Jobs


Can I express my sympathy for Adrian Smith without endangering my chances of finding a job? Mr Smith voiced mild disapproval of the institutionalisation of gay marriage on Facebook and, after a colleague complained about his opinion, found himself being demoted and his pay being slashed.

Perhaps there’s a complication that’s been obscured from the public view but all the information that’s available suggests that this is another example of the draconian enforcement of progressive ideals.

If it’s an attempt to save peoples’ feelings from “offence” this policing of speech fails as it instead makes people nervous, distrustful and, in cases such as this, impoverished. In furthering the idea that being exposed to disagreeable opinions is a naturally traumatic thing to face, meanwhile, it ensures that people are more liable to feel the torments of being “offended”.

I suspect for others it ensures that their opinions seem more legitimate. As a means of winning an argument I’ll grant that acting as if you haven’t merely triumphed but discredited your challengers to such an extent that they’re forbidden from existing is remarkably efficient. On the other hand, it’s also quite unjust.

There’s another reason I’d like to express my disapproval of the treatment of Mr Smith, though. He’s said to have been demoted because he broke the code of conduct of the housing company he worked for. How was this, I thought, when it was his personal Facebook page? Apparently it was because he’d named the company as his place of employment on its “work and education” section. I suspect, then, that they weren’t raging liberals but were concerned about what raging liberals might have thought of their being linked with Mr Smith.

Can’t we take it as read that personal opinions, expressed out of the workplace, are not and shouldn’t be considered representative of whoever we work for? There are some exceptions – a social worker, for example, would rightly provoke alarm if they were found expressing their impassioned support for Jimmy Savile – but in the overwhelming majority of cases it doesn’t and shouldn’t matter what you happen to believe. If I wanted a plumber, a flautist or a thespian their views on marriage, tax and David Cameron’s face would not interest me. I’d want to know if they could fix my pipes; play the flute and embody Falstaff.

I express this point, perhaps, with more than my usual vigour because I’m personally invested in it. There are lots of potential employers who, if they stumbled over this ragbag collection of thoughts, might conclude that they want no association with me. On that note, can I express what intelligent, beautiful and downright kingly souls they are…

The bas…Oh, wait, am I still typing?

The debate – “this house would abolish the welfare state” – was painful. Me, I’ve no clear view – I’d like a welfare society rather than state – but wasn’t too impressed with either side. The opposition, which boasted a councillor, a journalist and a first-year student against three seasoned rhetoricians from the wanktanks, was platitudinous. The proposition – which, I noted, took a hammering – was more impressive inasmuch as they were effective debaters but still threw out a veritable farrago of fallacies. Perhaps that’s to be expected from verbal debates.

The most irritating speech was offered by one Yaron Brook, Director of the Ayn Rand Insitute. He declared that self-esteem is just about the most important aspect of our lives and boldly asserted that we find it in our jobs. Why? Because we spend a lot of time at them.

Even I’m aware that lots of people flourish in their work (and, hey, I’d love to be among them) but this logic made me cackle like a boisterous hyena. Here’s something that’s occupied me for much of my life: sleep. And, great as it’s been, it hasn’t reaped lasting fulfilment. Let’s also ponder activities that by this logic Brook would see as fairly unimportant. Your first kiss at Maisie Sprigbrain’s 16th birthday party was less meaningful than all the time you spent vomiting in her Mother’s prized geraniums. After all, the former was a much more brief experience.

This man, who’s leapt to such a bland, generalised prejudice about our feelings and desires, is supposed to be the individualist – the freedom guy! How strange. How inhuman. How irrational.

