Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Disability Studies and the Meaning of Life

Jonathan Glover, Choosing Children: Genes, Disability, and Design:

I think that, other things being equal, it is good if the incidence of disabilities is reduced by parental choices to opt for potentially more flourishing children. But we should not deny the potential cost to which the expressivist argument draws attention. And we should try to reduce that cost as far as possible.

To do this, we need to send a clear signal that we do not have the ugly attitudes to disability. It is important to show that what we care about is our children’s flourishing; that this, and not shrinking from certain kinds of people, or some horrible prospect of cleansing the world of them, is what motivates us. To think that a particular disability makes someone’s life less good is not one of the ugly attitudes. It does not mean that the person who has it is of any less value, or is less deserving of respect, than anyone else.

There are two ways in which we can show this. One is by making the comparison with other medical programmes. We want to defeat cancer, not because we lack respect for cancer and want to rid the world of them, but because of what cancer does to people. The existence of doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceuticals is not an insult to the sick, just a sign of the platitude that illness impairs human flourishing. And the same goes for programmes that aim to reduce the number of children born with HIV. The harm the expressivist argument points to comes through communication. And so, if we have the right attitudes, clear communication should reduce or even eliminate the harm.

Many think the zero-line view sets the standard far too low. Where should the minimum level be set, and on what basis? Frances Kamm has suggested the line be normality. She discusses a hypothetical case (introduced by Derek Parfit) of a woman who knows that, if she conceives now, her child will have a life worth living but will be mildly retarded. The woman also knows that, if she waits, she will be able to have a normal child. Frances Kamm accepts that, having a life worth living, the child with mild retardation will not be harmed by being created. But she thinks the woman will still have done wrong by not waiting. This is not just a comparative point, based on the fact that the alternative child would have a better chance of flourishing. She says “even if she could produce no child except a mildly retarded one, it might be better for her not to produce any” and that the woman “would do wrong to produce a defective child when she could have easily avoided it.”

Could leaving people free to choose genes for their children at the genetic supermarket have serious social costs? If so, we may need a regulated market, on a European model. On this system, there would be no state plan to change people’s genes or to improve the gene pool, but there might be limitations on genetic choices thought to be against the public interest. Social intervention would act only as a filter. Which choices, if any, should be excluded would be part of democratic debate.

Sometimes disabilities arouse a special revulsion, creating a desire to cleanse the world of them. But, without this special revulsion, the case for reducing the incidence of disorders and disabilities is that they are obstacles to people having flourishing lives. And this is equally a reason for making other choices, including genetic ones, to remove non-medical impediments to flourishing. Eliminating a genetic disposition to shyness or laziness might help someone flourish, as might making them more cheerful or boosting their ability to sing or to learn languages.

Tom Shakespeare:

To me, disability is not neutral, it is a decrement in health. Not a tragedy, granted, but not just another difference like sex or ethnicity. Disability may sometimes open one up to other possibilities (as might poverty, HIV and divorce) but that does not make it less of a predicament. Of course, environments contribute mightily to the burden, and it is a matter of justice for us to try and lessen those physical and attitudinal barriers. People are indeed disabled by society– but by their bodies too. (I also find the distinction between illness and impairment ultimately unhelpful.) Those of us born with our disabilities are used to our form of life, and we rarely bother worrying about it– we cannot imagine any other way of being. But ask any disabled person how they would feel about losing further abilities, and most would be less sanguine, I think. (I was broadly happy to spend forty plus years with restricted growth. But I regret deeply spending the last couple of years as a paraplegic, despite the fact that I am probably as happy today as I have ever been.)

I would like to deconstitute the disability category a little. I think there is a danger in equating disability, as some utilitarian bioethicists do, with all the worst and most difficult forms of life– Tay Sachs or Lesch Nyhan or other profound limitations in which the possibility of flourishing seem truly remote. But I also think there is a danger, as some disability advocates do, of equating disability with the other end of the scale–  with Deafness, or dwarfism, or Down syndrome, conditions which hardly diminish flourishing at all.

