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One of the strange yet rather big challenges that one has to face when unemployed for a long time is to understand exactly what is the purpose of our existence. What is life about again, anyone? we end up asking ourselves every time we do something that is not brushing our teeth, opening the newspapers or taking a walk. One of the most powerful effects of unemployment is how it impacts on memory. I know that there was a time when I used to do certain things. But this memory is purely theoretical, because I can’t remember how I felt emotionally . So the purpose of why I did such or such things in the first place escapes me. Now, of course, there is a way to alleviate this weakness of memory. It is by denying that anything has a purpose. Nothing that we do actually has a finality. That’s a good protective approach to the loss of emotional memory that we experience, but it doesn’t come without its drawbacks. One of which is the loss of any sense of purpose in life in general.

If that sounds like a sad state of affaire, just try that: how do you, in your everyday life, justify what you do? I think that experiencing a sense of loss of purpose is getting us closer to the truths of existence than plenitude may. unemployment is destructive, but it also reveals to us the ugly face of our own truths. No mask, no trick. Gosh, it hurts.

Questioning democracy has its merit, it avoids to turn its political power into a quasi-religious faith. Public opinion agrees on the necessity of democracy and boasts itself of its achievement across the world. Democracy is first of all seen as an outcome into a struggle between moral forces. Today, it is nothing less than the triumph of virtue, the satisfaction of unity over the chaos of plurality. It makes the world more uniform, but also, in many ways, smaller (not to say narrower). Whether it is the slow triumph over cyber-wars, revolutionary struggles, or access to rights (such as the right to work) and justice, democracy is what encapsulates the virtuous outcome of a situation. The victory of democracy across the world is now inevitable, highly necessary and even, yes, even the eloquent sign of the evolution of civilisations!

However, there is here a danger of equating virtue with truth. It is not democracy that triumphs in the cyber-wars against, say, China. It is the technological power of certain countries, their human resources in the deciphering of data and analysis of intelligence, etc. It is not democracy that triumphs in the arab countries in revolt but the access to weapons, the military support from outside countries, the circulation of undercover informants etc. It is not democracy that triumphs in the access to rights and justice but the corporate or legal mechanisms put into place at different levels which contradict each other and allow cracks in the system. From that perspective, democracy is an empty shell.

There is a danger in all this. The danger is that the so-called triumph of democracy may convince us that there is no longer any need for struggle, that everything has been ordered in the best way that could be achieved in a brave new world. We run the risk of tending towards the silence of perfection. We run the risk of seeing the democratic myth becoming the tyrannic agent of repression over our capacity to think and become.

After my last post, a comment came asking me how I really felt, they meant REALLY, deep down, not on the surface of a goosebumpy skin, really deep down, within my guts I suspect to follow on the bodily metaphor. It is interesting that such a non-controversial comment and absolutely inoffensive was sent into my Spam box. What? Asking how someone really feels constitutes a spam comment? An unwanted question? An offense? Strange. So there, reality is the point. Is being unemployed an experience of the real world? Does it put us in a situation in which what we live on a daily basis is experienced as real, so that we feel raw, with little to hide behind, no property, no status, no exchange-value, no social engagement? Do we feel strip bare and free floating? Every day of our life since day one at school and into our adult life, we can hear that this is the way things are or aren’t in the ‘real world’. The real world is the gold standard of all our actions and thoughts. So we have a shot at it. I threw myself at it, “Right, time to have a go at the real world” I said to myself, feeling integrated into this socio-economic space that so nicely balanced pain and rewards, hardship and sense of accomplishment.The real world appeared as this thing in which one lived while one’s own denial was being imposed by others (work, debts, divorces etc.). Missing on the real world is like missing out on a party that nobody wants to attend. So, morphing on the different work positions advertised and for which I had to imagine myself being in control of my own denial in order to seem like the ‘right person for the job’, it is impossible to avoid the obvious: the world is not real. CV are inflated, covering letters are written to fit a personae, interviews are comical parades, vacancies are empty shells, prospective employers behave like peacocks and prospective employees like camels loaded with buzz words that resume their ‘career so far’. The real world is also very small. It stops at the door of the organisation for which we display ourselves because each of these organisation tries to convince us that their corporate or institutional existence is ornate with universal values (their key-values, ethics or, even worse, culture). Their small world is the one in which an organisation is expecting us to revolve, it is to become the mirror of our soul, which, as the organisation to which it will then belong, will become so small and parochial that we would end up asking ourselves “What do I really feel?”. The ‘real world’, I suppose, is neither real, nor worldly. So thank you for that comment, it makes sense.

