Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Agnes Callard on 'managing' conversations

By creating 'barriers to entry' into a particular way of earning a living, 'economic rent' is created. This generally corresponds to a 'deadweight loss' to Society. It is true that there are utile fields where we need to have some barrier to the entry of stupid loudmouths. Credentials of a professional or epistemic type may solve an 'information asymmetry' problem and thus prevent 'market failure'.

What about the useless type of discourse indulged in by academics in shite University Departments which we may term 'Grievance Studies'? Should we permit barriers of entry and 'economic rent' into this field? Oddly, there may be some point to doing this. The supply of the nuisance may be less than it would be under open competition. 

Obviously, shite academics will try to argue the opposite. But, because they are shite, the argument they make would apply equally to farts as to speech acts.

As a case in point, Agnes Callard writes in the NYT- 

Suppose a man and I are having a conversation about recent events, and suppose I introduce one of my statements with “As a woman, …”

The guy pays attention. Is the dame going to tell him what he has always feared- viz. women find him repulsive? Indeed, his Mom only pretended to think he was her own cutesy wootsy babykins. Inwardly, she was retching. 

More generally, if someone says 'As an x', where x represents a large class of people, then there is a claim for higher weightage to be accorded to that person's statement because they are presenting themselves as a 'representative agent'. 

He knew that he was talking to a woman from the beginning of the conversation, but now, all of a sudden, I am speaking to him as a woman. What difference does this make?

The difference has to do with

1) representative agent theory. When I speak as a member of a class, the expectation is that I will say something representative of the majority opinion of that class. Thus, I may say 'I personally have no objection to beef, but- speaking as a Hindu- it is an abomination'. It is difficult to verify my personal preferences. However, when speaking as a representative agent, it is possible to use statistical material to refute my contention as false and disingenuous. 

 2) 'preference intensity'. There are some issues where a particular class has a more intense preference. This means, in the language of game theory, that  Uncorrelated Asymmetries arise. Philosophically, this could be said to do with Oikeiosis- ownership/belonging- and represents 'the bourgeois strategy' which a good solution to a class of games. Obviously, this cuts both ways. If your oikeiosis represents no 'skin in the game', then you should be ignored no matter how persuasive your rhetoric.  

Agnes is attributing bizarre beliefs to her interlocutor. On the other hand, it is true that Men have only with thing on their minds. Thus

It may seem to him that

you are begging to suck his cock. But why the fuck should you care how things seem to that dickhead? 

I am attempting to secure an unfair conversational advantage:

Uncorrelated asymmetries aren't unfair. They are a fact of life. Conversations aren't courts of law. The right thing to do is to talk about your bleeding piles till everybody moves away and you can tuck into the buffet to your heart's content.

Instead of asking him to accept my arguments on the grounds of their validity,

Arguments have no validity unless there is a protocol bound juristic or other decision process in which case who is making the argument is highly germane. According to a protocol, a particular person's statement may be decisive and 'buck stopping'. Equally, they may have no locus standi or what they urge may have no probative or other value. 

I am asking him to accept them on the grounds of my status as a woman.

Which is highly germane if the issue in question is one where 'status as a woman' gives an assertion higher probative value or is 'buck stopping' in some other way. 

To take the most extreme reaction, he may feel that I am bullying him,

or he may feel you are saying you won't give him a b.j coz he got a needle dick and his cum is smelly. Fuck you should care?  Let the cunt fellate himself.

using him as a scapegoat to exact vengeance on the basis of some grievance I harbor toward some particular man, some group of men, or men in general.

If I were a woman, I'd have a grievance against all men. How come they get to pee standing up? 

He probably wouldn’t react in the same way if he were discussing a topic that touched on physics,

coz saying 'speaking as a woman, I think superstrings are really hard to knit' is what men want to hear

and his interlocutor said, “As a physicist …” In that case, she has expertise that he is likely to recognize as conversationally relevant.

Nonsense! All physicists talk ultracrepidarian bollocks when it comes to things 'which touch on' but aren't physics. Ask an engineer. Or a mathematical economist. Physicists tend to be stupider than average when venturing outside their metier. 

Even if he knew she was a physicist before the conversation began, he might find it reasonable for her to preface some of her assertions with a reminder that she is speaking from a position of special knowledge.

Only if it were reasonable for her to suppose he had the attention span of a goldfish and he had been talking ultracrepidarian bollocks.  

