Saturday, April 29, 2006

Sharp Knives and Klutzy Girls

Sorry for the lack of posts. I was working on my manuscript since I have so little time left before the end of my sabbatical. And, then, last night, I cut my finger deeply with my new Wusthof paring knife. My mom convinced me to buy these fancy knives last Wednesday, and so I invited people over for dinner last night. I was going to make a bunch of paninis with my new panini grill (x-mas gift). Anyway, while cutting the Muenster cheese with my uber sharp Wusthof, I sliced right into my index finger and was bleeding profusely for 2 hours before admitting that I had to go to the E.R. room. I kept thinking it would stop. And, I had guests over.

But, the bleeding didn't stop and so Za had to drive me to the E.R. room on a friday night, hence we waited for hours to get in. I felt like a Desperate Housewife, sitting there with my bleeding index finger, dressed in pink and surrounded by people with serious health issues. It was ridiculous. We got back home at midnight, and my adorable guests had stayed to see how it turned out. I was so exhausted and the novacaine was wearing off that I fell asleep almost immediately.

When I woke up, I realized typing was basically a nightmare. So, I am not sure how regularly I will be able to post until the stitches are out (I got 4!).

So, feel free to browse the archives . . .

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Rethinking Feminism Series: Words

My first foray into sharing my reflections on how feminism needs to change to stay relevant and efficacious politically generated interesting comments. On the whole I think that much of what I said resonated with readers. However, my post certainly rubbed one reader the wrong way at The Reaction. I think that Marc (the formerly disgruntled reader) and I had a productive exchange over my post. What set him off was what he perceived to be my tone: a slumming, self-loathing, middle-class white woman. I found his reaction to be interesting, particularly because it was a perfect example of what my colleague SteveG means when he said in his post: "white guilt has a short shelf life."

I thought this was a good place to start my post today. In a post I wrote to criticize current feminist activists for failing to update their message and their paradigms so that our message might resonate with more people, particularly men, I pissed off exactly the kind of male I want to attract. I think that Marc might agree with me when I say that his irritation at my post came from preconceptions of what feminist arguments about "privilege" are. Upon rereading my post he decided that perhaps I had made good points and he even accepted my explanation of what I mean by privilege. So, this story had a good ending, but it perfectly illustrates how grating feminist arguments are to fellow liberals. I don't think that I am making the arguments that Marc thought I was. Nor do I think that my message is a major deviation from what feminists are doing now. But, where the communication breaks down is over words.

Unfortunately, I think that feminism needs a serious PR job. Many of the amazing writers our there in the femosphere are doing that work. But, we clearly have a long way to go. No matter how nuanced our arguments, no matter how reasonable our arguments, no matter how conciliatory we are toward our interlocutors, a few words--in this case, "feminism" and "white privilege"--had the effect of turning off and tuning out a reader. I could respond to this by picking on Marc for being narrow-minded, hostile to feminism, misogynistic, or in denial about his white privilege. But, to what end? I see this kind of total communication break down happen all the time in the classroom, among colleagues, or in conversations over beers. The minute a feminist opens her mouth and uses any of the language of early feminist theory--"patriarchy" or "misogyny" pretty soon someone at the table is going to roll their eyes or get pissed off. This is not what I consider to be effective political activism.

The shock and awe approach of feminism will only shore up our base, but it won't do anything to make real changes in our institutions. In fact, much of the "politically correct" analyses of my undergraduate and graduate school years have resulted in very little significant material change in the world. I know that sounds harsh, and I wouldn't be surprised if I ticked off more than one feminist reader, but it's true.

I became active in NOW this past year. I organized a local chapter and got lots of women at the meeting, ready to do something to make a difference in our county. Early on a member pointed out to me that we could really benefit from trying to change our message and our image to break through the entrenched and stultifying images of bra-burners, man-haters and baby-killers. She was and is right. While my chapter is still going and many members are passionately commited, I found myself getting pissed off regularly with the state and national leadership. During the Roberts hearing, I was called up at one point and told that I should take my chapter back to D.C. to get Senator Specter to talk to me, and if he wouldn't get arrested. I understood that it was a "media strategy," but from my standpoint it was a strategy that was not only logistically impossible (some of us had already taken off work to lobby) but it was destined to make us look like lunatics. I was outside the Senate buildings during the Roberts hearing. There were not a whole lot of us. In fact, we were woefully outnumbered by Roberts supporters. The media wanted to get any of us NOW folks to make some stupid statement so as to further sink our cause. We weren't going to win that one; I knew from that experience we weren't going to win the Alito cause either.

We aren't effective politically because we tend to play right into the worst stereotypes promulgated out there by right wingnuts and the MSM. We have not had enough foresight and cunning to craft a clever, enticing and powerful message. Our rhetoric simply does not resonate with many women or men anymore (although I think the "every woman is a working woman" campaign is good stuff). To start making change happen in our communities, to actually fight back the feminist backlash, we are going to have to use different words.

When I was first interviewed on TV and the radio (when the chapter was starting up), inevitably I would get the question: "how will your liberal message reach people in this conservative county"? I also had a few interviewers ask me if we were getting funded by National NOW (ha, ha, ha!). My response was always: "NOW is a MAINSTREAM organization. Everyone is loves, is related to, or was cared for by a woman. What NOW wants is to help families be able to cope with the changing economy: more pressure on both parents to work, lower wages, unaffordable daycare and healthcare etc." This approach almost always baffled my interviewers. They didn't know what to do with me. My co-President would also note that we were the National Organization FOR Women, not OF Women, hence men were welcomed to join.

The reason that we baffled the media was because they couldn't figure out why, exactly, we called ourselves feminists, given our mission. That was when I really got it; we are fighting an uphill battle. So, I spend hours and hours of time that should go toward sleeping thinking about how to cut through the stereotypes, the "gut reactions" that are not so positive, and get our message heard.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Every Mother is a Working Mother

NOW has started a new campaign, galvanized by Kim Gandy's appearance on Good Morning America in order to defuse the media-made "mommy wars." To sign the petition go here.

Please join NOW in supporting mothers and caregivers by adding your name to the petition encouraging real family values through public policies and workplace benefits that recognize and promote the value and work of caregiving and caregivers. Your signature will be added to the thousands of others from across the country and will be included as we deliver this petition to policy makers and employers when the time is appropriate.


Not so good . . .Time for Bolten to roll out the uber-conservative, bolster-the-base 5-point plan.

BOLTEN'S 5 POINT WHITE HOUSE "RECOVERY PLAN": ...The musical chairs is just the first of a two-act makeover. Friends and colleagues of [Josh] Bolten told TIME about an informal, five-point "recovery plan" for Bush that is aimed at pushing him up slightly in opinion polls and reassuring Republican activists, whose disaffection could cost him dearly in November. The White House has no visions of expanding the G.O.P.'s position in the midterms; the mission is just to hold on to control of Congress by playing to the base. Here is the Bolten plan: 1 DEPLOY GUNS AND BADGES; 2 MAKE WALL STREET HAPPY; 3 BRAG MORE; 4 RECLAIM SECURITY CREDIBILITY; 5 COURT THE PRESS. TIME: Can The New Sheriff Tame The West Wing?external link

Monday, April 24, 2006

Rethinking Feminism Series: Poverty and Healthcare

I imagine that over the next few weeks I will be exploring what I think are the challenges for feminists in this new century. This past year I have devoted a lot of time to rethinking not only what feminists need to do politically, but also how Women's Studies programs need to change to remain relevant to this generation of students we are teaching. I don't yet have a plan for how I will be addressing these issues in my posts, but today I will focus on health care, reproductive rights, and poverty

A month ago, I decided to transfer all of my OBGYN care to Planned Parenthood. I want Planned Parenthood to get my money and continue to stay in business in this small county, and so I gave up some of my privilege to basically attend a free clinic to get my yearly exams and birth control. I am not going to pretend that this has been an easy decision, or that I don’t consider switching back to the clean, sparkling, and less crowded office of my old gynecologist. Sitting in the waiting room of Planned Parenthood, when you have never had to spend time in such a setting for health care, is unsettling. I had an appointment at 4, and didn’t get into see the nurse practitioner until 6. Furthermore, the waiting room is rather dingy, with dilapidated furniture, low lighting, and packed with all the residents in my county that I would never have occasion to meet, talk to, or spend time with. Planned Parenthood is one of the most popular providers to the migrant population here. They do not perform any abortions at our clinic site, but rather spend a lot of time offering affordable health care to men and women in Adams County. Half of the patients sitting with me in the waiting room spoke no English, a third were young girls who already had children or feared they were pregnant, and the last third were men.

