Oct 26, 2017

Razer: dying for capitalism at our standing desks

Forget what you hear about the need for constant change in industry: it's all about staying exactly the same.

Helen Razer — Writer and broadcaster

Helen Razer

Writer and broadcaster

There are two stubborn odours in every knowledge workplace of the present. The first comes from the kitchenette; microwaved puttanesca from last June. The second comes from your armpits. Or, at least, it did from mine. Every time “change” was ordered from upstairs, I knew what to expect: no change, preceded by a week of meetings about how to have better meetings, with a guest appearance by a Maverick in a TEDx cap.

The Maverick was a “change consultant”. He was paid to uphold the delusion that we, the marketing department for a financial services company (yes, I’m going to hell), were making change. He said, “think outside outside the box”. He mentioned diversity and neuroscience several times, and is the chief reason I am unable to watch Todd Sampson on TV. I try not to think about him, and that peppy nightmare of a job.

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20 thoughts on “Razer: dying for capitalism at our standing desks

  1. [email protected]

    I’ve often lamented my lack of actual skill, something tangible. It pains me to think about my group of “intangible skills” that are nothing but last years buzzwords that I try to articulate on my LinkedIn profile.

    I ridiculed those that would stay in the small country town I grew up in getting a mechanical, electrical or plumbing apprenticeships but now spend my time watching car restoration shows, marvel at those that can build their own electronic devices and do full house restorations.

    Daniel Pink said that in the West those that will rise are those that can create, the artists and automation will go to Asia. The only issue is that needs a skill as well.

    I can’t even write goody

    1. Helen Razer

      A lack of goody does not seem to dissuade many. And, dear, I’ve seen worse.
      May I “incetivize” you to email Graeber with your bullshit job? I believe he is still taking surveys for his research [email protected]

  2. Damien

    Once again, Razer provides a reliable barometer of how the new (and old) left jumped the shark.

    Presumably they’d be “happier” working all day tanning hides in fetid animal excrement?
    They’d be more “satisfied” going down an airless, lightless pit to extract polluting substances that can lower EVERYONE’s lifespan?
    Maybe inner peace could be gained with some good honest toil in the Stasi torturing dissidents?

    Oh, the humanity! A boring job in an air conditioned office with a standing desk!

    Obviously this represents the nadir of centrist neoliberalism as we know it. And apparently NOTHING is worse than centrist neoliberalism.

    1. Helen Razer

      To say one form of work has its problems is not to suggest that other forms of work are without theirs.
      But if you feel like Richard Dawkins who has just caught a simple Christian out in an obvious lie, who am I to deny your pleasure? Enjoy.

    2. 124C4U

      Hi damien!
      You must be pleased with the progress made by the LNP towards the ” happier” and “satisfied” aspects of your post.
      The LNP are more than happy for more coal mines and it will probably be soonish that the AFP will become either in whole or in part the Bureau of State Security ( Apartheid S. African version of Stasi).
      For Helen I used to live up above Perth, in the hills. Looking down on the CBD it always used to amaze me. All that city and people and buildings, all for shuffling paper around.
      Nothing tangible made there or produced there, but that was where all the money was.
      I was always reminded of that old song line – “It’s a strange strange world we live in Master Jack”.

      1. Helen Razer

        I sure don’t live in that world anymore, 124.

  3. Desmond Graham

    Useless work is not a problem- the problem is useless work that impedes someone else’s productive work. Australia runs on useless work to we are unable produce nothing else these days.

    I remember we even used to build cars [see not demented – can remember back to last week]. We even paid companies to employ us to build cars, but that was productive. What is the problem is the barnacles that impede useless work – the barnacle industries – like accreditation , costs a lot and is useless – robbing an industry of profit and increases cost with no benefit.

    Ever get a letter from a lawyer at the bottom of the letter says something about limited… other guff about a scheme- what the F……k does that mean? are they not good lawyers but I suspect they paid some barnacle industry to give them a tick. Go into the doctors – one has to make out reams of forms [for our accreditation] – “but I came inI have a sore that’ -sorry we can’t see you until you make out the form. So you fill out a form with questions like-‘ do you identify yourself as someone from a culturally diverse background’? I still only have a sore throat! I am sure the lawyers & doctors have to pay for someone to produce this BS.

    So a rethink of Barnacle industries has to take place by scrapping the barnacles off the productive industries. they are another form of indirect taxation.

    1. Helen Razer

      Graeber’s take on this is quite interesting, Des. My view is that what we are doing in this useless work is making those who do the most aggressively useless work of moving money from one useless thing to another feel more inflated. The more I understand about the dominant finance sector and how destructive it has become to innovation, jobs, commodities and all the other things capitalists claim to love, the more I am certain that capitalists have less love for their system than I do.

      1. Desmond Graham

        Ah – Helen – the original capitalists were not financiers from the finance sector. so I don’t mind capitalism. But it doesn’t matter in Australia. The stats. for last financial year was that the jobs growth et. was only kept from going backwards by the NDIS scam and the health sector – Ergo we are a sick economy in a sick country.

        1. [email protected]

          re: the original capitalists were not financiers from the finance sector.
          Indeed! Capitalists are simply productive people who save (Capital) in order to put those saving to even more productive use.
          If we had (free market) Capitalism the finance sector would be a more modest utility sector and not the behemoth monstrosity that it is today. Take away their privilege to create credit ex nihilo and their backing by monopoly central banks and the finance sector would be more akin to a postal service in scope.