Being a physicist gives a person a certain standing in conversations that have something to do with physics.

Because to become a physicist you have to study physics for many years and to possess credentials of an epistemic, not biological, type.  

So why shouldn’t being a woman give me a certain standing in conversations that have something to do with gender?

Because being a woman is biological not epistemic. A person with severe mental retardation may be a woman but may not be able to converse about being a woman.  

Let’s distinguish two ways in which the expertise of a physicist might figure in a discussion of some question.

There is only one manner in which expertise of an epistemic sort figures in a discussion of an essentially epistemic type. That manner is epistemological and protocol bound.

Non protocol-bound discourses are anything goes. Credentials or Expertise are irrelevant.  The more paranoid shouter wins.   

Agnes tries to describe what protocols arise in a discussion where expertise is germane

First, it might allow her to introduce facts into the conversation that have bearing on the question. Call this, “informational standing.”

Why? 'Probative value' is a term which already exists.  It is justiciable. Callard's 'Informational standing' is wooly- indeed, it is 'anything goes'. It is not justiciable. How do we know? Because Callard thinks being a woman has 'informational value'. But this is not the case. We could always find a woman to contradict any and every other woman on any point at all. Indeed, we could find women with insufficient mental capacity to communicate any 'informational value'. 

Second, it might put her in a privileged position to manage the conversation: to determine who speaks when, how the question is pursued, when it counts as answered and so on. Call this, “managerial standing.”

That is a Judicial, not a Managerial, function. Managers can let anyone talk any old bollocks in any sequence while quietly making the right decision. Judges, however, are protocol bound. 

For an administrative purpose- e.g. determining whether a candidate should be granted a credential or deciding what should be on the curriculum- a 'manager' may be involved. But this is not the case when it comes to purely epistemic questions. Something exogenous- e.g. a new observation or an experimentum crucis- might 'close' a particular discussion. 

The idea that being a woman can give me informational standing is relatively unproblematic.

No. It is problematic because being a woman is compatible with being mentally challenged or holding antagonomic views.  

For example, perhaps we are talking about the use of alcohol in socializing, and I inform my interlocutor, speaking as a woman, that when you refrain from drinking, people often assume you are pregnant.

Agnes is speaking in proprio persona. It so happens that she is of child bearing age and that when she refrains from drinking it is because she is either pregnant or breast feeding. Obviously, she would only make this remark in a social context where it is normal for people to drink alcohol. She wouldn't say this to a traffic cop who stopped her while she was doing the school run. 

Perhaps this comes as news to him.

How stupid are the men Agnes talks to? 

Informational standing is a version of expertise.

No. A witness has informational standing if they saw what went down. If there is no witness, an expert's testimony may have probative value. But that testimony might be controverted by another expert. 

To see this, apply what we might call the “expert replacement test”:

This is nonsense. We only call in an expert where there is no eye-witness. Only where direct, substantive, knowledge is lacking, do we have to rely upon a hypothesis put forward by someone with domain expertise. 

Could I claim such standing over a male scientist who had extensively studied the relevant domain of the female experience (including first-person reports)? No.

Yes. A Scientist who says he knows more than a woman about being a woman is       not a scientist. He is a shithead.  

And this shows that the demographic fact — in this case, that I am a woman —

that is not a 'demographic' fact. It is, or was, a biological fact. Demography can class a biological woman as a man.

is not essential to the kind of standing I am claiming. When we get heated over the fact that someone is speaking as an X, it is probably not a claim to informational standing that disturbs us.

When we get heated over what a person says when it does not chime with what we believe or what we consider it was appropriate for them to say. This is context dependent and is not related to 'informational standing'. Thus, a General may get heated if a junior officer says 'speaking as an expert on this type of weaponry, I think x'. The junior officer may be reprimanded not because what he said was false but because he spoke out of turn. 

It is important to remind ourselves that conversations include, but are not reducible to, exchanges of information.

Why remind ourselves of something we already know? Conversations are mainly 'phatic'- an exchange of grooming or marking services. 

Some of the things we get by talking to people we could get in other ways

This is not the case. We get 'testimony' by talking to people. What we get in other ways is not 'testimony' though it may relate to what motivates us to seek 'testimony'. 

— this is true of cases in which we take the fact that someone said something as evidence for the truth of what they are saying.

