In this episode, we discuss Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber. Graeber was an anthropologist. In 2013, he wrote an article talking about the phenomena of bullshit jobs - jobs that were unnecessary and pernicious. The article touched the nerve, and Graeber was flooded with hundreds of accounts from the holders of Bullshit Jobs.
In this episode, we discuss what bullshit jobs are, Graeber's taxonomy of the types of bullshit jobs, and the effect of these jobs on the psyche of those who hold them. In the next episode, we will cover the second half of the book, discussing the roots of the problem and what can be done about it.
[00:00:24] **Hirad:** hello. Trish.
[00:00:25] **Trish:** Hello. Welcome back, listeners.
[00:00:29] **Hirad:** are we reading today?
[00:00:30] **Trish:** Today?
We're reading, I guess actually I should add that there's going to be some foul language in this episode
we are reading bullshit jobs by David Graeber.
[00:00:41] **Hirad:** I will totally be using some foul language in this episode. I don't think there's anywhere to hold this back.
[00:00:46] **Trish:** we're going to have to change our iTunes tag,
But yeah. Bullshit Jobs by David Graber. And this one's a lot of fun. We've got a lot to talk about here. So do we want to give any background or...
[00:00:56] **Hirad:** Why did we read this book?
[00:00:58] **Trish:** So a friend had recommended to me David Graeber's other book called "Debt: the First 5,000 Years" and I read it and I really, really liked it.
And so, as you do, When you find it an author you like, you look at what else he's written. And I saw that.
there was this
book called Bullshit Jobs. And that to me just seemed hilarious. And I picked it up as kind of a thinking it was going to be like a jokey kind of like Malcolm Gladwell thing, but it would be there as someone who has held bullshit jobs in the past, I thought it was going to be a little bit therapeutic
I opened it and was pleasantly surprised.
And so I recommended it to you, who also has had your share of, bullshit jobs we are today. So there's a lot to talk about and it's going to be a lot of fun.
[00:01:39] **Hirad:** and we're doing something a little bit different for this episode, we're covering basically the first half of the book which is kind of a taxonomy of what bullshit jobs are.
And some stories of how they like how they arise and not really hard to arise, but like some stories of people who have had. them and what it is like having them. And then in the second half of the book talks about why this little cottage industry of bullshit jobs exist, not really cottage industry, it's like a mega industry.
And so in the next episode, we'll talk about some of the why's of why it exists,
[00:02:14] **Trish:** Yeah.
Maybe a bigger societal implications and yeah. But today is kind of what it is, what our experience has been. Some of the funnier examples from your book and let's get into it.
[00:02:27] **Hirad:** Yeah. So what is a bullshit job? How does David Graber define what it is?
[00:02:34] **Trish:** So I can just quote directly he's like bullshit jobs are jobs that are useless or pernicious. Typically there has to be some degree of pretense or fraud involved. The job holder must feel obliged to pretend that there is in fact, a good , reason why her job exists, even if privately, she finds such claims ridiculous. End quote.. So that's kind of where we start. That's the starting point.
[00:03:01] **Hirad:** And the key thing about this definition is that those attributes of it being pernicious and, or useless, they are in the, in the eyes of the person doing the job. So the employee him or herself must feel that way. If it's somebody else making the subjective observation about some, someone else, then by Graeber's definition, that kind of fails to qualify as a bullshit job.
It's only if the person doing. the work thinks that It is bullshit.
[00:03:29] **Trish:** Yeah. So the key ideas is like, it's something that's useless.
It literally it doesn't have to exist. It's not contributing anything to the world and very likely it's making the world worse.
[00:03:40] **Hirad:** Right. So by this definition, one of my first comments on this is probably the entire universe of bullshit jobs is way bigger than what
is talking about in this book, because I'm sure a lot of people that are, who are doing useless things are refusing to acknowledge it even to themselves, because that's what we do , as humans.
[00:03:58] **Trish:** So it's actually pretty recent. It's 2018. So I was just going to say, I was like, oh, maybe it's gotten worse since he wrote it. But I mean, that's only four years old, so it could have gotten worse, but not, not necessarily So one other thing that I feel like is very useful to point out is that a bullshit job is not the same as a shit job, which is just any unpleasant tasks that needs to be done.
[00:04:22] **Hirad:** Right.
[00:04:24] **Trish:** Cleaning toilets, cleaning anything really? Yeah.
garbage. I mean, I don't want to be mean to garbage men, but like collecting trash, you know, is like probably not the funnest job. Yeah.
[00:04:34] **Hirad:** Yeah. Just because it's not fun. Doesn't mean that it's bullshit. Some, some jobs that are not fun are necessary, they're useful.
And so in those cases, those might be shit jobs, but they're still necessary and useful. Bullshit jobs are not necessarily useful or they might be actively harmful,
[00:04:50] **Trish:** not contributing anything.
[00:04:53] **Hirad:** So the bit of a backstory of this book is that Graeber wrote an article about this phenomenon of jobs that don't really need to exist. And I forget where the article was published, but it was in some mainstream publication came out in 2013, if I believe
[00:05:08] **Trish:** something called strike wasn't it?
[00:05:10] **Hirad:** Could be. Yeah. So David Graber, I don't know. why, I didn't know much about him before this book. He's a very left leaning anthropologists. He was participating in the occupy movements.
He's kind of been a inspirational figure for a lot of anarchist groups. So typically the types of people that I would never want to be associated with. But surprisingly I found his book quite compelling, but that's been one of the,
[00:05:33] **Trish:** such an interesting aside, because I feel the same way.
