Will the Real Privileged Person Please Stand Up?

Is there any doubt that the uptick in the number of people coming out as transgender is the result of the following two distinct but closely related factors?

(1) Suggestibility. Children and young adults who, in the course of going through normal maturation processes, explore non-heterosexual ideas or behaviors are being encouraged to think of themselves as transgender. Arguably, some are even being compelled to. Further, many with non-heterosexual desires who would otherwise simply identify as homosexual or bisexual now see “transgender” (and other “identities”) as an equally live option for self-identification, and so are choosing to so self-identify. Why?

(2) Social currency. Having minority and/or victim status is right now the highest form of social currency. Human beings are social creatures, and as such evolved with sophisticated cognitive modules that select for behaviors that increase social standing. The social cachet that comes with identifying as homosexual has been superseded by the cachet that comes with identifying as transgender, so we’re seeing more people choosing to identify as the latter (or some other non-heteronormative “orientation”).

This is a point made before, but it is no less the better for not being novel: if you want to know who has privilege in a given society, look at how people choose to self-identify. Race is maybe the best example. In pre-Civil Rights America, people of mixed ancestry quite understandably chose to identify as white. Now we see Shaun Kings, Rachel Dolezals and Elizabeth Warrens trading in their white privilege cards for something better.

But a non-hetero sexual orientation is becoming the second fastest route to privilege. Not long ago homosexuals faced tremendous pressure to remain closeted. Now one’s coming out cannot be met with banal indifference; it must be celebrated with such excessive exaggeration of approval that your anti-homophobic credentials cannot be doubted. Homosexuals are lavishly praised as brave, courageous, and beautiful, awarded medals of honor for their heroism in the battle defending a “love” so indiscriminate its only enemy is an amorphous “haaayte” (i.e., whatever progressives disagree with). Shrewd heterosexuals get a share of their glory by propping them up and proving their allyship. But as that drama has faded, a new brand of cultural hero is needed. Enter transgenderism, etc. Next thing you know, Bruce Jenner is Woman of the Year and is on the cover of Vanity Fair.

The aspiring Bruce Jenner of professional philosophy is Robin Dembroff. Dembroff started at Biola University in 2008, leaving with a BA in Philosophy and BA in Humanities in 2011. You would not know that by looking at her CV, though, because she is now apparently too embarrassed by her Evangelical beginnings to list Biola there. She also omits her contribution to an e-book called Proud to be Right, edited by Jonah Goldberg, in 2010. We are instead led to believe she started her academic career in Notre Dame’s PhD program in 2012, right about when she came out as “genderqueer” (remember our advice?).

Dembroff does not hesitate to mention her “Bible college” beginnings, however, when doing so is instrumental to creating a narrative of her as having transcended such Neanderthalsim. It’s as if all the people at Biola who went out of their way to help her get started and established (John Mark Reynolds, Tom Crisp, Gregg Ten Elshoff) didn’t even exist. And why would they? They are no longer useful to her. In fact, association with them is now a social liability. So, *poof*. Dembroff is the sole exception to the principle ex nihilo nihilo fit. She just appears at Notre Dame in 2012. What’s more, she is there only two years before being discovered by talent scouts at Princeton.

Yes, even Notre Dame and the people there who helped advance her (e.g., Michael Rea) proved to be beneath her. How did she really get into Princeton, one wonders. Here her CV is informative. Judging by the “professional” activity she lists, she met the right people and went to the right conferences and workshops. Feminism this, queer that, sex this, oppression that… If I had to guess, one of the right people Dembroff met around this time is the de facto matriarch of the Society of Christian Philosophers, Calvin College’s Christina Van Dyke, who “works” on similar nonsensical topics. Because next thing you know, Dembroff’s name is alongside Van Dyke’s on a $100k subgrant from the John Templeton Foundation, the SCP’s favorite slush fund.

