Are you a productive member of society?

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An unintentionally amusing opinion piece here by “German philosopher” Peter Sloterdijk.

As translated by Alexis Cornel

we have become accustomed to the fact that a handful of productive citizens provide more than half of national income-tax revenues

Yet the philosopher doesn’t define his terms. What does it mean for a citizen to be “productive”? (As opposed, perhaps, to be being a “nutzlose Fresser”?) Is the philosopher himself productive? How about a stripper? Or the CEO of a too-big-to-fail bank? Or an arms merchant? Or a tobacco farmer?

According to Bob Black

Only a small and diminishing fraction of work serves any useful purpose independent of the defense and reproduction of the work-system and its political and legal appendages. Twenty years ago, Paul and Percival Goodman estimated that just five percent of the work then being done — presumably the figure, if accurate, is lower now — would satisfy our minimal needs for food, clothing, and shelter. Theirs was only an educated guess but the main point is quite clear: directly or indirectly, most work serves the unproductive purposes of commerce or social control. Right off the bat we can liberate tens of millions of salesmen, soldiers, managers, cops, stockbrokers, clergymen, bankers, lawyers, teachers, landlords, security guards, ad-men and everyone who works for them. There is a snowball effect since every time you idle some bigshot you liberate his flunkeys and underlings also. Thus the economy implodes.

Forty percent of the workforce are white-collar workers, most of whom have some of the most tedious and idiotic jobs ever concocted. Entire industries, insurance and banking and real estate for instance, consist of nothing but useless paper-shuffling. It is no accident that the “tertiary sector,” the service sector, is growing while the “secondary sector” (industry) stagnates and the “primary sector” (agriculture) nearly disappears. Because work is unnecessary except to those whose power it secures, workers are shifted from relatively useful to relatively useless occupations as a measure to assure public order. Anything is better than nothing.

According to Sloterdijk

We have already written the title of the next chapter of our history: “The pillage of the future by the present.”

True, but only because that’s the title of every chapter of our history.

Sloterdijk focuses on money instead of real wealth.

Update (30/Nov//2010): According to Rodger Jacobs, according to George Orwell,

I am trying to go beyond the immediate economic cause and to consider what pleasure it can give anyone to think of men swabbing dishes (in a restaurant kitchen) for life. For there is no doubt that people – comfortably situated people – do find a pleasure in such thoughts. A slave, Marcus Cato said, should be working when he is not sleeping … I believe that the instinct to perpetuate useless work is, at the bottom, simply fear of the mob. The mob (the thought runs) are such low animals that they would be dangerous if they had leisure; it is safer to keep them too busy to think.

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6 responses »

  1. Good piece, but of course we have seen this coming for a very long time. City planners are among the most enlightened (and mistaken) futurists; they have seen for years that most of these useless workers would take up to much space unless they are packed in to the kind of high-density housing we are seeing today. Corporate America is seeing that these useless workers are being paid to much so they are sending service jobs oversees. In the interest of profit, we are setting the stage for a massive implosion where too many consumers have taken everything of value turned it into pollution. ANd perhaps that is the next big thing: recycling what we have consumed. Disturbingly anticlimactic.

    • But if they’re useless workers, why doesn’t corporate America simply eliminate the jobs? It suggests that Bob Black’s “public order” theory is not the whole story, unless corporate America were trying to maintain public order offshore, too.

  2. I’m using the term useless workers in the prejorative, not really my opinion (sarcasm doesn’t go over well online, I have found). There are no useless workers, of course, but we have found a lot of ways to keep people busy that don’t really produce much in the long run. As for your question, I’m sure every company in America is looking for ways to eliminate jobs…while keeping profits. In the absence of an ability to eliminate a job altogether, many are finding it expeditious to offshore the work. This will eventually come back to bite us, I expect.

  3. If you’re not doing something truly useful, you’re a loser, no matter how much money you’re grabbing, no matter how many prizes and degrees the world flatters you with. No amount of nothing can fill that hole where the real winners keep their souls.

  4. “He was not excited about it but quite fearful about losing his job.”

    “Mark, you are just describing another fault with the system where labour is not directed to the most important areas but inefficiently maintained to keep worthless jobs in many areas.
    Remove capitalism and build a new system that is efficient and productive without the waste of money and finance.
    A person should never fear losing their jobs as every worthless job lost means moving to a more important job and more free time and shorter working lives for all.”

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