O.P. Recommends: Delaware Artist Inspired by Philosophy and Music to Make Beautiful Artwork, by Brian Drouin

Moment in a Forest of Words, image credit Michael Krausz, used by permission

Moment in a Forest of Words, image credit Michael Krausz, used by permission

I just came across this great story about Michael Krausz, a professor of philosophy and an

‘..artist [who] weaves music, art, and philosophy together as one.

Swiss born Michael Krausz was destined for a life of music, the son of professional musicians, he later discovered philosophy and in a moment that changed his life he discovered his love of painting…’

Read Krausz’s story and watch the video by Brian Drouin. I think you’ll love what you see and hear.

You can learn more about Krautz at his Bryn Mawr faculty page as well.


Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Happy Birthday, Henry David Thoreau!

Replica of Thoreau's cabin near Walden Pond, Rhythmic Quietude, Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons, cropped

Replica of Thoreau’s cabin near Walden Pond

Henry David Thoreau is the American philosopher and writer best known for two books, Walden  and Civil Disobedience. The first is about simplifying your life so as to find what it’s really all about, the second promotes breaking the law in protest when the state does wrong (think Martin Luther King in the Birmingham jail). Walden tells of Thoreau’s experiences and observations living a simple life in a cabin for two years, where he seeks to clear his mind of the encumbrances and distractions of life in society and focus on immersion in nature and the life of the mind. Civil Disobedience is an essay prompted by Thoreau’s refusal to pay taxes in protest of slavery and of America’s starting a war to seize land from the Mexican government.

Here’s a list of resources, short but sweet, to introduce you to his life and work if you haven’t been already or would like a refresher. Not all are complimentary, but that’s good: we learn much from the debate over his ideas, too.

Henry David Thoreau‘, from American Transcendentalism Web

Henry David Thoreau‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Popova, Maria. ‘Happy Birthday, Thoreau: The Beloved Philosopher on How to Use Civil Disobedience to Advance Justice‘ and ‘The Spirit of Sauntering: Thoreau on the Art of Walking and the Perils of a Sedentary Lifestyle‘ in Brainpickings.org

Schultz, Kathryn. ‘Pond Scum: Henry David Thoreau’s Moral Myopia.’ The New Yorker, Oct 19th 2015.

The Thoreau Reader: Annotated works of Henry David Thoreau – Three complete books and four essays, annotated copies of Walden and Civil Disobedience, and more…

West, Stephen. Henry David Thoreau. Episode 83 of Philosophize This podcast

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Frederick Douglass Washington DC Sites, Day 1, Part 1

Detail of Frederick Douglass autobiography exhibit, FD Home Visitor Center

Detail of autobiography exhibit, Frederick Douglass Home Visitor Center

Thirteenth Day, Friday April 1st

I begin at Cedar Hill in Anacostia, Frederick Douglass’ handsome, gabled house on a hill overlooking Washington DC. He moved here with Anna and the kids in September of 1878, having lived in the capital city of Washington for a little over six years. In a sense, the Douglasses didn’t really move out of Washington when they moved into their new suburban home east of the Anacostia River. Anacostia, called Uniontown in the mid-1800’s then switched back again, was part of the District of Columbia, which in turn was larger than Washington and encompassed it. When the boundaries of Washington and the District of Columbia became one and the same in 1878, the Douglasses’ Anacostia home became a Washington city home then too.

It’s another lovely day, again the sky is partly cloudy, the air soft and warm and a little breezy, freshly washed by the morning’s rain. The cold weather I had shivered in for much of the first half of my trip is nearly forgotten.

The National Park Service now owns and runs the house, the grounds, and the visitor center and museum, collectively called The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. I take a brief look at the outside of the house, then stop at the visitor center and sign up for the guided tour which will start shortly. I take another brief look around while I wait, and note the displays and artifacts I want to examine more closely when I return to the visitor center museum.

