"You can argue, I suppose, that advertising and public relations do actually involve skills and expertise of some kind, and can produce results. But imagine landing the post of Chief Monitor of Diversity Monitoring Initiatives in a large organisation. No matter how well paid you may be, you must know perfectly well that you contribute less to society than the ethnically diverse team of female cleaners who come to work for minimum wages once you’ve gone home. It must be genuinely hard to remain sufficiently auto-brainwashed to feel you are doing anything of importance"

Sociopaths, as a rule, don't care that the job itself is bullshit, as long as the check clears and the power and perks that come with the job accumulate.

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This may not be universally applicable, but I also found it personally helpful at work to identify with a tribe of sorts engaged in some kind of struggle against some "enemy" group, be it internal to the organization (a competing division or plant, perhaps; or a clueless set of directors) or external (a rival business; an incompetent regulator).

In some ways in retirement I think I miss that aspect of my work the most. It's probably why I enjoyed sports so much, which I also miss since my body can't take the physical strain anymore.

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Since you mentioned the late David Graeber's concept of bullshit jobs, some might enjoy this archived link to a good article of his on the topic, specifically focusing in bullshit jobs in academia: https://archive.is/rYUE7

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Great piece.

However I think impact of bad management is under explored. For example, when management with no technical education clashes with engineering, it is almost inevitable that quality will nosedive. From my experience working in technology companies (I am not technical but also was not in management at the time) - software engineers with very high degrees of quality control and rigour tended to be chewed up unless they were politically savvy (and the best rarely are). The reason being that it is very difficult to narrowly quantify a good job and the adage "go slow to go fast" is true in complex domains like engineering. Therefore, having and adhering to high internal standards tended to harm these people's career prospects and caused them a lot of mental stress.

Suffice to say that PMC methods and mindset are particularly harmful when creating a great and sustainable workplace culture.

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You did a fine piece of Systems Analysis at your short tenured factory job while on a student vacation. A key part of analyzing any system is to look for weak points. You were successful. The slight delay in door opening got past the foreman at the time. I doubt that any foreman would observe precisely the timing of that mundane job function in those days. Those days are long gone.

The new work monitoring systems are all encompassing and sickly invasive. You would not have had enough slow iterations to affect the machine. Time management would have told the foreman to get you opening faster.

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A very interesting useful read I want to pass on to my young son looking for his first payroll job while attending college. I think I need to start a substack and write about all the jobs I have had in my life that I lost due to my personality! I am 66 years old and have literally had over 60 jobs last I counted. I was such a hard, good worker that was so bored and disgusted in all my jobs. In my 20s, I quit them all. In my 30s, I got laid off. In my 40s I got fired. In my 50s I went on disability for depression because I had been fired so many times and had no references and went homeless. In my 60s while still on disability, I got fired from 3 part-time jobs and got no references from the 4th as my boss hated me because I quit (because she chewed me out for wanting to take my son for an MRI and I left her daycare with 4 newborns to deal with as I was in charge of the Baby Room). Now, as of Xmas day, I am FREE from the confines of working while on disability (restricted pay or you get kicked off and performance questionnaires for my employers, thus notifying them of my disability). I still need money to survive! I want to start a cottage industry business baking cookies in my kitchen as I still have no references at 66 years old! What the hell else can I do I wonder? And what's really funny is, I have always HATED cooking with a PASSION! But now, my attitude is I can handle simple cookies without setting the kitchen on fire although I will be busting my ass to get it off the ground and make a decent profit . . . hopefully!

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This article reminds me strongly of one of my favourite quotes from Taleb:

"Suckers try to win arguments, nonsuckers try to win."

I find my life tends to work a lot better when I act in accordance with it - and leave my ego at the door.

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Whenever I read a piece of misleading propaganda, I always ask the question, why now. Why is my attention being pulled in this direction at this particular time. Deeper investigation into peripheral events is often illuminating.

That same question came to mind as I was reading your article. Not suggesting for a second that your piece has nefarious intentions. I was more interested in what might be happening in your life right now that moved you to pen this essay.

Idle curiosity on my part and I will understand perfectly if you choose to not respond.

Also, drawer.

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If a sign of a great essay is provoking thoughts quite different than the author probably intended, then this essay was excellent indeed! My comment here is longer than I expected, so I beg your indulgence.

Co-existing with mindless paid work (to pay the bills) without going crazy has been a major struggle all of my life. This struggle has been harder because my self-esteem and status as a member of the PMC was also wrapped up my job. Trial and error was my method for finding a job I could live with for the duration of a career (my humble goal). The sign of "error" was always discontent beyond a certain threshold. Like Nietszche, the thought of suicide got me through many a sleepless night.

