Wednesday, April 11, 2012

American Values Project Exhibition Gets the Greenlight!

After much Sturm und Drang for the AVP team, we're happy to announce that we've finally managed to secure a location and date for our exhibit! So, mark your calendars: We'll be staging the VERY FIRST exhibition of the entire American Values Project collection on MAY 5 at Marshall Arts gallery in downtown Memphis.

May is always an exciting and jam-packed month here in the River City. The annual Memphis in May festivities include a World-Championship BBQ Contest, a star-studded Music Fest, a Sunset Symphony and, now, the American Values Project exhibition! Our show will include multimedia and interactive elements-- so bring the whole gang, kids included, with you!-- as well as enlarged displays of our ever-increasing collection. If you haven't contributed your own photo to our collection yet, now is the time! Just visit the How To Contribute page on our website and follow the instructions to upload a picture of you and your value there. You can also upload your photo to the AVP Facebook page, or email it to our team (avp@americanvaluesproject.net), or even email it directly to me (johnsonl@rhodes.edu). And, if you HAVE already contributed, please be sure to come by the exhibition and see what the whole thing looks like!

Because of the time it takes to print and mount physical images for display, we'll only be able to include photos that we receive before Thursday, April 19th (that's NEXT Thursday!). Of course, you can still contribute to the Project after that date, but we won't be able to include your photo in the May 5 exhibit if we don't get it before then. So, GRAB YOUR CAMERA RIGHT NOW AND DO IT!!

American Values Project has always been a grassroots, DIY, nickel-and-dime endeavor that relies heavily on the support and goodwill of the people who believe in it. If you're one of those people, the AVP team would like to impose on you (again) to help us spread the word about the Project and the upcoming exhibition. Please point your friends and family to our website, our Facebook page or our Twitter feed, and please feel free to download and distribute the image below, which is the announcement/flyer for our May 5 show:

Friday, April 06, 2012

The Vicissitudes of Netiquette

In the last couple of days, I've received a lot of criticism about this post, in which I solicited Dr. Vincent Hendricks (and encouraged my readers to solicit Dr. Hendricks) to grant an interview with me, for the benefit of his English-speaking audience, about the recent kerfuffle surrounding his decision to post on his website-- then, subsequently, to remove and apologize for-- a series of controversial photos. The criticism focused, in part, on the less-than-optimally-nice "tone" of my posts regarding Dr. Hendricks' sexist photos, but more so on my decision to provide his email address to readers, in order for them to copy and send the prefabricated solicitation that I provided in that post. Although the exact wording that my detractors used to describe my offense varied, most of them seemed to concentrate on the charge that it amounted to what one might call "bad netiquette." Netiquette is, of course, shorthand for "internet etiquette," an unwritten set of social conventions and mores outlining what is and is not acceptable in our online behaviors. For the most part, general netiquette rules proscribe spamming, multi-posting, mis- or non-atrributions, hijacking of discussion threads and trolling, as well as other quasi-illegal activities like harassment, bullying, defamation and libel. The less generally-accepted rules of netiquette proscribe behaviors akin to unsportsmanlike conduct, which (in the arena of conversation) amount to things like being rude, dismissive, irrational, illogical or impolite... but also more concrete practices like mine, namely, publishing someone's (real or electronic) address.

In all fairness, I don't think that I could characterize my posts on the Hendricks affair as "nice," though I certainly wouldn't characterize them as rude, dismissive, irrational, illogical or even impolite. (In fact, I think they were, for the most part, exceedingly polite.) I fear that, for many, "disagreement" is by definition incompatible with "niceness"... an evaluation with which I profoundly disagree. The matter under dispute was a provocative one, and that some found the discussion surrounding it equally provocative is not surprising. However, because several of the people who criticized me for "bad netiquette" are people with whom I generally agree and for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect, I want to address this charge head-on.

What follows is my defense:

First, it must be noted that Dr. Hendricks himself acknowledged the error of his decision to post the controversial photos, so the substantive content of my posts-- namely, that the photos were objectionable-- is no longer a matter of real dispute. Hendricks issued a public apology (which, it appears, has since been removed) on his publicly available website, an apology that Hendicks himself requested to be re-posted on professional Philosophy's most publicly accessed site (Leiter Reports), in reference to those photos. I think it's fair to assume that Dr. Hendricks understood that neither the photos nor the controversy surrounding the photos was ever NOT a public matter. (The story was covered by ABC News, for goodness sake!) In both of my posts regarding the Hendricks affair, I encouraged readers to contact Dr. Hendricks about his (in my view, sexist) photos. In the first of those posts, I did not provide Dr. Hendricks' email address, though I did in the second. So, the question is: was my decision to provide Hendricks' email address "bad netiquette"?

