Warp, Weft, and Way

Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學

Olberding on Tien

Amy Olberding’s scathing critique of David Tien’s continued role in the field of Chinese philosophy.

December 9th, 2017 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Gender, Profession | 35 comments

35 Responses to Olberding on Tien

  1. Larry Israel says:

    Thank you for posting this. I am at a loss for words.

  2. Amy Olberding says:

    I want to pass along the bit of additional information I have. Three co-editors of one of the books in which Tien appears have contacted me to say they did not know about Tien’s career as a PUA. So they have, with others who attended conferences and such, been unwitting participants in all this. I don’t think that softens the problem here but it does alter it.

    Because Tien actively uses his participation in scholarly fora to boost his profile in his primary career as a pick up artist, everyone who participates with him becomes a witting or unwitting assistant in his marketing. He boasts of how secrets from the ancients and his scholarly credentials make him adept at training others to achieve sexual “success.” He *uses* activity in the profession to sell his misogynist wares, so giving him space in our fora supports his work, making him appear to have an academic sanction or legitimacy in it. I think this just elaborates on what Jim says. But it also amplifies the agony of having unsuspecting people drawn into Tien’s orbit.

    I have said some of this on the FP blog but I think there’s something deeply unsettling about the field in all of this. Let me put it in a different fashion here. Within the wider field of philosophy, specialists in Chinese philosophy struggle for legitimacy and recognition as philosophers. Because the discipline of philosophy is entrenched in longstanding patterns of bias against “non-western” philosophy, it can be difficult to be seen as equals in the wider field. Part of how we crack away at that is through outreach efforts that involve bringing non-specialists into conversation. That often means that interested non-specialists look to us for recommendations about what to read, who to seek out, etc. This dynamic makes the situation with Tien worse. E.g., one of the conferences I link included Eva Kittay, a renowned feminist philosopher. When you have Eva Kittay sitting alongside Tien, a guy who boasts of training “new girls” at a brothel, you have done something deeply wrong. It betrays the trust of those non-specialists in the field who look to us to be responsible and to operate within prevailing professional norms. It makes our field look backward and erodes the fragile trust some of us have worked hard to build with non-specialist colleagues. They don’t know our field so they take our recommendations and the markers of legitimacy we give scholars as guide. Recommending Tien by giving him the markers of legitimacy in conferences and journals wrecks that. That is, I gather, part of the experience of some of these co-editors. They are not non-specialists exactly but they were operating on trust that whoever initially recommended Tien was not placing someone who violates professional norms within their orbit. And, to be clear, I do think Tien’s misogyny in his primary career is a violation of professional norms. Even if you don’t agree with that, his unsound, orientalist claims about “ancient secrets” in Chinese philosophy as a path to sexual success compromises any claim to his having sound academic judgment – he may do some sound work but he also peddles orientalist garbage. So for those of us who want Chinese philosophy better incorporated into the wider discipline, this sorry spectacle is a setback. And anyone who knew what Tien does and still made space for him in professional fora (over all the other scholars in the field!) has betrayed the efforts of many. It betrays the non–specialists who trust us to operate within professional norms. And it betrays the work so many have done to build legitimacy for our work in the wider profession.

    All of this is just to say that, quite apart from the original problem I posed concerning how women are underrepresented while someone like Tien can be promoted for attention, this damages much more than just women in the field.

    It’s possible, though I find it implausible, that no one involved in inviting Tien knew about his primary career. If that’s the case though, then I still think there are enormous problems of scholarly practice here. For that would suggest that someone with no academic affiliation was included absent any reasonable due diligence or scrutiny. We do have unaffiliated scholars in the field of course, but it seems fairly basic to know something about the professional profile of people invited to contribute scholarship in professional fora. Any check of Tien’s “professional profile” through a google search immediately coughs up all the stuff I originally cited. So here too, even if no one knew, this would indicate a lack of diligence I think professionally expected of scholars. We often do just take the word of others and have to, but it can’t be the case that *no one* verifies basic information before conferring professional goods on another. And clearly many in the field have known about Tien for awhile so it isn’t something hard to discover. That some took it on trust that Tien was in bounds with professional standards is perhaps understandable given that he was apparently recommended by someone in the field, but that *all* could assume it would be deeply problematic. I guess what I’m saying here is that I find it implausible that the ignorance of Tien’s career was total across all those inviting him to professional fora, but if it was, then that too is a problem that bespeaks a shortcoming in scholarly practice. A shortcoming that, in a different way perhaps, makes the field look bad. And for those of us struggling to win a better place for Chinese philosophy in the field, this represents a sorry setback. Anyone at all alert to problems for women and the related discussions within the wider profession must see that, I think.

    I, for one, am angry that such a raging misogynist has been given markers of legitimacy in our field and I am also angry that this situation casts our struggling field in such a bad light in the wider discipline. I guess I could have not posted about it and thus spared the field the publicity of this, but seeing Eva Kittay’s name alongside Tien’s was the last straw for me.

  3. David Kovach says:

    Dr. Olberding, your comments have been amazing. This needs to be talked about more and not pushed under the rug like it often is.

    If I can further add a few things, I hope many of you will agree –

    These problems are not simply isolatable to this one guy (although he is a raging and blatant example of the terrible problems women scholars – and women generally – must face). To varying degrees, women scholars, both the younger students and established professors alike, must tolerate the bad/coercive/violent behaviors of their male peers – east and west. The list of possible (and frequent) offenses is huge and if you are not aware of the many problems they face then wake up and start being more critical (self-critical) and more mindful of what is happening in our discipline.

    The main thing I wanted to add – it is not the responsibility of female academics to be both the victims of our (male) aggressions, ranging from the social, psychological, physical or sexual forms, only to have them take sole responsibility as educator, educating you as to why your conduct is wrong in the first place. It should also not be on them to be the only defenders of women (other victims) in the face of your (male) skepticism. Things won’t change unless the habits, beliefs, practices, of men in our field are seriously changed.

