On precarity 23:58 on Wednesday

As it is May Day eve tonight, I was checking out EuroMayDay 2008 and bumped into precarity, a term I had heard (in Finnish) but — I must confess my lack of knowledge — I did not know the meaning of.

Well, Wikipedia to the rescue. Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of precarity:

Precarity is a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material or psychological welfare. The term has been specifically applied to either intermittent work or, more generally, a confluence of intermittent work and precarious existence.

Coincidentally, this is related to what I’ve been thinking about since reading Sennett’s book The Corrosion of Character. Flexibility, the freedom linked to it, and the existence without predictability that it entails. As I understand it (and to simplify a bit), precarity is used mostly in conjunction with people who are not able to maintain a decent standard of living, because of intermittent or low income.

But in a sense precarity, the flexible exploitation of people, happens to people with higher living standards, too. It’s just that us, who can eat out in a restaurant any day we want and live in good apartments, we choose to be exploited. We want the “freedom” of flexibility. We ask for our lives to be unpredictable. Somehow, we might even think we’re enjoying it. But how enjoyable will this life be when we are no more able to pick a job we like, when the downsides of flexibility hit us on the face? It will be too late to ask for security then.

To make it clear, I’m not whining about how scary it is to think that my daily restaurant lunches would go away. I’m only saying precarity is a problem, and in a wide sense it is a problem for a large part of the society. Intermittent work and risk of social exclusion are the major, real problems that should be tackled, but there’s also a widespread mindset that needs changing.

Or something. What do I know. Happy Wappu all.

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