And it was at Princeton that Dembroff seems to have become an official darling of the profession, having gotten her paper “What is Sexual Orientation” published in Philosopher’s Imprint. Her dissertation on the same timeless topic seems to have been giddily passed in record time (no surprise there: one of her advisors, Sarah-Jane Leslie, happened to be dean of the graduate school and, most conveniently, a rabid SJW). Now, with virtually no teaching experience and exactly one published article in a mid-tier journal, lo and behold, at the ripe old age of twenty-something, Dembroff lands a tenure-track position at Yale University.

The latest installment in professional privilege came just the other day, when it was announced that a conference honoring the recently deceased SCP legend Marylyn McCord Adams will feature Dembroff keynoting on “The Construction of Oppressive Categories”—a topic students of Adams will recognize as central to her work on scholasticism and the incarnation. Those slow to appreciate sarcasm need only glance at the contact for the conference to see what’s going on: Christina Van Dyke.

In terms of social currency, Dembroff is the 1%, raised in the lap of luxury in the form of an entire profession acting as her wealthy parents pulling strings on her behalf. In this sense, Darling Dembroff is not the Bruce Jenner of philosophy, because Jenner at least earned a gold medal as a stepping-stone to superstardom. Dembroff was merely awarded one for being “genderqueer.”

Federal Philosopher

Federal Philosopher is a philosophy graduate student in New Jersey. She was awakened from her political slumbers after listening to speeches by Margaret Thatcher. She loves philosophy, but thinks the profession has been hijacked by a bunch of leftist bullies who are little more than partisan journalists that happen to know philosophical jargon. She carries a recurve bow and quiver full of arrows at all times, so as not to trigger leftists by saying she packs a .380 in her purse.

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  1. I would like something better contextualized: How unusual is it for someone “with virtually no teaching experience and exactly one published article in a mid-tier journal” to, “at the ripe old age of twenty-something,” obtain a tenure-track position at [PGR Top-Five-or-So Ranked Program]?

  2. I’m no fan of Robin Dembroff and obviously it’s true that she got her job because the topics she works on are trendy right now and she falls into the right demographic categories, but this article seems to me to be pointless and a little unfair. There is no substantive criticism of her work here, just a bunch of personal attacks, gossip, and sneering insinuations. If you’re upset that Yale hired someone who works on these trendy topics or who fits these demographics, criticize the topics or the profession’s obsession with these demographics.

    This post reeks of ressentiment. Not a good look.

    • We have, and will, interact with her “work.” But it is also important to expose the bullshit that even you admit to.

    • I don’t see the point of your objection. If one of the very most prestigious universities is doing politically-correct (sic) ‘diversity’ hires at the cost of quality, that should be of great interest to pretty much everyone who cares about the state of higher ed and wants to understand the obvious chasm that exists between the universities and the rest of the polity.

      (Also very relevant: the execrable standards of discourse on display a few months back at the University of Pennsylvania upon publication of Wax and Alexander’s defense of ‘bourgeois values.’ (https://www.google.com/search?q=amy+wax+bourgeois+values) It’s notable that philosophy faculty at U Penn didn’t get involved in the left-wing mass-hysteria mob craziness that occurred there, but neither did they speak out against it. They were on the sidelines, “above the fray” as it were – and making themselves and their department irrelevant when their input was needed most. How did it come to that? Hello? Anyone?)

      See, “out there,” in mainstream America, the likes of Donald Trump lead a cast of philosophically-vacuous political leaders. (How did it come to that? Hello?) Part of the reason that Trump was elected president was overweening political correctness among the self-styled progressive and enlightened cultural elites. So . . . can this apparent ‘diversity hire’ be used as Exhibit A? (Or does that distinction belong to the disgraceful and pathetic meltdown at U Penn?)