England seems to be at the sticky end of one of the most complex situation analysed in the four corners of postmodern politics: understanding the young, the poor, the non-white males, and the urban sub-classes. How much more explosive a cocktail can you get? Looting, not political? Looting needs agents in order to occur, and agents are fundamentally political entities. Rioting for shortage of bread, for freedom of expression, for political representation etc. are legitimate actions. Rioting for consuming goods isn’t. Storming a radio station in a dictatorship is legitimate, storming commodities shops in a democracy isn’t. However, let’s face it, in a society in which participation is measured by the level of consumption allowed to its members (through income, access, and a politics of desire), being unable to consume is not that removed than being unable to vote in a society in which participation is measured by the level of franchise allowed to its members. When Tesco measures the democratic good of a new shop by the number of people “voting with their feet” when passing its premises doorsteps (rather than engaging with the economic and social questions raised by its opponents), then the looters have understood something about democracy in modern consuming societies. In all of this mess, how does one make the difference between a rioter (political catharsis) and a looter (naughty thuggish behaviour)? I am not sure, but through the use of the police we may see the hint of an answer. Facing rioters, the police (a public body, paid by taxpayers’ money) attempt to restore order in the streets and contain violence. Facing looters, the police (still a public body paid by taxpayers’ money) attempt to protect commercial properties and private interests, the throbbing nerve of consuming society, the dominant structure of modern democracy, the insiders and makers of social exclusion itself. Looting, not political? But let me add that there is even more politics in looting than meets the eye. Who does not occupy the streets in these illegal actions? Who feels threatened not because their goods are robbed but because they fear for their and their looting children’s safety? Who is asked to carry the responsibility and brunt of the disorder by well-thinking citizens and the political establishment all together in one voice? I can see the invisible other being scared, blamed, absent, these mothers rushing down the streets from their underpaid and precarious work (cleaning shops and financial buildings, serving cappuccinos) away from troubles, but troubles catching up with them in the discomfort of their home. Looting, not political? Who occupies the public space and who is excluded? What sort of order is being restored and for whose interest?

A last word on looting (which in no respect I support by the way). The reason why it seems to shock so much is because it seems unfair that some people can obtain consuming goods without producing the wealth to purchase them. In other words, looters corrupt entirely the dictum of capitalism according to which “time is money”. Looting is quick money. So quick that time becomes redundant. But this is the other dimension of a high unemployment and deprived consuming society: time is money doesn’t apply anymore when you are unemployed, so your participation is de facto negated. Overheard at my jobcentre last week:

‘- John, you said I had a 12.50?

- No, it was a 11.50’, replied John, the colleague who was able to understand that time, minutes and hours, were all the people that composed the days of a public service that wants ride of its “customers” (i.e. put jobseekers into employment). In the context of unemployment, jobseekers are not considered as people but as slots of time. And because time is (public) money, then people are expense. If these young looters (coming from deprived high-unemployment areas) are not included in the dictum of the society in which they are supposed to participate, then how can they contribute to it? That’s the conundrum that they are facing, a problem for which they have no solution and for which postmodern politics has no answer.

