Free student handjobs …no strings attached…

[A review and thoughts on “The Student Handjob”, a recent publication by the University for Strategic Optimism]

Everything you wanted to know about fucking students but were afraid to ask.  The Student Handjob is the first book produced by members of the University for Strategic Optimism. Its argument, briefly put, is that the higher education system in the UK is being disrupted by the powerful interests of politicians and neoliberal capitalists, who want to turn the college and university into a qualifications factory paid by extreme debt and free labour. Individual and collective learning are undermined by a competitive assessment system that reflects more academic fashions in pleasing teachers’ egos than actual merit, with teachers no longer have time to read students’ work. And if learning suffers, the other reason for going to university – getting a job –  is increasingly rendered impossible by huge unemployment levels, the market-saturation of ‘qualifications’, and the new fashion for unpaid labour – internships. But above all, the problems within the university reflect the wider contradictions of everyday life: institutional racism, sexism, depression, criminalisation, benefits cuts, higher stress levels invoking a systematic cynicism and exhaustion,  anger and boredom. The student is just one convenient weak-point to expose the contradictions and violence within everyday life.

“If we have prevented just one child accepting lollipops from Michael Gove it will have all been worth it.”

[from “Postscript”]

The Optimists write about education because this is the place where they all met and grouped around – it’s always better to write about what you know. Hence the arguments for collective learning groups point to a wider argument for collective solidarity groups and syndicates to resist the isolating effects of everyday life under neoliberal capitalism. And the arguments for hacking and plagiarism explain why new forms of protest and resistance are necessary: the political march, rally and petition are exhausted, ineffective. The peaceful occupation becomes a tourist trap, a fly-trap for any kind of hippified opposition outfit indulging in its own resentment. They never work because they don’t challenge the fundamental rules of social behaviour, and instead cling to even more conservative ideas of righteousness and propriety than even a police or financial firm’s pr officer would dare entertain. Underlying everything in this short, frenzied work is a preoccupation with strategy, a boredom with theorising. Unlike the bloated ‘radical’ book trade with its Marxist or Christian theologies and unimaginative hero-worship of the Zizeks, Badious and so on, the Optimists back up their arguments with firm strategy.

“Given the collapse of your future into a debt shitwave, and the honest impossibility of getting a meaningful job that matches up to your course of study, come then get together and do something about it eh? A sausage factory is powered by the soft hands of its workers, their hearts, guts, and other tripe. Get together with others and work out a real solution to the mess ahead. If you can earn a degree and live a life that exposes the fraud of that degree and the fraud of the labour market, then you may well be exactly the kind of people we require. Three years is a long time. Nothing less is at stake than the future itself.”
[From “Degrees”]

How convincing these strategies are depends on your politics. Some find the arguments alienating, too extreme. Some of the writing is very caustic, almost desperate in its anger, but this forgets that it’s a very funny book too. It’s a sarcastic humour, but there’s laughter involved. The real joke and the point of opposition and beginning something new comes from the students though, of course. There is hope, if students can work together and understand how power relations operate in the classroom, in the learning relation and so on. These power relations can’t go away – the idea of non-hierarchical groups is a total fantasy, purported usually with hierarchical intentions in mind – but they can be worked around and side-stepped, if students set up alternative spaces for learning, reading and working together. The world-weary cynicism in parts of the book also points to things students should avoid – internships, sex work, joining a peaceful protest group, simply accepting and justifying how things are with cynicism. No no. All that is blather. Try something else.

“Utopianism

This one is designed to blow the backdoor, front door, hell, even the walls, off your imagination. Bang one under your tongue, free your mind and head off out to lunch. Food will taste better, sex will be more pleasurable, and the sea will taste of lemonade. You might appear to others as if you’re a few sandwiches short of a picnic, though. Imagining better worlds can be a powerful pastime. Just remember that imagining something doesn’t mean it exists. Use your excursions into the beautiful unknown to criticise the miserable state of the world as it is, now. We all know what happens to people who try to hide away in Neverland with a chimp for a best friend: nothing very fucking good.

High – ‘There will be 37 million poets the equal of Walt Whitman, 37 million musicians the equal of Nina Simone, and 37 million mathematicians the equal of Albert Einstein. Sex will be terrific, especially for transgendered people, with all tastes catered for. Food will be three times more delicate, delicious and plentiful than now. Cheese will flow in the rivers and we will…’ Easy mate! You just stood in a massive runny dogshit and I’m worried you’re going to check if it tastes like chocolate.”

[From “Drugs”]

Students take part in the masturbation of cynical and disappointed teachers’ egos, university recruitment packs and the wider wank-story of being actually paid for labour if you’re a young worker. Keeping up the pornographic imagery,  the sycophantic student whilst pleasuring these powers is in turn fucked from behind by the prevailing neoliberal economic  system which has turned education into a qualifications-factory sustained by serious debt, figures that will involve up to 40 years of a student’s life to now repay. In the wider game, neoliberal economic ideas are fucking the public sector, NHS, general education system and everyday social life up the arse without lube (or anything else), indeed getting off on the austerity of its so fucking good “economic medicine” to an ailing physical economy (more lentil curries and wetherspoons £3 brekkies needed clearly). A piece of paper and a satisfying future are the carrot paraded over the student/worker’s head in this sorry Sadean scene, to which the reader can add more fruity and suspicious characters to taste.

There’s a print edition I’ve been looking at, but the text’s available online too.

For more information:

www.studenthandjob.wordpress.com

www.universityforstrategicoptimism.wordpress.com

www.minorcompositions.info/?p=272

http://akuk.com/non-fiction/undressing-the-academy-or-the-student-handjob/prod_6360.html

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