Lee Camp Original

Unemployment Skyrocketing? An Evolved Society Would Celebrate.

Why do we still pretend crap jobs give our lives meaning?

By Lee Camp / Original to ScheerPost

Leaf blowers are everything wrong with capitalism. . . . I’ll explain that in a minute.

We all know times are irredeemably grim, and they’re only getting worse. The unemployment level in America seems to be setting the record books aflame, and for some bizarre reason those numbers correlate nicely with the number of Americans under 40 living with their parents again. Understandably, the entire country is a little on edge. If I spend more than 30 minutes around my parents, one eye starts twitching, a dull ringing settles into my inner ear canal, and I start to think Rachel Maddow (which they leave on 24/7 as if she’s Christmas music at Macy’s) makes some logical sense. Point being, in terms of discomfort, I would imagine living with your parents in your late thirties ranks somewhere between erectile dysfunction and having a brain-eating parasite.

Anyway, back to unemployment. The Economic Policy Institute recently released new numbers showing, “Unemployment has especially skyrocketed for young workers in the COVID-19 labor market. . . . The overall unemployment rate for young workers ages 16–24 jumped from 8.4% to nearly 25% from spring 2019 to spring 2020 … Spring 2020 unemployment rates were even higher for young Black, Hispanic, and Asian American/Pacific Islander workers – close to 30% for all three groups.” 

Unemployment is raging. Out. Of. Control.

Forgive me a quick aside about the inner workings of systemic racism. As those unemployment numbers make clear, not every problem in America involves racism, but every problem in America also involves racism. Systemic racism deniers refuse to comprehend this. When shit is bad for young people – it’s even worse for black young people. When life sucks for the elderly poor in the United States – it sucks even more for elderly poor Hispanics. If the police are using weapons of war to crack activist heads – they’re cracking black activist heads twice as hard. If there’s a clean water problem in America – the water in Indigenous communities isn’t just unclean, it has chunks of shit in it!

(Usually chunks of something Dupont used to produce Teflon™. I mean, what’s a few thousand people with cancer in order to ensure the egg slides right off the pan?)

Now let’s break down this unemployment problem because much like a good one-night stand, you must get to the bottom. (I’m only half sure I understand what that sentence meant.) So, the surface problem is obvious: a lot of young people are unemployed. They don’t have money, they can’t pay rent, they can’t pay their student loans, they can’t afford food or life, they can only buy a regular coffee at Starbucks instead of the Frappe Unicorn Caramel Almond Juice Latte™. So that’s one reason employment is important.

Why should we all have to be slaves to the labor market to survive in the first place?

But if we excavate down to the second layer, we find a more important – and largely censored – quandary: Why should we all have to be slaves to the labor market to survive in the first place?

Many people work their asses off grinding away at awful monotonous crap that shouldn’t even have to get done at all. Our economy overflows with useless work. Utterly meaningless jobs, profoundly redundant tasks, excessively bureaucratic nonsense, woefully vapid spectacle production, joylessly soulless drudgery. They proliferate everywhere one looks.

For example, daily outside my apartment window, in a parking lot, no fewer than three Leaf Blower People (technical terminology) blow the fuck outta thousands of leaves. The entire neighborhood sounds like the middle of a nonconsensual monster truck rally for three hours every single morning. And as if that’s not inane enough, most days it’s windy out. The leaves return to their original locations 15 seconds after the guy blows them. So – much like a fluffer on a porn set – his work doesn’t last long.

Not to mention, why do leaves have to inhabit a particular location anyway? At the risk of sounding like a radical, let the leaves be leaves! Let them do their thing. I’m a strong supporter of leaf self-determination. It’s not like they’re scorpions and allowing them to run free near domiciles is a downright danger to society. No one has ever found a leaf in a parking lot, gasped with horror, then bellowed, “The children! Will no one think of the children?!” Plus, we’re talking about a damn parking lot. What car can’t park on leaves? (Other than a Kia.)

And why the hell hasn’t someone invented a leaf blower silencer yet? We have a silencer for shooting people’s heads off, which one would hope happens far less often than leaf blowing. Where’s the Dyson vacuum guy when you need him? Get to work, mate! Invent the silencer. You can’t retire now – your legacy is not nearly secure. All you did so far was come up with a funny vacuum and a hand dryer that sprays fecal matter all over people at public restrooms. (Yes, scientists found that public restroom hand dryers simply hose us all down in shit flurries.) Well done, Dyson. Invent the leaf blower silencer post haste or you’ll be known as the “feces laminator” forevermore. 

