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comment by kleinbl00
kleinbl00  ·  698 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: ‘I had to guard an empty room’: the rise of the pointless job

Graeber's got a blind spot about this.

The first ENG sound gig I ever did (where all your gear is strapped to your chest), I found myself mixing for the jib at the end of the day. The jib is MOS. This means the jib gets no sound. Yet there I was.

Because the sound supervisor had judged me to be incompetent.

He wasn't wrong. I had no idea what I was doing, no one had walked me through anything, and it was basically a training day for me. And it's not like there wasn't going to be sound for the jib if I wasn't there; if I wasn't the most incompetent sound mixer on set, it would have fallen to someone else. Generally it's considered an honor - you get paid, even though you're not really working. Does the jib maybe need sound? I mean, it could happen... and supervisors get itchy when there's crew hanging out by craft service for hours at a time.

The security guard who guards an empty room? I'll bet the museum's insurance company has a guards/square feet rule and I'll bet his boss doesn't rotate duties because a couple of his employees suck at their jobs and it's far easier to make a couple idiots guard empty rooms than it is firing them for cause and dealing with union grievances.

The guy at the front desk of the dorm in the summer? I'll bet there's a very expensive mothballing procedure that gets really inconvenient if they need to do maintenance and it's so much easier to get a work study kid to sit there. It's literally a "you're a warm body in case someone needs to be here" job, explained that way, because it's waaaaaay cheaper to have a caretaker than to close up for the summer. This is all explained in the opening to The Shining by the way.

The temp surfing Lynx? There's a receptionist on maternity leave that wanted everyone else in the department to (A) recognize how important her job is (B) how she's the only one who's good at it so that when she comes back they'll be happy to see her, not deciding she needs to do a whole bunch more shit to justify her paycheck.

Odder  ·  698 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Yeah, the dude who guards an empty room seems to have missed a few critical social queues, which is probably why he's been assigned to guard an empty room. It's likely that his supervisors are not so pointy-haired that they really think he needs to "stay sharp" and not read books or play on his phone: It's that he sucks and they're trying to get him to quit because they either can't fire him or don't want to deal with the hassle. They apparently do a similar thing to force teachers to quit.

Isn't that all kinda Graeber's point though? That we have a mixture of pressures from regulations, unions, office politics, etc. that result in people being paid to do jobs that don't need to be done? The empty room does not need to be guarded for the museum to be safe, and the receptionist's existence doesn't really need to be justified in order for the company to continue to function (in fact, it might do better otherwise). The managers who allow most bullshit jobs continue to exist are usually acting in their own rational self-interest, and some people benefit from the existence of a bullshit job, but that doesn't make the jobs any less bullshit.

user-inactivated  ·  698 days ago  ·  link  ·  

To add a third layer to this, because you and kleinbl00 have very good points, but I got a very different take away from this article.

It's from my experience that people need work, and not for the pay, but to give them something to do with their lives and a sense of meaning. I was very fortunate to meet someone recently who is a social worker who helps people with mental health and substance abuse issues find work. One of the things that they told me about is that many people who have been out of work for a long time feel listless and despondent. So as a result, while they're helping these people find jobs, they're also helping them find volunteer work to get them out of the house and get them moving again. Apparently, among the benefits of creating a weekly regimen, contacts, and work experience for these people, it has a profound impact on their mental health in a positive way. A lot of people truly enjoy work.

When I read this article, my mind replaces "bullshit" with "meaningless" and I can't help but wonder if seemingly meaningless work is just as psychologically unhealthy as no work. It could maybe even be worse.

kleinbl00  ·  698 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    That we have a mixture of pressures from regulations, unions, office politics, etc. that result in people being paid to do jobs that don't need to be done?

And I don't disagree with him. But Graeber's other shoe is basically that the idea for working for wages is not mankind's natural state and that the way we really wanna be is using each others' favor bank so that everyone gets what they need without anybody having to do anything fundamentally useless.

The problem is if we go back to the Land Of Primitives where we're all sharing childcare and hunting and gathering and weaving baskets, the guy/girl who does fuckall all day is a burden on his family, not on his tribe and in this, our modern billion-person tribe, we've developed ornate structures whereby the useless are given marginally useful tasks because a semi-competent person in the slot beats leaving it open.

Douglas Adams had working society conspire to launch their dead weight into space with a "no, no, you guys go ahead we'll catch up later" ruse. In the real world we have the problem of (1) all agreeing on who is worthless (something something eugenics) (2) all agreeing on what to do with them (something something Godwin's Law).

Graeber likes to talk about useless social structures but not so much about useless members of society. The fact that he refers to "lobbyist" as a bullshit job is more of a political statement than a factual one; a lobbyist hired by my wife's professional organization makes us an extra $1500 every time we have a Medicaid delivery and sure - in an ideal world we wouldn't have needed to rely on a lobbyist but in an ideal world we wouldn't have to rely on money either. Plowing through everything to get to the "no money" point looks a lot more like THX-1138 than it does like a Town Called Perfect.

veen  ·  698 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Reading the article again, it's suddenly pretty obvious that Graeber is only taking the employee's point of view on this. I wonder if he'll do the same in his book.

That said, I agree with Odder: if for every bullshit job there's a bullshit rule that should have an exception, it's still problematic in my book.

kleinbl00  ·  697 days ago  ·  link  ·  

What's the platitude? If both sides are unhappy with the contract it's a good one?

My jewelry lab has an oxy/propane torch at every bench. There must be 30 of them in the room. We've got concentrated peroxide and other chemicals to etch metal. We've got a 200-ton press, we've got a bandsaw, we've got all sorts of shit. But if you want to heat up your piece before you dip it in liver of sulfur you have to run it under hot water because OSHA deemed a blow dryer to be a fire hazard.

Know who governs those chemicals? The EPA. MSDS for everybody. Know who governs the torches and gasses? OSHA. Standards for all of it. Know who governs the use of a hair dryer in an industrial production environment?


Stupid on the face of it? Absolutely. The compromise necessary in order to make everything else work? Absolutely.

Devac  ·  697 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    But if you want to heat up your piece before you dip it in liver of sulfur you have to run it under hot water because OSHA deemed a blow dryer to be a fire hazard.

Cool! Though, I thought that submersion in hot water is prefered to make sure the whole mass you work on will have an equal temperature (and get equal staining/patina because of that).

kleinbl00  ·  697 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I have about this -----> <------- much experience with jewelry making. That experience involves two instructors. In my n of 2, I can say with confidence that "do what works" is the prime motivator. At least one of those instructors prefers blow dryers.

Devac  ·  697 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Hey, I'm far from even considering myself as a beginner. My comment was motivated by what I remember from one wet/elemental chemistry lab I took.

kleinbl00  ·  697 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Dude you'd dig it. And I'll bet the chicks would, too. I'm finding jewelry design and manufacture to be easy, rewarding and fun.

Devac  ·  696 days ago  ·  link  ·  
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