The philosophy I aspire to is occasional, relational, and practical: equal to its moment, conducted with others, and understood as a way of life.
Consider the IDS Center’s ‘Crystal Court’, pictured above. On Dakota land in what most now call downtown Minneapolis, the IDS Center is the tallest building in Minnesota. The ironically named Accesso Partners, which owns the IDS Center, describes the Crystal Court as an ‘urban park’. And it thinks it has made one: 18 black olive trees, 68 white benches, a 105-foot waterfall. If you and I were to ride the atrium’s escalator to the skyway level, we’d see what a strange park this is. No ball fields. No public bathrooms. Nothing public at all. Instead we’d see Nordstrom Rack, Banana Republic, Wells Fargo, Charles Schwab, FedEx Office, T-Mobile, Starbucks, Bogart’s doughnut shop (‘sprinkled with a modern, “on-the-go” attitude’), a path to the four-diamond Marquette Hotel, and an ad for the IDS Center’s private gym.
If you and I were sitting at a table on the skyway level — and we’d have to buy something to avoid worrying that a private security officer would remind us that the table is for patrons only — I would make the point that the Crystal Court’s eight-story atrium says something about ‘the good life’ in the United States. I would point out that here questions of value, what is good and what is beautiful, are answered in high resolution. We might lament that in our moment of forced migration and environmental destruction, our models for living, when we look around, are limited to advertisements of attractive people exercising or taking out loans. I would ask if you, too, feel alienated by that giant flag, a flag fit for a car dealership outside of Atlanta, where I went to grad. school. I would note that the flag is also a declaration of sovereignty over the land where we sit, ‘the white sharp-pointed designs on the blue represent[ing] the many territories conquered’, as James Welch puts it in his novel Fools Crow. I might ask you if you’ve read that book. It’s been on my mind. And if we established a rapport, I would test out a stronger claim: that the stores and advertisements of the Crystal Court keep patrons and professionals stimulated for productive days but insensitive to the persistent global inequities rooted in colonial patterns that their way of life perpetuates. The Crystal Court, then, is both anesthetic and unethical.
If you were not from the Cities, what we from Minnesota call Minneapolis and St. Paul, I would thank you for walking with me through heart of The Mill City. I would be very interested in what you observe and how you feel in the buildings’ corridors. I imagine we would have a long conversation.
The above scenario illustrates my approach to philosophy: in this time of crisis, contemporary ethics must come down from its abstractions and thought-experiments in order to address forms of life as they are actually lived in sites such as the IDS Center. Daily practices are always tied to divisions of labor across the globe (who sewed those chinos?) and within cities (who pulls espresso and sweeps donut crumbs?). Traditional case studies in ethics, such as the trolley problem, don’t speak to the end of the day, when some wait in the Minnesota cold to ride Metro Transit, some leave by skyway to a warm Volvo, and some enter through the atrium for a second shift cleaning windows, escalators, and offices. Avoiding philosophy’s traditional orientation to what is everlasting and unchanging, my research and publications speak to this level of everyday life.