So, we can agree leaf blowing is a nonsensical job. Much of the machinery of our society is filled with work, that pays people, that is inconsequential, insubstantial, and hollow. Yet, many of us do these jobs because we are wage slaves. We must hold down bullshit jobs to survive. David Graeber wrote a great book about inhuman empty jobs, and although I haven’t read it, I’m going to pretend I have to impress you. It’s a tremendous book. Can’t believe you haven’t read it yet.

So this is the part of the column when I hit you with a groundbreaking, snot-snorting solution that rocks your boat and soils your pants. Here it is . . . How about NO?

How about no more wage slavery?

A lot of the jobs in this country don’t need to get done at all, a lot of them can be done by technology, and a lot of them could be thrown out if we just had a cultural awakening that scientifically analyzed our society to maximize efficiency, health, and sustainability instead of profit, profit, and profit. 

So at this point in the debate, people who suffer from Stockholm syndrome defend their wage masters by belching, “We can’t get rid of all those jobs and give people houses and food and clothing without endless life-draining soul-bleeding work – because then what will people do all day? People need to work at jobs they hate. It gives their lives meaning.” 

To that person I respond – Wow, what a rousing defense of slavery. It’s the same thing they said on the plantations. “If you free the slaves, then what will they do all day?”

Well, if the people newly freed from their jobs have a passion, I assume they’ll pursue that. But if they don’t have anything they enjoy doing, then I actually don’t know what people will do with themselves — maybe choose to count their farts — but that’s fine because that’s called freedom. Many philosophers with far thicker gooey brain matter than I have said that we must create our own meaning for our lives. We must seek out and ascertain our own life purpose and folding shirts at Banana Republic is not a good answer. If people had the time, freedom, understanding and education, they would happily pick their own significance and aspirations. No one spends 23 hours a day grooming high-end dogs — making sure the ass hair is perfectly coiffed — because that gives their life drive. They do it because they need the money. How many people keep trimming the labradoodle’s “reardo” or folding the shirts or blowing the leaves after they win the lottery?

It means he’s been indoctrinated so thoroughly, he can’t see life outside the factory. That’s like a prisoner who can’t leave the prison.

This reminds me of a TV news story I saw about a blue-collar worker who won the lottery — millions of dollars — and said he was going back to work at the factory on Monday. And the news report gushed over how tremendous this was. “What a great guy! He’s going back to the factory!” But honestly, that shouldn’t be celebrated. It’s the result of a cultural brain disorder. It means he’s been indoctrinated so thoroughly, he can’t see life outside the factory. That’s like a prisoner who can’t leave the prison. It’s not something to have a goddamn ticker-tape parade over.

We should want all the unemployed people to have jobs — because currently, without the jobs, they can’t afford their lives. But we should also discuss regularly how one day, preferably soon, we should not want to have these jobs — at least not full-time, slaving away at mind-numbing labor the employee loathes. But that conversation can’t be had on our mainstream media or even most alternative media. Everyone must partake in the wage slavery all the time because this is America – The freest country in the world! My boss told me so.

Oh, and how will we pay for a leaf blower not to blow leaves? How about using the trillions we pay for wars that are never won.

Lee Camp
Lee Camp

Lee Camp is the host of the hit comedy news show “Redacted Tonight.” His new book “Bullet Points and Punch Lines” is available at LeeCampBook.com and his stand-up comedy special can be streamed for free at LeeCampAmerican.com.

