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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



Comradeship and justice
April 18, 2020, 7:49 am
Filed under: brave new world, chronotopes | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Saving Hieronymus Bosch from the devil

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights

Our understanding of the medieval world is on the whole negative: long centuries marked by superstition, plagues, illiteracy, feudal bondage, and wars. We see it as a dark age bracketed by the relative brilliance of antiquity before and enlightenment after. The victors write history and much of what we believe about the medieval world was written in the 19th century to propagate this carefully crafted historical narrative.

The collapse of empire, the crusades, feudalism, and plagues are indeed dark, but there is a lot about the medieval world that is attractive: its mysticism, social life, art and architecture, and stories. Similarly, if we’re honest, there’s an awful lot to not recommend in the Western canon world we live in: its alienation, rationalism, instrumentalism, blind faith in humanism, reason and capital.

As an example, in the realm of work G. K. Chesterton noted that the medieval view was human and redeeming and our modern system decidedly debased:

The principal of medieval trade was admittedly comradeship and justice, while the principle of modern trade is avowedly competition and greed.

G.K. Chesterton, William Cobbett, 1926

Strange how the highly religious medieval world comes up with such modern concepts to organize the world of work: comradeship and justice; yet we, drawing on the grand rational traditions of ancient Rome and Athens, the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and Industrial Revolution, evolved a system of backwardness and superstition: competition and greed. We have high priests – robed flunkies – to flog this ignorant ideology; its influence is airtight, profound, omniscient, omnipresent. They use propagandas which are part of the air we breathe: Survival of the Fittest! Healthy Competition!

Tom Hodgkinson describes the outcome of our ‘enlightened’ dark age:

The theory is that competition leads to good quality and reasonable prices in goods. But the reality is the opposite: unfettered competition, that is, commercial war, and the endless expansion that necessarily goes with it, inevitably results in monopolies, as one giant company swallows up its failed competitors.

Tim Hodgkinson, The Freedom Manifesto, p84

That’s not enlightened. We’ve no doubt entered one of Dante’s circles, or the hellscapes of Hieronymus Bosch.

It would be unfair to not at least ruminate on the effects on life built on a commitment to comradeship and justice. As we’ve seen, there is a lot of poor scholarship that pushes a view of the desperate nature of the life of the Medieval peasant; no life at any time has been a bed of roses. But we know they held to these commitments and thereby built for themselves meaningful, faithful, and social lives. And we can too.



The rocky path
April 15, 2020, 7:45 am
Filed under: chronotopes | Tags: , , , , ,

Why Medieval Serfs Had More Vacation Time Than You Do Today ...

For the medievals labour was first a burden. It was a penance: in which God is feared.

Then it became the difficult means on a path toward freedom. It was an instrument: in which God is bargained with, and even a collaboration: in which God, in the Armenian sense, is a coworker.

Medieval men initially viewed labor as a penance or a chastisement for original sin. Then, without abandoning this penitential perspective, they place increasing value upon work as an instrument of redemption, of dignity, of salvation. They viewed labor as collaboration in the work of the Creator who, having labored, rested on the seventh day. Labor, that cherished burden, had to be wrenched from the outcast position and transformed, individually and collectively, into the rocky path to liberation.

Jacques Le Goff



an arrangement that isolates

Related image

photo: Douglas Adesco

Family values derive logically from the Industrial Revolution which own values were to procure labour, with transportation to the place of work, with domestic arrangements (and the assumption of the nurture that may give). That may be the only concession to the pre revolution world social networks and entanglements: a dim, all but extinguished sign of what may have existed as a rich set of social realities.

The nuclear family is a recent invention. As an arrangement that, ideally, isolates a man, woman, and a few children within a single, economically autonomous domestic unit, with only casual or symbolic ties to friends and extended family, it does not seem to predate the Industrial Revolution and the rapid urbanization that followed it. Indeed, the expectation that everyone should find a place in such an arrangement appears to be Fordist in origin: the same vision of the future that caused us to believe that everyone might have a place in a system of production, might commute to it in an automobile, and might return home at the end of the day to a freestanding domicile with a family inside.

Working Arrangement, Justin E. H. Smith, Lapham’s Quarterly



What other goals, principles satisfactions?
October 21, 2016, 4:42 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , ,

Image result for office workers magnum photographs

Photo: Lise Sarfati

Modern people are commodities; disconnected from self, others and nature; their virtual only focus is exchange of personhood with other persons on the market. Life is subsumed in these market processes: packaging and moving personhood as a product, negotiating exchanges and consuming.

What of life, real life? What other goals, principles satisfactions?

