Are we living in a bullshit society?


I would argue that a lot of our societal values, rules and institutions are completely outdated and have not been able to keep up with the fast advancements in technology resulting in bullshit jobs.

So my question is this: if a growing number of jobs are bullshit jobs, aren’t we turning into a bullshit society pursuing bullshit goals and living bullshit lives? Is the mantra ‘Nobody bullshits the bullshitter’ becoming the core principle of our being? Has capitalism come to an end being replaced by managerial feudalism? David Graeber’s book ‘Bullshit Jobs’ reminds me of The Peter Principle by Lawrence J. Peter. What about you?


Hi Torsten. Thanks for bringing up an interesting topic. I wish it would be discussed controversal since the issue is not responded by just one or two sentences.
As I never before heard or read of the Peter Principle and only now checked it and see what is happening in the world mowadasys I am sure the principle is invented.

Just a little sample: Global player: BAYER!!! BAYER chairman X bought Monsato which was obvious to receive a flood of claims in the future.Yesterday I read 9.000 claims in the USA only were waiting Monsanto. Till the point of time of takeover Monsanto has been saved by American government. Now as it is been sold to BAYER a huge flood of successful seeming claims will be negotiated in courts. The price for the overtake of Mosanto by BAYER has been 63 Billion Dollar. Let´s assume each claim will cost just a Million Dollar the total would be about 150 Billion. When will Mansanto ever even the costs before generating profit? And I don´t think it all are bullshit jobs BAYER is going to quit.

I think there are a lot more of such samples in the world.


Michael, in his book Graeber argues that ‘over half of societal work is pointless’. So, before we continue discussing the topic we should first try to determine what ‘societal work’ is.


Hi Torsten,
wikipedia gives a list about the jobs Graeber meant:

  1. flunkies, who serve to make their superiors feel important, e.g., receptionists, administrative assistants, door attendants
  2. goons, who act aggressively on behalf of their employers, e.g., lobbyists, corporate lawyers, telemarketers, public relations specialists
  3. duct tapers, who ameliorate preventable problems, e.g., programmers repairing shoddy code, airline desk staff who calm passengers whose bags don’t arrive
  4. box tickers, who use paperwork or gestures as a proxy for action, e.g., performance managers, in-house magazine journalists, leisure coordinators
  5. taskmasters, who manage—or create extra work for—those who don’t need it, e.g., middle management, leadership professionals

Well, I stuck to this list. Sorry, To me Graeber is speaking about jobs that politicians here often claim to be the new job-market. In Germany it often is called Dienstleistungen if I don´t err…


For those who like listening rather than reading, here is a great podcast about the topic:

and here’s the transcript for those who like to read:


In the podcast I posted there was an extended example about a guy in Germany who works for a subcontractor of a subcontractor whose job is to drive 100’s of kilometers to remove a computer from an employee’s office, fill out a form, and deliver the computer to another employee down the hall - pretty crazy! Another example was university administrators who are judged by the size of their staff. So if you are appointed dean of such and such, you have to hire four staff members who all have BS jobs because there is nothing for them to do besides grant status to their boss.

I had a BS job in high school - 75% of which involved just trying to look busy on a construction site. My uncle got me the job, which explains a lot!


Here’s a funny example of a duct taper:

The first category is something he calls a duct taper. Rather than fix serious headaches, many organizations take the easy route - they paper over the problem. David has a revealing story from his own life.

GRAEBER: This was quite early on in my time in the U.K. university system. And they had this shelf in my office. I was always a little worried about it. It seemed kind of precarious. And one day, it just completely ripped out of the wall. There was this huge gaping hole in the wall. There was mangled metal, you know, hanging over my desk - so obviously no way I could fix it myself. And so I called buildings and grounds, and, you know, they said, OK, we’ll send a carpenter. And it took about a week and a half for the carpenter to show up, and people in the office were calling; I was calling; everybody was calling, and it became this daily ritual. And I gradually realize, there’s one guy - we always got the same guy - whose entire job seemed to consist of apologizing for the fact that the carpenter is very busy and couldn’t come. And one day, it occurred to me, like, well, why don’t they just fire that guy and hire a second carpenter?

VEDANTAM: (Laughter).

GRAEBER: …You know, because then they won’t need him, right?


GRAEBER: And I mentioned this to various people, and they looked at me like, yeah, right; that would ever happen. And I realize that this is a perfect example of a bullshit job. His job is only necessitated because the system is stupidly constructed. So he’s there to - it’s the equivalent of if you had a leak in the roof, instead of fixing the roof, you hire some guy to empty a bucket every hour. You know, it’s a totally pointless position. And gradually, I realized that in the software industry at least, this is called duct taping. It’s a fairly common usage.


Sorry, Luschen, but from some reasons this sample is not a proof for a BS-job, at least to me. It doesn´t give any information about the company and the number of employees of the company. Assumed that company employed several carpenters they also need someone to organize the orders and jobs. Such office guys usually also take the job of order acceptance and regulate the temporal sequence plus of cause they do the phone service.
To me it seems Graeber just has been impatient and unhappy with the situation. And I´d say he should have read Paul Watzlawik´s “Anleitung zum Unglücklichsein”:grin: (Manual to Unhappiness). Also makes me wonder why he didn´t call another carpenter to fix the problem?


Btw, googleing “societal work” I only found links to “social work”, which seemingly is something quite different to what Graeber meant, I assume.