Template for a Lifeboater Manifesto

by Rebecca Schuman

By far the most infuriating “rejoinders” to postacademic punditry are the lifeboaters (tm WHB): “junior scholars who don’t bother thinking about the naked exploitation of a system where adjuncts are paid as little as $1,700 a course, and do just as good of a job (or better) as they do. In their minds, they won, they’re on the lifeboat, and fuck all those other people drowning around them.”

I realize that I Quit manifestos are also everywhere (here’s Melissa’s!)—but here’s the difference. There can never be enough I Quit manifestos, just as there can never be enough testimonies by exploited fast-food workers. The I Quitters like Zac Ernst and the Google-ditchers are the minority—the majority of us didn’t quit, so much as the discipline to which we devoted a decade-plus of our lives, and damn near our entire identities, quit us before we even had a chance to start our careers. I Quit manifestos are a minute but vitally important re-grasp in the general direction of an agency and power we do not have.

Lifeboater manifestos, on the other hand, are people from “on high” who stomp downward, and chastise us plebs for daring to use our outside voices while we’re drowning.

Since these essays literally are all exactly the same, I thought I’d provide this comprehensive outline, to save any future lifeboaters the trouble of attempting to take me, or anyone else in my position, to task (from official University websites, of course).

I. Introduction: lifeboater (LB) explains how s/he happened upon raw, blunt, highly vulnerable tale of academic failure that also contains systemic critique, and his/her subsequent call to action.
Ia. lifeboater’s actual reaction is “Holy shit, there but the grace of Gawd go I.”
Ia1. true feelings also include:
Ia1i. frustration at being stuck forever in Bumblefuck, Klansville
Ia1ii. abject, total horror that tenure bid will be rejected
Ia1iii. continuing Impostor Syndrome
Ib. true feelings, unacceptable in academia, internalized fully & fought over violently, then emerge from LB chest cavity as…
Ic. personal affront at “attack” that had nothing to do with him/her, and
Id. self-righteous rage in order to “defend” said “attack,” which reminded lifeboater of precariousness of circumstances, and rather large part luck played in securing them.

II. LB half-assedly nods in general direction of brutal realities of academic labor market in abstract.
IIa. tossed-off reference to “adjunctification” or “contingency” (LB has never adjuncted)
IIb. tossed-off reference to market being “tough” (LB received TT offer as ABD)

III. LB launches personal attack of author of initial critique.
IIIa. misguided assumption that national publication authors write own headlines
IIIb. wholesale dismissal of critic’s personal experience as invalid, because contradicts LB’s
IIIc. suggestion that critic’s own flaws to blame for failure to secure permanent employ, incl.
IIIc1. “off-brand” doctorate
IIIc2. “bad attitude,” all gleaned from systemic critique leveled after critic has left field
IIIc3. intimation that critic does not “believe in” or “love” work enough
IIIc4. dismissal of critic as “anti-intellectual” or neoconservative
IIIc4i. total cognitive dissonance that LB is him/herself acting like Ayn Randian college sophomore
IIId. assumption that author now makes steady full-time salary with benefits as freelance writer

IV. LB reminds us all of our assumed privilege from position of extreme privilege.
IVa. You could be a trash collector!
IVb. You could be a 911 operator!
IVc. You could shovel shit all day!
IVa1. cognitive dissonance of blatant, cruel classicism in these comparisons
IVa2. cognitive dissonance of fact that all above occupations are civil servant jobs with competitive salary, health benefits, sick time, vacation pay
IVa3. blissful lack of awareness that LB has never had to do any of these “inferior” occupations and never will

V. LB demonstrates how great things are for LB–>ergo, system great.
Va. Description of daily life, “love” of
Va1. mention of tea, lack of time card optional
Vb. Vociferous defense of “vibrant” shitty college down in middle of nowhere where LB lives
Vb1. LB either has no spouse (b/c LB is asshole) or…
Vb2. …does not have to live away from spouse; ergo, no mention of “two-body problem” except in smug abstract
Vc. hagiography of own research, esp. “love” thereof, insistence that would do for free
Vc1. has never had to do research for free
Vc2. will never have to do research for free
Vd. hagiography of own teaching and students
Vd1. hopes this manifesto counts for tenure portfolio

VI. Insistence upon deservedness of LB position–>ergo, meritocracy/platitudes
VIa. total disconnect from casual Marxism that informs all LB scholarship
VIa1. doubling down on new love of Randian capitalism with platitudes, incl. but not limited to:
VIa1i. “there are no guarantees” (LB had no uncertainty in own career)
VIa1ii. “nobody promised you your dream job” (LB has dream job)
VIa1ii. “you made your own choices” (LB made identical choices w/different outcome)

I think that pretty much covers it. I will consider all subsequent Lifeboater Manifestos to be plagiarism of this outline—and make no mistake, I will file charges.