Elizabeth Barnes is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Virginia and editor of Philosophy Compass. In this interview, Elizabeth talks about growing up in a Southern Baptist household in the Bible Belt, lightly rebelling, getting mysterious injuries, getting into philosophy via existential literature, learning her injuries were caused by a genetic condition, how the ideas in disability studies changed her life, her favorite philosophers, working with the Arche Center at St. Andrews, the challenges of being a woman in philosophy, meeting her husband at a Vann McGee talk, becoming interested in esoteric metaphysics (vagueness), the job market, the two-body problem, the ‘Impact Agenda’, comic books, video games (she’s a sucker for Bioware), X-Files, why there is so little diversity in philosophy, how she thinks we can fix it, who she’s voting for in 2016, her exciting new book, and her favorite curse word...
Where did you grow up?
In North Carolina. I was born in Asheville, but grew up mostly in and around the Charlotte area.
Do you have any brothers or sisters?
One older sister. She’s now a special education teacher.
As a kid what were you thinking about?
I was a pretty weird kid. I thought about a lot of weird things. I was a serial obsessor, so I’d get really interested in something random - dinosaurs, endangered species, the Iliad (seriously) - and just learn about that one thing, as much as I could, until I moved on to the next obsession.
Any interest in art?
I can’t even doodle.
Biology was probably my first academic infatuation. I wanted to be a biologist for a long time, and before that I wanted to be a veterinarian. I was really fascinated with the idea that you could learn how living organisms work. For some reason, this led me to get weirdly interested in reptiles, just because they’re very cool as living organisms go. I successfully lobbied my parents into letting me have a pet snake, and eventually added a lizard as well. They let me do it - despite my mother being terrified of snakes - because they wanted to encourage my interest in science, and I was so bizarrely scientific about the whole thing. I kept daily records of what my pets were doing, how much they ate, etc. Like I said, I was a genuinely weird kid. My parents put up with a lot.
What did your folks do for a living?
My dad is a Southern Baptist minister. My mom originally worked as a medical technologist, but she eventually ended up doing administrative work at a church.
So your family was religious…
Oh boy. Yes, we were pretty intensely evangelical. And it wasn’t just that my family was religious. My whole world was religious. This is something that can be hard for people who haven’t experienced the evangelic Bible Belt to understand, but the experience of it is intense. I don’t think we knew any families that weren’t religious. I’d gotten a scholarship to a private school, and the school - like so many private schools in the South - was also religious and taught a religious curriculum. Social life when I was a young kid revolved completely around activities at church. Being religious didn’t just mean we went to church on Sunday - it was this massive thing that structured our entire lives.
Were you into it?
Yes, very much so. As a younger kid it just wasn’t a question. It wasn’t something I stopped to consider. As an older kid, in high school especially, my relationship to it became a lot more complicated and fraught.
Why did your relationship to religion become complicated?
It’s hard to point to one particular thing, really. My alienation from conservative Christianity happened gradually, and it wasn’t until I moved away from the South that I was fully able to process it all. By the time I was a teenager I started to question things, and to see aspects of the practice that didn’t feel right to me. I’d become interested in environmental activism, and I remember getting very annoyed with the typical stance of the religious right on the environment. I think that was when I started to notice how people would conveniently pick and choose bits of the Bible to support what they wanted to believe. I also became increasingly uncomfortable with the attitudes towards women that were often expressed. I couldn’t accept that it was my God-given lot in life to submit to a man, and it didn’t make sense to me that I was intrinsically unsuited for leadership roles because of my gender. But what really sticks out in my mind as the moment I crossed the Rubicon, as it were, is when I realized that a family member of mine - someone I’d always been very close with - was gay. And then I thought about what people in my community would say to him if they knew. That was the point at which I basically decided “Yeah, no thanks.”
Did you hide your feelings, or did you share them with your parents?
I didn’t really discuss any of this explicitly with my parents at the time. I’m not sure if playing loud angry music in your room with your door shut counts as ‘hiding your feelings’, but we didn’t talk about it.
How did they respond?
They mostly just told me to turn the music down. We’ve talked about it since, though, and they’ve always been nothing but supportive of me. They’re great people.
I also loved loud, angry music as a teenager. What did you listen to?
Well, this was the 90s, so Smashing Pumpkins, Rage Against the Machine, and Tori Amos were in heavy rotation. I suppose Tori isn’t particularly loud, but she makes up for it in other ways.