Obviously, I think not. This is chiefly because, in my view, the entire matter was always already, independent of any posts or decisions on my part, taking place in the custody of the public domain. Hendricks' email address was publicly available on the same site that the photos (and his now-deleted apology for the photos) was originally published. All I did was excise the one simple step between saying "please email Dr. Hendricks" and providing the means to do so. The generic netiquette rule that proscribes publishing people's personal/private information-- which I think is a good and important rule-- just doesn't apply here. I didn't *make public* anything that wasn't already public-- neither the person, the photos, nor the issue surrounding the person and the photos. I didn't employ any super-sleuth skills to position Hendricks as a target for anything for which he hadn't already (publicly) targeted himself. In fact, by the time of my second post, Hendricks had already granted an interview to the Copenhagen newspaper Universitetsavisen, which is evidence enough (for me, at least) that he wasn't operating under the presumption of privacy about this matter.

Could I have "hotlinked" to his webpage without actually providing his email address? Yes. Was it an incitement to harassment not to do so? Absolutely not. If you go back and read my solicitation, you will see that I encouraged my readers to send the following email to Prof. Hendricks:
Dear Professor Hendricks,

I am writing to encourage you to accept the interview request by Dr. Leigh Johnson, which you can read here. Your English-speaking audience is eager and willing to hear your response to the controversy surrounding the images associated with your Logic course. I hope you will make every effort to accommodate this request.

Sincerely,
{Your name here}
For the record, that is the exact wording of the email that I myself sent to Hendricks. That is to say, I invited Hendricks (and invited others to invite Hendricks) to a conversation in which he might be given an opportunity to provide a fuller account of his actions/decisions to his English-speaking audience, an audience that he had neglected (and still has neglected) to address directly, despite the fact that the English-speaking world is the primary domain of the controversy surrounding his photos.

I want to be exceedingly clear on this point in particular: my primary (and explicitly stated) aim in soliciting a conversation with Dr. Hendricks was to give HIM the fairest hearing possible. I was soliciting, first of all, a philosopher-to-philosopher civil discourse about a matter of significant concern to our shared community and. second of all, a more complete picture of the decision-making process of someone who had positioned himself as a *very* public figure in the professional Philosophical community as a consequence of his decisions.

So, in sum, I stand by my choice to publish Hendricks' email in my second post. I don't think it was improper, impolite or aggressive... nor do I think it violates reasonably-interpreted standards of netiquette.

In my view, the negative reaction to my decision may very well be indicative of a kind of two-tiered (read: gender-imbalanced) standard for judging what is proper or improper netiquette. I am, quite frankly, shocked that my decision to provide Hendricks' publicly-available email address in the course of soliciting him for an interview was taken to be more objectionable than his decision to post the photos under dispute. If anything, those photos constitute a direct affront to me personally-- and to every other female student of philosophy or professional female philosopher. My request to have a conversation about those photos, even if pre-framed as a conversation that takes them to be already sexist, also could be taken as an affront, I suppose, by Dr. Hendricks. But my request could hardly be taken as an affront of the same kind as his. As I think Shiloh Whitney articulated quite well (and convincingly) in her post, in which she questions the insistence that women be held to a higher standard of not only proof, but also "niceness":
You should know that these responses fit troublingly snugly within another set of sexist practices: the sort that patronize women interlocutors, that demand or simply presume our humility, and that reproach and punish women who are proud, confrontational, challenging, demanding, feminist, or who fail to make others' comfort a priority. Not only photographs, but also discussion and debate can be occasions to participate in sexist practices, and occasions to call them out. Some of the people in this debate are not only lacking background knowledge. They are also lacking a self-awareness of their own implication in sexist practices. If you want to be part of the solution to philosophy's problem with sexism, you should start by reflecting on the demands you place on your feminist and women colleagues in the way that you speak to them. Do you demand their humility? Do you make your discomfort and hurt pride their problem?
Whitney has hit the nail on the head here, I think, and she captures something that I suspect every female philosopher regularly confronts, but that few (including me) feel comfortable voicing in her own defense. The question for female philosophers is not "why do we have to be polite?" or "why do we have to be nice?" but rather, as Whitney claims, why is it such a monumentally objectionable offense when we're not? There are very few philosophers I've ever met-- the almost-pathologically "nice" Michael Naas being the only exception that comes to mind-- who have never been non-optimally considerate in their expressions of disagreement. (I say that with relative confidence after over 15 years of attending the APA.) However, save the most egregiously inconsiderate of them, NONE are sanctioned as universally and unreflectively as the least egregious female offenders. And I would speculate-- though, of course, I cannot know the minds of my male colleagues-- that very few of them spend as much time or effort self-editing in the service of avoiding a charge of poor conversational etiquette as I, or my female colleagues, do.

