Tag Archives: Meaning

Bullshit Jobs and Corporate Correctness

In the New Yorker, Nathan Heller reviews David Graeber’s “Bullshit Jobs.”

In the course of Graeber’s diagnosis, he inaugurates five phyla of bullshit work. “Flunkies,” he says, are those paid to hang around and make their superiors feel important: doormen, useless assistants, receptionists with silent phones, and so on. “Goons” are gratuitous or arms-race muscle; Graeber points to Oxford University’s P.R. staff, whose task appears to be to convince the public that Oxford is a good school. “Duct tapers” are hired to patch or bridge major flaws that their bosses are too lazy or inept to fix systemically. (This is the woman at the airline desk whose duty is to assuage angry passengers when bags don’t arrive.) “Box tickers” go through various motions, often using paperwork or serious-looking reports, to suggest that things are happening when things aren’t. (Hannibal is a box ticker.) Last are “taskmasters,” divided into two subtypes: unnecessary superiors, who manage people who don’t need management, and bullshit generators, whose job is to create and assign more bullshit for others. …

Graeber comes to believe that the governing logic for such expansion isn’t efficiency but something nearer to feudalism: a complex tangle of economics, organizational politics, tithes, and redistributions, which is motivated by the will to competitive status and local power.

My view is that what Graeber describes is a reflection of growing “corporate correctness,” the tendency

  • to structure and regulate everything, and often in an incompetent way;
  • to focus on appearance rather than content (think of power point);
  • to avoid responsibility by forming commissions and commissioning reports; and
  • to replace common sense by a mentality of box ticking, buzz wording, and bull shitting.

Of course, corporate correctness transcends the corporate sector. Universities and the public sector are leading the way.

Benjamin Todd’s “80,000 Hours”

80,000 hours, that’s how many hours we typically spent working over a lifetime, according to Benjamin Todd and the 80,000 hours team. They have published a book/ebook on how to make the best of it.

Their advice for a dream job: Look for

work you’re good at,

work that helps others,

supportive conditions: engaging work that lets you enter a state of flow; supportive colleagues; lack of major negatives like unfair pay; and work that fits your personal life.

The book discusses strategies to build a career plan, and a career. The main text closes with this summary:

Explore to find the best options, rather than “going with your gut” or narrowing down too early. Make this your key focus until you become more confident about the best options.

Take the best opportunities to invest in your career capital to become as badass as you can be. Especially look for career capital that’s flexible when you’re uncertain.

Help others by focusing on the most pressing social problems rather than those you stumble into – those that are big in scale, neglected and solvable. To make the largest contribution to those problems, consider earning to give, research and advocacy, as well as direct work.

Keep adapting your plan to find the best personal fit. Rather than expect to discover your “passion” right away, think like a scientist testing a hypothesis.

And work with a community.

In an appendix, the authors advise (potential) undergraduates to

aim for the most fundamental, quantitative option you can do i.e. one of these in the following order: mathematics, economics, computer science, physics, engineering, political science / chemistry / biology,

or otherwise,

focus on developing communication skills in philosophy, history or English.

The best choice is a combination. There is high demand for people who can understand quantitative topics and communicate clearly.

Appendix 8 contains useful career review summaries with “facts on fit” and “next steps” (see also this link for updates). For example, the authors advise that

[a]n economics PhD is one of the most attractive graduate programs: if you get through, you have a high chance of landing a good research job in academia or policy – promising areas for social impact – and you have backup options in the corporate sector since the skills you learn are in demand (unlike many PhD programs). You should especially consider an economics PhD if you want to go into research roles, are good at math (i.e. quantitative GRE score above 165) and have a proven interest in economics research.

But they warn that an Economics PhD takes a long time and

[d]oing highly open‐ended research provides little feedback which can be demotivating.

A final appendix discusses areas where people who want to help others possibly can have a large impact. As very promising areas, the authors identify

  • Biosecurity,
  • Climate change (extreme risks),
  • Factory farming,
  • Global priorities research,
  • Health in poor countries,
  • Land use reform,
  • Nuclear security,
  • Risks posed by artificial intelligence,
  • Smoking in the developing world, as well as,
  • Promoting effective altruism (the movement related to the book).

“… trotzdem Ja zum Leben sagen (Man’s Search for Meaning)”

The English language translations of Viktor Frankl’s book “… trotzdem Ja zum Leben sagen: Ein Psychologe erlebt das Konzentrationslager” (Wikipedia German, English) were published as “From Death-Camp to Existentialism” and “Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy.” Frankl describes his experience in Auschwitz and other concentration camps with a focus on the psychological changes the inmates went through. The narrative is shocking and Frankl’s ability to maintain a positive attitude to life in spite of the horror he experienced admirable. But I was less impressed by the book than millions of readers before me—it neither provides a systematic account nor a personal narrative.

The sketch “Synchronisation in Buchenwald” at the end of the book (featuring Socrates, Spinoza, Kant, KZ inmates and others) is the best part of the short book. Structured as a stage play it provides insights into Frankl’s thinking.