Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Precarity and the scary world of Christina Hoff Sommers (long post)

Word of the day: Precarity

"Precarity is a term used to refer to either intermittent work or, more generally, a confluence of intermittent work and precarious existence. In this latter sense, precarity is a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material or psychological welfare." It refers largely to the growing group of temp, casual, part-time, freelance workers and unemployed. (according to Wikipedia)

Precarity as an identity - I guess it's kind of like reclaiming the word "queer". My opinion: collective protection is fine, but unfortunately opting out of our capitalist economy is virtually impossible on large scale over long term. On the other hand, action and experimentation is so important. It means the potential for allowing people to think in different terms, to see real alternatives, to consider that other forms of economic organization are possible.

These days there are two basic options for young people - work with the system without questioning it or opt for something else. If you opt for something else, you are left with crime, precarity or perhaps travelling if you have the resources. To go the first route, you have to agree with the division of humans into winners and losers and you have to decide you want to be a winner. You approach life competitively. You spend your education, free time and working time all towards the goal of getting into a good school, getting good grades, grabbing all the opportunities. But ... what about those who choose to win, but who actually lose? Try their best, get the ulcers to prove it, but fail due to the "wrong" skill set, luck, or the current economic situation... not everyone can win...

I got an email today (apparently it's been circulating for several years) of a "Bill Gates Speech". It is mis-attributed (actually by Charles J. Sykes - Read It) but nonetheless, I feel compelled to comment, in light of another equally scary book that has recently come out.

The Text of the email

Love him or hate him, he sure hits the nail on the head with this! To anyone with kids of any age, here's some advice. Bill Gates recently gave a speech at a High School about 11 things they did not and will not learn in school. He talks about how feel-good, politically correct teachings created a generation of kids with no concept of reality and how this concept set them up for failure in the real world.

Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!

Rule 2: The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping - they called it opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested! in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

If you agree, pass it on.
If you can read this - Thank a teacher!
If you are reading it in English-Thank a soldier!!

This post is already getting out of hand, so I will only comment on a couple of gems: rules 8 and 9. I also want to quickly underline the message at the end: "If you are reading it in English- Thank a soldier!!" What is wrong with other languages? And what soldier has ever defended the English language anyway? That's just weird.

The greatest fallacy in this list is that it presupposes that the primary goal of life is to accomplish, win, and work. It is simply typical capitalist propaganda, which reduces human citizens to an economic definition: producers and consumers.

"Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT." What, might I ask, defines a loser? Would Van Gogh be a loser? How about the philosopher Spinoza? How about a child born as a dalit in India who manage to eke out an existence? How about Mother Theresa for that matter? Is a winner whoever dies with the most toys? Or T-Bills? Someone who works hard all his/her life only to die of cancer at 55? How about the Queen? It only makes sense if we reduce people to their economic "worth" - a class or power division - either oppress (win) or be oppressed (lose).

I propose an alternative: Maybe we are actually all just people who "win" some of our life challenges and who "lose" others and hopefully learn from the failures as we go along. The author of this says life doesn't allow "many times to get the right answer". That's just wrong. Life is a series of wrong and right answers.

"FIND YOURSELF... on your own time." um... doesn't my time belong to me? Who else's would it be? It is true that an employer doesn't care about me "finding myself." That's why I have to do it myself. But an employer not caring about it doesn't make it unimportant... an employer also might rather I don't have a baby, but a baby is pretty important. Maybe it's worth considering, if I might be so trite, that the meaning of life might not be all about getting ahead in the rat race. Maybe "finding ourselves" is more important. Maybe our careers and wallets do not define us. Perhaps we might embrace the fact of life which is precarity and reclaim our time!

Speaking of things which scare me, Christina Hoff Sommers has a new book out: One Nation Under Therapy : How the Helping Culture is Eroding Self-Reliance. I saw her on the Daily Show the other day and she seemed disgusted by kids playing a game called "Friendship Circle"... Sound poisonous and evil? Apparently she thinks so.

She is nothing but another conservative who believes schools need to get back to the basics and stop making kids feel good about themselves. She would apparently prefer to prescribe more ritalin and zoloft rather than have kids learn coping skills to deal with issues. I see the result: the CEOs of tommorrow (fortunate to have no serious mental health issues) and a lower class of bunch of drugged up zombies who can't think or feel but can be darn happy to work in a factory and spend the meager earnings on crap they don't need but are programmed to think they want... oh wait, that story has already been written... and that world doesn't sound too brave to me.

I suppose she's right, if we want our kids to grow up to be good little producers and consumers instead of happy, healthy functioning human beings

I feel like i've gone full circle here. it's probably enough for tonight.


Anonymous said...

Adbuster's take on precarity is kinda dull. Try

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