Islam: Day 28 and Week 4 Recap – Cynical Asshole Syndrome

I’ve decided that humility is the hardest  trait to acquire, more so than the other qualities I’ve tried to acquire. With Stoicism, you can learn pretty quickly to let small things roll off your back. In Catholicism, there are many clear paths to developing compassion for others (I’ve been volunteering at a charity). In Judaism, there are many ways to become a part of the community.

But humility requires you to subdue your ego, it requires you to acknowledge you don’t have all the answers and to treat others accordingly.

I have a very hard time doing it.

And I am arrogant in a particular way. I know I don’t have all the answers, but I constantly have the urge to tell people theydon’t have the answers either, that what they believe is dumb, that they should wake up and see the truth around them.

Yes, I have cynical asshole syndrome.

Cynical Asshole Syndrome is a condition that makes the majority of things in everyday life seem shit and meaningless.

I learned about this very important diagnosis from South Park.

Nowhere is this more apparent than at work.

I love the idea of submitting to God or a greater power, however, I just can’t “submit” at work.

When I read the article, On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs, I was overjoyed that someone so accurately described what I’ve been feeling about my work for a very long time. I hate the author’s politics, but he was spot on about what it feels like to have BS job.

Salon magazine interviewed the author and asked him an interesting question:

Salon: The concept of bullshit jobs seems very convincing and even obvious to me–I used to work as a temp, I saw this stuff first-hand–but others might pull market populism on you and say, who are you to declare someone’s else’s job to be bullshit, Mr. Graeber? You must think you’re better than the rest of us or something.

David Graeber: Well, I keep emphasizing: I’m not here to tell anybody who thinks their job is valuable that they’re deluded. I’m just saying if people secretly believe their job doesn’t need to exist, they’re probably right. The arrogant ones are the ones who think they know better, who believe that there are workers out there so stupid they don’t understand the true meaning of what they do every day, don’t realize it really isn’t necessary, or think that workers who believe they’re in bullshit jobs have such an exaggerated sense of self-importance that they think they should be doing something else and therefore dismiss the importance of their own work as not good enough. I hear a lot of that. Those people are the arrogant ones.

So according to Graeber, I’m not arrogant because I think my job is BS. It would be arrogant of me to tell others there jobs are BS (though if they have the same job as I do, it’s natural to make that leap). I’d also be arrogant if I thought people who thought their job was BS are stupid or unappreciative.

In many ways, religion makes it really difficult to not have disdain for the worldly. They talk about transcending worldly pleasure and re-uniting with God and all the joys of the afterlife that will be available to the faithful.

It just makes you want to jump on top of your desk, yell “I quit! I’m going to focus on God now,” and then become a monk of some sort.

Consider this short Sufi poem:

“The world exists only as an appearance. From beginning to end it is a playful game.”

Of course my job seems like BS. Spreadsheets and PowerPoints are not the path to transcendence. It’s all an illusion.

But then you get Rumi who wrote:

“To the wise, every situation is an opportunity to break free.”

So maybe Microsoft Office products can help me re-unite with God?

To summarize my problem:

  1. I have a hard time finding meaning in my day-to-day work
  2. It drives me nuts that my co-workers believe their work is meaningful
  3. Because they don’t see the “truth” about their work, I look down on them for being blind to the truth, for not being as cynical as I
  4. This arrogance festers inside me and prevents me from being humble
  5. Lack of humility = less spiritual benefits = less happiness

I don’t have a good solution for my problem. It might just be a matter of changing jobs, or I might have to do more to actively cultivate my humility.

I understand now why pretty much all cultures, philosophies, and religion have some tradition of warning against hubris and arrogance. It is toxic to the soul, and can make your day-to-day life a real pain.