I sat in my chair, listening to the conversations around me, mainly teenage girls with dead-end jobs, and two children, talking about their loser boyfriends who drank too much and didn’t help out with the kids. These young women were the age of many of my students, but clearly were never encouraged to attend college, especially the private college where I teach. These women were poor: they were raised in poverty and likely to continue the cycle. They had probably dropped out of high school once they got pregnant, and were now likely to raise their kids in the same environment they grew up in. Almost all of these young women were church going folk, and none of them were self-proclaimed feminists. They were at Planned Parenthood because that was the only health care provider they could afford. Moreover, they were likely to be treated with some dignity there. At least two young women, perhaps students at my college, came in to get birth control and the difference between them and these young mothers was stark. In fact, these young mothers shot angry glances at the well dressed, blonde, bejeweled, young, college women coming in for pills, especially when one was sweetly playing with one mother's little boy.

When I finally got in to see the nurse practitioner, the first question she asked me was why I was coming here to get my pap smear. “For solidarity,” I said. She lit up, patted my back, and then proceeded with my exam. She apologized for the wait, and I dismissed it as no big deal. Of course, I hated it, but I was trying to consciously question my economic and race privilege and thereby force myself to live what I teach my students. I ask my students to work in agencies like Planned Parenthood, with this population of local residents almost every year, and yet, I don’t put myself in the same situation I ask my students to be in. So, this was “putting my money where my mouth is.” The health care, however, was excellent. Having a feminist nurse practitioner talk to me about the negative reactions I might have to the form of birth control I use (the Nuva-Ring) was amazing. No other doctor had taken the time to go over all of these issues with me in such detail before. She was also human; she seemed interested in my life, my goals, and my health. While my other gynecologist was efficient and had a pristine office setting, he had never talked to me for more than 5 minutes before.

I have chewed on this experience for over a month, and wanted to write about it to start thinking more about what I think should be the priority issues for feminists in this day and age. And, while having the right to control one’s fertility is paramount, I also think that we should be striving in general for better health care information and access for all of our citizens. While I have participated in or read numerous debates on health care all over the blogosphere, at dinner parties, or with my students, nothing will ever bring this point home to you until you put yourself in the same situation as the poor in our country. If you are someone who argues that we should set up “medical savings accounts” or that we should pass more of the cost of insurance onto the “consumer” rather than the employer, then sit for a few hours in a clinic or hospital E.R. room and pay attention to the kind of health care available to the poor in this country. You don’t have to go to Guatemala on a church missionary trip or volunteer with Doctors Without Borders to see what crushing poverty does to the self-esteem and thereby future life chances of people. That kind of crushing poverty is right here in our communities.

Young girls and boys grow up without any well care visits, without the nutrition they need, and for certain, without any knowledge of their bodies. If you add on top of that school programs, targeting precisely this population—which is lower income White, African-American, Latino, and around here a Russian immigrants—with the misinformation of abstinence only programs, you are guaranteeing an even harder life for these folks. Rather than being treated with the same dignity that many of us can expect due to health insurance, middle class income, and white privilege, these young children grow up being reminded daily that no one cares about them: whether that be their neighbors, their government, their educators, their physicians (if they even have any), or their employers. Just sitting in a depressing waiting room of a health clinic (let me note, however, that thanks to Kate Michelman, Planned Parenthood does a reasonably good job creating settings that enable their patients to feel they are being treated with dignity more than other clinic providers) gives you a sense of what these children grow up expecting about how life is, how others will treat them, and what they deserve. It doesn’t look good.

Sure, I am bound to get some comments in my thread here, and perhaps from some of my former students, who will give me a lecture on “personal responsibility.” Fine, you know what, I support and embrace “personal responsibility” too. But, where I part company with many of the personal responsibility crowd is that I recognize that much of what we have, who we are, and where we are going has been the product of others who have invested in us, cared about us, and given us the opportunity to see a bright future. While I could go on and on judging these young women for getting pregnant so young, or the young men who irresponsibly impregnated them, and for all of them giving up on a better future, what exactly would I be accomplishing? The fact is that these young women and young men need our attention, our resources, and a sense that we give a damn about them as much as we do children born to the kind of privilege that I was born into. Yes, ultimately, we are the product of many choices that we made. But, to make good choices in life, you need good information, you need to be given a sense that you matter or that you have value. Churches are certainly places well equipped to do the latter work. And, thank goodness many churches do actually fulfill Jesus’ mission to care for the poorest among us. But many other “Christians” in this day and age would rather blame the victim, and deny them the help they need, justifying this behavior by calling these young people “sinners” or “wicked.” Certainly this rhetoric is a helpful way to blind us from our own complicity in their poverty.

I started this with the intention of tying this into what I think the future of feminism should look like. And, my bottom line here is that feminists need to care about poverty (and believe me, I know that many of us do). They don’t just need to care about poor women, or the poor women who have had to degrade themselves by becoming “exotic dancers” or who have been raped or molested. Certainly we do need to care about these women. But, we need to reach out and work with those who we might have dismissed in the past as “the patriarchy” or “conservatives” to fight the poverty that is right in our backyards and likely to turn our “1st World Nation” into a populace that is simply not literate enough to maintain a democracy. We need to invest in all of our citizens, and fight the labels, rhetoric, and bigotry that justify our continued mistreatment of the poor. Perhaps more of us need to give up some of our privileges in order to ensure that more of us get the basics. We need to be open to all solutions for getting good health care to every citizen, and not allow partisan bickering to divide us. I know that we can transcend politics, especially if we start in our local communities.

The risk here for many feminists is that we would be neglecting the specific agenda already laid out. But, I am sorry, I just don’t believe that feminist politics—whether we are talking about NOW or Feminist Majority—are going to be effective until they give up the old paradigms, and the old political rhetoric, and start attracting more men and women to participate in their activism. We may need to rethink how we sell our message, what we call ourselves in the public realm, and how we frame our issues. If we don’t do this, we are simply inefficacious. We are sacrificing good works, for purity of message.

Cross-Posted at The Reaction

The Government and Your Eggs

Check out this nice piece of satire over at YouTube: Your Body and Your Government.

Hat Tip: Bitch Ph.D.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Carnival of Feminists XIII

I See Invisible People has hosted the 13th Carnival of Feminists. Always worth the read. The 14th Carnival of Feminists will be hosted at Women's Autonomy and Sexual Sovereignty. Submit your posts with this form.

I am So Sick of the Analytic-Continental Feud

Rather than doing some "real" research today, I found myself sucked into reading this post over at Crooked Timber. The more I read on, the more frustrated I became. In particular, it forced me to think about the nastiness that most of my Analytic professors and former graduate students heaped on me or anyone else interested in Continental Philosophy during grad school. (I could tell you stories!) I am a Continental philosopher and quite proud of it. I get unbelievably pissed off when I watch thinkers, whose work I would generally respect, dismiss the value of studying Continental philosophy.

Harry (from Crooked Timber) writes:

I have long been uneasy about the behaviour of analytical philosophers in the 1980’s and 1990’s, during which time the kind of ideas associated with Judith Butler and Jacques Derrida (names he mentions) had enormous influence within the humanities and social sciences. With some very honorable exceptions, my sense was that we kept our heads down, identified ourselves in some way with the hard sciences and mathematics, and allowed those ideas to do their worst; all the time maintaining a sense of our own superiority because we weren’t fooled by that nonsense.

While Harry doesn't do this in his post, many of his commentors go on to equate all Continental philosophy with Jacques Derrida, Judith Butler, or Jacques Lacan. This is a classic strawman argument, not to mention the piles of ad hominem attacks in the comment thread. Not all who have interest in or study Continental Philosophy are interested only in Post-modernism, Post-structuralism or Psychoanalytic thought. Continental Philosophy=Post '68 French thought. Moreover, there are plenty of folks like me, whose entire orientation toward philosophy was first inspired by reading thinkers like Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, or Simone de Beauvoir, who find these petty arguments perpetuated among Analytic philosophers to be tiring.

