|Photo: Siv Dolmen.|
Anthropologist David Graeber makes the convincing case that more than half of the workforce today performs what he terms bullshit jobs. He contrasts bullshit jobs with shit jobs, where the latter are completely essential but often underpaid. Bullshit jobs, by contrast, serve little to no purpose. If bullshitters simply stop working nothing will go significantly worse. Profit-maximizing seems to not have weeded out bullshit jobs, but instead to have greatly contributed to their growth. The current order is maintained in part by giving people a bullshit sense of importance, through providing big paychecks simply for staying busy sitting in front of computers sending e-mails all day. The crisis reveals the insignificance of what most of us are doing, and opens for questions of whether one could live differently, doing something more essential for others, or at least more fulfilling for oneself. This issue is not only an individual concern, however, but more fundamentally a question regarding the social need for a large workforce.
|Photo: Siv Dolmen.|
We haven't always been workers. When compared to hunter-gatherers, it's generally acknowledged that people in WEIRDO countries (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic, Online), spend too much of their life engaged in modes of intense effort. Hunter-gatherers work whenever they feel like it, doing whatever seems necessary and fun to do together. They generally enjoy more free time than people of so-called wealthy nations. Weirdos by contrast are generally obligated to work on a strict schedule of early morning commute to spend great parts of their days in office confinement, together with people they may share nothing in common with besides their paycheck. While the average Norwegian work week is somewhat short of 40 hours, hunter-gatherers work as little as half of this.
While current unemployment might make you eagerly anticipate a return to normality, there are good reasons not to go back to working the way we used to. While our current crisis is horrendous, it overshadows the looming climate crisis, with its gradual increase of temperature leading to collapsing ecosystems and widespread extinctions. The political willingness to put everything on hold over a deadly infection shows the possibilities of governance. It also shows that most of what we are doing, most of the time, is completely unnecessary. The high-income bullshit worker has a worse impact on the climate crisis than an unemployed person. The climate footprint of the average weirdo is not only unjustifiably large, but avoidable through shifting our political priorities. The most important change would therefore be to undo our current obsession with getting everyone in a job.
|Photo: Siv Dolmen.|
There's a famous quote by Barack Obama's chief of staff on the 2008 financial crisis, stating "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” Let us not repeat the failures of governmental response to the financial crisis, and let the crisis go to waste again. Instead we should come out of this spring with renewed optimism towards doing less. We could be doing a lot less, both getting paid a lot less, and paying a lot less. Less shopping, but also less to pay for housing and necessities. A global recession can be a good thing, if it is not equally distributed. If instead of everyone taking their fair share of the hit, the recession could be politically organized to affect exponentially, so that those with immense wealth are hit equally immensely.
This spring shows that a different social organization is possible, where wealth is redistributed so that everyone can share the affluence of corona and chill. There is an ecological incentive towards continuing to add long periods of nothing to the economy. This could take the form of halting production and letting workers relax for long periods annually. Spring could be turned into a period for slowing economic growth, to let earth breath, as oil production stops, air pollution recedes and water clarifies. As the environmental situation turns increasingly dire, annually adding a period of nothingness might be the best option for preventing a death toll of organisms (including humans) of proper pandemic proportions.