    I think it is time for other senior scholars to step up too!

  4. Steve Angle says:

    Since I became aware of David’s main career — several years ago — I have avoided interacting with him but I have not spoken publicly about it. My view has been that while the values he expresses are deeply problematic, his presence in the field has been peripheral, especially after he left his academic position.

    Amy has drawn our attention to ways in which David’s pickup artist side and his scholarly side actually interact with and support one another, which I had not recognized and find deeply troubling. Especially for this reason, I also agree that it is important that potential collaborators be aware of his main career.

    Finally, I absolutely agree that it is long past time for us all to collectively change the norms and behavior of our communities, including the Chinese philosophy community. David Kovach is right that this must not just be the responsibility of women.

  5. Amy Olberding says:

    Thanks to Larry, Jim, David, and Steve for speaking up. I really appreciate it. There are not enough men in the field who care or are as vocal as they should be on all this. Indeed, I can say from my own experience that I have grown wildly cynical about people caring. A little anecdote may suffice. I was invited to contribute to an anthology that, I discovered some way into the process, was going to include a chapter from Tien too. I notified the editor and relayed my unwillingness to appear in a volume with Tien, explaining exactly why. I offered to retract my participation and that was swiftly accepted. That was the editor’s call, to keep Tien’s work rather mine, and so this has greatly influenced my own perceptions of how little it matters to some that Tien is part of our scholarly field while doing all the other things he does (e.g., training “new girls” in a Chinese brothel and boasting about it). It just emphatically is not the case that knowing about Tien’s misogynistic “career” means not working with him. Some do. Some prefer it to the participation of scholars like me who don’t want to be alongside Tien in print, much less personally.

    I don’t know how cynical I should reasonably be, but I do know that the general crushing silence here and on Feminist Philosophers of my fellow specialists just amplifies the deep alienation events like the above have inspired in me in this field. The silence here of all but a few in our field actively says something to me. Too many of you are complicit and yes, I do blame you for it.

    • Jim Behuniak says:

      You should. I try to place myself in the shoes of the editor that you describe and I find that editor’s response morally unfathomable. I am so sorry that happened to you.

    • karynlai says:

      This is so disappointing. Makes one’s heart sink. We think we’re taking a step forward. And here Chinese philosophy takes many steps backwards.

  6. George L. Israel (Larry) says:

    As a minor scholar at a second-tier university who doesn’t attend many conferences in the states, or run in philosophy circles, I have to say I was quite oblivious to all this. This all came at an odd moment for me. I was just putting together a historiography of scholarship on the great Ming philosopher Zhan Ruoshui, and I have the work of Annping Chin, Wang Wenjuan (revised dissertation done under Chen Lai), and Huang Mingtong (Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences, leading major projects on Lingnan Ming scholars), and two younger grad students. All major contributions. Leaves me to wonder what challenges these female academics have faced over the years. As for Tien, his work won’t be translated for inclusion in the edited volume of English-language scholarship on Wang Yangming that will be published by the Zhejiang Academy of Social Sciences. In any case, as far as Wang Yangming scholarship goes East and West, in China, Japan, Europe, and the US, no reason to even raise or bother with the issue of whether or not scholarship needs to be evaluated as a separate issue from personal conduct. I could delve into a critique but will only note that in his articles his use of the Chinese and Japanese literature is very shallow. In any case, the twisted irony of it all will not be lost on anyone who knows anything about Wang Yangming’s philosophy.

  7. Bill Haines says:

    I would distinguish between a pick up artist and someone who sells his services as a trainer in pick up artistry. The picture I get from Amy’s discussions is of a man who preys on lonely men, teaching them to abuse women and dig themselves deeper. I guess that’s very like training new brothel wares.

    I’ve had to think a little about this case, because normally I tend to suppose that academic arguments should be treated on the merits simply. Maybe I lean farther than most in that direction. Publishing an article is different from being a senator or talk show host. On the other hand, there are common features. By putting a person on a panel or in an anthology, one is bringing the person into a community, giving other members some prima facie obligation to associate with the person. And one is granting the person some authority over a wider community. On these matters I think one has to draw a line, and if not here where?

    I think it would be a little ugly if a great chorus of academics reported their amens here. One has grown weary of crowd anger. But the issues are interesting and important.

    Personally, as a sheltered nerd, I’ve had my perspective changed by the recent revelations about Big Men to be an eye-opener, especially because I had particularly admired some of those men. I was similarly educated by the very public exposure in recent years of the extent of race-based police violence. In each case I had thought we had got much farther, and I came to understand better the means and nature of domination.

  8. I wasn’t sure about posting this but I feel obligated at this point to speak up based on how the conversation has developed and given my own experience with the man. I’ve kept quiet primarily because I am a grad student and I thought it might be eminently stupid to say anything publicly. But given that I only want to reiterate Prof. Olberding’s critique of the climate of silence regarding our peers’ devastating moral defects, I cannot in good conscience keep quiet. First an anecdote and then the point:

    I met Tien for the first time at a conference—I won’t say which—where he left a very bad impression on me for a number of reasons, only later to discover the nature of his business. Throughout the conference he was very vague, but also very proud of himself for it. I got the feeling that nobody at the conference knew about his business, but everyone basically trusted that he was a competent scholar and successful businessman.

    Afterward at drinks though we had a moment of tension that upsets me to this day. I can’t remember all the details but the topic of contention was over the role of sinological rigor in Chinese philosophy, about which I have admittedly strong views. Rather than engage in good faith debate as I expected though, David insisted on talking down to me and poking fun at my “youthful passion.” He even told me that I belong in an Asian Studies department rather than a philosophy department(!). I was visibly upset at that point, and I did stick up for myself, apparently to his surprise and equally visible displeasure.

