How to shoot yourself in the foot.

Troubling me today is an incident that occurred two years ago in a third year social and political philosophy class that I attended as a grad student. My university is situated in an agricultural region and draws some of its student base from the local farming community. In the course of my studies, I’ve heard both professors and students make derogatory remarks about farmers.  On this occasion, in front of a class of 50-60 peers, a female student recounted a scene she’d recently witnessed at the local hospital which she took to be an example of misogyny. She’d noted that “an old farmer” refused to receive medical attention from a female doctor, and that he insisted he be attended by a male doctor. The student stated, laughingly, that old farmers are “like that, misogynistic and stubborn.” A number of other classmates and the professor, an older male, laughed along with her, nodding in agreement.  Some others, female students, vocalized their assent to their peer’s observation, and in turn expressed moral high dudgeon about the farmer’s misogyny, farmers-cum-old-white-men, and misogyny in general.

The stereotype is one matter. But my worries go beyond. As I noted, this incident occurred in a third year philosophy course, and not in an introductory course where such unreflective banter is expected as students learn to refine their arguments. And students learn to refine their arguments under the mentorship of professors. One would hope.

Let me first state that it’s possible that this particular old farmer refused to be attended by a female physician because he is indeed motivated by misogyny. Granted. But whether all, or even most, old farmers are misogynists is an empirical question neither answered by a hasty generalization nor stereotypes about old famers. What’s more, that the farmer refused to be attended by a female physician does not automatically make him a misogynist. I worked as a Nurse’s Aide. It’s not uncommon for people to ask to be attended by a caregiver of the same sex, particularly when the patient is required to get naked. Some people are simply bashful. The farmer in question mightn’t have wanted to admit in front of a room full of strangers that he is shy to get naked in front of a strange woman. If he’s shy to get naked, he might very well be shy to publicly talk about his shyness of being naked, and so understandably frustrated and embarassed by a staff indiscreetly insistent on his seeing a female physician. In any event, the compassionate caregiver accommodates a patient’s request, as far as possible, as a matter of the patient’s dignity and comfort. For example, when female patients refuse to see Blake Butterworth, a male gynaecologist-obstetrican (OB-Gyn), he says “‘[he doesn’t] get discouraged; [he doesn’t] get offended.” Says he “I gladly hand that patient off.” (Oglin, Alex.)

Beyond bashfulness, some people feel more comfortable discussing male or female related problems with a physician of the same sex simply because they’re more confident that the doctor who shares their particular genitalia and other particular physical characteristics and social experiences will have a better understanding of why a certain problem is a problem. A woman who bleeds through her menstrual pads, staining chairs in public places, might hope that another female will better empathize with the level of embarrassment and discomfort she feels as a result. In fact, to some degree, it’s for these common reasons  — bashfulness, empathy, and confidence — that female OB-Gyns dominate the discipline and many OB-Gyn patients, being women, given a choice, want to see a female physician. Third year OB-Gyn resident Dr. Katie Merriam notes that “Most of her friends, and other women she talks to …want female doctors.” (Oglin) Merriam herself “feels a special bond with her patients.” (Oglin) Says she, “‘You just, you can feel what they feel, and understand why they feel certain ways. I do feel a special bond….” (Oglin)

So if some women prefer to see a female physician for the reasons I’ve cited, surely some men prefer to see a male physician for the same sorts of reasons. For example, it might be embarrassing for some men to manifest an erection, an involuntary occurrence, in front of a woman. And some women, even professional caregivers, become visibly offended or uncomfortable when a man manifests an erection in her presence. Hence an already awkward situation can become worse. Further, it might be the case that some women who prefer to be attended by female physicians are misandrists. But from this proposition it doesn’t follow that all women who prefer to see a female physician are misandrists. Neither does it follow that misandrists and misogynists necessarily refuse to be treated by physicians of the opposite sex. And it’s possible that women who hate men, or men who hate women, are indifferent to being naked in front of a physician of the opposite sex simply because they don’t care what the physician thinks. Or that the physician’s qualifications and/or the patient’s need might outweigh any negative feelings one has about whether the doctor is a man or a woman, or some non-binary gender. And so on.

Anyway, I didn’t have the opportunity to reply to this incident in class on the day it happened. And so I wrote a reply to present at the beginning of the next class in which I made similar points to those I’ve made here. In response to my comments, the professor grimaced and shrugged. None of the other students responded to my comments. What burns me is the lack of leadership displayed by the professor in his role as a philosopher; i.e. training students to the habits of mind characteristic of a profession defined, in the largest measure, by critical thinking skills. Perhaps for some I sound too harsh with my criticism. Certainly professors are only human, and one ought to be charitable in affording them some missteps and forgiving their human foibles. Agreed. And it should be to their credit, having trained me, that I notice these missteps and foibles and bring them to their attention. But rather I’ve learned that this practice can be a bad career move since doing so is often considered, at the least, churlish. And this resistance, by some, to being corrected by an inferior is worrisome. Particularly when a group of colleagues share the same unreflective habits, such as making derogatory comments about farmers. Here’s why.