But only in the sense that it is equally true that we may take the fact that someone said she did not want to suck our cock as evidence that she had had told her entire Cabinet that she would yield the Falklands to General Galtieri unless Iyer lets her give him a b.j. What? Shit like that went down all the time when I was a teenager.  

We are treating them as a kind of thermostat for reality,

Reality does not have a thermostat. Engineering does. 

in principle replaceable with finding (credible) slips of paper on the ground, or overhearing them talking to someone else, or having them tailed by a private detective.

No. Nothing replaces 'testimony'.  But 'testimony' is not necessarily alethic. Yet it says something about 'intentionality' which nothing circumstantial can. 

If conversations were information-extraction exercises, we would be

solely concerned with truth, not intentions. 

indifferent as to whether our interlocutor was telling the truth, or lying, as long as we knew which “filter” to apply. (Either way, we can extract data from the utterance.)

Nonsense! There is no 'filter' save in the case of an algorithmic liar. But, such beasts don't exist.  

Spies might be satisfied with information extraction, but in normal conversation it is important to us that our interlocutor make an honest effort to speak truthfully.

Fuck off! I don't want to have a truthful conversation with anyone! I know I'm a fat boring cunt but being told that such is the case tends to reduce my general joie de vivre

This is because, when we converse, we have the goal of thinking with our interlocutor, and you only invite someone into your mind to the extent that you are willing to lay it open before them; and because you expect them to do the same.

No. We seek 'suhrit prapti'- the condition for Yoga- 'like-heartedness' because this lightens a common yoke. 

We don't want to 'think with' anyone. We want to do things with others because there are some things- like assembling IKEA furniture- which require such cooperation. But we don't want to have a thought which we can only have with the assistance of someone else. Suppose I understand the Pythagoras theorem only when 'thinking with' Teacher. Then, the teacher hasn't actually successfully taught me that theorem. 

No doubt, there are some feelings which arise out of 'thinking with'- e.g. 'the Oceanic feeling' achieved in the presence of a spiritual preceptor- but even in that case we don't expect or require reciprocity. The psychoanalyst or Guru is not expected to open up to the patient or chela.

The ideas of respect and equality have many applications in civic life,

These may be regulative concepts but they are also essentially contested. Thus they don't have 'applications'. Rather they arise as the expression of friction or factionalism or other types of dysfunction. 

especially in a democracy,

in which case they are the subject to protocol bound juristic or administrative decision processes 

but one of the most basic is conversational: mutual recognition as having equal standing to contribute to the discussion of some question.

A conversation is not, speaking generally, protocol bound. If it is, this is confirmed by a written aide memoire or memorandum of some sort. But, in such cases, the parties to the conversation are accredited in a particular manner such that what is said is scarcely spontaneous or free-wheeling. However, even in Diplomatic conversations where there is a protocol of equality, it is not the case that all parties have 'equal standing' to contribute to the discussion. In theory, Andorra is just as much a sovereign country as America. But when America talks, the world listens. Andorra- not so much. 

Conversational equality is inconsistent with managerial standing.

Nonsense! The Biden/Trump debates showed that management of a scrupulous, indeed ruthless, sort is needed for 'conversational equality'. 

If it’s my job to decide how the conversation proceeds, then our conversational relationship is hierarchical.

No. It is protocol bound. There may be a hierarchy. There may not. A bunch of Anarchists may take it in turn to be Chair. This does not mean that they accept hierarchy. 

I stand over you in the role of a teacher or leader or guide.

But, if we can sack you if you are shit in that role then there really isn't a hierarchy.

When the physicist assumes managerial standing over the conversation,

and you don't like it, you can just walk away 

she is saying that she cannot sincerely converse as an equal with you.

at which point you can ask how come she hasn't got a Nobel- unless she has in which case you ask if that's how come she managed to fit a tardis up her twat.  

The truth is, saying 'as an x, my testimony is y' does not entail inequality. Suppose we are discussing a software package. I say 'as an economist, I find this package seriously flawed'. You say 'as a physicist, I find it a godsend'. This is potentially interesting to both parties. The economist wants to know why this package works for particular models in Physics because this gives him a clue as to how to rejig his own model to take advantage of a cheap type of computation. But, the physicist may also learn why a particular type of computation which is successful at one level of analysis must fail at a different level. 

