Is there “political support” for raising the federal gun purchase age limit?

Noam Chomsky often makes the point that, in the mouths of American elites, the term “political support” usually means support by elite interests, regardless of public opinion. Here is just one example:

For decades, polls have shown that health care is at or near the top of public concerns — not surprisingly, given the disastrous failure of the health care system, with per capita costs twice as high as comparable societies and some of the worst outcomes. Polls also consistently show that large majorities want a nationalized system, called “single payer,” rather like the existing Medicare system for the elderly, which is far more efficient than the privatized systems or the one introduced by Obama. When any of this is mentioned, which is rare, it is called “politically impossible” or “lacking political support” — meaning that the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, and others who benefit from the current system, object. We gained an interesting insight into the workings of American democracy from the fact that in 2008, unlike 2004, the Democratic candidates — first Edwards, then Clinton and Obama — came forward with proposals that at least begun to approach what the public has wanted for decades. Why? Not because of a shift in public attitudes, which have remained steady. Rather, [the] manufacturing industry has been suffering from the costly and inefficient privatized health care system, and the enormous privileges granted, by law, to the pharmaceutical industries. When a large sector of concentrated capital favors some program, it becomes “politically possible” and has “political support.” Just as revealing as the facts themselves is that they are not noticed.

Today, Donald Trump gives us another example in the context of gun control legislation.

Turning to public opinion, we find evidence that Americans pretty strongly (67%) favor raising the age limit, with only 26% opposing.

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Who Are the Student Mobbists, and Does David Brooks Understand Them?

In a recent essay, David Brooks seeks to extend “empathy” to some people he calls “student mobbists.” Brooks’ empathy consists mainly in the following two claims:

1. The demands of racial justice have transformed from the interpersonal to the structural: “Now the crucial barriers to racial justice are seen not just as individual, but as structural economic structures, the incarceration crisis, the breakdown of family structure.”

2. Reason no longer matters. “Today’s young people were raised within an educational ideology that taught them that individual reason and emotion were less important than perspectivism — what perspective you bring as a white man, a black woman, a transgender Mexican, or whatever.”

The first claim is arguably empathetic in that, if true, it would go some way toward justifying the frustrations of student activists. The second claim does not seem empathetic to me at all, since it attributes a kind of explicit irrationalism to student activists.

Brooks offers very little in the way of evidence for his claims, so it’s pretty hard to evaluate them. I suspect they will just feel right to some readers (especially, conservatives and those liberals who are in or around Brooks’ generation) and wrong to others (especially, the people who the claims are actually about). That being said, he at least locates the claims in time and space. So, when were the demands of racial justice interpersonal rather than structural? And when did reason matter? Brooks’ answer is: the 1980s.

I would begin my stab at understanding by acknowledging that I grew up in one era and they grew up in another. I came of age in the 1980s. In that time, there was an assumption that though the roots of human society were deep in tribalism, over the past 3,000 years we have developed a system of liberal democracy that gloriously transcended it, that put reason, compassion and compromise atop violence and brute force.

There was also an assumption that while we might disagree on the means, we all wanted basically the same things. For example, though America was plagued by economic divides we all wanted a society in which social mobility and equal opportunity were the rule. Though America is plagued by racism, we all wanted more integration and less bigotry, a place where talent and character mattered more than skin color and prejudice.

Unfortunately, Brooks offers about as much evidence for his praise of the 1980s as he does for his condemnation of the contemporary scene.

The idea that racism has only recently been seen as a matter of a structural rather than an individual problems would come as a surprise to leading activists and theorists who lived well-before Brooks’ Golden Age – for example, Martin Luther King, Jr. The idea that there was an “assumption” that we “all” wanted social mobility, equal opportunity, more integration, and less bigotry is odd in an article that acknowledges the problem of mass incarceration, which even less-racialized accounts acknowledge as becoming a serious problem beginning in none other than the 1980s, during Reagan’s tough-on-crime politics and the then-nascent War on Drugs.