    But I’m a confident man. What if I was less confident? I would have just had to deal with being out-macho’d by an “expert” in masculinity—in an informal academic setting allegedly among scholarly “peers”! Most importantly though, how on Earth he would have treated me if I was a woman?—professor or grad student? I can’t imagine, but the risk is all too real. When I looked up Tien in a fury afterward, I was appalled by his business, but not all that surprised given the way he acted towards me. At that point, I decided to avoid him, ignore his work, and let others know why they should too, at least in private. But perhaps herein lies the problem.

    I want to highlight with this anecdote the material costs and risks associated with maintaining an environment of widespread ignorance of this man’s moral defects, however peripheral he may now be. Widespread ignorance of Tien’s primary occupation has now both cost the field some of its credibility as well as personally harmed those volume editors and conference participants who unwittingly interacted with him and showed him respect and honor in a professional academic setting where they otherwise would not have—myself included. The only way to remedy this ignorance is by speaking up, as Prof. Olberding has. In the future though, I hope that people in the know about similar devastating moral defects among our peers will speak up sooner, however uncomfortable it may be, so as to prevent harm both personal and professional that widespread ignorance of those defects might cause. Of course this goes for me as well, which is why I feel obligated to write this, and further admit that I should have done so sooner.

  9. Kai Marchal says:

    Thank you, Amy, for bringing this to everybody’s attention! More people need to speak out against such a deeply repulsive case of misogyny and violence against women. Besides the moral aspects, there is the deeply disturbing fact that a career made in Asian philosophy/Chinese ideas can so easily be commodified and turned into a catalyst for a career as “development coach”. Unfortunately, I think, that this is not an isolated case. Similar things happen all too often; just think of how all things Chinese have been rapidly commodified in Chinese-speaking societies (including Confucian/Daoist/Buddhist worldviews). As scholars interested in cultural differences we are all too prone to see “culture”, where we should see “power” (especially male power) and “money”.

  10. David Kovach says:

    It should not be a surprise to anyone that we have already been tolerating sexist behavior in our discipline (if it is, then you need to wake up). Whether the sexism takes the form of treating female academics like “little girls that don’t know better” after any and all scholarly presentations they give, to those aggressions of a sexual and physical nature, the discipline of philosophy has already been sending out a pervasive message. This news, about David Tian, simply sends an even stronger message to the women in our discipline of how little the issues of gender equality show up on the radar of most scholars.

    In my personal opinion – this news (of David Tian’s misogyny) should not become an opportunity to “pity the editors” of a certain upcoming volume that has played a part (although putatively unknowingly) in all of this. The focus should be on how to change the environment in Academia for the better. As Dr. Lai said – we have clearly taken steps backwards. It is past time to make some serious amends. AT THE VERY LEAST, a public message should be sent out, by certain editors (regardless of how empty or genuine it may be), to reassure those in our discipline, those that are continuously trying to overcome our (male) bullshit, that the actions and views of David Tian are disgraceful. We clearly have a long way to go.

    Even then, at the end of the day, nothing compares to the ACTUAL adjustment and change of our conduct and behavior.

  11. I also thank Amy for this very important discussion. I want to push back on this just a little, however. (And I’ll address my comments to the entire group, rather than Amy specifically, as they respond to a number of the things that have been said here). I certainly agree that women are underrepresented in far too many of our collections, conferences, etc., and that this ought to change. I also agree that inviting Tien to contribute to a collection while at the same time not inviting women scholars is problematic. But I’m not sure we should be so quick to shun and shame, and the entire national phenomenon unfolding concerning this is something I find extremely problematic. Indeed, I very much agree with Amy’s comments last year on the Rebecca Tuvel case (https://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/symbolic-conscription/), in which she made a somewhat similar point (relevant here in that some scholars saw Tuvel’s position and the way she argued for it as offensive in a similar way to Tien’s offensiveness—although I disagree).

    In that same spirit, I can’t help but think that it’s not Tien that’s the problem here. I watched a number of his videos, and I can’t say I’m a fan (peripherally, though there’s certainly misogyny there, and much to which I object, I can’t find evidence that he thinks women are mere objects to use as Amy claims). However, my bigger worry is that I’m not sure we should use personal conduct, “extracurricular” activities, beliefs, etc. to determine who is or is not worthy of inclusion in our academic conversations. Doing this pretty much ensures the kind of behavioral and ideological conformity that right wing types often accuse us of in academia. But this is not problematic only because it’s a familiar right wing bugbear–it’s also problematic because it makes the field less diverse and less interesting. I would include the work of an evangelical Christian in a collection, for example, if I thought it were interesting or contributed to our understanding of an issue or thinker, even though they might have views on aspects of my own identity that I find repulsive (and maybe even a shadow career in which they air these views publicly).

    I think the big problem here is representation–and just as Amy wrote this summer, there are a number of systemic problems at work here. I don’t think we do ourselves any favors by focusing on who to reject or shame. Rather, we should focus on who to *include*. Let’s simply try to make our collections look more like the field itself. It seems to me that it would have a very different look if there were a volume with half of the contributions from women scholars, and also a piece by Tien.

    There’s the associated issue, of course, that some may not want to be published in a volume with Tien, because they may see this as lending his non-academic activities legitimacy. I don’t really agree that it does that. People outside of academia (or our field) are neither paying attention to nor do they know anything about our structures of legitimization. The fact that Tien has a PhD is about all the mileage he’s going to get out of this in the non-academic realm. And I don’t think any of us are committed to the view (or at least I hope we’re not) that we shouldn’t allow people to obtain PhDs if they intend to use them for purposes we don’t condone.