Cedar Hill, Frederick Douglass' home on the hill in Anacostia, Washington DC

Cedar Hill, Frederick Douglass’ home on the hill in Anacostia, Washington DC

Helen Pitts Douglass Portrait, Cedar Hill, Anacostia, Washington DC

Portrait of Helen Pitts Douglass in the entrance hall at Cedar Hill, Anacostia, Washington DC

Then I join the tour group on the steps leading up the hill to the house. Let me express my gratitude and give credit at the outset to the very knowledgeable and helpful Nate Johnson who leads the tour. Much of the information I share with you here about the house and the Douglass family’s life together he provides in whole, or he confirms and fleshes out the stories.

In the entrance hall, I spot a miniature portrait of Helen Pitts Douglass, who Frederick married about 17 months after Anna’s death. Frederick and Helen met as neighbors soon after the Douglasses moved to Cedar Hill, and Helen came to work in Douglass’ office on Capitol Hill alongside his daughter Rosetta. Helen was a suffragist and abolitionist, like her father and Douglass’ long time acquaintance Gideon Pitts, and she and Douglass bonded over their shared social and political beliefs. As you may remember from the Boston and Honeoye accounts, their marriage was very controversial: many black people thought that Douglass was betraying Anna and his race by marrying a white woman, and many white people objected for obvious (purely racist!) reasons, even their fellow abolitionists. While Douglass brushed it off by saying that when he married Anna, he married a woman the color of his mother, and when he married Helen, he married a woman the color of his father, he had more explaining to do when it came to his family. Not because of the racial difference so much: though his children were sensitive on that issue on behalf of their mother, they knew his views on the color line and that it should be erased. It seems the trouble was mostly that he didn’t tell them that he was going to get married. We’ll return to that family drama soon…

Douglass family sitting room at Cedar Hill, Anacostia

Douglass family sitting room at Cedar Hill, Anacostia

Frederick and Joseph Douglass, from the Library of Congress archives, via the Lion of Anacostia blog

Frederick and Joseph Douglass from the Library of Congress archives via the Lion of Anacostia blog. There are many portraits of Frederick and Joseph together; evidently, they were proud of one another

The door on the right from the entrance hall leads to the West Parlor, or sitting room, where the family would gather to play music, sing, and generally just hang out after dinner. As discussed in my account of my first day in Rochester, the Douglasses were a musical family, His daughter Rosetta and his second wife Helen played the piano, he and his son Charles played the violin, and possibly Anna did as well. Douglass was a very talented player, would play often, and sometimes dance. His grandson Joseph, son of Lewis, also adopted the violin and played with such great skill that it became his profession. Joseph’s first major performance was at the Columbia Exposition, which his grandfather helped organize, on August 25th, 1893, at age 22. He was the first violinist to be recorded, taught at Howard University and various schools, and toured the world as a concert violinist. (I subsequently had the pleasure of interviewing one of Frederick and Joseph’s descendants for my podcast!)

Sitting room piano with Joseph Douglass' violin on top

Sitting room piano with Joseph Douglass’ violin on top

Anna Douglass circa 1860, image from the Library of Congress collection

Anna Douglass circa 1860, image from the Library of Congress collection

The grandkids, frequent visitors and sometimes residents of the big house, would join in the fun of the sitting room family gatherings. Some would sing along with the music, and other times were devoted to games and general romping, here and throughout the house, wherever they could get away with it. In public, Douglass presented himself in a very serious and dignified way, but at home he was very playful, romping with the grandkids and joking a lot. He’d allow his granddaughters to braid his flowing hair and tie ribbons in it, only to have to rush off sometimes and put it back in order for the sake of the frequent guests who visited the house.

Anna’s portrait presides over the formal East Parlor, dedicated to greeting and entertaining guests. Her picture, directly across from the big bookshelf, occupies the central place of honor between the two tall windows at the front of the house. Unfortunately, the way the light is streaming brightly in the windows just after midday makes the portrait, easy to see in person, impossible for my camera to pick up amid the strong backlight. In fact, the way the sun is creating such high contrasts in the room, most of my photos of this room don’t end up turning out.