      I’ll go further: the one area where diversity isn’t all that present in academia is ideological diversity. This isn’t news, of course; it’s been pointed out time and time again, to no avail. A truer representation of the state of the political discourse in terms of quality of argument would be Rawls vs. Nozick. That’s a 1:1 ratio of center-left liberalism vs. libertarianism, in terms of really smart advocates with argument difficult to knock down. But the actual breakdown of university faculty along ideological lines is nothing like this; it’s overwhelmingly left-leaning, with Rawls in the “center” and lots of actual centrists on one flank and lots of left-leftists on the other. (https://www.libertarianism.org/publications/essays/why-do-intellectuals-oppose-capitalism) You have to go to the econ departments to get an ideological distribution that looks a lot more like the polity generally. (Why is that? Hello?) You have to go to blogs like this one to get a decent representation of conservative opinion and, yet, you might have noticed that the contributors find it necessary to post under pseudonyms out of professional necessity, a sure sign of something gone wrong in the academic culture. It’s ridiculous that it comes to this.

      And so, ‘C’mon, guys,’ your concerns ring rather hollow in this context.

  3. I wish someone could arrange for a public discussion at Yale between Robin Dembroff and Rosaria Butterfield. I’d pay money to come and watch.

    • This reminds me of my wish for someone to arrange a public discussion between Michael Mann and Richard Lindzen on the topic of climate change. The public (I include myself here quite emphatically) is starved for top experts in the field to summarize and debate the main points of contention in a format digestible for the layperson. Perhaps your proposal is made for similar reasons?

  4. So, apparently Darling was picked over Jared Warren for that Yale position, which they both interviewed for. Just to be clear, here is Warren’s publication record:


    And here is Dembroff’s:


    • Sexual orientation is interesting and relevant to people’s lives. That stuff in Warren’s publication record looks pretty abstruse and boring. Kudos to Yale for helping to make philosophy more relevant!

    • Yeah, because I’m sure the mentally ill simpleton wondering about whether they’re otherkin is reading Dembroff’s junk paper in Philosopher’s Imprint. It’s just as obscure as Warren’s pubs, and he has a lot more of them. And besides, there may even be a grain of truth in one of his!

    • “Yeah, because I’m sure the mentally ill simpleton wondering about whether they’re otherkin is reading Dembroff’s junk paper in Philosopher’s Imprint.”

      Could you rephrase?
      (Why don’t comments on this this blog have an edit edit function?)

  5. A cautionary note: Any time we name names, it’s useful to remember that we’re talking about actual, living, human persons (made in God’s image and loved by Him, for those who believe such things). Granted, this blog doesn’t often show concern for the personal well-being of its targets, but it’s worth saying anyway: Going after arguments, unjust hiring systems, and cronyism is both intellectually superior, and less damaging to human well-being, than going after specific human persons. More substance, less personal attacks.

    In short: what “C’mon guys” said.

    • Now you raise a valid concern (although it’s not what ‘C’mon guys’ said). The messaging should be crafted accordingly, so that the appropriate central and key target should be Yale’s philosophy department and an academic culture more broadly that appears to encourage and foster things that don’t align so well with the greater common good.

      At the same time, part of what contextualizes the blog entry above is one from a few days earlier – http://rightlyconsidered.org/2018/01/05/philosopher-robin-dembroff-writes-about-roy-moore – in which this Yale-tenure-track philosopher is quoted saying that the (odious) Roy Moore wants to lock people up simply for being gay. The odious one only wants to lock people up for engaging in homosexual behaviors; it’s a distinction that a trained philosopher should be able to recognize.

      On the one hand we have an odious politician whose appeal would seem to be to those unable or unwilling to recognize the level of odiousness that he brings to the political discourse; on the other we have this academic figure at a leading university’s philosophy department caricaturing the views of that odious politician, a caricature that likely did not simply occur in a vacuum but rather is very likely nestled within the context of an academic culture that treats this sort of thing as acceptable in spite of the academy’s stated mission.

