First a video of a joke–best watched first.
On the heels of the recent extension that Brian Leiter gave invited evaluators, I provided a list of reasons evaluators gave for why they had failed to turn in their surveys on time (#PGREvaluators: “Struggling with Other Obligations”). It was intended to be funny. But I believe that I may have left some non-Jewish colleagues perplexed by the #9 on the list:
- There was something too goyisha about the whole thing (*that is, the PGR).
A word explanation here. For Jews, of course, something that is non-Jewish is often referred to as goyish or goyisha. It can be about something innocuous, or it can have more of a bite. In that case it may accompany veiled or explicit criticisms of people who have power or positions denied to Jews, often over centuries. Like other oppressed peoples, Jews have a long tradition of jokes about their oppression and their oppressors; you can also hear criticism of oppression in the ways that Jews have used certain phrases. “That’s easy for you to say” is addressed critically to a person who is clueless about how his (or her) station–perhaps one of privilege and standing–may be affecting his (or her) perceptions. You might be sitting next to me on a bench and we can be schmoozing as old friends, but it becomes clear that you can’t fathom what’s happening in my life; perhaps it’s about problems with my kids that you don’t have with yours, or it happens when you tell me about all the wonderful benefits you get from membership in a club, one I can’t join because I am a Jew. So I say, “That’s easy for you to say.”
I’ve expended a good deal of electronic paper pointing out that the PGR is a flawed instrument and that it is inappropriate for philosophers to support it. But I don’t believe I’ve been direct enough, until my goyisha comment, about what’s at stake. So let me make it clear now. The reason the PGR is goyisha is that it confuses the rational justification of authority with domination, a condition well-known to Jews and other marginalized peoples. It’s what Jews came to expect from many goyim down through the centuries.
People who exclude others from participating in activities that are related to human flourishing, especially when that exclusion is accompanied by a belittling of the worth of these others, for no rationally justifiable reasons, are engaging in a form of domination. It doesn’t have to be direct. It can be a consequence of a system. Surely the vast majority of the members of the PGR’s Advisory Board and the evaluators don’t see themselves as engaged in an activity that is deeply exclusionary. It’s not their intention to dominate–they would never dream of such a thing. But this is not about intentions, it’s about the consequences of actions. It’s about the willful ignorance of relevant data and analysis. It’s about ignored facts, for example, the quality of graduate students in certain non-PGR ranked programs, who have comparable grades and tests scores to those in so-called top ranked PGR programs. PGR supporters usually assume that students matriculate at these other schools because they can’t get into the top ones, ignoring the real reason, that these students want to study different things. PGR supporters can’t see these and other facts. They don’t fit the narrative. They assume theirs is the rational explanation.
People who consider themselves liberals and progressives are serving as evaluators and members of the Advisory Board. With a few exceptions they have not been willing to have a public discussion with those who have been, in recent times, unfairly disenfranchised or marginalized by the PGR. They avoid situations in which a colleague in another tradition might point out their advantages, some of them owing to nothing but a confluence of historical events that has very little to do with the merits of a specific philosophical tradition. I feel comfortable making this claim because many of us have for many months–no, years–been trying have a public conversation with people who support the PGR. But with a handful of exceptions, Board members and evaluators have not been willing to put themselves in a position in which they can hear criticism, especially personally, one-on-one, or in a public forum. This is a sure sign that we are not dealing with a rational exercise of authority but with domination, which dismisses the views of the excluded, or in Leiter’s words, the self-deceived.
One of my deepest disappointments in all of this is that the Advisory Board members and evaluators haven’t been willing to put themselves in situations in which someone can turn around and say to them, “That’s easy for you to say.” This is what we should be doing as philosophers, that is, listening for criticism to the effect that our own situations and interests may be blinding us, undermining our impartiality. Instead these folks look to their would-be peers for reinforcement and continue to support a ranking system that is unjustifiable on its merits, whether in terms of its methodology or simply in terms of the exclusion that it creates in a profession that is supposed to be dedicated to the examined life.
I do not believe that it is an accident that some of the most vocal critics of the PGR have been women and members of other underrepresented groups in philosophy.