I’ve had problems finding work for a long time—my problems marketing myself really cannot be reduced to the current financial crisis, though a pattern of increasingly severe recessions certainly has not helped.
Today I’m remembering how I responded to an ad for a warehouse job, only to discover that it was really a door-to-door sales job. After a couple days trying this, I remember walking back to my car, thinking to myself that this is what this society had come to, where the only jobs that were being created were sales jobs. It was, for me, a terribly depressing moment. And I would also learn, going door-to-door for a non-profit organization that I really cannot sell even that which I believe in. It’s simply not how I’m put together.
In retrospect, it’s possible to connect that difficulty selling with the incredibly crappy jobs I’ve bounced from and to: these entailing working for the only employers that would hire me, the ones who are more in it for the power over others—like John Lazar at Luxor Cab in San Francisco, proclaiming loudly to the entire taxi yard that he got a hard-on (yes, he actually said this) telling some driver something—than for the money and who regard human beings as infinitely replaceable because there is an unending stream of people desperate for any work at all, people who, like myself, aren’t able to market themselves as deserving and worthy human beings by capitalist standards.
Reading Jürgen Habermas, I learn that historically we really are not considered human beings, that the discrepancy I had observed between my experience of my own life chances and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, actually has historical basis. Habermas, at least in so far as I have gotten in my reading, attributes a decline of critical thinking to the decline of literary culture to consumer culture, which he casts in parallel with the enfranchisement of people who do not own property and therefore, he presumes, cannot acquire the education which he apparently sees as the only path to critical thinking skills. He seems to mourn the passing of those days when those who had formed a bourgeois class critiqued policy in societies and gathering spots.
The trouble is that I had to go back to school to understand all this. And the one kind of person these employers will not hire is someone who betrays any sign of intelligence, for such an employee might recognize how they exploit the power they have over workers. Ultimately, it was why Lazar fired me (he said he didn’t like my laptop, but apparently my co-workers’ romance novels, CD players, and even a television set were okay).
Even on a more mundane level, I remember when I was driving cab in Marin County for Radio Cab. I first went to work there when Don Tope owned the company and he had invested considerable effort programming a spreadsheet into an early PC to handle gate charges and driver accounts (most cab drivers lease their cabs for fixed shifts; they pay for the privilege of working). Tope was an interesting case: He entered a business which I now believe no real business person would touch with a ten foot pole, because the numbers never really make sense, and I think he really did, in his own sight, try to be fair with drivers. He set up a scheme which assumed a correlation between miles driven and profitability and offered drivers a break if they hadn’t driven very many miles (and also charged them more if they’d driven a high number of miles).
My response to this was to find an early device that would now be called a personal digital assistant. It was pretty crude, but among other features I made good use of, it had a spreadsheet. I figured out Tope’s scheme and programmed it into the spreadsheet, so I would always know how much gate I would owe at the end of the day, and added other features to help make a very unpredictable (I would characterize it as daily sheer terror) financial situation more predictable, like estimating how much my gas was going to cost (drivers pay for that, as well). That frightened him, and I never understood why.
I think that now I do understand why. Intelligence frightens capitalists. Because at some level, they must know that what they’re doing is a scam. They must know—even the capitalist libertarians among them who refuse to acknowledge it—that, as I now know Max Weber recognized, “the most elemental economic fact” is that any system of exchange privileges whomever is most able to decline a deal, and that because this is a positive (de-stabilizing) feedback, that the advantage they gain accrues at the expense of whomever is less able to decline the deal. An intelligent person will recognize this on some level at least in part, which means that an intelligent person poses an existential challenge to the pretended legitimacy of capitalist arrangements.
That makes my job hunt even harder. It’s bad enough I’m an intellectual nauseated by marketing in an intensely anti-intellectual society where the marketplace is increasingly seen as the sole arbiter of value. I am no longer even eligible for the shit jobs I used to bounce between. That’s a great convenience for the status quo. I can be dismissed as a member of the “undeserving poor,” ignored, and scapegoated. As such, my ability to challenge the status quo is strictly limited to the abysmally small number of readers of my blog, people who for the most part are already persuaded of much of what I have to say.
It also means my life is untenable. I have now been stuck living with my mother for over three years. I can honestly say that in the thirty-three years since my first job I have tried everything I can. I tried working in high technology (the so-called “jobs of the future”), I tried working in shit jobs, and I’ve tried going for academia. It hasn’t worked, and my prospects, even if I finish the Ph.D., are dim. I cannot adapt to this society and this society, for its own sake, will not make space for me. I still need to die.
- “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/↩
- Jürgen Habermas, The structural transformation of the public sphere: An inquiry into a category of bourgeois society (Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1991).↩
- Max Weber, “Class, Status, Party,” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, 4th. ed., ed. Charles Lemert (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 120.↩
- Herbert J. Gans, “The Uses of Undeservingness,” in Great Divides: Readings in Social Inequality in the United States, 3rd. ed., ed. Thomas M. Shapiro (New York: McGraw Hill).↩
- Peter Conn, “We Need to Acknowledge the Realities of Employment in the Humanities,” Chronicle of Higher Education, April 4, 2010,http://chronicle.com/article/We-Need-to-Acknowledge-the/64885/; Billie Hara, “How Do You, NTT Faculty, Pay Your Rent?” Chronicle of Higher Education, March 23, 2012, http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/how-do-you-ntt-faculty-pay-your-rent/39146↩