Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber

The premise and theory behind this book is one that I have thought about and experience for most of my adult life. Even as a teenager frustrated with the education system, I began to realize that most jobs in the world are are bullshit.

The author is an anthropologist and academic. It’s written in the style of an academic book too because there are many footnotes. These are easy to read in hardcover but when I had to switch over to my Kindle, it was untenable. I did like the footnotes though.

The first half of the book discusses what bullshit jobs are, categorization of them, and stories from people who have experience with bullshit jobs. I found these stories enjoyable and full of pathos as I think most people have had bullshit jobs. I related to these stories as I have had a number of bullshit jobs too.

Trying to find a non bullshit job is not easy. I applied for dozens of jobs after graduating with a masters degree. I went into education hoping I’d get some job, but even finding a bullshit one was not easy at first. When I finally got jobs, they were a series of bullshit ones mostly focussed around office admin work.

There is a story from Eric a working class kid who ended up with depression when realizing all he could get was a bullshit job. The author posits that those who grow up in the working class are not equipped to deal with the social networking that you have to learn and acquire in workplaces. This echoes my own experience. I had to learn early on that social networking and connections are a big part of people’s work and careers. It’s not a skill lower income children are taught. It comes naturally to children from more affluent backgrounds. Being charismatic or outgoing do come naturally to lots of people, but building social networks for work is a skill in the workplace. Schmoozing is not the same as being friendly. Working class people usually do not have bullshit jobs; as the author notes, most of their jobs are “shit jobs” in the service or caring industries. While these jobs are not paid well and they aren’t always great, they are valuable. For example, my mother is a janitor and private cleaner. She actually likes her work as a janitor since it’s valued and she gets to interact with people in her work place.

The second half of the book is more of a historical and anthropological look at how society and humanity have reached this point. This part of the book is more overtly academic, and it does have interesting historical analysis. It was be a little dry at times since it veers away from the story telling of the first half. I like that the author is critical of many standard political view points. There were points where he meandered a little bit.

Small imperfections aside, this book aligns so much of my world view that halfway through, I knew it would have to give it five stars. It’s sad that this is the world we live in. The world and many industries have become pathological. He does not offer firm solutions but Universal Living Income is mentioned. However, we can’t eliminate the system as it is now. It would require a psychic shift in humanity as most people do not realize this is a big problem. Dismantling the system would be too difficult. All we can do is play the game and try to find the best personal solution to survive and hopefully live well.

A few years ago, I made this same realization that since most jobs are bullshit, shit, or basically boring most of the time, I made a list of things I’d look for in my career if I couldn’t find a job of value.

First: Proper compensation that would allow me to live my life well. I financially contribute to two households. Money is why we do it. This hopefully includes some form of job security in the form of regular payment or at least regular payment in the short term. This varies given my current situation is self-employment.

Second: Low supervision or opportunity for other projects. This basically means I can do my own things without having anyone hovering or giving me busy work.

Third: Good management and colleagues. Direct management and supervision is a key factor here. I have found that having a supportive supervisor who does not make busy work and seems to listen to me is a bonus. I have had supervisors who are hands off, but that also disregard my own work responsibilities.

Fourth: Remote work. I primarily work from home right now. I love it!

Actually, I quit my last job a couple years ago due to how bullshit it was. The pay, supervisor, and open work environment made me restless, bored, and drained. I had to fake work all the time and spent most of my days at the previous start-up reading news or going on Reddit. The office and management became more abusive and opaque as more managers were hired and people began to be laid off. Thankfully, I go on reddit a lot less now since I work from home.

Self-awareness can be valuable in this way. I wonder what will happen in the future. I hope the trend of bullshitization of work does not continue. I do think it will given the stagnation of the global economy.

Read August 11-15, 2019 in hardcover and ebook.

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