Talking about myself

ORCID iD: My research area is on conservatism.


Graton, June 23, 2012


A warning

This page is not at all friendly to those who think our present system of social organization is ideal, the best that can be achieved, or even acceptable. I am not in any sense a "winner" in this system and somewhat unintentionally directed much of my education to understanding why I am not a winner. It turns out that this system is inherently unjust to most of the life on this planet with consequences that are already disastrous for many more lifeforms than myself.1 This understanding has profoundly changed me; I no longer accept many of our society's foundational myths. I am a radical in the sense of one who has tried to see the world as it is, rather than what it is supposed to be, and to draw the conclusions that follow from those observations. If indeed this system is the best we can do—and I now fear that we have too little time left in which to make a change—then our extinction, while a tragedy for the many other species we take with us,2 will be richly deserved. If you strongly believe otherwise, you might as well stop reading now; we won't get along anyway.


The problem I'm trying to solve with this page is to provide some sort of self-introduction for those who might consider some sort of relationship with me, be it employment, romantic, or otherwise.

It's somewhat mysterious how I should go about this. I am a scholar, not a quantifiable unit of production (figure 2), and the whole idea of some sort of skills-matching seems really weird to me. I do not want to be hired for my passable Microsoft Word skills or because I have some limited ability in technology or because I'm a warm body. I bring a lot more than that to the table and if that's what you're looking for, we're simply not going to get along for very long.

I am interested in ideas. That's how I am able, for example, to understand that conservatism is not monolithic, but rather a terribly fraught alliance of seven different kinds of conservatism. These "tendencies" of conservatism share some, but not all, ideas; there are overlaps and conflicts.

In a series of critical and thoughtful analyses Mr. Benfell has demonstrated an extraordinary level of scholarship. The breadth of David's reading and ability to synthesize and then to ask original and penetrating questions, while challenging to cultural norms and accepted frameworks, is illustrative of an originality that is demanded by the complexity of contemporary social problems. The essays developed for this course demonstrate that David is quite ready to take on the challenge of dissertation research.

—JoAnn McAllister
December 31, 2013

Fig. 2. If you absolutely must have a quantifiable accomplishment. Now, go away. I am interested in the failure of our present system of social organization.3 For instance, that any market system of exchange inherently privileges whomever is more able to say no, and that this privilege is cumulative, leading to a widening gulf between rich and poor.4 I am interested in this system's failure to address existential threats to human survival,5 such as climate change.6

David's understanding of sustainability issues is deep and his work on the issues is highly creative. In this course he grasped the material and then went on to analysis of the modes of thought that resist sustainability, the limits of individual efforts and plans for research that may assist broader change.

—Marc Pilisuk
May 1, 2013

Relationships that won't work

Alienated labor is really not my thing.7 But I am also absolutely not entrepreneurial and could not sell a glass of lemonade even to someone dying of thirst in the desert. It just doesn't work. I have tried it at terribly low points in my life and I can't even sell something I believe in. Yes, that means I can't do fundraising.

I am terribly ill-suited for the prevailing doctrine of neoliberalism. I reject capitalist libertarianism, its neoliberalist offspring, so-called anarcho-capitalism, and all its variants.8 I object to the neoliberal preeminence of market value over all other value.9 I have trouble tolerating economic arrangements of exchange that privilege whomever has the greater power to say no and that cyclically exacerbate inequality.10 I tolerate markets at all only because I live in a market-based society. Unfortunately,

Economics has become the benchmark for other intellectual endeavors; its practitioners rule policy debates; and, sadly, its mathematical modeling has become a closet form of anti-intellectualism — mathematically abstracted, as it tends to be, from real-world problems — that is creeping into other disciplines. . . . [But] [e]conomists also have less regard — or perhaps greater disdain? — for other disciplines, as well as much more tightly wound methods, unified frameworks, and core principles that appear unchallengeable from within or outside the field. All of this condemns economists to a distinct epistemological insularity, a unified worldview that demarcates them from the rest of the academy. The more economists agree among themselves, the further they drift from everyone else. . . .