One of the things that has always bugged me the most is how Analytic philosophers often like to portray themselves as "victims" of the "Continental nonsense" of Butler and Derrida. They argue that this fashionable nonsense took over the humanities and infected graduate students with sophistical thinking. And yet, as a Continental philosopher, nothing could be clearer to me than the fact that Analytic Philosophy totally dominates the university. When you are on the job market as a Continentally trained thinker--especially after Leiter started his report--you are told straight up that you shouldn't even consider applying for jobs at ANY school where there is not a majority of faculty sympathetic to Continental thought. One of my good friends, who got an interview at Michigan (VERY Analytic program), actually stood up and left the interview after 20 minutes when it became clear that the interviewers were having more fun trying to demonstrate why his work on Habermas and Kant was just plain stupid.

In my graduate program, which was indeed Continental, all of us were REQUIRED to study Analytic philosophy and logic. All of us are qualified to teach these subjects and many of my former Continental philosophy grad buddies are the logic professors at the colleges where they landed. It's just ridiculous to me that Analytic philosophers think that Continental thinkers don't care about or understand rational arguments. I am fairly certain that none of my Analytic friends who studied at their hard-core Analytic programs were ever required to read any Continental thought, either from the 19th or 20th century. In fact, many of them probably got away with not reading a whole lot of the canon of philosophy outside of Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Locke and Kant. Whereas, I can say with confidence that I received a rather rigorous grounding in the history of philosophy from all of the Continental programs I attended.

What is also interesting, btw, is how often you find the Continental philosophers really drawing in undergraduate majors to continue to study philosophy in this day and age where the liberal arts in general seems rather devalued. My department of 5 professors at a small liberal arts college once boasted of having 100 majors, more than Penn State. And, I would dare to say that it was in part because three of us are Continental Philosophers who have used our training to raise questions of identity, moral responsibility, what makes for a meaningful life, what our obligation is to the Other, freedom, etc. Not one of my colleagues teaches a course in Derrida or Butler. While many of us might teach an essay once in awhile, we don't see the point of an undergraduate education in philosophy to train our students to understand one narrow strand of philosophical thought from 20th century France. I would say that our Continental training has influenced the kind of courses we design: The Ethics of Food, The Philosophy of Psychiatry, Human Rights, Gender and Identity, The Meaning of Work, The Many Meanings of Illness, etc. We teach really interesting courses that raise questions that many of our students want to think about. We also--all of us--care about careful arguments. None of us ever advocates teaching our students to be relativists or to see all philosophy as some kind of aesthetic dance with texts.

I am also fortunate to have learned a lot from my Analytic colleague, Steve G. I am grateful for the education he gave me, which stirred up my earlier love of science (I started in Chemistry). I spent some time doing a reading group in Geometry with him. He has helped me to be a better writer, while never telling me that my ideas were just plain "nonsense." I also had the opportunity to have my dissertation directed by a logician, who had studied with Alonzo Church. Again, I was never treated by him with the sort of haughty disdain that I see in the comments on Crooked Timber site. It is not inconceivable or impossible to imagine that Analytic philosophers might find something of value from us Continental types. The sub-specialty that I work in--the Philosophy of Psychiatry--is a perfect example of a discipline that is a real dialogue between Analytic and Continental thinkers. This is, in part, because many of the Psychiatrists were trained when people still read thinkers like Karl Jaspers. But also, it is because in their practice, existential questions are simply unavoidable. I cherish these productive exchanges and wish I could see more of them.

The fact is, that the Analytic takeover (you should read John McCumber (Time in the Ditch: American Philosophy and the McCarthy Era) of Philosophy departments has institutionalized a bitter feud between Continentals and Analytics. We are taught to disdain each other (sort of like the way you grow up hating Israelis if you are Palestinian or vice versa), which is rather unfortunate for any real productive and fruitful exchange that might be mutually beneficial in the ways I have been fortunate enough to experience. I am proud that Steve G and I have not pigeon-holed our students into "Continental" or "Analytic." They leave probably unaware of the distinction. Granted, most of our students don't go onto graduate school (Thank God!), the ones that do have gone off equally to Analytic and Continental programs.

I fear that this bitter feud will continue as long as Analytic philosophers see the importance of Philosophy to lie in a very technical, narrow, research program centered mostly on Philosophy of Language, Logic, or Philosophy of Science. I applaud that careful technical work, but it is not all that Philosophy has to offer. I think Philosophy and its commitment to teach students to be critical--if nothing else--has enormous benefits for almost anyone willing to take a course. Philosophy allows us to step back from the merely technical questions or pragmatic questions and look at the bigger picture. It gives us pause in an era that is flooded with too much information, and most of it really misleading or bad. I refuse to believe that the future of Philosophy lies in the methodological innovations that need not have any cultural relevance. Sure, advances in logic will be profoundly important. But, there are a great deal of questions that hopefully philosophers will think through that are not only culturally relevant, but that promise to transform many of our ideas about what it means to be human. Biotechnologies or Genetic Engineering, for example. We need to think about what these practices mean to our very notions of what a self is.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

I Am Thoroughly Confused by Feminism these Days

Guest Post by Libby

I think it happened slowly. First, my son was diagnosed with a debilitating life-long disorder which has upended my family. This caused me to reconsider much of what I'd worked on when he was a baby. I'd begun graduate school when he was six months old and finished just six months after his diagnosis. My scholarly interest was in women's studies and my master's focused on women's history. What I'd envisioned for myself was a return to teaching, some sort of career tangent writing about and studying women. Perhaps a PhD too. What I discovered about feminism, I liked. It was also simple: women should be treated equally. Of course, there are lots of shades of meaning in this over time, but the message has remained at least a constant underlying one no matter when mainstream feminism took it.

And then came the disorder, the TSS's, the behavior specialists, the juggling of babysitters. Essentially all of these various nannies with their varied functions. Now, the babysitters also serve as transportation for my other children, taking them to preschool and gymnastics and the library for storytime. Sometimes two are required at the same time. All of this so that I can work. It's very unfeminist (to coin a phrase) to question whether or not all of these extra people are truly necessary, but the question is relevant because for me, these people are necessary. In a rational sense, I understand this. But deep down is the nagging feeling that I should be home and that the sitters are being deprived of their own sense of self and my son is in need of me more than trained experts.

I'm sure what's under all of this is the same engineered guilt that working mothers are taught to have by books like The Mommy Wars and surely by Caitlin Flanagan's new book, To Hell with All That. The New York Times says:

What makes Flanagan's book original and vital is that she is a realist, willing to acknowledge the essential gray areas in too often polarized positions. As it stands, sensitivities are so attuned to the slightest insult of any one of women's myriad work-life choices that Flanagan's simplest observations — for example, when a woman works something is lost — are taken as an indictment of working women. Yet any working mother can see the truth in such a statement: time spent working = less time with children = something lost. What's appalling is that pointing this out raises such ire.

She does raise ire - her articles in the Atlantic Monthly regularly piss me off, in part because she's on to something there. She plays to my fear that my working takes something from my children and that, especially with my youngest's disorder, my working is selfish (and yet this is the same writer who confesses that the only way she could successfully be a stay-at-home mom was with a nanny!).

All of this is to say that I still feel ambivalent about mothers, both those who work and those who stay at home, but more so now than ever before. Are those who are at home subjugating their needs in exchange for the tediousness and drudgery of home? Or are they simply waiting for their children to leave the nest so they can pursue their own lives? Are those who work subjugating the needs of their families in exchange for their own satisfaction? What about women who *must* work?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Why Philosophy Is Likely to Make You More Ethical

Will asked in the comments to my post, "Why We Need More Philosophers," the following:

" I am interested in the comment someone made about law schools not making people ethical.