Was what you learned on your own, given your interest in biology say, at odds with what you were learning at the religious private school?
Yes. I was taught creationism in high school. I was also taught a certain kind of anti-intellectualism. There was an idea that you should be careful to not rely too much on ‘man’s reason’ because that was somehow antithetical to faith. Even at the time, that struck me as bullshit.
TV or movies?
I didn’t watch much TV as a kid, though in high school I developed a taste for sci-fi, thanks to the X-Files and re-runs of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Jean Luc Picard is still my role model in all things.
As a kid I played lots of sports, and got really into competitive swimming, which I did intensely for a while. I had to give it up when I was 13, because I kept getting badly injured. That was actually the first major sign that something unusual was going on in my body - I was this 12-year-old athlete getting injuries that you’d expect to see in a 40-year-old.
So, why were you getting these injuries?
So. That’s complicated. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was born with a genetic condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. My body produces collagen slightly differently than most people’s bodies do – my collagen is more elastic and breaks more easily. So I was getting tendon tears, ligament ruptures, that kind of thing - injuries you wouldn’t expect in a kid - and they weren’t healing the way you’d expect. But I didn’t fully understand any of this until I was in my 20s - like most people with rare conditions it took a long and winding road of misdiagnoses before doctors finally figured out what was going on. At the time, it just seemed like a series of bizarre bad luck.
How did you deal…books?
Constantly. Voraciously. I read everything I could get my hands on. My world often felt very small in a lot of ways, and books were windows into new experiences and different, bigger worlds. I couldn’t get enough. By the time I was in high school, I was having to spend a lot of time in hospitals and by myself (not doing anything physical, letting my body rest) so those windows into other worlds became something I depended on.
In high school, what did you do for fun?
Well, by the time I was in high school the effects of my condition had become a lot more substantial, and I was still adjusting to living with that - which was a very difficult process. I spent a lot of time by myself, out of necessity - taking it easy and letting my body rest. So I had a lot of introverted hobbies. I read, I played puzzle games on my computer, I hung out with my dog. It wasn’t exactly a wild adolescence. But I had great friends who were really understanding, which made the whole process easier.
In high school, did you start thinking about what you were going to do in college?
I think I spend most of high school dreaming about going to college. College seemed like the promise of freedom. I wanted to study everything. But I started thinking seriously about studying philosophy the summer after my junior year in high school.
Junior year in high school, that's an early start...how were you introduced to philosophy?
Through literature. Dostoevsky was my favorite author at the time, and I’d read that his work - especially Crime and Punishment and Brothers Karamazov - were very heavily influenced by philosophy. So I started reading around about philosophy mostly because I wanted to get a better sense of the novels I was into. Dostoevsky was basically a gateway drug for me.
Where did you go to college?
Did your genetic condition complicate your college experience?
Very much so. I had to have major surgery my junior year, for one thing. And it was a difficult time, just in terms of understanding what was happening in my body, because I was receiving lots of what I now know to be under-informed, and in some cases just flat-out bad, medical advice. But more than anything I was still adjusting to being disabled, and that was hard - especially at that age. Significant chronic pain, and all its consequences, was probably the hardest thing to get used to, and I was still very much in the middle of a steep learning curve when I was in college. But college was also where I first encountered disability studies, and the ideas I was exposed to there changed my life in fairly profound ways.
How did you figure out what was really causing your condition?
Well, the diagnostic picture became a lot clearer when I started having recurrent joint dislocations. I was referred to a specialist genetics center. The geneticist took about five seconds to diagnose me. I was 24, so it had been a long road. (The median age of diagnosis is 27 and the median number of previous misdiagnoses is 4, so my case was fairly typical in those respects.) Getting diagnosed was a relief. I’d known something wasn’t right, and I’d known that there were pieces of a diagnostic puzzle that weren’t being put together. Finally figuring out what was going on made my grab-bag collection of weird medical experiences make a lot more sense. I felt like I had a better understanding of what was happening in my body, and that was very helpful to me. I also liked finding out that I was a mutant. That was cool.
What were the ideas you encountered in disability studies that changed your life? How did they change your life?
This will be difficult to explain succinctly! The social dimensions of disability are hard to identify, especially when you are growing up disabled in an environment that has a lot of negative social stigmas about disability. It’s easy for disability to just feel like your own private tragedy. And especially when, like I did, you have a condition that requires ongoing medical care, it’s easy to chalk up all the difficulties you are experiencing to the fact that you are ‘sick’ - to blame everything on the biological condition of your body.