Like when I bought like on the recommendation of a friend, I just ordered this book from Amazon debt the first 5,000 years. I know when I read kind of his thing about how he was So involved in the occupy wall street movement and stuff, I immediately put him in a box and that box is , I don't know how you feel about it.
literally hate wall street. I was incensed that they bailed out the banks and everything,
I also was never on board with the occupy movement basically because everyone involved kind of seemed like a loser.
[00:06:06] **Hirad:** Yeah. I don't I don't remember much about, like, I dunno how I felt about the occupy movement.
I do think I, I kind of agreed with them in the sense that like, like you said, like something is really broken in wall street and the way that they kind of got away with breaking the economy in 2008 and then having the public bail them out when the public itself was not bailed out. But, but I think a lot of the philosophical inspirations behind occupy was kind of leaning towards.
Communism of sorts or increased welfare states socialism, and those are typically the kinds of things that I'm not on board with. And so reading this book. and Finding the arguments so compelling was a bit of a surprise.
[00:06:48] **Trish:** I know. Well, it turns out that, you know, because like Hirad, and I both trend towards libertarian and anarcho capitalist. that, you know, instead of a political spectrum, it's like a little circle and I feel like we've
where you've like met
[00:07:02] **Hirad:** We've, we've ended up on the side of the circle.
We didn't expect to be on.
[00:07:06] **Trish:** I know, but I mean, those are the
kind of books, right. They're going to make you challenge all your assumptions and everything. anyway, so to the bullshitness.
[00:07:13] **Hirad:** Well, hang on. So to wrap up that backstory of how this book came about when Graeber published this article,
he starts being flooded with anecdotes of people telling him about their bullshit. jobs. And that's kind of what leads to the existence of this book. Because by the time he writes this book, he's got several hundred anecdotes that he can choose from. And of course, with, as people write to him, he starts interviewing them.
So it's a, he's an anthropologist this book is not the result of some very rigorous study, but it is a result of having lots and lots of conversations with people in various industries in the workforce who are telling him about the kinds of environments that they have to work in.
[00:07:53] **Trish:** Yeah.
More of a descriptive survey, Exactly.
[00:07:57] **Hirad:** So as we said, the definition of a bullshit job is is something that the doer sees. as Unnecessary useless or pernicious.
[00:08:08] **Trish:** But you can't admit it,
[00:08:10] **Hirad:** but you can't admit it. You have to pretend like it's not.
[00:08:12] **Trish:** Yeah. This is a very important aspect. Is that like, it's all pretense. You have to pretend that , your job is good or meaningful or important in some way, but it's not.
So one thing that he sort of talks about and when he, in his discussion of the difference, between Bullshit jobs and just straight up shit jobs is that even though shit jobs are, difficult, but very useful, they typically have a lot less esteem and prestige around it than the bullshit jobs, which often are doing nothing or perhaps making a negative contribution, but are actually like
you come with a lot of esteem, you know, prestige, a lot of very comfortable working conditions, often like very comfortable pay
[00:09:00] **Hirad:** yeah. I thought that was really interesting. So he makes this comparison with the Soviet union. In the soviet union, because everybody had to have a job. These anecdotes were circulating about like, you'd go to a store, there's nobody at the store to buy anything, but there were five cash registers.
People were just twiddling their thumbs because everybody had to be employed. There was no demand, right?
And he's kind of saying that we, in the capitalist world, we've created the white collar version of that, so that what the Soviet union ended with blue collar work we're doing here with white collar work.
[00:09:32] **Trish:** I kind of liked that joke. He said from the Soviet union, it's like, we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us,
but maybe we should give a couple examples of what inspired his bullshit job. He would say corporate lawyers were bullshit. Like, what were some of the other ones?
Like a lot of financial services. Bullshit.
[00:09:50] **Hirad:** I think middle managers, mostly are bullshit. I don't know if that was one of the examples that he gave. Early on in the book, he talked a lot about corporate lawyers, which I thought was interesting.
Cause I couldn't even wrap my head around why a corporate lawyer would be at bullshit job, because you do need to protect the rights of the, of the company. You don't need like intellectual property, there's a legal system. Right. And that was something that only made sense a little bit later in the book and see, kind of gave a taxonomy of of the different jobs.
What was interesting though, was what about a mafia Hitman? Do you think that's a bullshit job?
[00:10:25] **Trish:** Graeber says, no,
he says it's a evil job for sure. But it's not a bullshit job because it is actually accomplishing something, right? Like that's what you're saying. It looks like there is some sort of interest to be represented in that of the mafia boss and whatever they're trying to accomplish.
So even though
a. Obviously an evil job. It's not necessarily bullshit because there is kind of a point to it. Right.
it's not like most people don't like actually make a job out of being a hitman.
[00:11:02] **Hirad:** Right? Yeah. It's not it's not a consistent employment, I guess.
[00:11:05] **Trish:** Yeah, yeah, yeah exactly. It's like
probably the person would be like working for mafia boss in some other way.
when they own a favor, I don't know if you've seen the godfather
Like. Yeah. Yeah. What about
a hairdresser? That was his other example. Is that a bullshit job? Like hair? Like, do people really need, do we need hairdressers?
[00:11:23] **Hirad:** I don't remember what he said about it. I would say that's not a bullshit job. An interesting one since I completely don't remember what he says about it. I will reason that do we necessarily need to cut our hair or cut it in a very. Good way. No, but the hairdresser knows what their job is.
