". I will have to think about this more.

    3. I'm glad to hear that you plan to think about this more, Bharath.

      One thing that it might be useful to consider is the extent to which this blog of yours answers a big question you raise on it: why aren't more big-name philosophers publicly giving their opinions about the state of the profession?

      I only discovered your blog a couple of days ago. But from what I've seen, to show up on this blog's radar at all is to take on the risk of being used as an example of what's wrong with the profession. And it's not just you here. Yesterday and today, some anonymous reader repeatedly linked to a photograph of another prominent philosopher. We know the story from Chalmers now about the photo being quite innocent fun with some strangers they happened upon one evening, but you surely knew that the repeated postings of that picture were intended to draw possibly hurtful attention to the philosopher posing in it. And yet you have not deleted any of the three iterations of the post.

      I don't mean to single you out here, because there are many bigger blogs out there on both sides of the professional issues that critically discuss the personal lives and professional stances of our colleagues. The blogs once seemed devoted to discussions of philosophical issues, or to some great things that particular philosophers did, or to the best way to deal with economic and institutional changes, together as a profession. But now, the big topics of discussion all have to do with how horrible this or that person is. Some people argue that the person really is horrible, other people argue that the person isn't really that horrible, and that the accuser is much worse, and on and on it goes. And then we get the general comments that this set of cases indicates that the profession really has problems, and other general comments that nothing bad happened in those cases, and really the horrible cases are this very different set, and in explaining what's good or bad with the cases we get yet another rehashing of all the supposedly bad things this or that philosopher ever allegedly did or said, including discussions of people's private lives, background, friends, and pictures and comments dredged up from hefty internet searches.

      Imagine all this from the perspective of a prominent philosopher. There's an ocean of scandal, rumor, accusation and insinuation out there. Once your name gets mentioned, particularly if you have any standing in the profession, it's open season on you. Things will be said, things will be dredged up, and it'll all be bruited about and then repeated again for years whenever someone else wants to make a point for this side or that side. And everyone will remember you for the worst thing anyone says about you. This is happening to our colleagues. They are all human beings with one reputation apiece, and the critics don't seem to care.

      How many prominent philosophers are going to want to show up on the radar of any of the other bloggers or commenters who discuss prominent people like this? They're already successful. There's little chance that one of them adding his or her name to a list of names agitating for or against an issue will make much positive difference to the issue or to them. But they do run a big risk of having some members of the opposing political faction hating them enough to devote the time to ruining their names. Why risk it?

      I don't find it surprising that, in an environment like this, most prominent philosophers would choose to work behind the scenes, or blog under a pseudonym, or just steer clear entirely.

      So here's a suggestion that I mean constructively: if you want to see that change, it could be good to work to change the culture in which critical discussions of particular colleagues of ours is the norm on philosophy blogs. Changing this blog would be a good start. Finding a way to change the practice on other blogs would be a fine next step.

    4. Justin, Thanks for the great comments. First, I didn't delete the links to the picture because I took at face value the claim that it is being posted for the record. Also, I haven't been moderating comments and didn't think that was a good place to begin to do that. If the picture is innocent, then there should be no problem in having it for the record. If it is problematic, then it is illuminating as what not to do, and what shouldn't have been put up in the first place. Even if the person who put it up did it with the intention to belittle the philosopher in it, I don't think the picture does belittle the philosopher or cast aspersions on him. Any one of us could have been in a picture like that, on the spur of the moment. I don't think mentioning a person in a problematic context is to thereby try to shame them, if the focus can be put on the context or actions and not the person. You are right that is how much of the blogosphere tends to function. And like you, I find that deeply problematic. But I don't think the solution is to not mention any names at all. We have to find a middle ground, of when it is ok, when it can work to foster conversation, and when it cannot and when it is not ok.

      I agree very much with your point about why prominent philosophers are keeping quiet. That is a thoughtful and compassionate way to look at it, which is also insightful. But I do worry that working behind the scenes or anonymously, for all its benefits, is also adding to the atmosphere of people venting and even being threatening. For it makes it unclear what the mechanisms of change are, which can give the feeling that some amorphous, nebulous back room powers are dictating things, and that, at least to this extent, a front and clearly seen aristocracy is better. Again, a middle ground is needed.