As for what Brooks calls “perspectivism,” it’s hard to know for sure what he has in mind. If pressed, could he find some activists or, better, some prominent, influential thinkers who they rely on, who claim that “perspective” is more important than “individual reason and emotion”? The world is a big place, so, maybe.

It’s more likely that Brooks is obliquely referring to an ideology that has an intellectual grounding in what is sometimes called standpoint epistemology. If so, then Brooks deeply misunderstands the view. The idea of standpoint epistemology is not that one’s standpoint (or “perspective”) trumps reason and the emotional life. Rather, the idea is that certain standpoints (that is to say, certain social, cultural, religious, etc. … positions) in fact give one a better, more accurate perspective on particular issues or aspects of issues. The idea is not that, for example, in virtue of being a black person in America, you are automatically an expert in, say, statistics regarding racial bias among police officers. Rather, the idea is that, in virtue of their racial position, black Americans will tend to have better access to what racial bias among police officers is like, what it is like to live in a context of being intimidated on the basis of such bias, experiential expertise in identifying racism in ways to which those outside of the position have little access, and so on. This view is squarely within the domain of views that take “individual reason and emotion” very seriously.

Whatever one thinks about individual vs. institutional analyses of racism, and whatever one thinks about standpoint epistemology, Brooks’ historical and philosophical claims about both issues are pretty implausible.

Some reactions to Glenn Greenwald vs. James Risen

As explained in this blog’s sidebar, an epistepocalypse is “A disaster resulting in drastic, irreversible damage to human knowledge and understanding, esp. with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion; a cataclysm, esp. on a global scale.” Even though a major epistepocalypse is ongoing (in virtue of political polarization, increasing concentration of media ownership, the death of the humanities, and other factors), it is healthy to sometimes appreciate resistance to the trend.

In that spirit, I’d like to highlight the recent exchange between Glenn Greenwald and James Risen, moderated by Jeremy Scahill for the Intercepted podcast. Click here for a transcript of the exchange (with a link to video). The exchange is anti-epistepocalyptic, because it involves two people simultaneously disagreeing about important matters while attempting to genuinely understand each other.

As I see it, Greenwald and Risen each offer one major criticism of the other. I’ll summarize those criticisms and offer some (fairly light) critical remarks of my own.

1. Risen’s usage of “traitor” and “treason”

The main catalyst for the exchange was Risen’s recent article, “Is Donald Trump a Traitor?” Risen writes that “if a presidential candidate or his lieutenants secretly work with a foreign government that is a longtime adversary of the United States to manipulate and then win a presidential election, that is almost a textbook definition of treason.” Citing an article by Steve Vladeck, Greenwald argues that Risen’s usage of “traitor” does not fit the intentionally narrow definition in the Constitution.

Here is the excerpt I want to focus on:

James Risen: But the idea that if you’re a presidential candidate and you get elected by colluding with an adversary of the United States, I think most Americans would think in the common usage of the term that that would be treason. Now, I’m not saying that Donald Trump is a traitor.

Glenn Greenwald: There is no definition of treason or traitor besides the legal definition.

JR: Yeah, well, I think, I think that’s, I think you’re wrong about that.

GG: I think it’s a really dangerous standard.

JR: I think there’s a common usage and a legal usage.

GG: I think it’s a really dangerous standard, for you to say, “OK, well maybe treason and being a traitor doesn’t apply in the legal sense, but a lot of Americans think that it would apply in a colloquial sense.” You know what? I can guarantee you, and I’m sure there’s polling to support this in fact, in 2006 and 2007 a lot of Americans believed that the New York Times was guilty of treason.

