Laboring Under Delusions vs. Laboring Under Bullshit

Nick Irving

Content Warning: Brief discussion #MeToo subject matter

A few months back I wrote about David Graeber at an RSA talk concerning his book Bullshit Jobs. I was struck by some of his claims but found many lacking academic rigor behind them.

Apparently, when reading his book, I was not alone on this front as Nick Irving in his article, Unpacking the Millennial Work Ethic noted much the same:

The book does almost no work to address the complexity of using self-reported, self-selecting sources, despite the enormous interdisciplinary literature on such topics.

There’s no effort to address the contingent cultural (or even social) factors that might lead to a person thinking their job is pointless. I can think of quite a few such factors … class, education, gender, the entitlement these things bring, cultural expectations of reward for effort or meaningfulness…

When I read this first part I said aloud, “Yes, thank you!” We’ll get to that bit about “contingent cultural … factors” later on in my discussion. For now, it’s worth noting that it’s always nice to be validated by other folks. Of course, Irving’s validation of my own opinions isn’t consistent (nor should it). There are plenty of places in the article where I think Irving is off base.

For example, Irving says of Graeber’s methodology that:

[it] seems like a canny attempt to capitalize on the article of faith among young leftists on the internet that the victim who speaks should always be believed.

First, Graeber just taking people at their word doesn’t necessarily have to mean he’s capitalizing on any particular branch of identity politics. Taking folks at their own word about their own experiences has been a common thing folks do before #MeToo happened and women came forward with their stories of sexual assault and harassment at the hands of powerful men.

There’s something to be said for taking people at their word. If I go up to my friend and ask him how work was and he says, “It kinda sucked” I’m not gonna sneer and reply, “Well what about all of that cultural baggage and expectations you’re carrying around? Maybe that is what made it suck so much?” And he’d be right to say, “What? No, it just sucked.” Maybe he does have cultural expectations that are unfair, but as I’ll discuss later that says less about him than society at large.

By the way, I say “sneer” because the term “article of faith” is meant to denigrate a solid foundational epistemic claim: That people are often the best judges of their own situations and contexts. Yes, it’s possible people have false memories or that bad expectations lead to bad results, but does it happen often? No, the false reports percentage has always been low and when survivors (not victims) speak up, they should be believed unless there’s strong reason not to.

That isn’t an “article of faith” so much as it’s the right thing to do and something that makes the most sense. If someone calls you out and you say, “Well, yeah, but are people supposed to just take you at your word?” Then folks are gonna quickly take grievance, cause unless you got a great alibi or a terrific personal history, there’s reason to take your response as itself very telling.

I know this is all besides the (anti-work) point but it irked me that Irving would put the idea that survivors should be believed down and it’d be irresponsible of me to say nothing about it.

That said, let’s back up and start from the top

Three days ago, I changed my job title on LinkedIn. The title change was part of a broader restructure at work and was accompanied by a new role description that was really just a superficial tweak to the old one. There was no real increase in responsibility and no extra money.

Irving goes on to say he got congratulations despite the lack of increase in his financial security or role in the company. That felt like bullshit to him and it leads him to discussing Graeber later on.

In the meantime however, he notes how LinkedIn was completely incapable of not sending his “promotion” to all of his friends online. That also seems like bullshit to me (not his story, but LinkedIn) but it isn’t surprising given how social media tends to handle our personal data. I jest but perhaps Linkedin isn’t at fault, but rather Irving’s own bad expectations of social media?

Before Graeber however, Irving mentions other writers named Dardot and Laval who wrote on how our culture’s obsession with self-improvement can lead to dystopian times. Here, Irving mentions the concept of a “Marxian capitalist” and I had to re-read this sentence a few times:

They argue that we relate to ourselves now as a Marxian capitalist is assumed to relate to capital: We want our personal capacity to accumulate at a rate faster than everyone else, so we can remain competitive.

I skimmed the articles in question and specifically went to the concepts that are supposed to explain this passage but came up empty. I’m not sure what “Marxian capitalist” is supposed to mean without further explanation from Irving, which he doesn’t provide. Perhaps I missed something pertinent within Irving’s articles or the linked ones? Apologies if so.

