I’ve been fortunate enough in the past couple of years to afford as comfortable a living as I’ve ever had without having to work, due to state loans and subsidies given to me in order that I should be able to focus all my efforts on my academic career. Even with this, I was looking for work that I could afford to do alongside university and it was only towards the start of this academic year (about October 2015) that I was successful. I’d failed a couple of interviews at various entry-level (only level for most) services jobs but ended up back at a chain, that one with the famous “yellow curves”.
I’d worked there before as my first job, not at this specific restaurant but they’re so standardised variation is next to negligible, when I was 16. I worked weekends while I was at sixth-form and enjoyed it for what it was- weekends getting a wage for the first time that was completely disposable as I had no crushingly expensive responsibilities back then, and was fortunate enough to be in receipt of EMA (£30 a week for “being poor”).
Now, although I don’t absolutely need to work while at university due to my grants etc., in part “thanks” to being legally estranged from “family”, it is very hard to get out of the frame of mind that was drilled into me in the years prior to my return to academia, working out of pure necessity- working for the basic means of life. I hate the way we are made to give excuses, even within the left where sympathy and understanding of how material conditions beyond an individual’s control can put people in any such position, for whatever that position may be; for that reason I shall not continue seemingly making excuses as one should not have to justify one’s existence- and in this world, it seems like that’s what one must do if one does not work.
I was writing this week, just for practice, some thoughts in a rough, fragmentary way; and shortly after writing, I quit my job, the return to a franchisee of Yellow Curves restaurants. The piece below is that writing as it was when I wrote it and is also an expression of the depression that I carry with me, which I see not as some sign of biochemical imbalance (and that theory is having major problems at the moment which I will write about soon but I recommend books such as “The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth” by Dr Irving Kirsch and “Cracked: Why Psychiatry is Doing More Harm than Good” by James Davies PhD) but as manifestations of a deeper sickness, almost spiritual in nature, which has its roots in the current order of things.
Sometimes I wonder whether I’d be more satisfied as a human billboard, walking around wearing a sandwich board advert for some local restaurant, perhaps giving out menus. Satisfied is perhaps not the correct word, but it would be less soul-crushing than my experiences being a grill cook at Yellow Curves. You can call it a waste of human potential either way, but at least as a walking, talking advert, I got some fresh air and the opportunity to talk with my fellow man rather than my fellow wage slave. I have no interest in workplace gossip, or out of workplace gossip; the two forms of socialisation it seems all of communication devolves into once one has been properly integrated into the workforce. It’s not that I completely hate the idea of the work- making burgers. I actually kind of enjoyed it up to a point. I even like the rule-following up to a point. The purpose was food health and safety and hygiene but it quickly becomes almost totalitarian with the introduction of barely above minimum wage hierarchy. I don’t mind putting the glove on every time- I don’t want my germs on the meat. I don’t mind the grill layout, it helps you remember which patty went down first and that’s the one that comes up first so that everything is cooked nice, even, consistently. I don’t mind putting on the correct ingredients, adhering to people’s changes in order, maybe no pickles, maybe extra lettuce- I personally don’t like onions on my burger and would expect to have my wants catered to.
But… the rush at peak time means extra work for no extra pay and extra pressure with no extra breaks and extra rallying from the little bosses that have no extra experience- it’s not exactly hard to learn or master. And I understand that the speed will increase but I don’t want it too when it’s this kind of pseudo-skill that one shouldn’t have to learn. And I don’t care if my pickles aren’t perfectly in the centre of the bun during these rush times but they say that skill will come yet until then you’re repeatedly told off for it as though it’s the end of the world if the subhuman mystery shopper gets a burger without perfect pickle placement. What has the world come to when my job depends on getting the pickles right? And this isn’t even spongebob, this is as real as life gets for millions around the world- and we have it easy. The kind of speed and mastery you get from playing an instrument allows you to do more, it unleashes potential, it increases the potentias that makes the soul of a man. The mastery of the pickle placement is like the increasing speed of a robot as technology develops- I don’t want to develop like a robot- I am not Aristotle’s talking tool.
And I can’t talk, you can’t answer back that you don’t care because it’s a formal written warning, like a schoolkid detention except instead of being told to come in more, you come into work less- and zero hour contracts mean acquiesce. Asking for a better contract is an informal resignation yet these contracts are supposed to be proof that we consent to this treatment, zero hours are supposedly signs of the age of flexibility, Beck’s reflexive risk society perhaps. Who is reflexive? We are bending and begging to break. But what else? We refuse or resist: we starve or we’re labelled scroungers. My soul, the clearing, the impotentias of my being is dying. All of my possible futures, the options for how to be, burn away the more I become the burger robot, and the less human I feel. Theses futures don’t just disappear like usual, potentials for things that could have been but did not, they disappear into a true void of things that could never be and will never be- I am less free. Yet to resist means to quit, not to resign is the biggest sign of resignation. Even on the left, we are made to feel guilty though, it’s often a race to the bottom of downward comparisons, moralising and self-righteousness.