How dare one put into question the social, humane, cultural and economic values of public services? Experiencing these values cannot but make anybody who lives in Britain today feel the urge to protect that sector. This is what happened to me last week. For us unemployed people, the day before the sign-on trip to the JobCentre is always raising some form of anxiety about ourselves. Have I applied to enough posts, did I check all the vacancies available, have I made a real effort at understanding whether I need further training, how long have I been unemployed for now, what will I say when asked how I am getting on with my job search, what will I say when ask if I’m all right, what will I say when asked what I will do next, etc. The day before my sign-on appointment affect how I function in the world. I tend to try to stay at my desk and at my computer even if I don’t manage to achieve anything, I tend to forget about other activities I may be involved with (volunteering, having to take a trip to the library, meeting people), and turn myself into a ball of accountability for my actions and into a tower of justification for my own social existence. This is usually accompanied by a feeling of worthlessness, low spirit, hopelessness, restlessness and bad sleep. Last week being worse than it had been to date, I decided on a strategic planning of my sign-on day. 1- go to the JobCenter; 2- go to the Career Services (yet again) to review my cv; 3- go to my GP to talk about my difficulty to sleep. That sounded like a lot of going and doing when feeling down, but nevertheless, one stage at a time.

Stage 1: the soft spoken woman at the JobCenter called my name twice. I didn’t hear her the first time, then didn’t really make out what she was saying and asked for her to repeat. Yes, it was my name that she was shyly pronouncing wrongly. I sat down at her desk, she hardly looked at me. All there is to know about me is on her computer after all. Asked how I was getting on, I felt my lips shaking, my heart racing, a ball in my throat catching every words that were attempting to come out. Slow tears blurring my vision. She lifted her head, stopped seeing me as the person behind the screen of her computer and, instead, as the person behind the tears of my powerlessness. She didn’t say anything, didn’t try to comfort me, didn’t attempt to seek explanations. Instead, she took the job search diary from my hand, folded it in two and inserted it in my plastic folder, handed it to me in silence and said goodbye. She knew I wanted out of there as quickly as possible, she knew that it was vital for me to keep my dignity, she did the most humane gesture she could have done.

Stage 2: as I waited at the Career Services I tried to gather my nerves again. Feeling tearful will not get me anywhere, I need to understand the problem and find a solution. An advisor here was bound to help me. The man came and sat down, looked at me, a pen and a paper next to him, his whole body  asking me “what can I do for you?” in silence. Silence broke out, finally, as I started to explain why I was here. Asked what I thought was the problem and being unable to  answer, these crippling tears came back again, how I hated them at that precise moment, this man was here to help me, why was I starting crying on him. He stood up, asked me to stand up, put his hand on my shoulder with a gentle squeeze then, in a low voice, said “come round to a quiet booth”. He unsuccessfully tried to get me water, told me it was all right, said he will take few minutes to read my cv, that it was all right, that I was all right. And finally I was all right.

Stage 3: I’ve only gone to my GP once in the past 2 years, only to get a prescription mind you. I don’t tend to use doctors, it’s in my family culture that it is rarely the case that a doctor can do what you can’t. After all, I know myself more than anybody else do, no? When my vision started to blur behind tears, yet again, and as I tried to whisper an apology, she stood up to get a tissue, then said “after all, that’s why you are here, so don’t worry”. She asked me precise questions, questions I could answer to, she finished my sentences when I felt my answers were suffocating me, then checked for my approval, agreeing silently on a nod when necessary. Softly, carefully, mindfully, she offered me help. She added her kindness, understanding and professional sensitivity to the immensely rich values embodied in our public services and their workers.

Because they take care of us, public service workers should be preciously looked after.

I have recently started on a bad habit. I would call it binge applications. It goes like that: I start by looking at vacancies related to my area of expertise, as I explore vacancies that are scarce, vague, or that I don’t really understand (I am aware that I don’t always understand the level of expertise for jobs, I try hard, but sometimes job specs are just the tip of the iceberg), this area becomes blurred and I start widening it to include other areas, skills, levels. At the end, I don’t really know what to apply for so I download application forms on my computer, I file them in order of their deadline and continue doing this until I feel that I have covered most relevant websites. Looking at the list of application to be filled up (a jobseeker’s version of “to do” list), I am satisfied that I will have enough to do for the coming 2 weeks. Then I start exploring the job specs closer and investigate the companies or organisations a bit further. I realise that the jobs I am applying for are not focused on one skill, one area, one level, well, to cut a long internal meandering procrastination, I start to feel like a scattered individual. Caught into Deleuze and Guattari’s process of schizoanalysis, I feel the straining gap between trying to integrate the social machine of work and having to accept to be torn apart in little pieces of functional being. This quickly turns into losing sight of what I am “supposed to do” as I am trying to understand or get a grip on what I am “supposed to be” only to find that I end facing who I think “I am”. So what do I do? I take the first recruitment website that will give me a “apply now” button and ask no more than a 2-liner covering letter and a cv, and I start pressing the apply button to anything that comes on the page, attach my cv, move on, again and again. Like an Atari game player, pressing the button becomes the ultimate physical link to my virtual (literary) working life. Nothing ever concretises itself, it’s just for the fun of the game, the relief of the pressure accumulated during the process of schizoanalysis, a random explosion of energy released from the frictions between the elements separated by the straining gap. The process only counts, after that, nausea takes over. Like any other form of bingeing, there is only fear, not many direct consequences except having to face oneself caught in the process again, and again.

