Depression and anxiety; The new racism

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.

 

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When the ABC does it too….

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 8.55.39 AM.pngEvery year or so Life Matters *discusses* preschool education for Australians. Yesterday we were treated to the wisdom of two experts, one of whom runs a preschool in Newcastle, and the other, an early childhood education researcher at Victoria University.

Australia sits near the bottom of relevant countries when it comes to GDP spending on pre-primary school aged children.

Industry experts say the number of years spent in early childhood education and care is a strong predictor of the level of performance reached at later stages, both in and out of school.

Naturally we were treated to frightening statistics. Well, one anyway. Did you know that children who attended preschool did twice as well in high school science? And did you also know that there’s almost no point in sending kids to preschool for just one day a week, they need to attend much more than that!

Let’s start with the claim that kids who go do preschool turn out better human beings. Here’s the thing, preschool costs money. Poor kids are less likely to go to preschool. Poor kids also do worse in high school generally. This obvious confounder was not even mentioned. Same goes for women in the workforce. Kids with working Mums tend to grow up and work themselves. Mum-key see, mum-key do.

Certainly, some studies show that children from highly disadvantaged backgrounds who attend preschool do better at school than their peers who don’t, but this is probably because they’re getting access to an enriching environment instead of sitting front of the TV. Spending the day in jail in an underground Nepalese coal mine would most likely improve their performance, compared to staying at home.

No matter, though, that’s just research. BORING! We all know that preschool education is awesome for all kids! In fact, some countries have now decided to do away with parenting altogether and turn the whole thing into a profession that the state pays for. It worked with dentistry!

The message from Life Matters was unashamedly biased – Australia should provide access to preschool for all three and four year olds. It helps them with their literacy and numeracy when they reach school, and teaches them how to cope in a large group.

I could go on about the multiple ways this is bullshit, but I won’t. It is, after all, a shameless puff piece engaging in the worst kind of cherry-picking to appeal to its demographic – working, predominantly middle class women who want free, full time childcare. It’s telling that for all the talk of ‘preschool as education’, the head of the Newcastle centre still referred to it as ‘childcare’.

So here’s the other side of the story; children with an enriching home environment can and do thrive when they hit school. Moreover, many children find the noise, chaos and violence of a preschool setting troubling and exhausting. Have you ever been to a preschool? It’s like someone airdropped a shipping container of methamphetamine into the meercat enclosure. However, as with daycare, stressing the shit out of small children isn’t destined to get a whole lot of government sympathy and attention.

And this is because it’s the economy, stupid. There is no longer an option for anyone to stay at home with the kids, unless you’re part of the minuscule elite. Mum or Dad must now work. Grandparents who are well enough to look after children are actually in Tuscany/Rome/Portugal at the moment. And who can afford to rent a place in the same neighbourhood as a baby boomer anyway? What everyone could do with is a spot of free childcare. And so this is the line Life Matters is pushing.

I’m not anti-preschool. My kid went to preschool, for two years, before (public) school. In the first year (at age three) my kid attended one day a week. This was all we could afford. The following year we were a little better off financially, and started going two days a week. The kid did not cope at all and was a complete wreck. We quickly pulled it back to one day a week. Of course, I’m not suggesting our experience is generalisable – unlike the radio program that entreated listeners to call in with ‘their experiences’. Did you go to preschool? How has it worked out for you? Very scientific.

But seeing as you ask….I went to preschool – it was a community run playgroup thing. We didn’t have ‘early childhood educators’ – we had a bunch of Mums in track-pants not contributing to the tax base while we tried hard to set one another on fire. It was excellent. My later high school performance can be best summed up as abominable.

Perhaps I wasn’t ‘ready’ for the classroom – didn’t have my literacy and numeracy nailed, compared to my peers. Well, this is just a comparative measure – pretty meaningless. Who cares if you can’t read when you’re six? Steiner kids don’t even start to read until someone really needs to know what’s in a packet of Cheezels. Doesn’t seem to do them much harm. Or those home-school weirdos. They seem to do rather well, actually. In fact, there are heaps of kids who do rather well outside the mainstream, homogenising school system.

Again, we’re in the mainstream school system, and it’s bloody great – our experience with the public school education system is that it’s creative, engaging and bloody good fun. It does not need to start any earlier than five though.

 

Modern slavery

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Thinking out loud…

Friends are taking part in a writing challenge, where they write 500 words a day, without editing, backspacing or planning. Simply, you write completely off the cuff about your thoughts de jour and once a week they ‘mark’ or read one another’s ramblings. They invited me, I like to keep my level of ‘joining’ at the RNA level, so I’ve decided to go it alone.