She could have a farce of a conversation in which she nods along while inwardly groaning, or she can give you some instruction.

Coz the way to learn theoretical physics is by asking some chick at a cocktail party

Given the sad state of your education in physics, these are her only options.

This is entirely untrue. Great physicists have had very productive conversations with poets and carpenters and fishermen and mystics of various stripes. The reverse is also true. Indeed, the path to becoming the best at anything is to have the sort of conversations Agnes does not think possible. 

This brings us, finally, to the kind of speaking “as a woman” that engenders defensiveness and hostility.

Because it comes from a place of offensiveness and hatred. But this can still be useful. As a Right Wing nutjob, I learn all sorts of techniques for nuisance creation and general sociopathy from my 'woke' interlocutors. 

When I adopt managerial standing on the grounds of some demographic fact,

there is an equal and opposite 'managerial standing' for one's alterity arising out of the notion that they can be more 'objective' or dispassionate.

Management is linked to 'appropriable control rights'. Either you have such rights- in which case you decide who speaks or who is listened to- or you don't. There is an 'uncorrelated asymmetry' here which fundamentally changes the nature of the game. But this is a matter of fact, not hypothetical imputation. 

I am saying that given the difference between us with respect to gender, race, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status, we cannot converse as equals — moreover, that in order for us to converse, you have to allow me to be in some way in charge of the conversation. You have to hand me the reins.

Under the Rule of Law, there are issues where you alone 'have the reins'. Hohfeldian immunities obtain in an asymmetric manner. As for mere gabfests, if  you feel yourself slipping out of the saddle, punctuate them with pungent farts.

This demand on my part will sometimes be illegitimate

Not unless the thing is protocol bound. Otherwise it may be silly, mischievous or inconsequential 

— I may, in fact, be a bully, looking for a way to grab power, humiliate you or show off in front of others.

or you may be a person whose silent but deadly farts can clear out a Concert Hall. 

But is it always illegitimate?

Or does it have a loving Mummy and a doting Daddy and a lush Trust Fund? 

If I speak as an X, managerially,

Others can speak as a 'non-X' tasked with managing the importunities of those silly Xs. 

I am saying that a certain ideal kind of conversation — conversation among equals — is impossible for us.

An ideal kind of conversation can occur between creature and Creator- or so Humanity has long believed. 

Could that be, simply, true? Could it be that, as in the case of the physicist, our only option besides putting me in charge is fake conversation?

A fake action is one where it is 'common knowledge' that what appears to be happening isn't actually happening. Just like a fake marriage, a fake conversation may be between equals while a genuine marriage, like a genuine conversation, may be between people who are not equals and where neither exercises a 'managerial' function. Guess which are more stable.

If the answer is, “yes,” this won’t be because demographic membership constitutes a form of expertise.

But the answer is 'no'. 

We can use our expert replacement test:

No we can't because where direct testimony is available, expertise is de trop. 

If you are having a conversation about rape with someone who says, “as a rape victim,” her claim to managerial standing, unlike any informational claim she might make, will in no way be undermined by the presence of a rape researcher.

Sadly, being raped does not confer 'managerial standing'. On the other hand, 'informational claims' may indeed be undermined by 'the presence of a rape researcher'. Sadly, many people who have suffered abuse have been told to their face by 'experts' that they are lying. Whatever one has suffered or one is suffering, if an 'expert' is sitting in, you'd better say what he wants hear otherwise you may be labelled a fantasist.  

Unlike informational standing, managerial standing can be demographic “all the way down.”

But we all know we aren't obliged to listen to shite. 'Managerial standing' arises with respect to your property and your person- though you may have to outsource it to a lawyer or a guy with an M.B.A.

So on what basis might someone claim such standing?

On the basis of the Law or the rules or norms governing the Institution under whose auspices the conversation occurs.   

Perhaps the most familiar case is one in which systematic and entrenched forms of injustice have ossified group relations into ones of unequal respect.

But, if there are entrenched forms of injustice then 'group relations' were worse to start off with.

It would not, of course, follow that individual members of those groups were barred from showing one another equal respect

On the contrary, this was precisely what was disallowed. Miss Scarlet could not show 'equal respect' to Big Mammy Strap-on even after the latter's ministrations  had so wrecked Rhett Butler's rectum that he could no longer give a damn.

 even unknowingly. In such a case, speaking as a member of the disrespected group could be a way of both drawing attention to this fact, and attempting to redress it.