Like their job is to cut hair in the way that the customer wants it. And that's what they do.
[00:11:46] **Trish:** And it's providing a service that people want. Right. Like being an artist, isn't a bullshit job. Like, just because you don't necessarily value something that someone else does doesn't mean that it's like that their job is bullshit.
Right? There's many creative expressions of art or just like even utilitarian, like maybe you just don't want your hair to be that long for whatever reason. So it's definitely not a bullshit job because it's a service that people want the accomplishes something. it's, you know, probably it's improved.
Like, even if it was just the pleasure of going to a salon and having somebody wash your hair for you or something like, that's something that and Someone finds value in.
And so ergo,
[00:12:26] **Hirad:** and then, so going back to our definition. Would the hairdresser feel that their job is useless or unnecessary or pernicious?
Presumably not because if you went into that career, that's what you expected, you know exactly what you expect to do, right. And It's not like you don't go into you know, to hairdresser school and then come out on the other side and have to end up going to work and end up having to file forms about doing people's hair right No, You actually like do the thing that you wanted to do when you got into that job. Right. So in that sense, It's not bullshit.
[00:12:57] **Trish:** Yeah. And like, you went like, this would be very intuitive because assuming you're not the world's worst hairdresser, people would leave your chair happy and you would , there would be some like tangible improvement in their day or whatever.
. So Graeber gets into a little bit more granular detail about the types of bullshit jobs. So we just put it out there and Twitter told people to email him, got a bunch of replies. So this is like not whereas I feel like we're still kind of in the blow, the fun, what am I trying to say? This isn't like this isn't hard science here,
[00:13:29] **Hirad:** Exactly. Yeah. This is not a rigorous analysis.
[00:13:33] **Trish:** Yeah yeah yeah, but this is still kind of like fun and interesting. so....
[00:13:37] **Hirad:** So yeah, what he says is there's many different ways that you could categorize the bullshit jobs that he has heard about. And then of course the sample that he has gathered this data from is unrepresentative because it's just his Twitter following.
But this was, he found this taxonomy useful. And I actually think it's, it's really good too. It's really helpful to to think in these terms. Reading these definitions really helped me crystallize some of my past experiences of like, seeing like, oh, that's what I was dealing with. I was dealing with this category of of bullshit jobs that at a certain time
[00:14:11] **Trish:** totally. And I guess it's good because I think that, like previously we were kind of picking on like the middle management type of bullshit jobs, which I think is probably but you know, is the most infuriating kind, but they really can't. They can happen at any level of the spectrum, right? Like you can, , he gets into a bunch of where you're like some little minion, you still have a bullshit job, but anyways, so the first type talks about is the flunky.
And so he says funky jobs are those that exist to
or primarily to make someone else look or feel important.
[00:14:41] **Hirad:** The example of this is a secretary hired to answer the phone in a place that nobody calls or who, what was that example of an investment salesmen who hire someone to make cold calls on his behalf, even though his job is to make cold calls.
So the, the person that he's hired as is actually not doing anything.
[00:15:02] **Trish:** Yeah. Yeah. So just to be clear, receptionists and secretaries are not bullshit jobs, but if there's no one to receive or no phones to answer or anything, then you're obviously not doing anything except sitting there. Making somebody else feel important to have an underling.
[00:15:20] **Hirad:** Then the next category is goons, which is where corporate lawyers fit in. And the definition of this is jobs that only exists because other people have them. So if nobody had corporate lawyers, it's kind of like an army, right? If nobody had an army, nobody would need an army, but because other people have an army, then you need an army.
It's the same thing with corporate lawyers.
[00:15:43] **Trish:** And then the next one is duck tapers. So there are people who exist because there's some sort of glitch or flaw in the system or some problem that shouldn't exist. But rather than fix the problem, you. Hire someone to basically like try and patch that problem instead of just fixing it. So I don't remember exactly what his examples was in the book of what that looked like, but he was saying that like, imagine you had a leak in your roof instead of hiring someone to come reshingle your roof, you hired someone to stand there with a bucket and then
like bale got the water. Yeah, exactly. That would be I mean, obviously a fictitious and ridiculous example, but like where are they There should just be a problem that should be fixed.
[00:16:29] **Hirad:** Yeah. The next category is box tickers and these people exist to implement processes that that go nowhere. So there's entire genre of examples that he gives in the book of people who need to write reports that nobody will ever read.
And so those but the reports just must exist. Sometimes for regulatory reasons sometimes for. Other reasons that, you know the other organizational dysfunctions that necessitate the reports, but essentially you produce an artifact that no one will ever look. at.
[00:17:00] **Trish:** Yeah. And I think that, it's important when we're kind of glossing over these that , obviously you need people to double check things. Like obviously you need, you know, regulations and safety structures. And so just anyone who is double checking something or, isn't necessarily a bullshit job. has to be one that like is completely frivolous.
And the last is task masters whose role is assigning work to others. Because. The people would probably be very capable of understanding what work needs to be done and doing it themselves. So they don't need someone to assign it.
[00:17:37] **Hirad:** Right. So yeah any time you give people tasks that they could just do on their own you're a type one type taskmaster and there's a type two taskmaster people who create other bullshit jobs.
[00:17:48] **Trish:** Yeah.
So you're just like think of bullshit tasks that need to be done. I think that one was an example of some poor secretary. Who was working for someone and she, one of her bosses came and dumped out an entire thing of paperclips that were a little different colors and told her to organize them by color.
