In a Tuesday Talk last month, the question was posed whether the groundswell of a new movement dedicated to only getting out of bed when absolutely necessary was a good idea. Why work yourself to death (or momentary discomfort, as those paper cuts really hurt) when it’s only to serve the benefit of others, like corporations, the ultra-wealthy and your parents’ pension), when you can have more fun doing as little as humanly possible?
Charlie Warzel, who promoted the elevation of slackers to cult status, wrote a follow-up to address the “rage of the career defenders.”
Again, I expected some of that. The career skepticism movement — honestly, it probably hasn’t even reached movement status yet, it’s merely a loose conglomeration of people who are burned out and wary of investing in a system that feels overly precarious and owes them nothing — is a potential threat to the status quo and a critique of most systems of management. It is psychologically painful when a younger generation comes along, points out flaws in a system/set of rituals you were forced to tolerate, and then opts not to participate.
Not for nothing, but I note in passing his explanation that it is “psychologically painful” to defenders of the status quo, because that’s the lens through which defenders of disaccomplishment view the motivations of their detractors. But I digress.
Here is an excerpt of an email I received (you can read all of it here but it was long) in response to the piece (emphasis mine):
We live in a competitive society requiring individuals to distinguish themselves from the “pack” in order to be successful. If one is content to be average or ordinary, feel free to show up at your desk at 9 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m.; make sure you take your 60 minutes – not 55 or 65 – for lunch; be sure not to volunteer doing something beyond what you were hired to do; be sure to get good at copying and pasting instead of writing creatively and thoughtfully; be sure to do the bare minimum to collect your paycheck. Believe that you are entitled to a raise this year, even if you are no better at your job than you were last year.
Follow these “be sures,” and you too will have earned a life of mediocrity, at best. Hey, it’s okay to be average; most people are. Once in a while, remember to look over your shoulder and you will see the next applicant who would love your job. Know that if you are average, you are 100% dispensable.
Most of the above is merely chest clearing for the last line, which is some solid “quiet part out loud” material. 100 percent dispensable. I realize the emailer is trying to make a point to be especially trolly and take the posture of a no bullshit hard ass. But this idea of dispensability is really core to both contemporary capitalism and contemporary American work culture. Dog Eat Dog. Kill Or Be Killed. Competition. Big Explosive Wanking Motion.
Is this what people believe working is all about, being “indispensable”? This is not the same thing as being valued or appreciated. This is hardly similar to the sense of accomplishment for a job well done. This isn’t remotely the same as being a contributing member of a society that serves all of us best when each of us contributes to its health. This is about being so special, so important, so valued that each individual becomes indispensable. And if not, then why bother to get out of bed unless the bag of Cheetos is empty?
While the notion that no one is indispensable is banal to the olds, and intended as a motivator to make oneself as valuable as possible to the enterprise so that there is no cause to dispense with you, have we been wrong all along and are just being forced to tolerate a “system/set of rituals” into which the younger generation has opted not to participate? Do the slackoisie know something we don’t know, and we’ve been mere pawns in this “dog eat dog” world?
Granted, there are menial jobs, office jobs, anonymous jobs, that provide no particular sense of accomplishment. We won’t paint the Mona Lisa or write Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. We won’t create joy or beauty from behind a keyboard inputting people’s petty grievances and pretending that we understand their frustration or asking if they want to supersize their fries. And these jobs are particularly fungible, with little opportunity to achieve or feel a sense of purpose beyond warming a chair. Is this nascent movement right to refuse to care and opt out?
*Tuesday Talk rules apply.