Once upon a time, I was an odd kid with all the potential in the world. Not just in my fevered imagination, but officially – as my high school proudly proclaimed through its Students with High Intellectual Potential program (which has probably changed acronyms several times in the intervening years). Not content with recording some of the top school results in the state, I went on to become a qualified rocket engineer. But what use is there for rocket engineers in a nation whose primary exports are shiny rocks, or even a society whose driving force is the accumulation of profit?
This year marks the tenth since I graduated from university. It’s roughly three years since I left the only job private industry deemed me suitable for, one where picking an air conditioner out of a catalogue was considered the height of intellectual dynamism. Since then I’ve tried my own things – the app development and consulting on whose domain this blog is hosted. But I’m not an entrepreneur. I hate trying to sell people things. Mostly I wanted to find something actually worthwhile to do as an adult. I had years of experience, honours qualifications and a track record of success. I ticked every box the career coaches of my youth had recommended. But the jobs either didn’t exist or didn’t want me.
What choices exist for young folks with talent in maths and science? We have decided, as a society, that the only applications we’ll support for these skills are death machines. Either the death machines with machine guns and rockets, or the financial products which drive the rich into yachts and the poor into destitution. If neither of those appeals, then the only remaining option is as a glorified project manager in construction or mining, where no skills beyond mere technical familiarity are demanded. Where the primary advantage of an engineer over a skilled technician is in their unwillingness to unionise.
So of course recruiters kept buzzing with more opportunities to fry my brain in a site shed. But outside that particular niche, the response was mute. I cast my web wider and wider, dropping my demands from ‘interesting’ to ‘survivable’. So it is that three years after leaving the construction industry in desperation, this week I join the public service, working to regulate the construction industry. Excuse me while I whoop for joy.
As my hair greys, I can no longer dream of doing research, development or anything resembling science. The labour market has spoken. There are no rocketships, flying bicycles or green energy systems in my future. The best I can hope for is to minimise the amount of time I spend in the toil demanded to keep a roof over my head. A contract which sells my soul for only 37.5 hours a week, instead of the unpaid overtime private industry demands. In little more than 30 years, my potential has dissipated like the waves of a tsunami breaking upon the beach of capital.
I’m hardly the only one. All across the globe, our human potential is wasted in service of capital’s demands. Think not only of the African prodigy without proper schooling, but the Oxbridge grads building algorithmic trading systems and Harvard philosophers devising more effective ways to sell cola. Imagine what we could do if we set those talents to work on projects to make the world a better place. If they were guided by democratic will rather than corporate greed.
Perhaps the children of the future may have these opportunities, in a society organised more along the lines of Star Trek than Starship Troopers. That is, if we don’t perish in the post-climate change food wars. But for me, I say goodbye to my professional career. I hope only to minimise its influence upon the rest of my life. The society we have built has no place for the likes of me.
But if society has no place for me, then the fringes are where I must remain. Despite the (rather onerous) restrictions on public servants making political comment, this blog will continue, in one form or another. Its purpose was to get me writing, and that I intend to continue. It may be in a format other than thousand word screeds against capitalism, but I can learn to write new things. My amateur photography will continue. Perhaps it will move elsewhere and remain anonymous (though the Grog’s Gamut/Greg Jericho example suggests this may be problematic). Perhaps I’ll have to steer away from controversial political topics and into safer waters (though everything worthwhile contains the political, and once-accepted truths are falling apart). Perhaps I’ll have to steer into fiction and use allegory and satire to make my points (but that might take better writing chops than I’ve got). Perhaps some pieces might have to stay on my hard drive instead of being published.
If you have any doubts about the neutrality of the public service with a raging leftie like me onboard, then I’d refer you back to my piece on the tension between liberalism and democracy.
I believe democracy and self-determination are fundamental to any free society. They are not simply to be discarded by some appointed technocrat because the people have chosen the ‘wrong’ option.
Me, June 2018
I’ll always be on the side of democracy, and the democratic will as best represented by the government of the day. I might not always agree with the people’s decisions, but for an unelected public servant to overrule the will of the people would be a grevious misdeed. I’d never rule out resigning over a matter of principle, but I can’t imagine that in such an inconsequential field. If the government wants to loosen building regulations, then I’ll go right ahead and impliment it to the best of my ability. It may be a hideous waste of my potential, but that is the natural result of the society we have built.