09 Jul “Toiling away and they know it”
Do you have a job that you secretly believe is pointless?
If so, you have what anthropologist David Graeber calls a “bullshit job.” A professor at the London School of Economics and a leader of the early Occupy Wall Street movement, Graeber has written a new book called Bullshit Jobs: A Theory.
He argues that there are millions of people across the world — clerical workers, administrators, consultants, telemarketers, corporate lawyers, service personnel, and many others — who are toiling away in meaningless, unnecessary jobs, and they know it.
IMO, the digital presenteeism and the “Jesus is coming, look busy” mentality is what these crappy bosses want. Why? Because if you are joining a Zoom meeting that you know will be worthless and you’re jumping through silly hoops online to prove yourself you are being OBEDIENT.
I’ve said it more times than I can count: there are companies who value that compliance more than anything. They want control and surveillance. Periodt. Trying to make the argument to those types – regardless of how well-made and well-reasoned it is – that you don’t need to be present in a meeting that has nothing to do with you or your job will not go well. They don’t care. They want your butt in that seat or your face on that camera because IT’S WHAT YOU WERE TOLD TO DO!
If you’re a frequent reader or frequent listener of my podcast, you already know I hate the incessant grist mill of needless corporate meetings. I likewise hate any video call which could have been a simple phone call or, better yet, an email. There was a manager I interacted with for a project I’d bid on. Two things became clear to me straightaway: a) she and I were not a good personality match because she was highly extroverted as well as controlling and wanted EVERY interaction to take place on Zoom; b) she was gonna wind up getting fired because she was too focused on these damn Zoom meetings and not focused on any actual productivity. So I declined the project and withdrew my bid. Less than a year later, I found out she had indeed been terminated due to a lack of productivity. In the same way that David Graeber talked about bullsh*t jobs, I think even meaningful work can be ruined by bullsh*t meetings and groupthink.
We’re all taught that people want something for nothing, which makes it easy to shame poor people and denigrate the welfare system, because everyone is lazy at heart and just wants to mooch off other people.
But the truth is that a lot of people are being handed a lot of money to do nothing. This is true for most of these middle-management positions I’m talking about, and the people doing these jobs are completely unhappy because they know their work is bullshit.
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 to Vox.com, Ibid.
Miserable is the correct word. I once had a miserable middle management role where I had no authority, no autonomy, and no real choices. I existed solely because the executives were petrified of conflict and they wanted me to serve as the designated butt-chewer. I haaaaaated it and left within a matter of weeks. It made me feel like the coach who pulls the short straw and has to manage the high school kids in detention. The thing is: I don’t like talking to adults like they are errant schoolkids. I find that incredibly degrading.
I think one of the reasons is there’s huge political pressure to create jobs coming from all directions. We accept the idea that rich people are job creators, and the more jobs we have, the better. It doesn’t matter if those jobs do something useful; we just assume that more jobs is better no matter what.
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.
-David Graeber to Vox.com, Ibid.
Ahh. Так интересно. In my mind, we could also substitute David’s use of the word “flunkies” with sycophants. Yes people. Ya know, folks who go along to get along and don’t make any waves. Corpo America loooooooooves those sorts of people. Plus, as David suggests here, those sycophants will also rush to the defense of the system because they perceive themselves as part of it.
The empirical evidence in support of Graber’s thesis, though, would have to do with managerial feudalism and the status of the financial industry. Indeed, Graeber says, “All I am really arguing in this book is that just as much of what the financial sector does is basically smoke and mirrors, so are most of the information-sector jobs that accompanied its rise.”
The financial sector might be a shining example, but I’m afraid a smoke-and-mirrors style permeates A LOT of Corpo America these days. Probably to a degree most people would be afraid to truly contemplate. Enter pointless meetings yet again. It’s not a wonder you have employees stating they feel that they’re being “suffocated” by too many meetings. Then, in order to get any real work done, they have to spend extra time off-the-clock to make it happen. The F word – feudalism – is apt. The C Suite has more flexibility so if they want to brush off a meeting or have a liquid lunch or no show on Friday to play golf, they get to do so. But if they want you back in the cube farm as part of an RTO initiative, well by golly, you better get yer ass back in that seat!
The reason many workers might feel alienated is that they’re being used as pawns in an extractive economy that siphons off profits to reward disproportionately the richest one percent of individuals, despite the steady increase in overall worker productivity. And if that economy were counterproductive — as in self-destructive — the absurdity of contributing to such an endeavour would likewise threaten the workers with angst.
Touché. A potential solution here is for the cronies to protect themselves by crashing the economy and the job market. I have warned about this for well over a year now. I was on the leading edge of telling people that The Great Resignation was kaput and that Corpo America + The Fed could work together to raise unemployment. I’ve linked to this headline from The Intercept more times than I can count:
It’s not unreasonable to look at it this way: the stock market doesn’t like the job market being so (supposedly) darn hot; the sticky inflation doesn’t like the job market being so (supposedly) darn hot; so in the best interest of everyone (and by that we mean the fat cats), we have to cool it off and, well, umm, unfortunately, that comes with higher unemployment.
BS job or not, if you are dependent on that money to live, you’re trapped in the system. This is another reason why I think feudalism is an apt word.
Trapped in a home or an apartment + trapped in a job + trapped by finances / debt = trapped. Full stop.