Do PHd programs make their graduates ethical? How about medical schools? Engineering schools? Business schools? How exactly do philosophy programs make their students ethical? Has anyone conducted any studies on that issue?"
I sort of apologized to Will for my post in the comments, but have now since thought a lot more about his question. I have no idea if anyone has done studies that determine whether students in business schools turn out more ethical than say engineering schools? But, I do know something about getting a Ph.D. and I do think it differs in some ways from professional schools. Before I continue, let me say that I don't think that getting a Ph.D. necessarily makes you a more ethical person. I saw plenty of unethical behavior during my grad school years done to students by professors, or among students, or among administrators to both faculty and students for me to make the naive claim that purusing a Ph.D. ensures you will be more ethical.

However, my post was about what I think is important about getting a Ph.D. in philosophy in particular. Now, interestingly, the kind of philosophy that I studied is universally undervalued by the mainstream philosophy programs in the United States. I studied Continental philosophy, which tends to tackle the more existential questions--the fuzzier questions--and does not necessarily rely on the same method or manner of argumentation taught by Analytic departments. Analytic philosophers tend to rely on the same rules of argument (avoiding fallacies, clarifying premises, justifying evidence, etc.). In fact, Analytic philosophers style themselves after scientists and therefore are much more conservative in their arguments, and take on narrow questions. Analytic philosophers certainly do consider ethical questions, but they approach them with the same method that they approach questions of set theory.

I have been fortunate to work with two very smart and affable Analytic philosophers while at Gettysburg: Hanno and Steve G. Both of them gave me another education in philosophy, one that emphasized a particular form of argument, even if they could never convince me to give up the content that interested me. I have decidely embraced much of what they both taught me about how to make arguments. I didn't really get this education in graduate school, hence honing these skills in my professional life is something that I welcome. And, I think that the method and rules of argument taught by Analytic philosophers do make you more ethical if you consistently use them.

The reason why these rules of argument make you more ethical is because they force you to admit when you don't know the answer, they force you to consider the strongest possible counter-arguments to your position, and to test and re-test the evidence that you use to make your argument. While you may play devil's advocate to another's position, the reason you do so is not to win with tricks and crappy arguments, but to strenghten your opponent's argument. Many philosophers do, unfortunately, resort to ad hominem attacks, or make strawman arguments out of their opposition. But, at least someone can call them on that and almost anyone in the community will agree that those tricks don't count as a good counterargument.

So, if your subject matter teaches you fair rules and a truth-seeking method by which to pursue answers to questions, then I think it makes you a more ethical person. However, anticipating counter-arguments, I should clarify what I mean by ethical. In this context, what I mean is that an education in Philosophy makes you (a) committed to truth-seeking and (b) teaches you how to be charitable, humble, and fair in the way you seek out truth. Philosophy also often encourages you to be a professional skeptic. Not everyone is happy to be a skeptic, but good philosophers are. Being a professional skeptic means that you are open to the possibility that you are wrong and that new evidence means you will need to radically rethink your position. That last skill requires a certain kind of psychological toughness.

In order to be the kind of person willing to reconsider your position, you need to be able to withstand tough criticisms that point to you being wrong. You need to see yourself as fallible, as likely to be committed to certain positions because for irrational reasons (read: no evidence), and susceptible to letting your emotional attachments cloud your judgments. It is no easy thing to be a person willing to consider that you are wrong. The danger is that your opponents will consider you "weak," a "flip-flopper," or "incompetent." These are the risks inherent in being the sort of person willing to reconsider his or her positions in the face of a better argument. Moreover, you need to be willing to do some tough emotional work once you realize that a position that you once passionately committed yourself to is wrong. That stuff is hard.

I have some experience with dealing with the latter this year. Specifically, I have confronted instances where my feminist positions turned out to be at odds with the facts on the ground. I have had to actually rethink some of my most basic intuitions of the world. This has been a rather demoralizing and stressful act. It has in fact put me in a state of crisis more than once as I reconsidered campus sexual misconduct policies, or the mommy wars, or the partiality of the law towards mothers vis-a-vis children. What has spurred my crisis are real experiences that forced me to question my earlier positions. Alot of people, philosophers or not, might not be willing to do this kind of emotional work. It's scary. It can leave you feeling rather unmoored. But, I believe that my commitment to being a philosopher is what impels me to have done this work; to keep it real.

Now, let me return to the issue of why getting a Ph.D. in general is quite different from getting a professional degree. I might be wrong here, and so comments are encouraged, but when one commits oneself to pursuing a Ph.D., one is generally commiting oneself to a life of inquiry and truth-seeking. Rarely does earning a Ph.D. ensure you future employment, future earnings, or happiness. In fact, many people who pursue Ph.D.s end up a lot less happier than people earning professional degrees. Part of the unhappiness comes from the type of emotional and intellectual labor entangled with the kind of questions and pursuits involved in a Ph.D. Some of it comes from the isolation one feels, often, from the rest of the world. The kind of things that get me fired up definitely are not even on the radar screen of most people (i.e., I spent the last two days reading solely about the issue of validity and reliability in psychiatric nosology). Lastly, (and this is not a researched claim) I think you have to be a bit mad to get a Ph.D. You have to have a single-minded focus and dogged commitment, usually to questions that no one but you cares about.

Recently, because I am in such debt (getting a Ph.D. is expensive too!), many family members and friends have encouraged me to go to law school. The idea is that I would earn more, I would be able to use my skills in ways that make an immediate difference, etc. I spent some time thinking seriously about this. But, at the end of the day, I realized that the one thing I have going for me with the Ph.D. in philosophy is that I am doing what I actually love. I care about the questions I am asking, I care about teaching students how to think better and argue better, and I care about truth-seeking in general. What is interesting is that doing what you love, what you care passionately about, does not always guarantee that you are happy. Odd, eh? I might be happier if I worked less, had less debt, could leave my work at work, or could better separate my work life from my personal life. But, I would not be following my passion.

Does following your passion make you more ethical? Obviously not. And, I come back to what the issue of what one is pursuing by pursuing a Ph.D. One is searching for the best answer, not the answer that one prefers to believe. And, not the answer that people will pay you to give. Maybe, that distinction is what might make a Ph.D. more likely to be ethical than say an M.B.A.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

I Love Public Libraries

After a harried morning, Za and I finally located wireless. It's totally pathetic how dependent both of us are on it. We drove out to our vacation spot, depended on the local cafe to juice us up, and the damn router was broken. There was an hour of panic. We wondered whether we would have to cut our vacation short (seriously!)

Then, we found a library with a signal. And, now I am just going to write a short entry on how great public libraries are. I am sitting in this lovely building, where you can get on a computer, take out a book, or rent movies and cds for free. It is one of our absolute best public resources. I don't take advantage of my public library like I ought to, mostly because I have access to a college library and I buy whatever else I might get from the library. But, being here makes me wonder why I don't get a library card.

More importantly, why doesn't everyone take advantage of this totally free resource? I suppose literacy is the problem. Others might also fail to see the return they can get from reading the newspaper everyday, or the periodicals, or flipping through books about how to rewire your home.

I just poked my head up and recognized that a lot more people are in here now than I realized. Pretty cool. Lots of kids too.

So, I am off to wander the stacks now and find something interesting to read. I will post more later when I think of something interesting to say . . .

Friday, April 14, 2006


Isn't that a mouthful? Anyway, Broadsheet put me on the trail to this article analyzing women and the world economy. While I found myself puzzled by the phrase "feminisation of the workforce,"I enjoyed this piece quite a bit.

Here's a nibble:

In poor countries too, the under-utilisation of women stunts economic growth. A study last year by the World Economic Forum found a clear correlation between sex equality (measured by economic participation, education, health and political empowerment) and GDP per head. Correlation does not prove the direction of causation. But other studies also suggest that inequality between the sexes harms long-term growth.

In particular, there is strong evidence that educating girls boosts prosperity. It is probably the single best investment that can be made in the developing world. Not only are better educated women more productive, but they raise healthier, better educated children. There is huge potential to raise income per head in developing countries, where fewer girls go to school than boys. More than two-thirds of the world's illiterate adults are women.

It is sometimes argued that it is shortsighted to get more women into paid employment. The more women go out to work, it is said, the fewer children there will be and the lower growth will be in the long run. Yet the facts suggest otherwise. Chart 3 shows that countries with high female labour participation rates, such as Sweden, tend to have higher fertility rates than Germany, Italy and Japan, where fewer women work. Indeed, the decline in fertility has been greatest in several countries where female employment is low.

