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To my Evangelical Friends from a former Republican staffer

When I was a Republican, working first on Capitol Hill and then for the Republican National Convention in 2000 and then for a senatorial re-election campaign, I experienced a constant sense of having to find ways of coming to terms with and supporting views I didn’t immediately find legitimate or actions of politicians in leadership that I did not find defensible.  I am from Philadelphia and was really a social family-values conservative and a fiscal welfare-supporting liberal.  I thought abortion was wrong, but we had a responsibility for the poor.  I experienced my fairly short-lived existence as a Republican staffer feeling like I had to swallow some things I found pretty awful like a general disdain for poor people in order to achieve the agenda I supported.  But it wasn’t just policy, it was like, every time the Speaker of the House (Newt Gingrich and then Dennis Hastert) or Majority Leader (Trent Lott) said something absurd, or when the House impeached Bill Clinton, every GOP staffer had to do various acrobatics to come to terms with supporting this party.  Maybe other staffers felt more freedom to distinguish between what they supported and what they didn’t, but we were working for the Party as much as for the Member of Congress so it was hard to do that.  Everything had to be defended.  The Party could do no wrong.

Today, I experience a similar sense of pressure on the other side.  But now I am more willing to resist it.  I wish then I hadn’t felt so profoundly like the Party was the only possibility.  I think for far too long the GOP has taken advantage of the fact that people will put aside all their misgivings for the sake of some possibility that their agenda will be recognized.  Thus both parties benefit from there being people who are single issues voters, who say, I only vote on the basis of abortion politics, because this allows you to look away on all the other things–the isolationism and racism, the violence for us and law and order for them mentality, the outright misogyny, the disdain for others, the unabashed power seeking — both individual and for the country as a whole.  This thinking allowed politicians to use issues like abortion that they didn’t really care about to push through supply-side economics.  What this eventually meant was that the politicians were willing to flip on the wedge issues that helped get them elected because they weren’t really invested in them in the first place.  Thus, when George H.W. Bush nominated David Souter to SCOTUS in 1990, evangelicals felt betrayed.  I was 14.  I felt betrayed.  Bush had never really been a firebrand social conservative (just like the current nominee), but people voted for him because the Supreme Court!  Let that be a lesson.

I’m not a Republican anymore, but I know what it feels like to be a Republican who feels like you have no choice.  This feeling is part of what drives the two-party system in the US.  I don’t like hearing from the Democratic Party today that I have no choice, as if the Party has no choice but to support the neoliberal policies it supports, as if I should get on board just because of those wedge issues, which politicians seem to find ways to cave on pretty easily.

This election cycle reminds me of that feeling as I see one evangelical after another find a way to support the Republican nominee.  Some people think they are doing it because they only ever were power hungry – evidence for this can be found in people like Falwell all of a sudden thinking the Bible has nothing to say about how government should be run.  Some argue that evangelicals are drawn to messianic figures – strong leaders.  Others argue that evangelicals support Trump because they are largely white middle-class men who feel a loss of power.  An article last fall in The Atlantic Monthly argues that people vote on the basis of religion.  It seems to me that this Republican campaign thinks the last one is true and has made religion its own kind of wedge issue.  Aside from the historical danger of making religion a political wedge issue, it is worth considering that as with other kinds of wedge issues, it is easily forgotten once the votes roll in.

One thing I learned as a social conservative Republican growing up was that electoral politics will not save us.  This is one thing with which I agree with my former self.  So if it won’t save us, why do we put ourselves through the gymnastics of defending what ordinarily, if we were just asked by someone over coffee whether we thought it was right or not we would say no?  I think both the evangelical right and the progressive left are being appealed to through arguments that ask us to accept things we find unacceptable for things we want to see happen in the world.  As someone who doesn’t like that on the left, who used to experience it on the right, I want to say, I don’t think we should buy it.