Rejections by e-mail have changed the relationship I had with my computer. Two more rejections in my inbox today. My computer has been my only possession (no flat, no car, no tv), I chose it carefully, frugally, consciously, a mixture of functional use and pleasing possession. It contains some of my history, the files display the places where I’ve been, even if virtually, the people I have created intimate links with, pictures of times past, some uncompleted projects still expecting to be re-open one day. Rejection e-mails can insert themselves between a badly designed newsletter which you nevertheless bring all your support to and a lover’s message. They can erupt in your inbox when you have just picked yourself up from feeling really down and shattered. They rarely are addressed to you in name, they rarely offer an explanation, they rarely talk to you as a person. Yet I take them in, shrug them off, then feel tears slowing coming up, then the relief of not having to think about that one anymore, then what? What do I do next?

I live in an old manufacture town. Going for a walk is hardly a cheerful option. The manufactures have long gone, leaving empty outgrown spaces. Entertainment centres have shut, shops have moved out of town in the large shopping centre nicely laid out at a driving distance. The people of this town are good people, they are poor people, ill people, old people, unemployed for the large part, at least those haunting its boarded streets. Social mobility. It is not just about allowing people seek opportunities without the privileged connections they may afford. It is also about the mental social space in which we see ourselves. Being socially mobile is also being allowed to conceive oneself within a society with a certain level of social mixity.

Location counts. There are jobs that are not worth the time spent on their application. No organisation or company will gamble on somebody they don’t know or can prove no substantial experience in a role, that’s an established fact. But on top of that, no organisation or company will be ready to pay the expenses for your trip to their metropolitan office from your ex-centred small town. Why would they bother? Why don’t we all unemployed people just move to big towns to maximise our chance to get an interview (nevermind a job)? I am very lucky, extremely lucky. I met my present partner few years ago. She is the most patient person I know, nothing ever seem to be a problem, she goes round things without fuss (even when I manage to shrink her favourite woolly jumper in the dryer, she still thinks it will perfectly fit the cat so it’s not totally useless). When we decided to live together, we had no choice but to  live outside of the city.  Previous to that, I was renting a room in a housing association which is why I could be inside the city but the accommodation was for one person only. So I moved outside of the city, to live with her. I certainly don’t regret it, it was a rational choice for a passionate life. Still is. But now I see things from the smaller parts of urbanised Britain. The internet doesn’t make these parts less isolated, if anything, it exacerbates isolation, especially on the receipt of rejection e-mails.

Today I have completed my 42nd application form in six months, that’s without counting the applications that I have made which did not require to fill up a form, otherwise we would have to double that number. This is also without counting the numerous speculative applications, the cold calls and the participation to employment events, in which case we can triple that number of applications made. One interview (for a night-shift job in a call center, I have worked for three years during most of the nights during my doctoral studies, I just could not gather the energy to work nights again), and only two feedbacks (after incessantly requesting for them). It is not as if I waited to be out of job to look for a new one, in fact I started applying for various posts six months before the expiration of my contract. And it is not as if I was not taking any application seriously, I had my CV and several forms reviewed by the Career Services of my university and by the Careers Services ran by the DWP.

