Cara Silvia

Cara Silvia, non sarebbe giusto rispondere scrivendo semplicemente “mi dispiace”. Infatti, mi dispiace leggere la tua situazione, ma sono ancora di più sconvolta, arrabbiata. Presto manderò una mail “Osato” – tempo passato …

And In the following the translation and nearly the entire epistle in English language – publishing it on a Friday 13th is not because of lack now or in the past. Much what is mentioned is a sign of lack of courage …, a matter of forbearance …

Dear Silvia it would not be right to reply by writing simply “I am sorry”. Indeed, I am sorry to read about your situation (being degraded by the Italian government: degraded by having been made “self-employed”/àFreelancer” as university teacher); but even more I am upset, angry. I will soon send another mail, a follow up to the previous one where I dared .. .
 … – and there the sermon begins. In other words, not least after having sent the original mail, with replies in mind and richer by the experience I gained, all this is emerging as an issue that is really gaining relevance in a very broad way. Seemingly becoming impersonal, but that is, I guess, my personal/psychological problem: kind of empathy unlimited, context without borders … 

At the moment I am OK, due to the help of others; and due to the fact that I received a “call” from a Chinese university. For one year then, if things finally work out, I will be “Professor at the Law School of Central South University, Changsha, PRC” (that its the official version, the way I will have to sign). And as we already talked about my work there, it will be working in the area of law in strcitu sensu. At the moment it is still about bureaucracy getting things to the end. However, there are at least the following points regarding the recent problems: 
* the help of others – I should write of some others which would be absolutely OK. When writing the original mail, I had been aware that not every recipient would be in a position or willing to help. And I did not think every recipient should feel obliged. In actual fact I included some just to let them know what happened and how I feel. Still, there is a “but”: people who do not have much, were helping (between ‘every little helps’ and ‘I can’t believe – you probably put the dot into the wrong place’) – on the other side people who would not even mention … lets say 100 or 200 less per month, not giving a single cent, however stating ‘I am thinking how to help’. And there had been others … sending ‘my best wishes. Sometimes that is important, I know.’ And indeed, knowing, “readfeeling” that it is meant, helps – probably not expressed well, but I guess you know what I mean. At least it is not that they are looking for structural solutions …
* All this was/is not solely about me – sure the very moment it had been just me; but so many wrote back that they … – well, for instance a friend from Brussels, she worked as senior office clerk (if this is the term) for an NGO, writing “I manage with my old age pension but at the moment I am in Spain, looking If I can move here – life in Brussels (actually in a village near to it, not even in the city itself) is unbearably expensive in relation to my pension” – sure, probably complains on a high level, but still. May be there is a good reason to call for another me-too-movement as I guess many try to cope with the situation and actually manage – there is still the shame of it: being poor, disabled, suffering from ill-health, being lonely after loosing all contacts from work … and too many do not dare to talk about their difficulties – with the “shame” hand in hand there is the difficulty of even asking the correct question let alone finding an answer. I suppose it is the difficulty of making out individual and social identities and subsequent responsibilities – There is no such thing as society, it had been destroyed …