Even though there was no use, it's not like it was some sort of like filing or organizational system that hinged on different color paperclips. It was literally just a make work project. Right.
And so there's an estimate of that was what? 30 40% of jobs out there he thinks are bull Like given these broad categories would be complete bullshit.
[00:18:28] **Hirad:** Yeah. This was based on a few surveys. I think at some point they ran an ad campaign on in the London. underground asking people to fill out a survey and just based on the number of people that responded, they kind of estimated it as like 30 to 40% of the population thinks they have a bullshit job.
[00:18:45] **Trish:** And guys, if not sure about reading this book, like it's worth reading just for the anecdotes of the stuff that some people go through at work.
One of my favorites was this guy who was working, he was a Spanish guy who was working for like, like the municipal water works or something. And he just literally stopped coming to work.
And no one noticed for five years
[00:19:09] **Hirad:** and he collected his paycheck and became an expert in the philosophy of Spinoza.
[00:19:13] **Trish:** yeah.
So at least was being productive and it's time off, but there's it's yeah, it's the anecdotes are so good. Sort of what people sent in of their misery in a bullshit job.
[00:19:25] **Hirad:** So you would think that if you have, well, I mean, depending on the job, so you've got a range of job or range of bullshit jobs on this taxonomy, right? You have some people like the secretary who's hired To answer phone calls at a place that nobody calls. And so there's a few ways that that can go.
So one of the ways that we see from some of these anecdotes is that the secretary is basically just sitting there doing nothing. And some people take who basically have nothing to do, take that opportunity to do something useful with it. Like the guy from the water,
Department who just read philosophy for five years But there are other types of bullshit jobs where even if there is nothing to do, your manager will make you do something, even though it was profoundly stupid. So the example of that is as the secretary who ended up having to sort out thousands of paperclips by color, even though nobody was using them in a color-coded way
[00:20:21] **Trish:** Or at least you have to look like you're busy,
when you're so,
the responsibility the onus is on you, even if you're not assigned any work to seem like you're busy
[00:20:31] **Hirad:** Yeah.
And one of the things that really struck me as I was going through some of these examples, so there were, there were people talking about their experience of like getting hired in the place. Nobody assigns them a task. But they know, and sometimes the managers are
cool with it
because the managers know that there is no work to be done, but they know that if there's a there's a manager, who's not so nice on duty.
Then they have to have one eye on where the managers is and always look like they're doing something. When the manager's looking right. And I feel like we've all had some experience like this and it's so pernicious. And one of the things in this book that I thought was so
eye opening was how relatable it was. And and the fact that we just, this is like, these are the waters that we swim in. We don't even notice this like of like, we think like, of course, yeah, of course you got to look busy in front of your manager. Right. But it's so evil. It's just so evil and we're so used to it. Yeah. but the point of this whole little tangent being that there are situations where you have nothing to do.
You're getting paid. I was actually, this was one of the situations that I was in recently, which was, I was making more money than I'd ever made in my life. And I literally had nothing productive to do And I think certainly nothing that I found a value to anyone, potentially something of of detriment to tend to the world too. And you would think that you should be happy in that situation, right? You don't have anything to do, but you're getting paid for it. And yet I was fucking miserable And it seems like I wasn't alone because a lot of the people who were writing in these anecdotes, they were also miserable.
And so the question is why is it that in spite of everything we might assume about people that , your economic benefit is being maximized when you're getting paid and you have nothing to do. Why does it make people so unhappy?
[00:22:18] **Trish:** Yeah. And that was exactly my experience too. When I for a short period of time had a completely bullshit job, is that I almost felt guilty for for feeling bad about It
It's like this idea that , I was miserable, but I also felt like almost ungrateful because I did have a good job that like. You know, paid well and was comfortable. I was like, oh, poor me. it to sit in an air conditioned office for eight hours a day and take home a paycheck and like, you know, have medical benefits like that.
It feels wrong to complain about that, but it was absolutely soul crushing and Graeber. He homes in on this too, where he calls two of these chapters, like on spiritual warfare, which I really like, he's kind of like borrowing a little bit of , I would say like some religious language, but it does feel like spiritual warfare.
[00:23:07] **Hirad:** It is. And one of the things that he talks about is , the fact that this economic model of human psychology is completely wrong. Of course, we're not just motivated by the trade between our efforts and the money that we make. We're also motivated by something that he mentioned this psychological study.
where they discovered the immense joy that babies derived from learning that they can be the cause of something in the world. The psychologist who discovered this calls it, the pleasure of being the cause. And the flip side of that is when that ability of being the cause gets taken away, then you have the trauma of failed influence
[00:23:44] **Trish:** just feel like you have no agency,
[00:23:45] **Hirad:** you have no agency, you have no control.
And this is actually one of the reasons why bullshit jobs are actually worse than being something like a Hitman or, or a con-artist because in those cases you still have agency, you still know who's benefits you're serving, or you still have some kind of skillset that you are trying to maximize, which is like conning people or, or killing people without getting caught.
[00:24:06] **Trish:** back, maybe it's not worse
[00:24:09] **Hirad:** It is worse from the perspective of the person doing it.
[00:24:11] **Trish:** Well I guess.
So I think that, like, at some point you might have a moral crisis and realize that you like spent your whole life. Like if you making the world worse, I'm not sure it's like worse like better.
Like you might, at some point come to like, have some regrets if you spend your life as like an assassin or something.