What I first encountered in disability studies was the idea that so much of what we struggle with as disabled people is social, not physical or medical. And so much of how we’re taught to think about ourselves as disabled people is determined by the opinions and stereotypes of non-disabled people - opinions and stereotypes which don’t really, when we get together and talk about it, reflect our lived experiences as disabled people. Learning about disability pride and thinking, for the first time, about the social dimensions of disability felt like having my view of the world turned upside down and shaken. It felt like having chains pulled off me that I hadn’t realized I’d been wearing. It felt like being given the ability to articulate feelings that I’d never been able to express before, even to myself. It was a deeply transformative experience that restructured the way I thought about myself, my body, and my place in the world.
When I started learning about disability pride, I finally dealt with the latent, entrenched feelings of shame and inadequacy that I had about my body. I learned, for the first time in my life, how to celebrate the ways that my body is different, rather than try to ‘overcome’ them or be successful ‘in spite of’ them. I can’t even begin to explain how much this improved my life, or the extent to which it was a fundamental change.
When did you realize you wanted to do philosophy for a living?
Well, I’m not sure I had a realization like that, exactly. What I knew for sure, when I was doing my undergrad work, is that I wanted to study more philosophy. I wanted to go to grad school. But my going to grad school wasn’t predicated on the idea that I could make a living from being a philosopher. I just wanted to stay in school longer and learn some more. I suppose I thought about a career as an academic in an abstract way, but that wasn’t the primary motivation, and if I’d known I’d have no chance of getting an academic job after grad school I’d still have gone.
Who were your favorite philosophers?
Hume, Kierkegaard, Berkeley, William James.
Least favorite classes as an undergrad?
Some of my English classes. I expected to love them, because of how much I loved to read. I didn’t!
What were you reading for fun?
I can’t say any philosophy would make the list. I was mostly into novels filled with existential angst. I had a major soft spot for Russian classics and southern Gothic. (Dosteovksy, Turgenev, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Conner were favorites.) I also read fantasy, but would’ve lied about that at the time.
What career would you have pursued if you didn't do philosophy, you think? Like, what was second place?
The most likely alternative would probably have been working in the non-profit sector - preferably something related to animal welfare or the environment. I did PR work for the Humane Society while I was in college and really enjoyed it, so I could easily have seen myself pursuing that further. I also considered going into rehabilitation counseling.
What were you doing in your spare time? Did you...party?
Again, my spare time was heavily structured around my body - what it could and couldn’t take, the amount of rest it needed. So I spent a lot of time just hanging around with friends, not getting up to much in particular. (Though this was a liberal arts college, so we were of course very deep and passionate about all the things.) Other than that, I did a lot of yoga, volunteered, and worked on a student-run political journal.
I’m not sure it’s possible to party less than I did in college. I was on a cocktail of medications that can’t be mixed with alcohol, and getting high has never really been my thing. So I would be stone cold sober at parties. Maybe there are people who can enjoy your standard-issue college party while being completely sober, but I’m definitely not one of them. My characteristic memory is of standing in a corner trying to avoid being groped while feeling completely awkward and embarrassed on behalf of everyone there, including myself.
Where did you go to grad school?
St. Andrews. When I graduated from Davidson, I had a fellowship to go to the UK for a year, so I went to St. Andrews. My plan was to go back to the US for a PhD. But it didn’t work out that way.
Why'd you decide to stay at St. Andrews?
St. Andrews was so much fun when I was there. Crispin Wright had just gotten the Arche Center up and running, and there was a constant stream of seminars, talks, and visitors. There was also just a general feeling of excitement - here was this small group of people, huddled on the edge of the North Sea, trying to figure out some tough questions in a collaborative way. I found the atmosphere almost infectious - I wanted to be a part of it.
And also I met a boy.
A boy! How did you meet him? What does he do?
ooo…what do a couple of philosophers do for fun?
Our personal lives actually have very little to do with philosophy - which I think is important for our sanity. We’re philosophers who love each other, but our relationship isn’t built around philosophy. We have tons of non-philosophy interests in common, and that’s only increased over the years. We play video games together, we like the same TV shows, we read a lot of the same books, etc. Also, at least 50% of our day-to-day conversation revolves around how good our dog is. (She is a very good girl.)
Only 50%? What did you work on?