I’ve been reading about domestic slavery in Korea. Of course. And I’ve noticed it’s become popular to compare participation in the modern workforce as slavery. Roughly the logic goes something like this;

We do not own our own labour, we sell it, and this is a form of expropriation. Of course, I would argue you can’t sell what you don’t own, but there are interesting connections with the Marxist definition of surplus value and fetishism. I think the key idea is that the modern labour market is no longer something we can longer refuse to participate in – that is, we are under extreme duress to participate in it. And when we do, it is under conditions which are not of our choosing (to greater or lesser degrees). We don’t generally own the means of production, and we can’t afford to buy the products of our labour (made in China).

I’ve also noticed the increasing focus on the Universal Basic Income as something that recognises the real economic benefits that flow from not participating in the traditional labour market. Usually, this attracts ‘social justice’ media attention – that is, recognising the contribution made by those not actively engaged in the capitalist economy. However, I’m more interested in its macro implications. My first guess would be that it might kind of evens things out, in a Keynesian sense, instead of concentrating ‘wealth’ amongst those who earn money versus those who don’t, providing a kind of economic stimulus that is more productive (i.e. – concentrated in the lower earning segments of the domestic economy). Obviously transaction costs are germane to this discussion but Australia’s economy is so heavily buggered around with that I can’t see the impost being much greater than it already is.

The implications for GDP are so wooly it’s difficult to make sensible predictions (which is why this kind of soothsaying lies in the domain of economists).

See, this is what happens when you think on a keyboard. No conclusions. Just thinking.

Dogma, Karma, bullshit

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-4-14-30-pmHow many times must I stab the radio this summer?

In today’s ABC ‘Documentary Piece’ about Roald Dahl, we hear of a young woman’s literary love affair with the author who shaped her childhood. Dahl, she tells us, with excruciatingly ponderous pace, made her into the writer she is today.

But wait, there’s a twist! There is a Dark Side to Roald Dahl, a side so horrible that one can barely bring oneself to look into it, lest their childhood be tapped open like a festering egg!

Tell me more!

Well, apparently Roald Dahl was an adulterer. And, he once called his daughter a bitch for confronting him on it. There’s more. Dahl once remarked that he’d rather be dead than fat (he’s as evil as Kate Moss! Shuffle over, Hitler and stop hogging the blanket!). It gets worse, folks. Dahl was a racist. His oompah loompahs were originally cast as African pygmies, and he ruminated on the character flaws of the Jewish people. Why, he wondered, had they attracted such perverse persecution? Sure, Hitler was a prize bumpfswiggle but in Dahl’s view the Jews had partly brought their fate upon themselves.

The radio narrator/writer weeps and wails over their gravity and depth of these failings…. Oh my God, how could I have loved this guy? How could I have read his books? WHAT A MONSTER! I can’t believe I was somehow complicit in his vile world!

After about thirty hours of this self-righteous, hyperbolic panto routine I turned it off.

When I was 8 my Dad showed me some film footage of Jews being pushed into pits. It is still the most distressing thing I’ve seen in my life and remains securely fastened in a repertoire of lively nightmares. I’ve since questioned my father’s judgement, but I’ll never forget his words;

If you had grown up in a family of Nazis, you would believe this was right too.

Dad wanted me to think about judgement, about the relativism of right and wrong. He wanted me to think hard about the social conventions that I was growing up in. (I’m making him sound like a morally righteous demi-God – he isn’t, he’s just a person like everyone else. A person who should have looked into a bit more Disney).

And so when I hear blind judgement, without consideration of context, background, politics, family, gender or class I get nervous. Because this is truly frightening. This is the blueprint of unblinking dogmatism. And unblinking dogmatism gets you front row seats at the pit.

Simply stating ‘Dahl was a monster’ demonstrates a troubling fixity of thought, something far darker than his supposed ‘dark side’. What is really, truly frightening, is cultivating the lack of insight that allows us to come to grips with what people are thinking and feeling, to think critically about the cultural patterns, tropes and values that are in ascendence at any one time. The Holocaust can’t be understood with the idea that there were just a few more shittier human beans in the can. Dahl’s story tells us that intelligent, well-connected people, loving fathers and mothers can come to hold dreadfully dangerous ideas. We are all ‘monsters’. We need to think hard about how that happens.

Dahl was a product of multiple moments in time, of the family he grew up in, the British class-constrained school he attended, the war he fought, the Africa he experienced and the women he disgraced himself with.

Dahl was a human bean. Like the rest of us.

