(July 27th, 2018)
It’s been a pretty hot summer and with that has come a lot more time for catching up on some reading, away from the glaring sun. “Bullshit Jobs: A Theory” by David Graeber, is a 368 page book published this past May. It’s a book filled with personal narrative, critique, and other tales of shitty jobs from people around the world, spliced together with Graeber’s excellent story telling ability.
The book originally started off as an essay back in 2013 titled “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs” published in “Strike!” Magazine. The reception to the essay caused such a stir that years later, Graeber has complied everything into a tightly knit book examining bullshit jobs.
Of course, the critique of work is nothing new for anarchist thinkers. Some well known modern authors on the subject include the infamous Bob Black and their text “The Abolition of Work” that starts off by stating “No one should ever work.” The aesthically pleasing design and writing from the CrimethInc. Ex-Workers Collective in their recent book titled “Work”. The 2016 book “Abolish Work: An Exposition of Philosophical Ergophobia” edited by Nick Ford and published by Little Black Cart, which also includes the original Graeber essay. To name just a few.
Have you had a bullshit job before? Probably. One of my favorite aspects of the book is reading other peoples stories about how much of a joke their job is and relating it back to my own experiences. I started working officially when I was 14 years old, but before that had known work as the chores on a small farm growing up. And to this day, I still hate it when upon meeting someone new, one of the first questions that people often ask is “what do you do for a living?” The identity of work and trying to stay alive in this world.
So, what do anarchists do for a living? And that’s just the thing – everyone wanted to talk about what we spend the most hours of our waking life doing, slogging away at some workplace. How is yours?
“The reality of the situation first came home to me over a decade ago when attending a lecture by Catherine Lutz, an anthropologist who has been carrying out a project studying the archipelago of US overseas military bases. She made the fascinating observation that almost all of these bases organize outreach programs, in which soldiers venture out to repair schoolrooms or to perform free dental checkups in nearby towns and villages. The ostensible reason for the programs was to improve relations with local communities, but they rarely have much impact in that regard; still, even after the military discovered this, they kept the programs up because they had such an enormous psychological impact on the soldiers, many of whom would wax euphoric when describing them: for example, “This is why I joined the army,” “This is what military service is really all about—not just defending your country, it’s about helping people!” Soldiers allowed to perform public service duties, they found, were two or three times more likely to reenlist. I remember thinking, “Wait, so most of these people really want to be in the Peace Corps?” And I duly looked it up and discovered: sure enough, to be accepted into the Peace Corps, you need to already have a college degree. The US military is a haven for frustrated altruists. ”
“The pieces are all there to create an entirely different world history. For the most part, we’re just too blinded by our prejudices to see the implications. For instance, almost everyone nowadays insists that participatory democracy, or social equality, can work in a small community or activist group, but cannot possibly ‘scale up’ to anything like a city, a region, or a nation-state. But the evidence before our eyes, if we choose to look at it, suggests the opposite. Egalitarian cities, even regional confederacies, are historically quite commonplace. Egalitarian families and households are not. Once the historical verdict is in, we will see that the most painful loss of human freedoms began at the small scale – the level of gender relations, age groups, and domestic servitude – the kind of relationships that contain at once the greatest intimacy and the deepest forms of structural violence. If we really want to understand how it first became acceptable for some to turn wealth into power, and for others to end up being told their needs and lives don’t count, it is here that we should look. Here too, we predict, is where the most difficult work of creating a free society will have to take place.” - David Graeber & David Wengrow