During the recent Rebellion we lost an inspirational friend and ally, David Graeber. This Sunday, 11 October 2020, sees an Intergalactic Memorial Carnival take place in over 100 (and counting) locations around the world – and everyone from XR is invited.
Rebels in London can head to Portobello Road, and there are events planned up and down the country. If you can’t find one near you, host your own. There’s more info here: https://davidgraeber.industries
As the website says: “From street corners to theater stages, live video feeds to squatted cemeteries, the 11th of October could enter history as the biggest memorial for an anarchist since Louis Michel’s 1905 funeral in Paris when 120,000 people chased the head of the police away from the funeral procession.”
We are ALL invited to be part of history, in celebration of a man whose mind will undoubtedly change it.
David Graeber gave this speech for Writers Rebel on Trafalgar Square, outside Waterstone’s Bookshop, on 11th October 2019.
[APPLAUSE] Thank you so much. When they said ‘reading’ I thought – oh! you know, I’ve done so many readings but I’ve never actually read something at one of those readings? So I thought well – I’ve never read the Bullshit Jobs book – maybe I should just do that – read some of it. And then people said – well, try to emphasise its relationship to ecology – which I thought was kind of obvious! But I thought – maybe what I will do is read some paragraphs of it and then talk about the larger implications of it.
When I wrote this article a few years ago, I was thinking about work. Why are we all working so hard? This is supposed to be the science-fiction future and we are all supposed to be working fifteen to twenty hours maximum. And instead we just keep working more and more and work invades every aspect of our lives.
I thought – technology, which could have been used to eliminate work, has instead been used to make us work all the time. How did that happen? Why did it happen? I’ll read –
‘Rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours, to free the world’s population, to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions and ideas, we’ve seen the ballooning, not even so much of the service sector, but of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing. Or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources and public relations; and these numbers not even reflecting all the people whose jobs provide administrative, technical or security support for those industries.’
Now, just think about it – all those people who are just working all day to provide somebody with a tax dodge by translating for him some forms from France into some forms from Germany. Somebody’s got to clean those buildings they’re in, somebody’s got to provide heat, somebody’s got to do security and pest control and so forth and so on – fix the machines when they break. And then there’s all the people who have jobs that only exist because everybody’s working so hard. There’s a whole category of jobs like dog washers, and things like that, that nobody would need, but everybody’s working so hard at all the other useless jobs, that you have to create new, useless jobs to support their uselessness. So there’s whole ancillary industries like dog washers, all-night pizza delivery, that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working. It’s as if there were people out there making up pointless jobs just to keep us off the streets: just to keep us all working.
‘While corporations may engage in ruthless downsizing, the layoffs and speed-ups invariably fall on that class of people who are actually making, moving, fixing and maintaining things. Through some strange alchemy that no one can quite explain, the number of salary paper pushers ultimately seems to expand, and more and more employees find themselves, not unlike Soviet workers of the past, working 40 or even 50 hour weeks on paper, but effectively working fifteen, twelve, ten, nine, eight since the rest of their time is spent organizing or attending motivational seminars, updating their Facebook profiles or downloading TV box sets.’
And I write –
‘Once, while constantly contemplating the growth of administrative responsibilities and British academic departments, I came upon a possible vision of Hell. Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don’t like and are not especially good at. Say they’re hired because they’re excellent cabinet makers, and then they discover they’re expected to spend a great deal of their time frying fish. Neither does the task really need to be done. At least, there’s only a limited number of fish that need to be fried. Yet somehow, they all become so obsessed with resentment at the thought that some of their co-workers might be spending more time making cabinets and not doing their fair share of the fish frying responsibilities that, before long, there’s endless piles of useless, badly cooked fish piling up all over the workshop and that’s all anybody really does.’
I think this is a pretty accurate description of the moral dynamics of our own economy. We’re all so obsessed by the idea that somebody else might be getting off without working, that we basically make up useless jobs just to keep each other working and then we sit around being angry and resentful of each other and thinking – Oh! that guy, he’s got a real job. This is why people hate auto workers or people who teach. Why do they hate teachers? They educate kids?! Well that’s why they hate teachers. You get a real job; you want a vacation too? Well, that’s not fair! So they mobilize resentment based on the fact that all these people have to show up and work and do nothing all day and kind of hate everybody as a result.
The kind of resentment this creates is the bizarre dynamic that holds our society together. And I think that the ecological implications of this are obvious but I think they need to be underlined. According to surveys, 37% of people in this country said their job made no meaningful contribution to society. If it didn’t exist, it would either make no difference whatsoever or maybe the world would be slightly better. And this is people’s assessment of their own jobs!
Now I assume they’re probably right. If you’re going to be wrong, you’re going to probably over-estimate the importance of your job, you’re not going to under-estimate? So okay, if 37-40% of people are just doing nothing all day, think of all the buildings! How many buildings do people have to make just so people sit there and pretend to work? And I actually started looking into to it and that’s probably the single most important contributor to carbon emissions and energy usage and hence climate change. This completely useless infrastructure construction. It’s happening all over the world.
And the more I talk to people – you talk to people from New Zealand, you talk to people from South Africa – wherever you go, they’re putting up skyscrapers. They’re putting up office blocks and they’re putting up office blocks just for the sake of putting them up. They have some strange, financialized sort of mechanism that actually rewards you for ripping down old stuff and putting up new stuff whether it’s needed or not and then they try to figure out what to do with it so they have to just make up bullshit jobs just to fill the buildings. And this is happening everywhere. These buildings are destroying the planet. And it’s all to do with the people behind it – behind the construction industry are exactly the people behind climate denial, rape and monopolism. It is not a coincidence that Donald Trump is a construction guy. So, I would say that the two things destroying our planet most of all are the combination, the insidious synergy, between bullshit jobs and batshit construction!
[LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE]
I think this needs to be explored. I would say, if we get rid of the bullshit jobs, if we get rid of batshit construction, I’d say, thirdly planned obsolescence: this is my proposal. You know, everything is made to break in three years, which is another form of bullshit jobs, that’s just keeping people busy remaking things which could have been made perfectly well to begin with. So get rid of that. Let’s say – all computers come with a twenty-year replacement warranty. You think they can’t make a computer that’ll last 20 years? Of course they can.
So if you get rid of the bullshit jobs, you get rid of the batshit construction, you get rid of things that are made to break – we’re half way there already. That’s my proposal. Thank you.
With many thanks to Michele Witting for the transcription
David Graeber sadly died on September 2nd 2020. He was an American anthropologist, anarchist activist and author, known for his books Debt: The first 5000 years (2011), The Utopia of Rules (2015) and Bullshit Jobs (2018). He was a professor of anthropology at the LSE.
As an assistant and later associate professor of anthropology at Yale University from 1998 to 2007, his activism included protests at the 2002 World Economic Forum in New York City. Graeber was a leading figure in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and is sometimes credited with having coined the slogan “We are the 99%”.
Act Now: Attend the memorial this Sunday.