13 comments

  1. Hmm. I want to write a reply to this, Lee, but on the surface it seems stupid. Here it is: Pay people to do what they’re good at. It would require some infrastructure planning and parts of this goal, particularly around food production, are already being pursued by activists. It’s true. I heard it on NPR.
    At a basic level it is this: Pay people for being good parents. Pay them for growing a garden and helping feed their neighborhood. Pay people who are good at building houses to help rebuild their neighborhoods. Pay people who are good at beating the shit out of people to protect people who are growing food and feeding their neighborhoods. Pay the well endowed for keeping all who need it happy. I don’t know.
    The point is, as you know, our economic system has vast holes in it. It does not value or compensate patenthood, family, cooking, preparing food, building communities in poor areas.. That, coupled with the neoliberalism of our day, exacerbates the poverty of our country. Like you mentioned in the article we need to scientifically study these things and figure out ways to compensate people for living, for cultivating culture, for raising a family for being a good person.
    We need to be paying grandparents for babysitting children.
    But what about the writers, comedians, potters, musicians, painters and other artists who now live with their parents going insane? Pay them for what they love to do and give them to opportunity to get good at it. Here’s a secret about the music world: Many of the musicians who are successful are paid to practice by their parents while they’re in public school and college. Some of the more privileged semi-pro musicians covered with tattoos who look like they just crawled out of a gutter actually live on a trust fund. They are mediocre at best but they can play music their whole lives in small shitty clubs. And they have fun. Why not give poor people the same opportunity?
    To me the most inspiring ideas I’ve heard are from activists who are attempting to plant gardens in urban areas. We need to grow food locally. And we need community kitchens to cook the food. And the people growing and preparing the food should be honored and well paid because their jobs are critical.
    The bottom line is right now humanity is on one of two paths. We will either digress to some sort of post Stone Age, post-technology world where we’re all starving to death wishing we had a glass of water. Or, we will continue to progress. If we do progress, it will be the age of robots, microbots, quantum computing, and biotechnology. As Stephen Hawking noted, unless something is done to improve the economic system, most human beings will be useless in the future. Assuming our global society does not collapse and leave us all dining on crickets, it would be good to plan for a world where people have much more free time and can engage in meaningful work that prevents them from going totally and completely insane..

  2. Whenever I advocate for us to “maximize efficiency, health, and sustainability instead of profit, profit, and profit. ” the pushback I get most often is that THAT would NECESSARILY become “totalitarian.” How do you answer that one Lee? Because movies ALWAYS depict ANY leader or system which “creates peace” or “puts down unrest” or develops a “system for managing resources” as a totalitarian repressive regime, right? Or the peace and prosperity is always found out to be dependent on something horrible, some awful price. Movies NEVER show a “world that works.” (Soap operas could take place in a “world that works” there would still be plenty of messed-up human drama.) So, help me out Lee. How do we show an image of a sane system of managing Earth’s resources for maximum peace and health, and yet assure all these nay sayers that protections can be in place to keep it from becoming the evil empire?

    1. Not sure why there’s such an emphasis on ‘BUT THE MOVIES SAY NO WORK = BAD’, but I’m here to tell you that a society that prioritizes “maximize efficiency, health, and sustainability” doesn’t need to be depicted in media to be possible. Obviously, there need to be some mechanisms put in place to make sure the social structure of the US doesn’t fall into an authoritarian nightmare, but there are other countries that are already trying new things in order to ease financial burden such as free healthcare and universal basic income. While these things are not clear-cut solutions to the problem, they are steps in the right direction. This is just my opinion, but don’t limit your imagination to only what has been depicted in media.

  3. The reason for blowing leaves off of sidewalks is that if we let the leaves sit and molder in place as they would on the forest floor, they do what they would do on the forest floor and start to rot, releasing chemicals that instead of breaking up and flushing nutrients into the soil, soak into the material of the sidewalk and start to break it up. This is why for centuries people in cities have swept the streets and sidewalks of leaves as well as dust and debris. Because to over-stimulated and arrogant minds it seems like it would be boring and unchallenging, such work is poorly paid when it’s paid at all.

    So we can ask, is the payment for this kind of work (cleaning streets, we’ll get to doing it with blowers later) in the benefit of more durable streets? Is the assignment of relative currency values perhaps a perverse artifact of capitalist concept? Can we keep in mind money isn’t the only or always ideal way to assign or determine actual value of goods or labor, or practical action?

    If we live alone in the middle of nowhere and have no one to hire to do it and *don’t* sweep the leaves off of whatever paved surfaces we have in our domain, those paves surfaces will need to be repaired frequently and completely repaved every few years, or more often depending on other weather and temperature factors. And in earlier times, most people just swept their own surrounding walk and street areas, and kids like me would make a few extra quarters doing it for their neighbors. I shoveled snow and mowed lawns too. While performing these “menial” tasks I learned about organizing work for best performance in proportion to effort, including precision of movement for the most effective and least tiring stroke, and to cover the area in a pattern that collected the debris into one location where it could be disposed or dispersed appropriately. These are interesting physics and math problems, people who take physics and math seriously can enjoy them, and also experiment and compare methods and combinations. I still think back on these lessons when I plan out data processes or network load distributions.

    People who think the goal is purely aesthetic and a form of social dominance without further purpose and meaning aren’t actually thinking at all, they’re simply juxtaposing opaque concepts.

    If one doesn’t figure out how to sweep correctly, one can hurt one’s back, knees, and other joints, and if one has to sweep a lot, it’s good to wear some kind of mask or shawl over mouth, nose, and eyes to reduce exposure to dust and irritants from the leaves and debris.

