Ordinary language is all right.
One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.
Forced by circumstance to teach business ethics, I encountered a lot of the standard material and found it dismaying just how much of it addressed itself to some imaginary good citizen, weighing in on the big issues of the day, or some fantastical manager, the hopes of humanity condensed into a magician of fiduciary responsibilities—the duty of relevance thus discharged. This is not that much different from a lot of standard 'moral problems' material, addressed to that same imaginary good citizen, or to a bright young future leader of society, or a concerned consumer—also dismaying in its way. Teaching other courses over the past several years, I've always tried to keep in mind where my students might be going, perhaps in five years or so, or even immediately (i.e. nowhere), and I've been bothered by the thought of the extreme uselessness of anything they might have studied in school, in the face of a miserable economy with no place for people foolhardy enough to have sought educations thinking that they were a path to success or security. I've wished, then, to teach what I think of my experience of post-education joblessness—parallel to, or a shift of, the experiences I imagine them soon having—as having made me even more sensitive to: material with some claim to offer refuge for the thoughtful. Speaking to the something that makes me reach for Schopenhauer in gloomy times, say. (Not consolation: a place to think, promising some absorption, for a time.) But in my ethics courses, that wish has been inflected by another: that the material actually seem to be about the world, about reality, us, now—when so much of the standard material feels to me as if it moves in some enlightened space, or some airless game, untouched by life, especially life outside the university. Several years of academic unemployment or exploitative underemployment will make you acutely sensitive to that, I guess. (Like an 'acute' medical condition.) In business ethics, though, awash by now as a field in material trying to learn and teach the lessons of the financial crisis, what seemed missing to me was anything that spoke to the perspective of people whose lives had been ruined or turned inside out by it. I found pieces here and there that seemed to answer to the need I felt when constructing syllabi, but nothing quite satisfying. My most recent go-around, though, in one such source, which I was pleased to assign just because it actually had a whole chapter on unemployment, I was met with this:
'Unemployed. Among the mainly middle class white-collar workers I talked to, this was almost a dirty word. They preferred phrases like "between jobs," "seeking employment," "looking for my next opportunity," or "in transition." While early on in my fieldwork I did not find this language particularly significant—perhaps they are trying to shun a stigmatized label, I thought—as I learned more about the experience of job loss among white-collar workers, I began to see it as crucial. The word unemployed implies a certain backward looking, negative attitude that does not adequately capture the temporal and emotional structure in which they preferred to see themselves. They saw themselves as "transitioning," not from a loss located somewhere in their recent past into a new present, but from one understanding of the future to another. The past, which for many years had served as a relatively reliable source of information about the future, had ceased to be of much use. Unemployment, then, was primarily a future-oriented process.'
This sounds good. It wasn't me, though. I found myself saying to people, flatly, 'I'm unemployed'. Wanting to insist, maybe, on a cold candor, anticipating an empty consolation I wanted to deny. And maybe I felt that this fit, where the white-collar workers' preferred alternatives would ring false. An academic coming off a Ph.D., braving 'the job market', is not 'between' anything, not 'transitioning'. They face an endless gauntlet, a Sisyphean farce, an abyss. Nor, I would learn, is an adjunct, coming off one or two or three courses, as December or May rolls around. There are no opportunities to look for, no moves to make: there are, fortune permitting, lifelines that you grab if and when they're there. If not, then there's nothing. A void. No hope, no future.
And maybe this is why a newly minted academic's experience of joblessness—or so I've felt—seems so sui generis. Tenure track aside, and accounting for the mitigations of a careerist mindset (which has never been mine anyway), hoping to present at that conference, make that connection, publish in that journal, academic work is so little oriented toward any definite future (beyond the next class meeting, the next book, the end of the semester) that absent a place in its sustaining institutions, outside of the matrix in which its values thrive, academic workers are bereft of any understanding of the future at all. Certainly not of any for them.
'The Sex Pistols made a breach in the pop milieu, in the screen of received cultural assumptions governing what one expected to hear and how one expected to respond. Because received cultural assumptions are hegemonic propositions about the way the world is supposed to work—ideological constructs perceived and experienced as natural facts—the breach in the pop milieu opened into the realm of everyday life: the milieu where, commuting to work, doing one's job in the home or the factory or the office or the mall, going to the movies, buying groceries, buying records, watching television, making love, having conversations, not having conversations, or making lists of what to do next, people actually lived. Judged according to its demands on the world, a Sex Pistols record had to change the way a given person performed his or her commute—which is to say that the record had to connect that act to every other, and then call the enterprise as a whole into question. Thus would the record change the world.'
Your life will vanish.
'In this malady, that which is, is wholly to themselves'