Bullshit Jobs Book Summary By David Graeber

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Bullshit Jobs (2018) is a book with a clear goal: to expose why millions of people are stuck in jobs that do not contribute to society and have no meaningful purpose.

It looks unflinchingly at the root causes behind this phenomenon, including our cultural values and advancements in technology that could free us to work less but are instead used to trap us in jobs that make us miserable.

It's an honest account of how far we've come - and how far we still have to go - until our culture is willing to acknowledge and address these issues.

Bullshit Jobs

Book Name: Bullshit Jobs (A Theory)

Author(s): David Graeber

Rating: 4.3/5

Reading Time: 24 Minutes

Categories: Economics

Author Bio

David Graeber was an accomplished author and activist who had a major impact on the Occupy Wall Street movement.

He was an anthropology professor and had a passion for anarchism that he pursued throughout his life.

His creativity and drive allowed him to come up with the now famous slogan - "We are the 99 percent".

Not only did David Graeber have an exciting journey in activism, but also through academia.

He authored Debt: The First 5000 Years, which is widely praised to be one of the leading books on anthropology written in recent years.

David Graeber’s commitment to writing and teaching made him a beloved figure in both his community as well as amongst academic circles across the globe.

His profound insights earned him recognition and praise within his field, making him one of the most respected authors of our time.

The Impact Of Bullshit Jobs: Exploring The Need For Meaningful Work In An Age Of Technological Progress

Bullshit Jobs

Have you ever wondered why so many of us are stuck in jobs that are, quite frankly, a complete waste of time? In his book, David Graeber investigates the idea of bullshit jobs and offers a look into why so many people find themselves in meaningless roles.

He explores the religious, historical and philosophical influences that have caused us to perceive hard work as a virtue, even if it doesn’t produce anything beneficial.

Through his research, Graeber discovers that roughly two out of every five jobs are bullshit – where people do things simply for the sake of having something to do, or because their line manager wants them filled by someone.

He also delves into how this situation has developed over time by comparing it to what we see from medieval lords‘ entourage – and yet here we are today in the 21st century with more people than ever having to put up with these low productivity tasks.

Ultimately, Graeber shows us that having impactful work is important for our general well-being and offers an enlightening view on why so many of us are stuck in these dead-end roles.

The Growing Emptiness Of Bullshit Jobs: A Look At Pointless Employment In The 21St Century

John Maynard Keynes predicted that technological advancements would result in a 15 hour workweek but today, we are seeing the opposite.

In actuality, our economy is becoming more and more saturated with pointless jobs that don’t contribute to the betterment of society.

Jobs such as university administrators, PR researchers, human resources advisers and middle managers didn’t even exist 100 years ago!

These types of roles are far from necessary and if there weren’t so many people working them, life wouldn’t really be much different at all.

People seem to recognize this too – in a 2013 YouGov Poll conducted in Britain it was found that 37% believed their job didn’t make a meaningful contribution to the world.

In Denmark, 40% said the same thing.

Society today is filled with pointless jobs that aren’t contributing anything to the greater good – they’re just wasting people’s time and energy and money.

The Reality Of Bullshit Jobs: How Pointless Work Keeps Us Silent

Bullshit Jobs

A bullshit job is so pointless that the person doing it knows it, but has to pretend to be oblivious to the fact.

Take Kurt for example; he works for a subcontractor of the German military and his job involves moving computers from one office to another down the corridor.

Even though this seems like an easy task, Kurt knows deep down that this job is completely unnecessary and pointless.

After all, if a soldier wants to move their computer, they could simply pick it up and take it themselves.

Kurt is aware that his job is basically pointless, yet he still has to act as if there is a legitimate reason for its existence.

He has to act as if what he’s doing actually means something when in reality it means very little.

This doesn’t mean Kurt hates his job or anything; rather, this just goes to show how absurd and pointless many jobs are in our current world.

