coromandal


flunkies and goons

nineteen-eighty-four-220312 (With images) | Nineteen eighty four ...

As the germ ravages the land, and we stay safely in our homes, now is the time to prepare for a better future at work. Improve your skills for the post pandemic reality. Lots of useless jobs if you’re interested as David Graeber shows us in his book, and which are excerpted below.

Here are the skills – update your LinkedIn. Flunkies appease, goons oppose, duct tapers patch up, box tickers distract, and taskmasters obfuscate and abuse.

What about jobs that aren’t bullshit? Let’s take the opposite skills as a possibility: provoke, promote, resolve, clarify, and act.

The optimist sees hope for substantive change after a pandemic. Less bullshit jobs would be something to rally around.

  1. 1. flunkies, who serve to make their superiors feel important, e.g., receptionists, administrative assistants, door attendants

  2. goons, who oppose other goons hired by other companies, e.g., lobbyists, corporate lawyers, telemarketers, public relations specialists

  3. duct tapers, who temporarily fix problems that could be fixed permanently, e.g., programmers repairing shoddy code, airline desk staff who calm passengers whose bags don’t arrive

  4. box tickers, who use paperwork or gestures as a proxy for action, e.g., performance managers, in-house magazine journalists, leisure coordinators

  5. taskmasters, who manage—or create extra work for—those who don’t need it, e.g., middle management, leadership professionals

David Graeber, Bullshit Jobs



The eccentric, brilliant, and impractical
January 21, 2019, 4:51 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , ,

Don’t Blink, Lisa Rinzler

The best four years of my middle aged life were spent reading English Literature as an undergraduate. I went on and did a professional degree, which in my mind wasn’t education at all and should be immediately removed from the university and put in a trade school where it belongs. I developed a lifelong love of the humanities from the short introduction I had to it, and know I owe a debt of gratitude to the men and women who taught me for their role in introducing us to the histories, stories and ideas that make the foundation of our shared institutions, that nurture our collective imagination, and cement truth and beauty at the center of society and life.

I was aware at the time – the late eighties – of some of the cultural shifts that would a few short decades later completely alter the mission of the humanities. Third Way for instance was a term I learned during my undergrad as a bold bipartisan market based way forward. Exciting! However, no one could have known then the precision and speed with which neo liberal third way would hollow out the liberal arts education starving the core concepts of learning for it’s own sake, for the sake of shared humanism, to allow the imagination to flourish. This movement instrumentalized, quantified and monetized the universities, and the sacred heart of their mission was smothered. Deans, who used to protect the mandate of the colleges, now came in to raise money and, well, the body rotted from the head on down.

In the Baffler book No Future For You is a chapter on the liberalizing of the universities by David Graeber. He describes the result: administrative work has replaced study, research and teaching; administrators outnumber professors; corporate management techniques have led to competition instead of collegiality; study and teaching has been replaced by selling: books, grant applications, faculty, and the university itself; true creative work has been replaced by a sort of stenography. There are no new works of social theory and the eccentric and brilliant are denied tenure and languish in obscurity.

It’s time to declare: we want our universities back.

My own knowledge comes from universities, both in the United States and Britain. In both countries, the last thirty years have seen a veritable explosion of the proportion of working hours spent on administrative tasks at the expense of pretty much everything else. In my own university, for instance, we have more administrators than faculty members, and the faculty members, too, are expected to spend at least as much time on administration as on teaching and research combined. The same is true, more or less, at universities worldwide.

The growth of administrative work has directly resulted from introducing corporate management techniques. Invariably, these are justified as ways of increasing efficiency and introducing competition at every level. What they end up meaning in practice is that everyone winds up spending most of their time trying to sell things: grant proposals; book proposals; assessments of students’ jobs and grant applications; assessments of our colleagues; prospectuses for new interdisciplinary majors; institutes; conference workshops; universities themselves (which have now become brands to be marketed to prospective students or contributors); and so on.

As marketing overwhelms university life, it generates documents about fostering imagination and creativity that might just as well have been designed to strangle imagination and creativity in the cradle. No major new works of social theory have emerged in the United States in the last thirty years. We have been reduced to the equivalent of medieval scholastics, writing endless annotations of French theory from the seventies, despite the guilty awareness that if new incarnations of Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, or Pierre Bourdieu were to appear in the academy today, we would deny them tenure.