Kevin Carson demolishes the argument – much beloved of pseudo-radicals for capitalist cuckoo lands – that decrying consumer culture need be an expression of prudishness and elitism…

I think Russell, in rejecting left-wing analysis of the “culture of consumption,” throws the baby out with the bathwater. In stressing the left-wing critics’ areas of commonality with bourgeois paternalism and prudery, he neglects the extent to which the rise of the “culture of consumption” was itself part of a deliberate strategy of imposing work discipline by corporate capitalist elites. Capitalist ideologues of the post-WWI period, in their praise for the effects of consumer culture on the working class, used language very much like that of their counterparts two hundred years earlier who proposed the Enclosures as a remedy for “Saint Monday.” It’s ironic that Russell, who celebrates American workers’ choice of leisure over work and attacks left-wing critics of mass consumption for their alleged “elitism,” ignores the relationship between the two issues. Corporate elites of that period deliberately and explicitly promoted a mass consumption economy as a way of preventing the choice of leisure over work, and undertook a project of cultural engineering to equate the consumption of store-bought goods with “Americanism” and “respectability” and to equate homemade with “old-fashioned” and “rural.”

In celebrating the liberatory aspects of the consumer revolution, I believe Russell neglects the extent to which consumer culture undermined autonomy. Specifically, he neglects the extent to which the ratio of wage labor to a given unit of consumption is itself a contingent matter. To the extent that high costs of marketing and distribution, brand name differentiation, and planned obsolescence reflect a business model toward which the state artificially tipped the balance, they artificially inflate the costs of a given quality of life. Consider, for example, the quadrupled costs of brand-name package dry goods, compared to virtually identical generic bulk goods, as described by Ralph Borsodi in The Distribution Age.

In dismissing criticisms of the culture of consumption for their alleged puritanism or elitism, Russell neglects the extent to which increased dependence on wage labor for a higher volume of waste consumption also reduces the bargaining power and increases the precarity of working class life. It’s a hell of a lot harder to engage in spontaneous work stoppages of take off for Saint Monday, when you’re one paycheck away from being evicted or having the repo man take your car and washing machine.

There’s a trend for arguing as if to pass judgement on any choice is bigoted. Don’t think people should be watching, listening to or reading X? In that case you’re a snob. Think that people should avoid behaving in a certain way? Ah, you must be a puritan. Feel that it’s unwise to hold certain opinions? Why, you’re practically a fascist! If you try and force people to act according to your views, or are tiresomely aggressive in expressing them, there could be truth to this. But I fail to see how giving your advice or judgement – when your interlocutors are free to tell you where to stick ‘em – need be more pompous than telling someone who’s turned down a one-way street that they might be in error. Hell – who knows? – perhaps they’re fond of cul-de-sacs. Yet our experience of human beings should give us an inkling as to what they’d like or loathe; what inspires and fulfils or stultifies and degrades. We can be wrong, of course – and anyone who lays claim to an absolute doctrine is liable to be eejit or an arse – but, to rework a phrase, no society can be an archipeligo.

The argument deployed by our wide-eyed consumerists is that to pass judgement on someone’s lifestyle is to treat them with contempt. If you denigrate a choice you must be sneering on the chooser. Sometimes, yes, but this ignores the fact that people’s choices can be subject to environmental, subliminal pressure just as surely as they could be forced by threats, abuse or beatings. And you don’t have to be foolish to be influenced. Does anyone deny that as a species we’re vulnerable to suggestion? One doesn’t even have to scale the mounds of research; just think – why else would a goddamn branding strategist have work?

I don’t see some of the finest minds of my generation because they’re all occupying universities and I can’t get inside the bloody things.

Not that I’m desperate to. You might recall a post where I argued that universities can be a waste of time and money and that people needn’t feel obliged to go to them. (I spent a year at one before dropping out poorer, angrier and literally none the wiser.) You might not be too surprised to learn that I was hypocritical enough to try and weasel back into the system nonetheless (if you can’t beat ‘em et cetera). You might well reserve your sympathies when I go on to say these efforts have been wholly unsuccessful. So many people are applying While many of my comrades work themselves into a lather marching to protect their “right” to access universities I’m looking round and thinking, “Where’s the damned alternatives?”

There are, I’m glad to say, a few. In many ways the Open University seems preferable to centralised institutions. Its courses are cheaper, more diverse and free of those barbaric lectures which are graceless enough to start before lunchtime. I rather feel the social aspect wouldn’t measure up, however. Swinging by the SU forum to play online poker doesn’t sound all that enticing.