Modern man has transformed himself into a commodity; he experiences his life energy as an investment with which he should make the highest profit, considering his position and the situation on the personality market. He is alienated from himself, from his fellow men and from nature. His main aim is profitable exchange of his skills, knowledge, and of himself, his “personality package” with others who are equally intent on a fair and profitable exchange. Life has no goal except the one to move, no principle except the one of fair exchange, no satisfaction except the one to consume.

Erich Fromm



you haven’t you haven’t
February 7, 2016, 8:24 pm
Filed under: brave new world, chronotopes | Tags: ,



arbejdsglæde
February 24, 2015, 11:05 pm
Filed under: brave new world, departure lounge, the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

Work happiness = Scandanavia

Death from overwork = Japan

Job hate = United States

We work half our waking lives. Let’s see, where shall I live?

While the English and Danish languages have strong common roots, there are of course many words that exist only in one language and not in the other. And here’s a word that exists only in Danish and not in English: arbejdsglæde. Arbejde means work and glæde means happiness, so arbejdsglæde is “happiness at work.” This word also exists in the other Nordic languages (Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish and Icelandic) but is not in common use in any other language on the planet.

For instance, where we Scandinavians have arbejdsglæde, the Japanese instead have karoshi, which means “Death from overwork.” And this is no coincidence; there is a word for it in Danish because Danish workplaces have a long-standing tradition of wanting to make their employees happy. To most Danes, a job isn’t just a way to get paid; we fully expect to enjoy ourselves at work.

The U.S. attitude towards work is often quite different. A few years ago I gave a speech in Chicago, and an audience member told me that “Of course I hate my job, that’s why they pay me to do it!” Many Americans hate their jobs and consider this to be perfectly normal. Similarly, many U.S. workplaces do little or nothing to create happiness among employees, sticking to the philosophy that “If you’re enjoying yourself, you’re not working hard enough.”

5 Simple Office Policies That Make Danish Workers Way More Happy Than AmericansAlexander Kjerulf



low power distance
December 14, 2014, 4:44 pm
Filed under: brave new world, departure lounge, the sweet life | Tags: , , , , ,

A high power distance makes people unhappy. This happens when your boss is empowered to make unchallenged edicts that everyone must not question and must obediently follow. The US has a power distance of 40, which is high.

A low power distance means power is much more evenly distributed and a bosses direction is given and taken more as a suggestion than a command. It results in an increased sense of autonomy and worker investment in his workplace.

From Fast Company:

In the U.S., if your boss gives you an order, you pretty much do what you’re told. In a Danish workplace, extremely few direct orders are ever given and employees are more likely to view them as suggestions.
Dutch sociologist Geert Hofstede has quantified the business culture in more than 100 countries on several parameters, one of which is “power distance.” A high power distance means that bosses are undisputed kings whose every word is law. U.S. workplaces have a power distance of 40 while Danish workplaces—with a score of 18—have the lowest power distance in the world.

This means that Danish employees experience more autonomy and are more empowered at work. Here’s just one example: By law, any Danish workplace with more than 35 employees must open up seats on the board for employees, who are elected to the board by their peers and serve on an equal footing and with same voting powers as all other board members.

Simple office policies that make Danish workers way more happy than Americans, Alexander Kjerulf, Fast Company



not a leader
August 16, 2014, 6:41 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , ,

To be a leader – in this view below – you must: see yourself, rule yourself, see others, act altruistically, and organize people. There’s a heavy emphasis on charisma, self and action, and a cursory mention of others.

Curiously no mention at all of knowledge or vision: in this view what you know of yourself is more important than what you know of the world. So much so that knowledge of the world isn’t even mentioned. Is this a case of “the worst  / Are full of passionate intensity”?  Charisma is all you need in the age of sheep.

I think a leader pulls us into new places. The rope attached to a dog’s collar is a lead. The whole purpose is wagging your tail on the way to the new place.

Calvino describes the “agile… poet-philosopher who raises himself above the weight of the world, showing that with all his gravity he has the secret of lightness, and that what many consider to be the vitality of the times – noisy, aggressive, revving and roaring – belongs to the realm of death.” A leader pulls us up to a place of lightness and life.

The fatally incomplete list:

What Makes a Leader? Daniel Goleman



Enjoyable autonomous work
July 19, 2014, 9:51 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

Here’s a case for finding enjoyable autonomous work. It’s probably impossible to find it for 100% of your day / week / year / life, but maybe 50% or 40% or maybe much less. Anyway whatever the number you are lucky enough to achieve, increasing the proportion should help to decrease boredom.

Boredom was invented in 1760. That is the year, according to academic Lars Svendsen in his excellent study A Philosophy of Boredom (2005), that the word was first used in English. The other great invention of the time was the Spinning Jenny, which heralded the start of the Industrial Revolution. In other words, boredom arrives with the division of labour and the transformation of enjoyable autonomous work into tedious slave-work.

Tom Hodgkinson, How to Be Free, p 18