      I stated in the comments of the previous blog entry (concerning Dembroff on Moore) that my sympathies lie more with Dembroff than with Moore, although Moore sets a low bar. When it’s Moore vs. a prevailing academic culture that places Political Correctness about truth, I see certain level of odiousness in both. And their opposition represent quite well a cultural and intellectual chasm in America right now that neither side seems nearly interested enough in closing. I refer to this condition as one of dialectical alienation. But it’s supposed to be the job of trained philosophers to recognize such conditions and take the appropriate measures to remedy. Those measures may not help much in the case of Moore himself, who seems to be pretty far gone in this regard, but it can help a lot at the margins. But if those at the margins find that a Yale-tenure-track philosopher caricatures the view of Moore, that might only reinforce the perception that elite academia doesn’t play fair with the ideas and values of (say) conservative Christians.

      As you say, when specific individuals are made a focus of sorts, commentators should tread carefully. At the same time the mission and culture of this blog is one that “pulls no punches” in its aggressiveness in uncovering and bashing left-wing academic bias. I don’t know how it can be done with proper contextualizing in a case such as this, without bringing up the names, connections, histories and connections involved. Your suggestion, about focusing on substance, implies the possibility that Dembroff is extraordinarily good enough that ordinary metrics like publication and teaching history in themselves are inadequate to capture this. (It’s a possibility that certainly warrants entertaining at least in a general sense.) That is why I raised the question in the first comment above about how unusual this is. “For all a reader coming out of the blue knows,” Dembroff is true superstar material in spite of the usual bland ol’ metrics. Meanwhile, her criticism of Moore didn’t meet high standards of logical precision.

      *Now* my impression is that Dembroff is experiencing enough privilege, as it were, that enduring attacks from anonymous right-wing bloggers rightly goes with the territory. Upon seeing the attacks my reaction is not all that unlike that upon observing a Lexus driver being cut off in traffic. (Compare/contrast with the joy leftists experience upon seeing a millionaire’s taxes go up a percentage point or three.)

      /thread? 😀


    • Oh stop it with the “Where’s the argument?” charade. That’s such a stock philosopher’s complaint, and a stupid one at that. No argument is needed if you’d disagree in any case. And besides, there is an argument here:

      (1) If Darling Dembroff weren’t genderqueer privileged, she wouldn’t be professionally where she is now.
      (2) She is professionally where she is now.
      (3) Darling Dembroff is genderqueer privileged.

      But you don’t want arguments. The only time leftists complain about tone, civility, etc. is when their ass got lit. It’s their way of trying to reassume the moral high ground without argument.

    • Besides, I just linked above to the arguments Catholic Hulk gave in responding to the substance of Dembroff’s faulty anti-Moore arguments.

      Besides, it’s the academic left that goes on incessantly and obnoxiously (and increasingly so) about privilege and how it makes the supposed race/contest that is life all too unfair. If the academic left were told that they practice their own forms of privilege, they’d demand concrete examples. Well, here’s an apparent example.

    • If this is Georgetown philosopher of law Mark Murphy, then I expect some fair-mindedness, i.e., for him to call out the Leiter blogging style on highly-charged political topics as cowardly and bully-like (one of his latest doozies is to fall for the Fire and Fury narrative hook, line and sinker, right off the bat – very gullible and biased!), and also to call out the anti-Amy Wax meltdown among U Penn faculty and students as very bully-like.

      And also to not avoid the glaring issue here: overweening political correctness (sic) and leftism in the academy (which goes well beyond just this single example – see, e.g., the U Penn meltdown just mentioned).


    • Dr. Murphy,
      Exceptionally courageous of you. I am quite sure that Georgetown–with it’s LGBT only dorms in honor of John Paul II and Jesus’s remarks on bisexual love triangles, not to mention the Neo-Baroque rainbow colors and, best of all(!) bidets in every room–will come down very hard on you for that comment. #Resist!

      Talk to me when you’ve been fired for your beliefs. Or better, go to confession with a real priest.

  6. Prof Murphy, I’m perplexed by your comment–and its tone. It seems to me that, judged by the standards of your own professed phony “Christianity,” you’ve just made a serious boo boo. Haven’t you just violated the greatest commandment–“thou shall not judge!”–of the apostate church? I think you’re going to have to place yourself on timeout and reflect on your words. Afterwards, you should walk down the hall and apologize to your colleague, Prof Kukla. I think she’ll be distressed to know that you’ve been so angry and aggressive towards others in the profession–as we all know, she especially is very interested in making sure that no one feels marginalized or threatened in the profession. So yes, the more I think about it, you most certainly should apologize to her for how your actions reflect poorly on Georgetown and its ethos of inclusion and equality and justice. So please make sure you apologize to her–we’d all appreciate that. You wouldn’t want to make the High Priestess mad, now would you?

