It’s been a hell of a few weeks. Clearly I am suffering from stress. It could lead to depression, or perhaps anxiety.
Or perhaps I’m just busy and under pressure. Perhaps I’ll just harden the fuck up for a bit and see if that helps.
First; a warning. This is just some out-loud thinking. Sorry if it doesn’t make any sense. I’m stressed etc.,.
Yesterday I heard Frank Furedi speaking about freedom of speech on Radio National. I’ve not heard of Furedi since I was an undergrad student, about 20 years ago. I liked his work then, but have shifted in other directions since.
Yesterday, I listened to him argue that Western universities are increasingly self-censorious. This is because, under a neo-liberal consumerist model, they’re competing for students. There are prizes for the least confronting course content.
Education has become commodified, of course, but it’s happened in weird ways. University is no longer an adult stage, it is a continuation of a cosseted larval form, where endlessly fretting parents shuffle continuously build a fuzzy little ‘happy bubble’ around their children.
Every year the numbers of university students applying for special consideration on the basis of ‘stress’ or ‘depression and anxiety’ increases, as students pathologise the normal pressures of life in the adult world into an ever-expanding rubric of ‘wellness’.
Furedi often writes about this cultural turn but for me it was refreshing to hear someone validate what I myself have said so many times. In fact, I usually go one step further. I think we are encouraged to focus our attention on ourselves so as to avoid looking at the structural inequities and problems that may affect our ‘wellbeing’. This is one of the key ways that neo-liberalism works – it is the cult of the individual; If you can’t make life work, it’s because you’ve got something wrong with you. You have an illness. I’ve moaned about how this insidious cult of wellness operates before.
Here’s the thing; All capitalist systems require a certain degree of labour market elasticity. This is what the NAIRU (Non Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment) refers to. It is simply the rate of unemployment that can be sustained before inflation rises.
In the old days, the easiest way to secure churn at the bottom of the labour market was simply racism – you brought people in to your country and then stigmatised them so they would remain at the bottom. The decline in Empires (something that really only happened with the recession in the second half of the 1970s) has made flat-out racism more unpalatable and immigration much harder to manage. But the market still needs a bunch of people who will buy things but can’t work all the time.
Depression and anxiety is the new racism.
There’s another dimension to Furedi’s comments about education and feeble-mindedness, however. The commodification of a university education under a neo-liberal model has seen a dramatic increase in university enrolments. I’ve written about this in the Australian context before. My point is, universities are now accepting students who are completely unprepared for a university education.
One of the one hand, it’s predatory lending – inviting students to buy a mediocre education where they barely scrape through a general degree, with the help of multiple concessions to ‘stress’ or ‘depression’, is a bad thing.
But I’ve got mixed feelings about this. I myself left school before School C(ertificate*), and hit university in my early 20s. I was hopelessly outgunned. But, after a year I worked it out and did rather well thankyouverymuch.
So I’m cautious about suggesting that university entry requirements should be tightened as it may exclude those who might genuinely benefit.
I’ll leave that there. Apologies for lack of coherent thought.
*School Certificate and Bursary were the two main qualifications one could earn at school. Bursary (silly name, as it didn’t come with money) was roughly the same as HSC, undertaken at the end of Year 12. Only those planning to go to uni sat Bursary.
School C was the main qualification and you sat it at the end of Year 10. Can you imagine today’s year 10s sitting a series of exams at the end of the year? The stress! You’d be weeping into your chai latte.