One of the most familiar and relatable clichés in recent Western society is that of the tedious office job, which sucks away your life over forty years or so of drudgery, regularly taking up countless hours you could be using to enjoy the only life you’re ever going to get, turning our conscious experience into an ongoing stream of unreasonable bosses and unlikeable co-workers and thwarted opportunities as we live for the weekend.
Obviously it’s not that bad for everyone involved – I quite like my office job and the people I spend time with there. But there’s a reason why the trope is so easily recognised, and why Mike Judge’s Office Space is so quotable and resonates with so many people. Although it’s a matter of scale, just about every white-collar worker will face this to some degree, and it’s become such a prominent part of our culture that in some quarters it’s started to be seen as simply part of the human condition.
It’s not always easy to remember how specific the whole notion of a dreary office job is to us, right now, and how in the long-view it’s a profoundly avoidable thing.
And I’m not just talking about the other trope of “escaping the rat race” by becoming independently wealthy or retiring early after fewer decades than usual of hard work and good luck and smart investments and whatnot. I mean, if you do manage that, then more power to you, go enjoy yourself. But there’s a broader, species-level point which feels frustratingly far away from most of the public discourse.
Think of how many times over society has restructured itself, globally and historically. Think of how many other ways this planet’s billions of occupants have found to work together to get stuff done. And yes, a lot of them have sucked, but is this really a system worth settling on? Have we really already mastered it, so that we should put a stop on all our creative and collaborative urges to improve and organise and rebuild and find more efficient ways to thrive?
It really shouldn’t be unthinkable that substantially better ways may exist to allocate our resources and provide for people’s needs, such that way more of us could spend way more time feeling fulfilled and satisfied than we do currently.
There’s so much mindless toil, dominating the lives of so many, and yet the possibility for carefree and joyful and fulfilled lives is already on display all around. We’re capable of feeling awe and wonder and love and delight and bliss, but we don’t get nearly as much of any of them as we could because of our bullshit jobs. I can’t understand not wanting there to be a radically better way.
Billions of person hours are being spent on undesirable tasks; countless thousands of lifetimes are being squandered on inefficiency.
Imagine knowing all that was going on, and knowing that we weren’t even trying to fix it, or to save future generations from an identical fate.
Can you imagine anything more tragic?
I mean, hopefully you can, because at least people in offices in the developed world tend not to get smallpox or TB anymore.