Regardless, I think our personal relations to the self under capitalists are damaged as Irving and co. argue. We constantly want to “improve” even if there’s no tangible improvement to be made to ourselves or we’re just doing it due to Fear of Missing Out. There’s a pressure for gamers, for example, to have the latest hardware like the PS5 that’s coming out and then those who don’t are implicitly looked down upon by some in the community which only ratchets up FOMO.

Getting the PS5 is “self-improvement” because it means your life is more hi-tech, that you’re more “in touch” with the current state of technology and “up to date” with the world. For gamers it means there’s up to date on the latest games and fastest loading times which means they’re not “behind” on the big news of the day. But when do you actually get ahead of such news?

It’s a never-ending quest for “betterment” at the cost of finances and perhaps even your financial security if it goes far enough. You drive yourself mad trying to keep up the world and that’s why I try to keep my time on Twitter and Facebook rather limited. The world can be a horrible place, we can be horrible people and social media often flocks to the negative more than the positive.

All of this lends itself to, as Harry Frankfurt argues, bullshit:

 [The bullshitter] does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

Funnily enough, I own this book and, like so many of my books, have yet to get around to it.

Irving compares LinkedIn to a parody app named Binky which has you “like” useless photos that do not modify what you see later on. Binky is an app where you can’t socialize with anyone else and you’re only able to scroll to your hearts content. The app is non-responsive to you in ways that corporations tend to be non-responsive to the needs of their workers, how apt!

This conversation about bullshit leads us back to Graeber and his book/article on Bullshit Jobs.

Here’s Irving’s takeaway:

Rather than assuming that an ephemeral but hegemonic system has created pointless job descriptions because it can’t figure out how to make a universal basic income work, I think it’s possible to read the anger as a response to work that doesn’t live up to a system of meaning shared by Graeber’s Twitter followers.

This goes back to Irving’s title Unpacking the Millennial Work Ethic where the faults of the system come down more to cultural expectations rather than a “ephemeral but hegemonic system”.

However, it’s difficult to know what the upshot of all of this is.

Does this mean we (or at least Graeber’s Twitter followers) are to blame for the faults of capitalism? Do Graeber’s criticisms of capitalism come off as reifying an economic system to Irving? Does he not see capitalism as centrally at fault but something else?

It’s tough to tell so we need to dive deeper:

It’s fairly common to say that that much of the anger and resentment felt by this group of twenty-to-thirty-somethings is because what was implicitly promised has been placed beyond their grasp by a volatile labor market in the throes of apparently permanent and traumatic change. The world they were promised, in short, is now impossible. The skills they have attained are useless. The goalposts never stop moving.

Just a note here: I am a follower of Graeber on Twitter (though I didn’t participate in the book) and I am also a twenty-to-thirty-something. So I’m the exact demographic for Irving’s thesis. Of course, generalizations only work for individuals within the groups being generalized about so well. I could tell you that there’s many gamers who are toxic in one way or another but also find communities that are (on the whole) much better.

Point being, there are always individuals deviating and flying closer to the norm. Sometimes that norm is a flame for moths, and sometimes it’s a good norm to replicate.

Irving sees Graeber’s result and the demographic he cites as revealing a “cultural logic of work” that invites disappointment within millennials. We were supposed to get homes, have full-time jobs, the university was supposed to be our gateway to Better Things. Instead, many of us have to live with roommates in unkempt apartments, live with our parents/family, or live in college dorms and hope that ramen supply doesn’t run out.

This experience is such a wake up call for millennial when they get out of college. I remember dropping out around 10(!) years ago and only recently coming back. College didn’t get me the dream I wanted (professor of philosophy) nor did going out into the “real world”. I had lived in several unhealthy/abusive situations because of my poor financial status. Some of those relationships I made worse, but in all of them I felt disempowered to make my life better.

Irving goes on to list several of Graeber’s categories for bullshit jobs, we’ve talked about them before so no need to go over them again. Instead, here’s Irving on those types of BS Jobs:

This last part may be true. The folks who want these jobs want some level of satisfaction, a decent pay, benefits and to feel a sense of…purpose? Wait a second, these just seem like pretty basic expectations from something you’re going to spend a lot of your life doing, right?

Am I missing something here? Because it seems like the folks who write the descriptions have the messed up priorities and expectations here, not the folks applying!

Again, this comes off as victim-blaming to me.