      I take your suggestion seriously, and I hope this blog can seen as such as safe space. At the very least, before I do any such "naming" again I will think some more, and have a blog post about the pros and cons of it, so that I can think it through with the help of others. I am certainly not trying to blind side people, but trying to also push the complacency that comes up when no names are used.

  20. I enjoyed the thoughtful comments from all participants. My own experience of Chalmers was of genuineness and warmth and acceptance. Strangely, it was he who invited any person who was willing to have dinner with him after the talk he gave at my department last year. My department, which had plans for a small dinner with him with only our best and most seasoned graduate students (excluding me, understandably, since I am a first year) was the only reason why I didn't step into the car with him. This decision was understandable, too, since I know from firsthand experience that dining out with a group larger than 5-6 individuals can be overwhelming for any person - famous or not.

    I do think that at some level the original poster's comments come from a position of insecurity. The fact that he had these insecure feelings even as he was talking to Chalmers at Cambridge on the grass signaled this to me. I never had any such feelings when I was talking with Chalmers. My impression of him was that he was quite down to earth and very encouraging. Yes, he is a star, and that fact didn't escape me. But my experience of Chalmers was very much positive nonetheless. This isn't to say there are very real issues of structure and heirarchy that Vallabha points out within the profession as a whole. But Chalmers, I think, though human, shouldn't be one of our exemplars of people who perpetuate "the problem." Of course, I acknowledge that my experience of him does not hold any more weight than yours, Vallabha.

    1. Torrance, I think someone like Chalmers (by that I mean, someone who is considerate, thoughtful and committed to change) should be our exemplar of people who perpetuate the problem. Obviously not because Chalmers in particular in somehow bad (I don't think this at all), but because we are all part of the problem, and it requires people to be like Chalmers, as reflective and self-searching as he can be, to get to the root of the problems.

      Imagine if we focus only on people who are obnoxious and defensive as people who perpetuate the problem. Sometimes that is definitely needed. But if we only focused on such people I think that will lead to treating the obviously surface problematic features of such a person as the problem, as if not being obnoxious is enough to create change. But I don't think this is true. Not when the problems are at the level of deep, embedded social habits which are largely unconscious for us, and which require a certain amount of struggle and conflict to bring to the surface. To that end, we are all part of the problem. But this cannot used as a defense mechanism to say everything is fine. So how can we accept that the problems are things we are all implicated in, without letting a kind of complacency take over? For that what is required is for each person to stand up and be willing to explore their own deep habits, to see where in their habits there are links to problematic background habits in the community more widely. That requires being thoughtful, compassionate (both to others and to oneself) and willing to engage with others in a reciprocal process of being critical of each other with respect.

  21. Can a single person not engender, and express, these "multiple perspectives"?
    That in so doing, the closest to 'neutrally good ' is adopting a humility in interactive engagements, at least on an interpersonal level?

    1. Yes, I think that is possible. That is the goal. How it is possible, and what kind of social structures and personal reflection are required to make it possible, are questions to think about. I think those are great philosophical questions.

  22. Grateful Grad StudentJanuary 7, 2015 at 9:53 AM

    I would like to sincerely thank everyone who has participated in this discussion, especially Bharath, Jason, and David. And I hope that it will be a contribution (however small) to identify explicitly some of what I found most valuable about it.

    First, the consistently respectful, personal, and heartfelt tone (which would be admirable if were merely the result of careful moderation, and even more admirable if it were the result of participants' own diligence and self-restraint.) I think a lot of the credit for this goes to Bharath for setting such a tone on this post and throughout his blog. So overall, this has been a valuable model of how people from different perspectives can discuss important matters about which (I'm glad to see) they care deeply, in a way that is still productive and illuminating.

