Friday, October 20, 2006

Are we living in a bullshit society?

Browse through the business or psychology section of any large bookshop and you’ll find a mulititude of titles on how to be an effective manager, how to improve your life in 293 easy stages, how to make the most of self-help books, how to sound clever by spouting meaningless management jargon, etc. ad nauseam. At a rough guess I’d estimate that 99% of these titles are pure unadulterated bullshit.

There are even extremely patronising books on topics like how to look things up on the internet, many of which end up as bestsellers for fuck’s sake!

As mentioned in a previous entry (shameless self-plug there!) I was once invited to attend a course on how to file paper and fork out £200 for the privilege! What is the world coming to?

We live in an age of bullshit terms like “knowledge management”, “benchmarking” and “human capital” invented by corporate wankers who think they’re being clever.

David Bolchover’s book The Living Dead skilfully riducules this type of crap, contemptuously describing such books as an expensive substitute for Andrex.

I have 2 theories on this:

(a) That the writers actually believe in what they say and want to tell the world how great their ideas are, or

(b) They know it’s bollocks, but also know they can make a lot of money by spouting it – as long as it’s full of modern jargon and stupid meaningless diagrams involving bullet points, arrows and boxes.


In modern times we have also seen the dumbing down of academia. Certain universities are now offering Mickey Mouse degrees like golf management, equine studies or used car salesmanship. These are all noble career pursuits in their own right, but do they really require 3 years of academic study as a substitute for serving a hands-on apprenticeship at a car showroom, stud farm or golf course?

Many graduates will end up as a call centre workers or bank clerks anyway – ie doing jobs they could have done straight after leaving school – so why not cut out the middle man and skip university altogether – think of all the debt you could avoid getting into. Earning money rather than watching daytime TV while nursing a hangover is surely more attractive proposition.

Adam Craig is spot-on in his article “Radically rethinking the purpose and operation of higher education” which examines this trend from an Australian perspective.


We also still have a lot of snobbery in education. A degree in 3-D computer game design from University College (formerly polytechnic) of East Grinstead is probably of more practical and economic use than a degree in ancient Assyrian literature from Boatrace College, Oxbridge, yet the latter institution will have more prestige. A graduate from the latter will potentially have contacts in high places and is likely to end up as merchant banker (deliberate use of rhyming slang there) or stockbroker, doing something which has absolutely nothing to do with their degree subject.


Bolchover’s book exposes the growing trend of employees getting paid to sit at a desk and pretend they’re working when in reality they’re doing sweet FA. This charge has been traditionally levelled at civil servants and other public sector workers. Northern IreIand readers, for example may be familiar with the popular joke that the Department of the Environment (DoE) is an abbreviation for “Dossers only Employed”. However Bolchover, drawing on his own personal experience attests that it’s equally rife in the private sector, particularly in big corporations where individual employees are effectively anonymous – cf Homer Simpson’s non-descript job as some kind of safety officer at Springfield’s nuclear power plant – very clever satire of corporate dishonesty and not as far-fetched as one might think.


Can sitting at a desk staring into a computer screen and taking the odd phone call for the best part of 8 hours a day really be classified as a professional white collar job that requires a university education? Surely one is better off in the open air laying bricks or mixing cement or in a salon styling someone’s hair. At least this is the real world – these employees may not enjoy the prestige or perks of the suited deskbound office worker, but at least they’re not deluding themselves and not indulging in meaningless buzz words like “capacity building” or “knowledge harvesting”

Am I alone in thinking this? Would anyone like to be back me up? Or disagree with me?

12 comments:

Parnell said...

Cairan; After the clear sky, three dimentional up to the starting line, group storming session focus navigation, island thinking. I believe you have made a great point. Blogging is great craic but writing shit pays a lot more.

CW said...

What's also interesting Parnell is that corporate blogs run by large companies are beginning to emerge as newfangled marketing tools, by basically spouting the kind of shite that you've mentioned. It brings a whole new meaning to the saying "where's there's muck there's brass".
Where the feck have we gone wrong?

Lorainne said...

CW I HAVE TAGGED YOU see http://peebleomarchley.blogspot.com so you need to put on the Arm a post entitled '5 Things You Didn't Know About Me'

I think there are too many people going to university. What we need is a more vocationally orientated education system where being 'academic' (ie good at passing exams)is respected but not considered the only way to be a worthy member of society. Practical and creative abilities are also forms of 'intelligence' and just as important to society. Manual workers often earn more than some so called professionals - I have heard tell of a dustbin emptier earning about 50 grand as he has been doing it so long and accrued overtime/benefits etc...if fewer peaople actually went to Uni then maybe the government could afford to pay tuition fees and give back the student grant. If they haven't spent all the money on pointless wars that is.