Exploring Indiana: Turner and Oldfields at the IMA

Since I moved to Indiana, I have been blogging about various adventures in exploring Indiana, often at the instigation of my friend Nazareth Pantaloni who lives in Bloomington.  Last spring, we visited Naz in Bloomington the same weekend that the film about Joseph Mallard William Turner’s life, Mr. Turner, was playing in IU’s Art and a Movie Film series.  Turner lived from 1775-1851, and, as that NYT piece linked above says, his life was a piece of work just as much as his art was.  So this weekend, Naz joined us for a visit to the IMA to see the exhibit of drawings by Turner.   There are two large oil paintings on display in the general collections of the museum, including this one, The Fifth Plague of Egypt, which Turner painted in 1799.

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The drawings show a different side to Turner.  They are largely architectural, and not nearly so full of Sturm und Drang.  They often highlight the everyday life and work at the foot of impressive architectural edifices, like this one below of Ripon: Looking along the Kirkgate toward the Cathedral from 1797 (Turner was 23!).  The exhibit is in a room is up the stairs from the Clowes Courtyard.  Unlike much of the museum, which feels very much like a museum, this room appropriately feels like you are walking through someone’s living room.  I admit I was a little confused about why some pieces that were not Turner’s were included – I expect it was to show influence and connections, but there was no explanation.  The exhibit is up until August 28.turner2

I moved to Indianapolis just a couple months ago, but I already thought I knew the city.  I have visited the Indianapolis Museum of Art plenty (I blogged about the Georgia O’Keefe exhibit here).  But not until this weekend did I venture beyond the main building to the house and gardens that make up the estate behind it–Oldfields.  This is the home of J.K. Lilly, Jr., the businessman and philanthropist who now seems to fund most of Indiana nonprofit work.  As followers of this blog know from this series, I bought a home not too long ago.  In the Exploring Indiana series, I have blogged about visits to three historic homes in Indiana–the Miller home in Columbus, the Eugene Debs house in Terre Haute, and the Steele estate in Brown County.  But it struck me at the Lilly house this weekend that if interior design is aspirational, as Francesca Tronchin has argued and as I consider here, then the very function of all these homes set aside for our viewing pleasure is to produce the sense that homes show who you are, who you see yourself to be and who you want others to think you are.  Even these people were doing aspirational interior design.  Look at this library, what does this say about me?  Look at this china set, look at this kitchen, it even has a separate dish-washing kitchen.  The website explains, “Lilly House is a historic house museum and has been restored to its 1930s splendor. ”

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Of course there is an historical element–this is how people lived, which is why I like to see the kitchens and the dumb waiters and learning whether the elevator was a new addition or part of the house when it was built (it was part of the house when it was built).  But if it were only that, we would be as interested in preserving and visiting the average person’s home – the Debs house pretty much is the average person’s home and so many fewer people visit it.  Or we would be talking more specifically about the historical significance of the home.  But what we are talking about is silver collections.  The top floor of the Lilly House is an exhibit of the silver.  The website discusses the history in terms of the history of improvements that have been made to the house.  It isn’t just that this house communicates that this is what it means to make it.  To have a silver urn of this sort.  To have this old car.  To have the ability to donate this 100-acre estate to set up an art museum.  But rather, that these people were showing who they had become and how they wanted to be seen by their extensive china collection.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s captivating.  I envied the library.  The gardens are very nice.  The orchids on display in the greenhouse are amazing in the I-can’t-believe-this-exists-in-nature kind of way.  But it’s unmistakeable that these homes and gardens construct our desire and our feelings about needing to be better consumers in order to be better at communicating who we are to the world in the guise of interior design.

#7DaysofWomen

Starting on May 5, I embarked on a week-long social media experiment where I only engaged with women online.  I did this project in conjunction with blogger and philosopher Leigh Johnson.  Here’s what I posted and she posted on Facebook to announce the project.

