Post-laboural society

Enough about exhibitions or trying to find out what other people consider as the emerging post-postmodernism. In my opinion, post-postmodernism in the Nordic countries (and the whole Western world) will invariably deal with the concept of labour. We have moved through postmodernism and postindustrialism into a new phase, which I’ve (somewhat pretentiously) named post-labouralism.

In the forefront are the 20-somethings, the “millennials” without employment. Words like labour, job, employment and salary are axiomatic to the baby-boomer generation, as well as GenX and even to GenY. The words, however self-evident they may seem, carry a different meaning to a large portion of the 18-year olds in the West, for whom the industrial type jobs not only have moved to China, but have “always” been in  China. There is a generation of unemployed, who do not even have the concept of how life is when you have a job. In the Nordic countries this includes many young people whose parents were laid off at the financial crisis of the 90s. Problems like not having a daily rhythm sound like banalities, but if neither you nor your parents have ever been expected to punch in at 8am, maybe staying in bed until the evening is commonplace. There is a huge cultural gap between those whose time divided into work, leisure time and rest, and those who have but a ‘soup of haphazard habits’. A sense of being in charge of your life may be hard to achieve. Depression and anxiety are common, not just because of the existential condition, but from the sheer lack of daily rhythm. (Several hormones associated with mood are secreted in a circadian pattern.)

How to make ends meet, then? Welfare, different youth stimulus programs, internships and “trial periods” are common in the Nordic youth lingo. To actually have a long term contract is extremely rare, and even short term employment contracts are hard to find. Instead, the millennials often “work” through stimulus programs or 2011-style “internships”, which often translate into VERY low pay that may not even be called a salary, and compared to their parents’ generation, extremely unfavourable conditions. Many fall through the cracks and simply end up on welfare or permanent sick leave from the day they enter the labour force.

Slowly, the working class is becoming the no-working class. If art is to “portray society”, the experiences of this class, as well as the implications of this fundamental transformation, cannot be neglected. Here I don’t mean any neo-marxist mosaic of hammers and such, but the portrayal of the existential condition of the no-working class; an artistic sublimation of the world seen through eyes of a generation on non-salary or a “citizen’s salary”.

When I think of the Alter modern art, I think of ethnic heterogenity, obliteration of borders, neo-idealism across time and space. There is however, a significant fraction of society who do are not onboard the alter modern ship; the now unemployed working class and middle class, with very strong bonds to a local culture. The young, uneducated, unglobal. And they’re not feeling good on the inside.

Is it even possible to sustain the axiom that people should have jobs? Maybe other forms of social circumstances have to be generated. Some people have already suggested “citizen’s salary”, a sum of money that everybody gets regardless of whether they are employed or not. This, of course, necessitates a wealthy state. I personally find this model repulsive, but it should be named and stated fairly, said out loud, since for many of the millennials it is practically already a reality. The stimulus programs are basically equal to benefits disconnected from  job performance and the very concept of employment.

In Sweden 2023, the dependency ratio is estimated to be 80% . This is equal to the percentage of population over 65 or under 18. (Source: Statistics Sweden) In the hands of the remaining 20 percent is the support of all the others. This is all fair and square, but the question is how do we support the dependents if there is no work available? Can there be a new form of industry that employs us en masse? The current total unemployment rate in Sweden is 8,8% , but for the population under 24 years of age this figure is 22%. This means that of the generation supposed to support others, a significant part is already not accustomed to working and quite unemployable. Also, even if you raise the taxes of labor to high figures, the low number of employed people cannot sustain the dependenants-en-masse.

Again, if art is to portray society, these issues should be addressed. Right now the art from this silent generation and social group is “shining with its absence”. If the post-postmodern world is not ready to analyze the concept of labour/no-labour yet, it will surely happen by 2023, when the dependency problem really kicks in.


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