  7. I did not cross paths with Robin when I was at Biola, but I do remember her addressing an argument made in a colloquium with Alvin Plantinga, and her interaction with him was impressive. It was evident to everyone that she had real philosophical talent and was a “real” philosopher by any measure. I totally understand why the philosophy department highly recommended her to Notre Dame and elsewhere — people in that department don’t support phonies or mediocrity. You should have noted that before you took a cheap shot at her.

    • You miss the point, Adam. How many other people with “real philosophical talent”–perhaps even more than Dembroff–have been shafted because of her genderqueer privilege? We’ll never know the exact figure, obviously, but I guarantee you it is not insignificant. Double, maybe triple digits. Do you think that’s fair?

    • Adam, a quick question: Are you saying that you “totally understand” why she’d be recommended just from the repartee she had?

    • lulz! Ochuk just can’t resist falling head over heels for a sassy gal who’ll stand her ground against a filthy “Calvinista” like “El Diablo” Plantinga!

      The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

  8. Federal Philosopher, I didn’t miss your point. But even if we great that something unfair happened in the hiring process, it does not follow that she is not a real philosopher.

    Catholic Hulk, that is only some of the evidence I had for my understanding. That was my first encounter with her (and it really was impressive one), and what l learned subsequently from other students and department members contributed to my understanding.

  9. Haha. Thanks for the reference, UP.

    Adam, invite Robin to engage with my critical piece cited by UP. I’m sure that the editors for RC will give her a guest post. Whatever you think of her education and accomplishments, it’s blatantly clear that she misrepresented what Moore said and meant. That’s part of what my piece is about, in fact; and I think that this misrepresentation is so obvious that she veers into dishonesty.

  10. I know Robin from undergraduate. She was kind to me (as I was much younger) and is the opposite of stupid. One wonders how she got to this place; I would call it an ideologically induced blindness. Calling biola brainwashing is simply a lie; people who hate on Biola usually hate it because it’s conservative. Well?
    What did you expect? Also: guess who she beat out for that Princeton position? http://www.jaredwarren.org/ A man who has published a book.

  11. My second point (which I forgot to mention) is how disrespectful her calling Biola ‘brainwashing’ is. As far as graduate schooling goes: guess who was most prepared compared to their friends (friends who went to UCLA, USC, Berkeley)? Me. Tom and Gregg are the finest philosophers I know; and their teaching ability shows it: look at their track record for where their students place. The undergraduate program (along with the honors program) was a huge privilege. Robin saying otherwise is a lie and she is spitting in the face of people like Tom and Gregg. People think of Biola as some right wing evangelical echo-chamber. While it has a conservative bent, this is simply misguided. There are so many differing opinions (ESPECIALLY regarding sexuality); I was submerged in secular and non-Christian thought all throughout my education there.

    /end rant

  12. I see a number of philosophers in my social media circles beating their breasts about this. What a lot of hot garbage. They are the ones who created this shitshow (as Obama said about Libya). They want “diversity.” More females because…mah gender, mah diversity. It is all posturing. It’s all power. I am a female and this sort of shit is ruining my life! I am absolutely sick of established philosophers USING people like me to make themselves look righteous!
    Dembroff is a damned Yale professor who has published in time magazine, yet she is even still a victim!! Right is left, left is right. Up is down. These people are insane! No, that’s not right. They are evil! Corrupt! The establishment must be resisted. The real establishment. Not the fake one with no actual power. I am sorry. But I am very emotional about this and tired of it.

