I don't like posting about Work. Sure, I love telling the occasional classroom anecdote, carefully stripped of any potentially revealing or identifying characteristics but with its core intact, or talking about academia as a field but the "My boss is a pain in the ass" stuff has never been my style and for obvious reasons isn't a good idea for me or anyone else. Fortunately my father and I have jobs that are similar in one crucial respect even though they are quite different, so let's talk in completely anonymous terms about his field instead.
My dad is a local judge. One of the best, if not THE best, parts of being a judge is that the position is essentially held for life as long as you continue to show up to work and do at least the bare minimum amount of work required to claim that you are doing your job. True, state and county judges do not properly hold lifetime appointments in the same way that a Federal judge does in the United States, but let's just say the obstacles to keeping the job once you have it are not formidable in most states. In that sense, judges are very much like professors with tenure. You can do a really half-assed job if you so choose, but short of not showing up to do the job or violating one's contract (punching a student, disappearing for a month, not grading student work, etc) they can't fire you. Similarly, I imagine that judges vary in their activity levels from the bulk of them trying earnestly to do their job well (either to advance professionally or just because of their personality) and some doing as little as possible. That is any and every workplace. One of the leading frustrations people have regardless of profession is the sense, or reality, that not everyone is doing their fair share. Such is life.
What amazes me when my dad tells stories about issues or conflicts at work (not about actual courtroom things, but interactions among coworkers) is how similar the stories sound to ones I hear from academic friends. Of course part of the explanation is that every workplace is the same on some level; people gripe, have petty feuds, gossip, and so on. From the White House to White Castle, that is just the nature of the proverbial office water cooler. But in my line of work and Elder Ed's, the fact that coworkers engage in pitched battles with one another makes even less sense than it usually does. Nobody can get fired. Why in the name of god do people feel the need to quarrel and cause problems when it is explicit that all anyone – everyone – has to do is to continue showing up and if that high standard is met, everyone gets a paycheck pretty much indefinitely?
The other amazing thing is that both of these professions fall under the "Challenging, not hard" category. In one sense we both have what amounts to the easiest job in the world; we sit on our asses all day and spend a varying amount of time talking. We have to write things. Mentally the jobs can be difficult and stressful, but as I like to say, being a professor ain't exactly coal mining. Intellectually it is trying. Physically it's the closest you can get to being paid to lie on a couch.
Despite every word of what I just said being true, people in jobs like this still feel the need – for reasons I have the most difficult time fathoming – to fuck with their coworkers. My best guess is that it boils down to insecure people with fragile egos that require constant stroking and the perception of "insults" where a normal person would either not see one or see it and think, "Yeah but who gives a shit?" If one judge tells another "You are a moron and you don't know anything about the law," why would anyone bother responding with anything beyond "Oh, OK."? And why would anyone care enough to say that to a colleague in the first place? We can't get fired. We have life by the balls. Why, under such conditions, would anyone care about their colleagues' opinions or feel compelled to offer their own unsolicited? If I think you suck at your job it profits me nothing to say so. You will continue to get a paycheck and so will I. It does not matter what you think of me nor I of you. So really, what's the point?
People just need to make drama and conflict, perhaps. Even when none exists and nothing can be gained by creating it. Maybe it's the same impulse that led cavemen to paint on rocks, except in this example we replace the urge for creative expression with the urge to be a dick and start fights every time our fee-fees get hurt or we're bored.