Where I part company with Jonathan Glover is his perfectionism– his hope that we can not only put disability behind us, but that we can, and should, improve on average human nature and human embodiment. My messy, possibly incoherent, position is that we should accept a measure of diversity and difference, because human frailty is unavoidable, but that where the balance tips into suffering and restriction, we should do whatever we can to avoid it. While still valuing, supporting and including all those individuals who end up, despite our efforts, with profound disability.

Jamie Berube:

If my parents went on a trip, I would like my grandfather to stay with me. We could go to the movies and eat pizza. We could go out to lots of restaurants. He could take me swimming and we could go shopping. We could go to Lowe’s and buy Christmas gifts. We could go to Target and buy socks and underwear. We could shop at Best Buy and get videos. After we are done eating and shopping, we could go to see the fish at the Hub at Penn State. He could also take me to the playground.

The Invention of Disability in the Nineteenth Century

Lennard Davis, Enforcing Normalcy:

The word “norm,” in the modern sense, has only been in use since around 1855, and “normality” and “normalcy” appeared in 1849 and 1857, respectively.... If the concept of the norm or average enters European culture, or at least the European languages, only in the nineteenth century, one has to ask what is the cause of the conceptualization? One of the logical places to turn in trying to understand concepts like “norm” and “average” is that branch of knowledge known as statistics. It was the French statistician Adolphe Quetelet who contributed the most to a generalized notion of the normal as an imperative. He noticed that the “law of error,” used by astronomers to locate a star by plotting all the sightings and then averaging the errors, could be equally applied to the distribution of human features such as height and weight. He then took a further step of formulating the concept of “l’homme moyen” or the average man.

Douglas Baynton, "A Silent Exile on this Earth: The Metaphorical Construction of Deafness in the Nineteenth Century":

Gallaudet praised the beauty of sign language, the “picture-like delineation, pantomimic spirit, variety, and grace ... the transparent beaming forth of the soul ... that merely oral language does not possess.” Not only should the language of signs not be denied to the deaf, but it should also be given as a gift to the hearing as well, in order to “supply the deficiencies of our oral intercourse [and] perfect the communion of one soul with another.”

Douglas Baynton, "Disability and the Justification of Inequality in U.S. History":

Disability figured not just in arguments for the inequality of women and minorities but also in arguments against those inequalities. Suffragists rarely challenged the notion that disability justified political inequality and instead disputed the claim that women suffered from these disabilities. Their arguments took three forms: one, women were not disabled and therefore deserved the vote; two, women being erroneously and slanderously classed with disabled people; and three, women were not naturally or inherently disabled but were made disabled by inequality– suffrage would ameliorate or cure these disabilities.

Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man

Harry Bruinius, Better for All the World: The Secret History of Forced Sterilization and America’s Quest for Racial Purity

Elof Axel Carlson, The Unfit: The History of a Bad Idea

Adam Cohen, Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck.

David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder, Cultural Locations of Disability

Jennifer Esmail, Reading Victorian Deafness: Signs and Sounds in Victorian Literature and Culture

Christopher Krentz, Writing Deafness: The Hearing Line in Nineteenth-Century American Literature.

The Humanities and the Advancement of Knowledge

Helen Small, The Value of the Humanities:

[The humanities] study the meaning-making practices of the culture, focusing on interpretation and evaluation with an indispensable element of subjectivity. Strictly speaking this is not a claim for value: it is a justification for the humanities based on perceptions of their distinctive disciplinary character and their distinctive understanding of what constitutes knowledge.

[M]ost recent advocates for the humanities have worked hard to invert the long-standing defence, arguing (with good evidence) that they make a significant contribution to the knowledge economy and to the economy proper– measurable in terms of the benefits to GDP, footfalls in bookshops, museums, theaters, heritage sites, and so forth.

[P]roponents of the ‘democracy needs us’ argument also need to work harder if they are to explain satisfactorily how and why, when adopted by higher education professors and students, it does not commit us to a guardianship model of the democracy that many would instinctively resist.... [T]he humanities, centrally concerned as they are with the cultural practices of reflection, argument, criticism, and speculative testing of ideas, have a substantial contribution to make to the good working of democracy.

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, The Heart of the Matter:

Who will lead America into a bright future?

