Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Why Bother?

In discussing with colleagues the current efforts to initiate change in the Pacific APA, the question “why bother” inevitably surfaces.  What’s to be gained and what could be lost?  Well, even if there’s nothing to be gained, there are some principles involved worth defending.  Given that the APA is an organization that exists for and is funded by its members, its members have the right to participate in setting the policies and goals of the organization.  One way we do this is by having elections, through which members elect others whose views, interests, or philosophical approaches are compatible with their own.  As members of this organization, we have the right to participate in this way, and when this right has been taken away from us by other members, we should stand up for our rights.
Some philosophers seem to think that the policies and goals of the organization don’t require much general or serious discussion, so why not just let anyone seemingly competent and who’s willing to do the work serve as officers.  I think this view underestimates the importance of the APA to the health of academic philosophy in the U.S.  The APA should promote research, scholarship, and education in philosophy, defend the professional rights of philosophers, facilitate the public’s understanding of the field, assist in identifying institutional support for philosophy programs and philosophical projects, uphold professional standards and ethics in hiring and other employment matters, support forums for philosophical presentations and dialogue, and conduct its own research on the field and keep members informed of the changing shape of philosophy and context in which we practice.  This list is certainly not exhaustive, but it suggests that the work of the APA should be guided by serious and broad discussion among its members.  The primary way to initiate deliberation over APA goals and policies is by having members participate in the selection of those who will develop these policies and goals, and to have candidates explain their ideas and potential contributions.
So what’s to be lost by having elections?  Well elections require some expenditure of the organization’s resources, and the rotation of officers may create some inefficiencies.  But the gains of gathering broad input and expertise before decisions are made, having leaders who are responsive to the will and ideas of members, and the maintenance of a political culture open to diverse perspectives from the largest possible segment of its membership, seem to me to be worth the costs.  And then again, there’s just the principle of not allowing one’s democratic rights to be eroded, even if exercising them at the moment seems unimportant.

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