It seems that if higher female labour participation is supported by the right policies, it need not reduce fertility. To make full use of their national pools of female talent, governments need to remove obstacles that make it hard for women to combine work with having children. This may mean offering parental leave and child care, allowing more flexible working hours, and reforming tax and social-security systems that create disincentives for women to work.

Countries in which more women have stayed at home, namely Germany, Japan and Italy, offer less support for working mothers. This means that fewer women take or look for jobs; but it also means lower birth rates because women postpone childbearing. Japan, for example, offers little support for working mothers: only 13% of children under three attend day-care centres, compared with 54% in America and 34% in Britain.

Despite the increased economic importance of women, they could become more important still: more of them could join the labour market and more could make full use of their skills and qualifications. This would provide a sounder base for long-term growth. It would help to finance rich countries' welfare states as populations age and it would boost incomes in the developing world. However, if women are to get out and power the global economy, it is surely only fair that men should at last do more of the housework.

Girl Power and Antidepressants: We Need You for Research

If there are any young women out there who are between 18-30, who read my blog, and who would like to participate in a very interesting research project: keep reading. Delanie Woodlock, a Ph.D. candidate at Monash University, Australia, is writing a dissertation entitled: "Why So Sad? Antidepressants and The Girl Power Generation." The title alone is intriguing for this melancholic feminista, always on the look out for how Prozac is winding its way into discourses on female identity.

Here is Delanie's invitation to participate in her study:


I am a PhD student at Monash University, Australia. I am conducting research with young women, aged 18-30 years, who have been prescribed antidepressant
medication for three months or longer. The research will be in the form of an online survey that will take about an hour to complete. This research will ask you
general questions about your experiences of antidepressant medication and also cover experiences of mental illness. There will also be questions that ask about your experiences of being a young woman. The survey is designed for women in Australia, but women from any country are welcome to participate. If you are interested in this survey please go to for more information.

Thank you,
Delanie Woodlock

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Why We Need More Philosophers: A Service Announcement

I don't think Philosophy departments are booming these days in Academia. I doubt that colleges and Universities are trying to create more lines and expand their philosophy programs. But they should.

I had to tangle with an attorney yesterday. Our goals were so wholly different that I had to just walk out of the room. While I was interested in truth-seeking, fairness, and ethical behavior, she was interested in figuring out (a) either how to discredit me or (b) convince me that the practices I objected to could be defended by case law.

At this point, I asked her what her real goals were in having a conversation with me. While I can argue like the best of them, and spot bad arguments, and fallacies, I was hoping that the two of us could have a real conversation. I asked her if she was interested in seeking the truth or figuring out what she could get away with legally.

To this, she smugly replied: those two goals are not distinct. I was astounded by this comment. Prior to making this comment, she had pulled out every possible crappy trick in the book of poor argument. She threw up red herrings, she tried to make strawmans out of my statements, she engaged in quite a bit of non-sequitor, and relied on innuendo. The experience left me with two main insights. First, whatever the practice of law is, it has nothing to do with justice or truth. Secondly, I was offended as a Philosophy professor to be confronted with this kind of nonsense argumentation.

To all my current, former, or future students who read this blog, do not allow yourself to win this way. If you do, then you have wasted your gifts, your intelligence, and the valuable skills you learned from Philosophy. If you want to make money being a sophist, then please be upfront that you are knowingly throwing out all the skills we taught you.

We are an era of shills and sophists. Rarely do I enter into a discussion with someone--outside of my colleagues, Za, or my friends--who is actually interested in a real debate. My colleague Steve, from Philosopher's Playground, is currently writing a book about the degraded state of moral debates. I hope his book gets published and as many people as possible read it. I am sick of debates with people who simply want to win by hitting below the belt, bending all rules of logic, and using intimidation.

Without the ability to actually debate, substantively, and by following rules of argument and committing ourselves to truth-seeking, then our precious liberty and democracy are worthless. What is legal is certainly not, in many cases, what is right. Moreover, what is legal, is often at odds with telling the truth. Lawyers who have lied to themselves in order to believe that if they can defend their client's practices as legal, then they are honest and ethical people deeply disturb me. I know there are some good lawyers out there. And, I also know that a great many lawyers play this game of sophistry for a greater good.

But, man, life is too short. And, while my love of Socrates and my belief that I should actually live what I teach might is quaint, so be it. If you read this entry, and you are as tired of the lies and posturing as I am--either in your workplace, your campus, or among our elected officials--then take a philosophy course. Sure, probably no one will listen to you right away, but at least you will have done something good for your soul. And, yes, more and more I like the word soul, if for no other reason that I believe it gives us a way to think about our actions, our thoughts, and our beliefs as molding the person we are. We become what we think, how we act, and what we believe. So, take a philosophy class, and ask yourself: "why do I believe what I believe? " "What matters most in my life? " "What value does truth have?" "How do I know when something is true?"

If nothing else, you might be able to sleep better at night.

UPDATE: The Happy Feminist has an interesting post on the presumption of innocence and guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Inventing Diseases? Why Would Big Pharma Do That?

Majikthise alerted me to this BBC article. This is one of those newspaper articles where I shake my head and say "duh." But, then I remember that what is perfectly obvious to me, in part because so much of my research hinges on this, is news to most people. In fact, what often prevents me from writing is thinking that what I have to say is just plain trivial. Let this article be a reminder that it is worthwhile to point out what is obvious to me regularly.

Anyone who watches TV and the thousands of Big Pharma ads parading in front of them, and doesn't realize that they are hoodwinking you to think that "problems of living" are diseases, needs to put on his or her thinking cap. Where does Big Pharma put their dollars, you ask: marketing drugs that solve problems resulting (a) either from overindulgent American habits or (b) drugs that enhance ones personality or looks.

Now, to fully unmask my identity, here is a review I wrote over at Metapsychology of a book called the Merck Druggernaut. You should also check out my review of David Healy's book, Let Them Eat Prozac.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Melancholy Monday: How to Lose

Today has turned melancholy for me, despite the beautiful weather. I found myself in a funk after a spotty day of writing. While I could rationalize and chalk my black mood to an unproductive day, or allergies, I think that the real source is a slow realization I have been coming to the last few days. I am confronting my ineptitude to deal with death, loss, and evil. I can't believe I actually wrote the word evil, because I would rather believe that evil doesn't exist. But, it does and I have to learn to deal with it.

This weekend, my oldest friend asked me why I hadn't become a cynic after all of the messed up things I have seen go down. I responded, perhaps too quickly, that I wouldn't be who I was if I did finally succumb to cynicism. But, her question has been bugging me for two days. My Dad loves to say that everyone has to learn how to live life on the life's terms, and everytime he says that I think my rational mind is keeping me real. But, it's not. I am perpetually deluded by the belief that I actually have magic powers to fight evil, right all wrongs, and protect my friends from suffering.

I don't.

I am watching a lot of my friends deal with real, painful suffering right now. Antheia's mother is dying. My friend Emma's mother lies in a coma after an aneurysm. Another friend is trying to outpace the jaws of the black dog. I can't take their suffering away. I am not even sure that I am doing a good job hearing them.

So, I can't help but put my philosophizing mind to work and wonder aloud if the failure to accept that the world is full of decay, death, suffering, trauma and evil deprives us of a part of our humanity? Is my stubborn persistence in fighting these dark forces keeping me from listening to, attending to, and witnessing my friends live through loss?

Protecting the Religious Freedom of Bigots

Now here is a puzzling legal and moral dilemma.

How do you balance the rights of people to be bigots with the rights of people not to be harmed by bigotry? I guess it is a matter of religious freedom to allow some evangelical Christians to practice bigotry against the LGBTQ community. I swear we will be embarrassed by these arguments against civil rights one day. While in my other post, I am debating whether or not abortionists use the same logic as racists, here I am reminded that homophobia really does. But, at least the evangelicals will demand that lesbian be has right to be born, even though they will totally reject and abandon her later. How do you reconcile these things? Do lesbian fetuses have more civil rights than full-grown adult lesbians?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Two Great Carnivals to for Your Sunday Reading Pleasure

(1) Blac(k)ademic is hosting the 3rd Radical Women of Color Carnival.

(2)Written Word is hosting the 12th Carnival of Feminists.