Frederick Douglass' library at Cedar Hill (2), Anacostia, Washington DC, 2016 by Amy Cools

Frederick Douglass’ library and study at Cedar Hill

Anna lived here at Cedar Hill for just under four years, presiding over this stately but lively home bustling with children, grandchildren, extended family, and frequent and numerous houseguests. While she had some health troubles, she remained pretty active until she suffered a stroke on July 9th, 1884, and lingered almost a month. After she died, at about age 69, Douglass fell into a deep and at times almost debilitating depression for well over a year. He thought about selling his house and traveling, perhaps moving to Europe for awhile. But his family needed him here, and besides, his neighbor and clerk Helen Pitts had become a close friend and ally.

Then we stop at the library, south of the East Parlor, accessible through a connecting door. Many of the things in this room actually belonged to Douglass, such as the top hat to the right of the desk. According to the National Park service, ‘Douglass’s extensive library contained more than 1000 volumes that included books on history, science, government, law, religion and literature. ‘ I don’t, unfortunately, get the opportunity to take a close look at the contents of that nice big bookshelf.

Cedar Hill dining room, where Frederick Douglass died, Anacostia Washington DC

Cedar Hill dining room, where Frederick Douglass died. His big chair is to the left.

Another view of the Cedar Hill dining room, looking north into the sitting room

Another view of the Cedar Hill dining room, looking north into the sitting room

We stop next at the dining room at the end of the entrance hall and to the right, with a big door leading onto the hallway, through which we look at the room, but also connected to the sitting room through another connecting door. On February 20th, 1895, Douglass and Helen were at this table discussing the women’s rights convention he had just attended that day. His old friend (or perhaps more accurately expressed in modern slang as ‘frenemy’) Susan B. Anthony had escorted him to the front of the room to speak. Always a talented mimic, he was repeating another’s speech he had heard there at the convention, probably sitting, then rising, from his big dining room chair. All of a sudden, he sank to his knees, suffering a massive heart attack. He could not be revived.

I linger here behind the tour group for a few moments.

Then I rejoin the group and we go around to the kitchen, which is beyond the dining room, through the pantry. Anna was an excellent cook, and she would make Maryland beaten biscuits for Douglass. They were made from dough that was beaten to trap air in the dough, an alternate to leavening. The resulting biscuits are small, round, and rather hard but Douglass loved them, having grown up on them in the Chesapeake.

Anna Douglass's bedroom, Cedar Hill

Anna Douglass’s bedroom, Cedar Hill

Helen Pitts Douglass' bedroom, Cedar Hill

Helen Pitts Douglass’ bedroom, Cedar Hill

Then we go upstairs. Anna’s and Helen’s bedrooms are across Douglass’, which is on your right if you’ve just come up the stairs. Looking across the hall from Douglass’ room, Anna’s is on the left with the ruffled pillowcases and golden flower pattern wallpaper, Helen’s on the right with the dress form and green striped wallpaper. After Anna’s death, Douglass sealed her room off and no one stayed in there again.

Douglass had the big bedroom, with a desk where he may have worked sometimes. Note the weights on the floor by the big leather armchair: he was a large, powerfully built man, over six feet tall and two hundred thirty pounds, with a strong voice. He would often work out with free weights out on the lawn, and would also often walk the five miles to work each way between Capitol Hill and Cedar Hill. He wrote that he felt stronger at this time in his life than he had in years. You can see Capitol Hill and the Washington Monument looking out of the bay window above the front door off to the left, and the view from the lawn in front of the house is fantastic, with the city laid out before you in a panorama across the Anacostia River.

Frederick Douglass' bedroom

Frederick Douglass’ bedroom. Note the dumbbells on the floor by the big leather chair: Douglass exercised regularly, including lifting weights out on the lawn and walking ten miles roundtrip to work on Capitol Hill. He remained active and vigorous right up to the time of his death at age 77

During the years Douglass lived at Cedar Hill, he was once again a well-to-do man after the debacle of the failed Freedman’s Bank, a subject I mentioned in an earlier account and to which I’ll return soon. To rebuild his finances, he went out on tour again, and he had been able to command very large speaking fees throughout the North and earned a good salary as Recorder of Deeds in Washington D.C., and with the help of a loan from a well-to-do friend, he was once again able to afford a grand house.