From inside its fenced-in monocultural landscape, [economics] students are taught that they have arrived at the land of objectivity, that they have passed beyond the ideological and into the scientific. Not only is this protectionism, but it creates a rub with democratic theory and practice. It is, essentially, an invitation to opt out of the greater intellectual struggles in which the rest of us are engaged. By protecting itself from the contagion of outside ideas, economics offers up a more extreme version of the Balkanization and creeping anti-­intellectualism that are apparent elsewhere in the academy. Its hegemonic role, however, makes all the more important the need for the field to open up and transcend its preoccupation with the blackboard fictions of economic modeling.11

In a society which has elevated capitalism well beyond the condition of an economic system, I am a heretic and a blasphemer. And that I am not a unit of production means my résumé isn't terribly meaningful. This, in addition to the facts that I am really, really not a marketer or salesperson; that I am an introvert, whose social network is limited and largely from a time when I was trying to fit into the high technology industry; and other factors, makes it hard for me to get hired,12 or even to get a date. In fact, you might say that the notion of marketing myself feels like prostitution and that I am repelled by the deceptions, game-playing, and manipulations that generally pass for courtship in our society.

In addition, my patience for idiots has diminished over time. I am collecting suggestions on things to do if you want me to take you seriously here.

I have been unemployed (or gainlessly employed) for a long time

In an interview, [Angus] Deaton explained, “The cohort that entered the labor market in the ’70s on down, their jobs earnings and prospects are worse. That affected their marriage prospects. Marriages got screwed up. They had children out of wedlock. Their pain levels [are] going up.” All that contributes to the deaths of despair [from suicide, alcoholism, and drug overdoses, particularly from opioid painkillers].13

Imagine being sealed in a concrete tomb, buried a mile underground. No matter how loudly you scream, no matter how hard you pound your fists on the walls, no one will hear you. This is what my job search often feels like.

But in fact it's worse. Because some people do hear me. They have a fantasy that something will surely come through for me. They have been saying this, in one form or another, since I lost my last real job in the dot-com crash in 2001. It never happens, but they just carry on with their lives, as year, after year, after year passes.

It is my problem after all, not theirs. But it is a problem I am incapable of solving on my own.

It should be noted in this context that "the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions" and "the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts" are part of international law, recognized by nearly every country in the world except the United States.14 I, among many others, have been deprived of these rights, which are not recognized anywhere within the political mainstream in the U.S.

The obvious path: Academia

Ph.D.s do have transferable skills — even desirable ones! — beyond teaching and thinking deeply about one topic for an extended period of time. The first step to a successful move outside of academia is identifying your transferable skills. The second, more difficult task is figuring out how you might use those skills in a future career — one that you might actually enjoy. And the third, probably hardest, step is making those skills obvious to those who might hire you.15

All of what Elizabeth Keenan says above, except the phrase (not even a complete sentence) about "teaching and thinking deeply about one topic for an extended period of time,"16 is a mystery to me—and in fact, I found the advice in her three-part series useless. She found joy as a real estate agent and her approach to identifying an "alt-ac" career choice depends on a reductionist self-inventory of transferable skills17 that feels profoundly unjust and extremely distasteful. On one level, I understand why she adopts this approach; it conforms to the predominant paradigm in our society. But it's not who I am. I'm post-disciplinary and my view of nearly everything in the universe, including every human being, including myself, is as a system, usually embedded in and embedding other systems,18 in each of which the whole does not equal the sum of the parts (with emergent properties comprising the difference),19 so on another level, this entire approach is so profoundly wrong it actually defies my comprehension.

I really want to be a professor and that's what career aptitude tests say I should be. It's just not realistic; academia increasingly hires only adjuncts, who may effectively be paid less than minimum wage and who enjoy no job security. Tenure-track positions are rare and getting rarer.20 And as Kelly Baker realized,

the faculty job market is not actually a proper market but an illusion of one. Academia projects the illusion while relying upon the casualization of labor for universities and colleges to run. Just-in-time labor becomes preferred, and graduate students and contingent workers fill the gaps in teaching demand.21

Searching for work, not exploitation

So I honestly have no idea what I should do and the tale of my job hunt is a sad one. The mismatch between social expectations and my talents, abilities, and expectations appears extreme. Further, at my age, I am well past the point where I need to start worrying about a time when I can no longer work. I need stable employment with decent pay, in part to help pay down my student loans, and benefits, including retirement. Bullshit jobs simply won't suffice.

