Thursday, 2 August 2012

Of Rags and Riches - So You've Decided to Graduate

What a sorry time it is to be a young person in Britain today! An education which would previously have gotten you within a stone's throw of the Times rich list now has twenty-somethings scrambling for retail assistant jobs in high street stores. And what a life awaits those who net the elusive offer of employment from the benevolent franchise conglomerate. What you convinced yourself was a stopgap eventually becomes a career trajectory, as you backwards rationalise over depressing wine-fuelled dinners with your parents that your aspirations at University to contribute something of value were unrealistic. But fuck – at least you're employed, you're one of the lucky ones.

The unemployed, meanwhile, are experiencing early onset of the kind of life-beaten cynicism on par with Al Swearengen's maxim that until death's solace envelops, 'you got more punishment in store.' Sold the snake-oil lie by corporate-minded and managed universities that anyone without a degree might as well get used to the taste of spam and baked beans on toast for the rest of their lives, they move back in with their parents, thumbing through the classifieds, obsessively tinkering with their LinkedIn profiles in the hopes that they can at least find something that stops them having to queue up with alcoholics and burglars to get the pittance in unemployment benefits. And now the anointed Etonians are charging you £27,000 in tuition for a rag that's not worth the paper it's printed on. What a fucking scheme, Bernie Madoff must be kicking himself.

To give some context which I hope will not sound too self-indulgent - I have a 2.1 law degree and am expecting to graduate from my LLM with distinction in two months' time from one of the UK's top ten universities. I have a wide variety of extra-curricular activities I undertook whilst at University, including two separate editorial positions on the University newspaper - my extra-curricular activities alone make my CV an extra page or so longer. Furthermore, I have an academic publication under my belt, as well as a fairly prestigious award which I received after winning an international essay competition. Ordinarily this would be a promising CV for a graduate - a sure-fire route to employment in a meritocracy, yet I'm struggling to even find unpaid internships. Paid work is so elusive it might as well be a galloping beast with wings on its sides and a golden horn in the middle of its head.

My experience is not unique. Young people in Britain today are, taken as a whole, over-educated for the jobs most of them end up doing. Not that education is a bad thing - everyone should read a book or two at some point in their lives - but never before has this country had so much wasted potential. The drive to get more young Britons into higher education was, we were told, supposed to create a new generation of ultra-skilled workers and thinkers. Britain would be to the 21st century what Baghdad was to the 10th; an intellectual utopia where merit maketh the man and social immobility would be an arcane phrase of a generation passed.

It's time for the young people of Britain to admit that we were gamed from the moment we entered school to the moment we graduated; told that hard work and intellect would be its own reward, that riches would follow rags and then increase exponentially, relative to one's output. If you studied and played by the rules, you'd get an A*. That A* would get you into a top ten University, which if you worked hard enough, you could get the first or the 2.1 you craved. After that, the world was your oyster. It was only after you took off the graduation robes and the mortarboard that you realised you were duped! The ball isn't under any of the cups! The Queen is up the dealer's sleeve! What's more - lots of people are getting incredibly rich off this elaborate confidence trick and under the new coalition government's corporatisation of the university industry they're only set to get richer. Pile in, chaps, Cameron says Britain's open for business, and business is booming!

It's received wisdom that the most insecure time of one's life is the year between one's fifteenth and sixteenth birthday, but in today's economic climate that pales in insignificance with the sense of worthlessness and stilted ambition felt by today's graduates. What I wouldn't give to be worried about my acne and street cred – at least there were trajectory and goals. The only goals us young adults have now are getting thinner and thinner and the only people who seem to be able to score and succeed in life are the ones who were blessed from the outset. Consider for a second that the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Mayor of London all went to the same school and were all in the same elitist drinking club at University and you'll get some idea of the potential you have to succeed on your merits.

I wish there was a hopeful message to put at the end of this dreary piece, but my aim was to provide some sense of what I think the zeitgeist of today's graduates is and to end such a piece with a message of positivity would be kind of missing the point. One thing I've found extremely interesting recently is the resurgence of nostalgia for childhood which borders on the pathological amongst people of my age. There's a fetish for the 1990s, a revival of children's cartoons, remakes of films which are barely 20 years old. And why not? What better way to escape the fear and uncertainty of the life of a young adult today than to revert to an Edenistic mental state where insecurity meant not knowing what instant messaging client you favoured? Insecurity is now more profound and to realise its depth would be to court clinical depression and anxiety attacks. I can't escape the feeling that we've transformed into a neo-Victorian society where the aristocracy are at the throne of wealth and power, and they're not interested in letting anyone else sit down. Not because they're genuinely malicious, perhaps, but because, even in an age where information is readily accessible to even the most soot-encrusted pauper, there are still those who are genuinely ignorant of the ways in which some people live and how genuinely impossible it is for those who weren't born with the silver spoon in their mouths to get some decent cutlery.

The longer we dwell on our misfortunes; the greater their power is to harm us - Voltaire

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