The view from Cedar Hill's front lawn, of Washington DC and Capitol Hill

The view from Cedar Hill’s front lawn, of Washington DC and Capitol Hill

By the time Douglass moved to Cedar Hill, he had moved into the role of a senior statesman and had a lot of social and political influence. Yet while Douglass retains his reputation to this day as a fiery champion of black rights, he was perceived by many in those later years to have lost sight of the true plight of most black Americans, especially in the South. He still supported the Republican Party even as it was abandoning Reconstruction, leaving the southern states free to flout the 14th and 15th Amendments. By the time Douglass moved to Anacostia and his grand home on Cedar Hill, his days as a slave, a laborer, and a working abolitionist suffering the everyday oppressions and indignities of Jim Crow were far behind him. His biographers Philip Foner and William McFeely both describe and critique his seeming lack of full awareness and concern for how bad it really was at this time for ordinary black working Americans. To many, it was clear that Douglass’ pragmatism had overshadowed his fiery spirit as a champion of human rights.

In 1876, Douglass was so eager that Rutherford B. Hayes become President, in a heavily contested, extremely close election, that he failed to criticize the Republican Party’s policies in any serious way. To be fair to Douglass, it was still the only major party that at least nominally supported black rights, and if Hayes lost to Tilden, even the appearance of national concern over the rights of black Americans would be lost. But really, his critics said, he should have advocated the complete abandonment of the Republican Party since it had in practice largely abandoned the cause of actual emancipation. After all, the existence of the 14th and 15th Amendments meant nothing to the lives of black Americans if their politicians and fellow citizens routinely blocked access to the polls, to good jobs, to elected office, and to all the other rights and privileges of citizens of a free nation.

Statue and quote at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

Statue and quote at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

The Republican Party had a powerful contingent who had come to prioritize economic progress over human rights reform, and thought that keeping federal troops stationed in the South to protect black rights only served to delay national reconciliation and economic recovery. So Republicans routinely struck deals with southern leaders eager to return to old social practices and had often come to be no better than Democrats at protecting black rights. President Hayes, for so long an ardent supporter of strong federal enforcement of civil rights laws, shifted his focus to economic recovery and civil service reform. To be fair to Hayes, ‘Republican Party’ had become almost synonymous with ‘political corruption’, and the new president, famed for his integrity throughout his political career, was determined to fix that. And Hayes was far from the only one who thought that economic recovery would bring about gradual black rights reform through the value of their work in a revitalized economy.

So the Democrats had their way, and black citizens lost many of the political gains they had made. They lost their hard-won representation in government and had even become even worse off in many parts of the South than they had been under slavery, with endemic Klu Klux Klan and White League terrorism, lynching, black codes, debt peonage, convict leasing, and sharecropping, which systematically cheated black people out of the earnings from their labor. And as history reveals, the Douglass of 1857 who had said in Canandaigua ‘If there is no struggle, there is no progress’, was right, and Hayes and the gradualist reformers were wrong. The South continued its oppression of black people nearly unchecked for another hundred years, and their rights were only reclaimed through their protest and struggle, assisted by the intervention of the federal government.

View from Cedar Hill, looking east toward the site of Hiram and niece Helen Pitts' house

View from Cedar Hill, looking east toward the site of Hiram and niece Helen Pitts’ house

But by the 1888 election, Douglass was no longer so ready to remain silent in the face of Republican Party’s failures to protect human rights. It was no longer good enough that the Republican Party had been the party of Lincoln and of the Union. His rhetoric took on a more fiery tone once again, and he said that if the Republican Party wouldn’t live up to their promises to protect black rights, he now looked forward to their defeat. And defeated they were: Democrat Grover Cleveland had already taken the White House in 1884. Douglass attributed this to the Republican Party’s abandonment of the human rights platform, which had made it the champion of goodhearted people, in favor of a profit-first agenda.

As we leave the house, in response to my inquiry, Johnson points me in the direction of the site of Helen Pitts’ uncle Hiram’s house, right beside Cedar Hill where the tall red building stands directly to the right if you’re looking toward D.C. from the front porch (or to your left if you’re looking at the front of the house). Helen lived here with her uncle for a time, and the Pittses and Douglasses were friends, neighbors, and colleagues.  Hiram, like his brother and Helen’s father Gideon in Honeoye, refused to speak to the couple or allow them the house after Helen married Douglass. There was a path that led from Hiram’s house up to Cedar Hill, but after the marriage presumably, sadly, it saw much less use.

