October 5, 2020
|“||I think most people really do want to believe that they’re contributing to the world in some way, and if you deny that to them, they go crazy or become quietly miserable.||”|
|— David Graeber|
I have always suspected that most middle-class jobs are bullshit. That the higher the money (up to a certain point), the more useless the job. The inverse seems true, too: the less a job is held in esteem and monetary compensation, the more essential the job is. Would we be any worse off if we got rid of all deans in the academy? Conversely, what would we do if the sanitation workers disappeared? The teachers? The bartenders? See what I mean?
Why has capitalism convinced us that the bullshit jobs are valuable and rewarding and impressive, while at the same time gaslighting us into looking down on the essential workers, paying them little, and respecting them not in the least. We live under a system that over-emphasizes employment, and consequently, we create bullshit jobs for people to fill. They tell us a job defines us, gives us purpose, and is a moral responsibility. Therefore, Graeber concludes, “We’ve created a whole class of flunkies that essentially exist to improve the lives of actual rich people. Rich people throw money at people who are paid to sit around, add to their glory, and learn to see the world from the perspective of the executive class.”
My question is: why not just give us the paycheck and skip the middleman? That way, we could avoid the bullshit and just get on with our lives. There has to be a reason for the ruling class to perpetuate the bullshit. I think that’s so they can control us for 40+ hours a week and keep us angry at the wrong people: what I’ve heard the Republicans call the “takers.” These are the disenfranchised who for one reason or another have chosen not to be a slave to this system, when the real takers are the ones in control that take our very souls in exchange for bullshit. They never seem to suffer during the lean times: it’s always us doing the drudgery to keep them rich. Aren’t we tired of this?
Well, I was going make a connection with something Norman Mailer talks about: the idea of growing, or paying more to remain the same. The way Graeber characterizes the issue is an existential one. There’s something soul-destroying about these jobs and the influence of those in these jobs have on the rest of the world. It’s the sickness of capitalism. It has infected everything.
I like to work, as do most people. I like to add to my community. But increasingly the “work” I have to do seems less gratifying and more like bullshit. Teaching is important. Scholarship is important. Service to a discipline is important. Most else is a distraction from real, significant, meaningful work. This is existential, moral.
We all have to ask ourselves: is what we do bullshit? If so, don’t we owe it to ourselves and those around us to stop? We need to change what we value as a culture, Graeber explains. I think we could begin by eschewing our engrained materialist drive to collect stuff to fill our houses. We need to start compensating those who do the essential jobs and just ditch the bullshit. Let’s start at the top.
- Illing, Sean (November 9, 2019). "Bullshit jobs: why they exist and why you might have one". Vox. Retrieved 2020-10-05.
- For example, as of August 3, “billionaires in the United States have increased their total net worth $637 billion during the COVID-19 pandemic so far.” See Woods, Hiatt (August 3, 2020). "How billionaires got $637 billion richer during the coronavirus pandemic". Business Insider. Retrieved 2020-10-05..