Brain Food #456

Bullshit jobs

Anthropologist David Graeber — prophetically — published a controversial book in 2018, titled Bullshit Jobs, an extension of an essay he wrote in 2013. He discusses how meaningless jobs play a prominent part in today’s society, and argues that they serve political and consumerist means, but do not produce any real value or meaning.

Others, of course, dismiss meaningful work as a utopian, millennial notion. And there are those who go as far as claiming that some forms of work only exist so that they induce a form of necessary suffering in our day-to-day, delaying gratification for something that will come later, as a result of our efforts.

Graeber writes, “This history made it very easy to encourage workers to see their work not so much as wealth-creation, or helping others, or at least not primarily so, but as self-abnegation, a kind of secular hair-shirt, a sacrifice of joy and pleasure that allows us to become an adult worthy of our consumerist toys.”

What is real value, or meaning, though? One could argue that, in a life that is inherently meaningless, how we craft meaning is entirely up to us, and the definition of meaningful jobs is subjective. Yet it is also hard to ignore the fact that, though many can still continue to work from the safety of their homes, those who are currently helping provide healthcare, or food, or keep the streets clean, are also not necessarily the ones whose professions hold the highest prestige, or receive the highest salaries.

If work is, essentially, the production of a valuable output, it will be interesting to see how the nature of work changes, if the meaning of value itself is changing.


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