Hello. I’ve had this WordPress title for quite a while, but have only recently decided to use it. To those who have found their way here: welcome.
What’s this all about? I am a Lost Generation Philosopher. What’s a Lost Generation Philosopher? A member of the generation, a few of them full-time academics, many of them part-time academics, some of them would-have-been academics, who were granted their doctorates after the collapse of the academic job market in the 1970s. Mine was granted in 1987; I bounced from school to school to school despite publishing regularly, then took a lengthy break from teaching from 1995 until 2005 (not counting a tiny handful of courses, a couple in 1997, one in 1999, and one in 2004, at glorified business schools). I returned to “regular” teaching in 2005, but it was part-time adjunct teaching. Soon I had a second adjunct teaching job that went to two different campuses (that’s three campuses in all), and was commuting perhaps 150 miles per week. I stopped the second job after my elderly parents’ health went into terminal decline. With just one very small raise at the school I’d been at since 2005 and an inheritance, I walked away in May, 2012, and moved to Santiago, Chile, where I have been ever since … getting married to a chilena, establishing a new career, living a new life … but without real closure on the old one.
Hence some of this material. I am no longer an academic philosopher in any ordinary sense, but I am still a Lost Generation Philosopher who got caught up in the adjunct mess before it began to get publicity, which began in 2013 with the sad death of Margaret Mary Vojtko from a stress-induced heart attack on her front lawn that August. She had taught French at Duquesne University for over a quarter century, been kicked to the curb when health issues made it difficult for her to continue meeting with classes, given no severance pay, and forced to spend nights in a coffee shop because the electricity had been turned off in her increasingly unlivable house (in need of repairs she couldn’t afford). She died broke, literally. Her death shamed Duquesne University, a private Catholic institution.
The raising of consciousness about the plight of adjuncts back in the U.S. on National Adjunct Walkout Day last Wednesday brought all this back; hence one of the reasons (not the only reason) for blogging here. It explains my belaboring the issue in my first post. Adjuncts are teaching for poverty wages (averaging around $2,700 per course), often needing multiple jobs to survive, often on semester contracts without job security, without benefits, without office space to meet with students, and sometimes without decent places to sleep at night. Yes, there are cases of adjuncts living in their automobiles, while they collect food stamps. This harms students who are often unable to locate an instructor who is probably on one of his or her other campuses. Adjuncts often do not find out if they are going to have any work until a few days before the semester is to start, making it difficult for them to prepare a course properly. Naturally, they are expected to be stars in the classroom! Otherwise they don’t have a job the following semester!
Some see this as “the market at work.” Supply and demand, after all. An oversupply of Ph.D.s … or an undersupply of jobs, in an environment others of us see as an abomination, at institutions which pay their top administrators six figures (sometimes even more), pay the head football coach still more, can hire layers upon layers of administrators who are paid very well, and can spend millions on new buildings and campus beautification projects. I have argued at length on my Facebook page that the problem is not lack of money, it is lack of any sense of priority in allocating it, especially to those doing the real work of a college or university, which is educating the students who apply, are accepted, and nowadays pay tuition rates that have also gone beyond absurd! The majority of students can no longer afford college without going massively into debt. That’s a different but related crisis … and yes, it is a crisis when outstanding student loan debt has reached $1.3 trillion! With the relative lack of good paying jobs in the U.S. outside a few very narrow occupations, much of this debt will turn out to be unpayable.
I am one of the people who got fed up with this system and left. But: (1) philosophical problems continue to interest me a great deal on their own terms, along with their application to the problems of living; (2) I cannot forget where I came from, or that others were not as fortunate as I was in being handed an escape route; and (3) I am still on track in one respect, working on a long term project about which I will write here in due course: an intended legacy. Being an outsider, I don’t know if anyone will read it even assuming it gets finished and published, but if I can get the word out at all, I will go to my grave with a sense that my books are at least partially balanced.
I’ll say a little about my interests, and what will give this blog whatever semblance of focus it has, and then sign off. I grew interested in the history and philosophy of science when I was an undergraduate. The trigger for this interest probably reveals a contrarian streak in my personality and outlook I carried around with me even then: anomalies, with respect to scientific theories, what they implied about the relations between theory, observation, and reality, and what to do with them (if anything). Anomalies are reasonably well verified facts that do not fit into, or are not predicted by, a dominant or prevailing theory. In a future post, we’ll consider some examples. I pursued history and philosophy of science at length by studying at length works like Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd Ed. (1970) and Paul Feyerabend’s Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge (1975), leaders of the historicist movement. Eventually, ideas developed by these authors went into both my M.A. thesis (1983) and my doctoral dissertation (1987). Then I hit the hostile job market, lost my focus as the above-described bouncing around took place, and never finished that book on Feyerabend’s philosophy I’d left graduate school intending to write. (No, you cannot sustain a quality academic research program while spending 30-40 hours a week looking for your next teaching job. I was not helped by having graduated from a department which did next to nothing to sell its graduates on the job market.)
As time passed I developed interests in political philosophy and political economy, both to teach about the former, and to understand my own plight and the plight of my generation. I did write a book, but I’ll write about that in another post. I also encountered systems theory, The Matrix, and cultural studies, and more scales fell from my eyes. A longstanding interest in Brian Eno’s music and ideas about culture had opened my mind to a number of vistas that probably would not have appeared interesting otherwise.
In any event, I am now doubtless too much of a generalist for today’s philosophy job market, which although I keep an eye on it, I am no longer using to seek employment. So what am I doing to survive now? I have an investment (money that originated with my inheritance) and teach a couple of classes in Critical Thinking at a local university, Universidad Nacionale Andrés Bello in English. I may have another inheritance coming. There is interest there in broadening the number of General Education courses taught in English, and I happened to be available to step in.
So welcome to this blog. Will not be posting again for a few days, as a death in my extended family is taking me back to the U.S. for the remainder of this week and the start of next week. But never worry; we’ll talk more. If you’ve found your way in here, I hope you found this of some interest, or at least a source of mild curiosity about what will come next. I have more going on than what I listed above. There are some surprises ahead. You can trust me. I am not a politician, and I am not going to try to sell you anything. That’s a promise.