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I have long felt like social media is a man’s world.  Men get all the privileges they get as men, but it feels amplified on social media.  My experience of social media in general is that men can say things that get taken as definitive, while women are asked to explain and justify.  Men say things about their difficulties in any particular area of their life and it is taken as an expression of their reflective capacities, but when women express such difficulties, it is taken as a moment to offer advice.  I don’t have the data (a. I would love to see such work being done and b. I think the call for data in response to this expression of my experience is in a sense part of what happens to women on the internet–we call it gaslighting when experience is not to be trusted), but my experience on the interwebz is that it’s a hard place to be a woman, especially a woman in philosophy. Read more

Philosophy and Monotheism, Politics and Democracy

In his book The Price of Monotheism, published in German in 2003, Jan Assmann argues that monotheism changes the shape of religion by construing the one god as the only true god among false gods.  Assmann argues that a certain kind of monotheism–revolutionary monotheism–finds its one god incompatible with any other god, because the god is not only superior but true, real, existent in a way that others are false (this is the position of the Deutero-Isaiah faction of the Old Testament).  This incompatibility stands in contrast to pagan polytheism and its evolutionary monotheism which saw gods as compatible, eventually recognizing that there were many different names for the supreme god, who was a chief god, but not any more a god than the other gods.  The compatibility of the pagan gods allowed them to make binding agreements with one another, which they made by swearing each to their own god(s) who was compatible with the others’ god(s).  Revolutionary monotheism’s incompatibilty explains why they could not contract with other peoples. Read more

Buying a House: Good Enough

Since I last posted on the house, I have not had a spare moment to blog because I was painting every day but two and on those days, I was celebrating retiring colleagues or attending graduation.  So phew.  Last night, after 79 hours of work on the house (yes, I’m counting), we finished the painting project.  Just in time for the floor guy to come this morning at 7:30 AM.  I’m exhausted.  My hands hurt.  I’m glad that part is over.  We know we’re still going to have to do some touching up after the floor guy leaves.  But in all, we tried to have high standards.  We tried to do better than good enough.

When we first move to Indiana, a friend gave me a book: Hoosiers: A New History of Indiana.  The author, James H. Madison, points to how Hoosiers have a general mentality of “good enough.”  I think there’s a legend that settlers moving westward stopped in Indiana instead of continuing westward, because, you know, “good enough.”  Since we learned about the “good enough” mentality, we see it everywhere.  We vowed that in our home, things would be otherwise.

Then we got to work.  We did two coats of paint in the living and dining room, and maybe you can still see a little bit of blue.We pulled painting tape off the ceiling and some paint came off with it.  We painted the wooden joiners in the corners and then wondered if we should have left them bare wood.   We got a little trim paint on the wall in certain places. We decided not to do a second coat in closets because we didn’t have time.  We discovered one closet is wall-papered and so we just let it be altogether.  We realized another wall is wallpapered and covered with paint over the wallpaper.  We painted over it anyway.  We don’t want to have an unfinished closet.  We don’t want to paint over wallpaper.  But we didn’t have the time to do otherwise — we needed the job to be done by this morning.  We started to understand why people settle for good enough. Read more

Buying a House: Don’t Force It

Today I primed the living room and the dining room at our new house.  I had to do a bit of prep first: spackle some holes including the very big ones left by the television mount the previous owners left (that they left it baffles me, I think I could get a good chunk of change for this ginormous piece of equipment), take off an odd bit of baseboard that was nailed to the mantel and then scrape and sand down the paint on the mantel, and clean the walls and baseboards.  Then I very carefully laid down drop cloths, and tried very carefully not to spill paint even though I had the drop cloths down.  Two things kept running through my head.  First, do better than good enough — but I’ll get to that in another post.  Second, don’t force it.   Read more