God Help Protect Us From Your Followers

I was eager to read today in the NYTimes magazine, Jack Hitt's piece, "Pro-Life Nation," on El Salvador and its draconian anti-abortion laws. The article is devastating. I sincerely hope that Hitt's piece winds its way through public discussions on the pro-life movement. We need to be clear-eyed about the consequences of criminalizing abortions. Abortions simply will not cease. What could happen, especially if South Dakota is the standard bearer, is that we will have an array of illegal abortions: "back-alley" abortions, online pharmacies selling RU486 or other pharmaceuticals rumored to enable an abortion, and of course rogue physicians willing to defy the laws or cheat the system.

I think it is important for people to dwell on cases, such as women who have ectopic pregnancies and the hospitals simply will not operate until the fetus dies. Or, how about the forensic vagina specialists who look for evidence of an abortion in order to sentence a woman to 30 years in prison. This is barbaric. If you ever had any doubts about the disengenousness of the "pro-life" movement, read this article. The goal is not to preserve life. The goal is to control female sexuality: to create shame, fear, and intimdation, particularly among poor women. I am also struck by the fact that our own policies, here in the supposedly civilized nation of the United States, are heading in the direction of El Salvador.

When I was in college, there was a horrific civil war in El Salvador. I was attending a Jesuit college, wherein we regularly participated in teach in and public debates about the U.S.'s role in training the death squads of El Salvador's military. The people leading these discussions were Jesuit priests, who embraced liberation theology. In those moments of my education, I was in awe of the courage and heroics of these priests. When I was a first year student, I had the pleasure of an older Jesuit priest living on my dorm floor. He was a man of great integrity and supported in every way our liberal politics, even our budding feminist awakenings.

Those priests, and the courage of liberation theologians, has been wiped out by the radically inhumane dogma of conservative Catholicism. I have no illusions that it is a fundamentally misogynist worldview, deeply frightened by female sexuality and determined to shame women into total submission. To grow up in that environment is unthinkable to me and I fear for the future generations born into this world.

Follow this link to an interview with Jack Hitt by Rachel Maddow from Air America.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Random Reads

Lots of great stuff out there lately, enjoy!

Climacteric Clambake posts a 3 part series on sexual assault entitled Strength Comes From Refusing to be Shamed.(Hat tip: Alas, a blog)

Jill at Feministe writes about how people often misunderstand anorexia

Take a look at “The Other Face of Domestic Violence”

John Stewart interviews John McCain proving that “sometimes fake journalists do their jobs better than real ones”—couldn’t agree more!!

Echidne of the Snakes weighs in on the Duke Rape Case.

Finally, Amanda at Pandagon writes on abortion and women's bodies.

Whistle Blowers and Moral Courage

It's been a long week and most of my free time has been tied up with thinking about the danger of institutions that operate without transparency. One of the worst things about working at job where many decisions are made behind closed doors and employees are kept out of the decision-making process is that you create a great deal of paranoia. When you don't know exactly what you're rights are, or when you discover one day (something that just happened to me) that your rights are essentially insignificant (which is the case at Private colleges), then it is easy to fear retaliation, be intimidated, and spend a lot of days in a panic. This is not going to be a post where I talk about any specifics, so I apologize to those readers who are dying for gossip on campus.

Instead, this is a post where I am meditating on the absolute necessity of democratic institutions, transparency and due process. I have never been as committed to these noble values as much as I am now. What I have learned this past year is how easy it is for all of us to give away power, albeit slowly and seemingly at little personal cost. You find yourself overworked and exhausted as it is. The time it would take to be active, responsible and attentive in governance--whether it be at your workplace, church, local or federal levels--is simply not there. When you decide you are angry enough or fed up enough to make a difference, and get involved, you start failing to meet the other zillion responsibilities you have. The only way to change institutions and purge the forces of fear and intimidation out of them (whether we are talking about Bush outing Wilson or corporations retaliating against whistleblowers) is to commit yourself to join together with fellow employees, citizens, or parishoneers to demand accountability.

What stops many people from doing the latter, sadly, is a kind of complacency with how things are now. Or, many of us choose to be sheep rather than stand up--even if at great cost to ourselves--and point out corruption. And yet, if we don't begin to fight the profound corruption and abuses of power in our institutions, we will wake up one day and find out it is too late to make a difference, short of a revolution. We will have given away all of our power.

I know this is a somber and perhaps slightly scary post. But, I think when you confront the ugliness of any institution trying to protect its power at the expense of fairness, transparency, and due process, then hopefully you will feel the same fire that's in my belly right now.

Every year I lecture my students on the importance of moral courage. I fear that what is far easier in our culture is to display acts of physicial violence. We think that the way to stand up to bullies is to act just like them and kick the shit out of them. But, if this is your response, then you just perpetuate the disgusting cycle. What we need are real heroes and sheores, who stand up, despite fear of retaliation, and expose corruption when they see it. We need people to tell the truth, even if they might risk all comfort and security. And, I am surprised by how rarely I encounter these men and women of moral courage. I think any of us who can step forward and model this really ought to for the sake of our future democracy.

UPDATE: I don't know how I missed this excellent post over at The Reaction: Liberalism Unbound. You should go read it right now!!

Friday, April 07, 2006


And the people say: A-men. Let's hear it for the United Church for Christ and National Council of Churches of Christ U.S.A.:

Recently, the Rev. Michael Livingston, the new president of the National Council of Churches of Christ U.S.A., told a meeting of representatives of the group's member churches, "Mainline Protestant and Orthodox churches have been pounded into irrelevancy by the media machine of a false religion; a political philosophy masquerading as gospel; an economic principle wrapped in religious rhetoric and painted red, white and blue. (my emphasis)"

Check out the NYT.

The Science of Plan B

PZ Myers has a very informative post on how Plan B works and shows why any claims that it is an abortion are simply wrong. Once again, the religious right operates on misinformation, lies,
and intimidation to control women's bodies.

You have just figured out what is called Plan B contraception. It is a form of birth control that tells the woman's ovaries to hold off on releasing any eggs for a short while. It's called emergency contraception, because it is used by a woman who has, for whatever reason (rape, a broken condom, misplaced enthusiasm, second thoughts, anything) had unwanted sperm in her reproductive tract, and she wants to make sure that this isn't the moment her ovaries happen to pop a follicle.

Plan B is not an abortion.

Plan B doesn't help if one is already pregnant, and it doesn't affect any implanted zygotes. Pregnant women produce progesterone naturally.

Plan B gives women the ability to control, to a limited extent, when they will expel a gamete. In purely reproductive terms, it's a bit like a male's ability to control when he will ejaculate, or expel his gametes. That's it. No fertilized zygotes are involved, so that level of the birth control debate isn't even relevant. It's simple, responsible, and safe. You'd have to be insane to object to Plan B.

So why are Republicans holding it up?

This is an issue on which we can completely ignore any assertion that life begins at fertilization (which I personally find absurd), because it's irrelevant: fertilization doesn't take place. No zygote, no fetus, no embryo, no babies. The claim that this argument is about the life of a baby is null and void, and the opposition to Plan B makes it glaringly, brilliantly clear that this isn't about the sanctity of life at all: it's all about controlling a woman's ovaries. She will not be allowed to tamper with the timing of ovulation.

The ugly intent of the right wing fundies is unmasked right here, with no phony piety to hide their goals. They want the power to regulate a woman's physiology against her will.

What contraceptive method do you use? If it's not abstinence, you ought to realize that these kooks will be after you, next.

Please direct any woman you know to Pharyngula's blog. It is absolutely imperative that women start to educate other women again about their bodies. And, we need to fight the wingnut strategy of keeping women uneducated so that they do not know basic facts about how their body works.

Hat Tip: Amanda at Pandagon.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

A Bit About Grief

Written by Antheia

I once read somewhere that the great Lucy Grealy only allowed herself to cry for 5 minutes a day. Grealy wrote one of the most breathtaking autobiographies I have ever read depicting her own physical and emotional suffering following the diagnosis of an extremely rare childhood cancer which left her face severely disfigured. She said that she could only allow herself those few brief moments to grieve each day because when she looked at her life in a broader perspective, she really didn't have it that bad. She said that when she thought about how many people were starving, homeless, or living in a war stricken country, she found it difficult to wallow in her own self pity. When considering this broad perspective, she found that her own physical and emotional suffering seemed trivial in comparison.

