Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Little big Occupations

I was talking to a friend this morning, also a researcher, but in a US institution. We were having the all too frequent whinge about the bullshit in our chosen environments and probably many other workplaces too. You know, the increasing demand placed on the rank and file employees, the race-to-the-bottom disguised as a race-to-the-top. The passive-aggressive stresses caused by the sense that productivity (I hate this word) requirements, are outstripping the need for humanity and happiness.

We were remarking that coworkers, academic staff, administration seem particularly touchy these days. No one has any time. Professors have no time to mentor or review work, teach, or grade. There is so much work to be done and limited funding so they try to 'employ' students and remunerate them in 'opportunity' as if we don't need to eat. Umbrage occurs at refusal and we are accused of 'entitlement' as if it is their god-given right to have free RAs and TAs.  We walk into our defences and quickly realise at least one of the committee members hasn't actually read our theses. No time, or sometimes they just want your defence on their CV. New PhD couples face the prospect of choosing between their relationships and employment because the likelihood of both finding academic jobs in the same place is rare. Spousal hire positions seem to be even rarer than single-hire tenure-track jobs. If they do land employment, the requirements of teaching and research complicate the thought of having children before menopause. The tension is palpable.

The culture, the ideology, is apparent in the rhetoric coming from the yes-men who subscribe to this. Its always about more productivity. Quantity over quality for no real return other than greater job security. Output output output, as if the human organism is nothing but a machine for producing journal articles or whatever flavour of widget your particular treadmill requires you to produce for your bread and butter.

So you see little cracks start to form. Someone snaps because he can't find a spoon in the lunchroom and CCs everyone in a curse-laden email. A department head twitches over a trivial matter and says something very regrettable to recent alumni in another mass email. Having nothing to lose now, the alumni counter-attack in force.  Intraworkplace backstabbing, screaming matches at faculty meetings. Few of the recent grads show up at their convocation.

The inverse relationship between workload and benefits, the constant feeling of exploitation, the anger, the tension is exactly the same as that which motivates the Occupy Movement the world over.

It's rage at the worldview that still buys into the lie that says hard-work will be rewarded, that futures will be secure, that we'll have time and money to have children and green planet for them to inherit. That disillusionment that comes with with waking up one day and seeing the Matrix, seeing that the game is rigged evermore against you. Some take to the streets and sit in New York, Toronto, Montreal in delegitimacy of the power and privilege that wealth or rank confers,  refusing to move when the power and privilege attack and break their skulls.

In workplaces, like my friend's and mine, stories of rebellion emerge. We start to ignore position, title and rank, which so often now less represents competence as it does label some career-climbing true-believer. Losing our fear of repercussion, we're starting speak our minds and cease listening to the myths spun by these Creationists.

Occupy Everywhere.

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