Anonymous defenders of Colin McGinn don't care for feminism, apparently.

Jul 15 2013 Published by under Academia, Philosophy, Women and science

I do not know what it is about the train wreck of a comment thread on this post at the Philosophy Smoker that has rendered me unable to close the browser tab.

In addition to about 500% of the recommended daily allowance of Colin McGinn apologist nonsense (the build-up of which in one's organs cannot be good -- and sadly, the apologia is only sparingly soluble in ethanol) and the persistent difficulty in distinguishing continuing participants in the conversation from drive-by commenters (since the majority of the 200+ comments there are posted under the name "Anonymous"), it turns out there are people posting who have some issues with feminism.

Of course, it could just be one person (posting as "Anonymous") who has the issues, but in a discipline 80% of whose practitioners are male, that strikes me as unlikely … especially given what I've observed of philosophers in situ.

A selection from the comments (all bold emphasis added):

Anonymous:

One thing I have to say about this discussion.

One wonders if feminism as an ideology has not had a profoundly corrupting effect on a basic sense of fairness, respect for due process, and even rational thought.



For all we know, McGinn may have behaved horribly, but, for all we know, he may have behaved more or less tolerably. I don't see how, on the facts we can really ascertain, we can plunk down in either position, or anywhere between.



I see very few people defending McGinn, or attacking the student, on the belief that they know somehow that McGinn must be telling the truth. I see a large number of people attacking McGinn, or defending the student, on the belief that somehow McGinn simply must be lying, and the student (or her champions) in no way distorting the truth. On the pretty fair assumption that virtually all of the latter would describe themselves as feminists, that would seem to be quite an indictment of the capacity for fairness of many feminists.

The only question that seems to concern these feminists is: who benefits? And it must be a woman who benefits.



Frankly, I would find it very scary to find these people on any jury, no matter the case. I'd feel far more confident with random people on the street.

Anonymous:

The rhetoric and chest-thumping of those who are convinced of CM's guilt is, in the details, backed by far less conclusive justification than the chest-thumpers would have us believe. None of that is incompatible with also believing there are reasons to doubt the conclusiveness of CM's side of the story (seriously, who ever said they thought his version was beyond dispute?). And for what it's worth, I myself agree with 9:19's remarks: the better part of valor in this would have been for CM to admit outright that things got out of hand (harhar!) and proceed to defend himself from that more humble perspective.



"It's all very revealing, I must say."



Indeed it is. Having a conversation with a feminist about a political issue is often like trying to put a dress on a pig. Nothing is gained from it and everybody gets dirty in the process. Still, it can be fun to roll around with a pig every now and again, so long as you don't mind getting a bit filthy.

Anonymous:

"These things happen all the time. Less frequently, men are falsely accused of harassment."



The accuser is hardly the victim her enablers have made her out to be. If McGinn's version of events is, as to the facts, accurate, then Thomasson and the accuser's boyfriend are as culpable in this as is the accuser. But the point is, none of us has enough information to tell one way or another whether McGinn or the accuser and her enablers are in the wrong. Pretending otherwise, and gussying it up with "all the time" remarks about women as victims, only makes the feminist contingent look that much more hysterical.



"Your closing remarks about feminists are unfortunate. It's a bit ironic that you should resort to pig metaphors in this context, when the preponderance of evidence (including, again, McGinn's aggressive posture) point to there being only one real pig in this story."



Please try to understand: to many of us it's the groupthink-fueled feminists that come off as the pigs in this.



As to McGinn's aggressive posture--put yourself into the position of someone who has been unjustly accused, faced the prospect of a drawn-out administrative inquest and the legal fees such an inquest would incur (these proceedings are not cheap, they are not quick, and only a fool would be without legal representation through them), and then had the accusation publicly distorted in a number of ways in a variety of professional venues. Personally, I would be quite a bit more livid. This grad student and her boyfriend are fucking adults. If McGinn is right that she failed an assignment and her victim mentality was enabled by a jealous boyfriend who has no problem distorting what was said between them, then the accuser and her boyfriend deserve what they are getting. Now of course it may be that McGinn is the sexual harasser his accuser and her enablers would have us believe. But that is, again, just to say that WE DO NOT KNOW ONE WAY OR THE OTHER. So the fact that McGinn is aggressively defending himself is in NO WAY sufficient to show that, because he has been accused, he is guilty of what he has been accused.



Seriously, basic canons of epistemic and moral fairness. I weep for feminism...thank God the young people I talk to seem to more and more understand that feminism, and the perverted mentalities it breeds, are not to be taken seriously. The beneficial effects of the practice of feminism are more and more being choked out by the intellectually indefensible and socially pernicious posturing of its privileged practitioners.