In neoliberal society, it is increasingly expected that while the wealthy may enjoy considerable financial security, everyone else must content themselves with jobs, if they can even find them, that offer no security whatsoever, preferably as "independent contractors," but often temporary or part-time, that last a couple years or less, culminating in the "gigs" of Uber and Lyft style companies.22 To rise above this level, even with a Ph.D., requires an ability to market oneself which I simply do not possess, but which I am assumed to possess by so-called "career coaches"23 with the same arrogance that some Silicon Valley folks assume everyone can learn to code. And the lack of that marketing ability compounds my difficulty when I do find myself out of work, for I have been unable to find gainful employment since the dot-com bust in 2001.

One problem is that I am post-disciplinary, which is to say, I understand the "disciplines" of specialized academic labor, such as communication, sociology, anthropology, economics, and the like, and see them as blinders. I noticed, even while still an undergraduate, that scholars in the social sciences would make bonehead mistakes when, inevitably, they crossed interdisciplinary boundaries. These boundaries are arbitrary, so scholars really can't avoid crossing them, but they are much too often ill-prepared when they do so.

But more than that, even with a Ph.D., my education is, by contemporary standards, inadequate. In neoliberal society, rather, remember "jobs of the future?"

Increasingly, however, employers have discovered a way to offload the nettlesome cost of worker training. The trick is to relabel it as education, then complain that your prospective employees aren’t getting the right kind.

"Business leaders have doubts that higher-education institutions in the U.S. are graduating students who meet their particular businesses’ needs," reads the first sentence of a Gallup news release issued last year. Barely a third of executives surveyed for the Lumina Foundation agreed that "higher-education institutions in this country are graduating students with the skills and competences that my business needs."

Bemoaning the unpreparedness of undergraduates isn’t new. Today, however, those complaints are getting a more sympathetic hearing from the policy makers who govern public higher education.24

This is a scam that bears on the career-oriented focus of for-profit schools and an "anxiety-driven preference for career-focused classes and majors." This scam is accompanied by an expectation that universities will perform research and development not for basic science but to "keep university researchers involved in product development but off the company payroll." This scam blames "’60s-vintage faculty radicalism or political correctness run rampant" when what education is in fact supposed to be is broad and humanistic.25

I couldn't help but go for broad and humanistic, even as my then-favorite professor warned me that the higher up I went in education, the more I'd have to specialize. Instead, I wound up doing a Ph.D. in Human Science at Saybrook University which decided to cut off admissions to and "teach out" the program in 2015 (allowing me and other existing students to complete our degrees).26 Human Science is an example of the very sort of program that is in fact unacceptable in neoliberal society and Saybrook was both betraying its own heritage and acquiescing to that reality in shutting down the program. But the degree I earned points to my true value, a value which the present job market is incapable of recognizing.

I've just never been interested in specializing. Even when I was a computer programmer, what I prized most was not the craft of programming itself, but rather my exposure to other fields of knowledge. My first two jobs took me into the casino industry and into ecological land management. However, my third job, the one I burned out on programming in, was strictly business application programming. And it must be said that I have absolutely no interest in the business of other people's money.

When, having fallen out of high technology for the third time in the dot-com bust, I returned to school in Fall, 2003, I was coming to understand that whatever line of employment politicians call the "jobs of the future" only works until capitalists figure out how to export those jobs. Then, of course, I would have to return to school, rack up more student loan debt, acquire those skills, hope those jobs actually materialized, and that they didn't disappear overseas before I finished acquiring those skills. This led me away from anything I was raised to understand as "real work" and along a social science path culminating in human science and a pragmatic critical theory. This path has helped me to understand, in great detail, much of why my life has worked out the way it has.

