Rightly Considered (RC) has received a lot of attention in the wake of the SCP debacle. It was never our intention, really, to keep blogging about this controversy. But our original story on that has now been picked up by several national media outlets and widely read blogs (see here, here, and here for a few examples). In that story, we posted several screenshots of very hateful comments by philosophers that were directed at Prof. Swinburne and traditional Christians.
For example, Yale’s Jason Stanley wrote ‘Fuck those assholes’. In a later post, he publicly clarified to whom he was referring: “[‘Fuck those assholes’] wildly understates my actual sentiments towards proponents of homophobic and therefore evil positions such as Richard Swinburne” (emphasis added). The “homophobic” and “evil” positions to which he was referring are traditional moral beliefs about marriage and sexuality. Apparently Stanley loathes the hundreds of millions of Christians (and presumably Muslims) who have these beliefs. Other commenters openly expressed their hate by wishing that conservative Christians suffer or die. For example, Julie Klein wrote of “Swinburne and his ilk” that “they deserve the hell they believe in” and Wayne Brooks wished for Swinburne’s death, writing “just give swineburne (sic) 25 years and he will change his mind–he’ll be dead (phew!).” Perhaps most outrageous of all was Georgetown philosophy professor and editor of Public Affairs Quarterly, Rebecca Kukla, suggesting that traditionalists about sexuality and marriage “suck [her] giant queer cock.” Her comments were on a public post, so presumably she had no worries about having her observant Catholic colleagues seeing what she thinks of them.
The reason we took the decision to publicly expose this anti-Christian bigotry and hate is partly because some of these very same people were, on the one hand, moaning about how defenders of Swinburne in Michael Rea’s timorous public apology were being hateful, and, on the other, endorsing (or failing to object to) the above hateful, anti-Christian sentiments. Not only did we show that Swinburne’s defenders were not being hateful, we showed that his attackers were being hateful. In other words, in addition to exposing bigotry, we also exposed rank hypocrisy. People don’t like it when their hypocrisy and iniquities are publicly exposed, so we expected many to feign outrage, and, unsurprisingly, many have now done so.
“However, Rightly Considered has…pioneered a new thing to further hinder public philosophy, the practice of putting screenshots of people’s facebook posts as well as screenshots of other philosophers’ responses to those posts…Besides it being a violation of privacy, the end result is that many of us are going to end up pruning our friends lists radically, not accepting friends who are conservative males, and being much, much more careful neither to set posts to public, nor to respond to other people’s posts.”
According to the first objection (which is the only one we’ll discuss in this post), RC’s decision to publish screenshots of some of the above comments constitutes an impermissible violation of the right of privacy. As Barnes points out, “when people set facebook posts to a private setting, they are making a conscious choice to limit the audience.” She goes on to say that she hopes that “conservatives value privacy and respect individuals’ choices regarding privacy, so it’s been disappointing to see the RC blog so casually disregard this.” Still, if there’s an argument to the conclusion that what we did was wrong, we failed to detect it.
We do, to be sure, value the right of privacy, the suspicions of our detractors to the contrary notwithstanding. But we also recognise that this right, like most (if not all) rights, is a pro tanto right, not an absolutely inviolable one. If the principle by which Cogburn thinks we should abide were that it is never permissible to post screenshots of private comments without permission, counterexamples abound. Suppose, for example, that the head of a philosophy department or the president of some prestigious philosophical organisation were to, on his private Facebook page, write “Fuck feminists” or “Fuck black philosophers” or “Fuck Muslims.” It isn’t even mildly plausible to suppose that exposing this morally abhorrent behavior would be impermissible, despite the fact that our hypothetical philosopher made a “conscious choice to limit [his] audience.” One reason why this is so is that professors and teachers are public figures in that they are supposed to foster a public good. They have serious power to significantly impact the lives of their students and potential colleagues. If they express sexist or racist or bigoted sentiments on social media to a relatively wide (even if limited) audience, the people over whom they have power have a right to know.
Whether or not our leftist opponents want to admit it, Christianophobia is a real phenomenon, especially in academia. We can apply the above reasoning to the actual case: just as black or female or Muslim students and academics have a right to know whether their professors or colleagues are racists or sexists or Islamophobes, so Christian students and academics have a right to know whether their professors or colleagues are Christianophobes or hostile to (the expression of) their religious views. We see nothing whatever wrong with publicly exposing the hate and bigotry of people who are in positions of power. And some of the comments from both private and public fora that we published are Christianophobic and hateful, a fact that Cogburn disgracefully failed to mention. He’s happy to publicly admonish us for exposing hate but doesn’t publicly admonish any of the haters. Note the title of his post, “A plea to the authors of Rightly Considered to be a little kinder…” This is truly rich. Cogburn means to stir us to put our hearts in the right place so that it oozes graciousness and lovingkindness. We appreciate his concern. Our question is: why was he MIA when Stanley was writing “Fuck those assholes” and Rebecca Kukla was telling us to “suck [her] giant queer cock”? Why no mothering lecture for them? Because they are his friends, or on his side. More hypocrisy, double standards, and nepotism from the left.
