The Elmer G. Beamer-Hubert H. Schneider Professor in Ethics, Associate Professor
In 2014, I completed Solar Calendar, and Other Ways of Marking Time. Solar Calendar is ambitious and took a long while to craft –in some parts (I am not exaggerating) over twenty years.
In writing this study, I tried to avoid three problems I see in contemporary publishing: that academic philosophy is elitist by way of being technical, that “serious” poetry is a fog or a mannerism, and that “popular” philosophy refuses to engage with life’s difficulty. Positively, I tried to find a way of experimenting with form as an “askesis,” the Greek word for what Ignatius of Loyola translated as a “spiritual exercise” (according to Pierre Hadot). That is, I wrote in a manner that was difficult but personal, experimental but connective, judging it always by the work it accomplished in growing up.
Solar Calendar is part of my long-term interest in constructively criticizing the practice of philosophy so that it is both more human and more everyday, and in constructively criticizing criticizing the academy for its intellectual elitism while arguing for the enduring relevance of the humanities. My untitled blog that assembles some of these critical practices is here.
Now I am at work on The Anthroponomists! Citizens Responsible for Planetary Environmental Change. We citizens of Earth are responsible for changing our planetary environment so that the way we affect it lives up to our humanity. We are not liable for all planetary environmental change, even that of our ancestors; but we are responsible for making a better planetary society, one that does not reflect on humankind as if we were the destructive and chaotic beast.
In preparation for this book, I developed a series of articles and a workshop on the morality and epistemology surrounding mass extinction events as well as criticized the notion of alienation from the environment found in both eco-romanticism and Marxism. The latter led me to emphasize the development of political know-how as a central civic task of our age of mass societies where democracy is perpetually at risk of becoming management.
Here is a reflection I have: What will it take for us to stop being presentists–biased toward our own generation against future generations? Presentism is more destructive than racism and sexism combined and magnifies both. We will have to discover fairness to future generations and become planetary citizens. This is the next phase of necessity for the dominant economy on Earth. It involves returning to some of the wisdom of the original nations in my country who were colonized centuries ago by “freedom” lovers and have still not received justice. It is consistent with a kind of ecologically and economically conservative localism. We may need to develop democratic trustees of future generations. But the problem is that future generations cannot speak for themselves and so it is ethically problematic to speak for them.
“Off-cycle” with Zlatan Filipovic and Isak Berbic, Tate Modern London symposium on breath, 2007
Ethical adaptation to climate change (European Financial Review)
Rooted in work I did for my dissertation, Conscience and Humanity, the project after my current one surrounds the development of the concept of humanity as a sensibility structured by what I call “relational reason.”In one move, I’ve already criticized integrity for its fixation on being untouched, suggesting we look for trustworthy, discerning, committed and fair people in the connected virtue of humanity. In another move, I have explored love as a relationship between two with a life of its own that makes human beauty appear. Contrary to the canon, love is not a desire or even a form of evaluation. It is too human for that. I do not yet know what form the manuscript on these issues will take. The tentative title for the project is Becoming a Person: The Humanity of Relational Reason.
My family comes from Ohio–the Bendiks as immigrants from Vlachovo, Slovakia to southern Ohio mining country (Belle Valley) and then later as residents of Elyria, and the Keymers from Oberlin, Lakewood and eventually Olmsted Falls. My father’s biological father, Clem Langley, had a scholarship to Western Reserve University which he couldn’t complete.
After attending public school in New Hartford, New York (which I loved) and being an exchange student in France at the Lycée Pierre Corneille, I studied philosophy and literature at Yale University, primarily with Susan Neiman but also with O. Bradley Bassler, Karsten Harries, Denis Hollier, Claudine Kahan, Haagi Kenaan, Irad Kimhi, Jonathan Lear, Toril Moi and Wayne Meeks. I then attended the University of Chicago for graduate school in philosophy, studying with Michael Forster, Charles Larmore, Jean-Luc Marion, Martha Nussbaum and Candace Vogler, primarily. While at the University of Chicago, I was a Century Fellow and a Junior Fellow in the Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion and a research assistant at the Erikson Institute for Advanced Studies in Child Development for three years. I also assisted Saskia Sassen for a short time and was a writing instructor in the Little Red Schoolhouse writing program.
In addition to assisting at an experimental high school in Manhattan and at Yale and teaching a bit at Concordia University River Forest, I lectured part-time for two years at University of Chicago where I won the Wayne C. Booth Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. I then taught full-time at Colorado College, American University of Sharjah (Department of International Studies), and LeMoyne College before coming to CWRU. At Colorado College, I organized the antiwar network. At American University of Sharjah, I helped accredit the Department of International Studies, opened up a space in the curriculum for students to propose their own course topics, fostered a student led re-evaluation of their constitution, and organized the first campus model U.N. for area high schools. At LeMoyne College, I developed a learning assessment system that folded discernment exercises and mentoring into the curriculum evaluation cycle from entering to exiting the Philosophy major. I was also a visiting professor of philosophy at Hamilton College where I experimented with some methods of Jacques Rancière and developed the technique of a verification cycle in a process journal.
My first book was The Ecological Life: Discovering Citizenship and a Sense of Humanity, and I co-edited Ethical Adaptation to Climate Change: Human Virtues of the Future with Allen Thompson of Oregon State University. In graduate school, I worked on the research team for Dan Scheinfeld, Sandra Scheinfeld, and Karen Haigh’s We Are All Explorers: Learning and Teaching with Reggio Principles in Urban Settings -a book about one of the best school systems in U.S. at that time, and it served low income communities in Chicago.
Overall, I’m an old school moral and intellectual egalitarian. I think moral universals are evident–especially in their absence–and I can’t see how truth isn’t objective–especially when we disagree or make mistakes.