Jack's blog

It's time for Jack to fill in the forms for University. Is he cut out for an economics degree, or will he follow his parents into engineering?

You'd think it'd be easy leaving home. Pack bag, raid cake tin/swipe parental credit card (if going for non-return option), open door, walk out.

Not any more. Now you're expected to apply to uni, bite your nails down to bleeding stumps waiting for an interview, ring up far away call centres to apply for loans with nasty penalty clauses, and then go through months of angst and revising to make sure you get the grades.

I'm still at stage one: Application. It's a 'mare!

"Well, it all seems very grown up," says Mum, looking at the aptitude tests piled up on the dining room table. "When I went to uni all you needed was three A levels and the patience to fill in grant forms. And housing benefit forms. And of course there was still unemployment benefit during the summer holidays. Ah, happy days."

"Did you have to pay for anything?" I ask, knowing that from the day I walk into the bar at uni I'll be building up a debt that I'll be staggering under for years.

"Well, we paid for Budweiser, mostly. But, you know, you'll be saving a lot on text books. You can get it all online nowadays."

"Yeah, and you'll be able to get most of your coursework off the Net as well," says Amy, one of my precocious twin sisters. "Sign up to our international EasyCrib service and we'll get hard-up foreign students to do all the work for you."

"Wow, that sounds like a real business," I say.

"Yeah, we've just got to get round the fact you can't open a bank account when you're 14."

"Have you done any of the tests yet?" asks Dad. "Can I see the results?" There is still a last lingering hope that the answer popping out will be "Should be an engineer, like his Dad", rather than "Can't make things. Can't solve problems. Can strum guitar a little".

But as I always tell him, why bother about aptitude when you can get into the banking sector? They wouldn't give aptitude the time of day. Or a mortgage. Or a business loan. Mind you, it might qualify for a bonus, if it was on the board.

Anyhoo, we sit down with a cup of tea and a nice plate of biscuits to look at the one that seems most fun. It's called the Social Contract Quadrant, and it explores the four attributes that will make you most useful to your eventual employer: competence, flair, drive and compliancy. 

We work our way through the questions and zoom through competence, linger a little over flair (you get put into categories ranging from supernova to white dwarf - dense, degenerate employees at the end of their natural work life) and come to a full-stop on drive.

"Look," says Dad. "You're rated on animals between chipmunk and sloth. God, I hope I'm not a sloth. But I'd hate to be a chipmunk, they're really annoying. Always running around, collecting food, chattering away to each other..."

"If they organised pointless meetings and handed out business cards too, it sounds
like they'd totally be carrying out your company's vision," says Amy.

"And there's a sub-category at the bottom, greedy sloth. That must be for the people who make off with the stationery and eat all the biscuits."

"Where did these HobNobs come from?" I ask.

"There were a lot left over after the last pointless meeting, that's all I can say" says Dad, uncomfortably.

Then we come to compliancy. Dad was rather hoping it meant knowing all the regulations and how to apply them, but we're on a deeper level here: the test puts you on a scale ranging from surrealist (you never follow the instructions and your project will literally go pear-shaped) to robot. There's a further division within the robots, ranging from the employees who won't protest even if management is harsh and unjust (North Korean) to those who would escape to another firm given half a chance (Russian defector).

Dad is a bit disconsolate to find he's a North Korean chameleon, but justifies it on the grounds he has three children, a large mortgage and very little choice in anything.

"Well, at least you're not lazy and subversive," says Mum, finishing off the HobNobs.

"All this is saying is that you work hard, are loyal and are willing to change all your principles if management says so. You're the perfect employee and I'd take you on, if I wasn't already married to you."

(Mum, of course, scored pretty near top in everything and is an EU supernova cheetah, which means she doesn't mind bending the rules a bit but you'll never catch her, she's too fast.)

"But I think you'd go far being lazy and subversive," I say, realising that I qualify as an anarchist possum (one up from the sloth, being more sweet natured). "You'll never have to work too hard and you'd probably be able to get people to do the work for you if it mattered."

"Yes," says Mum. "But this tests your use to an employer, or a university. It's not about you as a person. It's the Hobbesian view of the legitimacy of the workplace to govern your life, in exchange for security and pay."

"Well, that sounds terrible," I say, just as Dad says: "Yup, pretty fair deal."

We look at each other for a moment, anarchist to Hobbesian.

"You're never going to be an engineer, are you?" he says, wearily.

"I'm lazy and subversive. I'd bring the profession into disrepute," I say.

He brightens up immediately. "Well, we can't have that can we? What exactly can you do with an economics degree then?"

Jack's blog was translated by Jane Maltby

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