For many (including me) a mindless job can be rationalized by what one does in one's spare time. That transfers the problem of gaining meaning to another time slot in life. As with paid work, mindless activity of any kind leads to a sort of rash on the frontal lobes that must be scratched. We have affairs. We go on cruises. We get married and have kids. We buy houses and fix them up. As we get older and our freedom "condemns us to recline" we watch Fox News and/or MSNBC. We binge eat/drink. We obsess about medical problems. We go to political rallies (with our portable chair and flag). All of this scratching leads to more itching. We are never satisfied.

The tendency of the Left for distributional "remedies" like shorter hours and higher pay for the proletariat ("share the productivity gains!") may only aggravate the rash and the itching. The paid job is still meaningless, and now we have so much more free time in which to be bored.

The Right (it seems to me) understands the problem on a deeper level than the Left and exploits it better. The Right furnishes vicarious meaning to the bored masses. The Right offers an autocrat-celebrity-entertainer who can at least deliver some intangible goods for vicarious meaning--e.g. revenge against political enemies at home and abroad, and communal bonding at the local level (MAGA hats, rallies, etc.).

Aurelian's advice to each of us--to take care of ourselves as best we can--is most helpful and appreciated. These crazy times shall pass. Maybe "passing the popcorn" to our neighbor is the best we can do for ultimate meaning these days.

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Why are you blaming left for no job satisfaction etc., ? Left would have arranged a different configuration of society not what is there now.It is the right ( bourgeoisie & land owners) who rule the roost and train societies to value what they do because they are high paying. Left in FAUKUS has adopted to restrictions on it during cold war and now too( no revolution or guillotine only peace)

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"But imagine landing the post of Chief Monitor of Diversity Monitoring Initiatives... No matter how well paid you may be, you must know perfectly well that you contribute less to society than..."

I think that that example doesn't work. What such person is worried about contributing to "society"? Its job is to wage war on people of one race, esp. the males. (Helping queers can do this, btw.) The point of "Diversity" initiatives is to cripple and hurt some while boosting others. Satisfaction could come from making a contribution to either goal alone.

Since the job is nominally passive, an obvious way to sure satisfaction is to imagine that there are shortcomings relative to plan, then to manufacture controversy by writing and talking about imagined obstructions and the perps who make them. Frustration would result if the monitor encountered particular or systemic impediments, but these might just inspire her to fight more fiercely to harm those whom she opposes while aiding the beneficiaries of aggressive prejudice. This holds true even if she's an AWFL masochist, and especially so if she's a dirty, rotten supremacist with a stack of old issues of Tilkkun at home.

She must know also that pay and benies for her leaves less for her enemies, who deserve less because they are evil per se, as she sees things. So it's easy to see how the diversity monitor would think the role has utmost importance. One of her premises is that "society" is correctly defined in terms of the lives and activitiy of the beneficiaries of the race war. Good society, for her, is not what street stupid European civic nationalists imagine it to be.

"and these days most of us work for dysfunctional organisations."

Dysfunctional according to whose standards? You rightly pointed out the intense urge to live parasitically. Those "dysfunctional" organizations are dominated by people with this mentality, and the dysfunction serves their thirsts.

"For example, there’s the simple quadripartite division of work championed by President Eisenhower"

Ike omitted the third criteria. Is it good? It seems he just assumed that the USA was good, that he was good, and that their shared objectives, good. So he neglected this question. And sorting through eight different combinations would be draining.

"Chop wood and carry water,”

There are a few different ways to interpret this. One is that the sage was giving directions to sturdy young novices who need to learn their place by paying their dues. And as you wrote, society has necesary tasks.

Another way is cynical. The master has given up on the path prescribed by Buddha Gotama. He is telling the novice that hard labor is what he ought to expect out of life. There is no trancendance.

Still another interpretation is that chopping wood and carrying water can be conducive to establishing what's called one-pointedness of mind. If you've ever undertaken some activity which is repetitive and lends itself to a constant cadence, then you may have experienced that mental state.

"You probably know a version of the Zen parable about the young monk who asks what he needs to do to be enlightened."

The master, if he was a stickler for detail, knew that nibbāna and bodhi aren't light metaphors. The latter is about being awake; this is what it means to be a buddha. So the master could have been trying to teach the novice a lesson about asking the right questions. Go on asking the wrong ones if you wish to suffer, implies the master.

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“If we accept, then, that there are always choices, even very difficult ones,  the question is how we identify the degree of freedom that we actually have in our professional life, and how we choose to take it, or not to take it, and in both cases how we live with the consequences thereafter. The one thing we cannot do, though, is to deny that a degree of freedom does exist, even in the most unpromising circumstances.”

