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Friday, October 05, 2018

The Talk and The Whisper

In recent weeks I have been struck by the similarities between the advice different groups give each other. One is the Talk—the instructions passed on from parent to African American child (usually depicted as male) to avoid the police, and how to act if they cannot avoid the police. The other might be called the Whisper—the advice that women give to ensure that they are not assaulted by men, including identifying particular men and places as to-be-avoided.

In each case, the instructions require group members to avoid certain places or people, show deference when cornered, and take steps to escape as quickly and as safely as possible. In each case, the rest of society has, in general, not believed the group members' accounts. If they are believed, their testimony is dismissed: the approach is something like, I believe you but it will not change my behavior or your standing to challenge that behavior.

My colleague, Yxta Murray, has just written insightfully about the "belief" part of this problem in the context of epistemic injustice, a philosophical theory arguing that individuals will simply not be believed based on their social status: that their claims to knowledge are discredited. But a different problem is that their claims to knowledge are discounted. That they will be believed but not practically acted upon.

Both are serious issues. But epistemic discounting (to give a term to the practical problem of belief-but-inaction) creates an important dissonance: credible witnesses give testimony about events—in this case, events that are truly terrible—yet these witnesses are discounted, told that their testimony (and perhaps, by implication, their experience) does not matter.

I'll have more to say about epistemic discounting, and how it's forced me to rethink some interesting papers I've had the pleasure to write about on Jotwell. But at least one way of thinking of epistemic discounting is not as a form of mistake, or disinterest, but as a form of disrespect. Kate Manne, in her book on misogyny, Down Girl, has written persuasively of this form of disrespect as a robust normative system for putting people in their place.

Putting people in their place—being appropriately orderly—is also a core feature of policing. It's the form of social control at which the police excel. It's also the form of social control that is least visible to the courts, because it begins and ends on the streets. And it's a form of social control that runs deep in complicated raced-and-gendered ways.

I'll explore some of these complicated, raced-and-gendered ways in my next post.

Posted by Eric Miller on October 5, 2018 at 01:32 PM | Permalink


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Moreover, even if the editors believe the Republican conspiracy theory that Democrats as a group held the information and leaked it strategically, so what? How did that "taint the process"?

Because you let him take a picture with his underage girl's basketball team! If he was dangerous, you would've kept him away from them. If he's no longer dangerous, than he can serve on the court!

Posted by: where's the girls' basketball team now? | Oct 10, 2018 10:40:32 PM


At the very heart of “Believe women” or “Believe survivors” is a flipping of the burden of proof.

Yes, democrats treat victims the way republicans treat the gospels. Democrats are religious--their faith is in the victim scriptures, while republicans is in the Christian scriptures. Democrats will believe anything if it's evil enough; republicans will believe anything if it's holy enough.

Posted by: The Gospel of St. Ford on the Rocks | Oct 10, 2018 6:13:55 PM

For scientists, hearing that the gospels were written 100 years after Jesus' death makes them immediately unbelievable.

"Such a thing would've been written down immediately!"

For republican feminists, hearing that an attempted rape was discussed 30 years after the incident makes it immediately unbelievable.

"Such a thing would've been reported immediately!"

Posted by: the republican feminist | Oct 10, 2018 4:34:44 PM

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Posted by: Osaid | Oct 10, 2018 1:20:35 PM

After the end of the original hearing, Kavanaugh took a picture with his girl's basketball team. Then a few days later Feinstein said that he was an accused attempted-rapist.

Why didn't she say that before the picture was taken? If he's so dangerous, why did she wait until after he took a picture with a dozen underage girls? Why didn't she tell them to stay away from him?

"Epistemic discounting" shut her mouth, even though she was terrified for those girls.
And it was because she didn't say anything until after the picture was taken that republicans don't trust her, Ford, or anyone else who was in that room with Kavanaugh and the scared girl's basketball team.

Posted by: Lebron James 316 | Oct 10, 2018 6:34:00 AM

The ultimate question is, how did the white patriarchy convince women not to report their victimizations right after the fact, while feminism was supporting equal rights?

Why wasn't "immediate reporting of crimes" the main crux of feminism from the beginning? Is this proof that feminism has always been a sham?

Will "immediate reporting of crimes" be the main crux of fourth-wave feminism?