The Psychological Toll Of Bullshit Jobs: An Exploration Of Five Categories

The idea of hiring flunkies or goons to make a company look important, manipulate others or exploit feelings of inadequacy is as old as history itself.If you’ve ever looked closely at the business world, chances are you’ve seen examples of it everywhere.

Take for example Gerte and Tom: Gerte was hired by a Dutch publishing house simply to make them look important.

Even though her job rarely requires any real work, they pay her a salary anyway.

Meanwhile, Tom works in post-production for films and advertising – he loves his movie related work but hates having to manipulate people’s self-esteem with glossy ads that exaggerate the power of certain products.

In cases like theirs, it’s clear how flunkies and goons can be employed by others for dubious means – whether it’s to enhance their own image or make money off manipulation and deception.

The Unnecessary Waste Of Resources And Labor Behind Bullshit Jobs

Waste Of Resources And Labor

Bullshit jobs are positions created as a way of looking busy and avoiding criticism, but they are ultimately unnecessary.

A classic example is the ducttaper: someone hired to fix a system that shouldn’t be broken in the first place.

For instance, one reader reported spending eight hours each day photocopying health records just because management didn’t want to invest in digitizing technology.

Boxtickers are those employed to complete tasks solely for show.

Layla is an example of this, handing out due-diligence reports that go nowhere and don’t provide any value.

And then there’s the pointless taskmaster; a supervisor who manages a team where no supervision is needed – Alphonso is such a man whose only duty is receiving requests and passing them on – all while hiding his team’s light workload.

Ducttapers, boxtickers, and taskmasters are types of bullshit jobs society does not need, as their purpose is rarely beneficial – if ever present at all!

Instead of wasting resources on these positions, it would be better put towards meaningful causes or improving processes that do exist.

Bullshit Jobs Take Away Our Purpose And Make Us Feel Fulfillment-Deprived

Bullshit jobs can leave workers feeling insincere, with a sense of falsity, and lacking purpose.

A YouGov polling showed that while a small percentage of people are happy in their bullshit jobs, most are not due to this lack of purpose and the falsity they may experience.

Take, for example, the call-center worker who was tasked with selling people a personal “credit score” for a monthly payment of £6.99 – something the customer didn’t know was available for free elsewhere.

It’s hard to convince another person to do something that you personally know is pointless or worse than pointless.

Karl Groos’ discovery of “the pleasure at being the cause” supports why bullshit jobs can be so downgrading – it’s difficult to have an impact on the world when your job is essentially meaningless.

We can even look at lottery winners – those with no need to work but still feel compelled to do so – as an example of how important having purpose is in life.

Those who work on banners – trying to get their click rates up in spite of them being completely pointless – often quit and seek out more meaningful work since it becomes too much stress without any positive outcome attached to it.

It’s clear that bullshit jobs play a crucial role in instilling unhappiness by taking away our sense of purpose and forcing us into falsity or dishonesty.

How The Shift To Clock-Based Working Hours Has Led To The Rise Of Bullshit Jobs

Modern working patterns and times go against nature and force many of us into miserable working lives.

This is because the idea of an employer “owning” you for certain hours a day is relatively recent, and not in line with how humans used to work throughout history.

In feudal societies, for instance, lords would only ever have brief periods of work – *fighting*, while peasants had to do more actual labor but still didn’t need to adhere to strict timelines or clock-watching.

But with the advent of clock towers in the fourteenth century and domestic clocks in the 1700s, time became a commodity which was bought – ushering in the mindset that employers now have: “You’re on the clock – I’m paying you to work”.

This has led to the phenomenon known as “bullshitization” of working life – meaning if you finish your actual work, it can lead to more pointless busywork – like scrubbing the same kitchen one more time even though it’s already been done.

Ultimately, modern working patterns go against nature, since they leave no room for creative energy cycles or periods of relaxation between spurts of energy.

