Freelance bullshit jobs

I have been fascinated with anthropologist David Graeber’s concept of bullshit jobs for a while. I have written a bullshit job poem and a bullshit job rap. In this video, Graeber mentions an informal poll he conducted on Twitter to classify bullshit jobs. He arrives at five categories:

  1. Flunkies.. the people sitting around doing nothing, often simply to enhance the prestige of their bosses
  2. Goons.. the people who do things that serve no rational need in society, such as telemarketers or indeed the army
  3. Duct tapers.. the people who fix a problem that doesn’t need to exist in the first place
  4. Box tickers.. the people who create illusions around the work, for example by ‘collecting data’ that serves no other purpose than to keep them busy
  5. Task masters.. the middle management supervising the workers where in fact, no supervision is needed

I like this list. From my vantage point as a freelance bullshit jobber, I would like to add a footnote. For Graeber, the bullshit factor is about the how of the job, not the what. More precisely, it is about how a company uses labor to achieve its goal, not about the nature of that goal itself. The category of the goons comes close to a critique of that goal, but it still presupposes some potentially meaningful product of service that the company provides and wishes to force upon consumers.

The happiness factor

I admit it: I’d like to jack up the number of bullshit jobs so it gets a more revolutionary ring to it. What is left out are all the jobs creating the consumerist demand needed to keep the system going, the manipulation of people into enthusiastic consumers who require purchasing goods or services for their satisfaction. This is not about cold call telemarketing to customers who are not interested, but about average consumers. When we look into happiness research, we find that beyond $60k their surplus happiness flattens. This means that beyond that threshold, more material possessions doesn’t make people happier. Hence, it is not a rational need of society to produce an abundance of goods and services when they demonstrably cost more (I am referring to the externalized cost for society and the environment here) than they will benefit.

The freelance factor

Graeber’s analysis is limited to the realm of salaried labor and full time employment. In the world of freelancers, ‘laborers’ intentionally work on bullshit tasks to pay your bills. They are confronted with the fact that perform bullshit jobs ‘just for the money’ every time they respond and ‘apply’ for them on an online job platform.

Online freelancers typically do the work of goons, duct tapers and box tickers, because the other two require physical presence. My bullshit tasks are usually in the goon category (eg. translating manuals that nobody reads about a product that makes nobody happier). But freelancers have the advantage that they can, occasionally, if they are lucky enough to stumble upon it, do meaningful work. For example, I might write some critical essay about our work culture and get paid for it, or do anything that has the net effect of making some people a little happier.

Because freelance bullshit jobbing adds the extra dimension of the explicit confrontation with the bullshit, it can corrupt our will. For the sake of our identity, we might imagine a meaning, simply because it is too painful to deal with the implicit nihilism that bullshit jobbing is on a daily basis.

If we add in the freelance activities by independent contractors who hate what they do and the jobs that can be shown to decrease our overall happiness, I think the amount of bullshit jobs has already crossed a critical threshold. A serious economic crisis in the coming years could turn into a real revolution.

Freelance bullshit jobs was originally published on Meandering home

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A birthday wish

One year ago, for my 38th birthday, all I could wish and hope for was the absence of toothache. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get it. ‘If and only if’, my daily mantra became, ‘my mind is not distracted by that pain in the upper jaw, so very close to the brain, I will do great things’. My life pretty much revolved around this and it contitutes a dent in my biography, so to speak.

I have been working on a job that lacks even a shimmer of meaning when measured by my admittedly high standards (now, that sounds a lot more eloquent than ‘I hate my fucking job’ doesn’t it?) to earn the money for half a dozen dentists to drill, fill, crown, and whatever, my mouth. As of yet, that pain isn’t totally gone and for my 39th I wish, again, the absence of irritation and the ability to focus.

This might sound dramatic but it really isn’t so bad. I know of people whose wife died of cancer or, perhaps worse, suicide (read about our remarkable ‘ice man’ Wim Hof and how he overcame his wife’s suicide), people who have aids and tbc yet refuse to be defeated, athletes with hand nor feet and – I’ll be damned if life is a pissing contest of doom and gloom.

