The dirty work

“Job” is a dirty word. It implies that you’re a cog in someone else’s machine, a component that creates value but is not in a position to appropriate it. It’s a valid point. And a culture-wide reaction to the idea of a job—to being a mere component—has been the growth of a fierce individualism. The rhetoric peddled is that everyone can do work that they love, that financial freedom and autonomy of time is the right of every individual the world over, that your dream is more significant than the current reality you walk around in. To put it mildly, I have reservations. I have friends and family who do important but thankless jobs. They perform menial tasks that no-one else wants to bother themselves with. They deal with broken families. They do work that in no way correlates with the propaganda of purpose and freedom that is pushed upon us from all angles. Which is the problem I have with such relentless individualism. 

I read somewhere that, in order to maintain relationships with the people you love, you have to do things you don’t want to do. You have to make sacrifices, some major, some minor. The same is true of the future society we’re heading towards. Not everyone will be able to work remotely doing meaningful, creative work—whatever that means. Someone has to wade into terrible situations and pick up the pieces. Someone has to hold an old person’s hand as their bowels fail and then clean up the feces. Someone has to pick up the litter in our public spaces. Someone has to be on the front desk at a public hospital, deflecting all the anger and pain and fear that comes through the door. Someone has to go around the neighborhood, flinging our rubbish and recycling into the back of a truck. Someone has to take the corpses away from a car crash. Someone has to file the paperwork. Someone has to sort packages in a warehouse. Someone has to counsel rape victims and administer sentences to criminals. 

You can’t automate social work. You can’t take all the nasty, hard jobs away with technology. Now, and I suspect far into the future, thousands of people need to do the dirty work that allows one person to live out their dream.