This is a remarkable statement. The quote expresses a fundamental notion, the intuitive one, human free will, and one that thinkers through the ages have pondered. Your use of Sartre is example. No one likes the idea that there’s no such thing as free will because Sapiens sees itself as special, and because we be human, having agency over one’s actions, one’s “choices” is bound up with our most cherished myths, our ethical systems, and codes of law. Nevertheless, somehow in a physical world that is purely deterministic (or if quantum physics matters, not everything can be determined, though I s’pose this doesn’t mean it is not), or at best, some things appear random because we don’t know enough, or perhaps some things cannot be explained easily (such as turbulence), or predictions made well, hence chaos theory and fuzzy mathematics, it is the human being that’s the exception. Our actions are things we own, separate from all else in the natural world. The point being, we prefer thinking there are always choices. Our intuitive feeling of being in control of our actions, and being responsible for them overrides the science that thinkers thru the ages had not access to.

This idea of free will, and that there are always choices is comfortable, but we don’t really know that we are exempt from the deterministic universe. Among all the events that take place in the universe, human events are the only ones that are not determined, random or chaotic. This seems unlikely on the face of it, but our mythology tells us we are special, gods children etc. it’s a hard thing to give up.

I mention this just to give pause because you made very categorical statements about it in the quote above. Of course, it made me think about a field and a question that I’ve spent time in my life studying. It doesn’t mean that your very well written piece is meaningless, or even that it’s wrong. On the contrary, it accurately describes the emotional wear and tear of being alive, and being alive now, and what “choices” we have in our lives. Choice, free will, human volition, it’s the same thing, and it’s an interesting and fundamental human thought. It has always been one of the most important ones.

It also does not mean that your final thought in the quote above is meaningless. It’s quite good advice. We are emotional beings. We need good thoughts. I also tend to agree with it, even if I’m not sure I really have a choice about it. I’m sure there are some folks who never think about such stuff, and in the end, what difference is that?

Sartre got all his thinking done before 1983, as was all of my philosophical studies. We could be excused for thinking in similar terms that the notion of human volition always had been framed, but after that date the idea of free will changed. We can no longer think seriously as before; it changed from a philosophical inquiry to a neuroscientific one.

This piece was kind of like a pep talk for all of us that have dealt with the bs of working for others, but it was a good one. I don’t disagree with any of those well-expressed comments made. You just kind of hit a nerve with that quote. I don’t mean to denigrate it, and as you know, I paid to subscribe, so obviously you’re thinking, and writing, and obvious erudition appeals to me…though I’m not sure I had a choice about subscribing, or your appeal. One day, a conversation with the writer would be interesting, but it shall require much greater reflection (possibly a whisky or two) than can be done tap tap tapping in a Substack comment window on my iPhone. It’s one I’d enjoy having with you though.

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well, you can take it various ways I suppose but it was the stuff about 'deciding to do a good job' and the mental rewards of doing that that made me think of it.

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On the topic of the meaning of work in capitalist societies this is an interesting short read:


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Reminds me of my favourite Robert Crumb strip https://rcrumb.blogspot.com/2011/11/r-crumbs-latest-serigraph-edition-mr.html?m=1

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This is one of your best pieces. Really good.

I am one of those reviled management consultants and have been for over twenty five years; and an accountant before that! Done well though (rare, I know) the role of a consulting partner can be one of the most satisfying: you derive that from helping clients as individual people and building a team of people whose careers you support. Maintaining those relationships over time is then a great legacy to reflect on. The Powerpoint is not! Most of the time, you can then also ignore the internal politics of your own firm. But, many partners get attracted to the baubles of pointless leadership roles. You would be amazed (or maybe not) at how excited people get by these, as well as by how many most firms have and how they want partners to perform them as a way of showing “commitment”.

I left the firm where I spent most of my career because its internal nonsense did upset me at a certain point. I joined another firm that I took a quick disliking to, so I left to work independently; albeit in loose connection with another firm. There were pros and cons with both decisions but I am very happy I took those steps. These days I feel far less stressed and I am able to focus on what I like doing. Can also avoid working sixty hour weeks and being at everyone’s beck and call. Right now, I love working with my current clients but dislike the dynamics of the firm I am attached to. So I might be about to make another decision.

Of course, I earn less now than I did. I also lack the perceived status and authority that my previous role gave me. These choices have also been relatively easy for me to make at this stage in my career and circumstances in my mid 50s. Would have been much harder in my 30s but you are right: there are always choices to be made. It is simply the consequences you are prepared to accept.

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