Citizens who are educated in the broadest possible sense, so that they can participate in their own governance and engage with the world. An adaptable and creative workforce. Experts in national security, equipped with the cultural understanding, knowledge of social dynamics, and language proficiency to lead our foreign service and military through complex global conflicts. Elected officials and a broader public who exercise civil political discourse, founded on an appreciation of the ways our differences and commonalities have shaped our rich history.

We must prepare the next generation to be these future leaders.

What are the top actions that Congress, state governments, universities, foundations, educators, individual benefactors, and others should take now to maintain national excellence in humanities and social scientific scholarship and education, and to achieve long-term national goals for our intellectual and economic well-being; for a stronger, more vibrant civil society; and for the success of cultural diplomacy in the 21st century?

George Anders, Forbes magazine:

“Studying philosophy taught me two things,” says Butterfield, sitting in his office in San Francisco’s South of Market district, a neighborhood almost entirely dedicated to the cult of coding. “I learned how to write really clearly. I learned how to follow an argument all the way down, which is invaluable in running meetings. And when I studied the history of science, I learned about the ways that everyone believes something is true–like the old notion of some kind of ether in the air propagating gravitational forces–until they realized that it wasn’t true.”

Jeffrey Dorfman, Forbes:

The present value of the extra earnings that graduates in humanities majors can expect over their lifetime is $302,400 for drama majors, $444,700 for English majors, $537,800 for history majors, and $658,900 for philosophy majors. If a person goes to a top-level, in-state, public university with no financial aid of any kind, the total cost is likely to run around $80,000 (tuition, books, and living expenses). That means the much maligned humanities majors are still getting an A in economics because the returns on their investments are quite high (in the 300 to 700 percent range).

Geoffrey Galt Harpham:

If traditional rationales for humanistic study were to be condensed into a single sentence, that sentence might be the following: The scholarly study of documents and artifacts produced by human beings in the past enables us to see the world from different points of view so that we may better understand ourselves.

The Heart of the Matter:

The personal insights and the public utility that flow from humanistic learning rely on the bedrock of research. Specialized academic study is not the whole of the humanities and social sciences, but it is essential to their larger success. As we commit to the broad-based education needed to build well-informed, broadly capable citizens for the future, we must make a renewed commitment to strengthening this scholarly core.

Fields of expertise that are sometimes overlooked can suddenly become urgently necessary to our national life. After the 9/11 attacks, intelligence intercepts from the Arab world sat unread because we lacked people adequately trained in this suddenly strategic language, which is not learned in a day. Whatever one’s politics, we can agree that the wars of the past decade have underlined the difficulty of fighting abroad without a subtle understanding of foreign histories, social constructs, belief systems, languages, and cultures.

Everything scholars do to connect with the broader public advances their case for support, and everything they neglect to do weakens that case. Top scholars should embrace the chance to connect with the larger community and help it feel the interest of their subjects and the power of their analyses.

The ethical questions attending the adoption of new technologies;

The social conditions that provide context for international policy decisions regarding the environment, global health, and human rights; and

The cultural differences that aid or hinder global security.

Marc Bousquet:

With respect to the "alternate careers" fantasy, recently revived by Lenny Cassuto, with unsurprising hosannahs from all, shitpots of grant money and tons of vapid positive press: It's all a lie. Yes, you can have an alternate career. No, your grad program can't prepare you for one, despite any foundation-backed marketing claims to the contrary. Running a Ph.D. program in a humanities discipline in order to churn out liberal authoritarians for employment in the ngo universe, or as preparation for working as a goddamn producer? That's nuts. It's not a reason to have a program. That's an excuse to keep graduate education going without having to do the rest of your fucking job and maintain the profession's employment standards.

Disability and Narrative: Self-Awareness

Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass:

With every second that went past, with every sentence she spoke, she felt a little strength flowing back. And now that she was doing something difficult and familiar and never quite predictable, namely, lying, she felt a sort of mastery again, the same sense of complexity and control that the alethiometer gave her. She had to be careful not to say anything obviously impossible; she had to be vague in some places and invent plausible details in others; she had to be an artist, in short.

Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire:

While unable to catch a likeness, and therefore wisely limiting himself to a conventional style of complimentary portraiture, Eystein showed himself to be a prodigious master of the trompe l’oeil in the depiction of various objects surrounding his dignified dead models and making them look even deader by contrast to the fallen petal or the polished panel that he rendered with such love and skill. But in some of these portraits Eystein had also resorted to a weird sort of trickery: among his decorations of wood or wool, gold or velvet, he would insert one which was really made of the material elsewhere imitated by paint.

This device which was apparently meant to enhance the effect of his tactile and tonal values had, however, something ignoble about it and disclosed not only an essential flaw in Eystein’s talent, but the basic fact that “reality” is neither the subject nor the object of true art which creates its own special reality having nothing to do with the average “reality” perceived by the communal eye.

God will help me, I trust, to rid myself of any desire to follow the example of two other characters in this work. I shall continue to exist. I may assume other disguises, other forms, but I shall try to exist. I may turn up yet, on another campus, as an old, happy, healthy, heterosexual Russian, a writer in exile, sans fame, sans fortune, sans audience, sans anything but his art. I may join forces with Odon [not to be confused with Nodo, of course] in a new motion picture: Escape from Zembla (ball in the palace, bomb in the palace square). I may pander to the simple tastes of theatrical critics and cook up a stage play, an old-fashioned melodrama with three principles [sic]: a lunatic who intends to kill an imaginary king, another lunatic who imagines himself to be that king, and a distinguished old poet who stumbles by chance into the line of fire, and perishes in the clash between the two figments. Oh, I may do many things! History permitting, I may sail back to my recovered kingdom, and with a great sob greet the gray coastline and the gleam of a roof in the rain. I may huddle and groan in a madhouse.

Peter Rabinowitz, "Truth in Fiction: A Reexamination of Audiences":

Thus, we may say vaguely that Pale Fire has something to do with the nature of imagination, the nature of criticism, and the relation of truth to illusion. Yet until we know whether or not Shade and Zembla exist, we cannot know, with any more specificity, just what the novel is doing with these subjects– what questions it is asking, what solutions it is proposing. If both Zembla and Shade exist, we have one novel, probing one set of problems; if Zembla does not exist, but Shade does, we have an entirely different novel, with another set of problems; if....

How then is one to read the book? The only way, I suppose, is to make an arbitrary choice about which narrative audience one wants to join– or to read the novel several times, making a different choice each time. As in a game, we are free to make several opening moves; what follows will be dependent upon our initial decision. Simply with respect to the questions suggested above, we can generate four novels, all different but all couched, oddly, in the same words. And as we begin to ask further questions– Has Shade invented Kinbote? Is the a good one in the eyes of the narrative audience?– the number of possible novels begins to proliferate at a geometric rate.

Pale Fire:

We are absurdly accustomed to the miracle of a few written signs being able to contain immortal imagery, involutions of thought, new worlds with live people, speaking, weeping, laughing. We take it for granted so simply that in a sense, by the very act of brutish routine acceptance, we undo the work of the ages, the history of the gradual elaboration of poetical description and construction, from the treeman to Browning, from the caveman to Keats. What if we awake one day, all of us, and find ourselves utterly unable to read? I wish you to gasp not only at what you read but at the miracle of its being readable (so I used to tell my students).

Viktor Shklovsky, “Art as Technique”:

And so life is reckoned as nothing.  Habitualization devours works, clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war.... And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects “unfamiliar,” to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged.

Pale Fire:

Odon, pseudonym of Donald O’Donnell, b. 1915, world-famous actor and Zemblan patriot; learns from K. about secret passage but has to leave for theater, 130; drives K. from theater to foot of Mt. Mandevil, 149; meets K. near sea cave and escapes with him in motorboat, ibid.; directs cinema picture in Paris, 171; stays with Lavender in Lex, 408; ought not to marry that blubber-lipped cinemactress, with untidy hair, 691; see also O’Donnell, Sylvia.

Disability and Narrative: Disability as Motive

J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:

“You know the secret of my sister’s ill health, what those Muggles did, what she became. You know how my poor father sought revenge, and paid the price, died in Azkaban. You know how my mother gave up her own life to care for Ariana.

“I resented it, Harry.”

Dumbledore stated it baldly, coldly. He was looking now over the top of Harry’s head, into the distance.

