Bullshit Jobs  

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"In the Scilly Islands . . . the natives of that group are popularly said to have eked out a precarious livelihood by taking in each other’s washing."—obscure nineteenth-century joke

"A bourgeois paradise will supervene, in which everyone will be free to exploit—but there will be no one to exploit. On the whole, one must suppose that the type of it would be that town that I have heard of, whose inhabitants lived by taking in each other’s washing."—"Bourgeois Versus Socialist" (1887) by William Morris


"We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”--Buckminster Fuller


"How vain the opinion is of some certain people of the East Indies, who think that apes and baboons, which are with them in great numbers, are imbued with understanding, and that they can speak but will not, for fear they should be imployed and set to work."—Antoine Le Grand, c. 1675


"I believe that this instinct to perpetuate useless work is, at bottom, simply fear of the mob. The mob (the thought runs) are such low animals that they would be dangerous if they had leisure; it is safer to keep them too busy to think."--Down and Out in Paris and London by Orwell

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Bullshit Jobs: A Theory is a 2018 book by anthropologist David Graeber that argues the existence and societal harm of meaningless jobs. He contends that over half of societal work is pointless, which becomes psychologically destructive when paired with a work ethic that associates work with self-worth. Graeber describes five types of meaningless jobs, in which workers pretend their role is not as pointless or harmful as they know it to be: flunkies, goons, duct tapers, box tickers, and taskmasters. He argues that the association of labor with virtuous suffering is recent in human history, and proposes universal basic income as a potential solution.

The book is an extension of a popular essay Graeber published in 2013, which was later translated into 12 languages and whose underlying premise became the subject of a YouGov poll. Graeber subsequently solicited hundreds of testimonials from people with meaningless jobs and revised his case into a book that was published by Simon & Schuster in May 2018.

Summary

In Bullshit Jobs, American anthropologist David Graeber posits that the productivity benefits of automation have not led to a 15-hour workweek, as predicted by economist John Maynard Keynes in 1930, rather than the purchase of additional leisure time from work. Bullshit jobs also serve political ends, in which political parties are more concerned about having jobs than whether the jobs are fulfilling. In addition, he contends, populations occupied with busywork have less time to revolt.

As a potential solution, Graeber suggests universal basic income, a livable benefit paid to all without qualification, which would let people work at their leisure. The author credits a natural human work cycle of cramming and slacking as the most productive way to work, as farmers, fishers, warriors, and novelists vary in the rigor of work based on need for productivity, not the standard working hours, which can appear arbitrary when compared to cycles of productivity. Graeber contends that time not spent pursuing pointless work could instead be spent pursuing creative activities.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Bullshit Jobs" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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