    Second, I *really* appreciate the way Bharath has consistently worked to make this a conversation primarily about (1) certain behaviors and their (differential) effects on people, and NOT (2) the characters, intentions, etc of those who performed them. I did not feel that Bharath was blaming, antagonizing, or smearing any of the people he writes of (beyond the general claim that they have flaws, just as we all do).This seems to me exactly the right way to proceed if we want to address various problematic features of the profession. (And even though I think discussion of (2) was obscuring the real value of the conversation, I am glad to learn about how the people named in the original post are so committed and have done so much to improving the profession.)

    Third, I'd like to suggest that there is a distinction between (1) pointing out how some behavior is problematic in virtue of its harmful effects, and (2) claiming that the behavior is impermissible, wrong, blameworthy, etc. Speaking for myself, I'd like to think that if some behavior X of mine causes pain to another--and especially if it systematically causes pain to a specific category of others--then I would be grateful for the chance to learn and understand why that is happening, even if ultimately I still believe that I'm justified in continuing to X. (Yes, I agree the learning will likely be horribly stressful and threatening. But yes, I also agree it is the cost of changing for the better. My hope is it would be less stressful and threatening if everyone felt that they were under such pressure, i.e. if the general practice is to address behavior and not people's character, intentions, etc.) So I think that the kind of conversation (1) Bharath is trying to have here, which helps us to understand the variety of ways some behavior can be problematic, is incredibly useful in itself. Separately, whether and when such behaviors should be stopped or sanctioned is a different conversation (2), which ideally would consist of all parties deliberating together about how best to act in the future, and whose success I think will depend on there having been that first kind of conversation (1).

    Fourth, I'm glad that people have been highlighting the immense inequalities between the elite spaces described in the post and the non-elite landscape in the rest of the profession. Surely this (and I would imagine Bharath would agree, given his analysis of the function of the PGR) is one of the most fundamental challenges facing the profession: how to survive the crisis of our dire material conditions while maintaining as much equity and justice in our practices as we can. And, given that I think it's pretty clearly true that we wouldn't be having this kind of conversation with this level of participation if Bharath were not a former elite member of the profession, I am grateful that he has used that privilege to start this conversation (and to urge others to do so as well).


    1. ...

      Finally, although I feel much more conflicted and am in no way prepared to defend this as a general practice, I will say that I found it useful for people to be named in the original post, only because their subsequent engagement provided the opportunity to model the kind of dialogue that must take place whenever some behavior is problematized, with new understanding and revised opinions on all sides. I very much admire that Jason and David engaged in discussion, with as much diligence and self-restraint as they did, and I read that as an example of just what Bharath has been advocating: publicly well-known professional philosophers participating in a conversation about problems of the profession. Clearly this has been a helpful conversation for me and others, and it's a conversation that has made me feel proud to be a part of the profession--so thank you all!

  23. I think it would be helpful to distinguish a few points:

    1- Some philosophers really enjoy hanging out at conferences, socializing with other philosophers, and so on. Indeed, some of us find this to be tremendously fun. Others don't like it so much--they find conferences enjoyable enough and professionally interesting, but they prefer to socialize with non-philosophers. Others don't like conferences and the attendant socialization at all. They find it uncomfortable or off-putting.

    2 - The philosophers who socialize a lot no doubt enjoy some professional benefits from this. When we're thinking about speakers to invite to colloquia and conferences, we're more likely to think about those we see often. Aside from that, we're probably at least somewhat more likely to read the work of those people we know, as opposed to those we've never met.

    Analogues of (1) and (2) occur in just about every profession. The fact that advantages accrue to those who "network" isn't ideal, of course, but there's no obvious way of combatting it. So if the complaints about philosophy just amount to noting (1) and (2), I don't think they're particularly interesting.

    But then there's a third claim, I think:

    (3) The people who socialize a lot at these conferences tend to share a common conception of what philosophy is, or of what philosophical problems or approaches are interesting or worth talking about. As a result,certain types or styles of philosophy are excluded, whereas others enjoy a problematic advantage.

    I think something like (3) is true. There are some obvious signs of this. The most egregious example is probably the Bellingham Summer Philosophy Conference: although it purports to be open to everyone, if you wanted to design a conference open only to people associated with MIT, it would be hard to do a better job. And it seems to me that this is what Bharath is getting at: some of those who think of themselves as very open and friendly, very egalitarian and very kind, actually foster exclusionary practices.