Even if Greenwald is correct that Risen hasn’t captured the constitutional definition of “treason” or “traitor,” it’s odd to say that there is no non-constitutional usage of these terms. First, there’s the banal point that the words “treason” and “traitor” predate the United States Constitution (the Oxford English dictionary dates both to the 13th century!). But more importantly, I think it’s just intuitively obvious that the ordinary sense of these terms simply involves a serious betrayal of one’s country or people. Even so, Greenwald isn’t wrong that the rhetoric is dangerous and opportunistic (the latter, in the sense that we tend to use it only when the politics match our ideology). And he’s been remarkably consistent on this point. (Don’t believe me? Peruse the results of this Google search!) Moreover, although Risen acknowledged some technical differences between the legal usage and his, he was clearly making some claim to a reasonable interpretation of the Constitution (he says that Mueller will refrain from issuing treason charges as a mere “practical matter”). Nevertheless, it’s not right to pin a wildly inaccurate misuse of language on Risen. Maybe some terms and concepts are so potent that we should totally discard their commonsense usage – but that criticism is different from saying that the commonsense usage is non-existent.

2. Greenwald’s success as a communicator

As any blasphemously loyal Intercept reader (like myself) knows, Greenwald’s position that journalists and pundits often go beyond the evidence in claiming Trump-Russia collusion often gets conflated with a view he has not defended: that there is nothing legitimate about the Mueller investigation, or that collusion didn’t happen. Risen suspects that this isn’t solely other people’s fault:

[Y]ou and I are in the communications business, and if the preponderance of what you write is interpreted by a large number of your readers in a certain way then, and it’s not what you intended, then you failed as a communicator. Have you accurately communicated what you really believe over the last year?

Greenwald regards this argument as “preposterous,” and defends instead the explanation that “there is an attempt to smear people who don’t get on board with the prevailing orthodoxy.”

It seems clear to me that both of these can be partial explanations. In fact, Greenwald’s explanation could be most of the explanation, yet Risen might still have a point. Greenwald cites the (very epistepocalyptic!) run-up to the Iraq War to defend his point in a different context: “opponents of the Iraq war were constantly accused of being admirers of Saddam Hussein. Were they? No they weren’t.”

Perhaps surprisingly, I think that this example highlights how both Greenwald’s and Risen’s points are in fact partial explanations, even if Greenwald’s is the dominant one. One of the rhetorical devices that apologists for state violence use against its opponents is a dishonest argument from silence. When the opponent of state violence against X (say, Saddam Hussein) is either silent on, or minimizes reference to, the crimes of X, the apologist for state violence presents this as positive support for X. We see this all over the place. For example, consider this exchange between Sean Hannity and Yousef Munayyer, in which Hannity requires that Munayyer positively condemn Hamas as a terrorist organization before proceeding with a discussion. You’ll look in vain for similar conversational requirements in the other direction, even in dissident media like Democracy Now!.

It’s true that it is irrational for readers and listeners to infer support for Hussein or support for terrorism based on either silence or lack of emphasis. It’s also true that there are good reasons for silence and lack of emphasis. These include:

i. The object of silence or minimal emphasis is usually a matter of widespread agreement already. (Cf. another interesting example: demands that Noam Chomsky assert that the Holocaust happened, in reaction to the Faurisson Affair. This resulted in one of my favorite Chomsky quips: “It seems to me something of a scandal that it is even necessary to debate these issues two centuries after Voltaire defended the right of free expression for views he detested. It is a poor service to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust to adopt a central doctrine of their murderers.”)

ii. Remaining silent or minimizing emphasis can be an act of solidarity with those who are on the losing end of a one-sided narrative. (For example, it’s perfectly reasonable for black activists to resist demands by their white critics that they condemn “black-on-black crime,” and the like.)

