My fellow kook

Following her debate performance last night (July 31), I think my question of Marianne Williamson remains, how is it that she qualified for the debates and not Mike Gravel? That said, I must credit her this:

“Jonathan [Merritt], I need your advice,” [Marianne Williamson] said, “I’m thinking about running for president of the United States. You know me, and I trust you. Do you think I should run?”

She is a woman of confidence, but there was a humility in that question that too few public servants possess. She was asking me to be dead-level honest with her, and I was determined to offer her nothing less. I told her, “If you decide to run, I doubt the media and the political establishment will give you a fair shake, and you need to be prepared for that. But I am certain of this: America needs a president like you.”[1]

I would say something similar of human science, that it goes against every value of neoliberal society, and that given the severe deficiencies of neoliberalism[2] it will be ostracized even as it is precisely what our society needs.

It’s not much of an analogy. Human science is, some would say, an archaic field of academia, what I call the “mother of the social sciences,” retaining her own separate identity juxtaposed with, still, a relationship to each of them, even as they ignore her.[3] Among neoliberalism’s many failings, it

particularizes and essentializes human beings as economic units of production, compelling them to compete globally on terms over which they have little or no control, such as their costs of living, environmental regulations, labor regulations, and taxes. Workers do not control the political or economic systems in any country but they absorb the costs of a “race to the bottom” in wages, benefits, and working conditions while capitalists grow ever richer and seek even to replace poorly-paid labor with automation. No concession is offered to human beings who still need to live with these developments: It is “efficiency” alone, defined in terms of profits for the rich, that matters.[4]

This is an inadequate view of humanity even within a capitalist paradigm and the problems of the gig economy, especially Uber and Lyft,[5] exemplify its failings.

Even as neoliberalism has been utterly discredited intellectually,[6] political and economic elites cling to it because it serves their own purposes and because they see no alternative that protects their position and privileges relative to the rest of us.

Human science encompasses a number of approaches. Among them, it exposes economic and political power relationships and it illustrates the deficiencies of a quantitative approach, directly challenging neoliberalism’s reduction of all value to monetary value. I believe that, ultimately, this is why the last human science program (at Saybrook University) is closing down. I believe this, before all the other reasons I suspect for the failure of my job hunt,[7] is why my skills and education find little application in our society.

Even if, as I also believe, human science is precisely the intellectual approach our society now desperately needs.

Sure, Jonathan Merritt concedes, it is, as he describes the media as having done, entirely possible to “use[] her words to construct a distorted portrait of a wacky woman [Williamson] with weird beliefs.”[8] But, he writes,

I feel more affinity with a peace-loving Williamson right now than I do with some of my Christian brothers and sisters who seem happy to tolerate a resurgence of sexism, white supremacy and homophobia in our country so long as the stock market is soaring.[9]

And so when I see a candidate like Williamson, whose spiritual approach runs entirely counter to the prevailing political paradigm, I have to pause, even as I am extremely unlikely to endorse her, because my own intellectual approach also runs entirely counter to the prevailing political and economic paradigm.

  1. [1]Jonathan Merritt, “I’ve worked for Marianne Williamson. She is no kook,” Washington Post, July 31, 2019,
  2. [2]David Benfell, “Ethics,” Not Housebroken, n.d.,
  3. [3]David Benfell, “The mother of the social sciences,” Not Housebroken, n.d.,
  4. [4]David Benfell, “Ethics,” Not Housebroken, n.d.,
  5. [5]David Benfell, “Watching the ridesharing shit go down the toilet,” Not Housebroken, July 30, 2019,
  6. [6]Mark Blyth, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Oxford, UK: Oxford University, 2013); Daniel Stedman Jones, Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 2012); Robert Kuttner, “Austerity never works: Deficit hawks are amoral — and wrong,” Salon, May 5, 2013,; Dennis Loo, Globalization and the Demolition of Society (Glendale, CA: Larkmead, 2011); Thomas Piketty, Jeffrey Sachs, Heiner Flassbeck, Dani Rodrik and Simon Wren-Lewis, “Austerity Has Failed: An Open Letter From Thomas Piketty to Angela Merkel,” Nation, July 6, 2015,; John Quiggin, “Austerity Has Been Tested, and It Failed,” Chronicle of Higher Education, May 20, 2013,; David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, “How Austerity Kills,” New York Times, May 12, 2013,; David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, “Paul Krugman’s right: Austerity kills,” Salon, May 19, 2013,
  7. [7]David Benfell, “About my job hunt,” Not Housebroken, n.d., “” target=”_blank”>
  8. [8]Jonathan Merritt, “I’ve worked for Marianne Williamson. She is no kook,” Washington Post, July 31, 2019,
  9. [9]Jonathan Merritt, “I’ve worked for Marianne Williamson. She is no kook,” Washington Post, July 31, 2019,

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