A few observations on my latest podcast with Amia Srinivasan

I am reluctant to do this, as I have never offered ex post commentary on a Conversations with Tyler before.  It seems unfair to the guest (who may or may not have comparable platforms), and perhaps it is the guest who deserves the last word?  Still, I think I can at least try to clear up a few misunderstandings about the episode, as I see a number of important points at stake here.  So here goes, with some trepidation:

1. The number, frequency, and extremity of reactions to the episode, both on Twitter and in the MR comments section, I think shows that women simply have a much, much tougher time in the public sphere.  There is a much smaller intellectual and emotional space they are allowed to inhabit comfortably and without condemnation or excess judgment.  Had the episode been with a man, and had been comprised of the exact same words, it would not have received nearly the same attention or criticism.  But people don’t like women who argue back.  I realize that is a kind of cliche, but it is largely true.

In this regard, even if you largely disagree with Amia Srinivasan, you should take the strength of the reaction to the episode as a sign she might have a valid point after all.

And to put it bluntly, if said female guest plausibly can be perceived as attractive, the reaction will be all the more disproportionate.

2. Some listeners are teed off about “disabled individuals” vs. “disabled men.”  I’ve committed numerous tongue and memory slips in my time, and they are hardly ever pointed out.  Now you might be upset that she insisted I said “men” (when I didn’t), but in fact my interior monologue at the time was something like this: “We all know this is mostly about men.  But if I just say “men,” she will react to that word and drive the conversation in a different direction.  So I will say “individuals.””  Maybe she gets points for insight?

3. If I challenge a guest directly, it is typically a sign of intellectual respect for said guest or person (just ask Bryan Caplan, though perhaps by this point he has suffered too much?).  And if the guest comes back at me forcefully, I usually (and consistently) take that as a sign of respect.  If I don’t seem frustrated, it is because I am not.

4. If a guest challenges my questions (or indeed anyone’s questions) for having sexist premises, I don’t consider this an illegitimate response.  I may or may not agree, but I don’t think it should upset me (or you).  I think a lot of people’s questions have for instance highly statist or collectivist premises (and should not).  I may or may not be right, but surely that too is a response deserving of consideration, should I decide to raise it.

5. To be fully forthright, if you wish to hear my “negative take” on her responses, I don’t think she was very good at handling empirical evidence in the context of a discussion, and furthermore this is a major shortcoming.  I find this to be common amongst philosophers, if I may be allowed to continue my moment of condescension.  I also had the feeling she is not challenged sufficiently often with said evidence, and that may partly be the fault of Oxford.  This is exactly the point where I feel bad/uncertain offering ex post commentary on the episode, but still leaving off this opinion would not be offering my honest assessment of what happened.

6. I have studied her work carefully, including reading her doctoral dissertation and some undergraduate work, and I then and still now fully believe she will be one of the more important philosophers over the next few decades.  As I mentioned before, super-impressive in terms of combining intellect, depth, breadth, determination, and relevance, plus has the all-important “willing to put oneself out there.”  And if you don’t trust me as talent-spotter, dare I point out that Oxford University has a not too shabby history choosing and developing philosophical talent?  But to return a bit to boasting, I think my relatively strong ability to differentiate emotional response from the talent judgment is in fact one reason to trust my talent judgments.

7. You have to learn to learn from people who bother, annoy, or frustrate you.  If you do, they will not in fact bother, annoy, or frustrate you.  One central point under consideration is her view that even today in the Western or also Nordic countries, the treatment of women (among other groups) could plausibly be much, much better, and with general emancipatory effects for many other groups as well.  You may or may not agree, but is that such a crazy question to ponder and think through?  No.

So I thought it was a good episode.  I would gladly do another one with her someday, and I hope the feeling is mutual.



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