That’s a Job?

Most Americans, and dare I say, people, are uncomfortable with the way many people make their money. I can almost guarantee that you immediately thought of either a drug dealer or some type of investor when I say this. For the former, people view it, rightly, as a business that actively hurts its customers. For the latter, people view them as a bunch of rich people getting rich by shifting money around and, through some bizarre quirk of Capitalism, can make more money than they put in. Put simply, it’s not a real job in their mind. They produce nothing of value. You don’t have to go far to find either a raging Marxist or a raging populist raging against this system of Capitalism.

If we go far enough down this road of seeing which jobs are legitimate or not we discover an entire domain of jobs out there that can be pretty easily categorized as “bullsh*t jobs” (technical term). That is that they spend most of their time justifying their existence rather than provide any meaningful value to the world. To take a fictional example, Dwight Schrute being the assistant to the regional manager, a meaningless term for a meaningless job.

This was a theory developed by anthropologist David Graeber. He hypothesized that there were so many jobs that fit this category is the Puritan insistence of the virtue of work or the Puritan Work Ethic. That if you did not work, you were less virtuous than those who did. This is, of course, an extreme simplification, but the point is that we Americans like to work, and because of that, we are loathed to be unemployed for more than just survival.

Graeber argues that this arrangement wherein we have effectively useless jobs does great psychological harm to us. That is, it is a scar across our society. For this reason, a universal basic income ought to be introduced that would allow people to move beyond their meaningless jobs and pursue a life of more leisure and creativity. That would be all well and good if it were not complete tripe.

People, to a very great degree, need to work. I know that during the initial phase of the lockdown, my productivity was below the gutter. And creative pursuits? No YouTube is more like it. As Kipling once opined, "And the gods of the Copybook Headings said, "if you don't work, you'll die." It is not obvious to me that people can go without work. Or rather, it is not obvious that humans can go without meaning. It also does not occur to me that paying people to live (UBI) is justifiable economically, socially, or morally. If you want to create significant psychological scars in society, forget BS jobs and just pay people to literally live. Nothing to this author's mind would break a man faster than for him to know that he serves no purpose and provides for no one.

To circle the rabbit back to the intro, this is the crux of the problem of how we view work. A particular job may be considered useless by you. That is, of course, unless it's your job. No single individual gets to determine what is valuable or not in society. Nor should they. It would seem that we would live not only in a significantly less prosperous society but a significantly less free one if we were to go job by job to decide which one was BS. For every pile of BS thrown out (grievance studies in academia), we would throw out one that provided a person not only a living but meaning (like bloggers to give a very not specific example).



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