It also meant I had to hope that employers would indeed value skills they claim to value, like critical thinking and communication.27 In fact, they do not. Instead, it is increasingly apparent that they are willing to hire only people who already possess extremely specialized skills needed in their niche and that they are unwilling to invest in training for those skills.28 And even when people with such skills exist, employers are determined to pay them as little as possible.29 This is what is really meant when we hear about "structural unemployment"30 and it is employers' unwillingness to pay people well that underlies H-1B visa abuse on their false claims that they cannot find skilled workers.31

Discarded by the corporate state, dispossessed of social provisions and deprived of the economic, political and social conditions that enable viable and critical modes of agency, expanding populations of Americans now find themselves inhabiting zones of abandonment marked by deep inequalities in power, wealth and income. Such zones are sites of rapid disinvestment, places marked by endless spectacles of violence, and supportive of the neoliberal logics of containment, commodification, surveillance, militarization, cruelty and punishment.

These zones of hardship and terminal exclusion constitute a hallmark signature and intensification of a neoliberal politics of disposability that is relentless in the material and symbolic violence it wages against the 99% for the benefit of the new financial elite. Borrowing from Hannah Arendt, one could say that capitalist expropriation, dispossession and disinvestment has reached a point where life has become completely unbearable for over half of the American public living in or near poverty.[footnote elided]

Evidence of such zones can be seen in the war against immigrants, poor minorities, the homeless, young people living in debt, the long-term unemployed, workers, the declining middle class, all of whom have been pushed into invisible communities of control, harassment, security and the governing-through-punishment complex.32

The H-1B situation dovetails with my experience of working class life in between my high tech jobs; employers revel in a freedom to treat workers as infinitely replaceable. Worker vulnerability (social inequality) is the inherent outcome of any economic system of exchange,33 as the unemployed are compelled to accept lower pay and worse working conditions and the employed fear losing their jobs to those who will accept those conditions.34 The problem is not limited to less-valued workers. High tech firms allegedly agreed not to "poach" each other's employees in an illegal attempt to keep salaries down in the very field most often used to justify H-1B visas.35

Under conditions of deregulation that have prevailed since the 1970s,36 jobs are increasingly abusive37 and it turns out that the entire job market itself has become abusive except for those who happen to possess the arbitrary attributes that make them in demand. These attributes are not simply about the skills that enable one to fit nicely and neatly into disciplinary boxes ("specialized niches") marked by arbitrary boundaries. While race and gender discrimination unquestionably persist, one also needs to be young, have good credit, a solid work history, not to have been unemployed for very long,38 and preferably not to be unemployed at all.39

On-line job application systems

Matthew Yglesias offers a hypothesis that "it's too easy to apply for a job these days" because, he claims, "the internet has dramatically decreased the cost of identifying an open job listing and sending in an application. But digital technology has done essentially nothing to make it easier to evaluate candidates."40 Bullshit. First, apparently Yglesias has never met an online application system; if he had, he wouldn't be nearly so dismissive of the effort required to submit an application on such systems. These systems exist to handle the massive quantities of applications that Yglesias sees as unmanageable. They are pervasive at colleges and universities that would be my most obvious employers, but I have also seen them at—surprise, surprise—high technology companies that used to be my primary prospects for employment and at other employers whom, often in desperation, I have applied for work with. It is not hard to understand that the way that these systems manage the vast, purportedly unmanageable quantities of applications is to filter them. Now, I can't say what criteria these systems are filtering based on because I don't really know. I obviously suspect many of the multiple forms of discrimination noted above and what I do know is that in the many years that I've been seeking work, I have not gotten one single interview as a result of an on-line application. I have no doubt that I have reliably been getting filtered out over a timespan including when I had only negligible education (an ancient A.A. degree in Business Data Processing, if you must ask), through a return to school in which I completed degrees all the way from a Bachelor's (B.A. in Mass Communication, M.A. in Speech Communication) to a doctorate (Ph.D. in Human Science) and during which I have had multiple people review my application materials. Nothing I have done in all that time has made any discernible difference.

On-line job search sites

I have heard back on résumés and job histories I've posted on sites such as Monster, CareerBuilder, Idealist, and Indeed. Each and every one of these responses has been some form of scam intended to prey upon desperate jobseekers who might be persuaded to take a risk they can't afford and shouldn't accept. I've even seen these scams when I listed myself as a tutor (and, still, not one legitimate response). I am also listed on academic job sites such as Chronicle Vitae, Higher Ed Jobs, the Versatile PhD, and the California Community College Registry, all to no avail.


