Once, when contemplating the apparently endless growth of administrative responsibilities in British academic departments, I came up with one possible vision of hell. Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don’t like and are not especially good at. Say they were hired because they were excellent cabinet-makers, and then discover they are expected to spend a great deal of their time frying fish. Neither does the task really need to be done – at least, there’s only a very limited number of fish that need to be fried. Yet somehow, they all become so obsessed with resentment at the thought that some of their co-workers might be spending more time making cabinets, and not doing their fair share of the fish-frying responsibilities, that before long there’s endless piles of useless badly cooked fish piling up all over the workshop and it’s all that anyone really does.
I think this is actually a pretty accurate description of the moral dynamics of our own economy.
David Graeber, a professor at the London School of Economics who is credited with giving Occupy Wall Street its “We are the 99 Percent” slogan and the author of Debt: The First 5000 Years, has a piece in the quarterly Strike! newspaper about what he deems as “bullshit jobs.”