  4. Woopwoop

    So teachers don’t belong to the “knowledge class” eh Helen?

  5. Phen

    I know its not really the point of the blog. But typing this comment at a standing desk right now and I know its done wonders for my back pain not being sat down all day – plus it really does seem to stimulate a level of alertness when alternating between sitting and standing.

    1. Chris McLoughlin

      Hey, that was going to be my post… I just got a standing desk to do my semi meaningful job and it’s been good for my back too. I did a 5am start yesterday and standing ensured I wasn’t dozing by 11 when my work cycle tapers off.

  6. AR

    Wonderful apercu “Clerical, administrative and managerial roles have trebled in the West since our parents downed tools, and handed them to the workers of the Global South. Now, many of us have jobs so useless, even the robots don’t want them.” MzRaz.
    I would extend that meaninglessness to all the ‘stuff’ ranged on shop shelves – 27 brands of toothpaste/cereal/toilet paper etc?
    Hell there are different brands of salt or sugar.
    Clueless complexity begins when meaning declines.

  7. alisonrixon

    Your comment suggesting inequality is not rising in China was either a joke(?) or uninformed. There is a great deal of research documenting rising inequality in China.

  8. Ruv Draba

    With respect, Helen, while it might be popular to conflate communications work with knowledge work, information isn’t knowledge, and most of what the communications sector produces mostly isn’t information anyway, so much as influence.

    Communications are valuable, but we’ve had a communications sector as long as we’ve had civilisation: the business model of a church is little different from that of a state-sponsored newspaper with excessive subscription fees.

    By contrast, knowledge is not information nor belief. A modern definition of knowledge only emerged in the Enlightenment, and its value shouldn’t be under-estimated. Knowledge is why there are now seven billion humans aspiring to lifespans north of 80 years, instead of two hundred thousand with lifespans of 45. It’s why women and children are now treated as citizens and not just chattels, why birth mortality is four in 1,000 instead of one in three, why homicides today are one twentieth of what they were in the thirteenth century, and why a statement of human rights now has enough common ground to enjoy broad, species-wide support.

    We could say a lot about how best to delivery equity, dignity and empowerment through better knowledge, and the communications sector must be part of that conversation. We could also talk about the importance of bettering material circumstance through equitable sharing of production and consumption, and I agree that’s critical. But the proposition that knowledge work is well-represented by your experiences in the communications sector is misleading, and I think your broad suspicion of STEM may arise from having spent a career as a communications worker privileged in influence, trafficking in opinion, and only barely accountable for the validity and veracity of communications.

    Of course that could make you cynical.

    A DSGE model (if that’s not a statuesque French Intelligence agent) might work or not. But unlike the communications sector, knowledge work is and must be defined by its accountability to rigorous testing and independent falsification. If we don’t test what we think we know with STEM, we’ll end up believing (and saying) anything.

    1. JQ

      Glad someone made the point that capitalism has delivered myriad advances to human knowledge and quality of living. Very well said, RD.

      MRaz decries her lack of love for capitalism in a skyscraper with climate control on her computer, transmitted to a broad readership instantaneously over the internet, and we the reader, smiling wryly at the irony, eat out lunch (made with ingredients available always from everywhere) drink clean water from the tap without the lights going out, turn off the satellite radio and ponder if we’ll drive or take the train to the airport for our 8 hour flight to the other side of the planet.

      1. archibald

        Funny thing, RD never mentioned capitalism, which is unrelated to the scientific method.

      2. Ruv Draba

        I don’t have an axe to grind on capitalism, JQ. Not that it matters, but I’m happy to encourage private enterprise when it’s decent, and socialisation when it’s necessary, and can cite examples of each, and neither.

        But that’s not the issue here. Helen’s specific thesis was that knowledge-work is just a change-consultant’s branding of pointless administrative jobs, and that’s simply untrue (except to the extent that change-consultants do indeed rebrand crap as canteloupes. Nobody’s arguing with that. :D)

        But knowledge-work is real and valuable work — it’s necessary but not sufficient to better the human condition. Like accountancy, knowledge-work is now part of many other jobs as well as being a class of career in itself. I could cite thousands of examples today where we are better off from new knowledge-focused tasks and activities, and history is littered with millions more.

        Helen’s experience of knowledge-work seems coloured by the fact that she has no formal STEM training past secondary ed, but has spent a lifetime working in one of the least trustable sectors of all: the communications sector — which can’t generally tell knowledge from influential opinion in the first place, and is more likely to assert that the two are identical than admit that not knowing the difference is a critical deficiency in its own professionalism.

        Helen’s is the same sector that charges us to read its decrying of a ‘post-truth’ world that her own sector created from its ignorance, greed and arrogance. As I said, no wonder she’s cynical.

        But the answer to a post-truth world must include more STEM-literacy — it’s absolutely essential, yet not sufficient. Which is why it’s regrettable that Helen’s own sectoral experiences have dimmed a bright mind’s understanding of the problem.

        1. JQ

          Preaching to the choir, RD. Archie, see Helen’s comment on 26 Oct at 3:33

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