My left wing media bubble

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I had a feeling this was coming…

I think it was when my left wing media bubble told me that Trump is a sexist misogynist, and that was the most important thing to know about him. The final days of the campaign even helpfully presented the choice in cartoon form;

Trump; Rapist, bigot, racist etc.,

Clinton; used private email server.

Ho ho ho.

My left wing media bubble even infiltrated Trump rallies, producing nuanced ethnographies of how ‘nice’ and polite his supporters were. I learned that Trump’s baseball cap sits on his head in a gently amusing way. His supporters are generously built, and often wear clothing from the nineties in an un-ironic fashion. It is these unwitting dupes who’re engaging in the ‘post-truth’ future.

My left wing media bubble told me that it’s not their fault they conflate T.V infotainment with reality. It told me to feel sorry for them, wallowing in their half-arsed, endlessly reproducing simulacrum.

It didn’t mention the other side of the ‘post-truth’ future – the inescapable conclusion that all sides might be full of shit. Trump was positioned as an inveterate liar but he lied in an honest way. Clinton represents a government of impenetrable sophistry that results in things like the lack of prudential legislation that lead to the sub prime mortgage clusterfuck, or tap water you can’t drink.

The US government has presided over an ever increasing polarisation of wealth and opportunity. Attempts to claw back some sense of dignity for those ‘at the bottom’ are personalised and denigrated as welfare. My media bubble might think we’re in a post-truth world, but there’s a truth that people live every day.

It’s the one where 18 year olds go into the army because it’s the only job they can get, only to come home broken and forgotten. It’s the one where ordinary people pull their own teeth out, or work three jobs and still live below the poverty line. And it’s not just really poor people either. It’s the lack of wages growth for the upper working class, or the general discomfort over America’s intervention in….exactly what in Syria? It’s the people who hear that free trade means they can buy cheaper goods, but still worry they won’t have a home to put them in. It’s the people for whom the government is far less relevant than their church.

They are well aware who will bear the pain of austerity or structural adjustment or whatever you want to call it. They are unmoved by claims that Trump is a sexist, racist bigot*, because, guess what? They’ve been subject to sexism, racism and misogyny this whole time! America might have its first black president, but he’s been there for two terms and guess who’s still getting shot by police? Statistics show that black and Latino voters predominantly voted Clinton, but they also show that many eligible voters simply didn’t vote at all.

Clinton also made a mistake in treating her campaign as a holiday length episode of Oprah’s Book club. Her campaign mobilised the idea women should vote based on little more than the fact that Trump is a smutty pervert, as if all women are primarily concerned with their pussies. And by the way, America has had smutty presidents before. At least this one is honest about it.

She also told everyone, at length, how hard she’d advocated for some of America’s most vulnerable, which just reminded everyone that the most vulnerable still need to be continually advocated for. She also failed to address very real questions about her government’s role in Syria, circulating rumours and stories about arms deals and a fraught relationship with Russia. But you know, hands off my pussy!!

Oh sure, here in Australia we’re all poking the borax at the US for voting in an overgrown oompah loompah. Ho ho ho. But it was easy to see. Clinton represented the establishment.

*He obviously is a racist, sexist bigot, which actually is pretty uncool.

Insta-hipster

IMG_5808.jpgOK so as I post this picture I recognise that for many people, perfectly formed, naturally leavened #sourdough is unattainable. I also recognise that for some,#gluten is not an option. I keep those people in my thoughts today.

Of course there are some people who openly choose to live without home-made bread in their lives. My post is not intended to denigrate or belittle those who buy artificially leavened ‘bread products’ from Australia’s monolithic supermarket duopoly.
I also accept that with work, parenting and financial commitments, home-baking can become virtually impossible. The very idea that home-baked bread is a ‘choice’ implies responsibilities that fall disproportionately to women. #feminist

That said, I celebrate this loaf today with reverent #humbleness. I am participating in #grateful-guilt, the new, improved Christianity 3.0. Grateful-guilt is a perfect melange of religiosity and fetishisation, sans  the embarrassing deities. It enables me to feel sufficiently righteous for my fortunate circumstances. Like old fashioned Christianity before it, #grateful-guilt justifies my class position.

By being #thankful for this loaf I recognise that it represents my physical labour, which I give freely, rather than for wages, thus signifying my incorporation into the middle class – a position more ordained than attained.
This loaf, and others like it, is part of my post-commodity future. It signifies my movement beyond the shallow, didactic strictures of producer-product. I make my own stuff. My products are imbued with the value of my own labour (rather than the invisible labour of the people who made the iPhone I used to document it). In this way I can translate some of the value of my labour into maintaining my class position. The alternative would be to recognise that I’m an unemployed feckless tit who couldn’t operate a whipper snipper without taking an eye out #wabi-sabi.