Tuesday Talk*: Revenge of the Slackoisie

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.

29 thoughts on “Tuesday Talk*: Revenge of the Slackoisie

  1. Quinn Martindale

    In his book Bullshit Jobs, the late David Graeber claimed that about half of the work in the US is pointless. I know a dozen or so people in their late 20s who have quit their corporate jobs to enter into socially productive jobs like teaching, logistics and the building trades. Although the new jobs have plenty of difficulties, every one of them reports that sense of accomplishment.

    Like Warzel writes, this isn’t a rejection of work in the sense of a 60’s call to drop out. It’s a refusal to try and climb a corporate ladder that really isn’t there anymore. There’s a reason that people under 50 laugh at the thought of walking in and asking for a job in the mailroom as the first step to being vice-president of a company. All that career advice from two or three generations ago just doesn’t work and hasn’t worked for decades.

      1. phv3773

        Corporate politics. Managers want to increase the number of people who report to them. People are hired and new levels are added to the hierarchy. A quick Google of “Flattening Corporate Hierarchy” will bring back a host of article about attempts to streamline corporate structures that have grown too fat.

      2. phv3773

        Howl, I’ll give an actual example.

        Back when I was a free lance computer guy, I had a small project at General Foods organizing sales data so a nice young woman could calculate the ROI on the sales of a Jello no-bake pie filling product. Was that really a useful use of her time (or mine)? Or could they have settled for the choice between “hey, we sold a ton of that stuff” and “there are still palettes of that in the warehouse”?

        Someone was taught about ROI in MBA school……

    1. Miles

      I don’t know whether to be amused or angry at your narcissistic self-indulgence. It “doesn’t work and hasn’t worked for decades” because you read it in a book? Are you that shallow?

      People who found themselves in jobs they didn’t like changed jobs. This isn’t new. Not everybody who started in the mailroom became the VP because everybody can’t be VP. Did you not realize this?

      But for most of us, we work because we have mouths to feed and whining about whether our job is “socially productive” is a game only those who have never gone without a meal can play. And we work hard and do well because we can better our status, and that of our children. Maybe when you have kids instead of being one you’ll understand responsibility.

      In the meantime, that big cool world that provides for all your worldly needs happens because other people work, even if you and your ilk are so entitled as to have the option of sitting on mommy’s couch it the job doesn’t make you feel special enough. Little shits

      1. not-miles

        “I don’t know whether to be amused or angry at your narcissistic self-indulgence. ”
        -Be both? American’s rugged individualism has taught narcissistic self-indulgence is the highest ideal. Anger and amusement seem to fit your own self-indulgence, so enjoy.

        “It “doesn’t work and hasn’t worked for decades” because you read it in a book?” – or maybe personal experience, or the increase of college education requirements for entry level jobs, or, um, reality? Those that climb the corporate ladder nowadays do so more often by constantly changing employers for promotion rather than the rarer and older company loyalty promotion path. Where did you get the idea that the old way does still work effectively? Maybe this person got their idea from the same place you did, but your experience isn’t as average as you think and maybe theirs is? Or not. But sure, dismiss them. Be narcissistic and self-indulgent in your attitude towards others’ opinions and experiences.

        “Maybe when you have kids instead of being one you’ll understand responsibility.”
        -Maybe they won’t. Maybe a lot of the kids these days won’t. Maybe they’ve learned that this world isn’t that great of place, and having kids is damning them to a lifetime of servitude for little meaningful pleasure. Maybe it’ll be mostly immigrants that pay your SSI, cause American’s are smarting up to the rat race, and checking out. Maybe they aren’t like you, anymore. Huh, times change. Get with the times.

        “In the meantime, that big cool world that provides for all your worldly needs happens because other people work, even if you and your ilk are so entitled as to have the option of sitting on mommy’s couch it the job doesn’t make you feel special enough. Little shits”
        -Maybe they’re on their own couch, and don’t feel like working more to pay for a nicer couch to impress you with, cause they think your opinion is shit. Maybe they’re on their mom’s couch ’cause she just died being an ignorant partisan anti-education little shit, and don’t see the point anymore.

        Maybe after a couple years of realizing a quarter of the population would like to fuck everyone over regardless, while half the country lets them and the last quarter is screaming bloody murder, the upcoming generations realize the previous generations’ priorities for decades have been slightly out of wack without correction for so long, we are all soon going to be adrift.