For this new year I wish focus. To me personally, that translates into no more nasty nervous distractions like that toothache, so that I can focus on getting focused. I can focus on doing my regular meditation, eating a healthy diet, taking cold showers, doing physical exercise, you name it. These things both seem to require and produce focus, so what I wish for the new year is a way into this catch-22 vortex.

a religion or some other story that pictures the unintelligible as an anthropomorphic and often sadistic power that manufactures ultimate meaning and always perverts one of our noblest feelings, that of humility.

It wil be my fortieth year and I am going to say here that a good way to celebrate such a milestone in a human life is to find a Cause that is ‘bigger than yourself’. By that I don’t mean a religion or some other story that pictures the unintelligible as an anthropomorphic and often sadistic power that manufactures ultimate meaning and always perverts one of our noblest feelings, that of humility. It is no trivial task either: I think that now, 129 years after Nietzsche collapsed on the streets of Torino, the specter of nihilism goes around again, and can poison our fragile idea of a shared goal that can claim ultimate meaningfulness. We may stammer our enlightened formula of the greatest happiness for the greatest number, and still the nihilist will shrug because the existence of humanity is no ultimate goal. Indeed I think we can speak of practical philosophy as a way of countering this nihilism, or to put it more aggressively, to cut off its oxygen supply.

So, what sort of goal could be ‘bigger than myself’? And should it be a whole lot bigger or is it enough when it’s just a little bit bigger? Could it be something like ensuring permanence of human culture on this blue planet (permaculture) or helping this human species and its successors to colonize the rest of our solar system and ultimately escape before the sun gobbles up the earth (elonmuskism)? Or are these ideas too big, so that ‘being a part of it’ is no meaningful concept, like it is not meaningful for an atom to be part of an acorn as much as it is meaningful for the acorn to be part of the oak. Perhaps I should ponder ideas that provide both myself and the greater whatever-it-is-we-are-in-it-all-together with the optimal amount of meaning, where optimal is something like the greatest leverage?

Above, I wrote I wish focus. In the last two paragraphs I lost that focus in an attempt to ‘flow’ writingly to someplace beautiful. To repeat it for a world in which the beast of nihilism has been slain (shouldn’t we slay it every night in our dreams lest we cease to be human?): Focus translates into our better cooperation on the rapidly aggravating problems humanity faces. More serious grown-up work that adresses inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, poverty, illiteracy, diseases, religious fanaticism, species extinction, habitat destruction, and here we go again – focusing on one thing that is only meaningfully bigger than yourself is not easy. But I have an entire year.

A birthday wish was originally published on Meandering home

How a slew of privileges earned me a Basic Income

I don’t think it’s because I am white. My online clients don’t always see my profile photos and my first name, Kamiel, doesn’t radiate whiteness unequivocally, while my inofficial surname, Choi (최) is unambiguously Korean. Though the name might play a role, I am sure there are other factors. I was once given two academic degrees, likely due to a financial and bureaucratic incentive of the Dutch universities rather than to my own merit (I was a rather lazy student who lacked the raw enthusiasm to penetrate his subjects as deeply as he could). These ‘degrees’ signal a certain intellectual wherewithal and personal ambition and goal-directedness that human resource managers like. The mere abbreviations ‘m.a.’ and ‘m.sc.’ seem to signify that I have certain economically exploitable qualities. I enjoy the crude irony of the fact that these qualities, if I ever possessed them, have fully evaporated over the course of the past decade.

But there might be other privileges. I was able to buy a cheap and good laptop computer in a European country people with rubber boats desperately seek access to. I once passed some ‘tests’ to prove I understand my native Dutch language, which is spoken by some 25 million souls and considerate buying power backing up its economic relevance. I know how to navigate the Internet and write letters to win potential clients. I am a man.

All these things put together have earned me a basic income. Why do I call it a basic income when I ‘work’ for it and I don’t receive it from the government or even as a passive income through advertising? If I still have to work for it, isn’t there still a condition, a dependency?

I call it basic income for two reasons. First, because that dependency is distributed. None of my clients have any real power over me because I can just do a project for another customer. Nobody decides where I have to sit at 9am or in which country I have to reside at any given time. At any moment I can walk away from a project I am working on, without losing my income. This guarantee of personal freedom gives it the feeling of an unconditional income stream. It is there, as long as I keep my habit of doing the work.