“I was gifted. I was brilliant. I wanted to escape. I wanted to shine. I wanted glory.

“Do not misunderstand me,” he said, and pain crossed the face so that he looked ancient again. “I loved them. I loved my parents, I loved my brother and sister, but I was selfish, Harry, more selfish than you, who are a remarkably selfless person, could possibly imagine.

“So that, when my mother died, and I was left the responsibility of a damaged sister and a wayward brother, I returned to my village in anger and bitterness. Trapped and wasted, I thought! And then, of course, he came....”

Dumbledore looked directly into Harry’s eyes again.

“Grindelwald. You cannot imagine how his ideas caught me, Harry, inflamed me. Muggles forced into subservience. We wizards triumphant. Grindelwald and I, the glorious young leaders of the revolution.”

Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time:

on the way home from school, walking up the road with her arms full of books, one of the boys had said something about her “dumb baby brother.” At this she’d thrown the books on the side of the road and tackled him with every ounce of strength she had, and arrived home with her blouse torn and a big bruise under one eye.

Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior:

The bombing drove people insane. They rolled on the ground, pushed themselves against it, as if the earth could open a door for them. The ones who could not stop shaking after the danger passed would sleep in the cave. My mother explained airplanes to them as she wiggled their ears.

The child married to a husband who did not speak Chinese translated for him, “Now she’s saying that I’m taking a machine off the shelf and that I’m attaching two metal spiders to it. And she’s saying the spiders are spinning with legs intertwined and beating the eggs electrically. Now she says I’m hunting for something in the refrigerator and – ha! – I’ve found it. I’m taking out butter – ‘cow oil.’ ‘They eat a lot of cow oil,’ she is saying.”

Many of the storekeepers invited sitting in their stores, but we did not have sitting because the laundry was hot and because it was outside Chinatown. He sweated; he panted, the stubble rising and falling on his fat neck and chin. He sat on two large cartons that he brought with him and stacked one on top of the other. He said hello to my mother and father, and then, balancing his heavy head, he lowered himself carefully onto his cartons and sat. My parents allowed this. They did not chase him out or comment about how strange he was. I stopped placing orders for toys. I didn’t limp anymore; my parents would only figure that this zombie and I were a match.

I studied hard, got straight A’s, but nobody seemed to see that I was smart and had nothing in common with this monster, this birth defect.

J. M. Coetzee, Life and Times of Michael K.:

because of his disfigurement and because his mind was not quick, Michael was taken out school after a short trial and committed to the protection of Huis Norenius in Faure, where at the expense of the state he spent the rest of his childhood in the company of variously other afflicted and unfortunate children learning the elements of reading, writing, counting, sweeping, scrubbing, bedmaking, dishwashing, basketweaving, woodwork and digging.

At least, he thought, at least I have not been clever, and come back to Sea Point full of stories of how they beat me in the camps till I was thin as a rake and simple in the head. I was mute and stupid in the beginning, I will be mute and stupid at the end. There is nothing to be ashamed of in being simple. They were locking up simpletons before they locked up anyone else. Now they have camps for children whose parents run away, camps for people who kick and foam at the mouth, camps for people with big heads and people with little heads, camps for people with no visible means of support, camps for people chased off the land, camps for people they find living in storm-water drains, camps for street girls, camps for people who can’t add two and two, camps for people who forget their papers at home, camps for people who live in the mountains and blow up bridges in the night. Perhaps the truth is that it is enough to be out of the camps, out of all the camps at the same time. Perhaps that is enough of an achievement, for the time being.

We have all tumbled over the lip into the cauldron of history: only you, following your idiot light, biding your time in an orphanage (who would have thought of that as a hiding-place?), evading the peace and the war, skulking in the open where no one dreamed of looking, have managed to live in the old way, drifting through time, observing the seasons, no more trying to change the course of history than a grain of sand does. We ought to value you and celebrate you, we ought to put your clothes on a maquette in a museum, your clothes and your packet of pumpkin seeds too, with a label; there ought to be a plaque nailed to the racetrack wall commemorating your stay here. But that is not the way it is going to be. The truth is that you are going to perish in obscurity and be buried in a nameless hole in a corner of the racecourse, transport to the acres of Woltemade being out of the question nowadays, and no one is going to remember you but me, unless you yield and at last open your mouth. I appeal to you, Michaels: yield!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Good news and bad news on the academic front