There are jobs but they all fit inside two categories: those which call on applicants to boast of years experience and those that order their employees to wear brightly coloured hats. The former are impossible; the latter – ’til all other wells of hope are dry, at least – are unconscionable.

As you’ve doubtless guessed I’m a fresher at the university of life. This irritates me. Through the years of one’s schooling anyone who shows the faintest aptitude is herded down a path with signs directing them towards the universities: the summit of one’s youth and the base camp of one’s adulthood. Yet the relevance of such a choice is hardly explored. Yeah, it helps when you’re applying for jobs but that’s not an inherent value, just an attribute society has pinned to it. The value of education – let alone this form of education -  isn’t a concern; it’s just one of those quiet assumptions that help us to feel our lives are comprehensible. (Hell, even the protestors have taken it for granted. I’m all for people being free to go to university but why need people feel obliged?) The alternatives, meanwhile, have been reduced to sponging or slaving. Is that cynical? Lord knows. Not only has society failed to provide alternatives for its youth, massive swathes of us aren’t even told there might be cause for them.

But it would be dull and egotistical to just complain. First, of course, as I’m an unemployed dropout who nonetheless enjoys the luxuries of food, heating and the internet. (I won’t claim to feel gratified by my evasion of the suffering that other malcontents endure but – hey – only fortune has ensured that I’m not bunked up on a pavement.) And while life might be easier to navigate if you can trace the route that other voyagers have followed that’s no reason to believe it’s any worthier of travel. Forging out a path may be interesting.

Get out of the home, sister, says Heather McGregor to the women who’ve claimed they’d rather be housewives than have careers, and get into a job where you belong

While there will always be women who give it all up to raise their children, and I respect their choice, it may well be much less fulfilling than it sounds and a terrible waste of resources into the bargain. The key is to stop feeling you have to achieve perfection in every sphere of your life, which inevitably leaves you feeling increasingly stressed. Lose that guilt, sister, and you could be on your way to career success – maybe even starting your own business.

What’s “career success“? Objectively, I mean. And why need it be “fulfilling“? When I dwelt in London I achieved a guilty pleasure from spending my days off in and around financial districts. There I’d sit, idle as a painted shit ship, watching as the flustered, fag-and-sandwich-clutching businesspeople scurried past, collars straining at their throats and blackberries clamped on ringing ears. In career terms they were pretty high on up the ladder, gazing at the swollen rumps of the executives, but they didn’t look incredibly fulfilled nonetheless.

For all I love Bob Black’s The Abolition of Work I’m not an anti-jobs fundamentalist. No, I’m sure they can be pleasant and even fulfilling. (One man’s armour is another man’s burden. One man’s chains are anothers’ accessories.) Yet this bland assumption that it’s not just necessary for survival but for one’s self-worth to hold down a career bemuses me. It’s not as if it’s the natural state for a human being; as Black writes, jobs are a pretty new phenomenon. What’s more they can be restrictive; tedious; stifling. One rarely strives to meet ambitions that weren’t just imposed post hoc. One often labours for people and causes one has no attachment to beyond the managerial. As with those who blithely laud the virtues of degrees, this is just a vague assumption that what our society has deemed expedient must be the greatest of all things. Why? Man, with all its creativity and eagerness, may not be infinite in faculty but surely it’s not that restricted?

Wherein I continue my jobseeking efforts and stop being a nice guy…

TO: National Review Online
FROM: BenSix

Dear Sir/Madam,

I note that you’re requesting applications for a “low-level editorial position”. If you do not grant me this I will get a job distributing social welfare. This is not an idle threat. You have two hours to respond.

Yours forthrightly,

Ben Six

See here for an earlier, irrationally unsuccessful application.

Wherein my jobseeking efforts take an optimistic turn…

FROM: BenSix

TO: Nick Bostrom

Dear Mr Bostrom,

I’ve no idea if you watch the BBC programme The Apprentice, where a millionaire tycoon decides which of a few prospective employees to hire, but in one episode a competitor fervidly swore to work 24/7, make him tens of millions of pounds and hugely expand his business. A non-cynical interpretation of the millionaire’s decision to consider him was that while it was quite unlikely he’d deliver on his promise, the utility he’d bring if he made good on them outweighed the harm that might be caused by not rejecting him.