The fault of capitalism doesn’t lie with the people who write and facilitate these boring, pointless jobs but with the expectations we have because of “do what you love”.

Now, I’ve written on that fallacious idea before and I agree it sets bad precedent for our expectations. Most people can’t afford to work at something they love because of the way capitalism is set up (notably nothing to do with our own expectations). And to instill that idea into young folks that you should reach for something you love and do it 40+ hours a week is a dangerous idea because it can quickly burn you out or even make you hate it.

But again, maybe I’ve got Irving all wrong and famed philosopher Hannah Arnedt will convince me that “Bullshit is just another word for labor”

Arendt’s notion is that labor—the realm of metabolism, maintenance, and consumption—has colonized and supplanted work—the realm of craft, fabrication, and use. Arendt describes the work of labor as both futile, in that it will never end, and necessary, because to be without its products is to die.

The logic of the market that Neoliberalism extends to all spheres of human activity essentially makes everything into labor. I think it’s possible to read Graeber’s sources as reports of people who expected to be working, but found themselves laboring instead.

I read some of Irving’s article on Arnedt’s and her definition of labor, but it came off as too ambiguous, though Irving claimed that as a strength for it. To be fair, conceptual ambiguity can be a strength in some cases as it can encourage conceptual flexibility as Irving argues. But this flexibility should not come at the cost of overall conceptual clarity. We need some sense of what the upshot for her definition and what Irving’s own take on what labor vs. work is. What does this difference in wording get us? What makes labor reducible to “metabolism, maintenance and consumption” while work is “the realm of craft, fabrication, and use”?

I’ll admit it sounds intuitive but I’m not sure there’s a lot of substance behind that intuition. For example, if I labor in my backyard and get hungry but I go to my job and get hungry (thus relating both to metabolism) which is work and which is labor? If I make something at a craft fair for myself with no intention but to hang it up on my wall does this display work or labor?

I’m also unconvinced that labor is “futile” simply because it never ends.

Firstly, as of now transhumanism has not won (not even close) so our lives will inevitably end which means our labor will as well. But, generally speaking, things lacking an “end” does not mean those things are then meaningless, fruitless or can’t contain meaning for those engaged with it. The process of learning has often been called futile because we are all human and therefore fallible and thus will make mistakes. But that doesn’t make our efforts useless or lacking purpose, it just means we have to accept an amount of “two steps forward, one step back” in our lives.

I’m not sure that the logic of “the market” and capitalism are the same, but that’s another conversation so I’ll skip over this second passage for sake of dialogue. I don’t usually look at the last passages of articles as I like to keep some of the original article a mystery for anyone kind enough to read my articles. But in this case it seems too important to Irving’s thesis to omit:

I think many of the people who supplied testimonies for Graeber’s book had looked forward to being engaged in paid activity that produced something lasting, but found themselves in a service or knowledge economy that cares more about the soft skills of maintaining the metabolism or life process of a network of relationships than the hard skills of fabrication.

I’ll be blunt here: This last piece of writing makes very little sense to me. It reads like an academic trying to over-complicate reality with overly-grandiose terminology. And keep in mind, I say this as someone who likes academia and wants to be in academia. I’m not unsympathetic to the plights of having to make philosophical words sound meaningful and intuitive to readers.

Despite my sympathies to Irving’s academic framing here, I can’t help but reaffirm my belief that it amounts to little more than thinly-veiled victim blaming. Make no mistake, Irving has his share of criticisms for capitalism both in this article and on his Twitter page and so I’m not about to begin calling him a pseudo-leftist. But, as far as I can tell, his argument amounts to, “These people had bad expectations and it isn’t the fault of capitalism for failing people with bad expectations“.

At least, that’s the takeaway I’m getting from all of this, I could be wrong.

But given I’ve reached the “this sounds a whole lot like victim-blaming” coupled with Irving’s bizarre taken on the “article of faith” around believing survivors, I doubt it.

Side-note but Hannah Arnedt herself wasn’t much of a feminist as far as I can tell:

In an early letter to Mary McCarthy she says something like, ‘Simone de Beauvoir’s not really worth engaging with. One should just flirt with her instead.’ Arendt was not a feminist…

My point here isn’t that you need to cite feminist authors to make your argument persuasive (though by and large it doesn’t hurt, pending which feminist), but I find the connection here between dismissing the “article of faith” and citing Arnedt compelling given what I know of her.

