Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Useless

"David Graeber on harmful jobs, odious debt, and fascists who believe in global warming" (Kučić):
"Right now I am getting mails from Virgin Media. I moved from my old place recently and canceled my subscription. But they are somehow still charging me for the last two months that I have not even lived there. They have been sending me increasingly threatening and obnoxious letters because they know that there is an apparatus of law on their side. If you simply refuse to comply, at some point, it’ll go to a bailiff, who will harass you, and if you refuse long enough, and the amount is large enough, they’ll start taking things away, and if you try to stop them, threats of physical force come into the picture.
We can easily forget that violent coercion lies behind all our laws. The power to do harm. In the case of the annoying bill collector, it might thirty or even a hundred steps away. But it’s always there, because otherwise, you’d just ignore it. And there is another interesting correlation that I have been thinking about lately.
Which is?
Maybe it is also the case that the more potential harm you can do to other people the more you get paid.
What do you mean?
I always say that the more obviously your work benefits others, the less you’re likely to be paid. Someone suggested to me recently that maybe that’s backwards: the more your work is capable of harming others, the more you’re likely to be paid. I immediately thought of a study by an economist named Blair Fix who did an analysis of income in the corporate sector, and discovered that the key to compensation is not “productivity”, as economists usually insist, but simply power. The higher up you are in the chain of command, the bigger your salary. In a way this is hardly news to anyone. But he has the numbers. So it’s all about power.
Power to do what?
Well that’s the question. Perhaps it really is just the sheer potential to do harm. Just as Wall Street doesn’t really benefit the public much but it can do enormous damage if it crashes. Maybe capitalism is just a privatised form of power, directly derived from feudal-military forms of power.
Just think of corporations as the cathedrals of capitalist power. Their owners already possess all the wealth and power anyone can possibly have. At a certain point you’ve already got all the money and pleasures, all the hookers and cocaine, you can possibly want. All that’s left is just ego and narcissism. That’s why you have these legions of useless employees: so some asshole Executive Vice President can say “behold my empire! It is somewhat larger than that other Executive Vice President’s empire.”
The planet is dying because so people like that can feel good about themselves. They are sucking up enormous resources building their giant towers and filling them with useless flunkies simply for ego-gratification. When I got accounts of bullshit jobs, I heard about endless examples of this sort of thing. Every corporation needs to have its own in-house magazine with high production values and regular feature articles profiling this or that high level manager. For what possible reason? No one reads these magazines! Well, almost no one. They exist so every manager can have the pleasure of seeing a flattering article about themselves in what looks like a news magazine.
Whole species of living creatures are being wiped out every year for this sort of thing. But ultimately, it happens because he is in a position to make life miserable for others.
And of course the pandemic has highlighted the reverse side of this: the more immediately your work helps other people the less you are likely to be paid."
We've seen this over and over again with 'too big to fail'. We have to keep paying them off to avoid the consequences of their incompetence. Writ large, that's the economy.

One of the striking lessons we should have learned from the pandemic is that it is odd the economies didn't collapse more.  It's because in modern capitalism most people are not only not 'essential', they are completely useless on any sane measure of usefulness or productivity.  When they stop 'producing', there are literally no consequences.

Also:
"Bureaucracies are not places where promotion is based on merit. It’s where promotion is based on your willingness to play along with pretense that promotion is based on merit. It is very similar in the academic environment. It is not really important how smart you are. It is more important to pretend that people on the top have some reason to be there even if you – and everybody else – know that it is not the case. The greatest sin is to believe that you are entitled to a certain academic position just because you are actually good at teaching or research.
If you come from the wrong social background, especially, you will learn that yes, it is possible to be accepted as a member of the elite, but only if you are willing to act as if your greatest life aspiration is to be accepted by them—whether or not they have any actual reason to be there."
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