In your Pascal’s Mugging you pictured a curious scenario where an imaginative thief assured his victim that as there was a one in a quadrillion chance that he had magic powers, if he was to promise 1000 quadrillion happy days in return for the fellow’s wallet the chance of such utility would justify the whole affair.

Now, I note your Future of Humanity Institute is advertising a vacancy for a fellowship. You demand “relevant prior specialisations” and a “research record”. I have neither of these. On the other hand, let’s say that there’s a one in a quadrillion chance that I’m the best employee one could ever hope to find. The salary of this post is between £28,983 and £38,951. Let’s say that the median (all I’ll need) is one util. So, I ask you to sacrifice one util. In return I promise to earn you a quadrillion research grants, each o’ them worth one util. As there is a one in a quadrillion chance of me being such an ideal employee this seems like a fair deal. The expected utility for you would be zero, sure, but as I’d have made life eternal (thus giving me time to earn those research grants) and eliminated boredom (thus ensuring you won’t get impatient while I gather them) there’s a pretty hefty utility surplus in it for you.

So, when do I start?

Yours expectantly,

Ben Six

“We hold in our hands pieces of paper…”

Dave Osler thinks that Universities should be “funded entirely from general taxation“. Look man, if a course was free, accessible and – let’s say – seven hours a week then any teen would gleefully enroll. It doesn’t take more than a pinch of rational self-interest to see that it would be cheaper and easier than the other options. Most attendees would gain little, leave, become taxpayers and be sorely out of pocket.

Frankly, there’s no need for 45% of young people to go to University. Some don’t have the aptitude; others the enthusiasm. Trust me, I’ve just dropped out and the number of students who were yawning their way through six weekly hours of arts degree was shameful. It’s a waste of their and other people’s time and money and, as David Hepworth notes, will only serve to lumber them with knowledge that can’t be fulfilled. (Oh, and massive debts, naturally.) What are millions of drama, writing, journalism and arts students going to do with the knowledge they acquire? (Having fun is no bad reason but, I think, should be paid by oneself.) It’ll just lead to swathes of underwhelmed retail assistants and, perhaps, a disconcerting rise in wasted street performers.

It’s not that I’d deny people the chance of attending, it’s that I think that University has been wrongly promoted as the best of all affairs. Vocational courses are undervalued. Officials urge on school leavers. Employers use degrees as a bottom line of competence; like bouncers rejecting folk who justly didn’t see the point in wasting money on a tie. One doesn’t need these courses and qualifications to be skilled, curious or inspired. In fact, they can all leave one dim, debt-saddled and disillusioned. This generation is a speculative bubble.

Buses in East Yorkshire will soon be playing up to their regional stereotypes…

As part of the activities to mark the 25th anniversary of the death of poet Philip Larkin, around 40 buses will be displaying extracts of some of his work including Toads Revisited, Days, This Is the First Thing, Solar, New Eyes Each Year, This Be The Verse and Blues Shouter.

This Be The Verse’s antinatal acid might crack a smile but Toads Revisted is a damn sadistic choice. In it, Larkin muses on the cheerless trappings of his life – “Nowhere to go but indoors/Nor friends but empty chairs” – and decides that he must work for otherwise existence would be empty…

No, give me my in-tray,
My loaf-haired secretary,
My shall-I-keep-the-call-in-Sir:
What else can I answer,

When the lights come on at four
At the end of another year?
Give me your arm, old toad;
Help me down Cemetery Road.

Somehow this is both endearing and immensely miserable. To poor Yorkshire commuters I rather think it’ll seem deathly. Keep an eye on suicide rates in Hull. (How, incidentally, could they have chosen scrappy works like This Is The First Thing and New Eyes Each Year over transcendental gems like High Windows or An Arundel Tomb? Perhaps it’s just because they’re brief. Or in the latter’s case the librarians might be doing a sneaky bit of advertising.)

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