* it had been also and not least about those – and it seems many – who are looking on the footpath, in the bins and elsewhere for empty bottles to make a living out of returning them to the shops, and who are not complaining – there is nobody who listens, anyway – do we speak about bottle-sharing then, like car sharing, airb&b-sharing etc, in our beautiful new sharing societies? – A strand of Christianity talked at least about “sharing into poverty”, living in poor material conditions, giving mental space for the good (mind the “some” and “talked bout”) * do you (the original addressee) remember long time ago, the afternoon, we had been sitting in Trastevere, somebody approaching us, asking for some money: we then talked about the economic situation, you mentioned the crisis … – when I talked later to somebody (you know), mentioning an Italian crisis, I had been rebuked: ”Non dire sciocchezze – non c’è crisi in Italia” …“nonsense, no crisis” …. is that also true for young colleagues … for instance the son of a colleague and friend in Turkey who moves to Copenhagen, leaving everything behind because he fears the political future; the colleagues from Hungary who are moving and are lucky enough being able to find something e.g. in the UK; the many who move to places like Berlin, the new edition of La Boheme” ….
* also, nobody asks if I really want to go, if I would possibly like – after so many years traveling, unrest – to come to a halt, relax a bit, not starting a new life again; nobody asks if siam actually really able to do so – as the climate in academia is coined by competition, skills training and exploiting cheap labour but not geared to establishing a healthy atmosphere that allows independent research and teaching, committed to social sustainability instead of increasing so-called effectivity and efficiency without asking the age-old question: cui bono …
Sure, being invited as I am, is a great challenge and honour indeed – coincidentally I talked the other day about it to a girl here: my “broken carrier” and the fact that I probably would not really have liked the straight “I know with twenty what my life looks like when I am 80 – the excitement of life being bungee jumping or the like” – why to her? I guess because she is a bit like myself in this regard and that means living against the odds as our societal economies are still based on the opposite gist: stability, no risk …;looking for knowledge not an additional vocational training – although societies today cannot provide the conditions for what they expect and truly accept. At least such orientation on risk-aversion and stability is then and for them the justification for doing what they do, for instance making you and our colleagues “independent, self-employed, your own boss” another affront by theItalian(employment) system – is such employment the compliment of the bottle-sharer mentioned earlier? There are surely major gaps … and all this is about difficult issues. And there are people who are not looking for the simple way: subordination, intelligence adapted to and reduced on zer-one. The simple answer, part of it: Freedom of Decision and the lack of it. And freedom only exists if it is materially backed … if my language skills are correct something interesting happens: look at
the ability to say something 
the ability – la capacità
the ability to say – la capacità di dire
the ability to say something – la possibilità di dire qualcosa
The lack of specificity (ref to something, not specifically to this or that) can also be interpreted as shifting the definitional power to the speaker (say something, i.e. you, the speaker, can and has to define what exactly it is, what you want to speak about and say on it) – from the simple capacity to the possibility which is, I suppose, much more.- it seems to be far-fetched – I think it is not: When I woke up, scanning The Economist; I spotted n interesting article, filed it in the to-do-box. The title: “Quantum computing Proof that a quantum computer can outperform a classical one” … Indeed, year-one is very limited.
The recent elections in two of the German Länder clearly showed: it is not, as Brecht wrote – entirely correct at the time – that the womb ist still fertile; today we are witnessing a new breed, spreading the germs of its rotten spectre in all wounds and gaps and niches, protected by the olden forefathers who could never be overcome. And they can easily do so as societies in decline leave many spots fro them to build their dangerous beds.