A number of students, perhaps some who were sitting quietly in the classroom during the incident I describe, are going to go home to sit at the table with their families on the farm. Perhaps a beloved grandfather and father are seated at one of those tables, eager to hear how the student is doing, having worked so hard to see one of the family make it to university. Perhaps she is the first in the family to do so. How are your classes? they ask. I hate philosophy, she replies. Perhaps, ashamed and defensive, she tells her family about rhetoric she hears in class, and how the professors join in on — even instigate — the mockery. Philosophers are arrogant and out of touch with reality, the members of her family determine. They might even be a little ashamed of how they’ve been portrayed in front of someone they love and hope will view them as her champions, rather than look at them as targets of ridicule or objects of pity. Or, at another table, the family might already have negative stereotypes about academics and incidents such as I’ve described confirm what they already know about those ignorant over-paid university hacks. Of course these are only two of any number of scenarios. A farm-student might even agree with the stereotypes. My point is is that a little self-reflection by some of my colleagues would not go amiss.

Universities are embedded in communities. And students attending universities, usually socially privileged individuals, are embedded in relationships with others in these communities. And those others are in relationships with others still, and so on. What is said in the classroom can be passed along these networks of relationships, perhaps contributing to the very social mistrust some academics criticize yet seldom see their own hands in creating.

Some students will become physicians and, of those, some will encounter an old farmer who refuses to see a female physician. With any luck she wasn’t sitting in class that day, reifying an unchallenged assumption that old famers are misogynists. Perhaps, instead, she will think critically and so respond compassionately. And, if it so happens that this particular farmer is misogynist, or dislikes academics, or both, perhaps her compassion will go some distance to changing his mind, challenging his own stereotypes. As Butterworth notes, “‘I have patients that clearly express disdain to see a guy…Then I develop a rapport with her. And she says, ‘I expected you to be X-Y-Z, and you were better than that.'” (Oglin) These last points are an example of the potential benefits of self-reflection and applied philosophy.



Oglin, Alex. “Male OB-Gyns Are Rare, But Is That A Problem?” shots Health News From NPR. National Public Radio, Inc. April 12, 2018. Morning Edition. In partnership with WFAE 90.7 and Kaiser Health News.














Hobbes’ Humility Check

I’ve been troubled by the deluge of laughing-at-stupid-people infotainment, entertainment (whatever it’s called), and so I’ve been reflecting on my own habits of mind. This self-reflection reminded me of one my favourite passages from Hobbes’ Leviathan, and that a little well-placed self-deprecation is unlikely to go amiss.

“And as to the faculties of mind, … I find yet a greater equality amongst men, than that of strength. For prudence, is but experience; which equal time equally bestows on all men, in those things that they equally apply themselves unto. That which may perhaps make such equality incredible, is but a vain conceit of one’s own wisdom, which almost all men think they have in a greater degree, than the vulgar; that is, than all men but themselves, and few others, whom by fame, or for concurring with themselves, they approve. For such is the nature of men, that howsoever they acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent, or more learned; yet they will hardly believe there be so many as wise as themselves; for they see their own wit at hand, and other men’s at a distance. But this proveth rather that men are in that point equal, than unequal. For there is not ordinarily a greater sign on the equal distribution of any thing, than that every man is contented with his share.” Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan. Part 1, Chapter 13, (2.).

I’ve not yet worked through arguments for and against laughing-at-stupid people phenomena. On the one hand, these phenomena, which aren’t new but for the media,  might have an cathartic effect or be an effective means of protest. On the other hand, these phenomena might be divisive and inflammatory. But on the big toe of one foot, these considerations are not mutually exclusive. And on the big toe the other, it’s not clear where one ought to make the cut. My husband suggests a cut might be made between ridicule aimed at one’s motivations, and ridicule aimed at one’s position as a means of bringing to light an absurdity. But wherever the cut is made, I suggest it begin from the position of humility Hobbes sketches. Why? If I am laughing, or prancing around in high dudgeon, I’m a participant in the game. And participants don’t make the best analysts.




On Humility and Epistemic Sloth

Epistemic: of or relating to knowledge.

We couldn’t in a thousand lifetimes discover and evaluate the evidence, and counter-evidence, for most of the beliefs we hold. And most often, we wouldn’t if we could. Don’t believe me? Make a list of 200 beliefs you hold, and consider for how many and to what extent you’ve expended one iota of epistemic labour on any of these. Be honest. You’ve slacked off a bit. But don’t despair, this negligence is not usually a sign of moral or intellectual shortcoming. It means you’re human, and humans have efficient mechanisms for acquiring beliefs; e.g. believing what people we trust tell us. That said, remember this: if you’re going to let yourself off the hook for your epistemic sloth, decency dictates you do the same for your interlocutor.


Resistance is…

Resistance is not raising up an army and trading fire, by that time too many have needlessly suffered — as will many more. Resistance is inviting someone you’ve been taught (and are expected) to hate to your table and treating her as a friend. The people you need to resist, to this end, are your own.