Anonymous:

Anonymous said...
"Sounds like you are assuming that they are feminists because of their incapacity to be fair. That is, it sounds like you already doubt feminists' ability to be objective and, having found some people who (in your opinion) are not being objective, your assumption about feminists has been confirmed because they must be feminists."



Really, do you seriously doubt that those who have failed to be objective -- almost entirely on the "feminist" side of the issue -- would not identify as feminists? Seriously?


I simply ask those who may be reading these comments to come to their own conclusions, based on what they have read here, and on what they already know to be true in the outside world of feminists and feminism.



If you disagree, then, fine, don't take my point. But if you think that my inference is reasonable enough, then I think my point stands.



In my view, if one wants to see just how corrupting feminism is, this case serves as excellent example.



A great deal of the evil done in this world, maybe most, is performed in the service of a cause that insists that it is only doing good.

Anonymous:

So the fact that they spent lots of time together, I am sure that sex talk and jokes were exchanged and unless she gave him signs to stop, why would he. She might have encouraged them. Notice that all we have heard from some people is that I have seen the emails in question. We haven't see all the emails and texts they sent back and forth. We know nothing about the relationship, and that's why I have to reserve judgement on McGinn's behavior. I might think he is a pompous asshole, but that doesn't make him a sexual harasser. Hell most good philosophers are pompous assholes. And that's one of the criticisms that feminists have about philosophy: all the pompous assholes.

There are a few things that jump out at me from these comments.

One is that the commenters railing about the corrupting influence of feminism on moral and epistemic fairness, on rationality, on the fabric of social interactions, et cetera, never actually bother to spell out what they mean by feminism. It's hard to discern whether the (potentially distinct) Anonymouses have amongst themselves a coherent view in mind that they are against.

Another is that their litmus test for being a feminist (and therefore an advancer of this corrosive-but-not-explicitly-defined ideology) seems to be that one believes it is likelier that Colin McGinn transgressed proper professional boundaries with the graduate research assistant to whom he sent the "handjob" email than that the graduate student in question is lying.

Interestingly, though, these Anonymous anti-feminists who believe themselves capable of exemplary rationality and objectivity in weighing the facts around the Colin McGinn case mount some pretty elaborate efforts to construct possible scenarios in which the facts in evidence exonerate McGinn and damn the graduate student. For all their lips service to "fairness," they seem to utterly reject interpretations of the facts that weigh against McGinn.

Pretty clearly, they believe the burden of proof rests with the accuser. While this may be an appropriate standard in a court of law or an official university inquiry into a professor's behavior, epistemically speaking there is no reason to stack the deck this way in our judgments of what is likely to have happened given the facts in evidence.

Indeed, to the extent that the commenters whose conclusions these Anonymouses don't like are acting like feminists, part of this surely consists in questioning why we must assume that a man cannot have harassed a woman if we lack overwhelming, airtight evidence that he did. It is not written in stone that good epistemology places the burden of proof with those arguing for P, rather than with those arguing for not-P. And, looking at one's preferences about where to place that burden of proof might reveal that one is not the paragon of objectivity one takes oneself to be.

Further, it may be the case that the evil feminists whose malign influence the Anonymice are trying to push back have legitimate empirical reasons for looking at the facts in evidence and judging a harass-y situation more likely rather than less. Perhaps rather than simply looking for possible worlds in which McGinn's behavior didn't cross any harass-y lines, the evil feminists have taken account of their own experiences and the experiences of other women in philosophy and are starting with different Bayesian prior probabilities. Possibly people who have first-hand experience with the kinds of harassment and sexism that happens in professional philosophy because they have been targets, or because they have been close enough to observe them first hand, know more about what's likely than people who profess to be unaware of harassment and sexism and who seem manifestly unable to come to grips with the possibility that a particular famous philosopher behaved as he was alleged to have behaved.

Finally, a word on the sadness expressed by at least one voice in the Anonymous chorus that feminists are trying to drive the good philosophers out of philosophy (because "most good philosophers are pompous assholes"): I do not doubt that you are trying your level best to be a good philosopher, but I think you need a better handle on the necessary and sufficient conditions.

15 responses so far

  • Isabel says:

    "Anonymice" ha ha

    Seriously though, it really is amazing how much power feminists have, isn't it?

  • Janet D. Stemwedel says:

    The straining for possible worlds in which Colin McGinn is definitely innocent and his accuser is definitely guilty continues in another comment thread!

    And, if experience is any guide, ad infinitum.