The second and more profound reason why I call it basic income is that I find the work absolutely meaningless. I can’t discover a shred of purpose or value in what I do ‘for money’. It is a mind-numbingly ‘blank’ activity. If I start to think about it I end up hating it to a suicidal degree, so I rather don’t. Unfortunately, conventional people identify me with what I ‘do’ to ‘earn’ my income, and this bothers me a lot because my identity is merely negatively related to that labor (never say ‘has nothing to do with’ – it always has). So what is my identity? I am a rather mediocre philosopher-poet and writer of commentaries like this one. But conventional people will never call me that until somebody pays me ‘for’ it.

I am aware that others, who don’t have a white-sounding name, who weren’t born in a wealthy country with considerable buying power and a demand for translations or comparable services, who weren’t given university degrees, or who don’t have the 300 Euros to buy the Means of Production (a second hand Thinkpad x220 laptop). So I should temper my enthusiasm about this self-paid basic income. It is just an alternative, parasitic use of the slew of privileges that I was blessed, and perhaps cursed, with.

How a slew of privileges earned me a Basic Income was originally published on Meandering home

Weightism

Image Wikipedia

The obsession with equality, forged in the boredom of the post-war world order, has spawned concepts like ableism, genderism, and so on. By claiming to be fully inclusive, they make the denial of those differences not protected by the neologisms all the more cruel. Manufacturing an -ism for each difference, alluring as it is because of the ensuing discourse that would give it a place in the minds of those who were ignorant, condemns the differences that haven’t been put into -isms to irrelevance. Take for example, weightism.

Our entire cultural narrative presupposes that when ‘we’ eat too much, we gain weight. Our waist line is perpetually threatened to expand, belly fat is something ‘we’ must get rid off. Every article I read that makes a mention of body weight treats it like humanity’s nemesis, renders gaining weight as our natural sin and exercise as the absolution. Eating less, starving, is portrayed as a virtue and not touching that brownie is akin to buying an indulgence from the holy Church. Every food magazine, yes the packaging of processed foods itself, is filled with this obsession over our body weight.

This grossly insults those people, like myself, with a very fast metabolism, who have tried everything and would love to finally put on some weight. Not to comply with the societal norm that requires men to have muscles as much as it rejects excess meat on a female body, but in order to stay healthy.

I say to hell with weightism. I demand my equal rights as a skinny person. I demand that magazines limit flippancy about ‘the expanding waist line’ and compensate puns that cater to the potentially obese with healthy jokes for thin people. I would like to read, for example “Be careful to add enough sugar to the rhubarb or you risk your scale not getting out of the danger zone” or “Don’t do too much cardio fitness to preserve the padding of your thighs” or “Just sitting on the couch and watching television has the additional benefit that it can make you gain weight.”

Weightism is a crime against equality. People who have fast metabolisms deserve more respect. Just like blind people or people in a wheelchair can navigate the world because of braille and elevators, skinny people should be able to navigate grocery aisles, beauty magazines and gyms in a way that makes them feel included and respected as citizens of the wonderful world we live in.

Disclaimer: The cis-gender heterosexual white male author measures 1.78 and weighs 57 kgs.

Weightism was originally published on Meandering home

culotte – Khulood

When I learned that a Saudi Arabian model by the name of Khulood had been arrested because she walked around butt-naked in a mini-skirt in the old town of Ushaiger, my mind filled with self-righteous anger, that forces itself out in this puff of half-informed vitriol.

I don’t need to know all the details. I want to address this in the vernacular: people, this fucking sucks.

I don’t have time for cultural relativist types indebted to the likes of Edward Said, who charge the privileged Western observer with a lack of cultural ‘sensitivity’ or even understanding. Rather, I respond with an ironic pun that is silly enough to do justice to this terrifying abuse of human rights. ‘Khulood’ sounds to me like ‘culotte’, a divided skirt but I think  of culotté, underwear. And it reminds me of the sansculottes, the Parisian revolutionaries.

So, on the barricades, women of Saudi-Arabia! You might live in the most backward country in the world (supported by the second most backward country) where you are unique not allowed to drive a car. As far as I’m concerned, you have a license to drive men crazy.

And Ivanka, you know what you’ve gotta do: #freekhulood

culotte – Khulood was originally published on Meandering home