So could farting noisily.  

Such a speaker is saying, given the presence of structural inequality, an unequal conversation is the only sincere, honest way forward.

Or they may be farting noisily to the same semiotic end. 

Anything else would require her to nod along, inwardly groaning.

While letting out silent but deadly farts.

If an argument applies as much to a fart as it does to itself then it is worth only a fart as an argument. 

These issues of structural injustice can be very tricky.

But how smelly are they? That is the crucial question when deliberating on a public nuisance. 

Consider the summer of 2018 controversy that arose around the work of Kathleen Stock, a philosophy professor who argues against redefining the category of woman and lesbian to include trans women.

Who did this controversy help? Women? Trans women? Lesbians? Anybody at all? The thing was a nuisance.  

Why does the terminology matter so much here? Among other things, what is at stake is the question of whether trans women have managerial standing to speak as women.

So, what is at stake is nothing at all. The truth is, I alone have managerial standing to speak as a woman at any symposium I arrange. Sad.  

It is also important to note that not every case of demographic managerial standing will be predicated on injustice.

But any shite can be predicated on any other shite by any shithead.  

Someone with personal experience of a natural disaster might not to be able to speak on that topic without getting emotional.

So might a guy with no such personal experience who gets emotional easily  

Allowing that person to manage the conversation may make it possible for him to be as rational as he can be, under the circumstances.

Or it may lead to displays of public incontinence and everybody slipping in each other's poo.  

It is no sort of argument to say x may entail y if it may equally entail not-y or just everybody shitting into their hands and flinging their feces about. 

One could avoid demographically managed conversations by restricting one’s interlocutors.

No. Even if you are your own sole interlocutor 'demographically managed conversation' will still occur because of the sloppy way Agnes has defined it. Equally, no such conversation will occur for the same reason. Either the thing Agnes is talking about exists in all possible worlds or it does not exist at all. 

You might think that a philosopher would be inclined to do this.

A bad one- okay. 

Philosophers place special value on a specific kind of conversation — those in which strict equality between participants makes possible the no-holds-barred argumentative warfare that is our bread and butter.

and what the rest of us consider to be coprophagy.  

We think that when people refute us, they are doing us a favor.

The problem is that their refutation can be easily made to refute itself or else affirm that all things that are are cats- except cats. Ex falso quodlibet works that way. 

And refutation does not fit comfortably in demographically managed conversation: If you are the manager, my refuting you undermines my acceptance of your managerial standing, and if I am the manager, refuting you might well constitute an abuse of it.

This is a bizarre use of the word 'managerial'. Even a dictator may change his mind after hearing a 'refutation. Good managers don't feel they are 'undermined' when they steal the brainwave of a subordinate.  

But philosophers are also teachers of philosophy, charged with producing the next generation of philosophers.

But the next generation may not get tenure and thus have to stop calling themselves philosophers. 'Barista' sounds like a real brainy thing to be.  

We not only conduct but also induct people into such conversations, and this means that we are interested in the porousness of the boundary that surrounds them.

Does it let in utter cretins? 

We don’t choose our students,

A sure sign of a degenerate research program. Four centuries ago, no respectable alchemist would have taken me as a student. Now, I can become a fully certified Mage of Esoteric Science for $ 9.99.  

we don’t choose our society, and we can’t always choose our conversations.

That's the downside of joining a shite Department. 

For this reason, I think all of us — even philosophers — should be prepared, at times, to accept demographic claims of managerial standing;

in other words, get some of the sweet sweet 'Grievance Studies' green 

but I also think we should aspire to navigate each of those conversations with the kind of intellectual excellence, respect and sensitivity that would allow them to become the full-fledged, unmanaged conversations they aspire to be.

as opposed to what? Aspiring to sink these conversations into a snake-pit of name-calling and hair pulling and face scratching?

Agnes thinks philosophers should 'manage' conversations. Nobody else does. Scientists and Lawyers and Diplomats and Economists and Accountants and Engineers and Administrators have highly utile conversations all the time. They don't call in a Philosopher to do the managing. 

It may be that a few academics in shite departments can get a little publicity by pretending to be 'woke' or pretending 'wokeness' is the new McCarthyism. But that doesn't mean the thing isn't a public nuisance. 

No comments: