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May 05

The bullsh**t job phenomenon

According to The Times, in 2013 David Graeber, a professor of anthropology at the LSE, created quite a stir when he wrote an article about people in meaningless jobs with meaningless titles in meaningless industries – since followed up by his book Bullshit Jobs: A Theory

It prompted a YouGov poll which established that 37% of British workers believe their job makes no meaningful contribution

If you’re a doctor, farmer or mechanic, there’s a strong chance that your skills are still worthwhile – but if you’re a recruitment consultant, corporate lawyer, railway executive, HR specialist, e-commerce manager or work in financial services, or write clever articles for publications that never get read, only binned, your skills are not essential

And, if you’re not sure whether you have a bullshit job, ask yourself a couple of questions:

  • What would happen if your job disappeared overnight?

  • How succinctly does your mother describe your job to her friends – the more important it is, the easier she will find it?

It’s all John Maynard Keynes’s fault – eight decades ago, he predicted that technology would allow us all to work 15-hour weeks – and to some extent he was right

The vast majority of (important) farming, industrial and manufacturing jobs have become automated – yet rather than getting the leisure-based lives dreamt of, we have been shepherded into a rat-run of non-essential admin or ancillary industries PURELY TO KEEP US BUSY

Graeber says this is because:

  • “The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger”

  • And “society feels that work has a moral value in itself, and anyone not willing to work deserves nothing”

  • So jobs are less careers and more occupations, keeping us occupied and ensuring none of us gets any ideas above our station

Sadly, most holders of these meaningless jobs know how little they contribute to the world

Hence, a new way of thinking is needed to free many from the tyranny of bureaucracy and allow us the leisure-first future that Keynes dreamt of – but maybe most will just ‘stick’, take the money and continue to live meaningless lives?

1 comment

  1. Samantha

    You highlight the need, seemingly shared by most, for a sense of achievement – in order to let us feel good about ourselves, and therefore be happy. It could be an evolutionary advantage to the hunter-gatherer to feel buoyed up by activity and achievement. While endless ‘leisure’ might not put the population in mortal danger, it seems unlikely it would be the idyll you imply. Those working men and women who don’t feel their work has any great inherent meaning, still have the sense of achievement attached to getting and keeping a job, and of taking home a pay packet, and being able to pay for their treats, and generally being part of this convoluted commercial construct of our making.

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