[00:24:28] **Hirad:** Yeah. I've been Maybe I mean, but you can say that about anything. You can have regrets if you were I don't know, doing some kind of environmentally dubious thing, you could have regrets about things in the future but I'm talking, let's point when you're doing the work.
like if let's say you're a con-artist and you're conning people.
I think if you're con, I actually have some respect for con artists, just, They need to be good at their job. That's not that they don't, They don't have an easy job. They need to perfect their. art and they know what they're doing, right? They, they have some agency in that. Right.
[00:24:58] **Trish:** off when you do it
[00:24:59] **Hirad:** there's a pay off when you do it well. exactly. But, but when you're in this, in these bullshit jobs, you have no agency.
There is nothing that you that can, you can do to make things better. And one of the things that's also that he talks about in the book, which really meshes well with my experience, we start calling the company, "the machine" because you're miserable and there is no individual who's making you miserable.
The whole thing, You, any individual that you talk to, you know, that this person doesn't have any agency, right? There's no decision maker. It's, it's the machine that's making you miserable. And the fact that you can't even point to anyone to blame is it adds another degree of what Graeber calls scriptlessness. Like, you're in this situation where you don't have a script about how you're supposed to react to it. And so that just causes a lot of psychological burden where you're just trying to figure out what's happening to you. Right. And how do you make sense of your own emotional reactions to the situation?
[00:25:55] **Trish:** there's a whole culture where I feel like it's not even that you have to behave this way at work. Like, you know, no one goes to a dinner party and pops down. And when someone asks what they do and be like, oh, my job is totally useless. Like, it's kind of like, you have to keep this pretense up Is it. forms of life.
And every once in a while, maybe give a close friend, you might confide in this, but it's kind of feels like this, like entirely pervasive culture where you have to keep up this facade of your job being meaningful when you know, deep down that it's not.
[00:26:24] **Hirad:** Yeah.
[00:26:25] **Trish:** Yeah. There's some sort of cognitive dissonance there that's deeply distressing.
So, I mean, at one point in time, I would have said to you actually, probably, if you asked me this two months ago, I would have been like, this is a free market. If someone has to pay you 50 grand to sit at a desk and answer a phone that never rings, and you accept this job, then it's kind of, it's like, I'm sorry that you feel bad about it, but you just need to like, find something else in life that makes your life meaningful.
And like, I'm kind of like, it's not my problem. This is the market.
[00:27:00] **Hirad:** Yeah. So I have a lot of thoughts on that.
[00:27:02] **Trish:** 'Cause you would've made a similar argument.
[00:27:04] **Hirad:** I would have made a similar argument that this is like a, I'm a very big fan of the free market.
And I would totally buy that argument that the free market should be. dealing with this. one of the things that I've observed though, is there are some gross misalignments of incentives in the free market. I don't really see how a free market can even deal with them. One of these misalignments of incentives is a corporation is exists to maximize shareholder value, correct?
But the people in corporations are not maximizing anything. They're not maximizing Oh, they are maximizing something it's not shareholder value, it's their own career opportunities.
to the extent that the free market works is how much their career opportunities is tied or their financial outcome is tied to the corporation, maximizing shareholder values, which is what part of the reason why companies have things like stock options.
They try to align incentives in those ways, but for the most part. The people who are working in a company, their incentives are not aligned with the shareholders of the company. So what that means is you have managers. One of the things that you mentioned is like, why do all these flunkies exists?
Well, for example, if you work in tech you've got the engineers who have their own status hierarchy that they're trying to climb. They're always trying to make things that are technologically sophisticated, even some, even in times where something that is very simple would do the job, they're trying to overcomplicate things.
And then you've got manager. Who's prestige is tied to how many people they manage. So now you've got, this is like a positive feedback loop, right? The engineer's over-complicate and that's meaning that you need more people to to handle the job, which feeds right into the incentives of the managers who want to hire be hiring more people.
Right? And this is pervasive throughout the industry. Like there's, this is just the over complication. People call it resume driven development, where you just keep peppering these like technologies that you've used on your resume. And what invariably happens is this is both in tech and in other places I've watched it happen firsthand is you start taking on these things.
You basically it's it's accomplishment through PowerPoint and resumes. Like you, you do these things that didn't need to be done, or they were very poorly done. You can advertise some part of it on your resume. And then you use that resume to jump ship at a higher pay level at a higher position to a different company.
And by the time the chickens come home to roost about the stupid decisions you made, in your first company, you're not even around anymore. Right? So I think there's actually this, this kind of bleeds into one of my categorizations of people who work corporate jobs, I think there are people who hold bullshit jobs.
And then I think there are people who are corporate parasites. And I think these two things really go hand in hand because what the parasite does is it attaches itself itself to a large organism that may not notice it. Maybe it's so large, that it doesn't even notice this tiny parasite. Right the parasite just sucks the blood out of it, as much as it can, engorges itself. And then it hops off and jumps to a different organism. then later on, there were different hosts later on. So that's what a lot of these ladder climbing career builders do in corporations.
[00:30:18] **Trish:** Right. Yeah, I think it's so important to realize that economics is fine and grand, but this idea that money is the only rational motivator, Graeber gets into this idea of people enjoy having power over other people. And one way you can do that is to hire a bunch of flunkies and make them do nothing one example , I think at one point Graeber had a dishwashing job. And so with his dishwashing team, during the evening rush at the restaurant, they decided they were going to make it super efficient and finish all the dishes and like record time.
