Speak to and Write for Different Publics
Addiction has legal, economic, and political dimensions that intersect with racist, sexist, ciassist, and ableist dimensions, among others. I realized very early on that I needed to find venues for writing about these different dimensions. I had to calibrate my writing and speaking style to my new audiences. To make it through graduate school, we had to learn to write in a certain way and to use a voice of authority. I now had to learn how to write in a different manner—one that did not alienate possible allies and reinforce every negative stereotype about academics and philosophers. I had to give myself permission to hit the eject button on the hostile interlocutor we internalize as professional philosophers. We often get so busy anticipating objections and counter-examples that we lose the thread of our arguments. I had to start writing as if people would be reading and listening charitably. This was how I was going to connect with people working on the front lines.
Knowing that the online presence of Psychology Today was immense, I sent a query to the editor and explained my background and what I might be able to offer their readers. She agreed to my blog, “Philosophy Stirred, Not Shaken.” Clever martini references aside, this blog has led to a number of collaborations with people working on some of the same pieces of the addiction puzzle. Over the last five years, I have written 70 pieces for this series and have more than
1.2 million total views. This is a reach I never imagined in my wildest dreams, and surely beyond what a normal “disciplinary” philosopher can hope for.
I have a new project in its infancy—working with a former sex crimes prosecutor to create a training for police officers and prosecutors working with victims of sexual assault who were in a blackout. She had read my piece, “Sexual Assaults, Blackouts, and Slut Shaming,” and reached out to me because it was the only piece she had ever read that explicitly addressed blackouts in conjunction with sexual assault. When in a blackout, a person is still conscious and walking, talking, and doing all sorts of things. However, a person’s cognitive capacities and decision-making are severely compromised. With blackouts, memories are often fragmented, disjointed, or lacking entirely. In almost every way, someone in a blackout is a very unreliable witness, which may produce frustration or disbelief in the people charged with investigating. There is often a gap in their understanding of blackouts, which leads to a lack of empathy or worse.
Learning that a victim was in a blackout provides an opportunity for a brief intervention, since blackouts are often a reliable indicator of a serious problem. It is a time when referral for a chemical assessment might be at least a little welcome so long as it is in no way construed as blaming the victim (for having been so under the influence) and as a punishment of sorts. This is a very delicate balance to strike and so creating some sensitive and compassionate training programs is crucial.
My field philosophy work on blackouts and sexual assault rests on central issues in ethics, though questions about reliability and testimony have a home in epistemology' as well. Responsibility is a crucial concept in sexual assault, especially when both victim and perpetrator have been drinking or using drugs. Is someone responsible not only for what she does but what happens to her after she drinks or uses? Will victims tend to blame themselves? Very' interesting to me is the matter of self-forgiveness, which is largely undertheorized in the philosophical literature on forgiveness. In the context of sexual assault, where there is so much victim-blaming (even or especially by the victims themselves), how is self-forgiveness even possible? There is a great need for accessible work on responsibility and self-forgiveness that the former prosecutor and I hope to address.
Conclusion: Keep It Real
The particular methods I adopted such as surveying the field, identifying needs, gaining deeper knowledge, hosting conferences, and writing and speaking to different publics helped me to forge connections between philosophy as an academic discipline and the broader world. In the field of addiction, medical, legal, political, and social realities meet the epistemological, ethical, and ontological concerns of philosophy. These can inform and transform each other. This is the strength of field philosophy.
Field philosophy has been exhilarating and uplifting. It can also be exhausting and daunting. This may be a consequence both of the nature of field work and of the particular field of addiction. As my' work continues, I find myself revisiting or making a new survey of the field because the field may' change regularly. The needs I identified in my initial survey have changed; some have receded while others have moved to the forefront. As much as I revisit my survey and identify real needs, I must also re-commit to helping to meet those needs. In the field of addiction, those needs attach to real people who are suffering in myriad ways. My work as a field philosopher is to make whatever small contribution I can.
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