Instead, we find ourselves stuck at our workplace until 5pm every day whether there is any useful tasks left or not.

The Attitudes Of Work: Why We Create “Bullshit Jobs” Despite Knowing Their Meaninglessness

Attitudes Of Work

Historically, religious and philosophical attitudes have played an important role in how work is perceived.

In the 1600s, Puritans promoted the idea of work as punishment and redemption with a value that went beyond what it produced.

This concept continued as industrialization increased, and Thomas Carlyle built upon it to argue that labor should not be seen in terms of merely fulfilling one’s material needs but rather seen as “the very essence of life – the noblest thing yet discovered under God’s sky”.

This line of thinking still remains influential today, both consciously and unconsciously.

To this day people often define themselves based on their occupation, although moments later at a party they might complain about hating their job.

Furthermore, we can clearly see its effect in phenomena like make-work jobs where people are paid despite having little meaningful work to do.

For example Rufus’ dad could have given him an allowance or more purposeful job rather than forcing him into a pointless job perhaps out of a desire for Rufus to simply have work experience even if it doesn’t necessarily align with his desires or goals.

All these examples evidently illustrate our society’s view on attaching virtue to working regardless of how much meaning it provides us.

Why Politicians And Businesses Sustain Useless Bullshit Jobs

Our politicians are actively pushing for a culture and political bias of full employment, enforcing the myth of inefficiency in the private sector when it comes to job creation.

This creates an environment where bullshit jobs proliferate – those that do absolutely nothing for the company but exist purely for employment’s sake.

Look no further than President Barack Obama’s comments about abandoning America’s privatized health-insurance system and his conclusion that “one million, two million, three million jobs” would be lost if such an initiative was taken – without any thought as to what to do these newly jobless people or where to employ them.

It was a clear admission that a socialized system would be far more efficient, yet left these people clinging onto their meaningless jobs out of necessity.

In addition, businesses often don’t behave in an economically efficient manner – evidenced by our protagonist Simon, who had a team of 25 people even though he created software that could’ve automated their taks with little issue.

It turns out even their executive didn’t want Simon’s program – why? Simply put: without these ‘flunkies’ he wouldn’t have much influence within the company.

This is why our political focus on full-time employment leads to more, and more pervasive, instances of bullshit jobs existing just because they can (or rather because they must).

How Universal Basic Income Can Lead To More Enjoyable And Fulfilling Work

Universal basic income has the potential to provide an escape from a culture that values meaningless jobs over meaningful ones.

By giving employees a basic income to cover their living costs, they would be able to make decisions based on what work is meaningful or fulfilling, rather than what pays the most.

Take Annie for example.

She works in a job that is boring and soul-destroying, simply because her more meaningful job – of being a preschool teacher – only pays $8.25 an hour.

With universal basic income to cover her monthly expenses, she would be liberated from the obligation of taking this mundane job and instead would be free to pursue something that fulfills her heart and soul.

It’s easy to imagine how many more people would enter into professions that are necessary but often don’t pay much – such as bus drivers, toy makers, artisan doughnut retailers – if economic freedom were granted through universal basic income.

On the other hand, it’s less likely that someone with financial stability would choose mundane jobs like highlighting claim forms or researching corporate compliance when there are so many other options available.

Wrap Up

The Bullshit Jobs book by David Graeber provides a comprehensive and thought-provoking exploration of the concept of ‘bullshit jobs’.

Through this work, Graeber highlights how far too many people are stuck in roles that do not provide them with any lasting sense of purpose or meaning.

The societal belief in the importance and value of ‘work’ at all costs, despite the fact that much of it does not lead to an output that is beneficial for anyone, is examined as a major factor for this phenomenon.

At the end of his work, Graeber offers an alternative approach to consider.

He suggests that initiatives, such as Universal Basic Income, could allow people to choose tasks and initiatives which truly benefit humanity – setting us on course for a future where society finds greater meaning and purpose through our collective work.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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