If one indeed understands job-hunting as an insiders' game, in which jobs are listed publicly only to serve institutional or legal requirements, but almost never for actual hiring, then it follows that I should be seeking jobs through friends and family connections. This is, in fact, the only way I've ever found a good job (even when my friends have thought the job wasn't so good). Since the dot-com crash, their silence has been deafening despite multiple pleas and their only answer has been to continue in patterns that have only failed me.41 (It is getting awfully hard not to take this personally.) And as my personal finances have deteriorated (I was sustaining myself in large part through student loans), I am less and less able to afford being out in the world "networking."

Networking would not, in any event, be my strong suit. I am an introvert and my purported "intelligence" (which is not always an advantage) imposes an additional distance between myself and most other people. I am simply not interested in and cannot feign an interest in the sorts of things that most people find interesting, like popular entertainment or sports.

Whom would I work with?

Since it's hard to conceive what I would do, perhaps it is better to approach the question from the perspective of whom I would prefer to work with:

  • Organizations concerned about sustainability and which acknowledge the extreme role of livestock production in environmental destruction.
  • Organizations which seek to advance a liberal education and which would resist the neoliberal trend toward for-profit education (a scam) and instrumentalization of higher education.
  • Organizations concerned with social, economic, and environmental justice.
  • Vegans, though I prefer the label "vegetarian ecofeminist"
  • Non-smokers (I'm allergic)
  • Highly educated people

I am willing, even anxious, to relocate

Fig. 3. The eleven nations in the U.S. (Brian Stauffer, Tufts University, fair use). I have lived in and around California almost my entire life, but much as I love the scenery here, I also have a love of exploration that sustains a largely unfulfilled interest in other parts of the world (yes, I'm willing to travel and/or relocate, and probably should relocate to the area marked as Yankeedom in figure 342 and would prefer to be in an area with, overall, lower temperatures and higher humidity than where I am now). I am also interested in Portland, Oregon because I am vegetarian ecofeminist, and Portland appears to be a great place to be for vegetarian ecofeminists.

I have a broad background

Graton, August 3, 2012 My employment background is diverse. As an early (1979) A.A. degree in Business Data Processing suggests, I had a smattering of lower-division business classes (not my principal interest) at a junior college and began my working career as a computer programmer/analyst. I worked mostly in solo settings. Since then, I've worked in a variety of situations, only a few of which were technology-related. I was drawn into the tail-end of the dot-com boom as a technical writer at Linuxcare. (I learned later that technical writers are poorly regarded within the high tech industry; at the time, this was the best job I had ever had, both in terms of how I was treated and how I was compensated.) I also worked briefly as a junior-level system administrator as the dot-com crash began to unfold.

I am veganGraton, August 3, 2012

Critical Theory, applied, or other things people might want to know about me

I am vegetarian ecofeminist, anarchist, naturist, and Taoist. I am vegetarian ecofeminist in part because as an anarchist, opposition to hierarchy of humans over animals follows from opposition to hierarchy among humans; in part out of concern for the environment;43 and in part for health reasons. I am anarchist largely because the dominator system of social organization is a failed system that leads to violence and injustice against humans, animals, and the environment,44 and because it has utterly failed to address the climate change crisis.45 I am naturist because I believe that personal autonomy is an unalienable right that people may do with their bodies what they choose and that no one may impose anything—be it second-hand tobacco smoke, clothing, military service, or pregnancies—on those bodies. I am Taoist because I am, and because Taoism does not anthropomorphize the mystical.46

Graton, August 3, 2012

Graton, June 23, 2012 On this site, you'll find my research journal. Nearby, hosted in the same room but under a different domain name, is my blog. My profile photograph, which also serves as the site logo image, was taken by Suzy Fisher on November 5, 2016. The remaining photography, but not the map, on this page is all mine.

And that's probably about as much about myself as I can stand to write. My intolerable résumé is here.