Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Uncertain Future

My return to Oxford is still somewhat up in the air. Since I'm beyond fee liability, I'm no longer automatically entitled to the college accommodation I've enjoyed for the last 7 years and, because I was applying for jobs outside Oxford, I didn't make any alternative arrangements. As it is, I suppose I'm now technically house-hunting, although I wouldn't rule out occasional commuting from Colchester, given that I can live rent free with my parents.

Anyway, the ideal would be room in Oxford, preferably with flexibility on the lease (possibly only for MT). After months of uncertainty, last I'd heard from college was that there may be some spare rooms after allocating freshers. They were supposed to be able to let me know by 1st September, however apparently our accommodation officer is now off ill (I'd guess caused by all the stress she has around this time of year), so I still haven't had any confirmation of whether I can get a college room.

Consequently, I still don't know where I'll be when term starts in around a month's time. I'm keeping my fingers crossed I can get that room, in which case I guess I'd move in around 0th week (so I'm not really inconvenienced yet). It does, however, present difficulties for my planning and preparation.

I've noticed one real problem for people around my career stage is the inability to make long-term plans. Previously I'd been aware of things like the difficulty buying a house with short term job contracts, but recently I've seen how - while I was waiting on other jobs applications - a lot of teaching work that was available has already gone to people willing and able to commit early. It seems an uncertain future forces short termism in decision making, which may be an example of rational 'maximin' decision making but effectively rules out certain ideal outcomes.

This is, of course, the kind of thing I've long been generally aware of, but some more personal experience had really reminded me how undesirable it can be. This has also had me thinking about social arrangements. One consequence of the random decision mechanism I examine in my thesis, lottery-voting, is that future outcomes are always unpredictable. Would this uncertainty be bad for all involved? I have a number of quick responses:

i) Uncertainty is not always bad. Sometimes we enjoy surprise and excitement. Often we don't want to know everything about our future - a particularly good example being when we're going to die.

ii) When it is bad, I think the effects of uncertainty are often worsened by inequality. For instance, I didn't commit to teaching because I'm not certain to be in Oxford, while other people could because they are. If no one was certain, then no one would miss out.

ii) Uncertainty may be the lesser evil, compared to be certain loser. At least minorities under a scheme of lottery-voting can hope to get their way, and this is an important reason for them to continue to 'play the game'.

Ironically, if there are fewer college rooms than applicants waiting/hoping for them, my return to Oxford may come down to a random ballot...

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