Though our capacity to decide to do nothing – or do something else – is severely curtailed by the creeping sense of insecurity in the modern workplace. All employees are disposable, jobs feel precarious. Employees are required to constantly sell themselves, smile, improve their skills, prove their worth. And we do this for the fear of unemployment is too strong. Unfulfilling low paid work benefits greatly from this very climate of precarity that exists in work life. The apparent scarcity of jobs means individuals start to feel anxious even about the loss of a job that is far beneath their experience and qualifications.
What is produced is a continual feeling of insecurity – an insecurity that feeds on the centrality of work to our understanding of what it is to live and be human. Unemployment is a scary abyss of watching the Jeremy Kyle Show and sleeping til noon. Flexible work has not provided freedom but a constant need to market oneself to the next prospective buyer. And we are all commodities selling our teamwork skills and managerial experience.
And it does alarm me how normalised this mode of existence has become. Stood crammed into the tube on the way to work in this wondrous capital city of ours, a morning never passes when I don’t wonder how, why and what we are doing here squashed together, not talking, barely breathing, headphones plugged in, brain switched off, when we could be climbing Mount Everest or sailing around the world in a boat or learning Japanese or starting a jazz band or eating croissants or doing yoga in some shala in South India….