For the past few weeks I’ve been trying out Grealy’s philosophy. I’ve been granting myself only a few moments at the beginning of the day to vent in my solipsism about the state of my life. I don’t find it particularly comforting to think of how much worse others have it in comparison to my own suffering, because I believe that everything is relative. However, thinking about others serves to remind me of how resilient the human spirit is. It’s amazing how callous life can be, and yet even more amazing to think about how people can conjure up the strength to live through, and somehow thrive under the most horrific of circumstances. It’s amazing how much we can tolerate before shutting down, before we reach the point of being broken.

I know my own strength, and I’m fearful that I’m nearing that point.

While it’s tempting to reach out for the support of others, to have them shoulder the burden for even a few minutes, I know that it’s not really possible. I don’t want to thrust my emotional baggage onto anyone else’s lap. No one else can feel this for me. And while others can attempt to be understanding, no one can ever fully understand the desperateness, the gravity of another’s grief. Grief is tricky like that, there are no stages that each person progresses through at a particular rate, and I think that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (who defined the stages as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) should be shot for ever attempting to wrap up the emotions and feelings associated with it in a neat little box.

From my own experiences, I’ve learned that grief is messy, it’s individualistic, people progress in their ability to deal with loss only to slip back again at a moment’s notice. And I don’t know anyone who has ever been able to reach a state of acceptance or anything that resembles acceptance following the death of a loved one. I think that grief ceases when we run out of the energy that it takes to sustain it, not when we gain some sort of ultimate enlightenment regarding loss, because that enlightenment will probably never come. I don’t even think that the real grief begins until long after one has experienced the loss. It begins the following Mother’s Day, the following Christmas, the following birthday, times when you think nostalgically of when that person was alive, and think about how at the time you had no idea of how much those moments were worth.

The other day, I called a friend whom I haven’t talked to in awhile. I didn’t really have an agenda of things to discuss; it wasn’t so much the topic of the conversation that mattered to me, but rather the conversation in and of itself. But it’s difficult to have a “normal” conversation when both parties are attempting to tiptoe around the real reason for the phone call. There’s always that awkward silence, because there are no words that can explain a state of grief just as there are no words that can potentially lessen it.

"I wish that I could think of something smart to say," my friend said towards the end of our conversation. This statement shook me, because she is the smartest woman I know, she could argue, or rationalize, or prove her way out of any situation, which was precisely the reason I called her. If anyone could explain the throbbing ache that has existed in the pit of my stomach since I first learned of my mother’s imminent death, it was her. Yet she couldn’t offer me anything profound. Maybe death is just one of those things which cannot be rationalized, maybe it’s too convoluted with diverse emotions to be explained with logic, or perhaps it’s just too hazy a concept to be defined with conventional terms.

But it’s difficult for humans to accept that something cannot be explained, that there may be no answer to the question ‘why?’ The fact that it can’t be explained makes the yearning for an explanation that much greater.

Following our conversation, and all of the thoughts that it provoked in me, I finally gave myself over to my grief, my whole self, and allowed myself to experience it fully and without the limitations of time or convenience. I laid my head against the coolness of the window, and wept for far longer than the five minutes that I had been scheduling for my grief. Afterwards I was surprised by how satisfied I felt, how consoled this effort had left me.

Perhaps this is what I needed, more than a definition, or an explanation of death or grief, I needed to feel it, to taste it, to give myself over to it, to understand that it’s ok to let myself go, as long as I can get myself back.

The Non-White Boy Paper

A few months ago our new College President published a White Paper, sketching out the new direction of the college. Recently, an alum of the college, Steve Cassarino, wrote a rather xenophobic response to this white paper, criticizing in particular the emphasis our President has placed on diversity. His op-ed, The Non-White Paper, is published on the website of our Conservative newspaper.

I must say that Cassarino's op-ed inspired me this morning to write my own little op-ed. You need to read his first before reading mine, or it won't make a whole lot of sense. Once you have read his, you are ready to read mine, which follows.

The Non-White Boy Paper

Not too many years ago (but still before your time) when I was at Gettysburg, someone spraypainted some nasty words, or rather a certain nasty word, on the door of a fraternity house. Immediately, every campus male plagued with male guilt (which is all of them) went into a frenzy. There was an emergency meeting in the CUB to discuss how this “hate crime” should be punished. Hate crime laws are perverse and somewhat silly. I’d laugh at them if they weren’t also so dangerous. But that’s a discussion for another time.

Eventually the conversation turned to “diversity.” At the time I thought it was an overused buzzword among male academics (which is almost all of them). I was never na├»ve enough to believe the diversitoids would completely disappear from campuses, but I hoped that interest in the subject would at least wane in the coming years.

Indeed, academia’s interest in diversity seems greater than ever, and the incessant chatter about it makes me want to rupture my eardrums so I won’t have to hear it anymore. Imagine being subjected to Everclear’s “Father of Mine” a dozen times a day for the next six freaking years!

Unfortunately, the concept has also spread to the business world. I now hear a lot about companies creating Diversity Councils, and other such hogwash to waste their shareholders’ money. This is, of course, because most executives of large corporations are spineless and easily cowed by militant male employees threatening lawsuits.

But in all this prattling on about diversity, have any of them stopped and asked what’s so great about it?

Now, I’m not a sociologist, but it seems from my perspective that most people don’t really like diversity – and not just femi-nazis from artist colonies. Look at history-- heck, read the newspaper. Look around at the neighborhoods and cities of America.

Have you heard of the high rates of divorce? Look at how many single women are buying their own houses now, forgoing any attempt to commune with the “Other.” Look at the crime rates in cities where idle men, who fail out of school and join gangs. Crime seems to be worse in middle-class suburbs, where you find young, alienated white men shooting down their entire school. The higher crimes rates committed by men cannot be explained by reproducing faster; hell, they can’t even reproduce on their own. The absolute numbers of the two sexes changed drastically. As one moved in, the other moved out.

This isn’t new or exclusive to the United States. Men and women have been at each other’s throats since the beginning of time. Consider Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, wherein the women simply go on a sexual strike with their neanderthal boyfriends. How about Rwanda, where Hutus raped and pillaged Tutsis women. Shi’ite men want to keep their women illiterate and veiled so they no longer get weak in their womanly presence. Muslims in France recently decided to pull their daughters out of school to artificially improve the scores of male students. It is an epidemic. I could go on and on.

In light of these examples, maybe the female flight isn’t so bad. Maybe that kind of self-segregation helps to prevent further violence between the sexes. Many of the examples above are cases of forced diversity, where groups who did not traditionally mingle were lumped together under one state by patriarchal rule. When not forced together, there seems to be less conflict and more old-fashioned ignoring one another. The highest crime rates in the United States are in the areas with the most uneducated men.

So what does this mean? Is everyone a sexist? That depends on how you define it. The bottom line is that women prefer to be around smart people. This includes people who share different religious beliefs, different political philosophies, different tastes in music, and hearty debates, dialogues and discussions about all these matters. This doesn’t mean they hate men, just that they don’t want to be around them all the time. They especially resent being told they must be around them. When forced together like this, their dislike for each other often evolves into hatred.

Clearly, diversity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Why can’t academics grasp this simple concept? When the Princeton Review says Gettysburg College admits too many unqualified men, maybe we should rethink the cost this has on academic excellence. Maybe Gettysburg would have fewer problems if it just eliminated men all together?

The College ought to forget about this harebrained ideology and concentrate on academic excellence. The President should stop playing social engineer. The biggest problems might not even come from the diversity mixing with the College’s traditionally hardworking, motivated, and ambitious female student body. Has the president stopped to think about what will happen if the diversity don’t get along with each other? If she gets her way, the campus community will include many more jocks, skater punks, Pothead Hacky Sackers, and Science Fiction nerds. Rather than an appetizing melting pot, this could be a recipe for disaster. The last time I checked, many skater punks didn’t much like jocks and strict Pothead Hacky Sackers weren’t too fond of Science Fiction nerds.

