Today was my first day back in action, And by action I mean failing to stay awake in a 9am lecture. Ah, University. The bedrock of my dreams and aspirations. I pay £9000 a year in the hope that it will be a sound investment. It stimulates the mind and challenges me to push my body to the limits to cram as much information about Isaiah Berlin, theories of war, about the development of the Fabians, Stanley Baldwin, urban Toryism, and other niche things that I am clearly listing to sound like an intellectual. But I enjoy it. I enjoy the vast privilege of having the world at my fingertips for three brief years. I am half way through now, and I don’t want it to end.
But I oft reconsider the value of this investment in practical terms, once the romanticism passes, and today was one of those times.
Sitting with my friends, sipping tea, catching up, talking about our futures, it all seems quant and happy. And it is! And yet, these conversations give light to what my future will realistically entail. One of my friends was talking about a flat her parents were buying her -a gorgeous, Edwardian London terrace in Zone 1 (ZONE 1)- for after graduation.I gasped. It was spoken about so nonchalantly that suddenly I felt like I had been placed on an entirely different planet where to its inhabitants money and mortgages, food and bills, none of it mattered.
I considered in that moment the conversations I’d had with my mother about ‘generation rent’. She would recall her childhood and her relative mobility. But I hate that. I hate it when baby-boomers try to reassure you with stories of days gone by. Days when house prices were just 3 times the average salary, not 11. Where wages outperformed inflation. Where Job Seeker’s Allowance was there if you needed it and there was no danger of it being banned from under your 21 year old fingertips. I told her of my generation, a lost one that had been neglected and thrown to one side. That my future -even with all the love and support- would always be restrained by a world where to be upwardly mobile you had to take numerous unpaid internships where in her day £40k entry jobs existed. I talked of millennials as one generation.
But then as I listened to my friend today, it dawned on me that I was applying romanticism to even this, just as I had my investment in University. I applied a homogeneity to my generation, but the rose tint in my glasses that made me feel solidarity with those around me fades once I leave my community at home and make the seasonal journey back to a University that has more than 40% of students coming from private school. Suddenly I’m surrounded with people discussing The Ski Trip (What is it about The Ski Trip?! It’s as though private school kids come out of the womb with ski goggles on), talking about the lavish Christmas parties they hosted, and the London flat their parents were buying for them. I realised that my generation is just like the rest of the population: divided. A lot of my peers have never cried about money, or about a future that often appears jobless and without the realisation of your aspiration. It isn’t their fault, but it is hard sometimes not to feel ostracized from this microcosm of society. I often miss talking to friends back at home about shared anxieties.
This, in review, feels narcissistic. These anxieties are widely shared, and are certainly not unique to myself. But I often have sudden epiphanies, occasionally in succession, about the very root of those anxieties within my community: university. Or at least, university as a component of a broken social mobility system where familal wealth continues to matter more than anything else. And yet we dare to call ourselves meritocrats. That’s not to say I have that merit; after all, I’m writing this blog over doing my work. But I worry that even if we push our body to those limits. Even if an average kid reads really hard about Isaiah Berlin, so long as they are not sitting on an accumulation of inherited wealth, they will never have the comfort of security, and they will never not feel the need to write abysmally melancholy and self-pitying blog posts like this.
But this is what this blog is; to share why I care about the things I do. And here it is. Epiphanies like this make me realise I shouldn’t just work hard to succeed individually, but to succeed in recreating a society my peers and I can safely enter as equals. It’s these tiny insights into my everyday going-ons that remind me why I care about politics. The personal is the political.