I don’t think either (i) or (ii) really apply to the Russia investigation. So, while it is stupid for readers or listeners to infer extreme skepticism or denial from Greenwald’s persistent demand that journalists and pundits stick to the evidence, and while it is deeply dishonest for critics who know better to pin such things on him, I think that there are nevertheless strong pragmatic grounds for going out of one’s way to avoid this kind of misunderstanding. Imagine, for example, that Greenwald wrote even a short or medium-sized piece explaining what he (as an expert in law, no less!) thinks the extant evidence positively shows or suggests. While such a piece would, perhaps, be something of a capitulation to propagandists, it would not have the humiliating features of a Palestinian being asked to condemn Palestinians, or a Black Lives Matters activist being asked to condemn violence committed by black people, etc.

Since I’ve favorably cited Chomsky (who I admire at least as much as Current Affairs’ Nathan Robinson does), I should say that I think something like the same pragmatic criticism applies to him – who is, likewise, not in the social/political position of a Black American or a Palestinian. Although it is obvious to me that Chomsky does not think that America is the root of all evil, or that terrorism committed by Palestinians is good, or … etc., it is utterly predictable that his writings and speeches will be misrepresented in these ways. As such, it takes more than just an obligatory line or two to combat this tactic.

The upshot is that I think Greenwald is correct that the primary fault for misinterpretation of his writings is with propagandists and even some readers themselves, but that Risen is right that Greenwald could (without too much effort, or self-humiliation) and should do more to reduce the frequency and intensity of these misinterpretations.

Editor-in-chief of The Daily Ant Liveblogs Templeton Foundation Ceremony Honoring Philosopher Alvin Plantinga

The Daily Ant is an online magazine that features premier ant content, including but not limited to their “Philosophy Phriday” series (see here for the updated list of contributions). Tonight, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Ant gave a play-by-play of the Templeton Foundation ceremony honoring Alvin Plantinga. You can read it yourself here!

Mooch Monday: Sackful O’ Ants

Here is a guest post I did for The Daily Ant.

Yours,
Boshua

The Daily Ant

Very few things have nothing to do with ants, and Anthony Scaramucci (or, as he is known in the adult cartoon we call reality, “The Mooch”) is no exception.

Many readers will have only just recently learned their Moochian Myrmecology from intrepid journalist and gleeful polemicist Matt Taibbi. Who is Matt Taibbi? Well, let me put it this way. In 2005, Matt Taibbi wrote an essay called “The 52 Funniest Things About the Upcoming Death of the Pope” which, like Donald Trump, earned condemnation from both Hillary Clinton and Anthony Weiner. In 2012, he wrote this touching eulogy on the occasion of the actual death of Andrew Breitbart. In the very same year, he also wrote this love letter to David Brooks. (Which reminds me, I swear I once heard Ann Coulter describe David Brooks as the “Elisabeth Hasselbeck of the New York Times,” but I can’t find the…

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James Comey Don’t Give a Shit

Many of you will have seen the viral video, “The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger.” If not (or if you need a refresher) watch it now:

Many of you will have also followed the news. Anyway, thanks to Dan of Xark for the script on which the following is based. This post is dedicated to Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare.

James Comey Don’t Give a Shit

This is the James Comey. Watch it run in slow motion.

It’s pretty badass. Look. It runs all over the place. “Whoa! Watch out!” says that Republican. Eew, it’s got a Democrat! Oh! It’s chasing a Republican! Oh my gosh!

Oh, the James Comey is just crazy!

The James Comey has been referred to by Benjamin Wittes as “the only truly subtextless man I’ve met working in senior levels of government in Washington.” It really doesn’t give a shit. If it’s hungry, it’s hungry.

Eew! What’s that in its mouth? Oh, it’s got an illegal NSA program? Oh, it runs backwards? Now watch this: look, a Gonzales is heading to the hospital to get a mentally compromised Ashcroft to approve an illegal NSA program. James Comey don’t care. It just does what it thinks is right. Whenever it thinks something is right it just — Eew, and it eats Andrew Card… Watch it dig graves for all partisan politicians! Look at that digging.

The James Comey is really pretty badass. it has no regard for any politician whatsoever. Look at it, it’s just doing his job, and eating politicians. Eew! What’s that? Jared Kushner? Oh that’s nasty. It’s so nasty. Oh look the James Comey is chasing things and devouring them with its pure credibility.