I have looked at a copy of Bolchovers The Living Dead. Whether he is writing something purely for financial gain or not he is right about one thing. A lot of individuals sitting in offices do FECK ALL. I have worked in an office and now I am training to be a teacher. BIG DIFFERENCE. Yes, teachers get good holidays but when we are there we have to be alert and we have to actually use our energies and do some work. In offices a lot of staff just surf the net and get away with doing nothing. Big business seems to tick along quite nicely without them lifting a finger. And no one seems to notice. This is why so many office workers are dull and depressed. They are in a rut of doing nothing but they are bored and cannot find meaning in their lives. They need to put something back into society to feel as if they are human rather than a bunch of zombies. When I was working in an office I was in sales so had to do some work or there would be no commission on top of my salary and I would be fired. But I have seen first hand that office workers who are not in a sales/direct profit making role can get away with getting paid for nothing.

Of course we live in a bullshit society Ciaran. it makes business tick....if every salesman told the truth "this prodict is a bit shite and another product would do the job just as well but buy it anyway cause I want to keep my job" then the whole capitalist set up would disintegrate. I am not advocating we go and fly the red flag but I do think as long as we have a competitive capitalist society we will have depressed office workers, people doing soulless things they hate just to make money and depressed bored zombie like office workers.

But what is the alternative?? Perhaps that could be the topic for your next post. Unless I get there first.

CW said...

A sound analysis Lorainne. Part of the problem is that society won't admit to this problem - who wants to admit they earn a living by sitting in an office doing nothing? The taboo needs to be broken before the problem can be properly resolved. Fair play to Bolchover for lifting the lid on this - he deserves more recognition for it.

CyberScribe said...

I remember visiting a house, a few years ago, of a very rich and very well educated woman. I had the opportunity to glance through her book collection and was amazed that she didn't have one 'self help' book. Sadly about 2 or 3 months after that she died after suffering from Alzeimhers.
CyberScribe

Lorainne said...

I am too independent minded to read self help books. If I am going to make a success or mistake in my life I would rather it was my success or mistake rather than something I had been advised to do by some crackpot amateur psycologist. Most of them are either total bollox or sensible but give very obvious advice.

CW said...

These people are probably just using their "core competencies" to "think about the box" so they can "push the envelope", thus harnessing the potential of their "intellectual capital". Whatever the feck this means

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rumpleforeskin said...

It is a society that has always been in denial. Mix this with an extraordinary era (oil....everything we see is a result of it, and it is very toxic in every sense, and mostly wasted...harnessed for absurd reasons and soon to be gone) in which there aren't too meaningful jobs, many of which are created an expanding number of problems created by wastefulness and missed opportunities and ignored warnings.

As for education...oh, please. Have you ever been through an MBA program? It is hilarious, hilarious, hilarious. Public relations? Advertising? Marketing? Have you occupied a cubicle?

All the self-help books are a cry of pain! People blindly groping. The books are awful. Some guy gets in a car crash, reforms his life, and is now a respected oracle.

Click through your cable channels, follow politics: the homogeneity and pathetic commentary and drivel and sheep-like behavior could make an independent thinker's head explode.

CW said...

You've hit the nail on the head here Rumple. It's not surprising that so many people, disillusioned with the same monotonous routine decide that even though they're making good money, they've had enough and decide to change careers in middle age.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more, however your premises are only statistics ie where people go after college. I think you should look at the bigger spectrum of this society. It's really "fucked up". You will be ashamed to live in such a society. I recommend reading Herbert Marcuse's works, ie ONE DIMENSIONAL MAN

Anonymous said...

I with you, and I know from experience.
I was a title searcher at a mortgage co then a loan officer then a pre school sub I even worked production on a major motion picture and hated all of it. Made lots of cash spent lots of cash had no real relationships left because I worked so much. Now I work At a coffe shop 4 times a day make amazing tips, spend all day talking to regulars drinking coffee and people watching and my days off I play music In a band, even went in a low budget tour, best times of my life. The idea of capital and career and "progress" are outdated those are coal ideas. Old outdated science and technology, and a lot of people are screaming for more of the same and the other side is screaming for the old way, but we are smart we evolve we just need to make these things happen in our lives and they will start happening around us..... Monkey see monkey do