The pyramid of cluelessness

I met this developer employed by a big company, he seems to be happily sitting at his desk watching time pass by. Enjoying what David Graeber recently described as a Bullshit Job. Cashing in big bucks in a race to the bottom of counter-productivity.

Now I do not want to be judgmental, it is his choice and right to piss his life away in an environment that sounds like intellectual death to me. I can not understand but I will accept. What I want to talk about however is something else he mentioned.

He says he could be doing open source work in the evenings but that he is not good enough to produce meaningful work that would affect the world. And I want to call bullshit on this. I have no pretense that my work is affecting the world at large directly, but one thing I am convinced of is that there is enough world-changing work to be done and not enough people doing it.

I visualize this as a pyramid of cluelessness. At the bottom of the pyramid are many people having no clue how they can help move things forward, and further up those few that do have their mind set on specific goals.

The time people have is a finite resource, but by taking care of the small boring things you can in a way donate time to the system and enable people higher up the pyramid to do more meaningful work. Fix a small issue here and there. Do the crap work so that nobody else has to. If everyone at the bottom did their share the ones on top would have a ton more time to direct real change.

I look at this from the angle of open-source because I am knee-deep in that world. However I imagine it applies to any sort of labor that is not made for personal gain but rather the greater good. So go out there and help someone help the world!

August 23, 2013 // Random

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2013-08-23 14:15:50


Sounds like a watered down description of communism, where each individual serves the society as a whole. Didn't work back then, and surprise, it doesn't work now ;) At the end of the day, nobody wants to do the dirty work, and everyone wants the credit!

2013-08-23 14:26:56

Mark Baker

As a FOSS developer myself, I'm always grateful to the few of my users who do help with those time-consuming, mundane tasks... even when it doesn't free up enough time to meaningfully allow me to add new functionality to libraries, or clean up areas of the code, it does go a small way toward helping defray the loss of sanity that comes with answering the same questions time and time again. Bravo to the few who do help, wherever they lie within the pyramid.

2013-08-23 14:58:47


It's really frustrating getting to know devs that just don't do shit!, at work or at home. There is a special place in hell for those people or some big ass company that can afford their lazyness... On the other hand dev that work really hard and put their 2 cents on any FLOOS project despite their really needed spare/family time its just a miracle! Good bless openminded/commited/hard working devs like you (us I wish :)). Cheers

2013-08-23 15:04:32

Larry Garfield

Anonmark: Boy did you miss the point. :-) It's not about "serving society as a whole" (although that's a laudable goal). It's about not wasting your life. Do SOMETHING useful with it, even if that something is making it easier for someone else to do something useful.

If at the end of the day you didn't make the world better, or make people better, or make it possible for other people to make the world better, or help make it easier for other people to make other people able to make the world better... please return the oxygen you wasted while you were breathing, as we're running kind of low.

Really, the threshold to being modestly useful is quite low. At least try to reach that.

2013-08-23 15:49:34


"Do SOMETHING useful with it" sounds really like a moral injunction. If someone does not want to do anything, it's up to him and no one has the right to decide for him. And what is "useful" anyway? I'm sure no one would agree on what it could mean. And doing crap so that important people can do their serious stuff sounds like an awful society to live in.

2013-08-23 16:23:23

Daan Debie

Larry Garfield, how is it that anonmark misses the point, simply because he disagrees with something? I think he understood the point perfectly, and I kind of agree with him.
I don't think people should do boring stuff so that "less clueless people" can do more meaningful stuff. I also think everybody is entitled to pass their free time in any way they want, as long as they don't bother other people with it.
Don't get me wrong, I personally love building and contributing to Open Source projects, but hey, that's actually a hobby of mine. Spare time is for relaxing and letting go of work. You can fill however you choose, and should be able to do that without being judged.

2013-08-23 16:49:42


I don't think everyone should be contributing to OSS in their free time. If your aspiration is to spend time in any other way so be it. What I have a hard time accepting though is those that use their "cluelessness" (for lack of a better term, I don't mean to offend anyone) as an excuse for not helping, while recognizing that they indeed should help.

2013-08-24 08:13:31


thanks for making the point Jordi, would like to know what job so i can apply to change things :), anyway agree with your FOSS love and passion.

2013-08-29 20:04:54

James Fuller (jblotus)

having met Jordi at SunshinePHP, i can say that this isn't really about elitism or being condescending towards lesser minded folk.

I think he is responding to the entitlement mentality of users who want something for nothing with a helpful suggestion.

Perhaps many end users don't know of a meaningful way to contribute to something they rely upon in their work, so why not just do some stuff that doesn't require a lot of context?

I would guess that most just want to complain about free software.

2013-11-13 16:04:24


Nice post, i really like it, i think i am one of those who spend their limit time life doing crap work and is just fed up of it. I would like to spread up my wings and start flying.
Very inspiring your post.

2014-02-21 10:17:24


Your post is very inspiring. It's good to know that other people are thinking the same as me. It will be much easier if there are more people who go out there and help someone help the world! :-)