    Basically, I think we lose something by not giving everyone a seat at the table, and I don’t think we gain anything with public shaming but an outlet for rage that itself ultimately becomes harmful to ourselves and others (a different but related issue). I know there have been interesting philosophical debates recently about the value of rage, but I squarely come down on the side that it’s toxic. We absolutely need more women in our collections and conferences. I also think we need more diversity of other kinds in Chinese Philosophy. But I think the best way to address this is to try to convince editors and organizers to *invite more women*, and to embrace intellectual diversity (I think this is a big problem lurking beneath the surface–lack of intellectual diversity usually tracks lack of other kinds of diversity pretty well).

    I just wanted to register my (respectful) disagreement with a few of the points raised here. I add this final bit because I worry about the conflation of disagreement and disrespect that seems to go on more and more these days in online interactions, and wanted to be clear that I’m not . Despite my disagreements and worries about some of this, I certainly have the highest respect for Amy and her work (indeed, she’s one of my revered teachers!), as well as for the others who have posted here.

    • “to be clear that I’m not conflating the two here” I meant in that last paragraph. Oops–not sure how that last bit got chopped off!

      • One more thing–also addressing Frank’s comments here. It seems to me pretty clear that Tien’s views and actions represent so much of the “toxic masculinity” that continues to be a problem in our culture (something which has certainly harmed me as well, and which I have no love for). I also just noticed on another site that Amy said there were a number of comments erased from Tien’s site, which explains why I couldn’t find them. I did find the bit about training prostitutes–this contributes to a major problem, and is extremely morally problematic. I certainly don’t have the answers as to how we end this, but I’m not confident that shunning is the answer (although it is worth thinking about just what might justify excluding a person, if anything. It’s a tough question, and I’m not sure how to answer it, though as one might guess, I fall on the side of greater permissibility).

        Organizing our spaces such that this kind of person doesn’t dominate–that’s something we might try. It reminds me a bit of students in the classroom. I don’t want to obliterate or silence the obnoxious “philosophy bro” who dismisses others and tries to answer every question, I just want to open things up to others such that this guy is unable to occupy such a central place and has to fall back into a position equal with everyone else. This requires not *always* responding to his comments, but sometimes doing so. It’s a tricky balance, but I think it’s worth it to retain our broad commitments to equality and diversity.

  12. Larry Israel says:

    May I end what I have to offer with a quote from the article “Oneness and Selfcenteredness”? In light of the above, it would seem to give new meaning to Wang’s theory of “the unity of knowledge and action” – as discussed here, the profound discussion of “empathy”, “altruism,” “oneness”, “feeling of interpersonal unity”, merging of self and other, etc. etc.

    “In recent decades, psychologists, not content to leave the study of altruism and moral motivation to the philosophers, have examined the question of whether we are ever genuinely selfless. In response to the leading hypothesis on this subject at the time, Robert Cialdini and his research associates proposed and tested a theory that attributes helping behavior to self-other merging. While it is outside the bounds of this paper to take sides on this debate, it is instructive to highlight resonances between the self-other merging theory and Wang Yangming’s theory of self-centeredness and moral motivation.17 In recent decades, the most intense discussions in this area of psychology have repeatedly invoked the concept of empathy. One of the most prominent and research productive of the empathy-based formulations of altruism has been that of C. Daniel Batson.18 According to Batson’s empathy-altruism hypothesis, purely altruistic acts can occur consistently if they are preceded by the specific psychological state of empathic concern for the other. They define “empathic concern” as an emotional reaction characterized by feelings described as compassion, tenderness, softheartedness, and sympathy. In an extensive program of research involving scores of experiments over multiple decades, they and other researchers working independently19 have demonstrated that generally, under conditions of empathic concern for the other, individuals help more frequently in what appear to be altruistically motivated attempts to improve the other’s well-being rather than an egoistically motivated attempt to improve their own. Their empathy-altruism hypothesis has been repeatedly confirmed in the face of challenges from various egoistically based alternative accounts, such as those attributing helping behavior to reward seeking, punishment avoidance, aversive arousal reduction, as well as an egoistic desire to escape social disapproval, guilt, shame, sadness, or to increase vicarious joy.20 Even major advocates of egoistic accounts of helping have conceded that there is credible experimental evidence for the existence of genuine altruism (Archer 1984; Piliavin and Chang 1990; and Cialdini et al. 1997). However, Cialdini and associates presented evidence challenging the empathy-altruism model, proposing instead a theory based on the merging of self and other identity.21 Their conclusion denied the existence of pure altruism because altruism depends critically on the separateness of the self and the other. Without a distinct self and other and without distinct motivations to aid the self or the other, it would be impossible to detach altruism from egoism, a line of reasoning that Batson and associates acknowledged. Self-other merging may never actually be complete and total, so that there is always room for the possibility (even if very minor) of altruism. However, as the self and other increasingly merge, helping the other increasingly helps the self. When the distinction between self and other is undermined, the old dichotomy between selfishness and selflessness no longer applies. Earlier research also suggested that the merging of self and other identity can explain helping behavior and that such merging can occur and most likely under the same conditions linked by the empathy-altruism model to feelings of attachment and altruistic motivation…………….

    “To recapitulate, while Wang’s concept of si likely encompassed both interpretations, the more significant role in Wang’s moral psychology was held by “self-centeredness.” The necessary first step in Wang’s model of moral cultivation was to achieve a state of oneness, devoid of self-centered desires. This was predicated on Wang’s basic metaphysics, which held to the underlying unity of the universe. The state of oneness enables one to experience an emotional identification and a feeling of interpersonal unity with the entirety of Heaven and Earth, including other living things and even inanimate objects. In this state of oneness, the conception of self and other are not distinct but are instead merged. The realization and affective appreciation of our oneness with all things holds such significance in Wang’s moral philosophy because this experience of oneness is causally responsible for motivating moral behavior. Wang’s insights on oneness resonate with contemporary research by Cialdini, Aron, and others on the psychology of helping behavior, which argues for the oneness theory over the empathy-altruism hypothesis.”

