Share your Ryde: The Subtle Art of Precarity
Most of the leading thinkers on adapting to the economic problems of the 21st century are poor.
This is not coincidence. The situation globally is, in reality, very different from the models which are typically used in the media, in academia and in government. People who are documenting and thinking about at reality are often operating outside of the "fundable sphere" of government and other large funding bodies, with the result that if the work is to be done at all, it's done alone or with only tiny amounts of support. Several of my close associates: Michel Bauwens, Chris Watkins, Alan Chapman, Kevin Carson, Marcin Jakubowski and Dougald Hine all walk a fine line, and yet between them comprise a very substantial contribution to good outcomes for all of us. I myself, as I've written about before, have supported the Hexayurt Project for years while living as a member of the precariat: literally those who walk on the edge. Edgeryders.
My own challenge today is housing. Let me tell you the tale. I'd burned out in London last winter, 2010, trying to start a company called Buttered Side Down, which was a consultancy looking at managing economic collapse and state failure in Europe. As you can imagine, trying to explain the risks to people in 2009 was very difficult: we were much, much further outside of the "fundable sphere" than we realized! This is a pretty typical experience of my generation - big risks, heavy personal investment, and only occasional success. It's the standard model of the ".com" startup company, and as we all know, most new companies fail. But those guys, when they win, win big and are supported by a massive investment system. It's not so easy for non-tech companies.
Failure happens. I moved to Ireland to help start a green digital fabrication/"permafacture" facility at the Cloughjordan Ecovillage, a blend of the fablab local manufacturing concept with green production techniques. It was an inexpensive, rural place to rest, regenerate and (frankly) I got very attached to the place and planned to quit the high investment, high burn environment of London permanently. This is a very common pattern for people like me, to "quit the game" and move to some rural location, cut the financial burn rate, slow down and try to be more effective outside of the most intense areas. Now this is a very good move for some people, and it was a very, very good move for me. I love living in rural Ireland, and most of what I do I can do online.
But not all of it. I was offered a small role at Hub Westminster, an enormous new social enterprise incubator in the very most central part of London. 1200 square meters about 100 yards from Trafalgar Square and the other tourist shrines, but more importantly, less than half an hour from almost anywhere in London. The role I have here, curating a series of art and culture events called Truth and Beauty is a job which can only be done here, a brining together of people and a weaving of threads into a fabric. Not everything is portable. Not all locations are equal. Sometimes you need the density of the city to work the magic. Come along one Tuesday night if you're in London! (see #truthandbeauty on Twitter for details)
So I'm trying, so far unsuccessfully, to get back on the damn merry-go-round. Rents in London more or less require somebody to sell out to find a place to live, or be lucky. But the amount of luck required typically takes either miracles or a lot of time, trial and error. People treat looking for a place to live as a disease: "oh, you're looking for a place to live, I'm sorry." And it's not surprising: rents are maybe double what would allow ordinary people to
live well, and a substantial part of that cost is property speculation: people are storing their wealth in the form of housing in London, and so the competition is not simply on the use value of the homes, but there is also competition on competition, value created simply because other people give these places value as stores of wealth. The systemic problems of housing turn into massive personal strife and distorted lives - immense commutes, lives stripped of everything but work to support a decent place to live. In my case, I handle it by being a drifter. I'm Precariat, System D, a nomad: I need a place I can let go of as soon as the money dries up, and move somewhere cheaper. I need a place which doesn't freak out about four countries in five years.
Some parts of my experience are very individual - my life path is deeply unconventional and likely unique. Other areas are very typical - unable to manage both my personal cause and acquisition of the trappings of adulthood like a mortgage and a car, never mind the fruits of adulthood like children. I exist as a perpetual boy, my possessions not all that different from what I owned in my 20s, even as I approach the last weeks of my 30s. I'll hit 40 with an international reputation as a deep thinker on issues government - generally speaking - cannot handle, with too few possessions to fill a moderately-sized taxi. A charitable term for this is neoteny, extending the child-like phase of life far into maturity as a way of accessing continued growth and development. Less charitably, it's failing to stand up as an adult. But my perception that the choice was to do something directly about the condition of the world, or push all that energy into winning the social and economic games of the society around me. Many of my peers have made similar choices, we're an unstudied group, a set of people making choices which should be important to government, in that we're exactly the people goverment used to fund as academics, as tenured professors, and instead we're System D, hanging on my our fingernails to the right to intellectual freedom in a land without tenure.
This is why we need Edgeryders. It's the first sign I've seen from a major governmental institution -the Council of Europe - asking how people are managing the new environment. To identify the trend in youth unemployment, in lack of educational opportunities unburdened by unpayable infinite debt, and ask "so how are you coping? what have you figured out?" I'm telling you the story of my precarity, and it's one data point. It's one space where we'll be exploring, in future missions: how are you managing housing? My answer, right now, is "badly, because I have to, because my work is in a city I can't afford to live in, and my own morality won't let me abandon the opportunity or sell out." But the only place I know of, right now, to push this kind of realization and this kind of analysis of our experiences into government is Edgeryders.
It's a cutting edge study not just of precarity, but of the whole phenomenon of being young in a time without abundance. Different places feel the pain in different ways - I hear that in Italy it's internships until you're thirty, but that people live at home with their parents and that's become OK. In Greece, it's worse and more complicated, and increasingly difficult.
So. Edgeryders. It's a place we can meet and discuss the issues. It's a place to get the data into the eye of government, in a place which is interested, sympathetic and asking the right questions - and actually wants the real answers. It's a place to talk about our human experiences, and about the new stuff which is working, in these difficult times, to collect and learn from the best examples we have, the "positive deviances" where the new work is poking through the grinding gears of the old. There is a creative edge to this Edgeryder business, places where incredible new things are happening, new forms as distinct as laminates and composites like carbon fiber in comparison to old materials like steel. Something wonderful is happening, but you need a quick, subtle eye to appreciate it. The most profound innovations, while they are small, do not appear on the covers of magazines!
We're deeply interested in working together to tell our stories, and we'd like you to join, take part, and support this. I'm fully behind this because it matters, and I want your support.
What can you do?
- Sign up to the platform
- Identify other ways of getting people involved - organizations to Alberto and Lyne, individuals generally speaking send to me.
- Start doing the deep thinking about what kinds of policy recommendations we'd like to present next year now.
The scope and breadth of the potential for thinking through a new social settlement in Europe is here.
All we need is you.