        Maybe drugs, media, video games, and sleep are more fulfilling than spitting out babies and doing a shit job the rest of your life. Even if life is shorter or lacks finer things that way. Do you really think what the world needs is more of you (or them)? Do you encourage homeless people to have kids, so they can understand responsibility?

        Maybe you’re just a cranky old shit that wishes they hadn’t worked so much all their life, and is a little jealous, and the “having kids makes you a grown-up” is cover for life-regret and vicarious living through your own children.

        Maybe being lazy is how they feel and you feel how you do. Maybe that’s ok.

        I’m an older millennial.
        I’ve worked since I was twelve. Started three of my own companies. Employed hundreds. Always felt like a modern day slave-driver. Will be retiring soon, because I’ve done so well for myself, keeping the minions working for my own bank account growth.

        I regret it. Wished I had loafed through life. Whatever wealth I’ve hoarded provides little solace while the world burns from ignorance fertilized by greed, while most of my former employees remain in the same or worse status they were in prior to knowing me. Would rather have more of that time back to spend with my loved ones.

        Will start loafing soon. Let it burn.

        People suck. I know I suck.

        You suck too, coming here to call people little shits. Do you realize that?

        Maybe, in small part, this is because of you. Me too.
        Maybe when you are old enough you can accept some responsibility also.

        I’m accepting mine.

        1. Skink

          Not-Miles, I see your pain. You made a good life out of being a shit, so you feel like a shit. Being or feeling like a shit is hard to be. Fortunately, there’s a simple act to make you feel better. Take whatever cash you accumulated, if actually any, and give it to the ASPCA. Little dogs often feel like shit.

            1. not-miles

              I, for one, believe Sgt. Schultz follows all the orders he’s given.

              Must have been told to attack. Good boy.

              It’s always easier to make it personal than discuss anything.

              Monkey see, monkey fling poop.

              Never said I was rich, just that I had hoarded and had enough to retire soon. My wife would agree with tall & handsome, though I’d probably dispute.

              At ease, soldier. You make your country sad.

              Down, boy.

              May wanna have that diaper changed.

              The poo your flinging is dry.

            2. PseudonymousKid

              Hi not-miles. You made this personal, not Sarge. Also, you aren’t funny and come off as disturbed. It’s ok to have strong feelings about all of this, but maybe you should find someone knowledgeable in talk therapy to help you process how you feel and why. All you’re going to get here is put down, and rightfully so which I don’t think will help you in the long-run. I won’t be nice if you respond. I know you don’t care what I think, but you get my opinion anyway.

            3. not-miles

              Thanks, Pseudo, for being honest that you plan on not being nice, and that the people here aren’t nice as well. That is plainly clear.

              Great community you got here!

              I’ll take my ball and go home.

              Wouldn’t want to interrupt the old folks sharing music videos.

            4. Sgt. Schultz

              Pk, we’ve been trolled by a masterful shitposter. At least give him credit for murdering all those words, saying nothing and getting a reaction.

              Since this was a TT, I assume our host left this for us to appreciate how much he enjoys the randos who float in and out of SJ. Time for me to hit the tip cup because I’m an empathetic fella.

      2. Quinn Martindale

        As another book says “For what does a person get from all his efforts and ambitions permeating the work he does under the sun? His whole life is one of pain, and his work is full of stress; even at night his mind gets no rest. This too is pointless. So there is nothing better for a man to do than eat, drink and and let himself enjoy the good that results from his work.”

        One of the basic pleasures in the world is, like our host says, the sense of accomplishment from a job well done, especially when that job contributes to the health of society in our host’s words. People know there’s something deeply wrong when they’re compelled by their responsibilities to perform meaningless labor that produces no good for anyone.

  2. Jake

    That’s a nice economy you’ve got there. It’d be a shame if the masses figure out the only way to win is Secessio plebis.

    1. PseudonymousKid

      We aren’t Romans, Jake. There aren’t any plebs or equestrians around that I know of. There are senators but they aren’t like the Roman Senate. I don’t want to know what you think “secessio plebis” means and how it relates.

      Can you try saying something meaningful for a change? If you’re saying labor should band together and call a general strike for some unified purpose, then say so. Obviously there are problems with that, but at least you’ll have said something arguably related to the topic at hand. Be prepared to elaborate and expand from there, if you can.