  13. Jim Behuniak says:

    I agree with Alexus that we should not be so quick to shame, and I apologize for leaning in that direction in my earlier (duly retracted) post. That said, I agree with Amy that if we soft-peddle or waver on this issue we bear some degree of responsibility for the pain that it creates.

    Also, while I agree that “inclusion” is an important value, and that there should be more “seats at the table,” such values only work when exercising them does not make others feel excluded or unwelcome in the process.

    The example here is pretty stark. Amy explained to the editor why she did not want to be “included” with Tien, and I’m sure she did so with the same clarity and directness exhibited here. The editor’s response, essentially, was, “OK, you can retract your piece” (i.e. dis-include yourself). With that, Tien’s “inclusion” is purchased at the expense of Amy’s.

    When “inclusiveness” begins to result in its own diminishment, one has to decide whom it is better to “include” and why, keeping in mind the larger values being served in the profession and the world. The editor can speak for himself, but I cannot think of a defense for the decision that was made.

    • Steve Geisz says:

      I say more in the post I make below in the overall comment thread, but with regard to the particular issue of whether the editor made an obviously bad call, given the info that has been made public: There is something problematic about the idea that a book editor or a conference panel organizer should disinvite someone who has already been invited to participate solely on the grounds that another would-be contributor finds that person’s non-academic activities to be unethical and/or offensive. At the very least, it seems that there would need to be a case made that the person’s other activities are relevant to the person’s inclusion in the particular project in question or that there is something so egregious about the person’s activities that the person’s mere presence in the project becomes threatening to other would-be participants. Neither of those things seems obviously to obtain in this case, at least based on the info that I have seen.

  14. Steve Geisz says:

    Amy: I’ve been reflecting on your Feminist Philosophers blog post and on the ensuing online discussion since I first saw the blog post the other day. I want to try to express why I have some worries about the way David Tien is being called out here by name, but, at the very start, I want to say the following preliminary stuff explicitly.

    First: There are too many academic books, conferences, citation lists, etc., where women are underrepresented or excluded entirely. It is a major problem, and everyone in academia has a responsibility to try to resolve it. (And it is not just women who are underrepresented/excluded in this way, of course, but I will focus on women in what follows, since that is what’s most obviously relevant here.)

    Second: Related to the under-representation of women–but also to some degree independent of it–is the way in which many professional academic opportunities are distributed on the basis of personal connections rather than on the basis of merit or hard work or perhaps even on the basis of who would most benefit from being given a particular opportunity. (I don’t know what occurred with the recent edited volume that you mention in your initial blog post, but the general issue of how professional academic opportunities get allocated is important and it deserves more attention than it gets.)

    Third: I cannot recall whether I have ever met David Tien. I know of his academic work, but I was not aware of this other aspect of his life and his current career.

    But, all that said (and much more could be said about the first two preliminaries above), I am wary of blurring boundaries between what a person does in their academic work and what they do in other parts of their lives, even in many cases where I and others deem what someone is doing in the other parts of their lives to be unethical. It’s good to have meaningful boundaries in place between what we do in our work-lives and what we do in other areas of our lives. And even in cases where someone doing academic work has other, non-academic work projects, it still is good to have meaningful boundaries in place between the academic work an individual does and other kinds of work that individual does (with ‘work’ here understood as referring both to paid and unpaid labor/projects, and thus applying to cases in which a person’s academic “work” is not work done for money and that person earns a living by other means).

    And, to be clear, I am not just wary of collapsing the work/non-work boundary when the ethically problematic non-work stuff has to do with sex/gender. I didn’t like it when a non-tenure-track but full-time faculty member at my university was pushed out of his job at the start of this semester for tweeting something widely deemed insensitive about hurricane victims that went viral and then got labelled as yet another example of left-wing bias by a professor. In general, I don’t like doxing participants in Nazi political rallies in an attempt to get them fired from their jobs unless it is clear both that their Nazism impacts what they do for their jobs and that the Nazism would have impacted what they did for their jobs independently of the doxing campaign. Whether a person’s non-work activity is politically left or right, offensive or inoffensive, ethical or not, it’s good to have meaningful boundaries between work and non-work (or between one kind of work a person does and another kind of work that same person does).

    Admittedly, the boundary between work and non-work (or between one work-like activity and a different work-like activity) is often unclear, and, even when it is clear, the boundary is not absolutely sacrosanct. I get that there are cases in which what someone does outside of their academic work can be relevant to whether or not it is appropriate to include them on academic panels or in edited volumes. Someone who openly produced propaganda promoting ethnic cleansing might perhaps legitimately be excluded from an academic conference panel on the grounds that the mere presence of that person would arguably be threatening to other people on that panel, even if the panel had nothing to do with the propaganda activities (although a lot would depend upon details that go beyond the minimal description of the hypothetical case I have given). On the other hand, it would be wrong to exclude someone from a conference solely on the basis that they voted for or even campaigned for a mainstream politician who opposed gay marriage, even if a potential co-panelist claimed that being on a panel with someone who so voted or so campaigned was offensive or threatening. Perhaps the Tien case is significantly more analogous to the ethnic-cleansing-propaganda case than to the voting-for-an-anti-gay-marriage-politician case (if, for example, it is true that his current work as a “men’s development coach” or the things he did in the past make it such that his mere presence on a panel constitutes a threat to women on that panel), but I confess that it is not obvious to me, based on what I have seen so far.

    I see how in Tien’s case his academic background and credentials and possibly also his continuing academic publishing might meaningfully inform and/or support his current career, but I do not yet see how his non-academic career is in any non-trivial way informing his academic work (or at least I do not yet see how his non-academic career influenced any of his academic work until this current online discussion of him began). That seems to me to be the crucial issue as to whether or not he should be excluded on the basis of his non-academic career and his general online presence from future academic conferences, books, etc.: Is there any meaningful way in which his non-academic history, his current non-academic work, and his overall public profile affect what he is doing in academic settings in a meaningful way, independent of this current online discussion in which people are calling for him to be excluded? It does not seem to me that the fact that his current work is easily discovered via a google search by someone trying to check his credentials is enough to show that there is any meaningful effect running from his current non-academic work to his academic writing or to academic participation.