The hymnal Frederick Douglass had with him when he escaped from slavery in 1838

The hymnal Frederick Douglass had with him when he escaped from slavery in 1838

A copy of the Columbian Orator, the first book Frederick Douglass purchased

A copy (but not the copy) of the Columbian Orator, the first book Frederick Douglass ever purchased

I return to the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site museum, tucked into the east foot of the hill, and the treasures therein. Among them, there’s the hymnal which Douglass had with him when he escaped from slavery. It seems quite incredible that it survived, especially given the fire at his Rochester home. I wonder if the family took special pains to make sure that this one book, at least, escaped the flames. There’s also a copy (but not his copy) of the Columbian Orator, the first book Douglass ever bought, which, as you may remember, he purchased from Knight’s shop on Thames St in Fell’s Point, Baltimore, when he was only about 12 years old. It was among the most influential books of his life.

Douglass’ death mask, cast in plaster, is also here. His strong brow is relaxed, the deep furrow over the nose smoothed out a bit. His wide-set eyes look peacefully closed but the lips, usually set straight in a dignified manner in portraits, are here drawn tightly together, even pursed, but I’m guessing this is due to the castmaker’s efforts to keep plaster out of the mouth. His characteristically leonine hair is plastered (no pun intended) to his well-formed head. In death, as in life, he’s strikingly handsome.

Here, too, I find Abraham Lincoln’s walking stick, gifted to Douglass by Mary Todd Lincoln in thanks for his service recruiting for the Civil War.

Frederick Douglass' death mask and cast of his hand, at his National Historic Site in Washington DC

Frederick Douglass’ death mask and cast of his hand, at his National Historic Site in Washington DC

 Abraham Lincoln's walking stick, Mary Todd Lincoln's gift to Frederick Douglass

Abraham Lincoln’s walking stick, Mary Todd Lincoln’s gift to Frederick Douglass, on the left, and copies of his passes for recruiting for the Union Army

After a rather lengthy visit closely examining all the displays and chatting with the docent, I cross the Anacostia again as I head north to 913 E St NE, where according to Douglass’ biographer McFeely, Helen Pitts was living when Douglass came to pick her up on January 24th, 1884, on their way to be married.

Houses off Maryland and E St NE where they converge, south side, Washington DC, 2016 Amy Cools

Houses off Maryland Ave and E St NE where they converge, on the south side of the street where the odd numbers run for both E and Maryland. The tan house in the center is marked 913 Maryland Ave, but I can’t tell from Google Maps or the 1909 Baist atlas if it’s also 913 E St, though that would also be consistent with the numbering.

When I arrive, I find it’s a little hard to be sure that the 913 I find is an E Street address, a Maryland Ave, or both: these streets intersect at an odd angle here just east of 9th St. Google Maps seems to say it’s 913 E, but the door plaque says it’s 913 Maryland Ave. I find Baist’s city atlas from the turn of the century on the Library of Congress website, the earliest I can find online, and it shows that the numbers here have apparently not changed, since 1909 at least. In 1884, Helen lived here or near here, again, if the 1909 atlas is right. She had moved here from her uncle Hiram’s house to be closer to Capitol Hill, where she worked as Douglass’ clerk, though that meant she and Douglass were no longer neighbors. Perhaps they wanted to keep their deepening relationship less evident to the public eye. Again, more on their marriage soon to come.

I decide to break up the account up here of this day’s adventures into two accounts since it’s such a full day and I learn so much. To be continued!

*Listen to the podcast version here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!


Sources and Inspiration:

About Us: Living History‘. Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives website (family tree, photos).

