Graeber’s argument is similar to one he made in a 2013 article called “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs”, in which he argued that, in 1930, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that by the end of the century technology would have advanced sufficiently that in countries such as the UK and the US we’d be on 15-hour weeks. “In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshalled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. Huge swaths of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they believe to be unnecessary. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.”
But what happened between the Apollo moon landing and now? Graeber’s theory is that in the late 1960s and early 1970s there was mounting fear about a society of hippie proles with too much time on their hands. “The ruling class had a freak out about robots replacing all the workers. There was a general feeling that ‘My God, if it’s bad now with the hippies, imagine what it’ll be like if the entire working class becomes unemployed.’ You never know how conscious it was but decisions were made about research priorities.” Consider, he suggests, medicine and the life sciences since the late 1960s. “Cancer? No, that’s still here.” Instead, the most dramatic breakthroughs have been with drugs such as Ritalin, Zoloft and Prozac – all of which, Graeber writes, are “tailor-made, one might say, so that these new professional demands don’t drive us completely, dysfunctionally, crazy”
Graeber believes that since the 1970s there has been a shift from technologies based on realising alternative futures to investment technologies that favoured labour discipline and social control. Hence the internet. “The control is so ubiquitous that we don’t see it.” We don’t see, either, how the threat of violence underpins society, he claims. “The rarity with which the truncheons appear just helps to make violence harder to see,” he writes.
– From the Guardian article: David Graeber: ‘So Many People Spend Their Working Lives Doing Jobs They Think are Unnecessary’
Embarrassingly, it was only very recently that I became familiar with the writings of David Graeber, an author, anthropologist and professor at the London School of Economics. I read a decent amount, and very few writers connect with me in the way Mr. Graeber does. Of course, I don’t agree with everything he says (if you ever find yourself in total agreement with someone else there’s a problem), but I promise he will make you think. That’s worth a lot in the propagandized and dumbed down culture we inhabit.
About a month ago, I read an extremely thought provoking excerpt from his 2013 book, The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement. The piece was titled, A Practical Utopian’s Guide to the Coming Collapse, and I strongly suggest you read it.
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