A claim is Schliesser paradoxical if the act of asserting the claim brings it about that there is less warrant for the claim's truth. A good example of this can be found in a recent post from Eric Schliesser's new blog, excerpted here:
As bystanders we should be very clear that in the context of disciplinary cases (involving rape, sexual assault, harassment, etc.), the professional community draws a sharp distinction between suing one's university and suing one's peers or accusers. We all recognize that university tribunals have their own problems (most of these involving partiality toward faculty) and that victims and accusers alike ought to have some recourse to outside courts. But, as a profession we have a community interest (not to mention common decency) in ensuring that the targets of such a law-suit are employers (that is, universities and their officers) not colleagues and students accusers.
So, what can we done?
Quite a bit given that there are no controversial epistemic issues involved. It is public knowledge when somebody sues a student or colleague in the context of an rape/assault/harassment (etc.) case. As a community we should treat such legal strategies with aversion. Again, to be clear: it's fine to sue one's employer and its officers; it's intolerable to sue peers and students in rape/assault/harassment (etc.) cases. So, here's a proposal (open to discussion): such a person should not expect job offers from other institutions, be invited to colloquia, special issues, handbooks and all other forms of professional honor we bestow on each other EVEN if s/he wins the ensuing court case. To be clear, this proposal falls short of professional shunning (i.e., not publishing and not citing--recall this post on the Arthur Koestler problem). This approach is also compatible with other, private acts of friendship and support (and outreach). In addition, it also takes no stance on the legal merits of individual cases.
Ed Karazian heartily endorses this in a recent post at newnewapps, and holds that if the principle is valid it should apply to bloggers that he and others determine to be involved in retaliatory behavior:
Our profession continues to undergo a very necessary process of contestation, wherein people subject to significant inequities along a variety of vectors, gender and sexuality certainly (especially where those include the struggles of trans* people), but also race and disability, have been claiming some of the discursive space and professional recognition that have typically been denied them. To the extent that such efforts have been successful, many of the people involved have come to be subject, no longer simply to being ignored or marginalized, but to much more intense forms of harassment, especially within the more informal spaces of the profession and online. These sorts of campaigns—and they often seem to manifest at least the minimal degree of organization necessary for setting up anonymous, unmoderated blogs the point of which, for example, is to resist and mock feminist interventions into the discursive, conceptual, and practical space of philosophy—are also real, and often very hurtful forms of retaliation, professionally and personally alienating, and in some cases materially frightening. If we're going to express our disapproval of suing students who complain about one's professional conduct, it seems to me that we also need to declare our general aversion to those who would otherwise retaliate against people seeking fair access to the space of the profession on behalf of themselves or others.
I don't think he means to be merely stating the truism that we should publicly disapprove when people are jerks. Why bother saying that? So given that he bothered to say it as the conclusion of a post supporting Schliesser, he seems to be endorsing the view that people Ed Kazarian determines to be involved in retaliating are such that they "should not expect job offers from other institutions, be invited to colloquia, special issues, handbooks and all other forms of professional honor we bestow on each other."
I have to first say that I find all of this horrifying and absurd. Let's focus on the absurdity. First, with respect to Kazarian's addendum at least the lion's share of the really problematic speech is by anonymous people. How the heck are they to be shunned if nobody knows who they are? So Kazarian must think that some non-anonymous people are deserving of the shunning. But he rather invidiously doesn't actually name any names! Who the heck is he talking about? Me? Brian Leiter? These are the only named people he's beaten up on in these regards. Forgive me for being unenthused. Second, the shunning is already happening. Since it is clear enough that Schliesser means to be referring to Peter Ludlow (as well as David Barnett, both are linked to in the open letter that Schliesser mentions), does anyone really think that Peter Ludlow is ever going to get another job offer after all of this? His previous one was rescinded.
This leads to the point about Schliesser paradoxicality. Publicly bruting the shaming strategy (again, one clearly already in effect) makes it that much easier for Ludlow and Barnett's lawyers to establish that the speech against them was defamatory. Establishing defamation is really hard in the United States. One must minimally prove (and in the U.S. the burden of proof is entirely on the person claiming to have been defamed) that the defamer:
- Made a false statement purporting to be fact concerning another person or entity,
- Published or communicated that statement to a third person,
- In making the statement did so in a way that amounted to intent or at least negligence,
- That harm was caused to the person or entity who is the subject of the statement.
Schliesser and Kazarian just did Ludlow and Barnett's lawyers' jobs for them with respect to the fourth criterion! There blog posts are conclusive evidence that the original false statements (if indeed they are) have caused no small harm to Ludlow and Barnett. But then this is more evidence that Ludlow and Barnett should be suing for defamation, which gives us a perfect example of Schliesser paradoxicality as defined above.
Let me say that I have no idea whether or not Ludlow and Barnett are abusing defamation law here. If we were in Great Britain I would worry about this quite a bit. But, as I noted, defamation is very hard to establish in the United States, so I have some confidence that it will work out. On the other hand, the idea that nobody should have legal recourse if they've been defamed by someone younger than them or if they've been defamed in a case involving harrasment or sexual assault strikes me as absolutely crazy. Ludlow is a pariah and Barnett is in danger of becoming one too. Both of their livelhoods have been pretty severely affected. Suppose they were defamed and in this state as a result of such defamation (again, nobody reading this has any idea if they were or weren't). We're supposed to all ramp up their suffering by causing them further professional harm if they try to take legal recourse? This would only make sense if it weren't possible to commit defamation against older people or when sexism and sexual violence is involved. But that would be an absurd empirical claim.
What am I missing? I really don't get this at all.