Metaphysical vagueness. Almost entirely by accident. Arche was divided into ‘projects’ and the project that was getting started when I showed up was the Vagueness Project. But I tended to gravitate toward metaphysics rather than philosophy of logic or language. And there you have it.
What were your least favorite classes in grad school?
How did you evolve philosophically?
I started developing interests that were more abstract and esoteric. (I love you forever, analytic metaphysics.) And I started to learn how to explore ideas and follow arguments where they lead, rather than just sitting down and saying ‘Right, I’m going to argue that P. Let me find some premises!” My dissertation ended up being a defense of the coherence of metaphysical vagueness, when it had started out as an attempt to give a new argument for its incoherence. I was lucky enough to have two amazing supervisors - Katherine Hawley and Daniel Nolan - who were (and are) the ideal models for me of how to attempt curious, honest, charitable philosophy. And I also learned how to do philosophy as a collaborative enterprise. So much of what I learned about philosophy and how I developed as a philosopher came from interactions with my fellow grad students. There was a sense that we were all in this together, trying to struggle along and help each other out.
On the flip side, I also evolved in some ways that weren’t great. Grad school terrified me. Everyone was so smart and so obsessed and so driven and so knowledgeable, and I felt like I didn’t measure up, or that I wasn’t cut out for it. And I think in response to that I tried to force myself into being the kind of philosopher I thought I ought to be, rather than the kind of philosopher I genuinely wanted to be. All the Smart Kids were doing stuff that was very technical, so I tried to make my work more technical, even though that’s not what I’m interested in or what I’m good at. (Sorry, Smart Kids.) All the Smart Kids thought specific topics were the topics worth talking about, so I tried to learn about them and talk about them whether or not I was actually interested in them. And so on.
Who did you work with?
Did you get the chance to teach?
At St. Andrews we got the opportunity to TA, but not to lead our own classes.
Did you enjoy it?
I absolutely loved it.
So, were there any obstacles writing the dissertation? Any obstacles teaching?
No, not particularly. The hardest things for me, I think, were gender-related - some to do with how I was treated in some circumstances and some to do with how I felt about myself. I don’t want to say much about it because it has to do with a particular place and time. I want to be careful not to point any fingers, and I also want to emphasize that so much about my grad school experience was really positive. What I’ll say is that being one of very, very few women in an environment is difficult. And what’s particularly striking to me is how much of that difficulty was invisible to me at the time. When people treated me differently, I just assumed it was because I was dumber than everyone else.
How did you feel about your job prospects?
Not great! I was in a two-body situation, and for my husband and I the decision to get married had been, in part, the decision that we would prioritize our relationship over our careers. We were willing to do long-distance for a year or two, but no more than that. And so we were fully prepared that one or both of us would quit. And we were both okay with that.
As much as I wasn’t optimistic about my job chances, though, I was never particularly depressed about it. I had a really nice time in graduate school, and I really valued what I learned, so I wouldn’t have considered any of my training a waste if I didn’t get an academic job. But more than that, becoming a professor had always seemed like a bit of a far-fetched dream. It didn’t seem like a thing that normal people did. And I felt out of place in graduate school, but that wasn’t particularly unusual for me - I’d been on scholarships to fancy schools since I was 13, so I was used to feeling a little out of place, and I was okay with it. I think a big part of me expected not to get a job. But that same part of me felt like I probably wasn’t cut out for those jobs anyway, so I wasn’t too torn up about it.
Where did you land your first job?
I was lucky enough to land a lectureship (which is roughly the UK equivalent of a tenure track job, without the same hurdles for tenure) at the University of Leeds. Negotiating a two-body problem in the UK is tricky, because spousal hiring doesn’t really happen - US-style spousal hiring is actually illegal in the UK. If you want to get a job at the same place as your partner, you need to either find a department that has multiple job openings or find a department that is willing to let you job-share. Leeds advertised three jobs at the same time…the year before I was even thinking of going on the job market. It was so unusual for a department to make three hires at once, and Daniel and Katherine basically told me I’d be nuts not to at least put in an application. So I did. And then spent the rest of the year in a complete panic trying to finish my dissertation because they apparently believed me when I said it was almost done.
How did he manage the move, or did you guys do a long distance thing?
We have been absurdly lucky with our two-body problem. We were hired at Leeds at the same time and then hired at UVA together. We’ve never had to do long distance and neither of us has ever had to be a ‘trailing spouse’. It’s worked out far, far better than we could’ve hoped or planned, and I feel kind of embarrassed just typing this.
Any time for a personal life at this point in your career?
Yes, absolutely. I have always prioritized my personal life and my non-philosophical interests. I feel like being a well-rounded, happy person makes me a better philosopher. And even if it didn’t, fuck philosophy - I’d rather be a well-rounded, happy person than a good philosopher. For me, this means specifically structuring the time in which I do philosophy. I don’t work on the evenings or weekends. I take time for exercise and hobbies. And there’s never been a time in my career when that hasn’t been the case. I wouldn’t want to do this otherwise.
This is one - of many - areas in my life in which my disability is such a gift. It’s given me the freedom to prioritize taking care of myself without feeling guilty about it, simply because I have to. If I try to be a workaholic, I end up in the hospital, where it’s pretty hard to get work done.
What do you do for hobbies?
Well, I’m unapologetically geeky, so I spend quality time with books, comics, and video games. We also spend a lot of time in Shenandoah National Park, walking around and admiring pretty things. And I’m very into yoga, which is the way I’ve kept my weird self in shape over the years. I talk about the ins and outs of using yoga to adapt to disability over at Fit is a Feminist Issue.
Comics and video games…now we’re talking! Lately I’ve been reading Saga. What are you reading on the comic book front?
My favorite comic right now is Lazarus. It’s amazing.
Nowadays, I’m playing Fallout 4. What video games are you playing nowadays?
I’ve been playing Divinity: Original Sin and The Wolf Among Us lately (and getting excited about the release of The Last Guardian). And I’ve been playing Dragon Age: Inquisition semi-obsessively for a year now. At this point, I think Bioware could sell a box full of turds and I’d spend at least 60 hours of my life trying to figure out the optimal way to level the turds up.
I’ve wasted a lot of my life playing Mass Effect. You seem pretty productive for a person with a healthy personal life. Any advice there?
I’m not sure I have much general advice to give. And of course a huge part of my productivity is down to the fact that I have tons of professional privilege. But I can say a little about what works for me. I try to focus on working efficiently and keeping a steady, regular schedule. I’m at my best when I work hard in short bursts, rather than pottering around for hours and hours. I’m also at my philosophy-best at certain times of the day, especially morning and early afternoon, so I try to schedule around that. And it helps me a lot to divide my days into working hours and non-working hours, with a clear division between them and something - exercise, a walk with the dog - that helps me to shut off my brain and get myself out of philosophy mode. Letting myself relax and completely stop thinking about philosophy is a huge part of how I’m able to work efficiently. I’m also really excited about the stuff I’m working on, which helps. But I suspect all of this stuff is pretty personal, and what works well for me might be a disaster for someone else.
I guess the only general advice I have is this. It’s easy for the culture of philosophy to make you feel like you’re not dedicated enough or passionate enough or interested enough or hard-working enough just because you don’t obsess about philosophy 24/7. Don’t believe the hype!
Why did you leave Leeds?
We got an offer we couldn’t refuse! The Blue Ridge Mountains are one of my favorite places in the world, and the chance to live and work there was a pretty amazing opportunity. It was hard to say goodbye to Leeds, of course - I have a lot of love for the people there and a lot of gratitude to the department. That being said, we were both feeling pretty frustrated with some aspects of UK higher education, especially the endless bureaucracy of the REF, the ‘Impact Agenda’, and the pressure to be constantly applying for grants. It’s been nice to get away from that.
How do you think we can increase the diversity in philosophy, which is one of the least diverse disciplines?
I wish I knew! I suspect the answer is complicated and involves making concerted efforts along many different dimensions, from how we teach intro to how we handle grad admissions to how we approach hiring and promotion and everywhere in between. The problem is a deep and structural one, and there won’t be a quick or unilateral fix.
But I definitely think that we won’t solve the problem by keeping philosophy basically as it is, and just finding a friendlier, savvier way to market it. I think there are going to have to be changes in what we teach, in what we value, in what we consider ‘core’. I think Anita Allen was right, for example, when she said that it’s up philosophy to prove that it has something to offer Black women, rather than up to black women to prove they can fit into philosophy as it currently is. And I think the same thing goes for so many under-represented groups - people of color, disabled people, LGBT people. I also think that any genuine effort for diversity needs to be intersectional. I mean, I want philosophy to be a better place for women, but we won’t have come all that far if we end up making it a better place only for wealthy white cis non-disabled straight women.