Baist’s Real Estate Atlas of Surveys of Washington, District of Columbia: Volume 2, Plate 21. By Baist, George William, William Edward, and Harry Valentine Baist, 1909. Via Library of Congress website

Benjamin Harrison: Campaigns and Elections,’ from Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia website

Blight, David W. ‘“Your Late Lamented Husband”: A Letter from Frederick Douglass to Mary Todd Lincoln‘. In The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History website

Douglass, Frederick. The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. Re-published 1993, Avenal, New York: Gramercy Books, Library of Freedom series.

Douglass, Frederick. My Bondage and My Freedom: 1855 Edition with a new introduction. Re-published 1969, New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Foner, Philip S. The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Vol. 1-4. New York: International Publishers, 1950.

Fought, Leigh. ‘On Trusting Secondary Sources‘. From Frederick Douglass’s Women: In Progress blog

Holt, Michael F. ‘The Contentious Election of 1876‘, in History Now: The Journal of the Gilder Lehrman Institute

Joseph Douglass‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

McFeely, William. Frederick Douglass. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991.

Maryland Beaten Biscuits‘, in Guest Recipe Book. Diana’s Desserts website

Muller, John. Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia. Charleston: The History Press, 2012.

Rutherford B. Hayes: Life in Brief‘, from Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia website.

Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans: A History. W. W. Norton & Company, 1997

Political Maneuver or Not, I Think Hillary’s Call for Automatic,Universal Voting Registration Is a Great Idea

One year ago today…

Ordinary Philosophy

As you may know, I am a staunch advocate of voting: I think voting rights should be expansive, that as a nation we should encourage and facilitate voting as much as possible, and that voting is not only a right, it’s responsibility.

When we don’t vote, we do an injustice to ourselves and our fellow citizens by failing to uphold our democracy, we act as pawns of those who try to limit access to voting (in recent years, these efforts have been especially aimed at minorities, the poor, the elderly, and the young, go figure), and we betray those whose labor and personal sacrifices made it possible for us to vote in the first place. Next time you feel lazy or tempted by Russell-Brand-style ‘principled’ slacktivism, think of Frederick Douglas, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Miguel Trujillo, and imagine how lame you’d sound if you had to stand before them and explain…

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Death Breeds Death in July of 2016

Guns at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, Photo by Amy Cools May 2014I’m sitting here tonight with a heart that’s sinking lower and lower. Two young men needlessly died this week, and it appears that one at least died with no real provocation at all. And tonight, four police officers (at least) were murdered just a little while ago, and many others wounded, at a protest held for those two young men.

On Tuesday, July 5th, Alton Sterling was wrestled to the ground by two police officers in response to a report that he was brandishing a gun in front of a convenience store where he often hung out selling CDs and videos. As the two officers pinned him down, still struggling a bit, one shouted something about a gun, then shot Alton many times in the chest. Alton died. The next day, his teenage son sobbed his heart out on TV.

On Wednesday, July 6th, Philando Castile had just gotten a birthday haircut and gone grocery shopping with his girlfriend and her daughter, when he was pulled over for a broken taillight. According to his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, the officer ordered Philando to produce his license. Between Philando and Diamond, they told the officer that Philando carried a gun but had a permit to do so. As Philando reached for his back pocket, the officer shot him several times and he died. Diamond’s four year old daughter watched it all from the back seat.

Then just a little while ago, on this Thursday evening of July 7th, 2016, two snipers fired at police officers providing security at a protest in downtown Dallas, Texas. Four officers died, eleven officers were injured, and one civilian woman was wounded while shielding her children from the gunfire. And at the time I finish this piece, the standoff with at least one sniper continues.

What a hard evening this is, after such a hard week. What suffering and ugliness. So many shot and killed, these after so many others just this year in this country. I hate guns, personally. I never like holding one. I did try some informal target shooting with family a few years ago, and found I was a decent shot. But the experience did nothing for me emotionally after the initial fun of winning a little contest, and I was glad to have that gun leave my hands. Holding power over life and death like that makes me unhappy.

