The first two words of the Daily Telegraph the other day were “Unemployed workers”. The article then went on about the root and branch (but not trunk) reforms of the benefits system.
I liked unemployed workers. I liked it for a lot of reasons. First, it is an oxymoron in the proper rhetorical sense. Like Shakespeare’s:
O heavy lightness! Serious vanity!
Misshapen chaos of well seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!
Or Bart Simpson’s “This sucks and blows at the same time.” Or “She’s hot and she’s cool” or “Military Intelligence”.
Second, there is the distant ancient voice of Marxism calling from the front page of the Telegraph. Workers of the world unite! To a convinced communist there are only workers and the bourgeoisie, just as in the eyes of God there are only sinners and saints. The notion that a worker is a worker whether he works or no has a long linguistic pedigree.
And in a related sense, there is the idea of the working class: from the great triumvirate of upper, middle and… working. It is the euphemism denied by context: rather like tourist or economy class on an aeroplane.
Finally, unemployed workers recalls that great paradox of identity. Is doing being, or being doing? Or, as Frank Sinatra put it: do-be-do-be-do-be-do.
The famous French tosspot, Jean-Paul Sartre, observed that if you spend all day every day waiting tables, then it’s no use claiming that you are, in reality, an artist. In reality you are a waiter. He denied an interior truth that might, like a potent dream, outdo the mere existence.
So there you go…