Saturday, April 27, 2019

Tristan Rogers: "The Dearth Of Conservatives In Academic Philosophy"

I've got complicated views about this, but it's something of a problem IMO.
What explains it? Probably the background left lean of academia and undergraduate-aged kids. Also philosophy errs toward the theoretical, as does leftism. Also a lot of philosophy is crap. Also a lot of it is crap because it's just rationalization for what we already believe. Even optimists about philosophy ought to admit that there's juts an enormous amount of crap and rationalization in it.
   What about these explanations?:
Why are there so few political conservatives in philosophy? Some hypotheses stand out immediately. One may notice that philosophy requires a critical attitude that sits uncomfortably with the characteristically conservative respect for authority. As a profession, philosophy also does not offer career prospects that risk-averse conservatives may value higher than their more idealistic liberal counterparts. Lastly, as Peter K. Jonason has shown, openness to ideas and experience—the philosophical character trait par excellence—is associated with political liberalism, not conservatism.
Meh. Conservatives are the new liberals in this respect, at least in academia. That is to say: the left is the status quo/orthodoxy in academia. Conservatism now requires more independence of thought there. Hell, I'm not even conservative, but academia and philosophy have swung so far left that people like me, who are less subject to the tides of opinion than most, are left standing to the right of the mean, marveling and the insane things that are now apparently orthodox. This isn't a completely novel position for me to be in. In my youth, most people around me seemed to be stuck in an overly-provincial, conservative, and religious worldview. I was of a more independent and contrarian bent, and so was more prone to busting out of that perspective. Most others were less independent, less contrarian, and less willing to force themselves to think consistently. For the record, I probably went too far...a well-known tendency of the contrarian...but I did bust out.
   Currently, most philosophers seem to me to be analogous to the people back home. They're too much on autopilot, too much influenced by the prevailing orthodoxy...and, to some extent, they just don't want any trouble. Hence a smallish group of radicals exerts disproportionate anti-philosophical influence on philosophy. Consequently, philosophy, overall, acquires a decided lean to the left. You have a bunch of shrill radicals with megaphones (e.g.: control of the APA, control of major salient on the web) and a lot of political influence and armor...and everybody else. Most of them lean left, but they mostly don't want to politicize philosophy. But they also don't want any trouble, don't want to take on the loudmouths, and certainly aren't interested in staking out and defending some kind of contrary, anti-left position that will require a lot of time and effort...and will make them the target of a vicious, powerful and, frankly, somewhat unhinged radical faction... All of this together produces a fairly pronounced lean to the left--a hard lean in some quarters, and a more go-with-the-flow-y lean in others. But overall: a big lean.
   Look, a lot of that's basically stream-of-consciousness, and I've got the flu or something. So it's probably not terribly good.


Blogger The Mystic said...

My guess at the strongest contributing factor is actually a consequence of the factor you pointed out: that the Ctrl-Left (we HAVE to keep that neologism going; it's too perfect) controls academia with a logistical iron fist.

If conservatives are strongly characterized by risk-aversion, as am I in a sense that compares me to my peers, at least (certainly fiscally), then getting into that job market is just a non-starter.

After all, that's principally why I abandoned my academic career aspirations. I fought tooth and nail, ultimately losing, to even get permission from my advisers to author a thesis proposal for the analysis of the issues facing the definition of religion. As they were psychotically nihilist about such a proposal, veritably and actually explicitly celebrating in class the nonsensical assertion that "the term 'religion' can't be defined" and adding "that's what makes religious studies so enthralling!" over my objection "But, if 'religion' has no definition, then isn't this field relegated to merely being called 'studies'?" at which they scoffed and, again, tried to "explain" that they are scholars of religion whereas I "seem to want to do something like analytical philosophy".


Anyhoo, I'd guess that, if the assertion regarding typical conservative disposition towards professional risk is accurate, that's certainly in line with why I bailed. I've got a family and I just can't tolerate the kind of stress that would put on me. Being incapable of finding a tenure track position because I refuse to bow down to insane orthodoxy just isn't something I'm willing to do.

Of course, your analysis of the Ctrl-Left side of the equation seems to reflect a similar risk-aversion there. I expect this is a large part of why human behavior tends to swing so psychotically and groupthinky.. At the risk of losing access to essential resources controlled by the dominant psychos, it's pretty hard to put one's family's well-being in harm's way to do it.