By that definition, calling LinkedIn the opposite of work doesn’t quite capture the keen sense of drudgery in maintaining a LinkedIn account. The platform is a wonderful metaphor for the failed promise made to millennials.

It only reinforces the anxiety-inducing need to be a productive member of the economy while endlessly increasing one’s market value. It promises both meaning and money, and it delivers neither. It only contributes to the processes of automation and precarity that make work murkier and more tiring.

Is bullshit the opposite of work? My understanding is that Graeber was saying most work is bullshit when it comes to corporate work. Unless Irving is saying this more generally about his own framing? Again, it’s unclear to me exactly what Irving is getting at here or what the upshot of his theory here is. I agree with him about his criticisms concerning LinkedIn and I also agree there were promises made to us millennials that were, to say the least, not delivered on.

But my problems of work don’t begin and end with the expectations I was given by the society I grew up in. The television shows that showed me people generally happy with their jobs, the parental figures (teachers, actual family members, authority figures) who said I could be anything or the media that constantly talks about how the “unemployment rate” means so much.

And neither do Graeber’s for that matter. His problems (as with mine) come not just from the bullshit that work has largely become synonymous from (after all I grew up in the 90s, the decade of Office Space) but also the “ephemeral but hegemonic system” that it comes from.

Sure, you can see the description of capitalism at times as vague (which I think Irving is getting at here with the word “ephemeral”?) but hey, there’s strength in conceptual ambiguity, right?

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May the Caring Classes Revolt: A Brief Look at Value and Pay Under Capitalism


I’ve had a lot of surprises in my life, some weren’t welcomed and others were. Perhaps this most recent surprise was a mix of both? David Graeber has an account on Linked In and has written on the site as well! I couldn’t imagine anything more immediately ironic and funny. I could care less about “hypocrisy” charges, that’s the not the point. It’s just the last place I’d expect to see Graeber’s name and let alone see him in a writing capacity.

Now, be honest with me, did you even know you could publish articles on Linked In before I mentioned it? I sure as heck didn’t! Granted, Graeber has, to the best of my knowledge, only written one article (back in 2018) and it’s the one we’ll be looking over today.

The article in question explores the correlation between how valuable your job is and how much you get paid can be disproportionate or even directly inverse to how you’d think they’d be. For example, there’s the long-standing complaint about how much teachers make (I’d love to make around 58K a year, but also I’m poor) or how much nurses make despite the amount of social value they provide for society. They’re literally instilling people’s lives with lessons on one hand and the other profession is working to save lives and yet they are paid less than doctors.

That’s the common perception anyways, but the basic fact though is that we think less of the people who pick our garbage every day less than celebrities even though:

As Rutger Bergman likes to point out, in 1970 there was a six-month bank strike in Ireland; rather than the economy grinding to a halt as the organizers had anticipated, most people simply continued to write checks, which began to circulate as a form of currency, but otherwise carried on much as they had before. Two years before, when garbage collectors had gone on strike for a mere ten days in New York, the city caved in to their demands because it had become uninhabitable.

Imagine a group of retail workers getting their demands met in 10 days. I can’t think back to a time where I heard about a workers strike getting their demands in such a small window. It’s probably out there (and if you know, feel free to comment!) but it’s sure not talked about.

What’s also interesting for my own personal experience is that even though I’m much more directly caring for people than I was before (I take care of pets) I’m making the same amount of money that I made at my last retail job. Even though my job is inarguably better for society, I mean, I sold cigarettes and alcohol as well as who knows how much sugar and unhealthy food to customers on a daily basis for a period of over two years. I’ve added more direct benefits to society in one day than I did on average in my 10 years of retail.

By the way, that’s not a dig on retail workers at all! I was one for around 10 years of my life and I know it’s not their fault that retail is such a largely useless profession. You spend most of your time organizing things other people made messes of, getting yelling at/lectured by your bosses and harassed by customers (especially if you’re a woman!). It’s just not a good industry and I’m not blaming the workers for that, maybe if they had control of the means of production I would.

But that’s a long way away.

If we all woke up one morning and discovered that not only nurses, garbage collectors, and mechanics, but for that matter, bus drivers, grocery store workers, firefighters, or short-order chefs had been whisked away into another dimension, the results would be equally catastrophic.