James Comeys have a fairly long body, but a distinctly thickset broad shoulders, and, you know, their loyalty is only to what they think is right, allowing them to move about freely, and they twist around.

Now look: Here’s a House Intelligence Committee full of politicians. Do you think the James Comey cares? It doesn’t give a shit, it goes right into the House Intelligence Committee to get some fresh meat. How disgusting is that? It eats congressmen for breakfast. Eew, that’s so nasty.

But look! The James Comey doesn’t care! It’s getting stung like a thousand times. It doesn’t give a shit. It’s just hungry. It doesn’t care about being stung by politicians. Nothing can stop the James Comey when it’s hungry. What a crazy fuck! Look, it’s eating the Trump Administration, that’s disgusting.

It’s testifying again. See?

Now, what’s interesting is that other humans like these politicians here (and here), they just wait around until the James Comey is done eating, and then swoop in to pick up the scraps. They say, “You do all the work for us, James Comey, and we’ll just eat whatever you find, how’s that? What’daya say, stupid?”

Look at this politician: “Thanks for the treat, stupid!”

“Hey, come back here,” says the James Comey.

Politicians don’t care, and you know what? The journalists do it too. Look at these little hacks. They’re like “Thanks stupid! Thanks for the truth! See you later.” Then James Comey does all the work and all these other humans just pick up the scraps.

At nighttime the James Comey goes hunting, because it’s hungry. Look! Here comes a fierce battle between a President Trump and a James Comey. I wonder what will happen?

Look at this, there’s the James Comey just eating politicians, and then look, “Get away from me!” says the President Trump, “Get away from me!” James Comey don’t care. James Comey smacks the shit out of it. And the President Trump comes back and it lashes at the James Comey.

Oh, little does the James Comey know, FYI: it’s been stung! It’s been bitten by the President Trump, so while it’s eating the politicians – eew, that’s disgusting – all the poisonous venom is seeping through the James Comey’s body, and it passes out. Look at that sleepy fuck.

Now the James Comey is going to pass out for a few minutes, and then it’s going to get right back up and start eating all over again, because it’s a credible little bastard.

Look at this! Like nothing happened! The James Comey gets right back up and continues eating the politicians.

How disgusting.

And of course, what does the James Comey have to eat for the next two weeks?

President Trump.

Some reactions to Laura Kipnis, “Eyewitness to a Title IX Witch Trial”

Last month the Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) published an excerpt from Unwanted Advances by Northwestern Professor Laura Kipnis. Below are four or so aspects of the excerpt that puzzled me or that I find objectionable, partly in themselves, and partly in light of material that exists elsewhere in the public domain. I’m not going to summarize the details or who the people in question are – so read the excerpt if you want to follow what’s going on.

(1) Purposeful asymmetrical access

First, the excerpt gives the impression that Kipnis enjoyed extremely lopsided, asymmetrical access to the main case study. The excerpt makes it seem that, in addition to court documents and anything already in the public domain on both sides, she only sought out the more personal take of the accused professor. Because this controversy is supposed to be a factual example supporting Kipnis’ broader points about sexual agency, Title IX, and the politics of campus bureaucracy, it may be difficult to believe that, in addition to legal documents and proceedings, only one side was personally consulted. But that is evidently the case.

Outside of the CHE excerpt, Kipnis has presented at least a few different (but overlapping – I’m not trying to imply that they are necessarily contradictory) explanations for why she didn’t even attempt to contact the professor’s accusers. In a public Facebook comment responding to this very concern, she writes,

The students’ accounts–including the various changing versions of their accounts–were already on record. I reported those accounts in the book.

