Fresh out of university, distinction and all, you’d think you’d have all the opportunities in the world, right? Job satisfaction, societal impact, a steady income – it’s why you went through it all, isn’t it? E&M takes a humorous look at the number of alternatives facing young graduates nowadays.
‘Graduate in Political Science and Philosophy, 28, trilingual, looking for a job to drive the emancipation of humanity.’ There was my advert on the internet: one sentence, a one-page CV, a picture. A good decision not to end this sentence representing my entrance into the working world with an exclamation mark; I still want to grow, a full stop does the job nicely. In the picture, I’m standing next to a tree, wearing a simple polo shirt and a casual but earnest smile. Unfortunately, this first attempt at ‘putting myself on the market’ turned out to be more or less futile. I received only one offer in reply: the company ‘Direct Dialogue’ offered me a traineeship in their ‘Participation and Involvement’ department: I was to ‘help elderly people engage with the world around them’. However, after selling two smartphones to a 76-year-old woman and her sister by claiming that her recently deceased husband would have approved, I quit the job. Who wants to get up at eight every morning? And anyway: where is the emancipation?
Academia, I thought, that’s it. That’s the job I have been looking for. As a PhD student, I would finally be able to express my linguistically sensitive, witty, yet working-class criticism of the lack of democracy, the terror of capitalism, inhuman immigration policies and biased journalism. And luckily, it didn’t take much for the application: two letters of reference from my kindergarten, school, and university, an application letter, a letter explaining my application, a 5000-word project proposal and a short letter summarising all the other letters… Academia: heaven for public intellectuals, my heaven. And the best part: the low salary and precarious working conditions would help me to cement my position as ethically and intellectually superior to the manipulated population who chase the simple goals in life: money and love. I am above this – aiming for higher goals. What a perfect way to sacrifice myself for the betterment of society: a desk, lectures, hours in the library and starting every publication with the words ‘Philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point, however, is to change it!’ I had it all planned out: I would cite Said, Gramsci, Habermas, and condemn human rights violations as inhuman. And even better, I would also condemn human rights promotion as ‘Western’ imperialism (and I would only ever write ‘Western’ inside quotation marks). I could even criticise scholars who criticise journalists who criticise politicians – emancipation, here I come! Unfortunately, however, my application was rejected: 600 other trilingual young people with a Masters degree had applied for the 5 doctoral scholarships, obviously. It’s such a good job.
A bit disappointed, I decided that academia was a place for narcissistic and keep-your-hands-clean people who didn’t really want to change the world. After all, academics only write for themselves and help greedy publishers to make money off research that is largely financed by the public. Where is the emancipation? After consulting my friends and a search engine, the use of which I have publicly condemned on all possible occasions, I decided to apply for a job as a teaching assistant at a high-school for pupils from ‘disadvantaged communities’. Perfect: the job would last for two years. More time during which I didn’t have to commit to anything. At the school, I thought, I would work with children (the weakest members of society) from a disadvantaged community, mostly with an immigrant background. Ok, they wouldn’t be disabled, but: Oh Robin Hood you taught me so much! Unfortunately, the ‘interview day’ for the job didn’t go well: I wasn’t ‘passionate enough about the children’ and seemed ‘intellectually detached’, they told me. ‘Me? From what?’, I thought. So high-school education wasn’t the answer, anyway. Thank you, Jean Baudrillard. Apparently the other hundreds of applicants seemed more motivated to do the job.
I looked everywhere but mostly inside of beer and vodka bottles.
How to get out of this mental mess? Sometimes I woke up at night hearing Adorno’s sweetly persuasive voice in my head: ‘There is no right life in the wrong one’ and I saw the faces of Butler, Laclau, and Foucault lurking behind my bookshelf, ready to laugh at any move I made. After doing some soul-searching (I looked everywhere but mostly inside of beer and vodka bottles), I decided that I had to get my hands dirty. All those arrogant critics stay outside but they don’t do anything, they leave the battlefield to those with no morals. After consulting friends, family, a dog and my horoscope, I decided to apply to a consulting firm. True emancipation has to start from within the system, doesn’t it? After spending a day at their ‘assessment centre’ (and indeed, all they did was assess me: my creativity, my verbal and mathematical skills, my ability to live without sleep or privacy, and my overall character and worthiness as a human being), I was looking forward to the email that would finally open the door to my lifetime project: driving emancipation. I remember the letter fairly well. It was something along these lines:
Dear Mr. P. W.
I regret to inform you that you are not among the final group of applicants who will be offered a place at our company. There were other applicants who were more willing to give up their lives for money. Furthermore, you were too stupid and incapable. Last but not least there were other applicants who seemed more willing to give up their life for money.
P.S. In the unlikely event that one of the selected applicants finds a different company where he or she will receive more money for giving up on his/her life, we will contact you again this summer.
All the better, I decided. I didn’t want to work for them anyway. They are boring and bored people who sit in offices and use their money to buy their way out of self-inflicted depression. No, I needed to engage in honest and authentic work. Overcoming alienation – that’s the key: shouldn’t I simply work the land, eat the vegetables I produce, bake bread and sell it? Go back to the true way of life: a simple job, a clear idea, honest people, fresh air, colourful landscapes and food, fresh green asparagus, honey-coloured rolls, brown fragrant bread, sweet red tomatoes; things that really matter. But then it occurred to me how much I like a hot shower in the morning, my laptop, YouTube, and frozen pizza – and anyway: that would just be running away from the world instead of driving emancipation, wouldn’t it?!
After pondering over my Future (a capital F seems appropriate) for Further painful and drunken weeks, I happened to walk past a home for asylum seekers close to where I live. Through eyes blurred with tears (yes, life was miserable), I saw children playing football with an almost-empty beer can. As the can hit my knee (right where my trousers have the slightly twisted seam), I nearly dropped my lactose-free, double-whipped chocolate mocha, for all of a sudden it hit me. There is so much injustice in the world, I thought; I shouldn’t cry about my own privileged future. People are so much worse off and I worry about the most ridiculous questions. ‘Get over it!’, I told myself, and took a job as an accountant at a local manufacturer of electric nose hair trimmers.