I often think that, if I were single (and, by extension, fundamentally miserable, given my constitution), I would probably have gallantly and antagonistically championed the flag of contrarianism. Assuming the dual focuses on family and fiscal security in conservatism, I expect this is probably the strongest contributor to the phenomenon (maybe even among humans in general).

2:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So I'm pretty conservative, was a philosophy undergrad (at UNC) seriously considering going into grad school/research, and ultimately decided to pursue computer science. Here was my thought process:

1. I think philosophy as a discipline is at a theoretical dead end. The insistence on materialist metaphysics/empiricist epistemology is too strict to allow for a lot of crucial questions, particularly around existential/ethical concerns to be cogently answered. There are good reasons to hold those theories in high regard, but from what I could tell there was basically no room for meaningful dissent (outside of something like Lewis' modal realism or weird stuff like that). So the discipline has hamstrung itself from discussing the stuff people ultimately really want to understand. I'm saying this as a guy who was primarily interested in stuff like formal logic, philosophy of maths, etc, but even then it's clear there's a whole world being ignored.

2. Political issues are very real. I graduating in 2013 and things were clearly souring greatly by then (Trayvon Martin had recently happened), and it wasn't hard to know you needed to get out. Corporate America has these issues too, but the university is uniquely bad and ironically suffers very poor oversight because its traditionally been such a strong actor in supporting freedom of expression. And of course this feeds into 1.

3. Humanities generally are utterly beyond repair, and it's foolish to think philosophy will avoid the ultimate budgetary reckoning the entire discipline is due, certainly within my still young working, even if that's undeserved for the specific case of philosophy which likely never will be 1/100th as bad as the rest.

4. Pay is crap. I'll be swimming upstream in a discipline slowly killing itself, while having to fight an increasingly aggressive activist left while struggling to ultimately support a family. Or I can use my talents in software, be paid 3x-4x as much, and contribute to stuff much less intellectually stimulating but that's still quite productive.

4:09 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Ok, now I'm too depressed by both of these comments to respond.

10:46 AM  
Anonymous Critical Spirits said...

While we're in the business of beating up on philosophy, I should mention that I share more-or-less the same experiences and estimations as both The Mystic and Anon with respect to my short graduate career.

I am currently in a program in a department with a heavy philsci lean, and it is difficult to find advisors with which I might develop ideas that run contrary to received views in that portion of the literature. I do not attribute this merely to unreflective bias (though I'm sure this plays a part), but instead it seems to stem from hyper-specialization-- the bane of philosophy if there ever was one.

Here are some examples that might constitute a further evidence for some of the claims set forth in the previous comments:

1. My thesis advisor (a philosopher who is relatively well-known in the metaphysics literature) has routinely informed me that I ought to "leave my Kantian intuitions at the door" when doing serious metaphysics.

2. I face constant, antagonistic pushback when I suggest that we might give an account of, say, what consciousness is, without recourse to human sense-perception. My interlocutors tend to object to my claims before I develop the full view, and then get cranky before deciding it isn't worth their time.

3. I was advised not to write a thesis on Peirce for I would likely be cast as *merely* doing history of philosophy, and in its place, spent a year researching what I now think is a theoretical dead-end (metaphysical grounding (at least as it is framed in the contemporary literature)). In any case, I am definitely not (nor was I ever) interested in what grounds facts about what grounds what. More generally, the pressure to publish so early into one's academic career, in my view, stifles young, inquisitive minds, and shoehorns them into working on some extremely tiny subset of philosophical issues.

I could go on, but I will spare you all the details. I could also write a litany of blog posts on the ways in which leftist politics has influenced both i) moral philosophy in general, and ii) departmental life and the day-to-day interactions of my graduate cohort and a select number of professors. However, I'm hoping to have a good day tomorrow, and laying all this out at 3 am will only render me too angry to function in the morning. If anyone is interested in these tales, I would be more than happy to share them at a later time.

Before I conclude my piling on, I feel the need to vent this: INTUITION-MONGERING IN PHILOSOPHY IS RUINING THE DISCIPLINE AND REGULARLY LEAVES PHILOSOPHICAL DISPUTES IDLE OR INCOMMENSURABLE. I can't count how many times I have been told "well if you don't share so and so's intuitions, then we just can't have a discussion about this" as if I'm supposed to be satisfied, and then go find folks who are already in basic agreement with me.

Philosophy is broken, man. I'm taking time off from my academic career, and I'm not sure if I'll ever come back.

3:08 AM  

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