But I’m cautiously optimistic. I think the very fact that we’re having these conversations – that we’re admitting that philosophy’s narrow demographics are something we should be concerned about, and that philosophy as a discipline might be at least partially to blame for them – is a good sign. Step one is admitting you have a problem.
Why is there so little diversity in philosophy?
I suspect the answer to this is incredibly complex and multi-dimensional. But at least one factor might be the way we communicate what’s philosophically valuable - from what’s in our cannon to what we cover in our intro class to what we consider ‘core’ to what areas we think a good department just *has* to cover in order to be respectable.
It’s pretty bizarre, when you think about it, that someone who spends their time wondering whether tables are real is considered to be working on a foundational area of philosophy, but someone who wonders whether races are real is doing something we consider a niche, ‘applied’ topic. Likewise, someone who tries to figure out how words like ‘might’ work is doing something core, and someone who tries to figure out how hate speech works is doing something peripheral. I don’t mean to denigrate the person thinking about epistemic modals or tables! People should work on whatever they’re interested in and whatever makes them happy. And I also don’t mean to suggest that esoteric topics are somehow not interesting to people from traditionally underrepresented groups. I think some of the best work being done right now in metaphysics and philosophy of language is being done by women and people of color, for example. But I do think that the demographic makeup of philosophy has shaped our ideas of what is central, foundational, or ‘core’. It would be bizarre if it hadn't, really. And I think that part of making philosophy more inclusive is addressing this - and, in particular, allowing people from a wider range of backgrounds to shape what we care about in philosophy, rather than only allowing people from a wider range of backgrounds to succeed in philosophy if they show they can advance the debates we already decided we cared about.
It sounds like you are saying that what is ‘core’ is related, in part, at least, to identity. What would you say to someone who argues what is core—the work of Hume, Kierkegaard, and Berkley, say--is a bit more stable and deep than that? Somebody that argues this stuff doesn’t hinge on something as contingent as identity (the fact these folks were white dudes, say)?
No, I’m not making any claims about identity. What I’m saying is a lot more simple. I think that what we know and what we care about and what we’re interested in is influenced by our experiences —that seems pretty mundane. I also think that people in different social positions have different experiences, sometimes radically so. And so I think it would be strange if what we value or consider ‘core’ in philosophy wasn’t at least partially influenced by our narrow demographics. That’s not to say that the stuff we in fact care about in philosophy isn’t important, worthwhile, etc. But I also think we’re probably undervaluing a lot of important questions, and that this might at least in part be due to our relatively narrow demographics. I suspect it’s easier, for example, for white people to think that issues of race are peripheral. I’m also willing to bet we’re missing out on some important issues and important thinkers entirely.
That being said, I do think, as Sally Haslanger and Charles Mills have argued, that it’s easier for people in certain social positions to dismiss issues of race, gender, etc as the stuff of identity politics. And it wouldn’t surprise me if our discipline’s emphasis on being willing or able to do that—to adopt what you take to be a neutral stance or view from nowhere—in order to do work that is considered ‘core’ or ‘rigorous’ could potentially be part of the problem.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice when you were an undergrad, what would it be?
You should really rethink those bootcut jeans.
haha...any exciting projects we should know about?
I’ve got a book coming out in March. I don’t know whether it’s exciting. I’m excited it’s done.
How do you see the future of philosophy? Is it something we do forever and ever or does it come to an end at some point because we've answered the questions that can be answered and realized which questions are unanswerable?
I would be sad if it was ever finished. I think there’s something wonderful about asking the tough questions, and something would be lost if we didn’t do that. But I don’t see philosophy as the kind of thing that ends. I think there will always be new questions, and new ways to approach and think about the same old questions.
How would you explain what we do to a 10 year old?
To ten year olds I just say I’m a college teacher and then change the subject to comic books.
Favorite television shows or movies?
Right now The Americans, Orphan Black, Veep, and Brooklyn-99 are probably my favorites. There’s a deep hole in my life where Parks and Recreation used to be. The X-Files is coming back in January and I’m trying not to freak out.
I LOVE VEEP! Favorite comedian?
Who are you voting for in 2016?
I don’t know yet. Bernie Sanders if I go the idealistic route, Hilary Clinton if I become convinced that’s the best pragmatic option for keeping some tea party nightmare out of the Oval Office. I still haven’t gotten over the fact that Elizabeth Warren isn’t running.
Favorite curse word?
Fuck. No contest. It’s so versatile.
Doesn’t matter, as long as it’s with the people I love.