And so they got all their work done. I think they were just sitting, like maybe having a snack to eat or smoke and The boss came back and was actually furious at them for sitting around, even though all of their tasks were accomplished and was sort of the idea was he just realized that the boss was basically a bully. So I'm not saying all bosses are bullies, but that there are other incentives. One can like the feeling of being powerful and one way to create a hierarchy is to have a bunch of people below you, even if they were useless.
[00:31:17] **Hirad:** Exactly. I think that that anecdote and a few others like it, that he mentioned tied into some of the things that I thought were the most profound concepts in the book that really changed the way I see the world.
So we live in this time where. The you know, the 40 hour workweek has existed since God knows when, like at least one or two generations before us. So we don't even think twice about it at this point. Right. But one of the things that you mentioned is that one of the reasons why the people in the employer situation here.
So the boss that had hired him why they feel entitled to do what they do to make them go do this, like bullshit work that doesn't need to be done is this notion that you are on my time. Right? So if I'm paying you for you know, working nine to five, between nine to five, I own your time. And so you can't be sitting around doing nothing.
You must be doing something. Even if the something is totally made up. There's a couple of things about this. one. This idea of owning someone's time is preposterous. If you stop to think about it for two seconds, but two, even if it wasn't , preposterous, even if you did own their time, you have this 9 to, 5 resource, right.
Making it do something useless is actually still stupid. Like it's one of the examples was this this farmer that had a bunch of farm hands and didn't want them sitting around doing nothing. So he had them picking up stones off of a field because he owned their times, and he wanted them to learn work ethics.
And so he didn't want them just sitting around, but he would drive them around, drop them in the middle of a field so that they could pick up stones. Right. So he's investing his own time into this, which is like even an extra layer of stupid, but, but he, David graver kind of points out this notion of owning someone's time, How stupid it is and how we really need to move past it.
This stuff might have been necessary in like the early industrial age where everyone had to show up to the factory at the same time in the same place, because everybody needs to be Manning their stations. Otherwise the whole thing wouldn't work.
That's where we get this sense of like necessity of a fixed hour work. But really we don't need to be. Tying things to time in that way.
[00:33:37] **Trish:** Well, yeah, it's so interesting. And since COVID to where this idea that you need to get people back in the office because you won't know if they're working or not.
So like, basically admitting that their job is totally meaningless because you don't even know if they do it or not, unless their butt is in the
[00:33:53] **Hirad:** clearly they don't produce results. So have to know they're Working by looking at them.
[00:33:57] **Trish:** I know by like making them sit somewhere where you can see them staring and like, I don't, know I've done it. Like I literally spaced out and stared at a computer screen for hours of my corporate life. I also just think it's so preposterous too this idea that you're going to teach someone work ethic by doing something that they know is completely meaningless.
[00:34:16] **Hirad:** So this was another point of the book where my worldview just flipped on its head. Right? So the narrative of what you get educated. for has always been you go to university, you get an education that teaches you skills.
And with those skills, you can go get a job. and it can be productive, right? And you make a good living because you're a skilled worker. Then inevitably what happens at least in my generation
you leave university. You go into the world, you realize that none of the things that you learn in university are applicable in the real world.
And you draw the conclusion that university's bullshit. Graeber is flipping this whole thing on its head and saying, no, university is the one that's real. It's the work that's bullshit. It's the work. That's not using the stuff in the university. But there are several anecdotes of this effect, where there are students who are pushed to get some job while they're at university, because quote, they need to learn some real world skills, right?
And The jobs inevitably end up being bullshit. So there's like an example of this student who gets a job at the student union building, to be a cashier at at their local convenience store or something. And there's no traffic there. Most of the time, he's not doing anything. And when he's not doing anything, the boss makes him go tidy shelves that are already tidy because the boss doesn't want him sitting around doing nothing.
And so it just completely saps his motivation. It takes away his free time of exploring things that interested him while he was in university. And this has given us an example of you , shouldn't be just studying, you need to be doing this kind of thing to learn how to work in the real world.
And what they mean by that is you have to learn how to work under the supervision of other people. You need to learn how to pretend to work, even when it's nothing needs to be done. You used to learn that you're not paid money to do things that are useful or important, or that you enjoy.
You are paid to do things that are in no way useful or important and you don't enjoy.
[00:36:13] **Trish:** It's so true. Like I think that, that I forget where I listened to it. It was on someone's podcast. They had someone who was teaching you.
It's like, yeah, you don't learn any useful job skills in university, except how to conform this idea of , doing work that someone tells you to do in a time. They tell you to do it. And getting used to, that model is basically university is an expensive piece of paper that tells you that I can conform it. I can play by these rules.
I'm like, I don't, I mean, conformity is a funny word because I feel like people get uppity about it, but , it is kind of true. If you're a boss and you have a job that needs to be done, you don't want someone who's always reinventing the wheel or doing whatever. you just want someone who's going to do the job.
They tell you. So it's not necessarily a negative thing. It's just like a hilariously expensive and time intensive way to prove that you can just do something that something like,
[00:37:00] **Hirad:** well, so what I would say, like I'm actually seeing the merits in that way more than the cause that that view is what I subscribe to until now having read this book. So he talks about the fact that most productive human activity happens in bursts. So even if you're a farmer there, is periods of intense. hard work And followed by periods of sitting around and doing, not not a whole lot. Right. And the same thing applies when you're in school, when you're in school, you just have to get some results.