And I never identified with gun culture, though I’m familiar with it, mostly through some extended family. If the gun culture people are right, all of these people should be alive right now: everyone would be deterred from using their guns knowing that the others are also packing. Or, good guys with guns would have stopped bad guys with guns. Yet here are all these dead people, none of them ‘bad’ as far as we know. They were all some mixture of good and bad like the rest of us, surely, whatever we take those terms to mean. The shooters were not stopped by anyone, good or bad, and the first two young were shot because they had guns, and probably also because they were black. Double whammy, as the Black Panthers realized: for all the hue and cry over First Amendment rights, the moment that black people exercise them, the image of the armed patriot breaks down. Perhaps Alton showed some poor judgment here and there in the events that led up to his death. But as far as we can tell right now, he was not particularly more ‘bad’ than most people I know, at least, than most people, myself included, are and have been at times. Perhaps he did brandish a gun to make a man pestering him for money go away. Whatever. Open carry people do the same, flaunting their guns to deter others from messing with them. Most don’t get shot and killed for that. And every one of us, I think would instinctively struggle if someone tackled us to the ground, especially if we didn’t know why. Philando, apparently, did everything right, except obey the officer’s conflicting instructions in the right order. A split-second decision that any of us could make. And all of those officers killed and wounded in Dallas: we have no evidence that any of them did anything wrong, and we do know they perform an often thankless job doing the hard work dealing with our social dysfunction that most of us aren’t willing to do.

Here’s the common thread in all these killings: every person who fired shots thought that would solve a problem. All they did was create heartbreak and set us even more against one another. Anger, fear, vengeance, and self-righteousness will run amok. Perhaps we’ll listen to each other this time around, unlike the hundreds of times we’ve done nothing after mass shootings and police killings (by and of, though mostly by).

I don’t know what else to say. What a heartbreaking waste and morass of suffering. Like all of you, I’ll wrestle with all of this for a long time to come, especially as more details come out about these shootings. At this moment, I hear the helicopters whirl over the protesters in downtown Oakland from my apartment in neighboring Chinatown, as this city of protest and activism takes to the streets and blocks the freeway. I worry more violence may erupt. And I feel pretty sure of one thing: I can’t imagine ever wanting to carry a gun.

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, entirely supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!


Sources and inspiration:

4 Police Officers Dead After Shooting in Downtown Dallas: 3 Dallas officers, 1 DART officer confirmed killed in sniper fire following protest, police officials say. By NBC 5 Staff, Thu July 7, 2016. NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth.

Alton Sterling shooting: Homeless man made 911 call, source says. By Joshua Berlinger, Nick Valencia and Steve Almasy, 9:21 PM ET, Thu July 7, 2016, CNN.com

McLaughlin, Eliott C. Woman streams aftermath of fatal officer-involved shooting, 11:20 PM ET, Thu July 7, 2016, CNN.com

Minn. governor says race played role in fatal police shooting during traffic stop. 11:30 PM July 7, 2016, by Michael E. Miller, Wesley Lowery and Lindsey Bever. Washingtonpost.com

New Podcast Episode: Frederick Douglass Chambersburg and Gettysburg PA Sites

Poster of Shields Green in David Anderson's Nazareth College office, photo 2016 Amy Cools

Listen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

Twelfth Day, Thursday March 31st

It’s breezy, overcast, and warm the day I drive south from Rochester to Washington D.C., with a first stop in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania to visit two sites of special interest for my Frederick Douglass journey.

The first is a two story clapboard house at 225 E. King St, where John Brown rented a room in Mary Ritner’s boarding house in the summer of 1859, and where he planned his doomed raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry. Unfortunately, I’m visiting during the off-season: the house is closed until the tourist season starts in May, but I find a blog with two nice photos of the interior posted. It happens to be a blog dedicated to Fredrick Law Olmsted, the great landscape architect who designed Highland Park, site of Frederick Douglass’ statue and memorial in Rochester…. Read the written account here:

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, entirely supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

History, Philosophy, and Political Hope, by Richard Eldridge

US Capitol Building under repair, Washington DC, photo 2016 by Amy CoolsPolitics in general is all about how to develop, sustain, and revise institutions, practices, and policies that bind individuals together productively and that point toward more fulfilling individual and joint futures for them. Debates about how best to do this are natural. Should the US become yet more aggressively libertarian-individualist, or should a substantial social compact that enforces terms of fair cooperation via significant redistribution be instituted? Should the UK embrace European social democratic values and relations, or should it stand on its Anglo-Saxon distinctiveness?

