Bullshit jobs

Today I came across another good article by David Graeber about why there are so many really bad jobs around: On the phenomenon of bullshit jobs.

“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.”

Why is it that “in our society, there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid“? According to the author,

“[t]he 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.”

On the face of it, the problem of “bullshit jobs” has nothing to do with the work of scientists. Aren’t scientists those select few who are lucky to work in clean and well supplied institutes, practising a science which they feel is their vocation, so engrossed in the practice that they do not even know what the phrase “labour market” means? And yet, all jobs, good, bad or ugly, are part of the same system. And the subjective value we attribute to different jobs is also judged against the backdrops of other existing types of activity. In other words, we cannot understand the work done by scientists without paying attention to what goes on in other parts of the global labour market:

“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.”

Read the rest: http://www.strikemag.org/bullshit-jobs/
This article is reposted from Matters Mathematical, http://mattersmathematical.wordpress.com where the Idle Ethnographer writes about sociology of science and what it is that mathematicians really do

Categories: Matters Mathematical

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