Tom Hodgkinson’s Misplaced Jubilation

That last 1% is conveniently debate that involves me!

I had other plans for today but then I received an email from the UK magazine The Idler. This isn’t a new phenomenon, or unwanted by any means. I’ve been happily getting their newsletter to keep up with all of their goings on for a few years now. And while Idler doesn’t always have pertinent information that is relevant to my anti-work interests, it’s just nice to hear from them and see what’s going on in their (lazy) world. And to know that there are other folks out there like me.

This time, however, was different.

The title for this email is, “Shouldn’t the loss of 13,000 bullshit jobs at BT be the cause of rejoicing? and the email starts like this:

Today’s news that BT is to slash 13,000 managerial and administrative jobs …

Bullshit jobs are not the same as crap jobs which, says Graeber, may be very useful to society, it’s just that they’re badly paid and unpleasant.

A bullshit job, on the other hand, can be well paid and comfortable – it is just that it feels meaningless.

So it may be that rather than complaining about BT’s shedding of 13,000 bullshit jobs, we should instead be rejoicing that 13,000 human beings have had their corporate shackles removed and are now free to run into the meadows and dance and sing and weave garlands of sweet roses.

This email comes off as naive for many reasons. Although those in managerial and administrative positions will have a better chance of not becoming destitute without their jobs and finding another, simply losing or removing certain jobs from society isn’t inherently a good thing. This is especially the case in societies that do not have strong social safety nets provided by communities (instead of governments) where sudden job loss can be devastating.

So on one hand this just comes off as slightly callous. But where it doesn’t come off as callous it also comes off as  misinformed about the ideas that these former administrators and managers may have. Now that they’re gone the first thing they are most likely to do is to look for a new job to survive under capitalism, like anyone else.

I can almost guarantee you that none of them have “danc[ing] and sing[ing]” in mind now that they have lost their job. And that’s not because they won’t want to have that sort of playful time to themselves. It’s not because their evil or bad people simply because they were in positions of power. But capitalism just doesn’t give many people that sort of time.

Especially for people who may have dedicated much of their lives to perpetuating capitalism (even if only in a small way) it seems hard to believe that they’d give up on that altogether, pull a 180 and praise laziness.

It’s possible, but is it likely?

OK, the middle managers will no longer have the corporate teat to suck on. Like a battery hen released into the wild, they may be frightened at first. But slowly they will return to a more natural and happy state. It is as Paul Lafargue writes in his brilliant 1883 pamphlet, “The Right to be Lazy”:

“[The workforce] must return to its natural instincts, it must proclaim the Rights of Laziness, a thousand times more noble and more sacred than the anaemic Rights of Man concocted by the metaphysical lawyers of the bourgeois revolution. It must accustom itself to working but three hours a day, reserving the rest of the day and night for leisure and feasting.”

What exactly necessitates that this “natural and happy state” will suddenly return to people who have been in positions of power for Glob only knows how long? What sort of mental mechanisms come into play here that would somehow transfix people and make them think, “Huh, you know what I haven’t done in a while? Frolic in the meadow!”

I’m not saying it’s impossible and that out of all of the people cut from their jobs none of them will do it. But the sheer scale that Hodgkinson is discussing here just seems ludicrous to me. Do we have any evidence or history that this is the common result when administrators and managers are suddenly removed from their positions?

As for the Lafargue quote, that really has nothing to do with the situation. Lafargue is discussing the workforce and so likely not talking about the administrators and managers within a given firm. And whether he is or isn’t no manager after being suddenly cut/let go/fired is going to “proclaim the Rights of Laziness”. Maybe it’ll be some sort of wake up call for a few people but what exactly makes Hodgkinson think that it’d be post-Marxism that they’d specifically get woke to?

At first I was even more irritated with the email because I forgot that Hodgkinson wasn’t talking about normal workers (which would have been far more callous) but rather the people who are invested in the firms. The folks who get paid the big(ish) bucks or at least slightly more than the normal workers do. These people are thus not as badly off if they are suddenly removed from a firm, but it’s still not this idyllic picture that Hodgkinson wants it to be.

The revolution won’t begin with us just firing the bosses or hoping the bigger bosses fire the ones immediately above us. It’ll start from below until workers work their way to the top, until they own the means of production and are able to better suit their needs and desires to their individual autonomy and not the collectivist needs of capitalism.

Because, perhaps surprising to some, capitalism isn’t a system for individuals to grow under. Whether that is managers or workers, many of us are just trapped under this dying machine that is using us for fuel. It doesn’t care about our individuality and in fact, if we died we would be replaced within a week or two.

Capitalism doesn’t honor individualism, it desecrates it.

And such a desecration will not be undone by overly optimistic thoughts about what losing a job can do to someone who is likely (at best for Hodgkinson’s position) stagnant and dislikes their boss.

After all, most people think their boss is a bug in the system and that the problem isn’t the system itself. And losing the privileges you once had isn’t going to change that.

…All of this said, I resubscribed to their mailing list upon being asked.

They’re a good institution by and large after all.

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