What I am not

When I was a child, I mostly lived in San Francisco, but for a couple years, we moved to Mount Lebanon, a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My school memories in both places are principally of having been bullied and relentlessly teased. I had never fit in in San Francisco, and I was also failing to fit in in Mt. Lebanon.

At one point, I protested to my mother that I wasn’t being selected for a team to play some sport (probably football, but I don’t really remember). She called the school and the authorities did indeed intervene. And so I was selected for a team:

Several things were immediately apparent:

  • I was selected for a team because, and only because, the team captains (other kids) were required to do so. This is what the authorities could do.

  • I still wasn’t liked. This is what the authorities could not do.

  • I had absolutely zero talent or inclination for the sport we were playing or, really, any sport. I would later be convinced and, to this day, I retain a suspicion that physical education teachers gain some form of perverse sexual gratification from watching pubescent kids exercise, and also to this day, I have zero interest in athleticism and in fact hold it in quite some disdain.

  • My appeal to authority and their resulting intervention were not helpful.

It would not be the last time I would make the mistake of overestimating my abilities, underestimating the difficulties of what I was seeking to take on, and trying to fit in where I did not belong.

But in many ways, I am still that kid who doesn’t fit in, whom no one wants on their team, whom no one likes or loves, and who, now even with a Ph.D., is cast aside as trash on the side of the information superhighway. It hurts. A lot. Hence, my fury.

I seek not to repeat my mistakes. And so I seek to be very clear about what I can and cannot do, what I am, and what I am not.

  1. I am not, these days, much impressed with humanity. Most clearly, our treatment of nonhuman animals, but as well, the glee with which we discard other human beings—hence, my job hunt—and kick them, as with the poor generally[1] and the homeless in particular, when they are down, can merit only absolute condemnation for our species.

  2. I am not really a radical:

  3. I am not impressed by the economic and political status quo or its agents:
  4. I am clearly not a marketer or salesperson of any kind. If I were, I would have managed to sell my way into a job by now. My experience is quite the opposite: If I have to market something, it is doomed. This also means that any attempt I make at entrepreneurship is similarly doomed—this requires sales ability and my Ph.D. is sufficiently amorphous that it is unclear what, exactly, I would be “selling.” It also means I can’t just write a book: Yes, I can write the book, but authors are now required to market their work and I can’t do that. Finally, it means I cannot successfully seek grants to pay for scholarly work.[2]

  5. I am not really a high technology person:

  6. I am not impressed with big data (mining) or artificial intelligence idiocy:

  7. I also will not be involved in anything unethical (see my ethics page). That means, at least in part:

    • No deception of any kind. Deception includes both lying and the withholding of relevant information. It undermines personal autonomy.[3] I understand this to include all forms of sales and marketing, public relations, and propaganda. It also includes any support or tolerance for neoliberalism, which persists ideologically,[4] despite being utterly discredited intellectually.[5] In general, I will not subscribe to, nor will I support, any epistemological theory[6] in which a claim held to be true either merely because wealthy or powerful people say it is true or merely because it protects or benefits such people.[7]

    • Research or inquiry must protect participants and ensure that they benefit as well. This includes fairness, informed consent, voluntary participation, confidentiality, and anonymization. I will respect both individual and group rights.[8]

    • I oppose structural (denying important rights, such as to adequate food, shelter, health care, and self-actualization[9]) and physical violence against human and non-human animals[10]:

      • I reject the neoliberal devaluation, particularization, and essentialization of human beings as economic units of production compelled to compete with other human beings on conditions (such as the cost of living, environmental regulation, and labor regulation) over which they have little or no control. I will seek to undermine employers who revel in their freedom to abuse commodified human or non-human beings. Such abuse includes low pay, poor working conditions, and the exploitation of non-human animals.

      • Max Weber saw capitalism—but his point applies to any market system of exchange—as inherently privileging whomever has the greater power to say no, that is, the rich. The benefits and handicaps that follow from each act of exchange, each transaction, are cumulative; hence, economic systems of exchange inherently function to widen social inequality:[11]

        I have personal experience with these effects. I abhor them. And anybody who wants me to think better of capitalism, or any market system of exchange, should have done more to contain the absolute glee I have witnessed among the powerful in their freedom to treat workers as infinitely replaceable.[12]

    • I am not tolerant of bigots, whether they be wealthy and powerful[13] or members of any subaltern group, who insist or imply that their particular grievance is the only injustice that needs attending to or that their grievance is somehow more pressing than anyone else’s.[14] Bigotry deploys difference as a wedge between us and is incompatible with the building or sustenance of an inclusive movement:

      In general, I see justice as requiring that we address all subaltern group grievances pretty much simultaneously; it isn’t justice for all otherwise and the settlement that must be reached requires that all our interests be taken into account. So I think the idea that some groups deserve a higher priority than others cannot work, even if it were somehow fair to treat them that way.

