David Graeber: “Spotlight on the financial sector did make apparent just how bizarrely skewed our economy is in terms of who gets rewarded”
In Salon magazine, Thomas Frank interviews noted American anthropologist David Graeber who teaches at the London School of Economics.
(Graeber created the indelicate term “bullshit jobs” [obviously not referring to teachers] which he uses frequently in his articles. How does he define the term? “When I talk about bullshit jobs, I mean, the kind of jobs that even those who work them feel do not really need to exist.”)
So the right wing manipulates the resentment of the bulk of the working class from being able to dedicate their lives to anything purely noble or altruistic. But at the same time—and here’s the real evil genius of right-wing populism—they also manipulate the resentment of that portion of the middle classes trapped in bullshit jobs against the bulk of the working classes, who at least get to do productive work of obvious social benefit. Think about all the popular uproar about school teachers. There’s this endless campaign of vilification against teachers, who they say are overpaid, coddled, and are blamed for everything wrong with our education system. In fact, grade school teachers undergo really grueling conditions for much less money than they’d be paid if they’d gone into almost any other profession requiring the same level of education, and almost all the problems the right-wingers are referring to aren’t created by the teachers or teachers’ unions at all but by school administrators—the ones who are paid much more, and mostly have classic bullshit jobs that seem to multiply endlessly even as the teachers themselves are squeezed and downsized. So why does no one complain about those guys? Actually I saw something telling written by a right-wing activist on some blog—he said, well the funny thing is, when we first started our school reform campaigns, we tried to focus on the administrators. But it didn’t take. Then we shifted to the teachers and suddenly the whole thing exploded. It’s hard to explain that in any other way than to say: a lot of people resent the teachers for having genuine, meaningful jobs. You get to shape young lives. You get to make a real difference for other people. And the logic seems to be: shouldn’t that be enough for them? They want that, and middle-class salaries, and job security, and vacations, and benefits, too?
The resentment against those who get to do meaningful labor exists alongside a resentment for having to do meaningless labor to begin with. It’s an unstable mix. But we have to recognize that in countries like the US, it’s been pretty effective.
I remember being particularly struck with the “We are the 99%” web page—this was a page where people who supported the movement, but were mostly too busy to actually take part in the occupations or assemblies, could contribute by posting pictures of themselves holding up signs where they’d written out their life situation. Demographically it was a very telling. Maybe 80% of them were women. And even those who were men were mostly in caring professions: health care, social services, education. And the complaints were surprisingly uniform: basically they were all saying, “I want to do something with my life that actually benefits others; but if I go into a line of work where I care for other people, they pay me so little, and they put so much in debt, that I can’t even take care of my own family! This is ridiculous!”
Call it the revolt of the caring classes. Because, after all, the working classes have always been the caring classes really. I say this as a person of working class background myself. Not only are almost all actual caregivers (not to mention caretakers!) working class, but people of such backgrounds always tend to see themselves as the sort of people who actively care about their neighbors and communities, and value such social commitments far beyond material advantage. It’s just our obsession with certain very specific forms of rather macho male labor—factory workers, truck-drivers, that sort of thing—which then becomes the paradigm of all labor in our imaginations; that blinds us to the fact that the bulk of working class people have always been engaged in caring labor of one sort or another. So I think we need to start by redefining labor itself, maybe, start with classic “women’s work,” nurturing children, looking after things, as the paradigm for labor itself and then it will be much harder to be confused about what’s really valuable and what isn’t. As I say, we’re already seeing the first stirrings of this sort of thing. It’s both a political and a moral transformation and think it’s the only way we can overcome the system that puts so many of us in bullshit jobs.
Read the entire Salon interview HERE.