      You’re a wage slave, Jake. I bet your master appreciates your inability to think critically. This was my reflexive derision, if you were wondering. Not the best, but I don’t want you thinking I’m being too kind or anything.

      1. Jake

        You’re very serious, I can see.

        I would try sharing something I think will be meaningful to you, but I’ve noticed a pattern of feigning interest in meaningful exchange and then responding to everything with ridicule. Alas, I get enough of that from our beloved host.

        No matter though, I still admire your contributions and hope this doesn’t get me ejected from the book club.

        1. PseudonymousKid

          Meaningful to me and on topic aren’t the same thing as our host would acknowledge. The interest isn’t feigned. I’m playacting as your advocate in part because we lefties are few and far between around here. I truly want you to do better and not get shot down so much. The answer might be that you have nothing to say, but I’m leaving that until after I’ve taken a stab at getting something illuminating out of you. There. You got me to break character. I’ll try to be nicer, but no promises. This is all embarrassingly personal and making me blush.

          Don’t worry, though, the whole act is also entirely selfish because in trying to help you decipher the topic, I do the same for myself and keep my bad thoughts to myself in the process. Well, some of them anyway.

    1. Charles

      Cheetos are pretty slow. Collecting the Mountain Dew every morning is what really gets tedious.

      P.S. Where’s Skink when you need him?

  3. Jacob Williams

    I refrain from commenting because I don’t think I know enough about legal matters for my input to be worth much, but the ethics of work I can offer a word about. Beg pardon if my input’s unwelcome.

    I think work is a fundamental process of polishing the human soul; labor refines us. There’s something essential about daily challenge, the awareness of coming up against it, that readies me personally for all the many, many other roadblocks in life and makes them small by comparison. Tangling with my taxes, attempting to fix my car, going to the family Thanksgiving, or any other tangle I can sort out because I’ve already done worse. It’s just effort and time, and I know I can do that.

    I also think the lack of challenge erodes something vital in human nature. I tried to put an English degree to good use and found academia and puff-piece writing to be insufficient. Now I work at UPS, and it’s much harder – and while I wouldn’t say I’m happier, precisely, I don’t struggle to go to sleep at night, and I don’t question if it’s all worth it. There’s a reassurance in being able to look anyone in the eye and say, yes: I work hard.

    I think the paradigm of this slacker revolution comes from the stinger of the college generation – I certainly felt that I had to be better and brighter than the rest of my family, good blue-collar folks all. I was supposed to be better. But I look at my grandfather, who worked 35 years for Inland Steel raising three kids in Gary, Indiana; who went cold-turkey on alcohol at his wife’s lone request, worked double shifts every week, and was the slowest, wisest man I ever met. I don’t think I’m half the man he was, let alone his better. Give me thirty years to work on that.

    The rest of my generation, the 90’s kids, I think trying to be better poisoned us. There is no shortcut. You have to be a good man first, and that’s a lifelong pursuit in itself.

    So: no, no one has a right to quit and think that gives them moral superiority. No one gets to molder on the couch and preach. It’s the same world my grandfather grew up in, even if the number of buttons has changed. There’s work to be done.

  4. KP

    Hmm.. I thought more of you were elderly curmudeons like our host and had retired long enough ago to figure out what was important in life. Its what you do in retirement that shows what you have learned in life.
    After all, the 1960s predictions were of a Jetsons-style life where we had plenty of leisure to enrich our creative selves while robots did the drudge for us.
    The 1970s had the self-repairing robots doing everything from mining the ore to producing the goods, so very few of us had to do anything to keep the human race going.
    These days its more about the top 1% trying to kill most of us as they have already realised that a bunch of useless eaters sitting on the couch consuming are more expensive than robots.

    Surely this is the end-point of the Welfare State, the goal of the last 100years. from widow’s benefits and dole payments to not getting off the couch, the Govt will look after you.

  5. LTMG

    Used to work in Shanghai for a division of the Emerson Electric Company. The CEO, David Farr at that time, and many of his direct reports traveled twice yearly to the various regions to present at 2-day meetings. The audience consisted of country presidents, site general managers, and other key employees in the region. At the December 2018 meeting Farr stated very emphatically, “Be relevant or you will die. Be relevant or you will die.” I chose to be relevant by consistently delivering financial results in excess of the targets set by corporate. Every employee reporting to me participated in the bonus plan. All of us working together enjoyed higher than target bonuses for exceeding the expectations.

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