The middle class – erosion or conversion? – this is the topic they set for me in Krynica recently. I dared to ask two questions (https://youtu.be/CdCrqXLu9W8), hopefully provocative; and surely it had been reflecting only one tiny aspect of the entire middle-class isssue:

I
Did we ever have a middle class? isn’t more appropriate to speak of a non-productive working class? Or a quasi-working upper-class, complementing the workers aristocracy? There had been some good reason for the middle class coming into existence . It had been professionals being engaged, aiming on changing peoples’ life, helping as doctors, also “professionally maintaining the system” as it had been the main concern of solicitors, some seeing the fight for justice, defending workers’ rights as their task … – it would be interesting to go back to Quesnay and his distinction between the classe productive (farmers), classe des propriétaires/classe distributive (proprietors , feudal landlords letting land for rent/lease) and classe stérile (traders) – based on the distinction between original and derived income – for him industry and trade did not generate value. It surely would be interesting to play with such a distinction today. Who is nowadays creating value – and what is value today? One thing, I suppose, is unquestionable: though there is still a middle class that is in the middle of society, playing an active role, there is a large number of people who are supposedly middle-class but whose sole purpose of work is to pretend that they are needed … Dirk Greaber speaks of bullish-it jobs – jobs where people put a stamp an a paper i order to confirm that they passed it on to somebody who put it into an envelope in order to send it to somebody who checks if the stamp is in the right position … – Is it really a problem if middle-class jobs are getting lost? I suppose not, if it is those administrative jobs that are today more important in education than the teachers; I suppose not if it is about those working in the administration of the health sector, hindering doctors, carers, physiotherapists to cure people; I suppose not if it is about people who are inventing and building electro cars for kids, making them unlearning to walk (well, good for the medical staff and the administrators of the health sector …
… and possibly good for solicitors: the other day I nearly needed one because a kid, sitting in an electro-mini-car, nearly knocked me down – actually it had been the father, massing around with the remote control … – when waste occurs to this extent on the one hand, it should not surprise that even the “doing good of society”: measures against pollution, in favour of substantial deepening and broadening of education, the claim of a wider perspective policies around accommodation, not being limited on providing a roof over the head is entering a state of stumbling: indeed it seems to be a similarly harsh conclusion as that drawn by Adorno, writing “There is no right life in the wrong one.” (Yes, it had been written in a very specific context.so making it a bit problematic to reproduce it here) 

II
… and that is the second point I make increasingly in the entire debate on precarity and the middle classes: the real problem is that there is no society. I do not refer to the Iron Lady’s understanding, more the self-imposed withdrawal, finding its foundation in acceptance of competition as guidance. While this is surely in general a questionable way of relating, it is even more problematic when we look at professions. Of course, medical professions should be aiming at healing of and caring for the sick, something that is impossible if undertaken in the spirit of competition. Or librarians – for a tiny project I approached the local archives in Brandenburg and indeed several came back tome with helpful answers, and of course none suggesting they would be better than their colleagues. Taken even book-sellers, I guess also members of the middle-class. Admittedly, each of them wants to sell books, making profit this way. But aren’t they also “servant of books”, or call them “ambassadors of books”? So, if a bookseller gives good advice and the customer still goes to amazon, ordering the book, the seller still did some great job … and we will return sooner or later, then buying the book there. – Of course, this is a bit simplified but I guess it shows the train of my thinking: really qualified jobs, positions where people are engaged, interested, committed – and where they are getting paid for being exactly that: engaged, interested, committed.

Coming back to “my case”, the difficulties I have been confronted with, asking for help, I received also some spiritual, intellectual, psychological support. Conosce cosa hanno detto i colleghi – Do you know what colleagues said? Well, in short, a bit of “reformulation” and seemingly so trivial:

“We appreciate that you did your job, that we could engage with you on the topic we are working on, that there had been space for an academic debate that is so often closed by administrative procedures and/or competitive narrow-mindedness, and as well drowning in routines of everyday’s departmental and office life.”

In other words, it is another dimension of privatisation of the social, one of these typical paradoxes of our time. There is no socio-material security from doing the work we should do, from following “our calling”; such security has to be gained by fulfilling the demands of the system. If we insist on following the calling, doing what we have to consider as our genuine job: teaching, looking after the students and doing thorough, independent and innovative research, it is through investing our own means, investing the time and money it needs.
Thus, making us independent, self-employed, actually reflects exactly those patterns we are expected to perform – in short:
Do your own thing — don’t worry, be happy

One of the new phrases I learned coming after the odd twenty years to Germany, matches exactly this:
Alles Gut – All Well
= nothing to worry about, just be yourself and don’t even think about being part of the others: tinder yourself through life, it is all about you …

And what can we say about this “you”? These days the German government runs a campaign – a poster campaign by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research, celebrating the 100s anniversary of the Berufsbildungsgesetz – the Vocational Training Act. Fair enough one would say, seeing the main message:

What keeps our careers going

OR

What keeps our economy going 

Still, I dare to ask, for instance:

What is this economy about? What does it mean when it is going? And how can we specify a career? Are we really talking about vocations or people just in need of a job? Doing something that is well paid?

