Precarity In The System
We are now at the end of one of the most vicious, divisive and short-lived general elections for a generation. This has been determined in part by two conflicting and divergent realities: security and precarity. These two realities are informed by two ideological opposed mindsets: conformity and rebellion.
Security and conformity look like the protestant work ethic without the religion, putting in the extra hours to prove devotion. Conformity owns its own home and is paying down the mortgage, materially aspirational. Conformity has faith in the system, a vested interest in climbing in the same direction. Conformity is a meritocracy: success is virtue, failure is vice. Conformity is paranoid and thrives on imbalances. Your rank in a managerial system determines your worth as a human. As Sally-Ann Hart put it: “[It’s] about them being given the opportunity to work because it’s to do with the happiness they have about working.” Conformity is a religion where work itself is God and the institutions that provide opportunities to work, the capitalist economy, is holy. The divine instruction is simple: do not imagine any world where this could be different.
Precarity looks like not knowing what hours you will be working week to week. Precarity affects not just the working class but the fragile employment of creative workers and the self-employed, who are a disciplinary or lost client away from ruin. Precarity rents a flat and doesn’t have time to sketch out future aspirations because it’s always trying to catch up with itself. Precarious lives find the days drag but the years fly, because insecurity in material conditions gives rise to distortions in time and space. Not having the comfort and routine of the conformist gives the precariate the opportunity to rebel against a system that neither values or provides security for the worker. Rejecting money as of ultimate importance is rebellious. Compassion is rebellious. The ultimate blasphemy against orthodoxy by the rebellious is neither the imagination that another world could be better, or that another world could be worse, it is to imagine that there is an alternative at all.
CARTOON: Kim Batty
Orthodoxy is applied and enforced by the very same people working within it. It is office politics, it is in committee meetings, it is the petty jealousy of uncommunicative monogamy, the silent moments around the familial dinner table. Convention is apparent when a manager treats an employee as if being five minutes late to a zero-hours service sector job is a moral defect. Note the outcasting of the apostate in the phrase: ‘disgruntled former employee’.
Independence from some of these structures gives the rebellious space to hold these powers to account. The corridors of power are patrolled at all points by those within it. Even the most mundane and innocuous voluntary organisations have built within them conventions and orthodoxy designed to prevent rebellion. This is how powerful people have managed to exploit less powerful people for such a long time. It is exceptionally hard to break social rank and accuse powerful people of abusing their power, it is thankfully, increasingly common. There are gaps around the edges of power, cracks in the corridors where leverage can be applied to pull apart the fabric that maintains power structures; a fabric that seems to be in danger of unravelling from both ends.
The two major parties based their campaign on rebellion. The rebellious on the left and on the right are starting to outgrow the conformity of the political centre.
The Labour Party is asking voters to reject the logic of market capitalism, it promises to break from sacred corporate hegemony, that ‘things can, and will, change’.
The Conservative and Unionist Party is promising a break from the international treaty of the European Union, to dismantle various institutions of public life and to ‘get Brexit done’.
The only party offering no break from convention, either in terms of a break from market capitalism or EU corporate hegemony, is the Liberal Democrats, and the only way this can be achieved is in coalition.
Without too much informed knowledge as to how either of these alternative possible futures will play out, we have woken up on Friday to the possibility of a new order. The establishment is in flux, contingent, confronted with its own precariousness.
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