The death of a young man and the following media coverage highlights fundamental problems with our society, Thomas Barlow writes.
Martin Hadfield’s death was the natural result of a society that fetishes ‘work’ above all else. As reported on the front page of the Metro on Wednesday, Martin Hadfield took his own life, demoralised by his inability to get work, at the age of 20.
This sad, sad occurrence was coloured by the way it was reported, firstly by the response of the coroner. He suggested that Martin had reacted ‘impulsively to life’s events’, which may or may not be true, but it takes away the agency of someone who was trying to live his life exactly according to the mores enforced by the rest of society. His death was not merely an impulsive reaction to life’s events, but the inevitable result of a system that tells people their only value is in selling their bodies for money – or ‘employment’.
The unemployed are worthless, a drain on society, despite the fact that levels of unemployment are out of our control, yet we must take personal responsibility for a situation not of our own creation. Having said that, this message leads us down an even worse road – the idea of there being the ‘good’ unemployed and ‘bad’ unemployed.
“He isn’t like some people his age, happy on the dole watching Jeremy Kyle day after day.”
Peter O’Gorman, Martin’s well meaning stepfather paints Martin as a special person, who wasn’t like the other ‘bad’ unemployed youth. Undoubtedly this is a kindness meant to show the sensitivity and hard work ethic of Martin, and should be taken as such, but it speaks of a deeper prejudice against the unemployed.
Stereotypically, the unemployed watch Jeremy Kyle in their undies drinking Tennants super, before a bleary eyed blagging of the jobcentre to get their undeserved dole check. Whilst this is patently untrue about a huge amount of unemployed people, it is a quandary for the progressives in society who usually fall into the good and bad, divide and rule debate.
“People want to work,” the liberals say. “If only we had a stronger government who cared and we could create jobs (wage slavery) for all!”
So the debate falls into arguing how to create as many jobs as possible, and sometimes about how good the jobs should be, instead of admitting the fact that some of us just don’t want to ‘work’. Something which is patently true, yet we castigate right-wingers for saying it is so. Of course we are smarter than that, and our castigation of the right is not for pointing out that some people don’t want to work, it is that they disproportionately mock the poor, whilst giving the rich a free ride. In fact, thieves at the top of society are lauded as wealth creators, whilst the poor, eeking out their survival through handouts and ’graft’ are labelled scroungers.
Not only do the rich conive to avoid sharing any of their wealth through tax, they live on wealth earned off the backs of others working, whether through owning the people who work for them, owning the houses they live in, the land they get food from or through the exclusive ability of the rich to let their money make more money.
So we mock the unemployed, or we spitefully (maybe enviously) hate their laziness, or we condescendingly pity them, trying to fix something that doesn’t want to be fixed. All of this stems from our fetishisation of ‘work’ – of the idea that employment is the signifier of a worthwhile human being. Yet 70% will never make it to uni, and of those a great deal will never have an opportunity to be a wage slave with anything approaching a satisfying job.
So can we blame, mock, or worry about those who worked out, early on, that the life of ‘work’ isn’t for them? If I knew my fate was Poundland for the majority of my life, and had no inspiration to do anything else, I may very well pull up a chair, crack open a can, and see what was on the telly midday.
Do any of us, in fact, want to ‘work’? Does anyone want to be employed by another, bossed about, told what to do all the time, just so we can collect the means to just sustain ourselves?
Only the very lucky, the smug, or the (self) deceitful say they love their job. ‘Work’ is something you get through to do the things you love. Even if you are one of the lucky ones who loves their job, you probably love the element of doing something rewarding, not the contract that puts you at the mercy of another.
Is unemployment a bad thing, even if we could control it? Shouldn’t we all enjoy a bit more time to play ping pong? How many of us do jobs that are even necessary, and how much time do we devote to them that is unnecessary? How many telesales operatives, or Poundland employees does a society need?
According to the New Economics Foundation, we could maintain the standard of living we have now, and yet all of us could reduce our working hours to 21 per week.
When my Aunt lost her job at Tesco in her late fifties to a self service machine, it was a death knell for the family.
Instead of celebrating the end of another pointless job as a blessed machine robbed her of something as degrading as bagging and pricing food for other people, the insanity of our system made us curse the day people worked out how to scan food for themselves.
We should not be ashamed of the ‘lumpen proles’, as Marx called them, we have bigger fish to fry.
This is why I support a Universal Basic Income, it frees us all. It gives us time, a safety net, and releases us from developing jealous hatred of others.