Saturday, May 27, 2017

Transgenderism, Transracialism, and Academic Bigotry (p. 2)

Transgenderism, Transracialism, and Academic Bigotry
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Academic Bigotry



Even though Tuvel is very much on the side of transgenderism, the fact that she agrees with premise (1) of this argument is going to ruffle feathers on the pro-transgenderism side:
  1. If we should accept transgender individuals’ gender identity when it differs from their biological sex, then we should also accept transracial individuals’ racial identity when it differs from their biological race.
  2. We should accept transgender individuals’ gender identity when it differs from their biological sex.
  3. Therefore, we should also accept transracial individuals’ racial identity when it differs from their biological race.
To be sure, it is not bigotry or intolerance to disagree with Tuvel’s arguments or points. Intellectual inquiry and academic freedom demand ideas like this be open to question. What is academic bigotry is saying we should censor Tuvel’s views from the academic literature.

Bigotry exists on both the far left and on the far right, though in this case it seems to come from the left. An open letter calling for the retraction of Tuvel’s article was made. As New York Magazine notes however:
What’s remarkable about this letter is that, as Justin Weinberg noted in the Daily Nous, a philosophy website, each and every one of the falsifiable points it makes is, based on a plain reading of Tuvel’s article, simply false or misleading.
….
There has simply been an explosive amount of misinformation circulating online about what is and isn’t in Tuvel’s article, which few of her most vociferous critics appear to have even skimmed, based on their inability to accurately describe its contents.
Emotional touchiness often breeds irrationality and distorting of the other person’s views. What’s remarkable isn’t just that the misinformation spread and was accepted even by people who should have known better, but that the Associate Editorial Board of Hypatia philosophy journal caved in and expressed regret for having published the article (though thankfully, they did at least refrain from retracting the article). An excerpt from the apology:
Clearly, the article should not have been published, and we believe that the fault for this lies in the review process. In addition to the harms listed above imposed upon trans people and people of color, publishing the article risked exposing its author to heated critique that was both predictable and justifiable.
You might be wondering, “What harms?” Many of the alleged sources of harm seem vague, inapplicable, or outright nonsensical if one is familiar with Tuvel’s actual paper. For example, one of the alleged sources of harms is, “to compare ethically the lived experience of trans people (from a distinctly external perspective) primarily to a single example of a white person claiming to have adopted a black identity creates an equivalency that fails to recognize the history of racial appropriation, while also associating trans people with racial appropriation.” If you’re having trouble following the reasoning about how that’s a source of harm, you’re not alone. José Luis Bermúdez, a philosopher at Texas A & M University, criticizes Hypatia’s claim, among other things pointing out:
This is quite plainly a mischaracterization of what Tuvel is trying to do (as a quick read of her abstract will show). But leaving that aside, the quote shows that the concept of harm has been twisted beyond all recognition. Making a comparison is simply making a comparison -- it is to look at two or more phenomena and identify respects in which they are similar and respects in which they are dissimilar.

Such a comparison can be correct or incorrect. But how can simply making a comparison in itself cause a harm, if it is not explicitly defamatory?
Hypatia’s claim to harm here really is as nonsensical as it might first seem.

Tuvel put forth a response in the Daily Nous containing this:
Calls for intellectual engagement are also being shut down because they “dignify” the article. If this is considered beyond the pale as a response to a controversial piece of writing, then critical thought is in danger. I have never been under the illusion that this article is immune from critique. But the last place one expects to find such calls for censorship rather than discussion is amongst philosophers.
And it’s not just Bermúdez who objected. A lot of academics took issue with how Hypatia handled this. Philosopher Brian Leiter for example wrote:
I confess I've never seen anything like this in academic philosophy (admittedly most signatories to the "open letter" are not academic philosophers, but some are). A tenure-track assistant professor submits her article to a journal, it passes peer review, it is published, others take offense, and the Associate Editors of the journal declare that "Clearly, the article should not have been published" and that the abuse to which the author is being subjected is "both predictable and justifiable."
It’s worth pointing out this is the exception rather than the rule, but this remarkable event is...well, remarkable. A lot of people signed the open letter and spread (mis)information without checking it out first. Even Hypatia mischaracterized Tuvel in the apology. Academic philosophers in particular should have known better than to sign the open letter without fact checking it.

What goes for academic philosophers also goes for anyone else spreading memes and news. When someone makes a point I like on Facebook, I fact check it first before sharing, because I know news that one wants to believe or be outraged about has a real danger of hoodwinking people. If everyone did fact-checking like this, maybe the Hypatia fiasco could have been avoided. By fact checking your own received news before you share it, perhaps you can help prevent the next one.

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