    One final note: While I get that it is sometimes legitimate to find out what a person’s academic credentials and/or current academic affiliations are when trying to assess whether to give that person a professional academic opportunity, I am wary of the idea that not having an academic job or even having a decidedly non-academic job should be at all relevant to assessing that person’s philosophical work, and some of what I have seen posted about this situation seems to be implying that those things should be treated as relevant.

    • Manyul Im says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful response, Steve. I think, however, that we don’t have to blur any boundaries between academic and non-academic work to be critical of professional association with someone. One could fully admit that someone’s work is up to publishable standards while resisting professional association with him for a body of work outside the profession that one finds morally abhorrent — no boundaries blurred. Whether someone is fit for professional association can reasonably be bound by broad enough criteria as to include that person’s uses — or misuses — of such association for various modes of non-academic benefit, perhaps to put too fine a point on it. I believe that has been part of Amy’s argument so far — namely, that Tien has explicitly used his acceptance and association with scholars in our field (in anthologies or otherwise) to further his other business venture, one which is beneath contempt. It does us no favors to narrow our criteria for professional association strictly to quality of submitted work, in my opinion.

      • Steve Geisz says:

        Thanks, Manyul. You are right in saying that “[w]hether someone is fit for professional association can reasonably be bound by broad enough criteria as to include that person’s uses — or misuses — of such association for various modes of non-academic benefit . . . .”

        In my comment above, perhaps I was too focused on the ways a person’s non-academic work might affect their academic work and was not paying enough attention to the ways that a person’s status in academic contexts could lend legitimacy to their non-academic activities. I’m not sure how much that alleviates the concern I expressed above, but I want to acknowledge that you are right here and that I am reflecting on the point you made.

  15. Amy Olberding says:

    Hi, Steve and Alexus,
    I guess the short version of a response to these issues is to say the closest analogy is the propaganda case. I fail to see any parallel at all between this and an evangelical person or a person who votes a particular way. Honestly, I just don’t see where that leap happens, unless you just conflate what I’ve argued with the wider culture and assume I’m in agreement with views I have not stated. I don’t think I’ve stated anything remotely suggestive of scorning Trump voters or evangelicals. I’ve even written a blog post about not expressing contempt for them and how affronting I find that contempt! So, if you think I have said something implying the evangelical or Trump voter analogies are apt, please do tell me where. I do not endorse that at all and would like to understood where I mis-fired if I sounded that way.

    My comments have been very limited and yes, Steve, it’s like the propaganda case. Tien is a for-profit misogynist (and please, before you tell me his site is not so bad, realize that he has dramatically changed it in the last days) who not only holds a deep contempt for women, but who promotes misogyny in others. It is, literally, his business. Again, if you want to see that, you’d have to look at his site before it was heavily scrubbed in light of all this. I don’t know the internet trick for that myself, but at least, before contesting my claims about *what* he does, please do try to see the unedited material.

    For me, here’s the issue: It’s not that he has these views, it’s not that he states these views, it’s not that he literally acts on these views, it’s all of these things, plus and most especially, that he actively seeks to increase them in the world and attempts to recruit men to do as he does. He’s a for-profit misogyny propagandist. That’s the difference. I consider it a level of bad that warrants a different response than most other cases (maybe all?) we’ve seen in the field. And when you assess how much you think I’ve shamed him, ask yourself: how much of what I have done consists in my simply quoting him and then the ensuing horror of people reading what he says. I.e., have I persuaded them to be revolted or has he? He wrote all this stuff on the internet to *seek* attention and clients. I didn’t steal his diary and post it, for goodness sake.

    • Larry Israel says:

      I am both very moved by and deeply grateful for Professor Olberding’s post here.


    • Steve Geisz says:

      Thanks for this response, Amy. I don’t know exactly what to say about this specific case, but you might be right about it.

      Beyond this particular situation, the more general issues about the underrepresentation of women and about the ways certain kinds of professional opportunities get distributed in academia are very important and they obviously impact people we work with in very concrete ways. I hope the discussion that your blog post has generated leads to more inclusion and fairness in the areas of philosophy in which we work. I am committed to trying to make things better.

    • Hi Amy–thanks for your response!

      Just to be clear–I’m not talking about voting patterns, I’m talking about people who do things like hold the view (and even write publicly) that homosexuality is an abomination or intrinisically disordered, and promote this view in others (based on evangelical work). That seems to me on par with Tien’s case. And I’m not suggesting that *you* don’t have contempt for such people, I’m saying that we should not exclude them from academic projects on this basis–even though their non-academic views and acts are surely repugnant (and personally quite offensive to me as a bisexual man). Same with people like Charles Murray (getting to the wider issue involving academic inclusion). I admit, I’ve changed my own views on this over the past year or two—I used to be more hardline about rejection of such people, but reconsidered this in light of my broader commitment to diversity of all kinds.

      I’m concerned about the issue of exclusion on the basis of life choices or other non-academic positions we deem as morally repugnant. Independently of the question of the fickleness of our moral evaluations (even though I agree these are clear cases), I want the views of these people aired as well, despite my deep disagreements with them (and even *because* of those disagreements). What I *don’t* want (and I take we agree on this part) is for the voices of people like that to drown out those of people they see as lesser. I don’t want someone like Tien to be selected *in place of* women scholars. And I also want more women to be represented in collections, conferences, etc. But I don’t see the problem with including something by someone like Tien *alongside* of the work of women. I just published an interview in a magazine devoted to atheism, alongside of people whose beliefs I not only reject but find offensive (who think that non-atheists like myself are mentally deficient in some way). I don’t see my contribution as endorsement of their views—it’s just engagement, which is exactly what we need more of. I don’t think we grow by cutting off or disengaging with those whose views and actions we find offensive, we grow by engaging them. Although this shows even more the difficulty with Tien’s case, as the engagement wouldn’t be happening on the grounds of his problematic views, since it’s in a different and unrelated area (which I think shows another problem with linking the academic and non-academic).

