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Why People With Important Jobs Deserve To Be Ruled by People With Bullshit Jobs: A Rant for 2022

If a mechanic became an advertising copywriter, he’d pour too much of his mental and physical energy into writing the most precise, hooky headlines — and then he’s going to fail at his new job.

Why would he fail? Because you should never take advertising copywriting too seriously, not as seriously as you would take the routine greasing of, say, a Toyota Corolla. Advertising is cool, yeah? And it pays way, way better than the backbreaking work of a motor mechanic — but is it as serious?

No.

In fact, going by the wide-spreading argument of British anthropology professor David Graeber, advertising might be one of those insanely lucrative Bullshit Jobs.

It’s a sign of these angsty times that Graeber’s argument is finding more and more supporters. YouTube is full of them. On Reddit, there are about a million subscribers to r/antiwork.

You might also have heard of the Anti-Work Movement and their catchy motto: “I do not dream of labour.” This collective is comprised mostly of college educated millennial and Gen-Z’s who have had it up to here with the Rat Race.

They’re refusing to appreciate why any sane person would choose to chase a career working for other people, sacrificing their Christmases and holidays to please bosses that don’t care for such inane concepts as mental health. Ultimately, their great perplexation steams from this question: shouldn’t there be more to life than work?

Since Graeber first published his speculative rant about Bullshit Jobs in 1993, he has grown in confidence, so much so that in 2019, the short blog post was expanded into a book — Bullshit Jobs: A Theory.

Between the post and the book — a sign of what was to come — he also found himself as one of the leaders of Occupy Wall Street, the great, but futile, protest against the unappeasable greed of bankers and the One Percent.

Graeber says, “Bullshit jobs are jobs which even the person doing the job can’t really justify the existence of, but they have to pretend that there’s some reason for it to exist. That’s the bullshit element.”

Essentially, he reckons that the most important jobs in the world today are not accorded the value they deserve. Workers such as teachers, train conductors, mechanics, tailors, plumbers, restaurant servers are paid badly while being treated like the dregs of the business ecosystem. Yet, should these people stage a one-day strike, the world would effectively halt. Now, can you say the same for public relations professionals and advertising copywriters?

No.   

So, with regard to pay and influence, why is there such a massive disparity between essential workers and disposable middle managers? One of the responses to that question is that the managers are better trained – in big-picture thinking, strategy, relating with other big-picture thinkers, and extractive financial value for their employers. But then, who are their employers? Marketing agencies, law firms, banks, call centres, etcetera.

To people who agree with Graeber, that these bullshit jobs exist at all is a conundrum. They refer to the 1930 prediction by John Maynard Keynes that by the end of the century, technology would have advanced enough to achieve a 15-hour workweek—at least in the Great Britain and the United States. But this hasn’t happened, even though there’s enough automation already that, if the first world countries really wanted to do a 15-hour workweek, they would have done it.

Some say it’s because the ruling class is afraid that a 15-hour workweek would create an idle population. And idle people are dangerous. Others say, it’s because people need work to find meaning in their lives. And some more others reckon so many bullshit jobs exist because of the relentless consumerism of the world’s people.

Although you might have just acquired a new pair of Nikes for Christmas, you’re going to want another pair at Easter. And someone has to manage the process of reminding you to order it in February so you don’t get sucked into the rush in April. Besides, the folks working at Nike headquarters, as well as at their ad agencies, also have their own burning desires — for front row seat tickets to their favourite sports games, for car upgrades, for phone upgrades, for designer jackets, for limited edition caviar.

Consumerism is at the heart of capitalism. So, while, theoretically, the objective expediency of capitalism was supposed to eventually rid the world of needless roles in the production and supply chain, it has ironically done an excellent job of nurturing those same useless jobs.

For instance, would the entire CEO Coaching industry exist (with its own slew of middle managers, executive assistants, and digital marketers) if CEOs didn’t need to aggressively compete for the perks and image of success – the million-dollar bonuses, the Forbes lists, the private jets, the holiday homes, the ivy league degrees for their kids?  

Unless, as the anti-work army propose, the world invents a new economic system that’s more self-aware and thus more intentional than the current version of capitalism, Bullshit Jobs will be with us forever.

The way the world can see important jobs as truly important

As for the lesser paid core workers, if they must command higher pay, it’s time for them to up their game. They must increase their perceived value in the scheme of things. And to raise this perceived worth, they must demonstrate their ability to solve problems surgically.

For example, last week, I had an encounter with a generator repairman. Keep in mind: he’d come highly recommended.

When he arrived, I asked him why it’d taken him four hours between when he’d told us he was coming from the next street to when he’d arrived at my office.

“Ah, I received news that my mother just died,” he said.

“Oh wow,” I said. “That’s terrible news. Should you be here at all then? Wouldn’t you want to go to your mother’s house?”

“Once I’m done here. I mean, funerals do cost money.”

“You’re right. Sorry for your loss.”

Then we showed him the generator. It was due for servicing. Plus, when we started it, it didn’t generate electricity.

Gen Guy: “It’s the servicing. We’ll need to buy a bottle of engine oil: #2,500. A new spark plug: #600. And my own professional charges: #3000.”

Me: “Okay, that’s #6,100. Let’s keep it at #6,000. Deal?”

“Yes,” he said.

This bastard. After taking the 6K, he changed the oil and the plug, then fiddled around and pulled out some part. “Ah, this is why it’s not generating electricity.”

“For real?”

“Yes, sir. We need to replace this part. It’s unrepairable.”

“How much?”

“It’s seven thousand.”

This bastard!

I said: “Shouldn’t you have checked this before giving me your initial bill? Aren’t you supposed to be the professional?”

“Um… I wanted to change those things first and then test it.”

This bastard! Who does that!

I looked at him again. Middle-aged man. Flip flops, badly sewn shirt and trousers, dirty tools sack, unshaven, overgrown hair. I should have suspected that he must be incompetent.

Or was he?

The thing with artisans and technicians is that most of them need to be managed by planners and big-picture thinkers who can correlate value with demand. These managers, for knowing exigencies of contingencies and schedule planning, take all the money and leave the artisans with barely enough to keep working.

If bullshit jobs are to be eliminated, the constant need to expand (the bottom line, wardrobes, tastes) will need to be quashed, though this sounds quite like the most naïve notion to contemplate. As for the lowly workers, let’s show them how to better manage their value in the current context.

Now, with all this said, we must consider the fact that the present rage against bullshit jobs, just like the pregnant mobilisation for voluntary joblessness as proposed by the anti-work movement, is a First World luxury.

For Africans who live in a perennial state of lack and uncertainty, to get one of those well-paid bullshit jobs may not only be the only way out of crushing poverty; it may be a matter of life and death.

We’ll talk about this later.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts on the anti-work movement and bullshit jobs?

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SAM

I poke at ideas to see what's inside. A lot of times I generate my own. Sometimes, people pay for those ideas. And, obviously, I like to tell stories about creativity.

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