I belong to a very special, very small category of people : being unable to work, I am dependent on the province of British Columbia, where I live, to support me.
From the point of view of someone ground down by the workaday world, my life might seem like paradise. I have no job to go to, no mortgage to worry about, no boss, no drudgery, no hierarchic humiliations, and no commute.
It is easy, for those for whom each leisure moment is a jealously guarded gem, to imagine that there could be nothing better than an unlimited supply.
But I am here to tell you that, from my experience, there is no such thing as unlimited leisure. I am not living a life of unhindered bliss. And that has very little to do with the fact that I live on around $950/month.
It has to do with endless days to fill. It has to do with have no center, no structure in your life. It has to do with a feeling of utter worthlessness because you feel like you are nothing but a burden on society no matter how badly you wish you could contribute.
Because one of the hidden truths of our narrowly hedonistic modern lives is that people need to work. Specifically, they need to contribute their labour to the society in which they live in a meaningful way that is recognized by proximate authority and valued by the people they work with and, in a subtler but more profound way, by society itself.
And this applies equally to disabled people like me, the transitionally unemployed on unemployment insurance, people on welfare, and people living in areas with extremely high rates of unemployment.
So what becomes of us who are, for whatever reason, destined to live our lives outside the world of work? What happens to people when society does not need them? What does the world look like from that far down on society’s totem pole?
In short, not very good. To be unable to work is to be unable to enter adulthood, and traps people in a kind of bitter juvenile state where they know damned well what society thinks of the dependent poor and yet they are powerless to escape this life at the bottom of society’s valuation.
This is particularly acute in the case of high unemployment. To have generations of young people grow up with no realistic hope of a job does terrible things to them. They end up in a stage of ingrown adolescence, unable to truly grow up and yet feeling the pain of their purposeless existences every moment of every day.
That is why, where there is high unemployment, you also find high levels of alcoholism, child abuse, domestic abuse, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, and all the other ills that plague this forgotten strata of society.
These people are desperately trying to fill the endless pointless days with a kind of low-level decadent lifestyle of parties, sex, booze, drugs, anything that fills up their time and lends some sense of direction and purpose to their lives.
And the true tragedy is that they don’t know why they have to party and drink and fuck all the time. They have no name for the pain they are in, no way to address what is wrong with their situation. Society, with unintentional cruelty, tells them that their lives are great and nothing in their environment or their education gives them a clue as to why they are in such pain and what they could possibly do about it if they knew.
I think that if we, as a society, truly understood what long term unemployment with little hope of relief does to people and the societies they live in, we would understand why having a job is a right, not a privilege, and that it is in society’s best interest, as well as the moral thing to do for these people, to invest in finding meaningful labour for all its citizens.
As for people like me, people who have made it through forty years of life without ever having a full time job that could support them, we suffer invisibly in our apartments, our basements, or even in the same room we have had since we were kids because we still live with our parents.
Nobody stops to think about what it is like to live in such suspended animation. It’s like your entire life is that period at the end of summer where kids are bored of being out of school and can’t wait for it to start again and give them structure and something to do.
Except for people like me, summer never ends, and the very thing that keeps me out of the job market – depression – is made worse every day by this lack of function.
I dread my days a lot of the time because I am keenly aware of how purposeless my life is and the vast black void this lack of purpose or contribution leaves within the very center of my soul.
I, too, have failed to grow up. People act like it’s something that just happens given time, but I am here to tell you that this is just not true. Without the proper stimulation from environment and situation, the end of summer never comes and you are left with endless days of futile diversions.
If it wasn’t for this blog, and the videos I have recently resumed making, my life would collapse completely and I would dread each day and the constant burden of continuous diversion and desperately trying to stuff your life with as much play as possible in order to fill the work-shaped void in your heart with something that, no matter how hard you push, will never truly fit.
And society is on the hook for all my living expenses and medical costs for quite possibly the rest of my life.
So no. This is not a life of leisurely bliss.
It’s a very special kind of hell.
I will talk to you again tomorrow, dear friends.