Friday 27 August 2021

Why Work Sucks? Could it be Better?

Monday morning. [A]

“These really clever people used their brains only to work out how to squeeze as much blood from the workers as possible within the boundaries of the law,” says the mother of 27-year-old Jang Deokjoon, a Coupang worker who died of a heart attack, caused by overwork – Dead on Arrival.

Capitalist societies require a division of labour, in which

[E]ach man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood.
And if you work for a living, you know deep inside not only that that is almost trivially true but that such state of affairs is often deeply frustrating. 

I am not talking only about people like South Korean delivery driver Lee Seong-Wook slaving away in poorly-paid, dead-end, killer jobs, although for them that frustration has literally tragic connotations. I am also talking about people in better-paid but pointless, unfulfilling, soul-crushing Graeberian bullshit jobs: people who wish they could slip into an unconscious, automatic pilot, zombie-like mode early on Monday morning, to wake up back into consciousness late in the afternoon on Friday, just in time for the weekend.

Speaking on my behalf – but I would be surprised if your case is entirely different – that frustration comes in part from the realisation that, if it were not for the economic imperative of earning a living, one could do better, have a more satisfactory life, doing more interesting, more varied and productive things. In one such society – which Marx called “communism”

[N]obody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow.


While we don’t live in such a society, some of us can still have a foretaste of how working life could be under Marx’s understanding of communism.

For some of us in Oz, this may mean volunteering for reputable not-for-profit organisations (it should go without saying, but here goes nevertheless: not all organisations qualify). State volunteer fire brigades (here is the volunteer portal for the NSW Rural Fire Service) are a good example of such reputable not-for-profit organisations, but other organisations are available.

There are more alternatives.


In 2018 British Columbia resident and amateur astronomer Scott Tilley was looking for the Zuma satellite, writes Kristen Pope for National Geographic (paywalled), when he spotted something else. Upon further investigation Tilley discovered it was spacecraft 26113, missing since 2005.

Urged by his wife, Tilley informed NASA of his discovery:

He says he “woke up the next morning to an inbox that had just exploded… My phone had gone nuts. All these people from NASA were trying to reach out to me and find more information”.
Tilley’s finding allowed NASA recover data from 26113. Good work, Scott!

Pope provides links to places where US resident citizen scientists can volunteer. Here are some:

I compiled a short and certainly non-exhaustive list of similar places Down Under:

Image Credits:
[A] Group of zombies, shooting of the film Meat Market 3. Author: Joel Friesen. Source: WikiMedia. File is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Nobody endorses me or the use I make of the file.

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