These important questions are increasingly addressed, however, in the absence of significant, articulate knowledge of political ideals that historically have informed political life. As a result, debates about these questions are typically shriller and less productive than they could and should be. Various forms of nativism and populism supplant more considered deliberations, for good enough reasons, as individuals and subpopulations come to be and to feel disenfranchised from political and economic business-as-usual. In a 15 May 2016 New York Times opinion piece, the economic historian Michael Lind reports that “A 2016 Presidential Election Survey by the RAND Corporation revealed that the single factor that best predicted voter support for Donald Trump among likely Republican voters was not income, education, race, gender or attitudes toward Muslim or illegal immigration, but agreement with the statement ‘people like me don’t have any say.’” Globalization and the degradations of the powerful are increasing political and economic disenfranchisement throughout the industrialized world. Disenchantment then produces anger, for good reasons. Presciently, and echoing Plato’s criticisms of democracy (though not his proposals to abolish it), the philosopher Richard Rorty suggested in 1997 in Achieving Our Country that

members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers–themselves desperately afraid of being downsized–are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The non-suburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for–someone willing to assure them that once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots…

One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion…All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

The demand for an outlet for resentment and anger is being exploited by so-called anti-system politicians and parties, including Trump and Sanders in the US, Marie LePen in France, Nigel Farage in the UK, Beppo Grillo in Italy, and the Syriza Party in Greece. Whether from the left or the right, the watchword is “tear it down,” not “build it up.”

One way to begin to reverse these developments and to enrich political debates is to consider detailed accounts of political-ideals-as-lived that have been articulated and argued for by major philosophers who are sensitive to the values all at once of individualism, responsibility, political equality, economic security, rich joint meaningful life, and ongoing critical thought, as commitments to these values have been lived out against the backgrounds of religious and philosophical traditions. Immanuel Kant and Walter Benjamin are two thinkers of exactly this kind. Each of them eloquently asked and answered the question, “What may we hope for?,” and each of them answered it by taking seriously both political ideals and available historical possibilities that might be seized. Working through their partly complementary, partly opposed ideas about the historical achievement of value within joint political life might help us to develop richer images of political maturity and help us toward more productive public political debate. As Michael Lind concluded his essay, “If we want to avert the sense of powerlessness among voters that fuels demagogy, the answer is not less democracy…, but more.” Reading Kant and Benjamin together and subjecting their accounts to reflective comparison and criticism can help us to cultivate a more genuine, informed, reflective democracy and, thus, to give life and depth to political hope.

~ Originally published at OUP Blog: Oxford University Press’s Academic Insights for the Thinking World, on June 26th, 2016

~ Richard Eldridge is Charles and Harriett Cox McDowell Professor of Philosophy at Swarthmore College. He has held visiting appointments at Essex, Stanford, Bremen, Erfurt, Freiburg, Brooklyn, and Sydney. He is the author of 5 books and over 100 articles in aesthetics, philosophy of language, philosophy of literature, and Romanticism and Idealism. He has edited 4 volumes, including The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Literature, and he is the Series Editor of Oxford Studies in Philosophy and Literature. (Bio credit: OUP Blog)

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

New Podcast Episode: Affirmative Action and Balance

Justice et inégalité - les plateaux de la balance by Frachet, Jan 2010, Public Domain via Wikimedia CommonsListen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

The recent Supreme Court decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, et al., was a cautious but significant one in favor of affirmative action. As Adam Liptak writes in his New York Times article ‘Supreme Court Upholds Affirmative Action Program at University of Texas‘, while ‘not all affirmative action programs will pass constitutional muster… the ruling’s basic message was that admissions officials may continue to consider race as one factor among many in ensuring a diverse student body.’

This opposes the central tenet of affirmative action opposition: admission to universities can only be based on merit, which in turn is determined mainly by grades buttressed by the quality of relative achievements; therefore, only color-blind admissions criteria are just and fair.

But as we all well know, educational institutions have been generally the purview of the wealthy, the connected, and the white for most of our history…. Read the original article:

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!