The result being that you have to pass the course you don't sit down and study for, you know, eight hours every single day, every day of the semester, but you do work very intensely at times where and unless you're in engineering you're, if you're an engineering, you're working intensely all the time, but most of them, you, you work intensely hard when there is a deadline coming up or when there is an exam coming up and the rest of it, you can actually just chill.
A lot, you can go explore your interests. You can socialize, you can do all sorts of things like that. And that is actually a much more authentic model of accomplishing things too. Like the point that Graeber makes. Then this idea that you were going to show up between nine to five, every single day, pretend that you're doing something useful, even though nothing productive is getting done.
Like one of the things I was thinking is maybe if I start another company, one of the things I'm going to tell people is like, don't work. If you don't want to work, just don't work. We'll keep paying you work 10 hours a week, work five hours a week. We don't care. But there will be times where you need to work 80 hours a week for those times that we expect you to be here, Right I think that's much more authentic and in line with what people will get fulfillment from.
[00:38:41] **Trish:** Right. I think, that, I mean, I sort of agree with you and I sort of disagree with you. I think that at least in university, like the work is still tied to an outcome.
So, you might have to work really hard and learn something that you don't think is that interesting. But , if you have to write a 20 page paper at the end, you've produced something, you've written something, there's something there at the end. Where I feel like. Is what these bullshit jobs do is completely detach work from any meaningful output.
So what's the thing, sometimes I struggled with my work ethic because I just hated bullshit jobs. So much this idea that work just for the virtue of work not mattering, if you're producing anything or working to a goal, is just so soul-destroying right.
[00:39:22] **Hirad:** Yeah, totally. So , I talked to a friend of mine about this as I was reading the book and one of his comments was , but what are all these people going to do? If they don't have these these jobs?
[00:39:32] **Trish:** Here we go.
[00:39:33] **Hirad:** Right?
[00:39:34] **Trish:** This moralism.
[00:39:36] **Hirad:** Well, how are you going to make a living? Right. Do you start supporting something like universal basic income, which I was actually,
[00:39:44] **Trish:** there's a whole chapter on this later on says why you need tune into the next episode cause we're, we're definitely getting into this, but this is a teaser.
[00:39:52] **Hirad:** We'll get there. So, but yeah, I observed this while I was working some of my bullshit jobs, which is it's, there there's a lot of people working these jobs and. I don't know to what extent they were actually happy doing it And to an extent they were pretending to be happy. I think you'd have the pretense is a huge part of working in these kinds of cultures.
I would rather live in a society that people are just sitting around, not doing a whole lot. At least then you have an option on someone being creative, somewhere, someone producing something good somewhere. Right. But when you completely lock everybody, and if there's like 1% of the people that if you just gave free money to 99% of the people that are having bullshit jobs now, right.
And 1% of them Ended up doing something useful. That's still a better trade than having all of them locked up in producing nothing. Right. You're still ahead in the case where one person do something. useful Because you're spending the money, somebody spending the money right now right. to keep these people employed. It's just that their human potential is completely wasted, right?
Should we stop here?
[00:40:59] **Trish:** Well, I do we want to talk a little bit about our personal bullshit lives,
[00:41:05] **Hirad:** bullshit jobs,
[00:41:05] **Trish:** bullshit jobs.
[00:41:06] **Hirad:** I like to think our lives are a little bit better.
[00:41:10] **Trish:** I know Freudian slip there.
[00:41:11] **Hirad:** Yeah, I mean, I've, I've worked in some companies that are very large where I definitely observed. , this, although I didn't have the words to to call it bullshit jobs, they didn't have anthropologists analysis with me, but I did actually feel like a bit of an anthropologist in that environment, just sitting around thinking like, how are these people there?
And every time I met someone in that kind of corporate environment where they seem a good person or a competent person, I was sometimes I asked them point blank. And they always kinda got uneasy about it and gave some kind of a bullshit answer. Now, I don't think I've ever gotten an authentic answer out of this, but when I saw people who seem like good people and competent people, I always try to figure out in my head, like, why are you here?
And, you know, I'm, I work in tech. I generally work with a lot of engineers. They, , they have a lot of options. The employment market for engineers is very hot right now. And I couldn't figure out exactly why they were there. I'm still working on that problem. But I can tell you that based on firsthand observation, like middle managers are these companies that are very very deep hierarchies and almost every single person at the middle management level is, is a bullshit job.
At the very least they're task masters. They might be a few other things. They might be flunkies. They might be duct tapers and box tickers. I think most people , at a sufficiently large company, they're a combination of all of the above,
But my observation at the time that I was working in some of these jobs was that about 70% of the workforce, 60 to 70% of the workforce is useless in the sense that out of those half of them just produce work for the other half to do.
And nothing external to the company gets produced as a result of it. Yeah, like that's, that's been my experience and I was fucking miserable , while I worked there, making really good money, but being very miserable about it and ended up not making as good of money as I could have made because I just left it.
[00:43:07] **Trish:** Yeah. Yeah. , my experience was a really big company in Toronto. It was their main corporate office for Canada. And I worked in cash management, so that is not a bullshit job because the company has all this business to conduct. So cash management's job is to make sure that every bank account and all these like different banks and then all these different currencies is funded enough for that day's activities.
So the job was actually not bullshit, but the bullshit aspect about it was that, okay. Let's say, including my boss, who was managing the team probably.
Probably one person could have done the job, but let's say they need time off and like. get sick vacation. So like fine. Two people on this team. They would have had a very light workload. At one point, there was nine of us, including my boss. So like every day I maybe had like, A half hour of work. And it was so hard just to look busy, it was on one hand it was great. Like I read the entire newspaper, surreptitiously, like cover to cover every single day.
