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02/25/2014

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 Michael Kremer

Perhaps we could have a symposium dedicated to this topic. :)

Julie Klein

In my experience in the academy, the rhetoric of connoisseurship is often the cover story for drinking problems. I suppose that a lot of us feel socially awkward, and I suspect that depression is pretty common in the professoriate.

James

I'm familiar with two departments in which alcohol is always present, in the first place obviously because talks and seminars and so on have free wine, but also of course because it is often at house parties and pubs and so on that we talk philosophy. Only this weekend, I visited my old department, found myself invited with hours' notice to a house party, and talked philosophy until the small hours, and proper academic philosophy, with very decent philosophers. It was brilliant philosophically and personally (not that the two are different, as you mention). I'm trying to remember why we drunk there, and the obvious reasons seem to explain it entirely. I have no need of what to me is a very strange and surprising hypothesis, that it's to do with self-loathing.

Of course moderation is important, and of course there is going to be huge variation from department to department, and (among students) from year to year. But that we are not moderate does not resonate with me in the least. Philosophers' attitude to alcohol, in my experience, is not at all problematic. Now of course my opinion is not worth much - I'm only a graduate student, I've only had so much experience - but I do want to challenge the thought that it's plain that we have a drinking problem.

Eric Schliesser

James, your opinion matters. (Why think that graduate students have less standing?) But have the two departments you mention done a climate survey recently?

Ruth Groff

How interesting!

I don't drink, but my not-drinking is so completely not a thing (never liked the taste; never knew people who did; family doesn't, particularly; etc.) that I'm often not very aware of it going on or not. I assume that what you are reporting is accurate. I am going to watch for it now.

From the outside, it seems a product of wanting to ease high levels of social anxiety and being very sensitive to whether or not one is conforming. But as you say, self-destructive behaviors - let alone compulsively pursued ones - show that one is indeed prepared to harm oneself.

James

Eric, I was only thinking my opinion matters less because I've had less time to see what alcohol means in philosophical contexts. Aspects might only appear over long periods of time and by seeing a number of different departments and so on.

Neither department has done a climate survey. I could give heaps of favourable anecdotal evidence, but I appreciate that, even when the sample size is as small as a philosophy department, people will be legitimately unconvinced by it.

Eric Schliesser

James, well, I think there is no doubt that joint drinking is highly valued in professional philosophy in all kinds of official and informal contexts. But we probably also allow ourselves to overlook the harms.

James

Eric, I totally agree. Of course alcohol has downsides as well as upsides. What I want to take issue with is the thought that there is, in your words, "pervasive alcoholism in professional philosophy". No doubt there are alcoholics, and no doubt there is a pervasive problem with alcohol in some departments. But I have not experienced this at all, which suggests that we can't make a claim as broad as you have done.

Obviously I don't mean to sound dismissive. This is no doubt something we need to talk about as a profession.

Sandrine Berges

Socrates did plenty of drinking: it just never affected him, somehow. See Symposium 214a “Against Socrates, sirs, my crafty plan is as nought. However large the bumper you order him, he will quaff it all off and never get tipsy with it.”
Socrates drank as soon as the boy had filled: but “What procedure is this, Alcibiades?”
And in the Laws, 649b-650d, drinking parties are proposed as a way of teaching the young self-control. I think Plato agrees with you, Eric, that drinking is not the problem, as much as how we allow ourselves to behave under the influence.

Eric Schliesser

James, it takes time and attentiveness to discover that somebody is an alcoholic; if you are enjoying yourself you might not (wish) to notice.

Eric Schliesser

Agreed, Sandrine!

Avi Metcalfe

On the isolated topic of self-loathing in philosophy, it might be interesting to list some self-loathing philosophers vs self-optimistic philosophers. I would think of Kirkegaard, Nietzsche, and Foucault off the bat as self-loathing. I would think of Aristotle, Husserl, and Russell as self-optimistic philosophers (though Husserl carried a deep sadness after his personal losses in WWI and the rise of Nazism). That's too short a list to try to assess what might be a common denominator in each group, of course. I would wager, however, that philosophers who hold a postmodern position against the possibility of a self-posessed ego or veridical speech acts would tend to succumb to self-loathing -- when they believe that there's nothing but historically inherited junk in the attic, which they can't really discuss veridically outside of the power-centered anti-egoic episteme anyway.

M. Anderson

You know, in all this recent talk about what's happening "in philosophy," I don't recognize either my department or those I know--or anyway those I respect--in other departments. Frankly, I don't regard those engaged in sexual harassment or habitual excessive drunkenness--i.e., those who are slaves to their basest passions--philosophers. They may be academics who teach in departments of philosophy; they may be "professional philosophers"; but they aren't philosophers. Perhaps the recent obliteration of the line between philosophy and the profession is part of the problem?

David Bzdak

No True Scotsman?

Femke

I think that the results of a recent study on aggression in bars are relevant here:

"Results

Ninety percent of incidents involved male initiators and female targets, with almost all incidents involving intentional or probably intentional aggression. Targets mostly responded nonaggressively, usually using evasion. Staff rarely intervened; patron third parties intervened in 21% of incidents, usually to help the target but sometimes to encourage the initiator. initiators' level of invasiveness was related to intoxication of the targets, but not their own intoxication, suggesting intoxicated women were being targeted." (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/acer.12356/abstract If behind a wall, then see this: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/03/03/285307535/mens-drinking-isnt-the-driver-of-sexual-aggression-in-bars)

Important is this bit: "initiators' level of invasiveness was related to intoxication of the targets, but not their own intoxication, suggesting intoxicated women were being targeted".

If this would also be true in settings in which philosophers drink together, then limiting alcohol use would indeed keep the men from groping the women, but for the wrong reason: it would change the potential target's behavior, not the initiator's. This seems to me to be similar to banning miniskirts to protect women from being groped. These are both victim blaming strategies that limit women's freedom, while accepting predatory behavior by men as a given (boys will be boys etc.).
To be really clear (just in case..): what needs to change is men's behavior, not women's, and men's 'initiating' behavior is apparently not linked to their alcohol intake (in bars, according to the study).

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.

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