One of the themes that has come up a couple of times in this seminar has been the role that social media can play in gaining our students access to perspectives that have been marginalized within the academy. I suspect that the problem of marginalization is even more real within analytic philosophy than it is in other disciplines within the humanities. For instance, Elizabeth Barnes has observed that the perspectives on disability that one finds within analytic approaches to bioethics diverge sharply from the perspectives that one finds within disability studies programs. And in a recent(-ish) scandal, Hypatia – analytic philosophy’s leading journal on feminist issues – published an article on transgender and transracial identities, which somehow engaged almost none of the vast and rich literatures that have been developed on these subjects outside of analytic philosophy programs. One of the main lessons that I have taken away from these kinds of phenomena has been that, if analytic philosophy wishes to become less white, less misogynist, less cis, less heterosexist, less classist – less marginalizing – then analytic philosophers have to learn lessons that from other disciplines, and from people outside of the academy as a whole.
This has been one of my goals on Twitter, and I have found some really valuable resources: history, sociology, poetry, novels, all speaking to topics central to my own research and teaching, but in ways that depart productively from analytic approaches to these same topics. Of course, as I’ve mentioned, I feel like I have been extremely lucky in developing my “Personal Learning Network.” By luck, I had some great starting points, which took me in some very helpful directions. Professor Ball’s idea of a “Twitter Scavenger Hunt” gives me some really useful guidance about how to send my students into the world with a little more guidance. One thing that I have been thinking about, though, is how we can decide which sources to trust, and which we should regard with skepticism; and, more to the point, how we can use social media itself to to develop our judgments on these matters.
One of my early follows was Jesse Singal, a contributor to New York Magazine who writes quite a lot on trans issues in spite of his very apparent – and apparently persistent – lack of expertise on the subject. The trouble is that Singal manages to present himself as an authority on the subject, or at least, as a reasonable person interested in learning more, who simply cannot understand why so many people are so mad at him. This is a posture that plenty of people take on in public discourse in order to defuse critique. But I suspect that it is a particularly effective posture on Twitter, since one can play on extant narratives about “Social Justice Twitter” or “Outrage Twitter.” Since people start out with an image of Twitter as a place people go to because they want to get mad about something, Singal can caricature thoughtful critiques of his own articles as nothing more than grist for Outrage Twitter’s mill. I’m sure that there is something to this image of Twitter, and I know there is plenty of horrific stuff that does go on there, especially as Twitter’s management refuses to ban Nazis and misogynists. But I’d be interested in finding ways to communicate to students the ways in which charlatans weaponize Twitter’s public image as a cesspool of lefty outrage in order to maintain authority in domains about which they refuse to learn, so that they might cultivate their own Personal Learning Networks judiciously.