My research area is on conservatism.
- Human Science
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 have 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
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
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
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 313 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
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.
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;14 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,15 and because it has utterly failed to address the climate change crisis.16 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.17
On this site, you'll find my research journal and a somewhat daily newsletter. My blog is at disunitedstates.org. 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.
- 1. David Benfell, "We 'need to know how it works,'" March 15, 2012, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2012/03/15/we-need-know-how-it-works; David Benfell, "'We have found the enemy, and he is us' — and our system of social organization," March 6, 2013, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2013/03/06/we-have-found-enemy-and-he-us-and-our-system-social-organization
- 2. Nathan Curry, "Humanity Is Getting Verrrrrrry Close to Extinction," Vice, August 21, 2015, http://www.vice.com/read/near-term-extinctionists-believe-the-world-is-going-to-end-very-soon; Lin Edwards, "Humans will be extinct in 100 years says eminent scientist," Phys.org, June 23, 2010, http://phys.org/news196489543.html; Cheryl Jones, "Frank Fenner sees no hope for humans," Australian, June 16, 2010, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/frank-fenner-sees-no-hope-for-humans/story-e6frgcjx-1225880091722; Dahr Jamail, "Are We Falling Off the Climate Precipice? Scientists Consider Extinction," TomDispatch, December 17, 2013, http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175785/tomgram%3A_dahr_jamail%2C_the_climate_change_scorecard/; Rob Jordan and Amy Goldberg, "Populations of early human settlers grew like an 'invasive species,' Stanford researchers find," Stanford University, April 5, 2016, http://news.stanford.edu/news/2016/april/south-america-earlyhumans-040516.html
- 3. Christopher Hayes, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy (New York: Crown, 2012); Neil Irwin, "In Scotland and Beyond, a Crisis of Faith in the Global Elite," New York Times, September 20, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/21/upshot/in-scotland-and-beyond-a-crisis-of-faith-in-the-global-elite.html
- 4. Max Weber, "Class, Status, Party," in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, ed. Charles Lemert, 4th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 119-129.
- 5. Edward "Rocky" Kolb, et al., "Three minutes and counting," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January 19, 2015, http://thebulletin.org/three-minutes-and-counting7938
- 6. Mark McDonald, "U.N. Report from Rio on Environment a ‘Suicide Note’," New York Times, June 24, 2012, http://rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/24/u-n-report-from-rio-on-environment-a-suicide-note/; Eugene Robinson, "Our politicians are flunking the vision test," Washington Post, November 3, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/eugene-robinson-our-politicians-are-flunking-the-vision-test/2014/11/03/2776c154-639e-11e4-836c-83bc4f26eb67_story.html; Roberto Savio, "The Future of the Planet and the Irresponsibility of Governments," InterPress Service, November 21, 2014, http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/the-future-of-the-planet-and-the-irresponsibility-of-governments/; Roberto Savio, "The Sad Future of Our Planet," InterPress Service, December 15, 2014, http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/the-sad-future-of-our-planet/
- 7. Steven M. Buechler, Understanding Social Movements: Theories from the Classical Era to the Present (Boulder: Paradigm, 2011).
- 8. David Benfell, "Hayek: The first 99 pages," December 8, 2013, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2013/12/06/hayek-the-first-99-pages/; David Benfell, "Alice in Wonderland without the wonder: An initial look at Atlas Shrugged," December 16, 2013, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2013/12/16/alice-in-wonderland-without-the-wonder-an-initial-look-at-atlas-shrugged/; David Benfell, "Ayn Rand’s (im)morality," December 20, 2013, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2013/12/20/ayn-rands-immorality/; David Benfell, "False dichotomy and motivation," December 21, 2013, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2013/12/21/false-dichotomy-and-motivation/; David Benfell, "Ayn Rand’s utopia," December 22, 2013, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2013/12/22/ayn-rands-utopia/; David Benfell, "Ayn Rand: The Non-Sequitur," December 26, 2013, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2013/12/26/ayn-rand-the-non-sequitur/; George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, 30th anniversary ed. (Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2006).
- 9. Henry A Giroux, "Intellectuals as Subjects and Objects of Violence," Truthout, September 10, 2013, http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/18704-intellectuals-as-subjects-and-objects-of-violence; Henry Giroux, "Neoliberalism’s War Against the Radical Imagination," Tikkun, February 11, 2014, http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/neoliberalisms-war-against-the-radical-imagination-by-henry-giroux; Henry A. Giroux, "Neoliberalism and the Machinery of Disposability," Truthout, April 8, 2014, http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/22958-neoliberalism-and-the-machinery-of-disposability
- 10. Max Weber, "Class, Status, Party," Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, ed. Charles Lemert, 4th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 119-129.
- 11. Jefferson Cowie, "Why Are Economists So Small-Minded?" Chronicle of Higher Education, February 7, 2016, http://chronicle.com/article/Why-Are-Economists-So/235159
- 12. David Benfell, "Kicking job seekers when they’re down," Not Housebroken, June 28, 2013, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=5624
- 13. Colin Woodard, "Up in Arms," Tufts, Fall, 2013, http://www.tufts.edu/alumni/magazine/fall2013/features/up-in-arms.html
- 14. Seth Borenstein, "Climate Change: U.S. Heat Waves, Wildfires And Flooding Are 'What Global Warming Looks Like'," Huffington Post, July 3, 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/03/climate-change-us-heat-wave-wildfire-flooding_n_1645616.html; Bettina Boxall, "Earth may be near tipping point, scientists warn," Los Angeles Times, June 7, 2012, http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-0607-global-tipping-20120607,0,4125302.story; William J. Burroughs, Climate Change in Prehistory: The End of the Reign of Chaos (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University, 2005); Felicity Carus, "UN urges global move to meat and dairy-free diet," Guardian, June 2, 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jun/02/un-report-meat-free-diet; Deutschewelle, "Mankind must change ways to survive, report says," May 8, 2012, http://www.dw.de/dw/article/0,,15935446,00.html; Justin Gillis, "As Permafrost Thaws, Scientists Study the Risks," New York Times, December 16, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/17/science/earth/warming-arctic-permafrost-fuels-climate-change-worries.html; Robert Henson, The Rough Guide to Climate Change, 2nd ed., (London: Rough Guides, 2008); Alok Jha, "Loss of Arctic sea ice '70% man-made'," Guardian, July 25, 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jul/26/arctic-climate-change; Fred Pearce, With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change (Boston: Beacon, 2007).
- 15. John H. Bodley, Victims of Progress, 5th ed. (Lanham, MD: AltaMira, 2008); Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995); Riane Eisler, The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economy (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2007); Christopher Hayes, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy (New York: Crown, 2012); Max Oelschlaeger, The Idea of Wilderness (New Haven, CT: Yale University, 1991); Philip E. Slater, The Chrysalis Effect: The Metamorphosis of Global Culture (Eastbourne, UK: Sussex, 2009).
- 16. Cheryl Jones, "Frank Fenner sees no hope for humans," Australian, June 16, 2010, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/frank-fenner-sees-no-hope-for-humans/story-e6frgcjx-1225880091722; Mark McDonald, "U.N. Report from Rio on Environment a ‘Suicide Note’," New York Times, June 24, 2012, http://rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/24/u-n-report-from-rio-on-environment-a-suicide-note/
- 17. Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, trans., Tao Te Ching (New York: Vintage, 1997).