Herr Bischoff

Work for Work's Sake

I live in an apartment complex surrounded by greenery. It’s a nice place to be, given the fact that this place is within Germany’s second largest city. On occasion, there are noisy neighbors. Teens who have late-night weekend get-togethers. Kids squealing bone-chillingly loud for hours on end. And a divorced senior woman next door who is increasingly hard of hearing. She slams doors and listens to the radio at a volume that often forces me to make out every word spoken, all windows closed. When she’s not blasting classical music, that is. Regular stuff, you see.

Since most of the people here own their apartments, as a group they contract a landscaping firm with keeping the vegetation in order. During the spring and summer they drop by seemingly every week — mowing the lawn, shearing edges, clipping hedges. Quite often they cut the grass.

According to experts in climate research, there’s an ongoing drought event in most parts of Germany since 2018. The summers are getting increasingly hot for ever longer periods of time. During the winter months, too little humidity is stored in the soil. In this regard, preservation of humidity is important. The more dense the vegetation, the better it retains soil humidity.

Yet, the grass is cut down to a centimeter’s height almost every week. Yellow and brown dry spots appear all over the lawn. Over time they expand. There are spots where no grass is left — only dry, oftentimes dusty soil. Almost no one uses the lawn area where this occurs. Still, the grass — or what little of it remains — cut like clockwork, rationale be damned. It’s a net negative for everyone, including the lawn. Except that it’s not. Not for the contractor and the people the firm employs.

It’s plain to see that this is work for work’s sake. It’s loud, because of gas-powered devices. It’s useless, because the lawn would be better off and more resilient growing on its own. It’s harmful, because it accelerates the draught effects. It’s meaningless, because if the people doing it stopped for a minute and reflected on what they’re doing they wouldn’t be doing it. Their jobs just explicitly require them to fulfill the contract to get paid. It lacks reason, serves no plausible purpose, it follows no justifiable logic. Well, except for maintaining a construct of providing people with laborious tasks to earn money, which in turn enables them to pay for rent and food and healthcare and other stuff. The main pillar we base our society on to this day.

I wonder what amount of jobs there are that are work for work’s sake. Jobs that are unsustainable and meaningless, that exist solely to keep the status quo as is. Not bullshit jobs as such, jobs devoid of meaning. Jobs, that in the long run do considerable harm but kept in place because the alternative is unthinkable by an uncreative leadership caste. To paraphrase Upton Sinclair: it’s hard to get someone to understand something when their job depends on not understanding it. This remains as true today as it has ever been.

I also wonder how long we can afford to maintain the current status quo.