Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Importance of Being Idle

I read a great excerpt from a book by Tom Hodgkinson recently. I'm trying to live my life around it. It's about laziness. I had a couple of days off work to try it out.

Laziness is a sin, idleness a waste. The writer put it that it wasn't so. Many a great man had been an idle one. Dr Johnson the great literary figure of the 18th Century (yes, Robbie Coltrane in Blackadder III) was a famous idler. "O Lord, enable me ... in redeeming the time I have spent in Sloth," he wrote in his journals at the age of 29. Twenty years later, things haven't improved, and he resolves "to rise early. Not later than six if I can." The following year, having failed to rise at six, he adapts his resolution: "I purpose to rise at eight because though I shall not yet rise early it will be much earlier than I now rise, for I often lye till two."

In the Bible (Proverbs 6) the 'sluggard' is encouraged to observe the hard work of the ant, who strives without having a ruler or guide. Aswell as displaying scant knowledge of the social structures of the ant, it sent a very clear message. But, the very same Bible actually has work not as a noble almost romantic phenomenon, but as a punishment, a curse. In paradise, Adam and Eve were loafing about doing not much, until the shit hit the fan over applegate. God awakens material desire within man and thus burdens him with a life of toil and pain.

In The Making of the English Working Class, the historian E.P. Thompson argues that the job is a relatively recent idea. Before the industrial revolution and the steam-powered factories and dark satanic mills that followed, the notion of being yoked to one particular employer was extremely rare. Folk were more self-employed and worked as and when they needed to. The philospher and one-time Karl Marx sidekick, Friedrich Engels noted that weavers were in control over their time: "So it was that the weaver was usually in a position to lay by something, and rent a little piece of land, that he cultivated in his leisure hours, of which he had as many as he chose to take, since he could weave whenever and as long as he pleased," he wrote in his 1845 study The Condition Of The Working Class In England. "They did not need to overwork; they did no more than they chose to do, and yet earned what they needed."

Another philosophising heavy-weight, René Descartes was a big fan of the lie-in. When he was lying in his bed he was thinking. When he was inactive his mind was at it's busiest. The duality of mind and body. Ergo, thinking was the essence of humanity. I think therefore I am... ignoring the alarm clock probably. Of course, people thinking scares others. Will Self reckons this, that thinking in idle time is a cultural taboo as it goes against the Protestant work ethic.

Hodgkinson also targets illness. He reckons we don't know how to be ill. The word 'convalescing' is practically out of use these days. No more time on the coast to recuperate properly. Now illness is disapproved of. Being poorly when a child was generally a fairly pleasant experience. Not the big illnesses, but the common cold or a bit of a bug. You would be away from the routine of school, instead you would be in bed or infront of the two-bar in a sleeping bag with a big mug of lemsip and honey. And Lucozade, and grapes. Lemsip was a pleasure amongst the poorly, now like most drugs they market it to get you back on the hamster wheel. The implication now is that rather than enjoying your illness and waiting a few days till it has gone away, you should manfully repress the symptoms and carry on as normal, competing, working, consuming. "Stop snivelling and get back to work".

The book is called How To Be Idle, it's by Tom Hodgkinson and you can get it here. It looks good but I've not bought it, it's 352 pages long, I'll never be bothered to read all that.

Find somewhere comfortable, this revolution could take some time.


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