And it was just so funny because it trains you to be really inefficient. So I am not a programmer and I'm terrible at everything, but we did a lot of stuff in Excel and a lot of it was copying and pasting, which is so dumb. Right. So I was like, I am sure this is why we've invented computers for easy, repetitive tests. So it was fooling around with the macros and Excel and trying to figure out how to program it. But it was perfect because I was so miserable at it that the macro that I wrote would take longer than actually physically cutting and pasting it. But it was perfect because you know how, the screen goes crazy.
So you can just sit there and if someone asks you something you're like, oh, I'm just waiting for my macro to run. And at least like, sip your coffee instead of clicks, like copy and paste or whatever. So we kind of joke amongst our team for my time wasting macro,
[00:45:00] **Hirad:** I love this so much. I think could just like make some app that makes the monitor. animate or just makes like spinners spin on screen. And you just have all these have plausible deniability at work.
[00:45:11] **Trish:** I know. And it was it was a good job. I got it right out of university. I was super happy to be there Cause I mean, I didn't have to move home with my parents, which was my biggest fear.
My parents are lovely, but you know, it's just like, you know, you have your life or whatever. And yeah, , but I was so miserable spending your mid twenties with like 20 minutes of work. When you , you're excited, you want to learn stuff. You want to , go somewhere, do something. I just , I couldn't, I couldn't handle it.
I ended up quitting and going, working for some , feel good, cause that paid absolutely nothing It was kind of disastrous for my career. But I always wondered if I was just an idiot. And
then this book made me feel like, so, cause a lot of these are like people who I kind of like you left a wall of money sitting on the table to go, just pursue something that wasn't totally soul crushing.
[00:45:52] **Hirad:** I think this is the one of the most pernicious aspects of this because, so I had this term that I've coined when I'm going to write a blog post about this when you work in the corporate world, there's a lot of two and three letter acronyms also known as TLAs. So they have like CRE DLP SMT.
I think there, there needs to be a new acronym added to the corporate lexicon and that's the ass kissing ladder climbing blowhard or the ALB. So being a blowhard is actually one of the things that it's a necessary part of the job when you're working in that kind of environment.
And when you don't come from that world. Right. You see all these people that put up these pretense of confidence. And you, you spent just a few months with them and you start seeing that facade fall away because they can't do anything. And yet they're very confident of themselves.
Or they, they, they project a lot of confidence when you first meet them? And, and that the fact that, that makes you second guess yourself, when you, if you can accomplish something and they can't. That to me is, is terrible. And what's worse is if that's your first job and you never see anything else, that's it! You're, you're done. I've met people who who got jobs in these kinds of environments, right out of school, ended up staying there for nine or 10 years and you talk to them these, these are not normal human beings, I don't know. I,
[00:47:10] **Trish:** it's just, it's like assimilate or die, right.
[00:47:12] **Hirad:** I think they're survivors. That's what we should call them Their survivors of a traumatic experience and they need to be rehabilitated into the real world again, so that they can be productive members of society, but they literally can't do anything because the only thing they were ever trained on is survival in that environment, which is actually totally detached from doing anything in the real world.
[00:47:36] **Trish:** Yeah. Yeah. I was listening to some YouTube video and the managerial class and there's a lot of stuff going around about that now. But I think that the guys I was listening to were comparing it to the Borg. It was just like, you have to assimilate into this this horrifying, terrible evil reality. And if you don't assimilate, then you'll die.
[00:47:53] **Hirad:** The machine will get you.
[00:47:54] **Trish:** Yeah, exactly.
So I think coming up, we're going to get into discussions for the next episode of why we think that having to work is better than not having to work for livelihood.
[00:48:09] **Hirad:** Is that what we think?
[00:48:10] **Trish:** No,
[00:48:11] **Hirad:** Oh, we as a society.
[00:48:13] **Trish:** Yeah. Yeah.
The royal 'we'.
[00:48:15] **Hirad:** Yeah. Why we prioritize that? Yeah.
[00:48:17] **Trish:** Yeah. We'll be discussions of UBI. There'll be discussions of,
I dunno, what else?
[00:48:23] **Hirad:** I'm generally very excited about the world of web three and cryptocurrencies and, one of the areas I'm very hopeful about is this thing called DAOs, which is decentralized autonomous organizations.
There's super immature right now. We're just trying to figure out how to, how to do them, but they're basically these, systems of work where they, replace the corporation more or less a group of people can come together and produce an artifact of value. list. let's say a product that other people can use.
And yet there is no central corporation in the middle your participation in that system is purely voluntary and purely tied to your accomplishments. So I can in theory, go work for one DAO, one week and do a little task for them. That advances their goals and then I can go work for another one the next week and I can get paid for these contributions.
And and then I can cut, just keep, I have my autonomy as an individual contributor. I can decide where I want to focus my efforts and. All of these places, they're based on accomplishments, The compensation is based on accomplishments. This is all , kind of theoretical And for me, at least at the moment, cause I haven't actually seen how they work in the real world.
I'm sure they will have some kinks to be ironed out. But that's actually an area that I'm kind of interested in exploring as well. So maybe I'll have more to, to say about it in the next episode.
[00:49:40] **Trish:** Excellent. Well, tune back in shortly.
[00:49:43] **Hirad:** For part two,
[00:49:44] **Trish:** we'll be back.