      Maybe part of what’s going on in the background here and what might be at work in our disagreement is diverging views about the idea of conferring prestige. I probably still don’t completely understand the way prestige structures work in our field, but it always seemed to me that selecting someone for inclusion in a collection or conference was a matter of understanding who is working in a particular area, who might be representative of particular views in the field concerning this area, and who might have unique and different views on the area that the rest of us might benefit from knowing. I never thought inclusion meant “this is good/true/praiseworthy work”, rather I always thought it meant more like “this is work you should know about.” I would resist the idea that inclusion (at least in something I construct) entails any further endorsement than that. If I’m putting together a collection on views of homosexuality, for example, I’m most definitely going to include something by a scholar who argues that it’s an abomination, despite how personally offensive I find that. I would think that inclusion in a collection or conference doesn’t even mean that I agree with a contributor’s academic views, let alone their non-academic views or lifestyle. What would be a problem is if that view was the only one I gave voice to, as this suggests endorsement.

      It also seems to me though that given our disagreements about cases like Tien, we can sidestep much of this by focusing on a different problem, that is, the underrepresentation of women in collections, conferences, etc. I suspect that if more of us make greater efforts to be inclusive, problems concerning who we *do* select will disappear. That is, I think it’s much more helpful to think about who we should be including, rather than who we shouldn’t. Exclusion, especially on the grounds of non-academic views or choices, is a drastic, terrifying, and I think ultimately unnecessary step, because it’s one I’m not sure will achieve the goal we both want (of increasing representation of women).

      • There are many problems, I think, with the punitive “extract the bad guys” approach, but one in particular (which I think we’re beginning to see in the wider social arena concerning similar issues today) is that it allows us to ignore the real problems and scapegoat the bad guy. We might extract Tien from collections, yet still have male dominated collections, and we feel like we’ve done something because we got rid of the “problem”.

        I also think a constructive approach can help lead to reconciliation and change. I don’t want misogynists like Tien, the racist person, or the person who thinks homosexuality is an abomination to think and act like they do. The best way to go about bringing about this change, it seems to me, is not simply to purge them from our midst. Rather, it is to attempt to improve the position of those who have been wronged, with the idea that a more just restructuring will have a positive effect on both those who were wronged *and* those who wronged them.

        (I hear you about being long-winded by the way…I think I’m incapable of writing something in less than 500 words!)

        • Also, as with the person against homosexuality, there are way too many people like Tien to just throw them all away (even if this were a just response)–the only way we’re going to change things is to ultimately change the way that people like Tien think. And the punitive approach will just make them dig in their heels even more, and create more factionalism. I take a Zhuangzi ch. 4 kind of approach to all of this. 菑人者,人必反菑之,若殆為人菑夫 -ok, done this time, I promise. Back to work 🙂

  16. Amy Olberding says:

    I just realized I started the above by saying that was the “short version.” Wow, I’m long-winded.

  17. Jacob Bender says:

    I was just in the process of writing a reply hoping to stress some of what Dr. Olberding just posted.

    Dr. Olberding already stressed, in the comments to her original post (https://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2017/12/08/odd-one-out/), that David Tian has been cleaning up his websites. He certainly has been. I simply do not think this skepticism by a few of you is grounded in any understanding of what David Tian had been posting publicly.

    The one website that does not belong to him, with that depressing pod-cast (http://lifestyle-arts.com/lsa039/), still has plenty of worrying information. I spent quite a bit of time last night listening to that pod-cast. It is two hours long. If you simply start at about 18 minutes in, you will find the story about the Chinese brothels and I do think what is being said on there is worse than what has already been highlighted about that whole pod-cast. Whoever his teachers are, he also thanks you for teaching him about “character based ethics”.

    Smash the fucking patriarchy…

  18. I’d like to share the original versions of the site that Amy quotes in her blog post so that people aren’t misled by the current site. So far as I can tell, the biggest changes are that Tien has changed his biography to be much more brief and impersonal, and has removed a page called “the Charisma Code” altogether. The former has the line about his reasons for leaving academia to “continue to help more men meet, attract, and date the women of their dreams.” The latter talks about how hard he had to work to get laid. Both are still in Google’s caches as text-only sites, but I don’t know for how long those stick around. As a precaution, I’ve archived both, but in different ways. Attempting to archive the Google cache leads to archiving the current version, since the archive site thinks i want to cache that site as it currently exists. For that, I’ve just screen-capped the text-only version of the site and put it as an album on imgur. The “Charisma Code” site I was able to archive successfully from the Google cache.

    David Tien, PhD:
    Imgur link: https://imgur.com/a/7L0CK

    “Charisma Code”
    Archive.is link: http://archive.is/KSwWf

    I tried to post this comment with the original Google cache links, but I suspect the spam filter might have flagged them since they’re quite long and ugly.

    • David Kovach says:

      No one said it yet, but (SERIOUSLY) a big thank you for recovering this information FRANK!!!

      The (male) skepticism had already been anticipated… so I really hope before we get another wave of it the skeptics can perhaps follow these steps.

      1)Bother to read what David Tian has been posting online.
      2)Think critically about what he has been posting.
      3)If you still just don’t get it, see step one again and work your way to step two.
      4)If you still don’t get it, let this information all digest for a few days before you decide to post your skepticism.

      Our discipline is already sexist and misogynistic. Part of the problem is the failure of men to even recognize (!!!) the problems they and others are guilty of.