The good news is that while I was in Ireland, getting acquainted with my other country, the one with 95 percent fewer swastikas, a blogger with the charmingly self-deprecating nym of Gabriel Conroy posted a long, thoughtful, seriously engaging review essay (3000+ words!) of the book I wrote with Jennifer Ruth, The Humanities, Higher Education, and Academic Freedom: Three Necessary Arguments. Jennifer and I were kind of flabbergasted, all the more so when Mr. Conroy emailed us to let us know about the review. Remarkably, he even pasted it into the email as text just in case we didn’t want to click on a link in an unsolicited email. We thought: This is a scrupulous person we are dealing with.

Jennifer and I proceeded to have a productive exchange with Mr. Conroy by email, acknowledging his critique of the “Wal-Mart gambit” but pushing back a bit on his skepticism about tenure--and especially his suggestion that his own position (as a non-tenure-track faculty member in an academic library) might not require academic freedom. Jennifer, especially, pressed our case about professionalism v. cronyism, arguing (as she is wont to do, because she is right about this) that crony and patronage hires are far easier to pull off when the decision-maker is one person than when a legitimate search committee is conducting an open search, and that professional procedures and practices are valuable partly because they reduce (though cannot eliminate entirely) the degree of arbitrary caprice in a system.

As they used to say on blogs, read the whole thing. As Jennifer said to Mr. Conroy, it’s the most sustained discussion of our book we’ve seen so far.

But if you do read the whole thing, and you read the comments (I know, I know--you should certainly stop before the deranged racist shows up deep in the sub-sub-basement), you will get to the bad news, though of course it is bad news only for me.

Deep in the thread, one “Tmesis” shows up to inform Mr. Conroy that I am an “ass and a bully,” and that I am abusive to adjuncts in comment threads. (You will want to know how I manage to determine that pseudonymous commenters are adjuncts. The answer is that I have internets X-ray vision and can determine the employment status of all commenters on higher-ed threads.) Tmesis also claims that the plan Jennifer and I propose for converting contingent faculty to a tenure track “would involve cutting research out of the professional vocation of the majority of college teachers.”

As Berube et. al. who are on the upper end were blessed with charmed genes and a natural status above all others that endows them with “research” abilities. They seem to believe this – or argue for it at any rate.

Mr. Conroy, intrigued, asks for links. Tmesis promptly supplies them. And this is where things get seriously weird.

One of the links Tmesis provides is Jennifer’s and my essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education, in which we say,

Some people oppose our plan on the grounds that it would somehow prevent contingent faculty members from doing research. This is a serious misunderstanding. We are trying to move contingent faculty members onto a tenure track without requiring research from them.

(This is a tipoff that Tmesis doesn’t read all the words, or has significant difficulties understanding some of them. As for the bit about “charmed genes,” what can I say? Anyone who knows my work on intellectual disability knows that I believe in innate genetic hierarchies, and that I am on the top of them.)

Mr. Conroy, being of sound mind, reads through the links and replies, “I didn’t find Berube’s engagement as bullyish or trollish as you did.” This bit of equanimity totally enrages Tmesis, who proceeds to let loose with both barrels:

It’s hard to see in the way the comments are listed, but Berube stopped responding to Jemina. But then he answers the exact same questions when posed by someone else. That’s on purpose, and the purpose is to demean Jemina. And he will discuss working conditions for adjuncts but can clam up when asked about his own labor status? Nope. He doesn’t get that much privilege allotment from me. openinhibiscus says, "It’s ok to discuss working conditions of some but not all scholars. Some questions may be asked, others cannot. Some may opine, but questions from others go unanswered, or are answered partially. Jemina is so obviously right to ask questions, in any tone she wants. The dismissive and condescending way her questions are being treated is downright ugly.”

Aside that, comparing people’s serious concerns about their profession to Nigerian email scams is asshole territory, especially from endowed super prof man status. He trolls anonymous commenters, dismissing them as “random people on the internet” who are “hostile and accusatory” which is clearly untrue. Because a commenter is anonymous, or critical of one’s work, their questions don’t matter? People post anonymously precisely because of the professional structural exclusion that his book was supposed to address. Berube should be angry that such a situation could exist, instead of pompous, dismissive, and inflammatory (troll-y) toward the concerns of others.