    One can do a useful and necessary thing poorly or well. While sweeping one has opportunities for meditation and intellectual recreation. The tasks we perform don’t have to be satisfy our every desire at every moment, and some of them bring benefits to us and to our communities that are clearly recognizable with further consideration (and/or research).

    Electric and gas powered wind blowers are of course noisier than brooms and rakes, and create much more carbon pollution than sweeping does. The person pictured at the top using a gas-powered blower wear protective clothing and gloves to reduce exposure to irritating dust and leaf fragments, but wears no ear protection, eye protection, or particle mask. We can only hope that they are thinking about a plot nuance of the novel they are writing or a symphony they are composing, or silently reciting sutras to temper their spirit and harmonize with nature, or perhaps planning how to spend time with their loved ones, or grieving for a lost companion. They don’t have to be thinking about their task once they’ve learned to do it easily, but it’s sad if they’ve never know its true value, and only see it as an abuse to their humanity, because David Graeber says it’s pointless.

    When we consider ourselves demeaned by simple physical or attentive tasks, we may have failed to consider their positive values, or we may undervalue the small but gradual contributions that aggregate to support the civil life we want to enjoy without price or responsibility. Sustaining complex technological infrastructure (like roads, irrigation channels, power and data lines, etc.) may seem boring and even pointless, and then react in shock when poorly tended electrical lines break and set fire to forests, when dams break and imperil towns and fields, when bridges fall while travelers cross them.

    Yes, we live in an economic and social dystopia, and some of the problems seem obvious, but are these the problems or symptoms of other issues that aren’t fully understood? And what are the parameters of the ideal or at least minimally satisfactory social and civil goals? Are the presented models of capitalism and socialism complete? (Yes, Das Kapital is voluminous, but it fails to analyze the important and very interesting characteristics of fraud and bad faith, historically the major drivers of economic disparities). Many popular philosophies rely on exaggerations to extremes, arbitrary axioms, and abridged analyses, not to mention references to prior works which may themselves have become disengaged form their original contexts and significances. This kind of disengagement from valid and even necessary original purpose is evident in the designation of leaf blowing as intrinsically pointless

    I do enjoy Lee Camp’s work, his humor and his agile mind. He could be a little more skeptical of ideas that seem attractive for their cynicism, and look under the hood for insights that challenge orthodoxies, even in nominal anti-orthodoxy. But David Graber is a grifting buffoon applying obvious fraud patterns; which, granted, have uniformly saturated intellectual and political discourse, having migrated from commercial advertisement and financial investment, where fraud is endemic.

  4. Personally, I, too hate the sound of howling gas-powered leaf blowers. When my neighbors use them, I think why can’t they just rake them? It’s quieter and they get exercise. Landscaping businesses use them because they’re faster than a group of people sweeping or raking them to a place where they can be collected and taken away.

    Back in the ’80s, an author named Robert Anton Wilson devoted a few pages in one of his novels to this sort of problem. He had a system where every American adult would get $50,000 a year to live on. If they were able to invent a way to get rid of a job (he didn’t specify, but I think it was automate away), they would get that job’s yearly salary in addition to the base amount. The only character mentioned by name invented a way out of three jobs and turned to making Native American art full time. The author assumed that a percentage of the population would be happy just goofing off for the rest of their lives.

    Unsurprisingly, he was vague on where the money would come from or how this got pushed through Congress.

    We are almost to this point because business people do not seem to understand that their customers are someone else’s employees and vice versa all the way around. Andrew Yang touched on this during his abbreviated campaign, but he, too, was vague on how the funding for his version of Universal Basic Income would be handled, and the amount was laughable.

    Sure, it would be great living in a society where people could get paid for doing what they are good at or performing necessary labor that is usually unpaid or unnoticed, but that would require an almost unimaginable amount of social restructuring in thought and action.

  5. Same line of thought can be directly applied to the nasty world of commodities.

    Capitalism in its truest form is destroying entire ecosystems to yield mammoth quantities of GMOs – not to feed the people, but to “self”-“regulate” the “market – or drilling every single drop of oil so middle class families will think of themselves very rich – thus not revolting against their lives of fancy slavery – or so to screw up a geopolitical enemy by manipulating prices of the principal energy source for the last 200 years – in a nutshell, butchering just about everything and everyone so long as there are no societal change in our caste system.

    Gotta keep those mice running those leaf blowers!

    On top of all that, just heard about nuclear moon – now, there’s a perfectly sabe, SCIENTIFIC reason for that…

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