Dreams of Idleness

When I worked at a bookstore (remember bookstores?) in the 1980s there was a book title that made me crazy. The title was Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow.

“What I love,” I’d tell the book, “is lying on the couch, eating Chee-tos, and reading schlocky fiction. If that paid I wouldn’t be standing here stocking bullshit self-improvement books.”

I was thinking about this today because I spent the day lying on the couch dozing and reading a cheesy book instead of going to work. The time shift messed with my sleep hygiene, but more disruptive was Zorro’s persistent hacking cough. (He saw the vet today, and it may be allergies. He’s getting an x-ray soon to see if it may be something more dire.) The combination left me without any sleep, and so I took a day. (I recognize I’m in a super privileged position to do something like that, and I’m grateful I had that choice.)

Around the same time I was stocking shelves in that bookstore I came across a work that resonated more strongly with my sensibilities, Bob Black’s “Abolition of Work.”

“Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world. Almost any evil you’d care to name comes from working or from living in a world designed for work. In order to stop suffering, we have to stop working.

“That doesn’t mean we have to stop doing things. It does mean creating a new way of life based on play; in other words, a ludic conviviality, commensality, and maybe even art. There is more to play than child’s play, as worthy as that is. I call for a collective adventure in generalized joy and freely interdependent exuberance. Play isn’t passive. Doubtless we all need a lot more time for sheer sloth and slack than we ever enjoy now, regardless of income or occupation, but once recovered from employment-induced exhaustion nearly all of us want to act. Oblomovism and Stakhanovism are two sides of the same debased coin.

“The ludic life is totally incompatible with existing reality.”

Let me hasten to add, in case Black has been cancelled in the ensuing three decades, that I haven’t followed his work since around 1990 or so. That essay, though, had quite an impact on the young me.

Black wasn’t the first person to rail against the indignity of work. Bertrand Russell tread similar ground when he wrote

“I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached.”

More recently David Graeber took on the pleasures of idleness and curse of work in his Bullshit Jobs. (Before David Graeber wrote the book Bullshit Jobs he wrote an essay about the problem with work.)

“In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more.”

Give me a life of goofing around with my friends between bouts of lounging around and reading books. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll eventually get bored and do something “productive”

(100 Days of Blogging: Post 042 of 100)

2 thoughts on “Dreams of Idleness

    1. Thank you. Whatever meds the vet gave him yesterday (I want to say antibiotics, but I think it wasn’t antibiotics?) seem to work, so with any luck that’ll be it. He was much quieter last night (I only woke once! at 3am).

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