If elementary school teachers were to vanish, most schoolchildren would likely celebrate for a day or two, but the long-term effects would be if anything even more devastating.

I largely agree with this, if we didn’t have nurses so many lives would be lost because doctors would be overrun. If we lost the garbage collectors then, well, see above. And firefighters actually respond to credible threats instead of hosing anyone in sight. There’s also a great need for bus drivers due to how expensive a car is and how much easier it makes navigating a city.

I could keep going, but the main thing I don’t like (or puzzles me) is that Graeber is an anarchist and still thinks that elementary school teachers are a largely good thing for society. I’m surprised at this! What about the pledge of allegiance? What about the warped sense of history that comes from gross displays and lessons of patriotism and nationalism? What about those teachers who help bullies bully by saying “boys will be boys” or the teachers who reinforce the naturally authoritarian ways in which the schooling system works?

I’m not saying there’s no good teachers (#notallteachers?), I had a few myself throughout high school and middle school for example. But the government schools are such a cesspool of learning at this point that I think kids would be better without it. Homeschooling and unschooling are great alternatives and it could also open the door for education cooperatives. But these things can also be used by abusive parents, religious parents who can’t keep their beliefs balanced to respect others and overly controlling parents. I’m not saying it’d be a slam dunk for society, but damn, I’d be mostly happy for kids, not worrying about the state-run school system.

It’ll just get bailed out later anyways.

The same cannot be said of hedge fund managers, political consultants, marketing gurus, lobbyists, corporate lawyers, or people whose job it is to apologize for the fact that the carpenter didn’t come.

In fact I’ve talked about this before (finally, I can link a previous work on this version of the site!) about the people who keep these noxious industries around far past when they should be. Despite how overpaid and undeserved other communities and jobs are, these industries get to make it by quite well on their paychecks. And even if you ignore studies that Graeber cites in his article because this stuff is hard to measure (as he admits) most of us feel, heck many of them feel or even know they aren’t contributing a lot to society. Graeber has talked about this as well.

I have very little experience in these professions (and hope to never gain it either!) so I can’t personally comment on how much people think their jobs suck. But then again, it’s a pretty well-known fact within our society that work generally sucks and we’re all either grossly underpaid or grossly overpaid. Think about all of the complaints regarding the Kardashians and how folks feel about them, unfortunately not extending nearly enough of the same criticism towards Bezos.

Though, to be fair, it’s getting better on that front.

In any case, you can read this great article by Graeber if you’re interested in the studies. I’d never heard of them before and they seem interesting. I’m sure there are some methodological issues because the topic of pay and value is a rather taboo one in our culture. But that just shows that more research needs to be done and better methods discovered. There’s a reason the rich don’t want us talking about paychecks, especially if you’re among, as Graeber says, “the caring class”.

May we all revolt and show them just how much we care.

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Graeber on the “Gigantic Embarrassment” of Work (RSA Replay)


Lost to the archives are my previous discussions of Graeber or mentions of him at any rate. I don’t recall how many times I’ve talked about Graeber’s infamous article concerning bullshit jobs, but I know I never did any review of the article. But hey, this covers that!

Back in 2018 (approximately a million years ago), Graeber gave an interesting talk based on his then recent book with the RSA (which apparently stands for the Royal Society of Arts?) that I’ve had on my Youtube for a long time now. I’ve decided to get around to taking a look at it, now that I don’t have school and my part-time job is easier than ever thanks(?) to COVID-19.

For starters, it’s a decent lecture though it doesn’t tell anti-work advocates anything they don’t already know. It’s definitely more of a 101 lecture than something anti-capitalist anarchists (like myself or Graeber) would go out of their way to see. But then, that’s the point. It’s a very 101 talk because his audience is a crowd that conceivably flinches at “anarchist” and thinks terrorist.

