Embracing Instability

Transposing emblem by Jonay Quintero Hernández

If you ever happened to raise your arms and shake them before a mirror, that treacherous foe, you might have already realized what inestabilidad really means. Not to mention, beer bellies, non-turgent breasts and other bodily parts profusely attacked by the wickedest force of all, age – yes, I know you were thinking about gravity. Preposterous as it might seem, becoming existentialist when “half the party is over” (Brian Ferry dixit[1]) and having a sense of “there must be ‘more to life than this’” (sic Bjork) is something very common among normal, mentally healthy people.

Each person is a world of their own and has different ways of facing this: some may leave their partner for a significantly younger one, buy themselves a new car – if they can afford it – and others, like me, acquiesce to growing a beard and writing amateurish texts that somehow reflect what many feel, and while reading them, don’t feel like they are alone.

What would happen if at an age where your life should have been already “settled“ you find yourself starting over again as if you were in your twenties, living in your parents’ house, but with much less field to run ahead? Probably you would wonder like the Talking Heads, Where is my beautiful house? Where is my beautiful wife? And my automobile? Therefore, living like a youngster again, though not being a Fluorescent Adolescent (Arctic Monkeys) any more.

Of course drinking milk and laying on the sofa in underwear may seem like very enticing prospects relative to others, but moaning and permanent self-pity are not and cannot be valid alternatives for a life that  a car crash once taught me  may end very abruptly. However, the reasons for these changes in the personal sphere are more global and far-reaching than may appear at first glance. Some examples below:

In a country, Spain, where 90% of new contracts are temporary (data from the Spanish Ministry of Labor) you may find it hard to have access to mortgages or financial aid to start a business. This is one instance of how this new era of instability is changing everything. The curious thing about it is that in the 90s there was another crisis – not as strong as this one – and our pathos was more like a posse than real pain, mainly because my contemporaries and me were true teens at that time, and we even had grunge and brit pop to swallow the bitterest of shots. What do youngsters nowaddays have? Justin Bieber and David Guetta? Poor prospect. I, personally, have always considered what happened at that time as an unnoticed warning of what has taken place later – many a thing could be said about the cyclic crashes of the capitalist system – and the dawning of this new era of instability.

While the generation of our parents defined themselves by their oficios (carpenter, farmer, plumber, nurse, etc) we are forced to undergo a few momments of embarrassment when asked the sempiternal conversation starter: what do you do? (my goodness, can anybody see how inappropriate and rude this question can be?), above all if the inquirer has got a job and the inquired one hasn’t got any, in that case I should regard it as an insult and claim propper satisfaction by smacking the other’s face with my glove.  In this context, one feels unsure about deciding whether to answer wholeheartedly with a V-sign accompanied by a four letter word of medieval origin, or uttering a hesitant it depends….I can be a writter, translator, interpreter, proofreader, editor, web designer, digital marketer, subtitler, localizer, programmer, video editor, woodworker, and sometimes I even make bracelets that I sell on Etsy.

The general trend leads more to a series of “entrepreneurs of themselves” rather than to a collectivity of employees as has happened until recently in post-industrial societies. We are being slowly forced to become service providers, rather than employees that must be “sustained” by an employer. In an ideal world, workers would be regarded as the main asset of a company, since they will always produce products for a value substancially higher than their salaries.

Deprived of the possibility of planifying their futures, people are increasingly becoming used to a more short-term, “not looking too far ahead” existence. Making plans for the future, while life is that thing going on right now, may not seem like the right thing to do. Not knowing where your next month’s income, if any, is going to come from, gives a feeling of the earth moving under your feet.

In addition to this, workers are becoming increasingly defenseless as unions can no longer provide propper shelter to people who lack attachements to the companies they work in for a few hours a week. The postindustrial reality of big companies where hundreds or thousands of people used to work, supported by strong unions, seems to have passed away. Spanish and other European government regulations, clearly favoring the corporations and hostile to labor covenants, are also parts of this new reality.

Everybody seems to have accepted that the next generation will have worse living conditions than the previous one, and that is a bit scary. It is not that the current or the previous generations were living buoyant and luxurious lives, but some small caprices they used to indulge in will not be accessible to the millennials.  Lower wages, worse quality jobs, structural unemployment contribute to a final discouraging picture.

Is everything really that bad? “Is this the end of the world as we know it?“ (REM). No, frankly, I don’t think so. I believe it is simply the time to move on to something else. To keep going or pulling our own weight. Use the words that suit you best. If you do not have a job or if the jobs available are not good, maybe it is the right time to go solo. It is easier said than done? Of that I am sure, since I have gone down that path myself.

In my last unsuccessful work experience I became aware of a truth so long silenced to myself: I don’t want a job, I don’t want to be an employee if I can avoid it and heaven knows I’m misserable now (The Smiths). Educated in a culture of “getting things done by yourself” (unfortunately almoust gone) and, why not, also encouraged by the Internet and the international trends of DIY, I felt inclined enough to leave the labor force and the long lines in the job center to become a freelancer. Now I am on my own; when there is nothing to lose, everything is to be gained, and anyway, as my granfather said: If you can work for yourself, you’re better off not working for anyone else. There is no need to work in something you do not like just for the sake of having access to a potencial retirement pension that no one is certain you will ever be able to get paid. For this last aspect other alternatives also exist, such as real estate investments, private pension plans and all sorts of investments related to the stock exchange.

In a world where information, capital and companies move around “freely“, the labor market, economy and society had to become unstable sooner or later. Maybe it is not so crazy to stop fighting or running away from inestabilidad, but to embrace it as the new paradigm that will rule our lives. Wiser money management, dropping consumptive behavior and trying to be as collaborative and self-sufficient as possible may be ways to handle this new environment.

In this matter, governements have, as usual, a great deal to say. Making it easier for any individual to create new businesses, removing bureaucracy and taxes from self-sufficiency installations for home energy would be very helpful. Currently, many people are being left out of the system (jobless, homeless, without access to public social aid) when they might be creating alternative systems of their own. In this context we have seen things like the common wellfare and collaborative economies in recent years. The first one offers a better distribution of wealth, with a strong ethical bias, the second is more related to the better use of resources – energy, transportation and all sorts of goods – by sharing, exchanging or renting. Owning something is becoming less important than being able to use it.

The new environment makes it difficult to survive the old traditionale way, but, in return, provides lots of tools to fight for ourselves and make it through a new world. I have mentioned the internet and collaborative economy, I’ve talked about becoming a freelancer or creating a home business based on whathever your tastes or your skills are. Exchanging time for money is and will always be an option for those who are not very keen on this new paradygm, but be ready to accept the consequences of any choice you make.


[1] said (Latin)