    1. I disagree. It is not as if marginal benefits merely accrue to those who socialise, it is that socialisation IS the profession. Being visible in that way has become a necessary dimension of career advancement. So I think (1) and (2) are in fact very important concerns.

      Furthermore, the fact that they may occur in other professions is neither here nor there. So does racism, so does sexism. The challenge is to consider whether we have really got the balance right? And "but people enjoy it as it is" isn't really going to be a convincing answer to that challenge...

  24. At the risk of stating the obvious, it seems to me that the most fundamental problem that Bharath has pointed out here has no solution short of a total dissolution of the whole system of academic philosophy. Setting aside the contingent forms that "exclusion" or hierarchy or whatnot can take -- to do with race, sex, etc. -- the problem is simply that the system consists in (i) a small number of people who enjoy massive privilege and wealth (at least relative to the rest of the "profession", or society), (ii) a somewhat larger middle class, (iii) a much bigger pool of people endlessly struggling to scrape by or hold on to whatever temporary and often exploitive toe-hold they may have found for themselves. This is the _essential nature_ of our "profession". At least, that is its essence so long as we are talking about the kind of institution or system that fits into any larger economic-political-social world like this one. There is just no way that all or even most of the people positioned within _that_ kind of system, and depending on it for their livelihoods, can engage with each other as authentic philosophical friends (fellow seekers of truth, moral or intellectual equals, etc.) It's impossible given the nature of the system itself (or that plus human nature, I guess). And this is why all the nice-sounding "progressive" talk -- of inclusion or equality or collegiality or whatever -- is so deeply inauthentic. The people at the top may sincerely want inclusion or whatever, or may think they want it; but there is just no way for the world of philosophy to approximate these ideals, except in the most shallow or trivial respects. So Bharath doesn't go far enough, in my opinion. Not only is "being nice" not enough to change the situation in a meaningful way; neither is "speaking out" clearly and forcefully. Unless speaking out leads to the replacement of the current system of massive (arbitrary) privilege for a tiny minority, the inauthenticity and alienation that Bharath is describing will still be there. If anything, it will be even worse as a result of people at the top "speaking out". Because then it will be even more obvious that (a) the things they are speaking out against are in fact the necessary conditions for the privileged positions they are never going to voluntarily give up and that (b) if anyone lower down in the system were to publicly mention this fact the consequences for him or her could be devastating. (If those at the top "speak out", this implicitly enacts and symbolizes the vast and arbitrary differences in power between members of our "community".)

    I have no solutions to offer, but I wish for more _honesty_ from those at the top. Stop pretending that you care so deeply about equality, inclusion, etc. This is just transparently false. None of you guys are going to make any real personal sacrifices for those ideals. That's only human, perhaps. You like your jobs, the nice salaries and security and perks and travel, etc. You don't want to give up any of that stuff. Fair enough. I'd probably have the same attitude if I were in your position! But let's stop pretending that we're all on the same side, that we are facing the same "issues", concerned about the same things. Anyway I take it that this is the real source of the discomfort that Bharath is describing. In reality we live in a kind of feudal system, but an especially perverse and dishonest one where the aristocrats pretend (sometimes) to be just regular folks -- regular serfs. And the serfs had better go along with that pretence (sometimes). Let's be a little more real! At least it might simplify and clarify things for everyone.

    1. Anonymous, Absolutely brilliant comment! Yes, that is what I feel. Well, not that academic philosophy should be dissolved. Nor that the people at the top don't care. As with anything, my sense is that some people at the top don't care (are happy with the feudal structure), some care a little more, and some care very much. But the question is, which you capture really well: what does an ideal academic philosophy profession look like? Do we even have a possible, viable answer to this question?

      One thought, which is the fantasy thought, is: lets make the top open to everyone, and we are doing it! This might work in terms of letting any one come to be in the top structures. But what about all the people who nonetheless don't, and can't get in, since the top structures depend on the lower-tier structures, and want people to be down there as well? Without putting anyone down, my sense is that in the top departments (by which I mean, the most financially well off ones), there is a kind of strange attitude that somehow the hierarchy and egalitarianness have been magically combined. But how can that be, especially given, as you so well put it, academic philosophy is embedded within broader academic structures which are more and more becoming a part of our overall cultural structures? I don't know the answer to this. But it is a great question.