The talk is split into three sections: A brief lecture section (20 minutes or so), a briefer dialogue section with the host (15 minutes) and the longest section, a Q&A fills out the rest. I took notes on all three of these sections and here’s a list of things that stood out to me:

  1. Graeber looks really haggard, I don’t mean this as an insult; I hope he was getting rest!
  2. Graeber talks a bit too much about how successful he is (especially with Debt)
  3. He loves to envision capitalists with “minions” like a Saturday morning cartoon show
  4. His solutions (UBI) are unpersuasive or vague and his methodology is suspect
  5. He’s certain no one believes in the myths of capitalism, despite them still being parroted
  6. His idea of “everything meaningful as an extension of care-ethic” is an interesting theory
  7. Sadly doesn’t address his own professions BS quality despite doing so in the essay
  8. Not a lot of discussion concerning automation (“robots have already taken our jobs!”)
  9. Has good anti-authoritarian instincts when it comes to the 4-day workweek
  10. Almost no discussion about gender roles in BS jobs, only when a question is asked.

I know a lot of that seems negative, but this is overall a good talk. It’s just unfortunate that Graeber’s biggest issue here is that his methods of talking about the phenomenon of BS jobs is either his Twitter page, an email group or a drunken rant he had done at parties for 10 years. I’m not saying anecdotal evidence is meaningless or that survey can’t be helpful, nor am I suggesting that he is wrong about the existence of BS jobs, just that I wish his methods had more rigor.

Graeber’s an intelligent anthropologist and I’ve read him on anarchism several times to usually pleasing results, but he only seemed to be at his best when he talked less about the symptoms (BS jobs) then the central issue (state-capitalism). Or when he was asked about the 4-Day weekend and noted that surveilling people’s activities would be incredibly costly, difficult and may not even work for his own profession. He’s paid monthly to work “all the time” as he says.

So Graeber admits he’s “suspicious” of calls for the 4-Day workweek, even though he thinks it would help. This is, roughly, where I stand as well and it was such a relief to finally hear and see someone else talk about it. Although, inconsistently and disappointingly he held no such worries for the Universal Basic Income (UBI) even though I’d think they’d equally apply?

I suspect that is because he spoke to a great cultural change (paraphrasing) that we’d need to go under in order for such a policy to happen in the first place. My question is that if we’ve already caused such a cultural shift that UBI becomes palatable then why shouldn’t we aim higher? There’s also another excellent question raised by the host: What about short-term strategies?

UBI may be a decent strategy for the long-term but as Graeber points out it is currently undesirable by politicians despite it gaining more steam in the past 5 years. We’ve seen that especially with US presidential candidates such as Andrew Yang and Bernie Sanders. Social democratic ideologies have, in general, become more popular which has lead to the rise of the DSA (Democratic Socialists of America) gaining momentum. As well, we have publications like Jacobin that have also been steadily increasing in viewership over the years.

Nevertheless anarchism should never be a slightly radicalized social democratic stance. This was (and is) the problem with anarchists like Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Colin Ward and others like them. They think of anarchism as a process for improving the state not as abolishing it and replacing its institutions and services with community-based ones.

Now, I understand I’m painting in broad strokes here and I certainly respect the thinkers I’ve just mentioned (Ward’s Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction and Chomsky’s definition of anarchism are both influential) but I think this strain of anarchism doesn’t get enough criticism.

I’m not saying we don’t focus on the short-term benefits such as UBI, 4-Day Workweek, $15 minimum wage, etc. But what I am saying is we need to look carefully at these policy proposals that depend on the ruling class suddenly turning around after hundreds of years (and much more) of oppressing others and suddenly treating us kindly. Yes, there have been some wins such as the unionist victories in the 1930s in the US but those were notoriously reformist and ended up weakening the unionist movement in the US in the long-haul. Even the IWW isn’t near where it used to be and neither are most other unions that fought for worker’s rights back then.

As the title suggest, one of the best parts of this talk is at the beginning when Graeber mentions that work is a kind of “embarrassment”. Everyone implicitly recognizes what they’re doing is BS but no one has a solution. Or if they do, it’s often discounted as “communism” or as Graeber said “it’s us or North Korea!” Any solution to our current problems would only make it worse, so why bother? Or it’s just an excuse for bad and lazy (let’s be honest: it’s the same in capitalism) people to get out of their debts, which, of course, Graeber wrote a whole book on and has responses to.

As for BS Jobs themselves, I have an interesting mix because I take care of living beings (dogs) but 90% of the time I’m doing nothing these days. And even before COVID, I still had hours and hours where I was on my phone or playing video games or doing something else. These days it’s just hilarious how much of my job is just sitting around and looking at screens. The pretense is someone needs to be there in case the place burned down (why would it?) and more crucially because the dogs need their bowls refilled and to be taken out once in a while (more sensible).

