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20200614 – Bullshit Jobs

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MAIN IDEA:

Author clearly identifies his main idea and purpose of this book in such way:” Writing this book also serves a political purpose. I would like this book to be an arrow aimed at the heart of our civilization. There is something very wrong with what we have made ourselves. We have become a civilization based on work—not even “productive work” but work as an end and meaning in itself. We have come to believe that men and women who do not work harder than they wish at jobs they do not particularly enjoy are bad people unworthy of love, care, or assistance from their communities. It is as if we have collectively acquiesced to our own enslavement. The main political reaction to our awareness that half the time we are engaged in utterly meaningless or even counterproductive activities—usually under the orders of a person we dislike—is to rankle with resentment over the fact there might be others out there who are not in the same trap. As a result, hatred, resentment, and suspicion have become the glue that holds society together. This is a disastrous state of affairs. I wish it to end.”

DETAILS:

Preface:  On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs
Here author tell the story of accidentally writing an article discussing phenomenon of Bullshit jobs and how it become unexpectedly very popular subject of popular discussion. He describes how he come to the idea that constant political fight for jobs misses a very important question of quality and meaning of these jobs. He refers to Keynes prediction of very short work days due to increase in productivity and contemplates the fact that productivity did increased, but working time did not decrease at all. He then provides key points of the article:

  • Huge swathes of people spend their days performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed.
  • It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs for the sake of keeping us all working.
  • 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.
  • How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labor when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist?

Author also refers to research demonstrating that bullshit jobs are not unusual. The researches asked: “Does your job “make a meaningful contribution to the world”? Astonishingly, more than a third—37 percent—said they believed that it did not (whereas 50 percent said it did, and 13 percent were uncertain).”

At the end of preface author announces the purpose of this book as political action.

Chapter 1: What Is a Bullshit Job?
Author starts with description of several meaningless jobs in which people either do nothing or some meaningless activities and then provide definition:

” Final Working Definition: a bullshit job is a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case.”

Author also provides graphic representation of results analysis for the use of working time:

Chapter 2: What Sorts of Bullshit Jobs Are There?
In this chapter author discusses categories of bullshit jobs:

Flunkies:” Flunky jobs are those that exist only or primarily to make someone else look or feel important.”

Goons: “people whose jobs have an aggressive element, but, crucially, who exist only because other people employ them.” Author also stresses that such jobs include aggression and deception.

Duct Tapers:” Duct tapers are employees whose jobs exist only because of a glitch or fault in the organization; who are there to solve a problem that ought not to exist.”

Box tickers:” … the term “box tickers” to refer to employees who exist only or primarily to allow an organization to be able to claim it is doing something that, in fact, it is not doing.”

Taskmasters:” Taskmasters fall into two subcategories. Type 1 contains those whose role consists entirely of assigning work to others. This job can be considered bullshit if the taskmaster herself believes that there is no need for her intervention, and that if she were not there, underlings would be perfectly capable of carrying on by themselves. … Type 2 taskmasters may also have real duties in addition to their role as taskmaster, but if all or most of what they do is create bullshit tasks for others, then their own jobs can be classified as bullshit too.”

Author provides multiple examples for each type.

Chapter 3: Why Do Those in Bullshit Jobs Regularly Report Themselves Unhappy?
In this chapter author reviews multiple testimonies of people unhappy in their bullshit jobs. They mainly demonstrate how much such jobs contradict human nature and need for meaning. Author also discusses unrealistic assumption of economic man who does not care what he is paid for as long as pay is good. Another point that author discusses here is “concerning the clash between the morality of time and natural work rhythms, and the resentment it creates”.

Chapter 4: What Is It Like to Have a Bullshit Job?
In this chapter author looks at adverse effect of do-nothing jobs on human condition. The main reasons he identifies are:

  • the misery of ambiguity and forced pretense
  • the misery of not being a cause
  • the misery of not feeling entitled to one’s misery
  • the misery of knowing that one is doing harm

Author provides a bunch of descriptions for each of these miseries and concludes by discussion “on the effects of bullshit jobs on human creativity, and on why attempts to assert oneself creatively or politically against pointless employment might be considered a form of spiritual warfare”

Chapter 5: Why Are Bullshit Jobs Proliferating?
In this chapter author looks for causes of bullshit jobs and find them in dramatic increase of productivity, which moved jobs from agriculture and manufacturing to services where majority of BS jobs resides:

Significant part of the chapter author allocates to discussion of government BS jobs vs. private BS jobs, convincingly demonstrating that both sectors are not that different. He then looks in details at industry that he knows and well understand: Higher Education with its proliferation of administrative BS jobs, but also at industries that he is not really familiar with or understand: finance and information technology. Finally he puts on his Marxist hat and goes into discussion of “managerial feudalism” and its differences and similarities with “classical feudalism”. He also provides another graphic demonstrating who really pays for BS jobs: people doing non-bullshit jobs whose productivity increased, but compensation did not.

Chapter 6: Why Do We as a Society Not Object to the Growth of Pointless Employment.
Author’s reasoning here comes down to the following:

  • the impossibility of developing an absolute measure of value
  • most people in contemporary society do accept the notion of a social value that can be distinguished from economic value, even if it is very difficult to pin down what it is
  • the inverse relationship between the social value of work and the amount of money one is likely to be paid for it
  • the theological roots of our attitudes toward labor
  • the northern European notion of paid labor as necessary to the full formation of an adult human being
  • work came to be seen in many quarters either as a means of social reform or ultimately as a virtue in its own right
  • the key flaw in the labor theory of value
  • work came to be increasingly valued primarily as a form of discipline and self-sacrifice

Chapter 7: What Are the Political Effects of Bullshit Jobs, and Is There Anything That Can Be Done About This Situation?

The final chapter presents author’s “thoughts about the political implications of the current work situation, and one suggestion about a possible way out.”

These implications are mainly about unsustainable character of this situation, which per author is “maintained by a balance of resentments”. These resentments are about 99% versus rich 1%, relatively well-paid union and government worker vs non-government ununionized workers and so on. It is also about identity politics that left behind white lower and middle class, which responded by electing the Donald. Author also brings in robotization that forces people into BS jobs or unemployment. Finally, author discusses Universal Basic Income that, he believes, could be solution to BS jobs problem because it “might begin to detach work from compensation and put an end to the dilemmas described in this book”

MY TAKE ON IT:

For me it is very useful book because author spent time and effort basically conducting anthropological research that empirically supports my believe that humanity is moving in direction of increased redundancy of humans for productive processes. For me author’s designation of this process as “managerial feudalism” makes little sense, demonstrating nothing more his strong Marxist background. In my view there is no “isms” here, only continuation of increase in productivity that started a few centuries ago and due to achieve its logical completion some time before the end of this century – less than 80 years from now. The completion of this process would mean extinction of labor as human activity conducted under control and supervision of other humans and is necessary to obtain resources needed for survival. So instead of human labor, machines driven by Artificial Intelligence would automatically create resources that humans need. Author expresses support for UBI, but in my opinion it is not such a good idea because it leaves no space for human need to act for obtaining resources, overcoming some adversities and challenges in the process. Without satisfying this need society cannot be stable. If it is divided into small privileged group of acting individuals – owners of everything and large group of well-fed but deprived of meaningful activity individuals, then the deprived will inevitably direct their activity to overthrowing existing arrangement and establish the new one, in which they will be on the top.


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