I had to read this a couple of times to plumb the many layers of batshit here. In that IHE thread, this “Jemina” showed up to demand that Jennifer and I release our salaries and other employment information. I figured that someone willing to divulge their salary to a pseudonymous internet commenter would probably also be willing to help Nigerian princes with complex international financial transactions, and I said something to that effect. But I was willing to talk about my conditions of employment other than salary information, so I did.

Still, the idea that I have to disclose my salary in order to “discuss working conditions for adjuncts” is a little strange, especially when the proposal on the table is to improve working conditions for adjuncts. And the idea that I have “demeaned” someone by not disclosing my salary to them is a little stranger. And the outrage that I referred to random people on the internet as “random people on the internet” is just a sprinkling of nuts on top.

But what’s most remarkable about Tmesis’s outrage--to which, of course, Mr. Conroy does not respond (one imagines him walking quietly backwards out of the room, whistling softly)--is that it stems from an IHE comment thread from May 2015 (the first of the links Tmesis provides). That’s right, poor Tmesis has been carrying around this rage about my deplorable internet manners for over two years, trying to persuade anyone who mentions our book that I bullied some pseudonymous commenter by not telling her (if Jemina is her real name) my salary.

More than two years. This makes my heart hurt.

Now, look, I know it takes every kind of people to make the internet go round, and some of them are totally unhinged. In fact, as I type, there are people who are outraged beyond measure that Tina Fey told people to stay home and not go see thoughtful movies with two female leads. (The nerve of that woman! Scriptwriters and actresses should mount a petition against her. Only then will we be free.) But even by the standards of trolls and cranks, this seems a bit excessive.

I’ll leave aside the obvious point that in the course of those two years, I used my position in the Penn State Faculty Senate to propose and pass a sweeping overhaul of Penn State policy for fixed-term faculty, creating fixed-term review committees consisting of and elected by fixed-term faculty; creating a third tier of promotion beyond that of senior lecturer; and granting fixed-term faculty professorial titles. I know I did all that because I am constantly demeaning nontenured colleagues less fortunate than I. I’m just wondering what kind of life this Tmesis leads.

One of my friends insists that Tmesis must be one of my colleagues, on the grounds that no one carries around this much incandescent anger for so long unless they are reminded of my existence on a regular basis. But I don’t care who this person is. I just wish them health and a better life, one that does not involve me in any way.

So, back to the good news. As I’ve remarked before, responses to our book have been few and far between, and unfortunately, some of them have done little more than to remind me and Jennifer that (for understandable reasons) some NTT faculty will distrust anything that comes from a member of the tenured ranks. (I’ve even seen this happen to Seth Kahn in an IHE thread, and you won’t find a better tenured ally of NTT faculty than Seth.) Mr. Conroy, for his part, has his own distrust of the tenured ranks– but it didn’t stop him from writing a smart, thorough, and challenging review essay. For that, and for his followups via email, Jennifer and I thank him.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Proof positive

Monday, February 04, 2008

Not Again!

Jeez, you'll fall for this old "read the whole thing" trick every time, won't you? No, there is no transcript of Troy Aikman and Joe Buck debating this call on Wittgensteinian grounds. Really, there isn't. I made it all up.

Why? Because I'm in St. Louis and recovering from a nasty cold and I had nothing better to do.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Blogging in the Future!

See, I told you it was possible!

My, everything is so clear now that it's April 27, 2022. I'm glad all that nonsense from back in 2007 got straightened out!

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Harriet Miers in Retrospect

Greetings, my friends, we are all interested in the future, because that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember, future events such as these will affect you in the future!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

In other future news

Welcome, all you readers looking for future news not related to Harriet Miers!

The South American populist revolution of the late 20th and early 21st century finally took root in the United States in 2020, abolishing the Electoral College, establishing proportional-representation voting for all nonexecutive electoral contests, and bringing agrarian reform to California.

You can learn more about agrarian reform in the United States by Future-Googling Secretary of the Interior Christopher Clarke.