I am perplexed by this explanation, because in addition to court records of his own complaints, the professor’s account was also on the record (paywall). But even the court records Kipnis seems to have access to are lopsided in the professor’s favor, because the graduate student’s side of things is not in fact directly documented in them (the professor’s own suit did not make it past a motion to dismiss, because the court decided that even if the facts as he alleged them were true, he didn’t have a discrimination case – so the facts claimed therein were not adjudicated); rather, her case is merely summarized in university (not court) documents by the very institutions of which Kipnis is rightly skeptical (see, e.g., footnote 1 on page 2 here). But even setting aside the odd claims about what was on the record, the point of getting personal interviews is to find out whether, from the subject’s perspective, the court and other venues really tell the whole story, and attendant to this, to acquire any evidence that for some reason may have not yet come to light. [UPDATE: While the grad student’s side of the story was not previously directly on the official record, now it is. You can read a useful summary, with a link to the primary source material, here.]

In any case, this is a bit different from (but again, not necessarily inconsistent with) what Kipnis says in the book itself. In a footnote (pp. 15-16) to a discussion of a different case, she writes of all her cases,

I didn’t interview the accuser in this case or the other cases I discuss, which would have been impossible – any respondent who gave me the name or contact information for a complainant would be subject to retaliation charges. The privacy constraints are one thing that make Title IX difficult to write about (also so impervious to oversight).

I am perplexed by this explanation, because it leaves out any other means of finding out if an accuser wants to talk. Aren’t accusers interviewed a fair amount (e.g., for the CHE post linked to previously)? Aren’t there ways to, at the very least, communicate a desire to interview someone (to get a fuller picture) without first getting their contact information (e.g., by sending a request through someone else – like a legal team, a department, or a university)?

And finally, this is different from (not contradictory with) a third explanation Kipnis gives in her response to a public letter that the Northwestern Philosophy Graduate Student Association adopted by majority vote.

The graduate student’s story has already been ratified as the official story. It wasn’t my goal to retell that story, I was reporting on what got left out. … I’d also like to remind the Graduate Student Association that [the graduate student] (and a fellow grad student in your department) not long ago brought me up on Title IX complaints for writing eight words about her. To suggest that she or her friends would have been eager to speak to me about her relationship with [the professor]—and I should have sought them out for interviews—is disingenuous at best.

First, where has the graduate student’s story been “ratified as the official story”? One of the central claims of the graduate student was officially determined to lack sufficient evidence, as has been widely reported: the professor was found guilty of harassment, not rape. Of course, lacking sufficient evidence is consistent with the claim being true, but the latter has hardly become the official story.

Presumably, the “eight words” written about the accuser (in an earlier piece – here is a PDF from Kipnis’ website) were also written without consulting her (or the accused), to get her take on whether the words were accurate. In fact, the accuracy of the words is the stated motivation of at least one of the Title IX complainants (described in the Daily Nous), in the first place. Maybe, in the end, the graduate student would not have wanted to talk to Kipnis, but given the plausibility that she might want a say in what is publicly said about her going forward, wouldn’t it have been at least reasonable, and ethical, to try?

Interestingly, Kipnis has a reply to the Title IX complainant who wrote about the case for the Daily Nous. There she spends some time explaining why she did not write more than a few words about this particular case:

Let me explain why I didn’t say more about the case. The only account I had access to was the professor’s. Though all the information I drew on was in the public record, there was also a lot of private (and unverifiable) information about the graduate student’s life that I had no desire to comment on, or further circulate, even though the student wasn’t named. Once again, most of the facts and sexual allegations were—and are—in contention. To write about the complexities of that situation would have taken an article in itself, even if I’d been able to interview both parties involved, which I wasn’t. And I would have had to write both sides of the story, not one. But it also wasn’t my purpose to write a reported piece on this case; I was writing two paragraphs in an essay that took on many additional subjects.

