Bullshit Cargo

August 6, 2021 by Joshua
in Nature

If you haven’t heard of the book Bullshit Jobs, here’s Wikipedia’s description:

Bullshit Jobs: A Theory is a 2018 book by anthropologist David Graeber that postulates the existence of meaningless jobs and analyzes their societal harm. He contends that over half of societal work is pointless, and becomes psychologically destructive when paired with a work ethic that associates work with self-worth. Graeber describes five types of meaningless jobs, in which workers pretend their role is not as pointless or harmful as they know it to be: flunkies, goons, duct tapers, box tickers, and taskmasters. He argues that the association of labor with virtuous suffering is recent in human history.

You probably know a lot of people with bullshit jobs.

A while ago I saw a picture of some apple in a package where the fruit was grown in South America, the plastic container holding it was from some other place, the packaging was done yet somewhere else, and they sold it in the United States. Since we grow apples here, the multiple cross-ocean voyages wasted a lot of energy, probably disrupted many otherwise local economies, and caused pollution besides the waste.

How much shipping is bullshit cargo? How much shipping is the equivalent of bullshit jobs?

A store near me sells Pickachu toys and little trinkets that, I think, are designed for people to buy to show other people they were thinking about them. The gifts lead to a few seconds of a forced smile, maybe playing with the toy a few more seconds, then centuries of the toy decomposing in a landfill. If I were married, I’d prefer she showed me she cared by offering me a shoulder rub. Since Adam Smith, we’ve known capitalism overproduces.

You probably know ships burn the most polluting fuel. I suspect a large fraction of their cargo serves no useful purpose except that we don’t charge for externalities so they few people care about the waste and pollution.

How much of this ship’s cargo would we all do just fine or better if it had never been loaded or planned to ship? How much are we damaging society and nature with bullshit cargo?

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