      Can I put your comment at the start of a new post? It raises such big and important questions that a new thread would be helpful, for anyone who wants to comment further on it.

  25. The #1 thing that will get you excluded from the in-crowd activities exemplified by Chalmers's photos is expressing disagreement with the prevailing opinions about identity issues in the profession and how to go about solving them. The #2 thing is expressing political opinions that don't toe a strict left-wing line.

  26. I think these issues could have been discussed without naming particular philosophers. I found this and your previous post disturbing on that score. It is not enough to say that the people in question need not read this. Your post is having an impact, and that impact is harmful to some of these people, simply because their lives intersected with yours. I hope that you reconsider this practice in the future, since I think you do have some interesting things to say about structural issues in the profession.

  27. I'm the same "Anonymous" whose comment you were thinking of posting at the start of a new post. (I should have used a name, I guess.) Please post it if you like. I'd be honored.

    1. Great, thanks. I don't think you need to have used your name. I will use some generic name like "Commentator N" to refer to you in the post; if you prefer something else, you can email me or let me know here. Though I have been suggesting that sometimes it would good for philosophers, especially if they are well known, to speak out in their name, I understand the importance of anonymity or using psuedonyms.

  28. what I noticed from your post is that you attended Harvard University?
    it is not a joke this. maybe you have a period of being lost, of sorting things out in your mind and how you see philosophy and why you wanted to do philosophy in the first place. it is about you and philosophy before being about you and the rest from academia.
    can you consider getting back to academia? would it be possible for you?
    I just think that someone who attended Harvard university needs more persuasion from these well known teachers ( jason stanley, OMG, david chalmers, another God ) to get you back in academia.
    it is not a joke this. if they are more mature, as being older than you, they CLEARLY can see the situation better than you.
    you might regret the decision after a while outside academia.
    can you please think about why you got into philosophy in the first place and what you wanted to achieve with it, and let aside the not so nice people ( I am being polite now ) that there might be in academia?
    it shocks me to see someone who attended Harvard univeristy, knows jason stanley and who leaves academia. WHAT IS THIS?
    it's nonsense.
    the others from lower universities should just loose all hope.

  29. regarding chalmers pictures.
    if he could precisely answer why he stopped posting pictures on his website, I would appreciate it. what exactly determined him to stop posting pictures.

    I also believe that his pictures reflects precisely what he likes, who he likes, its about him, and also, who knows best how to make chalmers like him. right or not?
    I would not consider this the ultimate test for anybody as a philosopher. if you do not appear in chalmers pictures, you are not in.
    nonethless, what is worrying is that chalmers is highly influential and whatever he does, whoever he picks, its good.
    i would not know how to solve this.

  30. Actually, I want to ask directly Jason Stanley and David Chalmers this question:

    dont you think it is absurd for someone who attended Harvard university to leave academia?
    is it just me that i see it as absurd?
    why on earth is he leaving if he was able to attend such a high profile university?
    what do you do about people like him who decide to leave academia?
    can they get back after a while?
    what if they change their mind after a while?
    what happens then?
    what are the chances of getting back?
    are they well aware of what it means to work outside academia? what if they encounter worser situations?
    how can let someone who is attending Harvard university just leave like this and who is posting on his blog his concerns about what is hapenning in academia?
    how many like him are needed until everybody wakes up?

    I am sorry, but from where I come from, if you hear Harvard, you think WOW.

  31. I think most of you people writing here - and many of the people you're writing about - simply don't understand, emotionally, social interaction; it is going to proceed in a certain unsophisticated, non-thoughtful way due to our evolutionary roots. Most of social interaction, after all, is what is called 'vibing,' i.e., non-logical verbalizing. The problem is that you are trying to erase this 'vibing' and replace it with profundity and egalitarianism. Nope. Won't happen - so long as we are animals with deeply ingrained evolutionary pressures making us act in certain status-raising and lowering actions when in tribal groups.