  • Zuska says:

    Powerful feminists destroying good philosophers & philosophy. Skinny black teenagers & their Skittles posing deadly threats to grown men & their guns. It's like no one even respects white male supremacy anymore. At least we've got the whole colored people voting thing back under control. If only we could do something about that nagging 19th amendment. Just have to satisfy ourselves with policing reproduction & keeping the poor away from doctors, food, & housing.

  • Janet D. Stemwedel says:

    You know, I've heard a number of male colleagues say that they're certain McGinn's career in academic philosophy is over.

    It strikes me that this is in the same territory as white folks who were (last week) certain that George Zimmerman would be convicted of at least manslaughter.

  • [...] Stemwedel has some thoughts on reactions from haters of feminism, some of which she [...]

  • Rohit says:

    I think the attacks on feminism are unfortunate since the term "feminist" has far too many meanings. I personally know lots of nice feminists and a few not so nice non-feminists.

    But, I WOULD say that firing McGinn is too extreme a step. It would be more proper to ask him to take one month's unpaid leave or to refrain for five years from working with female students. America seems not to understand the whole concept of punishment fitting the crime - something which even the Mikado understood. If we decide that someone is guilty, we throw the book at him (it is usually a him) and don't ask if the punishment is reasonable.

    Punishment should be sufficiently severe to discourage others from doing the same thing. There is no earthly point in being vindictive.

    I am also concerned about a male student who went to Miami specifically to work with McGinn and now finds that the university has taken McGinn off his committee.

    Why is this student punished since he has done nothing wrong?

    • Janet D. Stemwedel says:

      @ Rohit,

      McGinn wasn't fired. He resigned, apparently in order to halt the university's investigation into his conduct.

      Among other things, this suggests that students who came to Miami to work with McGinn and now can't ought to take it up with McGinn.

      • Rohit says:

        I agree. His resigning also troubles me. But we need to remember that a hearing and "trial" would have caused a great deal embarrassment to his wife and children. Was that a factor? I don't know. Not every wife is a Huma Abedin.

      • Rohit says:

        "ought to take it up with McGinn." seems a little cruel. If McGinn cannot help these students BECAUSE he has been deprived of the power to help them then asking them to take it up with him sounds like a cruel joke.

        Maybe the student could go to McGinn and punch him - was that what you had in mind by "take it up with him"? But how would that help the student's career?

        • Janet D. Stemwedel says:

          @ Rohit,

          McGinn deprived himself of the power to help these students, by resigning -- not that it's clear that having McGinn on one's committee would actually be much of a "help" to a philosophy student at this point in time.

          • rohit says:

            I would love it if there were a committee appointed by the APA or the AAUP to look into such issues.

            Of course, there should be a feminist on the committee. It would be good if there is also someone who represents the larger community of (male) philosophers who may want to make sure that one of their colleagues is not railroaded.

            I do think that McGinn has behaved badly. I also think that his punishment is out of proportion. Pinker, cited today in the NY Times seems to have the same view. But in any case it is important that all sides to this dispute, or to some future dispute be heard.

            Ultimately we want philosophy to be friendly to everyone and a student should not have to live in fear of sexual harassment. At the same time, faculty should not have to live in fear of unfair accusations.

          • Janet D. Stemwedel says:

            @ Rohit,

            I find it telling that you contrast feminists with the "larger community of (male) philosophers". Maybe you should think about the assumptions your framing reflects.

            Also, again, can you admit that the "punishment", such as it is, was something McGinn chose -- his own resignation -- rather than a penalty meted out at the end of a process that was allowed to run its course?

  • Let me give you the point of view of a seventy-six year old primary care medical provider. My favorite times during my pre-med days in the 1950's were those when I could add a Philosophy course to my schedule. After retiring The Teaching Copmpany courses on Philosophy had become available and I watched seventeen of them with immense pleasure.
    I read Colin McGinn's contributions to the New York Review of Books. He writes in an aggressive manner and, is sometimes given to sophistry. (Read him closely). Nevertheless, it is fun to read him and he has a wider audience than most of his contenporaries.
    We are going through a period of Feminist National Frenzy. It began at about the same time as the Third Great Evangelical Awakening, another unfortunate episode which is now on the wane.

    • Janet D. Stemwedel says:

      @ Mike Murray MD:

      What's your point here, exactly? That people whose writing you enjoy should get a free pass when it comes to harassing students or colleagues? That women in male-dominated fields should shut up rather than arguing to be treated as fully human colleagues worthy of the same respect that males in their fields take for granted?

      Seriously, spell it out for us.

  • keogh says:

    it's a pity stereotypes, and political stances work the way they do, otherwise we'd most likely be able to look at people as people first, with exception to ethical differences and personality problems......people should be less complicated the world would be so much easier

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