Wednesday, 18 May 2011

radicals by default

A belated plug for the excellent Non-Stop Inertia. There are so many uncomfortable aspects of modern work and non-work that mainstream criticism and analysis have between them agreed to ignore; the only problem I have with Ivor's book is that someone didn't write it earlier.

Hard to pick a teaser quote, but I went for a section at the end that pulls back from the immediacies of precarious life ('like trying to solve a Rubik's Cube at gunpoint') and fills in some of the context.

Their generation has watched the social infrastructure they painstakingly helped to build being dismantled and sold off, while at the same time having to rescue their offspring who cannot get an economic foothold. Even in our mid to late thirties, my partner and I are always chronically financially insecure, always on the verge of packing up and moving back to our parental homes.

Bringing up a family on a modest income, improvising and making do, work was then a source of pride and stability, a solid base upon which to build. Now, for us, the pressure of precarity demands a new sort of virtuosity and a different outlook. I am aware that by now I have probably already worked in more different jobs (although that word tends to glorify most of these activities) than both my parents put together. Work is no longer a secure base, but rather a source of anxiety and indignity, both a matter of life and death and utterly meaningless, overwhelming and yet so insubstantial it could run through our fingers. It is normal to feel under threat and undervalued, to feel snivellingly grateful for having a job, any job. We must be sure not to take work for granted and yet be willing to be taken for granted ourselves. We endure a similar level of ‘making do’, but without the home or kids, and without the security of regular employment. We can barely live independently now. How will we be able to bring up children, or support them in similar circumstances? The future is no longer something to look forward to, but something to dread.

Again, from my family I inherited no world-shaking political beliefs, just a desire to be part of a community, to do a useful job which was not driven by private profit and to cultivate outside interests rather than be defined by a 24/7 career. Such an attitude, far from being revolutionary, used to be the norm, even a non-attitude. But now the tide has come in, and anyone with such eccentric ideas finds themselves stranded way out to sea on a sandbank with the waves lapping at their feet and the vultures circling above. By maintaining the same moderate position we have become radicals by default.

Radicalised by default, yes: something that's going to happen more and more often as the political and economic goalposts are shifted. The issue that got me back into active actually-doing-things politics was the (prophetic) Save Middlesex Philosophy campaign; abstractly, the principle that non-vocational subjects should be available at non-elite universities. Twenty, even ten, years ago the question would never even have been framed.

1 comment:

  1. We could do with more posts from both Southwood and yourself, y'know.