      That said, I am aghast at the racism I am seeing in Pittsburgh, which I see combining with gun nuttery and a fetishization of combat to strongly suggest the possibility of white supremacist militia groups in the area:

      I feel powerless to do anything about it and, absent a real job here, I may be moving out of Pittsburgh by the time my lease expires on June 29, 2021.

    • I am also not impressed when people, usually from other subaltern groups, object to what I say, not on its merits, but because I, a white male, presumed to be privileged, have said it. There is most definitely an issue when privileged people claim to speak on behalf of subaltern groups,[15] but this amounts to a denial of my subaltern status and is an example both of how too many people view “privilege” as a binary rather than in a context of kyriarchy (see above) and of how subaltern groups among the Left have come to other others, especially white males, rather than building or sustaining an inclusive movement.[16]

      I will not be an “ally” when that means to sit down and shut up or “mind my lane.”

      I will be an ally when that means that we walk together, talk together, and jointly work together to address all our grievances.

    • Having suffered structural, physical, and verbal violence in my life,[17] I will act to affirm the development of human and non-human animals to their capabilities.[18]

  8. If customer service and technical support is really what I’ve been seeing lately,[19] then I am most definitely not a customer service representative.

I need to live but I also need to be able to live with myself. Surely, there should be a place for someone like me but, after so many years of failure, Robert Merton’s dilemma seems acute:[20] I lack acceptable means to legitimate goals; I insist on both, but I am no longer clear even on what jobs I should be seeking.


This page is part of a series on my job hunt:

  1. Grievance as fury

  2. Poverty, as a constraint on networking opportunities, as a constraint on social mobility, and as rationalizing dehumanization, but also as a perspective on what I am expected to do to find work and its absolute futility.

  3. The transparent absurdity of my job search since 2001 and, after twenty long and infuriating years, the inescapable conclusion that yes, the job market really is a scam.[21] and that I face discrimination, it which it is apparent that there is nothing I can do to overcome biases arrayed against me.

