Bullshit Jobs – David Graeber sounding a lot like Chris Carlsson

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 08/22/2013


[The piece below sounds very much like Chris Carlsson’s “Jobs Don’t Work” which is linked to in the commentary here. Carlsson’s is much better though – highlights of it will follow eventually.]

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs – David Graeber

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

The answer clearly isn’t economic: it’s moral and political. The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger (think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the ‘60s). And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.

If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the, universally reviled, unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc) – and particularly its financial avatars – but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value. Clearly, the system was never consciously designed. It emerged from almost a century of trial and error. But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working 3-4 hour days.

3 Responses

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  1. Jeff said, on 08/23/2013 at 07:38

    Hilarious and depressing. You might enjoy Michael Crawford’s book, The Case For Working With Your Hands. A tad polemical for some, and under-academic (apart from forays into the hammer sequences in Being and Time, if I recall), though being under-academic is part of the idea, the argument touches on many of the issues in your extract above. Analogous to the bullshit, Crawford makes much of the way that work has become increasingly abstract, making it difficult for workers to point to what they’ve achieved in a working day. His case for handiwork rests on economic niches and performing repairs (omitting commentary on how manufacturing could fit better into post-industrial societies), which is of course a marketplace that’s historically contingent, but at least he offers something about what can be done to gain some satisfaction when directing one’s industry upon the world.

  2. […] In any case, the environment in which a person plays a game like this is remarkably un-democratic. Sure, the adventuring party must come to consensus while adventuring, and sure, perhaps guilds – as in WoW or in other massively-multiplayer games – operate via democratic structures/forms, but these twinklings of democratic action exist in a feudal world and are justified by the logic of a feudal world. Further, the structure of gameplay, whereby a character literally accumulates experience in the form of points, not only would make no sense outside of a capitalist/progessivist regime but contains moments of gameplay that mirror this regime. For instance, in my 2 or 3 hours of experience of playing WoW, I mostly accomplished tedious, boring tasks that seemed to serve no other purpose other than to accumulate experience so that I could eventually start doing things that might be interesting, a feeling close to that of “bullshit jobs” described by David Graeber in a recent post on Randall Szott’s blo… […]

  3. […] true classic on this Labor Day. This essay shows why David Graeber's recently circulated essay "Bullshit Jobs" makes so little sense to me. Jobs are bullshit -ipso […]

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