  13. I have a friend in the Justice Department who told me that the Trump administration is going to come down extremely hard on universities that have been making affirmative action hires. He thinks it’s going to be an actual revolution. This is his belief of course. My own view is that Trump is an imbecile and might be lying. I agree with equality for all, but I see some of your points. But my friend insists that this is going to happen in the next two years.

  14. While leftists are out drinking and snorting, I’m reading Rightly Considered and using my brain! Thank you for all that you do!

  15. Yeah! The people posting here under pseudonyms for fear of being harassed, blackballed, and losing their careers are the “real” bullies! Way to call courageously call them out, Prof. Murphy!

    You bunch honestly have no sense of who and what you really are, do you? No matter how powerful, institutionally entrenched and tyrannical the leftist establishment gets, it never stops thinking of itself as an embattled underdog, courageously standing up against all odds.

    Your collective behavior is in fact like that of a hysterical, wild-eyed assailant who is biting, spitting, eye-gouging and crotch-pulling, and all the while screaming “Help! Help! Get off me! Leave me alone! Please! Help!”

  16. I deeply appreciate the yeoman’s work here at RC, and I find Federal Philosopher’s posts in particular quite trenchant.

    I think it’s fait to say many if not most leftist causes and movements contain some kernal of perversion or deviance at their core. Sometimes the perversity is of a sexual nature either overtly or covertly, and sometimes it’s downright pornographic, but it’s always propagandistic. Of course many leftist “arts” are outright literal pornos. But academia is awash in intellectual porn too. What I’m talking about is something subtle. It has all the hallmarks of a dedicated pornographic project, without any of the actual erotica.

    If you think about it a porno is not a vehicle for storytelling. Indeed, watching a porno for its story (or reading Playboy for the articles) constitutes a long-running joke in the culture. Because a porno is not a vehicle for advancing an actual plot or narrative, but rather for erotica, one would—if one felt so inclined—judge the writing or acting by a different standard than the usual rules of writing or film making. And this is exactly what one must do if you want to make sense of why “respectable” institutions like Notre Dame and Yale would pass over more highly qualified candidates in favor of the equivalent of an intellectual porn star. 

    An Ivy League campus and an all-star cast of top notch faculty are not enough to salvage a social-justice, “genderqueer” feminist-fest porno such as this. In reality such situations are merely an empty, shameless, self-gratifying vehicle for leftists to intellectually self-pleasure in public for their voyeuristic buddies to watch (virtue signaling).

    Leftists themselves have a different view of course. It’s diversity. It’s inclusion. It’s tolerance. But if that were true where are the right-wing philosophers? Oh that’s right! They’re haters who don’t deserve a public space.

    The only way to truly appraise this situation? Treat it as such: as a propaganda project rather than normal reality. That way, when leftist institutions do inexplicable things, or are themselves inexplicable from a normal point of view, you have the framework in place to understand the decisions that were made and judge them according to their propagandistic, pornographic goals. They’re just publicly masturbating. In most civilized cultures this would be frowned upon, but in the up is down, down is up, right is wrong, wrong is right world of kool-aid drinking lefties it makes perfect sense, and is perfectly acceptable.

    To be clear, I think Hanlon’s Razor is a viable option here. Lefties may not actually *intend* to pleasure themselves directly in front of other people’s faces, but may be so wrapped up in their own ideological narrative that they internally can’t distinguish the idea from the action, thus mistaking virtue-signaling for well intentioned activism. In the normal world if someone compulsively fondled herself in public she’d arrested and forced into treatment. But not so in the leftie world.

    Leftist academics want – no *need* – to expand the small minds of the unwashed masses. They *need* to enculture the hoi polloi. It’s the leftist nanny inside of them that constantly nags and asks the question: “What do they – as people immersed in a culture of privilege – need to see and hear?” And the answer, apparently, is not “more cowbell” but “more genderqueer”. So they proceed to expose themselves and furtively get their rocks off with everyone watching.

    So there it is.

    There’s no actual story, it’s just erotica.

    But sadly I think sometimes righties aren’t in on the joke, and are still busily reading the articles looking for plot holes.

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