But in essence, most of my job feels like BS. Like, it’s amazing to me I get paid to just sit and read , play video games, watch wrestling videos on Youtube or whatever I want, really. That’s not how it’s supposed to be. I technically have a list of responsibility but due to COVID no one cares and even before that, so few people want to do overnight shifts that they often can’t make mountains out of molehills when much of the cleaning asked for is minor. The major cleaning to the facility happens throughout the day so even when we were busier there were periods of hours where, as an evening worker or an overnight one, I had hours where I did nothing or even napped.

Another interesting aspect of this lecture/dialogue is that Graeber briefly mentions how we sacrificed our leisure time for our commodity time. Instead of having more time with our friends or families we are spending more time with our smartphones. It’s worth asking: Can we have both? Is it possible to have a life full of commodity-based pleasures and enjoy bountiful time with our loved ones? Graeber doesn’t provide any answers to this question (nor does he even ask it) but I think if we abolished state-capitalism we could certainly get much closer.

Maybe Graeber believes that as well, I don’t know for sure. In any case, the benefits of technology can be dispersed and widespread instead of concentrated into the hands of the rich and powerful.

So, why do BS jobs exist?

Graeber has some answers:

  1. Making up jobs to suit those in power
  2. To keep people off the street (despite abandoned homes)
  3. The poor must pay their debts and the rich must provide them those opportunities
  4. If you don’t want to work you’re a bad person!
  5. Much easier to believe you think you’re doing something and aren’t.
  6. If you’re a manager you need 5-6 flunkies/minions or you’re not important
  7. Duck tapers: People who apologize for the lack of solutions
  8. Box Tickets: Efficiency designers who aren’t listened to
  9. Goons: PR, Marketing, Telemarketer(!)
  10. Taskmasters: Supervising people who don’t need it (Middle-Managers)

In addition, many of these industries (as Graeber points out) feed off themselves and the people Graeber heard from admitted this to him. From corporate lawyers, people within the financial industry Graeber concludes in this discussion that even if half of the current jobs were eliminated it likely would not impact anything materially.

Perhaps we are seeing this currently with the COVID-19 Pandemic, most of the job currently are “essential” ones that are (at least in my profession) an extension of the care-ethic, as Graeber puts it. Providing dogs care as well as other essential services like getting food to people reliably, nurses and hospitals are all extensions of the care-ethic, as Graeber would say.

On the other hand, society has never seemed so chaotic and disorganized. There’s a discomfort in the air wherever I go. I either have this gnawing feeling that there are too few people outside or making noise (e.g. a ghost town) or way too many and this isn’t safe and oh Glob I should really be home and not Here. I fluctuate between these two gnawing feelings but then, to his credit, Graeber didn’t have a pandemic in mind when he wanted corporate lawyers gone.

But what is the opposite of corporate lawyers? For Graeber it seems to be nurses, teachers (which he himself is one), tube workers (more on that in a second) and people whose jobs bear some actual value for the society around them. But what does that value look like and how is it best harnessed within a given society? Graeber doesn’t give us much besides the care-ethic I’ve now mentioned a few times, which I think is interesting but may not be enough on its own.

The discussion about tube workers was interesting. For those non-UK natives/folks unaware of the UK term the “tube” means subways tunnels for us Americans. Why would these folks be so tied to the care-ethic if the trains can mostly run themselves at this point and most folks know where they are going? Well, some people don’t for starters (hi, it’s me!), plus sometimes women are harassed by drunk men, sometimes people lose their laptops or even their children. So yeah, you could definitely argue (as some tube workers did on Twitter) that they’re very much essential.

BS jobs plague our lives, Graeber is no doubt right about that, but his evidence for that needs a bit more rigor for someone who says he’s more of an anthropologist than an anarchist on his Twitter bio. There’s also the curious incidents of people loving their job they know is a lie. Graeber reasons this could be because they’re just glad to be away from home (bad home life/hate their families) and within Graeber’s survey it was a measly 6% at any rate.

But for most of us, we’re all too aware of the bullshit we’ve got to endure within our jobs. The anti-work movement is forever benefited from Graeber’s insightful essay. Maybe we should let more academics publish their drunken rants from parties they’ve been crafting for 10 years?

The world might be a better place for it.

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