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 owns the IDS Center. It 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 a fitness center for IDS tenants.
If we were to sit 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 might make the point that the Crystal Court’s eight-story atrium says something about ‘the good life’ in the United States. I might note that here questions of value, what is good and what is beautiful, are answered in high resolution. I 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 taking out loans. I might tell you how I feel alienated by that giant flag, a flag fit for a car dealership outside of Atlanta, where I went to grad. school — a flag that is also a declaration of sovereignty over the land where we sit. And I might conclude by testing 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. And so, I might suggest, the Crystal Court is both anesthetic and unethical.
If you were not from the Cities, what we from Minnesota call Minneapolis and St. Paul, I might 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 — whether you feel alienated in such places, too, or if you aspire to them and feel a sense of belonging in them.
The above scenario illustrates my approach to philosophy: in this time of crisis, I think 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. Trolley problems 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.
My research considers the responsibilities of elite actors today. My publications speak to the quotidian decisions of pre-professional and college-educated actors. 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?). I am interested in the orientations and pressures that entangle elite actors in a glass-paneled environment and the ruptures and challenges that invite them to — or demand that they — get out of it.