Netiquette, like etiquette, is a system of unofficial, unwritten, socially-regulated and -enforced norms. As such, the rules that it justifies, governs, polices and enforces mimic the norms of the larger society that those rules also justify, govern, police and enforce. All of us, myself included, try our best to abide by these norms for reasons that are both virtuous and necessary, not the least of which is maintaining a space of discussion that is safe for questioning and reforming our shared norms. When conscience disallows that kind of acquiescence, we depart from them. I may have departed from the norms of netiquette in my decision to publish Dr. Hendricks' email address, though I am not convinced that I did. I can see how reasonable people might disagree.

Where reasonable disagreement exists, there also exists the opportunity for growth and learning. I hope my defense above contributes to those opportunities.

**NOTE: Comments to this post will be subject to moderation, as outlined in the "Comments Policy" for this blog.**

New "Comments Policy" at RMWMTMBM

Well, we managed to make it almost six whole years before having to address the problem of internet trolls on this blog. Not a bad run, all things considered.

The practice of not "moderating" discussions or insisting on comment "approvals" has been intentional on this site so far. In my view, the delay caused by comment approval forms often interrupts the natural flow of a good conversation and, what is worse, has a tendency to raise suspicion in the minds of potential commenters about the integrity or impartiality of the discussion as a whole. Of course, the advantage of giving people reason to stop and consider whether or not they want to enter the fray is also one of the greatest benefits of a comments-moderation policy, which is why so many high-traffic sites maintain those policies. (This has not, until the last year, been what I would consider a "high-traffic" site, though I have good reason to believe that I may need to amend that judgment.) What a site gains with comments-moderating, as I see it, is a more coherent, sophisticated, mature and "nicer" type of conversation. What it loses are many of the characteristics, good and bad, of real public discourse. So far, this site has erred in the favor of the latter.

For better or worse, the internet forum is the new agora. It is where people speak in public, where ideas are measured for value and traded. However, today's "speaking in public" differs from what took place in the agora of old in at least one significant respect, namely, that internet fora allow persons to speak anonymously or pseudonymously. And that is where the trouble begins. There are many good reasons to elect to speak anonymously or pseudonymously... and many bad reasons to do so. (Full disclosure: When I began this blog in 2006, I was a candidate on the academic job market and elected to operate under the pseudonym "Doctor J," which I have maintained to this day. Since then, I think I've made it very easy to discover who I really am for anyone interesting in doing so. I don't consider my pseudonym to be a "cover" anymore; it's more of a persona now.) I've not moderated discussions on this blog so far because I've always been reluctant to join in the chorus of snobbery that hrumphs at the prospect of engaging in conversation with the hoi polloi. There have been many, MANY, comments on this blog over the years that were not what I would consider "smart," or sophisticated, or reflective, or conversation-furthering, or even nice. But, the truth is, that's how conversations are sometimes when they're conducted in the public space, with strangers, about matters on which there are many (more or less) informed views.

Alas, because of the last conversation on this site (and at the gentle prompting of my good friend and fellow-blogger, Dr. Miller), I have become convinced that my policy of totally-unrestricted commenting may in fact have reached the point of diminishing returns. So, in order to safeguard against a mass-exodus on the part of this site's productive (and much-appreciated) conversationalists, I'm instituting the following rules for commenting, effective immediately:
ReadMoreWriteMoreThinkMoreBeMore's COMMENTS POLICY:
ReadMoreWriteMoreThinkMoreBeMore is a site dedicated to open and productive discussions about ideas. Anonymous and pseudonymous comments are allowed, but discouraged. This site, like many sites, will include discussions of issues about which many people have very strong personal views. Readers are encouraged to speak openly and honestly, even if they feel that their positions are unorthodox or unpopular. Passionate, even heated, discussions can be healthy and profound learning experiences and are excellent opportunities to refine one’s own thinking and values. However, commenters are required to treat their fellow discussants, especially those with whom they disagree, with respect. We will insist upon professional decorum and mutual consideration from everyone at all times. To wit, comments of the following sort will be subject to deletion:
  • Comments that are abusive, excessively profane, contain ad hominem attacks, or that can be reasonably understood to be threatening.
  • Comments that are off-topic.
  • Comments that promote hate or violence of any kind.
  • Comments that are blatantly spam.
  • Comments containing accusations of, or making assertions about, matters of fact that are demonstrably false.
Not all posts will be subject to comment moderation. When comments are to be moderated, an indication to that effect will be noted in the post. Under no circumstance, ever, will comments be deleted simply for disagreeing with post's author or for departing from the general consensus of other commenters' views.
I hope that readers find this policy to be as minimally regulatory as possible, and I hope that I don't have occasion to enforce it very often. I think that I have a fairly indulgent definition of what counts as appropriate "netiquette" (see my post on that here), so one shouldn't expect that every discussion henceforth on this blog will be of the afternoon-tea ilk, but I will do my best to avoid conversational train-wrecks.

Thank you again for your continued support of this site.