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Buying a House: Debt

I’m in the process of buying a house for the first time.  This is exciting and strange.  I first started looking for a house the same week that I was teaching John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government.  I realized even more forcefully this time around how much social contract theory’s claims to belonging are tied up in relations to private property.  Witness the ongoing opposition between owners and renters documented in San Francisco in the wake of the tech boom.  Then last week, as we were signing the purchase agreement, I was explaining Marx’s analysis of capitalism to students, that wealth is produced by labor.  Fine, work harder.  But in the capitalist mode of production based as it is on private property, the worker never sees the fruit of her labor.  Private property gives the owner license to recoup the surplus value of labor, while the worker only has the right to the compensation that is socially determined is sufficient to return her to work again.  I realized I was living smack dab in the center of the contradiction between ideology and economic mode of production that Marx maintains will be the end of capital.  So being a good member of the typing left (per Jodi Dean), I decided the best mode of resistance is surely to blog about it.   This will then be the first in a series of blogs about house buying, private property, home-owning, home repair and remodeling, and town vs. country.

So, debt.

I have tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, even though I had tuition remission and a stipend from my graduate program.  I definitely made decisions in college based on money rather than on what I wanted to do because I was paying for college by myself and I couldn’t afford not to work during summers and winter breaks (like I didn’t think I could afford study abroad, and was never told otherwise, and I just didn’t know that I could take my loans to off-campus housing which could have been cheaper and things like that).  I thought Occupy’s efforts to take on debt and organize for debt forgiveness were a good idea, but not at the top of list of efforts to join.  So yeah, I read David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years and I know debt is a burden and a historical rather than an intrinsic social relation, but I don’t think I ever realized how much a racket the debt industry is until this morning when I had to read through the 70-something pages related to my mortgage agreement.  Even though intellectually I know better, I thought debt was just the price you have to pay to be in the middle class.  By the end of the life of my loan, 69% of what I will have paid back will be interest on the principle.  69%!  What I realized in reading my mortgage agreement is that this situation is not just an economic necessity, borrowing with an interest rate that has 69% of what you pay back going to interest (i.e., to the bank, and I have a great rate!) could not happen without the institutional support of the government which makes the penalty for failing to pay, not just financially costly, but dire for families who are foreclosed on.  Government officials–sheriffs!–do the bank’s work of putting people who cannot pay on the street.

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Why Running Needs Socialism

I’ve gotten pretty serious about running. I’m climbing my way to 60-mile weeks this spring. (Yes, I know #beepboop, I can’t stop.) As I’ve been getting more and more serious, I’ve been immersing myself more in the running world – reading books, listening to podcasts (Running Rogue is my favorite, driven as they are by the commitment to elite principles for the everyday runner; I also enjoy the Clean Sport Collective, and Indiana native Lindsey Hein gives great interviews on I’ll Have Another), buying gear (so many things, but this and this are my fave). As I’ve been getting more and more serious about running, I’ve realized that the language, commitments, and ideology of capitalism extend even to running. I mean of course they do, but it isn’t immediately obvious.

So I’ve been thinking about what it might mean to run like a socialist. What I have concluded is that the capitalist funding structure of running in which athletes seek corporate sponsors to ‘go professional’ does not serve the sport well. As a philosopher I like to look for the root of problems. I think you can see what’s happening in an institution or a community by the problems it faces. One of the perhaps defining problems of running as a sport is doping and the question of which technologies to make athletes faster are fair. These problems, I maintain, can be traced back to the profit motive upon which capitalism rests. I think it is clear that the sport of running, and perhaps sport in general, will struggle to deal with pressures to dope as long as the funding structures for athletes are corporate sponsorships, a structure specific to a capitalist regime. Further, the arguments in the service of anti-doping fall short as long as they appeal to principles that perpetuate the ideologies of capitalism: hard work not resources is the source of success alongside a recourse to the natural.

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Doomsday Prep for the Superrich and the Privatization of Public Crisis Response

Two days ago Terry Gross had journalist Evan Osnos on Fresh Air discussing a new phenomenon of super rich people in the tech industry making plans for the failure of the government, of the food supply, of the electrical grid, of our world as we know it.  Osnos has an article in the current issue of The New Yorker on the same topic.  He tells the story of a guy who decided to get laser surgery so that he wouldn’t be dependent on contacts or glasses when “we have trouble,” because the supply lines might dry up.  That same guy bought some motorcycles, guns and ammo and a bunch of food so that he could  get out of town and have some supplies when things go bad. Read more

Day 2: The Best of the Worst of Years

People seem generally agreed that 2016 was a crap year.  The best people died and the worst people won.  In the face of this crappiness, I sat down to think about the happy things of this past year. I made this list before Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds died and before a colleague was harassed by white supremacists for mocking their racist concepts and now I don’t have much enthusiasm for sharing it. I’m concerned about focusing on my individual successes in the face of collective adversity. I know that the political losses of this year and the emboldening of the agents of injustice will require vigilance and thoughtfulness for the sake of creating a new and better world. I recall the good things of the year then in the spirit of possibility for doing that work. 

  • It was my first year as a tenured professor.
  • I’m on my first sabbatical.
  • We bought a house!  img_0950
  • We moved to a big(gish) city.
  • I turned 40.
  • Some really great people came to visit.
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    Leigh Johnson made her way to Indianapolis for a weekend-long jam session.