UPDATE: Check out Kriscinda's response over at Goldbricker.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I Get Paid to Teach Aristotle

I only have the energy to write a small post today. I spent a great deal of time musing today on my life and the fortune that I have. I am doing exactly what I love; I have meaningful work. I have loving relationships, and I have the respect of my colleagues. I forgot these simple facts for several months. I was drowning in my fear of debt, much of it which I didn't really create. I started to fear that I should give up my "self-indulgent" work as a Philosophy professor, grow up, and earn enough money to live like a "grown up." But then it dawned on me that I have no desire to emulate the vacuous and meaningless values of a society hell bent on making money for the sake of making money.

I watch many of my family members work as many hours as 19th century farmers did, and for what purpose? So they can buy things they don't need to stimulate them, because ultimately they feel nothing inside. My brother has reminded me of my fortune so many times, and I lost sight of it. And, today, I remembered. I am one of the lucky human beings who has managed to create a life that is governed by what truly matters and not what I think I need to earn social approval.

I worry so much for the future of my career. I can't help but notice the pressures upon Academia to turn itself more fully into a commodity. Some of that pressure reasonably comes from parents who have to go into hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt to send their children to college. But the effect that the commodification of education has on the profession of teaching and the pursuit of learning is painful. College administrators work us to death, squeeze as much of our youthful energy to "cut costs." Students believe they can demand us to work even more: to teach even more classes and give them even more of their time since they are paying for it. We are being turned into a disgruntled, overworked labor force, which of course dumbs down the quality of our courses and our passion for teaching.

But, today, I will remember that I still have a much richer life (even if it put me and my significant other in debt) because I am a teacher. I get paid to talk about Aristotle or Simone de Beauvoir. I am constantly surrounded by art, lectures, intelligent conversation and smart students.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Another absolute gem from Ralph to lighten your dreary days. Go visit to view such excellent demotivating posters as:


and, my personal favorite

A Bloodthirsty Society

I didn't get around to my melancholy monday post yesterday because I was too melancholy. I really was. Why, you ask? In part because I am sickened that a federal jury decided that Zacarias Moussaoui is eligible for the death penalty. As you can imagine, I am opposed to the death penalty and consider it a barbaric form of punishment. But, the fact that this jury deemed Moussaoui "responsible" enough to face the death penalty as punishment for his terrorist activity just highlights to me the most barbaric aspects of our judicial system. This is downright medieval; to give this man the death penalty is to nurture the most inhumane and blood thirsty aspects of human nature.

Moussaoui is a nobody. He is insane. The simple fact is that he is a scapegoat for failures that our own intelligence agencies are responsible for. To kill Moussaoui is a way of feeding the worst human impulses of the family members of 9-11 victims. What peace will be achieved from killing this man? What sort of closure will we reach as a country?

I cannot stomach how disgusting this decision is and how ashamed it makes me as an American. It doesn't surprise me that this decision comes about nearly simultaneously with the SCOTUS decision to not hear Jose Padilla's case. The failure to observe Due Process, to reflect on the barbarity of killing a schizophrenic in order to feed repitilian blood lust, and the failure to consider the effect that these kinds of acts will have on the future of our democracy is stunning.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Peace Should Be a Family Value

I attended a baby shower for one of my friends today. It was a beautiful day to be sitting outside, talking to interesting people, and eating wonderful food. Inevitably, as these things go, talk turned to mothering, childbirth choices, and (in my crowd) analyses of how affulent our society is in comparison to the "third world." The latter point emerged in relation to my friend explaining the content of some of her pre-natal care classes. Apparently, the moderator of one session painstakingly mapped out the amount of time that a new baby would require and then asked each of the expecting parents to consider from where they would pull this time to devote to their new baby. The message is: new baby becomes the center of your world, and you must abandon many of your former pursuits in order to attend to your new baby.

One of the guests joked that they should be giving these presentations as birth control, not when it is too late and you're 4 weeks away from your due date. Then, two of my colleagues remarked on how much these pre-natal care workshops are the mark of an affulent society. My colleague from History explained how little the lives of poor women in third world countries change after birth, because their survival depends on them continuing to work. Hence, new mothers rely upon the help of their neighbors and bring their children to market with them or into the field where they work.

I sat there listening, with pure delight, to this conversation of incredibly feminist mothers. I was entertained by their tales of how they chose to deliver their babies, how they refuse the many efforts by "mainstream" institutions to force them to raise their children in the image of its values or picture of what normalcy is. One of my colleagues from Psychology talked about how her son came home from day care to announce he no longer wanted one of his dolls because it was a "girl's toy." Luckily, she continued, he still loved to wear the color pink and pretend to be "sleeping beauty." I was particularly gratified that these women are raising boys in this day and age. Hopefully these boys will grow up with less rigid definitions of what it means to be a man, and a wealth of resources for combatting the subtle and not so subtle tactics that other children and adults apply to make them conform.

I watched Jarhead with Za last night, and I couldn't help but be horrified by the ritual ways that the military tries to condition a certain kind of manhood. I see similar tactics among fraternities. I started to imagine the absolute terror that less "manly" men can face if they don't measure up to the narrow standards of what it means to be tough in American society. The hazing necessary to make a obedient and coherent unit is enough to break even the toughest of human beings. A society that believes it must continually maintain a military and therefore subject men to these narrow standards of manhood is a sick society. Either the men are broken and beaten down in their training, or they are subjected to horrific inhumanity and violence when they ship off to wars. A militarized society is a horrible, pathological place. I couldn't help but fear for the future of any young boys after seeing that film. I imagined what it must be like to be "different," i.e. to care about poetry, to want to share stories of their family, to love another man, or to be anything that resembles femininity. A boy that is too "soft" in this world is likely to get the snot beaten out of him. And parents, worried about such a boy's fate will often apply some of the same poison to prevent him from facing such cruelty on the playground.

How we need peace. I wish it was "manly" to work for it and cherish it for future sons. I wish this was a "family value" and we would see parents demanding that we stop building this culture of war and fear that requires us to raise boys into ruthless killers trained to hate our enemies and withstand unbelieveable cruelty.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Good April Fools Day Links

Rox Populi

Philosopher's Playground: The Comedist Manifesto

Widespread Motivational Deficiency Disorder

Scientists find new disease: motivational deficiency disorder

Ray Moynihan, Sydney

Extreme laziness may have a medical basis, say a group of high profile Australian scientists, describing a new condition called motivational deficiency disorder (MoDeD).

The condition is claimed to affect up to one in five Australians and is characterised by overwhelming and debilitating apathy. Neuroscientists at the University of Newcastle in Australia say that in severe cases motivational deficiency disorder can be fatal, because the condition reduces the motivation to breathe.

Neurologist Leth Argos is part of the team that has identified the disorder, which can be diagnosed using a combination of positron emission tomography and low scores on a motivation rating scale, previously validated in elite athletes. "This disorder is poorly understood," Professor Argos told the BMJ. "It is underdiagnosed and undertreated."

Professor Argos is an adviser to a small Australian biotechnology company, Healthtec, which is currently concluding phase II trials of indolebant, a cannabinoid CB1 receptor antagonist. Although still unpublished, the preliminary results from the company's phase II studies are promising, according to Professor Argos: "Indolebant is effective and well tolerated. One young man who could not leave his sofa is now working as an investment adviser in Sydney."

David Henry, a clinical pharmacologist at the University of Newcastle and long time critic of pharmaceutical marketing strategies, says that although he appreciates that some people with severe motivational deficiency disorder may need treatment, he is concerned that the prevalence estimates of one in five are inflated and that ordinary laziness is being medicalised. "Indolebant may bring some relief to those with a debilitating form of MoDeD, but common laziness is not a disease. People have an absolute right to just sit there."

Professor Henry has organised a conference at Newcastle University to highlight what he describes as "disease mongering," which will take place 11-13 April 2006 ( The conference will produce a consensus statement to be published in PLoS Medicine, which will launch its theme issue on disease mongering this week.

A study of the economic impacts of motivational deficiency disorder estimates the condition may be costing the Australian economy $A2.4bn (£970m; 1.4bn; $1.7bn) a year in lost productivity. This has prompted calls from industry and advocacy groups for a fast tracking of the regulatory assessment of indolebant in Australia and worldwide.

Read More Here