Posted by: the due-process mystique | Oct 10, 2018 1:02:00 AM

"Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation opens up a new seat on the powerful federal appeals court in Washington"

Wait? But Ford didn't come forward until now because Kavanaugh had never held a position of power before, right?
She came forward to stop him from ever getting a position of power?
That means that he never had one, which means the DC circuit court isn't a position of power.
The above quoted journalist is spreading fake news! Or did Ford come forward just to stop him from overruling Roe?

Posted by: position of power? | Oct 8, 2018 8:49:35 PM

What you're saying is that Ford discounted herself?
She didn't come forward earlier because she didn't have any self-respect?
She waited to come forward until it was about him (he'll get power, stop him) rather than about her (i was victimized, imprison him)?
She internalized her insignificance and irrelevance?

Posted by: Lincoln Blasey Ford | Oct 7, 2018 7:10:29 PM

Do you think Feinstein didn't come forward right away with Ford's allegations because Ford lacked social status? Do you think Feinstein would've come forward right away in July if Ford had had greater social standing in her own community?

Was Feinstein's behavior towards Ford not just as "a form of mistake, or disinterest, but as a form of disrespect"?

Or is it because Feinstein can't think outside of the patriarchy box she was born into and continues to be a literal slave to?

Posted by: Feinstein's epistemology | Oct 7, 2018 7:17:59 AM

Perhaps the greatest irony about claims involving so-called epistemic discounting and epistemic injustice is that people who don't believe there are any such modes of inquiry are themselves not believed.

Posted by: James | Oct 6, 2018 3:13:01 PM

"credible witnesses give testimony about events—in this case, events that are truly terrible—yet these witnesses are discounted"

whose testimony is being discounted? Ford's? Leland's? Ford's ex-boyfriend's? Juanita Broadrick's?

Posted by: Where's Marty McFly? | Oct 6, 2018 6:15:55 AM

I think the Tiananmen Square protests, the Gezi Park protests, and the Damascus/Aleppo protests show that when everyone is the same race, the government treats people with nothing but the highest standards of dignity and respect.

It is only in multi-racial societies like America where there is no miranda warning, no exclusionary rule, no presumption of innocence, no brady doctrine.

Posted by: Gary Aleppo Johndaughter | Oct 5, 2018 9:38:08 PM

The argument is that Ford came forward because Kavanaugh is about to get a position of power, right? She didn't come forward earlier because the DC Circuit Court of Appeals doesn't ever rule on matters of national importance that would constitute an exercise of power?

Doesn't the DC Circuit rule on net neutrality, one of the most important issues to democrats? That sounds like he has already held a position of power for twelve years.

So if Ford waited to come forward, perhaps it wasn't because Kavanaugh was going to get a position of power, but because he would have the power to overrule Roe.

Posted by: Waiting for Murkowski | Oct 5, 2018 7:24:12 PM

Thanks Asher. As I say in the post, I do recognize that it's a form of practical response (it need not actually be normative, which assumes that it is rule driven. It could be a material rather than normative response. But if it fits with Manne's worries about misogyny, she is talking about misogyny as a normative system, and so certainly some of the responses are normative). Nonetheless, I chose the locution to link it to epistemic injustice: because it seems to me to be a further, related step down the same path. Instead of discrediting the victim (in the sense of failing to afford (sufficient/any) credence to their claims) the move is to say, *even if* I believe you, that belief will not count in affecting anything I do. Since the (in)action follows from views about the belief, I though I'd call it "epistemic." Nothing turns on the label, though, if the phenomenon is correct. Call it belief-responsive discounting if you like.

Posted by: Eric J. Miller | Oct 5, 2018 5:32:43 PM

What you're referring to as "epistemic discounting" (belief-but-inaction) isn't epistemic. It's, as you say, a "normative system" about what facts are reasons for action; it has nothing at all to do with knowledge. (Of course, I guess you could say that it's actually a set of beliefs about the existence or nonexistence of certain *moral* facts about reasons for action, but if we use epistemic that broadly, anything's epistemic.) Your colleague is writing (insightfully, I agree) about a genuinely epistemic problem.

Posted by: Asher Steinberg | Oct 5, 2018 3:52:51 PM

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