Buying a House: Manual Labor and Material Conditions

Today was my first full day of working on the new house.  At day’s end, my finger pads are sore, my arm is bloody, and I’m exhausted.  Turns out, this is what all that weight lifting this semester has been in preparation for.  The day we closed, we went over to the house and pulled the carpets up and discovered beautiful wooden floors beneath them.  The project of today was to pull up the tack boards that the carpet had been nailed into.  That didn’t sound like that much work to me.  But it took me five and a half hours to do two rooms (I had planned on doing three, but cut out from exhaustion after two — this would seem to be one of the rules of DIY home improvement projects: the project will always take at least one and a half times as long as you estimate it will take).  Part of the problem is that I had to figure out how to do it first.  I was using the back end of a hammer which was practically impossible because the boards are too close to the wall so I couldn’t get any leverage, so I googled how to do it and someone said, get a pry bar, so off to Lowe’s.  I found a tool that pried on one end and pulled nails on the other.  (Another rule of DIY home improvement projects: the right tool is key). Read more

Buying a House: The Rule of Law is a Bit of a Fiction

In the Politics, Aristotle stages a debate between those who think the rule of law is best and those who think the rule of human beings best.  The case to be made for the rule of law is that it is unbiased and equal.  The case to be made for human beings is that humans can judge singular situations that the law cannot foresee.  Moreover, the law needs human beings to be put to work.  Humans decide which law in which case should be applied.  And the law cannot work unless the citizens have developed a habit of following the law.

I enjoy teaching this section of Aristotle.  Students invested in a story we tell about the law recognize in this passage a sense that the law is more arbitrary and given to human whim than we tend to suppose.  Not only that, this arbitrariness is an essential element of the rule of law.  There’s no automated mechanism of law: we need human beings to enforce it, to make decisions about which law matters in which case and to follow it for it to have any force.

So I knew this, but I didn’t know this until I encountered people who appeared to consider themselves not in any way bound by a legal contract to which I was a party.  What’s the point of a contract?!  I have a friend who practices probate and real estate law in Texas and I remember her once telling me that a will only has legal significance if you can find a judge who is willing to enforce it.  (This same friend asked me if I had learned nothing from living in Texas when I posted on Facebook my newfound understanding that the law is a fiction.)  I remember when she said that to me I was flummoxed–“But it’s a will!  Aren’t you just supposed to do what it says?”  I guess she has a job because so many people don’t think so.  When you’re dead, you can’t enforce it, so you really want to think it has some binding power while you are alive.  But if no judge thinks it is legitimate, your will has no effect.

It turns out this is true for every contract every written.  I don’t know if this makes me more or less nervous about signing a contract.  The contract is binding because you treat it as binding. The law is binding because we all think it is.  What I take this to mean is that the rule of law is really for those who can afford it.  If you cannot afford a lawyer, and you really want your contract to be upheld, you might consider not signing the contract.  Or not expecting it to have any force other than the trust you have in the other person (see previous post).  If you have the money and the circumstances that permit you to fight the contract and you don’t want to meet the terms of the contract and the other person doesn’t have the money, then you can walk away pretty easily.

This is why a contract needs to be between not just formally legal equals but also economic equals in order for it to work as a contract, because only then do both parties have equal means to enforce the contract.  This state of affairs would seem to further support the arguments made by Carole Pateman and Charles W. Mills about how the social contract when asserted between men and women and whites and non-whites is a pseudo-contract, only binding to the extent that it can be enforced, and the only ones with the power to enforce it are the ones who refuse to be bound by its terms.  Or rather, the contract on its face is about equality, but the contract in fact binds those who are unequal to a situation whose terms they cannot negotiate or challenge because they cannot afford to.

My insight about the extent to which the law is a fiction also confirmed for me the sense that law enforcement is about protecting property.  We tend to think that criminal law, the law that the police enforce, is one code (and well it is), and the civil law, the law that lawyers enforce, is another.  But recognizing that the law that the lawyers enforce is backed by those who can afford them, made me see more clearly why people say that law enforcement is for the sake of protecting property by those who have it.  The property owners who see themselves as the truest members of the community need protection from the property-less, the not-quite-so-fully-fledged members of the community.  The property owners want police cars patrolling their streets.  The people who own feel safer when they see law enforcement.  The people who own put their money to work to give the law force, either in property taxes or in hiring a lawyer.

