Who Would You Like to Hear on the Podcast?

Image: Library of Congress

If I had to assign a letter grade for my ability to email, schedule and book guests for the podcast I’d have give myself a big “F.” Which is why, dear readers and listeners, you have not had a Root Simple podcast in a few months. I’m hoping to have some more time to address this problem which is why I’m asking for your input. Who would you like me to have on the podcast? What subjects would you like me to tackle? Would you like to be on the podcast? Leave a comment or send us an email at [email protected]!

The image shows the onerous process of  “uploading” a podcast to Apple’s vast podcast warehouse.

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs

Image an economy in which you were paid to do the things you like to read about on this blog: gardening, beer brewing, jam making, beekeeping etc. Or how about a world in which teachers, nurses and caregivers made more money than tech CEOs? Sadly, we don’t live in that utopia. Instead we have an economy that often rewards people who either do nothing all day or whose work degrades our lives.

Anthropologist David Graeber takes up these questions in his book Bullshit Jobs: A Theory. Judging from the many months I waited for the library’s copy of Bullshit Jobs, Graeber hit a nerve. In fact, the original essay version of this book, “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs: A Work Rant” went viral.

Graeber’s bullshit job research began with a casual question in Twitter asking if people felt their jobs were worthless or unnecessary. He got a torrent of responses. Typical is the experience of this receptionist for a Dutch publishing company:

The phone rang maybe once a day, so I was given a couple of other tasks:

  • Keep candy dish full of mints. (Mints were supplied by someone else at the company; I just had to take a handful out of a drawer next to the candy dish and put them in the candy dish.)
  • Once a week, I would go to a conference room and wind a grandfather clock. (I found this task stressful, actually, because they told me that if I forgot or waited too long, all of the weights would fall, and I would be left with the onerous task of grandfather clock repair.)
  • The task that took the most time was managing another receptionist’s Avon sales.

In the book Graeber develops a taxonomy of Bullshit jobs and estimates that at least 50% of jobs could vanish and no one would notice. And, no, we’re not just talking about government jobs. It turns out that capitalism produces prodigious amounts of useless jobs despite those who claim that the alleged efficiency of markets makes this impossible.

While many of the examples in the book, such as the Dutch receptionist, are amusing behind them lies a lot of human misery. It turns out that being paid well to look like you’re busy when you’re not can crush the human soul. Worse are jobs such as telemarketers who, in order to get by, have do something deceptive or destructive.

Sadly, in our economy, with a few exceptions, the more useful your job is the more likely you are to not be paid well. On Thursday, here in Los Angeles, public school teachers are set to go on strike for better wages and to prevent creeping privatization by charter school companies. It’s very expensive to live here and a teacher’s salary amounts to a lower middle class wage. You probably won’t starve but you’ll never be able to afford to buy a house. Instead our economy rewards finance sector employees who have no idea what they were hired for and who spend their work days pretending to do something while they are actually just looking at Facebook. Worse, Graeber shows how those in power foster resentment between those in bullshit jobs and useful workers such as teachers and utility workers.

Much of this inequity falls on women, who are more likely to occupy low paid but useful jobs taking care of other people. Lost in the tedious debate over the percentage of female Google engineers is why we pay hospice nurses less than the people who figure out how to serve ads for outdoor grills while we search for porn.

Graeber goes on to describe the history of our attitudes towards work from the medieval guild system to the bloated bureaucracies of the present. Along the way he delves into the theology of why we think terrible jobs are good for us. He concludes with an argument for universal basic income that had me (a skeptic of UBI) partly convinced.

If you’ve read this book or experienced a bullshit job leave a comment!

Saturday Tweets: Hello 2019

Leave Your Leaves Alone

Photo: David Newsom

Our friends at the Wild Yards Project (episode 126 of the podcast) have posted an interview with plant guru Barbara Eisenstein, “Leave Your Leaves Alone, and Let The Wild Things In!

Eisenstein has a nuanced view of native gardening noting in the interview that we need to consider a mix of native and hardy non-natives in our urban spaces,

Our urban landscape bears little resemblance to pre-development conditions. Consequently, formally local natives may be unable to succeed in these altered environments. What plants are then most appropriate? Rather than looking to a past that is no more, it may be best to use our understanding of the ecological services plants provide. A review of research by Linda Chalker-Scott (2015, Arboriculture & Urban Forestry, 41.4, 173-186) suggests that both native and non-native woody species can enhance biodiversity of urban landscapes by providing these essential services.

At this risk of wonkiness, do we have a Hegelian plant dialectic here, perhaps? Are we on the cusp of a synthesis in the native/non-native plant debate? This is a complicated question, but I think that Eisenstein makes some good points in this provocative interview. Props to David Newsom at the Wild Yards Project to allowing this conversation go where it went.

Eisenstein goes on to talk about what she considers most important for attracting birds and insects to our gardens. Spoiler: it’s more about the leaf litter than the plant selection. Make sure to read the rest of interview on the Wild Yards Project website. And consider signing up for the newsletter and adding to the Wild Yards tip jar.

2018: The Year in Review

Walter Crane: Christmas Card, 1894.

As Kelly noted in our Christmas letter it was a non-eventful year and sometimes that’s a good thing. We had no visits to the emergency room and no unexpected problems or crises. We have full stomachs, health care and a roof over our heads, all luxuries in this unjust world.

We spent most of the year on a home restoration project, putting the house back to exactly the way it was configured when built in 1920. A crew fixed our back patio and will return sometime this year to do some hardscaping for our neglected garden.

The blogging year involved a lot of kvetching, a veritable casserole of complaints with blog posts on the Thanksgiving holiday, squirrels eating all of our fruit, hoarding food and books, smart phones, junk mail, open floor plans, as well as proof that I’ve gone full Luddite.

Speaking of old Ned Ludd, the most commented upon post was the one in which I announced the deletion of my Facebook account. Let me note that I’ve not regretted it one bit and please allow me to toot my prognosticational horn by noting how news about Facebook went from terrible to, well, beyond terrible by the end of the year. When I first blogged about Facebook I thought I might have been too harsh. In fact, I probably wasn’t harsh enough.

As far as 2019 goes, I long ago gave up on New Years resolutions. But I know partly what is in store for 2019: finishing home improvements and working on that neglected garden.

How did your year go? What do you have planned for 2019?