But that is only one side of the story. Firstly, some organisations to which we send our applications actually outsource their HR which means that we will very scarcely get feedbacks and our requests will fall in deaf ears. Secondly, there will always be people with more experience than me for any post. Why? Because as the HR from which I got feedbacks explained to me, people who are already in a position are looking for new posts opening because they are scared that the one they are in will be suppressed, or their contract not renewed, or their work place will be relocated. Thirdly, as is well-known, unemployment leads to isolation. If we don’t have this precious ‘network’ of people around us, either because we want to change our sector of employment, because we are not forceful enough or because we don’t have the background which allow us to phone the right person, than in a time of job shortage, there is only just a very slight chance that jobs will be advertised or that people will take a gamble on somebody they have never heard of.

All of this is obvious, but I am still applying for jobs and I am still not getting interviews. This is absurd so why do I do it? Probably because I expect that the alienation generated by my academic involvements to date will not be in vain, but even more important because I don’t want it to endure any longer. Instead, unemployment has not only reinforced this alienation from my friends, family, colleagues, but it had added to the longing for the loving surrounding that, to a certain extent, I lost. Applying for jobs is a form of survival, the antidote, as well as the poison.

There is something uncomfortable about projecting some experience and trying to understand this experience through a silent medium, not because of the mere anonymity of it but because what we have to say has to take a narrative form without the luxury of the communicative exchange. It requires that we tell ourselves something about ourselves that we may not have known before. How ready can we be to face our own disclosure?

I have joined the ranks of the unemployed of Great Britain some six months ago, before the winter, before Christmas, before the harsh month of February, before the end of winter, before spring started. The great ranks of the unemployed of Great Britain (it has to be great for something in times of difficult struggle for world domination). It is not a pleasant situation. Not so much because of the economic situation in which all of us employed people struggle, but because contrary to many of the people who are doing the ‘right things’ we need to be self-critical, and we cannot be complacent because the feeling of failure allows no excuse, mitigating circumstances or floppy apologies.

And a failure it is. I was the first of my (extended) family (that’s including cousins, half cousins) to gain a university diploma. In fact, the first to study academic subjects, slowly going through each step of the university “ladder”. My parents did not do too bad in life and they are enjoying a happy retirement. Yet none of them reached the A-level degree of education. My father can hardly write and struggles reading or counting. My mother is a self learner. Her own mother was the youngest daughter of an immigrant family who worked in a car parts factory all her life. When I gained my undergraduate diploma, my mother thought I had achieved more than she could ever have dreamt. She would sit at the kitchen table on warm summer days and ask me to say something intelligent to her, to teach her something. She glowed of admiration and respect for my hard won academic recognitions, without any help, without any close example to follow, no aspiration to communicate and no support in difficult and self doubting times.

Because I was not doing too bad (but not brilliantly either), I continued my course of studies, taking history as my subject. I slowly improved my academic records, becoming better and better at studying, then at researching. In the meantime, my family became more and more alienated by my succesful results. I had friends that could understand me, colleagues and academic peers, They, on the other hand, felt that they could no longer understand me. My father never really knew what subject I was studying, or refused to listen. Yet I was never, or very rarely, talking about university, my exchanges with my family had always been about love, not about excellence and achievements. I was working part-time and even when I obtained a full scholarship I still had a part-time job, sometimes two but I was seen through my university activities, first and foremost. Days were long, holidays close to non-existant, all the spare time that I could secure was for intimate time with friends and family.

I eventually obtained my PhD and then gained a post-doctoral research post. My surrounding thinned out. My friends had difficulties relating to me because my day’s work and activities had nothing comparable to theirs. My colleagues now considered me as competition. My family became self depreciating as they thought themselves irrelevant to the so-called bigger questions I must have been asking myself, thinking that everything they were saying or doing was trivial. Those so dear moments at their side started to weigh heavily as they lost confidence in their ideas, words, views and I feared mis-pitching my replies.

However, while researching, I was delighted to have the privilege of doing something I enjoyed intensely. I wished it would never end. But it did. The project I was working on ended. “I am not worried for you, something will turn up” was the answer coming from all sides. So I didn’t worry, instead I grieved for the one thing that I loved doing now no more to be, the daily purpose of my professional life. I turned to the jobcenter, have returned there every fortnight for the past six months. Now I worry, nothing is “turning up” and nothing allows me to hope that it will.

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