I was discussing this on social media, this idea that the law is a fiction, and a friend commented that it was time to resort to force.  But, it became very clear to me in that moment, it’s all force. This is the reason that money should not count as speech in political life, because really, it’s the mechanism of force behind the law.  If only some have it, then only those with money can put the law to work.  That’s why inequality in a community that considers itself to follow the rule of law is a threat to the rule of law in fact.  Now I find myself seeing the fiction of the rule of law everywhere I look.  I also understand better why we are a litigious society because in some sense, we all recognize it’s a bit of a fiction.  And I think we’re all a little pissed off about it.

Buying a House: Learning Not to Trust

I wrote the quoted part of this the week after we learned that the sellers were trying to back out, before inspections, and the second part about five days after the inspections, when we learned that the sellers had been in touch with their real estate agent and were now planning to go through with the sale.

Growing up in Philadelphia, I’ve met my share of con artists.  People who were down and out might stop you on the street with their sob story.  A classic was that someone was in the hospital and they needed money to get the SEPTA regional rail to the hospital in New Jersey.  Everyone was always going to the hospital in New Jersey.  Or their car broke down just down the way and they somehow forgot their wallet that day and they needed twenty bucks to get to the gas station and buy gas.  These stories worked because they could have been true.  Sometimes you would brush them off, because eventually, you knew it was just a story, and sometimes you would pay because it felt like they had done some creative work coming up with the story, and sometimes you actually thought, maybe it was true.  Because, like I said, it could have been true.  One time, I had enough money at the SEPTA terminal to pay cash for one ride, but I really needed just another quarter or something so I could buy tokens and get a round trip.  I don’t remember why I came to the station without the change, maybe I thought I had it when it turned out I didn’t.  Or the change machine was down and I only had dollars. I had to ask people for change at Fern Rock.  I was explaining why I didn’t have the money and I was thinking, I sound so full of shit.  But still, I’m a believer.

I tend to believe.  In people.  In things working out.  In somehow, against all odds, gleams of justice and truth shining through.

I think buying a house might have finally taught me not to believe.  Or rather, it taught me not to be sure that I could or should believe.

The people who sold us our house said they were going to withdraw after twice refusing access to our inspector.  So as I said in the last post, we hired a lawyer, and the sellers responded directly to our lawyer, sans realtor, that there has been a misunderstanding and they are not refusing inspection.  So we’re back on right?  Now it’s this odd stage, where technically, they haven’t actually withdrawn from the purchase agreement, and the only evidence we had that they were planning to is from their realtor who told our realtor that they had decided not to sell.  Can we believe her?   We don’t know.  Our realtor keeps saying that despite all the strangeness of the sellers, that really, she’s good at her job.  Now this makes us suspicious.  Are they trying to save the realtor from a suit that we could bring if the sellers do finally renege on the sale?  At first I thought it all good because I had people.  Now I think the people just produce distance that makes me more skeptical about who should be trusted.  Now I’m wondering if they have agreed to do inspections but are going to sabotage the inspections to prevent us from wanting to buy.

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Buying a House: Or Not

One afternoon, about a week after we signed the purchase agreement for the house, I got a call from my real estate agent.  This is what I wrote on this blog before it became legally advisable not to publish:

The sellers decided they don’t want to sell.  After two offers (ours is the second), and four months on the market, and lots of back and forth about little things in the house, they think they might have to move back from where they are and they want the house to be available.  I thought that this was going to be a cheery exciting process of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and now we are back to square one.

Today we finally closed, so now I’m going back and publishing posts I wrote while we were in house-buying limbo. This post was written the day after this first paragraph.

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