I leave it as an exercise for readers to figure out what tensions might exist between this last statement and the refusal to even attempt to contact accusers when writing a (sure to be widely read) book partly about their cases, as well as ways in which one might pull them apart. The main point I want to emphasize is just that, as Kipnis herself recognizes or seems to have at one time recognized, it’s not just non-ideal, but very bad, to write with lopsided access to cases. And it leaves readers in a very epistemologically awkward position, wondering whether the story would be any different if the author had access to the other side’s personal take on things, any new evidence they could provide, whether the access the author did have to the accuser resulted in any unwittingly selective evidence, and so on.

(2) Philosophical Chaos in the Courtroom

Second, there is a long passage about the character witness provided by another philosopher. The witness is said to inspire great confidence, partly because she is “honest.” But isn’t honesty the thing we are supposed to be convinced about?

In this passage, we are also treated to claims about the professor being cool, charming, and pursued by women. Are we supposed to expect that someone with these features is less likely to be guilty of sexual harassment, assault, or rape? What is the relevance of this claim supposed to be to the charges?

Furthermore, Kipnis describes the session with the witness – during which the witness apparently says that she loves the professor – as having an “erotic current”, yet we are to also believe that the existence of 2,000 text messages and “expressions of love and lasting devotion” are decisive pieces of evidence that the professor and the graduate student were dating. Surely context is everything (the philosopher witness was not in fact expressing romantic love, I presume), but Kipnis provides none for the supposed expressions of love and devotion via text.

Perhaps most peculiarly, Kipnis recounts the philosopher giving the following argument: She hasn’t heard any negative comments or whispers about the professor in fifteen years, but had there been anything negative, she would have heard it, “because people came to her about this sort of thing.” First, would it change Kipnis’ – or the court’s – mind if she simply encountered philosophers who have heard negative comments and whispers? But perhaps more importantly: might philosophers not come to a person with negative comments and whispers about a major, influential philosopher who, as Kipnis relates, officiated that person’s wedding(!)?

Finally, Kipnis makes a big deal about the fact that the character witness is also an expert philosopher working on “inference to the best explanation,” who turned the room into a kind of philosophy seminar. Does it similarly count for something that two of the Northwestern philosophy professors who issued a brief public statement in defense of the graduate student (saying that Kipnis’ portrayals are “grossly inaccurate”), are specialists in epistemology, and do significant work on the epistemology of testimony in particular? Swap in the character witness with those two professors, have them utter contrary statements but in the same expert mood (minus the expression of love and admiration for the professor’s coolness and success with women), and does the grad student’s case suddenly become more plausible to Kipnis?

(3) Distinctions and differences

Kipnis sometimes minimizes important distinctions, or exaggerates unimportant ones. For example, she calls the distinction between force and manipulation “splitting hairs.” But isn’t this a perfectly straightforward, and morally important, distinction? Coming up with examples is another exercise for the reader.

On the other hand, the fact that the graduate student and the professor work “in different areas,” and that she has “never actually taken any classes with him,” are distinctions that are apparently supposed to have some significance. But this ignores how graduate programs (at least, graduate programs in philosophy) actually work. A graduate student can work closely with someone who officially specializes in a different area and even without taking any of their classes. In fact, faculty members who are not even one’s advisers can potentially wield enormous influence over one’s career. Were I not writing under a carefully crafted pseudonym, I’d prove it with personal examples. Of course, these things come in degrees, and officially taking classes with someone can create a power dynamic that someone might abuse. But these concerns do not become particularly implausible just because the particular institutional relationships Kipnis mentions are lacking.

(4) Moral and legal evaluation

Fourth and finally, the general moral perspective of the excerpt is odd. Many of the behaviors described, even on the assumption that the accused professor’s story is correct and he didn’t do anything worthy of official sanction, seem to be good evidence that there is something deeply wrong here – for example, having or allowing an undergraduate student spend the night in one’s bed. Here I agree with some of PZ Myers’ (characteristically hyperbolic) commentary. Of course, this kind of disagreement depends upon an overall view of sexuality and power dynamics that Kipnis and her allies probably find prudish and backward.