Is this “working for a living” thing really necessary? I’m prompted to ask this because now, at semester's end, I have to face a huge stack of papers-to-be-graded. Bummer.
Actually, it turns out that we are putting in too much time on the job. As any expert on the Paleolithic Era will tell you, people are "designed" (in Darwinian terms) to do economically productive work for only about 20 hours a week. The rest of our time should, in true Stone Age fashion, be dedicated to socializing, singing, dancing, loafing around and doing whatever the hell we want. Which, no doubt, is why we generally feel both overworked, and unable to spend as much time as we would like just hanging with our buddies.
Pertinent to all this, my friend Jonathan W. recently sent me an article on “bullshit jobs” written by anthropologist David Graeber. Graeber’s piece begins thus:
“In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen.”
Professor Graeber (Thank you, Wikipedia.)
From here, Graeber goes on to say that we (that is, all of us) don’t really have to work forty hours a week to maintain a comfortable standard of living, but, since our economy is controlled by a super-rich elite, most of us are harnessed into pointless bullshit jobs designed to facilitate the further enrichment of that elite. Our energies are consumed in this “work” while our spirits are intimidated by the prospect of unemployment. Thus are we neutralized by and for the sake of the one percent.
Neither Graeber nor I feel that teaching is a bullshit job (not even the teaching of anthropology). Nor is bus driving, nor welding, etc. These jobs involve making things that people need or providing them with worthwhile services.
But corporate law? Now there’s some bullshit. It seems to me that the job of corporate lawyers is to facilitate the exploitation of
1. the very customers whose dollars ultimately pay the lawyers’ salaries and
2. the workers who make the products that justify the corporation’s existence.
In Graeber’s words, “[W]hat does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians, but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law?”
I’d venture to guess that the only way out of the bullshit-bloated economy that engulfs us is to educate people about the power structure that sustains it. This belief makes educators like me troublemakers, or it would make us such if we had any influence to speak of. The real troublemakers are those, like Senator Elizabeth Warren, who not only see through the bullshit, but have a significant power base.
And how can we get more people like Elizabeth Warren into positions of power? The first step would be to get private money out of Congressional and Presidential elections. Let these elections be paid for with public money, and let ExxonMobil, WalMart, the Koch brothers, etc., spend their excess wealth on charity instead of the purchase of political influence.
The root of the problem is that, as of now, finance capital both controls the bullshit economy and virtually owns the government. Right-wing “populists” claim that government IS the problem, but the real problem is that government can’t properly serve us until it gains some independence from private capital. Misguided populists want to “shrink” the government, but shrinking the government just makes it that much easier for the moneyed interests to dupe and drain us without restraint. What we really need is for a powerful government - genuinely responsive to the voters - to kick some corporate butt. And I'm afraid that won’t happen as long as Conglomocorp owns Congress and Joe Sixpack imagines that Elizabeth Warren is his enemy.