All this sounds rather abstract, intellectual, is however for me the real process, it is what I feel as a kind of physical thread, a mill-stone, every round causing a crunching sound … 

Non of the posters speaks about why and what is the meaning in substantial terms – the meaning is the career itself: il giro … fare un giro per arrivare all’inizio, in grado di fare un altro giro. And of course, like capital runs its rounds
M – C – M’
decisively aiming on the ‘, the little bit more; perversely it reads in respect of education 
K – L – M’
Education as matter of obtaining knowledge is thus reinterpreted: 
• K standing for knowledge, and of course, entering any education builds on some form of already existing knowledge,
• L standing for learning, too often a matter of replicating, providing little space for exploration
• M’ standing for better income. Do we, who are working in education, do we not see it anymore? Do we blindly accept that educational standards are today set by wrongly programmed administrative systems, executioners of their donors, the donors executioners of the ‘ = the surplus, at the end clearly defined as money.

Well, I better stop here, having already been carried away quite a distance – my empathy problem: what may sound very theoretical, abstract is actually very much the opposite: the understanding of this “one injustice” with a systematic affront, an attack on people like you and me. Sure, we = each of us have to find a way of accommodating with the situation as it is. But … – last theoretical issue at the end – for me not theoretical at all, but something that pesters me every day, a question of personal responsibility: prevailing is in social science the so-called methodological individualism, i.e. the supposition that there are individuals and everybody acts as individual, pursuing the now individual interest – what better expression can this find as that given in Adam Smith’ presentation of the “egoism” of the butcher. Another expression is given by Leonard E. Read, titled „I, Pencil“.

I find an impressive, plausible presentation – as neat as it is presented as “process of production under the condition of the division of labour”, it is also suggesting “this is how we humans behave”, it is also claimed to represent “human nature”. Still, I dare to raise some doubts:
• There IS another dimension – guess nobody would think that Aristotle, stating “man is a social/political being”, and as we know since Marx, it is to such an extent and in such a way the case that even individualising depends on ourselves being social beings: are you sitting in your living room right now, while reading these lines, perhaps the very cosy corner you consider as your shell as much as the snail “carries her house” into which it can withdraw, perhaps wearing your very personal house-dress – one you would not like to be seen wearing by your closest friends? Even such fact: not wanted to be seen is nothing else as considering them being part of the very moment you do not want to see them around; I find it so strange that in the most social area, i.e. work, we claim to be individuals and nothing else, the “social” in actual fact reduced on some kind of anti-social behaviour, acting by outcompeting the other; • while we do “our own thing” we do so with the very consciousness of some connectivity – the ability of others to link, the ability to link with other situations – marking the paper of a student means relating him or her to others. Each act, executed or not, consciously, habitual, “lemmingual”, i.e. following others like the lemmings supposedly do …, expressing our very personal decision or being reflection a discourse;
• even if we do things, deciding according to the aim of achieving “personal benefit” or advantage, such benefit/advantage is “social” – it is a reflection of what is allowed and also what we allow ourself: as much as we CAN only individualise in society, connectivity HAS TO link to society, also in opposing it – in other words the challenge is about striking a balance between being part of and withdrawing (this is as such also “being part of by de-/a-parting”).

From here I come back to the question I originally raised: feeling guilty of having accepted precarious employment, this way allowing me doing something precious to me, then consequently depending on friends and colleagues while the social benefit system lacks accessibility – not least due to the fact that I previously accepted precarious employment, allowing me …
This deals with one of the most interesting animals on earth, the cat chasing its own tail.
But I really better stop here — writing too much anyway, bottom line: Thank you and lets in one way or another do together what should be our job but what receives little recognition as such. Amongst lawyers: Ubo societas ibis justitiam est.
All the best from Peter

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