To be frank, Cogburn’s response is odd. For our part, we reported the vile and hateful things philosophers were saying about traditional Christians. We did not respond to them in kind. However, in Cogburn’s mind, we need to be lectured on “kindness,” not those who told us to perform oral sex on their queer genitalia. This sort of hateful, vindictive, borderline psychotic behavior is par for the course for leftists. Consider this screenshot from Rebecca Kukla’s public Facebook post.
Here, Kukla revels in the hope that President Newman follows social media so that he can see that “no one likes [him].” She continues, presumably speaking for “the guild,” saying that “We just think you are disgusting and incompetent and hope that you lie awake at night in bed feeling inadequate and hating yourself as much as we hate you.” This is because Newman expressed views Kukla disagreed with. Perhaps Cogburn and Barnes ought to spend more time cleaning up their own backyard.
We also find the remarks by Cogburn and Barnes duplicitous. Recall that Barnes declared that “when people set Facebook posts to a private setting, they are making a conscious choice to limit the audience.” She goes on, stating that she hopes that “conservatives value privacy and respect individuals’ choices regarding privacy, so it’s been disappointing to see the RC blog so casually disregard this.” However, a problem here is the standard practice of academic committees. For example, it’s well known that hiring committees will “Google” job applicants’ private Facebook posts and tweets. Thus Brian Leiter notes that it “would be well-advised not to blog or ‘tweet’ since easily accessible blogs or twitters always run the risk of overwhelming other information about a candidate, for a job or for admissions.” Moreover, when applying to PhD programs, applicants will seek to delete their online footprints. They are not motivated by irrational paranoia in doing so. As Today describes matters,
Kaplan Test Prep surveyed admissions officers at the top law schools, business schools and colleges across the U.S. this summer, and found those looking at future lawyers to be the most active in pre-screening applicants using their online footprints. The Kaplan data showed 41 percent of law school admissions officers (from 128 of the nation’s 200 American Bar Association-accredited law schools) said they have Googled an applicant to learn more about them, while 37 percent have checked out an applicant on Facebook or other social networking site. And they’re not just looking for fun. Nearly a third of law school admissions officers who researched an applicant online — 32 percent — said they discovered “something that negatively impacted an applicant’s admissions chances
The profession Cogburn and Barnes represent seemingly have little regard for an applicant’s “conscious choice to limit the audience,” and do not seem to “value privacy and respect individuals’ choices regarding privacy” as much as one would expect given their high handed remarks. Perhaps to show us that they are as committed to individual privacy as they claim, they could head a taskforce to end the rampant practice inside the very walls in which they reside. But we won’t expect any long blog posts in which Cogburn or Barnes complain about this invasive practice.
Finally, Cogburn begged people who might be associated with us to “ask them to take down the posts with facebook screenshots…” Let’s be absolutely clear: In the light of the fact that we have seen no good reason whatever to do so, Rightly Considered will neither take down the relevant post nor remove any of the screenshots in it. What’s more, Rightly Considered will continue to expose Christianophobia and anti-conservative bigotry within academia whenever we acquire evidence of these offenses. Perhaps Cogburn should be more concerned for his Christian and conservative brothers and sisters than for the people who demonise and attack them.
1. As an aside, some philosophers think that hypocrisy ought to be exposed. For example, according to Barbara Maier and Warren Shibles, “We may infiltrate a perverse organization as an undercover agent would. Hypocrisy as described above has no place in health care or any other areas of an enlightened society and should be exposed for the purpose of improving ourselves as well as our society.” See (2011). The Philosophy and Practice of Medicine and Bioethics. (Springer): 494.
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- Jason Stanley’s Response to Rightly Considered - October 6, 2016
- Did Swinburne get Swindled? - September 26, 2016
- Doing Political Philosophy Right: Which Graduate Schools To Go To? - January 25, 2017
- In Defense of Posting Screenshots: A Reply to Jon Cogburn - October 5, 2016
- Should Christina Van Dyke Resign? We Report, You Decide - October 1, 2016