Existentialists with agita, rejoice. We now have an anthropologist’s confirmation that what we do means nothing. At the New Yorker, Nathan Heller writes about David Greaber’s Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, a book that examines our current work economy and how we attribute meaning to our lives with possibly (probably?) meaningless tasks.
[Bullshit] jobs are endemic even to creative industries. Content curators, creatives—these and other intermediary non-roles crop up in everything from journalism to art. Hollywood is notoriously mired in development, an endeavor that Graeber believes to be almost pure bullshit.
In a famous essay drafted in 1928, John Maynard Keynes projected that, a century on, technological efficiency in Europe and in the U.S. would be so great, and prosperity so assured, that people would be at pains to avoid going crazy from leisure and boredom. Maybe, Keynes wrote, they could plan to retain three hours of work a day, just to feel useful.
Is it possible that bullshit jobs are useful? In Graeber’s view, they simply reinforce their premises. “We have invented a bizarre sadomasochistic dialectic whereby we feel that pain in the workplace is the only possible justification for our furtive consumer pleasures, and, at the same time, the fact that our jobs thus come to eat up more and more of our waking existence means that we do not have the luxury of—as Kathi Weeks has so concisely put it—‘a life,’” he writes.