There was a time when academia was society’s refuge for the eccentric, brilliant, and impractical. No longer. It is now the domain of professional self-marketers. As a result, in one of the most bizarre fits of social self-destructiveness in history, we seem to have decided we have no place for our eccentric, brilliant, and impractical citizens. Most languish in their mothers’ basements, at best making the occasional, acute intervention on the Internet.

Bullshit Jobs, David Graeber, No Future For You, The Baffler



tyranny of managerialism and the privatization of results

Image result for for profit universities contemporary photography

You will: write proposals, be judged, anticipate and deflect criticism.

You will not: do research, follow your curiosity, solve problems.

You will spend your time writing proposals rather than doing research. Worse, because your proposals are judged by your competitors, you cannot follow your curiosity, but must spend your effort and talents on anticipating and deflecting criticism rather than on solving the important scientific problems. . . . It is proverbial that original ideas are the kiss of death for a proposal, because they have not yet been proved to work.

Jonathan Katz, astrophysicist

The privatization of research results:

You will: jealously guard – as you would personal property – your findings, make findings difficult to access.

You will not: share in convivial competition.

Industrial Revolution British economics was distributed between high finance and local crackpot inventors and researchers, and was highly successful. After 1945, the US and Germany fought over who would replace Britain as world power, and starting with the atom bomb in the 1950s, built our current, stagnant, technological, government funded economy.

In the natural sciences, to the tyranny of managerialism we can add the privatization of research results. As the British economist David Harvie has reminded us, “open source” research is not new. Scholarly research has always been open source, in the sense that scholars share materials and results. There is competition, certainly, but it is “convivial.” This is no longer true of scientists working in the corporate sector, where findings are jealously guarded, but the spread of the corporate ethos within the academy and research institutes themselves has caused even publicly funded scholars to treat their findings as personal property. Academic publishers ensure that findings that are published are increasingly difficult to access, further enclosing the intellectual commons. As a result, convivial, open-source competition turns into something much more like classic market competition.

[…]

Giovanni Arrighi has noted that after the South Sea Bubble, British capitalism largely abandoned the corporate form. By the time of the Industrial Revolution, Britain had instead come to rely on a combination of high finance and small family firms—a pattern that held throughout the next century, the period of maximum scientific and technological innovation. (Britain at that time was also notorious for being just as generous to its oddballs and eccentrics as contemporary America is intolerant. A common expedient was to allow them to become rural vicars, who, predictably, became one of the main sources for amateur scientific discoveries.)

Contemporary, bureaucratic corporate capitalism was a creation not of Britain, but of the United States and Germany, the two rival powers that spent the first half of the twentieth century fighting two bloody wars over who would replace Britain as a dominant world power—wars that culminated, appropriately enough, in government-sponsored scientific programs to see who would be the first to discover the atom bomb. It is significant, then, that our current technological stagnation seems to have begun after 1945, when the United States replaced Britain as organizer of the world economy.

Of Flying Machines and the Declining Rate of Profit, David Graeber, The Baffler



money is a promise: American jubilee

 

Here is a story about fierce people.  A king decides to sell a servant and his family into slavery to settle the servant’s debt.  The servant begs the king for leniency to repay the debt, and the king has pity and mercy and not only releases the servant but forgives the debt in full.

The same servant meets a man in the street who owes him money and grabs him by the neck, and demands repayment.  The debtor pleads for leniency, but the servant has the man thrown into prison.  Friends of the servant see this cruelty and relate it to the king, their common benefactor.  The king calls the unforgiving servant to him, chastises him for his hypocrisy and lack of mercy, and throws him into prison.

Unhappy ending, sorry.  You probably remember this story from Matthew’s gospel from childhood when you went to Sunday school.  Or if you’re of another faith, echoes of the universality of the message in stories from your own religious teachings.

***

The author David Graeber wrote a book called Debt: The First 5000 Years.  I have excerpted three passages from one of his chapters below to introduce the idea of Jubilee, which is state sanctioned debt forgiveness.

Jubilee, called amargi (freedom) by the ancients, was perfectly described in the moment – in Matthew’s gospel – when the king forgives the servant and the servant is made free of his obligation.  What exhilaration must have accompanied this transformative moment in the servant’s life.

Continue reading