Pam L., 2018


Rejecting your facts, rejecting you.

Consider this analogy. While you scratch your head about how it is that people follow the reprehensible snake oil salesmen rather than your laudable facts (a.k.a. laudable-you), mightn’t it occur to you that, from their point of view, you’re the snake oil salesman?  And if so, and the person on whose door you’re knocking has displayed a No Solicitors sign, you shouldn’t be surprised that she puts the dogs on you when you persist. Or that if the dogs don’t deter you, she pulls out a gun. Or that if the gun doesn’t scare you, the clan comes to her defense. Now you probably won’t make any sales in that town. Keeping with the sales analogy, you might skulk away from this encounter, shaken, defeated, and angry. You’re certain that some particularly nefarious villain told her you were a snake oil salesman, and maybe he did. If only you could expose his lies, you grumble, then she’d invite you in. So you do. But it turns out she’s had it up to here — she doesn’t want either of you coming around. She’s boarded the windows and barricaded the door. Crazy lady, you declare. But you can’t stop thinking about her. Why? She rejected you. And social rejection quite literally hurts. No? Then you tell me how she got under your skin.

The High-Dudgeon Olympics



                                 Fifth Annual High-Dudgeon Olympics



1) Someone-Said-Something-Wrong-On-The-Internet Typathon. (Individual and team events.)

Individuals are logged onto a Facebook account with a continuous feed of blog entries, each followed by a comment thread. Athletes must respond to as many blogs and blog comments as possible over a 24 hour period. Athletes are awarded ten points for each original response to a blog and five points for each response to a comment on a blog. All responses must be a minimum of 50 characters long, and will be verified for length before points are awarded. The athlete who accrues the most points wins. (Breaks are not permitted, and so each athlete is issued a diaper, 2 litres of water, and a protein bar.)

In the team event, three athletes work in tandem on the same Facebook feed as described in the individual event. While each athlete is permitted to post an original response to the same blog, multiple responses to the same comment on a blog are strictly prohibited. A multi-response offence will disqualify the team from the competition.


2) High-Dudgeon Cardiac Endurance Competition (HDCEC).

In our most popular event, athletes endure a gruelling 15-minute barrage by a professional offender. A panel of eight international judges then rate each athlete’s body language on a scale of one to ten, ten being a perfect score. Body language includes gestures such as fist clenching, arm waving, and head-smacking, as well as facial expressions such as grimacing, eye-rolling, and jaw-dropping. Vitals are then measured by an Olympic-certified doctor for authenticity. Additionally, 10 bonus points are awarded for fainting, and 100 bonus points for seizures. Those who experience cardiac events, i.e. heart attack or stroke, are awarded an automatic placement in the final round.  Athletes who cannot be revived are awarded a post-humus honorable mention.


3) Free-style Ranting.

Athletes deliver ten minute free-style rants on any topic. The rants are evaluated on a scale of one to ten by a panel of eight international judges. Rants are judged for individuality, creativity, audibility, and logical incoherence. Athletes who mumble for more than thirty consecutive seconds during the rant will be disqualified.


4) Synchronized Kvetching.

Teams participating in this challenging choreographed event must kvetch for a total of seven minutes without error.  Teams, comprised of three to six athletes, spend countless hours practicing. You might have noticed an Olympic team in your own hallway.


5)  Chicken-Neck Pole Vaulting.

Athletes stand beside a two-meter pole marked by one-millimetre increments. The athletes’ neck measurements are recorded on the pole by an official marker. Each athlete is then exposed to an individualized highly offensive news headline. The marker measures the athlete’s neck length at the moment of exposure. The athlete with the greatest degree of neck-lengthening wins. Instances of eye bulging and tongue protrusion will be photographed for High-Dudgeon Olympics promotional material.


Note: We are now taking nominations for the 2019 High-Dudgeon Olympics.

Coming soon …

Some philosophers and some scientists worry about people playing with Ouija boards, and some Christians worry about people playing with Ouija boards. Both species of worriers are concerned with players succumbing to ‘dark forces’; the former ‘irrationality’ and the latter ‘demonic possession’.





Just a thought.

dscf5556 While writing a paper on health and global distributive justice, it struck me that as the global population declines, if it declines, millions of homes and other structures will sit empty. Of course, this won’t be the first time in history that the remnants of  civilizations are left like bones, cleaned of flesh and animation.

But I had a strong visual of the landscape and a wave of humility as I considered the scene.

What would it have been like to walk past the empty palaces of fallen empires while the echoes of its inhabitants still ring?

I suppose the scene isn’t so alien. The village I grew up in was razed to the ground as a consequence of the changing face of the woods industry.

And so many structures are standing empty in the wake of so many wars still being fought.

Perhaps a draft has reached me through my insulation. I’m writing in a safe and quiet place. I’m on one side of a wall, and winter is on the other. I’m on one side of a wall, and the world is on another.