Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about the guy that moans over his doughnuts and café latte every morning that he hates his job. He hates his boss and he hates the wife and the kids even more and that’s why he still comes into the office. That’s not just a shitty job, that’s a shitty life. So, that guy doesn’t count. No, ‘bullshit’ jobs are authentically defined jobs that have been researched an analyzed by a UK anthropologist and Professor at the London School of Economics.
So, all you have to do is take the quiz and see if you do have a bullshit job according to the definition of David Graeber.
- Do you think that your office would honestly notice if you didn’t go into work tomorrow?
- Do you spend hours on social networks while you are work or send private mails from your work station?
- Do you think that if you cut all of that out, you could get your work done in 15 hours a week?
- Or if you stopped going to the crummy seminars somewhere that were of no use whatsoever to you or on that training course?
- Are you reading this article because somebody just tweeted it to you?
- Do you think that your job was made up, invented for you sometimes?
- Or do you think that you bring absolutely nothing to anyone else in society through your job?
If after just those few questions you have been able to reply yes to all or even some of them, then you are a strong candidate for a bullshit job either in the future, or you already have one. But what is a bullshit job?
Well, when John Maynard Keynes predicted in the 1930s that by the turn of the 21st century we would all be working just 15 hours a week, some might say that he got it completely wrong. He did to a certain extent by believing that it would be because we wouldn’t need to work anymore than that. Today there are many millions in the US alone that are working 15 hours a week, because that’s all they can find in an economy that shows 7.4% unemployment, but double that figure for underemployed people in the country. So, maybe he wasn’t quite that wrong.
- Our rise in living standards (that he predicted to be eight times higher than in the 1930s, which is largely true today if we look at average figures) have not resulted in greater leisure time for us all.
- Workers in the US spend 30% more time working in comparison with those in the EU.
- Vacations are longer in some countries in the EU in comparison with the US too.
- The US has no statutory minimum requirement for paid leave.
- That is up to the employer to hammer that out with the guy he is taking on.
- The Fair Labor Standards Act has no requirements.
- There are 28 days in the UK.
- The French push the boat out with 5 weeks minimum plus 22 extra days if you opted for a 35-hour per week contract years ago. Vive la France!
As a result of there not being enough work for everyone, there were jobs that were meaninglessly created, that were done with even greater meaninglessness and that surround us every day. The utopia of Keynes never arrived on our doorsteps, but the ill-fated day that people started to create jobs that resembled nothing more than digging holes and then filling them back in again just to keep the masses occupied has well and truly turned up to stay.
The Soviet Union and Communist states were criticized for creating jobs to keep the masses busy so that revolution wouldn’t happen (again). Keep them toiling away; work will stun their brains further. But, we have done exactly the same in our consumer societies, except we can’t see it. It’s the nose on our faces and we have certainly bitten it off just to spite our own face.
But it’s not only to keep people busy. We have spent progressively more and more time in employment and had less and less time to ourselves. As a result industries have grown up that would not necessarily have existed and that we would never have needed. We created the need for the service ancillary jobs such as the pizza-delivery guy that is prepared to work all day and then all night, because we work all night too, or the dog-walkers that walk Rex because we are working, or the nannies that look after the kids because we work again.
But as Graeber suggested Capitalism was meant to free us from the yoke of work and make us leisure-happy people, time rich and financially wealthy. But, we are no better than the Communists and Marx would have been mightily proud. If we didn’t spend so much time updating the Facebook profile for work or tweeting for pointless things, then we wouldn’t be working so much. If we didn’t have to attend that seminar in New York or that training course (which is pointless, anyhow), then we would be on Keynes’ 15 hours, Graeber suggests. He says:
“Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don't like and are not especially good at. Say they were hired because they were excellent cabinetmakers, and then discover they are expected to spend a great deal of their time frying fish. Nor does the task really need to be done - at least, there's only a very limited number of fish that need to be fried. Yet somehow they all become so obsessed with resentment at the thought that some of their co-workers might be spending more time making cabinets, and not doing their fair share of the fish-frying responsibilities, that before long there's endless piles of useless, badly cooked fish piling up all over the workshop and it's all that anyone really does”.
We have more fish than we can deal with.
Psychologically slapped in the face when you suddenly realize that you are working in a bullshit job that is of no value. How on earth are we supposed for one moment to have the respect of talking of dignity in the workplace. That must have gone long ago, before we were turned into slaves of the state by powering the cog wheels with our trudging boots to the factories. Although, it does seem that there are some in society that certainly believe that there work is indispensable. But, that is probably because the masses allow them to believe that this is the case. If they didn’t, then their jobs would go up in smoke too. Jobs that are of any worth have an effect on humanity and the lives that we lead (the doctors, the nurses, the teachers, the plumbers, the artists, the musicians). Our lives might change if they weren’t around. But, would they change if we got rid of a few of the telemarketers, the advertisers, the public relations people or the bankers? And so the list goes on. Those are the bullshit jobs. They have been created, without any need of having them whatsoever. They are invented and meaningless.
The low salaries in society end up having to work more than Keynes’ 15 hours simply because they couldn’t do anything else. They have no choice but to work the long hours they do. Others work more because the incentive that it brings in financially is worth the extra effort. If we could all do just 15 hours a week instead of 15 a day, then I ‘m sure we would need a redistribution of wealth somewhere along the line. Keynes got it wrong.
But, just as long as we don’t have a bullshit job, we’re doing better than some that just borrow, consume, work and croak.