      • Thanks David. I would like to second the suggestion to review the material for oneself as one thinks through the case. I admit that I hadn’t read it for myself until archiving it, but the “Charisma code” is really disturbing. There is much to be appalled by regarding the overt misogyny, which I don’t think needs more comment at this point, but what I found additionally disturbing to the point of mentioning yet again, and something that Prof. Olberding has already highlighted in her comments here, is the orientalizing element introduced during the middle and end of that webpage, and his specific use of his scholarly credentials and active participation in the field in order to lure clients. He claims to “still publish and present in my field every year,” and even cites Tu Weiming and Ted Slingerland to lend authority and credibility to his voice (I’m sure they wouldn’t be happy to know). In other words, Tien manages to make it clear that giving him academic spotlight and credibility has directly and explicitly contributed to his career of misogyny and orientalism, and will continue to do so for as long as that spotlight and credibility is given.

  19. Larry Israel says:

    Sadly, all of this fuss over what? A few articles, some of which make little use of the Chinese literature? The only Chinese sources two articles on Wang Yangming use is a 1963 English translation by Chan of the first three juan of the 38 juan Wang Yangming Quanji. So we have some philosophy and psychology stuff with casual use of an old English translation of about 1/13 of the collected work of Wang Yangming. And the same holds true for a chapter in an edited volume, although at least here there is some passing reference to other Chinese literature. That chapter contains 2 footnotes referencing the author’s unpublished work from three years before, but the bibliography doesn’t have that work listed. That’s peculiar. How can you, in 2010, repeatedly cite your own unpublished work that you date to 2007? Who does that? The chapter is largely centered upon criticizing much older, little known English-language articles that almost no reader would be aware of, written in 1982 (although those articles are quite competent). The article makes many questionable generalizations so as to generate issues to write about, such “Contrary to many modern interpretations of Wang’s metaphysics, Wang was not an adherent of a Berkeleian ontological idealism.” That’s followed by a critique of another little known article written in 1982. That said, an authority on Wang Yangming would be aware that in the German, English, and French scholarship going back to the 1910s the issue of idealism in Wang Yangming’s philosophy has been extensively discussed. The best summary was given by the German Sinologist Alfred Forke in his survey history of Chinese philosophy, who concluded that it was closest to Schelling’s identitatsphilosophie. And then there is this : “One of the most over-looked topics in studies of Wang’s philosophy is Wang’s view of vital energy (qi 氣).” But of course this isn’t true at all unless you are only discussing English literature, and even then we’d have to look very carefully because Julia Ching spends an equal amount of space on this issue in her 1976 monograph. In sum, this work has much in the way of insight but big problems in terms of use of sources and surpassing prior scholarship. My whole point is, we all need to be more rigorous and careful in our scholarship, be careful about posing as the first to have some insight, and to realize we are writing in an international environment and in the context of a vast pre-existing literature. These are things I’ve learned from my own many bad mistakes.

    • Larry Israel says:

      I just happened to pick up Chen Lai’s 1997 (2nd ed) You wu zhi jing for reasons having nothing to do with this thread and lo and behold, Chen has a second-level subheading discussing xing and qi (nature/vital energy). I quickly realized the quotes from Wang Yangming’s Wang Wencheng gong quanshu (esp. the letter to Zhou Daotong) were identical to those of Tien’s in the 2010 chapter discussion of li/xing and qi (principle/nature and vital energy). Now Tien states at the beginning of his section discussing this same topic: “One of the most over-looked topics in studies of Wang’s philosophy is Wang’s view of vital energy (qi 氣). Ignorance of this key concept and its role in Wang’s thought may cause some to misinterpret Wang as a pragmatist about knowledge and neglect his bold metaphysical assumptions.”2 In the footnote he states: “The majority of modern Wang specialists concur with the view presented here. See Ivanhoe (2002), Ching (1976), Tu (1976), Henke (1964), and Wang (1963).” Of course, this is not a good way to cite support for your statement because no page numbers are given for these monographs, so we are supposed to just take it on his authority. But that is another issue. More importantly, he should have cited Chen Lai, because for about 1 page straight he is simply taking his material right out of Chen’s book. He did cite Chen elsewhere in the article but for some reason did not do so here. An accident? Possible, but I doubt it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the last section on zhi liangzhi was largely learned from Chen Lai either. Personally, I’ve found my way into some primary source material through secondary sources, but when both the quoted material you use and your analysis follow the secondary source so closely if not nearly identically it should be cited. That said, we come back to the same issue, and that is, that this chapter was unsystematically written without any original reading of the full body of primary source material, but rather by poaching from the secondary source literature of those that have, and also by cross referencing from that to what was available in an English translation of the Wang Yangming collected work, a very small portion, actually (whether thee quan shu or quan ji, Chan used the former, I should clarify.).

  20. O Sangjin says:

    Thank you, Professor Olberding. I was a GSI with this guy back at Michigan, when he was smoldering with his “beta masculine rage.” The only good thing that comes out of seeing what he’s become is seeing proof positive that as least some of the schmucks like this are made, not born.

    To call attention to his slimy behavior and to educate the rest of the field about him is indeed a service. The inability to grapple with the misogyny within his persona and praxis mirrors an inability that most would have trying to do something about it if they did believe misogyny was there.

    Not knowing what to do, seeing exclusion only in terms of “partiality” and not equality, the fallback is, nothing, which is to say, “we should let everyone with credentials in.”

    Would academics be more averse to sharing a dais with an uncredentialed scholar than they would be sharing it with a schmuck like Tian? Why? Because it’s easier to check for somebody’s degree than it is to check their lifestyle? What if he puts his lifestyle right out there?

    As our history clearly shows, most of us don’t have the gumption to say somethings and some people don’t belong. Not hobbled by that skeptical refrain “we’re becoming the monsters we’ve tried to defeat.” They know they don’t have to know the entire road ahead in order to choose one fork over the other.

    Thank Goddess fro Dr. Olberding.

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