There are so many metaphors for being unemployed. My preference is a burial scenario. You are being buried and the earth keeps getting piled upon you deeper and deeper until you eventually stop trying to dig your way out. It becomes your early grave. Might as well just stay in there. When the economy eventually does improve, 43% of those 13.9 million long-term unemployed Americans may very likely remain buried as the new sidewalks of hope are poured right over them. The new armies with stars and dollar signs in their eyes will blindly stagger along going in and out of gold-plated doors, making their way around the Monopoly board until the next recession—roughly every ten years.
You know what I’d rather write about? Listening to Ryan Adams play an acoustic version of “Wasted Years” by Iron Maiden. Then I listened to Iron Maiden’s original. Now I’m listening to the Dead Kennedys’ “Holiday in Cambodia.” There’s one we all know and love. They’ve actually got some nice tunes that seem like they could be the soundtrack for the class warfare that’s being talked about.
That’s right, class warfare. It was relevant back then and it’s relevant again now. The Republicans don’t like the term because it insults their friends, the millionaires and billionaires, the supposed “job creators.”
As to the music, it’s actually relevant, too, because the late-seventies was when the middle class began to notice that their line on the graph was flattening out while the line for the top tier was dramatically turning upward. What the current economy reveals is that the fiscal practices and policies begun in the late-seventies have severely weakened the base upon which capitalism depends: an economically-viable majority…as opposed to an unstable, vulnerable majority, which is what we have now.
The concept of class warfare becomes relevant whenever the gap between the top and the bottom becomes too wide. Historically, Americans have always been able to tolerate dramatic and obvious divisions between classes. And the lower and middle classes have usually been willing to go along with the status quo, or at least, they’ve been forced to go along with it. Until it becomes unsustainable, which is what we are seeing now. You know things are bad when the usually comfortable white people are out protesting! Americans can tolerate it when the poverty divisions are along racial lines, but sadly, when enough white people start to fall to the bottom, that’s when you start to see a fundamental shift.
Generally, large numbers of people of any color protesting makes people at the top very nervous. Interestingly, Republicans have been quick to accuse Democrats of waging class warfare when it is suggested that the top economic tiers pay more in taxes. But by definition, class warfare isn’t waged from the bottom. Class warfare is what the top, in collaboration with the politicians they bought, have been waging against the bottom for the last thirty years. And for another musical reference, this is why disco gave way to angry punk rock.
Hello, again. It’s the author. Hi! Just checking in with you. How are you? Hope things are going well. What you have just read is one of the ways I would get through each day of my 681 days of unemployment. I would write about it. I wrote about all sorts of things. Mostly in notebooks. If you looked at them, you might think they were the scribblings of a madman. I’d prefer it if you didn’t share your opinion of that in the comments. Or, go ahead. I won’t read them anyway.
The notebooks. Different colors, sketches, lower case, upper case, blocks, cursive, weird markings, stains, tape, insects, blood. That junk isn’t for an audience. It’s the crawl through the shit pipe I sometimes have to go through to get to the real issues underlying economic forces that have far too much sway over our lives. It feels like we are constantly held just out of balance. It’s what propels people through capitalism. The real writing happens once I’ve gone through some of that. Otherwise, there is nothing at stake and I’m not being real.
I don’t hide anything. I’d pretty much be the same if we went out for a beer. I propel myself toward the discomfort zone of disclosure because that is the real story and I remember how alienating unemployment was. It was one of those things that society seemed to want you to keep quiet about. It’s like talking about hemorrhoids. Nobody wants to hear about your anus. Everybody looks for reasons for the recession to be over. They look to glimmers of hope despite the realities right in front of them. Here’s my anus! In my experience, it’s better to face reality head on. Sorry about the anus imagery. Very unpleasant, but you get the point.
Unemployment is one of the worst things that can happen to you in a society that places so much emphasis on career and financial advancement. The unemployed are so stigmatized in our culture of work that companies don’t want to hire them. The blame is automatically shifted onto the individual rather than on the blatant failures of our deregulated economic system and intrinsically-bought political structures. Deep down, many people are too threatened by this scenario. That’s why Occupy Wall Street is pushing so many buttons and causing the establishment to crack down. Even worse, studies are showing that unemployment puts people permanently behind.
My experience as one of the 13.9 million(+++) pushed me into some new and some not so new psychological and intellectual terrain, and I don’t hide that. I was terrified. It woke me up. There was something about architecture that put me in a dream state that was relatively removed from politics and economics. The culture of self- importance. Academic navel gazing. The pretence of cultural superiority. Droll pseudo- intellectualism unhinged from ethics. Complacency. It’s not even about architecture per se. When you are doing moderately well and making progress on your ARE exams or whatever, you think things are on track. You can annoy everyone and be a totally obsessed archi-geek.
When you suddenly can’t pay your bills or your student loans and your landlord is after you and you are getting pulled over by the cops for expired tags and your driver’s license is also expired months ago and you don’t have auto insurance and most of your unemployment is going to pay for maintaining your health insurance premiums and you can’t go to the doctor anyway because you can’t afford the co-pay and you strategize how much money to give to the landlord when you really should just buy food and you don’t actually qualify for food stamps and you constantly bounce checks to everyone you give them, too and weekly get your VISA card rejected in front of strangers who look at you not with pity but annoyance and contempt and your bank is benefiting by charging you for each overdraft and there are something like ten a week and your teeth ache but you can’t go to the dentist because your insurance didn’t include dental in the first place and your friends keep emailing you the same two job listings for junior level architects or interns for temporary positions thinking that this would save you and you accept a temporary position with someone that as it turns out has so many financial problems of his own that he can’t pay you on a regular basis but he just expects you to put that out of your mind and stay focused and work your ass off at all hours in his little office where there isn’t even any coffee and and and and and! Fuck!
This is the conclusion of EDD DE 1101 I. I will not write about this again. I’m sure you are glad about that, as well. If you are one of the thousands of unemployed architects and you have managed to read this to this point, you have my sympathies. Yes, you have my sympathies for having to read this and for having to endure what you are enduring or not enduring as the case may be. Again, no one gives a crap, but persevere anyway! Do it for yourself. Read a lot of good books outside of architecture, learn to play a musical instrument. If near a beach, take walks on the beach in your bare feet. Do yoga. Take kung fu. Do not move in with your parents…unless you absolutely have to! Talk to people about what’s real in your life…even if that means making an appointment (if you still have insurance : )).
That being said, I won’t stop writing about real issues until there is reason to not draw attention to them. As long as unemployment is an issue, I will bring it up. Someone once told me they prefer to focus on what is right with architecture and the good things architects are doing. This is all well and good. I am passionate about architecture, too and that is why I try to draw attention to what is real. When the real story becomes mostly positive, I’ll focus on that. For now however, this is the ride we are on.
Guy Horton is a Los Angeles writer and author of the critical blog, The Indicator on ArchDaily.com, which covers issues ranging from the culture, politics, and business of architecture to theory and aesthetics. He is a frequent contributor to The Architect's Newspaper, The Atlantic Cities ...