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    Villanova in Indiana

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    Jay Blossom sighting

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    The Johnsons stopped in all the way from Sharyland, TX.

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    Happy birthday to me with nieces and nephew who visited us in Indiana for my birthday.

  • I had a gloriously sunny Cape May vacation with the nieces and nephews and sisters.
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    The Nabors kids in Cape May.

  • I gave some good talks and got some good feedback on the book project I’m working on.
  • I went to the Eastern APA, philoSophia, Ancient Philosophy Society, Wonder and the Natural World, Feminist Ethics, Methodologies, Metaphysics and Science Studies, SPEP, Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy, IPA conferences this year. 
  • I reconnected with old friends in Philadelphia and New York City.
  • I attended a dear friend’s wedding.
  • I found a running group in Indianapolis.
  • I’ve been doing a reading group on some stuff I’ve been thinking about in the background for awhile and am glad to get into deeper.
  • I made some new friends in Indianapolis.

I’ve been in close contact with alum from the last three institutions I’ve taught at (Wabash, UTPA, and Bryn Mawr).

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Wabash in Broad Ripple

Lunch with Wes Chamblee in South Bend

Lunch with Wes Chamblee in South Bend

The celebrity deaths, the lack of indictments for police shootings of Black people, emboldened racism, anti-Semitism and misogyny, Brexit, the political situation in Turkey, the surprising election all made it a year of possibilities foreclosed.  At the same time, it was for me a year that established new possibilities- a new house, a new city, the tenured life, sabbatical. I’m not entirely sure how to hold these things together. I’m working to make my own new possibilities a place from which to address and resist the foreclosed ones. 

The featured image is of the lighthouse at Cape May, NJ, lit by the sun.  I leave it here as a metaphorical demand for lighthouses.

     

    Paper Towns and the Fragility of Democracy

    Donald Trump has for several weeks now been calling into question the results of an election he has yet to lose.  He has suggested that he will put his opponent in prison if he is elected.  Earlier in this campaign he said he would instruct the US military to go after the families of suspected terrorists and he encouraged his own supporters to attack protesters with promises of paying their legal fees.  He has publicly shamed members of the media whose coverage of his campaign he does not like, as in this most recent case with Katy Tur.  He has generally violated the unwritten norms of American public discourse and political office-seeking.  His supporters describe his approach as refreshing.  I think what Trump has showcased for better or worse is how fragile the democratic project is.

    This year in buying our house I learned a little something about how the rule of law operates on a fiction.  The fiction is that there is something that binds us to the rule of law.  Generally, we act as if the law binds us, but on occasion, when people decide it does not bind them, the fictive nature of the rule of law becomes clear.  That’s when you have to decide if you want to do anything to actually force the law to work, because it won’t on its own.  Making the law have teeth then requires an additional expenditure of time, energy and money.  Just ask any of Trump’s vendors that he never paid.

    It turns out that the laws and mores whereby our institutions and political structures work also operate on a bit of a fiction.  They work because we believe they work, which means they also stop working when we stop believing that they work.  To the extent that Congress tries to represent the people it is because the people believe that Congress represents them and should be representing them.  To the extent that state governments accept judgments handed down by the Supreme Court and other arbitrating bodies they do so because they believe that those judgments require it of them. Read more

    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 (and our very dear friend Leigh Johnson) 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.

    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. ”

    OLD_079_Lilly House History 2

    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.

    Wendy Brown, Neoliberalism, and Why Taking Your Work Email Off Your Phone Will Not Save Democracy

    Neoliberalism: What is it?

    I’m currently teaching a course on the Philosophy of Commerce.  I think of this course as an effort to get students to challenge the notion that everything could be economized.  Following Arendt, I’m trying to get students to see what is lost when pursuits of living or living large (when the pursuit of living becomes excessive) crowd out any consideration for living well, which is to say, for organizing and determining how life ought to be in conversation and contestation with others.  This determining how life ought to be is in contrast to just determining what to do in order to live.  This concern has been with us for some time, but in the last several decades a new and even more far-reaching economization of life has occurred, wherein individuals have come to think of themselves as entrepeneurial capital projects.

    This development is neoliberalism, which is the subject of Wendy Brown’s new book, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution.  Read more

    Neapoli, Pt. 1: The Case for Local Guides over Tourbooks

    We’ve been pretty happy with our guide books to Greece — Rick Steve’s Athens and the Peloponnese and the Blue Guide for Greece — but there’s just no comparison to a real live local who knows and loves a place and its people.  This weekend, we drove to Neapoli.   Read more

    Mycenae: Sites, Stories and Political Structures

    One thing that is becoming clear by visiting ruins and archaeological sites in Greece is that the ancient Greeks thought a lot about how what they were going to build fit into the landscape.  I talked about that in my first Delphi post, and it was even more striking to me at Mycenae, where the citadel that holds the palace is set between Mt. Aghios Ilias and Mt. Zara.  This first picture is the view from the top of the citadel of the valley below which stretches to the Gulf of Nafplion.  When you visit, you can see why the Mycenaeans would have chosen this location: from the front, they have a view that stretches over the entire area so they could say any potential invaders from afar, and the back of the citadel is set into the crags of rock that line the lower parts of the mountains that make the citadel almost impossible to scale. Read more