  4. The denial of my human rights and therefore, my reduction to subhuman status.

  5. That which I am not, whether or not neoliberalism or any other expression of power relations requires it.

  6. That which I should be, largely as a consequence of my education.

  7. That which I am, including my résumé

  1. [1]Herbert J. Gans, The War Against The Poor (New York: Basic, 1995); Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004).
  2. [2]Even scholars who are affiliated with non-elite institutions encounter extreme difficulty securing grants: Jeffrey Herlihy-Mera, “How Elitism Marginalizes Academics,” Chronicle of Higher Education, December 5, 2019, https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/20191204-Herlihy-Mera
  3. [3]Sissela Bok, Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life (New York: Vintage, 1999).
  4. [4]Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury, “Trade Liberalization for Development?” InterPress Service, November 5, 2019, http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/11/trade-liberalization-development/
  5. [5]Mark Blyth, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Oxford, UK: Oxford University, 2013); David Fickling, “The Gig Economy Compromised Our Immune System,” Yahoo!, July 25, 2020, https://finance.yahoo.com/news/gig-economy-compromised-immune-system-000048670.html; Amir Fleischmann, “The Myth of the Fiscal Conservative,” Jacobin, March 5, 2017, https://jacobinmag.com/2017/03/fiscal-conservative-social-services-austerity-save-money; Jason Hickel, “Progress and its discontents,” New Internationalist, August 7, 2019, https://newint.org/features/2019/07/01/long-read-progress-and-its-discontents; Daniel Stedman Jones, Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 2012); Stephanie Kelton, The Deficit Myth (New York: Public Affairs, 2021); Robert Kuttner, “Austerity never works: Deficit hawks are amoral — and wrong,” Salon, May 5, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/05/05/austerity_never_works_deficit_hawks_are_amoral_and_wrong/; Eric Levitz, “Neoliberalism Died of COVID. Long Live Neoliberalism!” Review of Shutdown, by Adam Tooze, New York, October 14, 2021, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/10/neoliberalism-died-of-covid-long-live-neoliberalism.html; 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, http://www.thenation.com/article/austerity-has-failed-an-open-letter-from-thomas-piketty-to-angela-merkel/; John Quiggin, “Austerity Has Been Tested, and It Failed,” Chronicle of Higher Education, May 20, 2013, http://chronicle.com/article/Austerity-Has-Been-Tested-and/139255/; David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, “How Austerity Kills,” New York Times, May 12, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/13/opinion/how-austerity-kills.html; David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, “Paul Krugman’s right: Austerity kills,” Salon, May 19, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/05/19/paul_krugmans_right_austerity_kills/
  6. [6]There are numerous theories of truth. An introduction can be found in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v. “Truth,” last modified August 16, 2018, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/truth/
  7. [7]Sergio Caldarella treats such theories harshly in The Dark Campus (Princeton, NJ: Dark Age, 2016). John Asimakopoulos explores the operation of such theories in The Political Economy of the Spectacle and Postmodern Caste (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2020).
  8. [8]Norman K. Denzin, Yvonna S. Lincoln, and Linda Tuhiwai Smith, eds., Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008).
  9. [9]David P. Barash and Charles P. Webel, Peace and Conflict Studies (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002).
  10. [10]David Benfell, “Violence is the illegitimate authority that begets all other illegitimate authority,” Not Housebroken, July 1, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/07/01/violence-is-the-illegitimate-authority-that-begets-all-other-illegitimate-authority/
  11. [11]Max Weber, “Class, Status, Party,” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, ed. Charles Lemert, 4th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 119-129; see also David Benfell, “The fallacy of ‘free’ trade is more than a fallacy of ‘free’ trade,” Not Housebroken, June 28, 2018, https://disunitedstates.org/2018/06/28/the-fallacy-of-free-trade-is-more-than-a-fallacy-of-free-trade/; David Benfell, “They must pay,” Not Housebroken, February 21, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/02/21/they-must-pay/; David Benfell, “These disunited states,” Not Housebroken, January 9, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/01/09/these-disunited-states/; Mark Blyth, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University, 2013).
  12. [12]Paul Krugman, “The Plight of the Employed,” New York Times, December 24, 2013, http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/12/24/the-plight-of-the-employed/; Mac McClelland, “I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave,” Mother Jones, March/April 2012, https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/02/mac-mcclelland-free-online-shipping-warehouses-labor/; Spencer Soper, “Inside Amazon’s Warehouse,” Lehigh Valley Morning Call, September 18, 2011, https://www.mcall.com/business/mc-xpm-2011-09-18-mc-allentown-amazon-complaints-20110917-story.html
  13. [13]Hillary Clinton, who could not be opposed for U.S. president in 2016 for her warmongering or neoliberalism, but only because she is a woman, comes to mind. Then there’s Tom Perkins, “Progressive Kristallnacht Coming?” Wall Street Journal, January 24, 2014, https://www.wsj.com/articles/progressive-kristallnacht-coming-1390600169
  14. [14]Amy Chua, Political Tribes (New York: Penguin, 2018); Amy Chua, “How America’s identity politics went from inclusion to division,” Guardian, November 9, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/mar/01/how-americas-identity-politics-went-from-inclusion-to-division. There are numerous examples likely to be found in every subaltern group. Perhaps the most extreme would be the Blue Lives Matter movement, which asserts that police officers’ shootings of Black males should not be questioned under any circumstances; or Jews, who label any opposition to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories or to its policies in those territories as anti-Semitic. More prosaically, some activists seem to believe that only white males can be racist and sexist: James Rush, “Goldsmiths Students’ Union diversity officer explains she cannot be racist or sexist because she is an ethnic minority woman,” Independent, May 12, 2015, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/goldsmiths-students-union-diversity-officer-says-she-cannot-be-racist-or-sexist-to-white-men-because-she-is-an-ethnic-minority-woman-10244520.html
  15. [15]Linda Martín Alcott, “The Problem of Speaking for Others,” in Who Can Speak? Authority and Critical Identity, eds. Judith Roof and Robyn Wiegman (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois, 1995), 97-119.
  16. [16]Amy Chua, Political Tribes (New York: Penguin, 2018); Amy Chua, “How America’s identity politics went from inclusion to division,” Guardian, November 9, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/mar/01/how-americas-identity-politics-went-from-inclusion-to-division
  17. [17]My father was physically abusive toward me and verbally abusive toward my mother. In addition, I was bullied by fellow school children and I have suffered economic deprivation and more abusive employers than not throughout nearly all of my adult life.
  18. [18]Martha C. Nussbaum, Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2011).
  19. [19]David Benfell, “Customer disservice and the Google ecosystem,” Not Housebroken, April 11, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/04/11/customer-disservice-and-the-google-ecosystem/
  20. [20]Robert K. Merton, “Social Structure and Anomie,” in Social Theory, ed. Charles Lemert, 6th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2017), 181-190.
  21. [21]David Benfell, “About that alleged ‘labor shortage,’” Not Housebroken, May 12, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/05/09/about-that-alleged-labor-shortage/