Monday, February 04, 2008

Card-playing in philosophy

I'm catching up on A Philosophy Job Market Blog posts, and ran across some fun posts about sexism and racism (mainly sexism) in the philosophy biz, and concerns about possible bias in hiring practices (either as a result of, or a reaction to, problems of sexism and racism).

I say "fun", because such discussions yield an opportunity for responses such as:
You know, I am glad to see some comic relief in these threads. You folks pretending to be a bunch of narrow-minded bigots is a laugh riot. It warms my heart to know that my potential colleagues have well-honed senses of humor. Kudos to all of you.

Wow, imagine how fucking scary it would be if you weren't joking. Ha!

Well, I guess us ethnic minorities don't have to worry about having any cry-baby, racist dipshits in our departments. Why? We stole their jobs. Ha ha! See, I can be funny too.
That alone makes it all worthwhile.

The backstory to all of this is that philosophy is basically the whitest, malest part of the university (with the possible exception of physics), which leads to the question of how to fix that situation without screwing over the occasional white male.

Well, I don't have much to say about that, though I will note that wifey is a woman, while I'm a member of an ethnic minority which is well-represented in the student body of philosophy classes in most major universities but not at all represented in the faculty of the vast majority of philosophy departments -- so if you were on a hiring committee wouldn't you just love to get the right to post pictures of this academic couple on your online faculty roster?

Oh, I dearly hope so.

I got some decent time-wasting links from those comment threads. For example, these online tests of implicit bias. I tried a couple, and it turns out, first, that I automatically strongly favour Judaism to other religions. Well, that's pretty weird, seeing as how I'm actually a member of one of those other religions. It also turns out that I automatically strongly favour African Americans to European Americans. This is even weirder, seeing as how I've met precious few African Americans, and I can only think of one or two African Americans that I actually talk to on a semi-regular basis.

One possible explanation I've come up with here is that I am such a thorough misanthrope that my ample interaction with European Americans has led me to hate them a great deal, while my near-total lack of interaction with African Americans means that I haven't learned to hate them quite so much yet.

Another possible explanation is that the results are a load of crap.

But feel free to give those tests a shot. They're kind of fun, and supposedly they are capable of yielding revealing results. (To be fair, I had my 80s rock anthem Pandora station on at the time, which is not the ideal test-taking environment.)

Also linked to was this paper (pdf) on sexism and racism in philosophy. It seemed mostly OK to me, except for the fact that it implicitly treats blacks as the paradigm case of a racial minority, with asians being a more peripheral case. (As for the others, who knows?) For example: "like women, non-Whites are often perceived through schemas that represent them as less rational, more identified with nature and the body, than Whites." Slot in "blacks" for "non-Whites", and you do get a statement that seems to fit a standard stereotype pretty well. Slot in "asians", and you get a bunch of nonsense, at least with respect to asian men. This can easily be seen from American movie with asian dudes as major characters. The asian martial arts master might feel some rage while engaging his nemesis in an epic battle, and the mandarin-like evil asian mastermind might delight in watching the round-eyed barbarian protagonist founder in his inscrutable plans, but for the most part they're going to be pretty passionless, and indeed will be indistinguishable from eunuchs.

Asian women are completely different in this last respect: if the movie has a female asian character, she's probably going to sleep with the white male protagonist at some point in time. But you know she's probably still good at math.

Getting back to the main topic, I think it's probably important to separate issues of sexism from issues of racism. There's no doubt that women in philosophy face problems of sexism. On the other hand, I don't think I've ever suffered from racial bias on the part of any of my profs, and I really couldn't care less that I've never had a philosophy prof who was of the same race as me. I mean, OK, I'm kind of a social retard, so I wouldn't necessarily notice if I was the victim of discrimination, but complaining about it is my prerogative, and I have no complaints.

It would probably be different for me if I were, say, black -- but now it sounds like we might want to make distinctions between racism against one race versus that against another, and wouldn't that be an awkward topic to bring up in a discussion of hiring practices.