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Learning how to live
August 26, 2013 5:10 PM   Subscribe

Why do we find free time so terrifying? Why is a dedication to work, no matter how physically destructive and ultimately pointless, considered a virtue?
posted by Anima Mundi (68 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why is a dedication to work, no matter how physically destructive and ultimately pointless, considered a virtue?

Because right now that is how the current economic system we are in enables me to obtain money with which I may buy food and shelter.

When society is magically transformed so we all have a basic income without having to work, then we'll talk.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:15 PM on August 26, 2013 [13 favorites]


Because creative work and collaborating with others to reach a goal is enjoyable and fulfilling?
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 5:17 PM on August 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


Is this one of those things that I'd need a Protestant work ethic to understand?
posted by sourcequench at 5:18 PM on August 26, 2013 [30 favorites]


Leisure, not doing, is so terrifying in our culture that we cut it up into small, manageable chunks throughout our working year in case an excess of it will drive us mad, and leave the greatest amount of it to the very end, in the half-conscious hope that we might be saved from its horrors by an early death.

Pff. If I could retire now, I'd do it, and I don't think I'm alone in that. If you're not sure what you'd do with all that free time, I'd be happy to share some of my hobbies with you.
posted by asperity at 5:18 PM on August 26, 2013 [13 favorites]


Because if you're not the bestest little cog in the machine they kick you out and then you can't eat?
posted by The Whelk at 5:19 PM on August 26, 2013 [16 favorites]


I believe Diski is late of being MeFi's own.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 5:23 PM on August 26, 2013


Okay, my earlier answer was glib - but I do indeed get kind of tired of these "heavens why do people try to work themselves to death" opinion pieces like this, because in a sense they're right, but the problem is that every single one of them I've read - actually, going all the way back to Virginia Woolf and a Room Of One's Own - was written by someone who was living off some kind of inheritance or modest wealth or nest egg of some sort, which otherwise enabled them to enjoy this leisure time we're talking about, and so their tone always comes across with some sort of hazy "oh tra la la people just don't know any better than having to work it's all they care about they just want a better TV or something tra la la".

I think these kinds of critiques of society valuing a work ethic have a point, but I wish the authors would be more cognizant that the ethic in question is not one all participants in this society necessarily share. I get grumpy when it feels like I'm being accused of building the prison I've been trapped in.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:25 PM on August 26, 2013 [46 favorites]


"Why do we find free time so terrifying?"

I know what those words mean on their own, but they don't make any sense to me when you use them together like that.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:26 PM on August 26, 2013 [14 favorites]


Because how else am I gonna afford a PS4?
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:27 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some are howling pits of need and self doubt and we need that "exceeds expectations" on the employee review to feel loved.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:28 PM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fun fact: I work hard *and* enjoy my free time to do nothing but stare at the sky. They're not mutually exclusive... In fact, one without the other seems kind of terrible.
posted by chasing at 5:32 PM on August 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


It's a shame that CLAWS (Create Livable Alternatives to Wage Slavery) never got off the ground. Work is something I can definitely live without - I don't need a job to have a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
posted by never nice at 5:35 PM on August 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Everyone privately loves leisure, but public virtues get more complicated because it involves our liability. If people are doing your work, that's great, nothing but virtue there. If they are doing their own work, that's great too, because they won't be asking for a loan, and you can even ask them for a loan. If people are idle, you might be paying them. Even if you aren't paying them, they might need money from you soon. So, encouraging people to be idle is not a good policy because you basically take on their liability.
posted by Brian B. at 5:35 PM on August 26, 2013


Pascal said something like "All our problems stem from our inability to sit in a room alone."
posted by kozad at 5:36 PM on August 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


As Carl Sagan said, "each of us is a tiny being, permitted to ride on the outermost skin of one of the smaller planets for a few dozen trips around the local star."

Given how precious and brief that ride is, I'd rather spend my time doing something than nothing. It doesn't matter that anything I accomplish is meaningless in the grand scheme of things. It makes my ride meaningful to me.

And I still manage to find time to sit on the couch and watch Dexter and American Ninja Warrior ;)
posted by bpm140 at 5:40 PM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Pff. If I could retire now, I'd do it, and I don't think I'm alone in that. If you're not sure what you'd do with all that free time, I'd be happy to share some of my hobbies with you.

Yeah. In a heartbeat.

I am (::cringes::) priveleged with an education, experience, marketable skills, and a fairly well-paying job in something that's not going to be hazardous to my (physical) health nor is it as stressful as many jobs are. And I'm good at it.

And I still play the lottery sometimes (YES I KNOW SHUT UP) because I don't like doing it. I could be gaming, creating electronic music, drumming, playing the bass, metalsmithing, making beaded jewelry, walking, going camping, taking classes in all manner of interesting things, reading, or... pretty much anything that doesn't involve getting up at a fixed time and getting dressed up in clothes I wouldn't choose to wear if it were up to me, going to an office plaza I don't like, in a room that's not particularly comfortable, with people I wouldn't necessarily choose to hang out with, and sitting there for the next 9 hours, five times a week.
posted by Foosnark at 5:40 PM on August 26, 2013 [28 favorites]


Why do we find free time so terrifying?

Ah, I see we have moved on from WAR IS PEACE (sorry, Syria) to FREEDOM IS SLAVERY.

Seriously, though, chill out. Free time is very, very easy to get used to. Trust me. I know. /millennial
posted by Sys Rq at 5:47 PM on August 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


The healthiest time in my life both physically and mentally was the first 8 months I was laid off and received a considerable severance package.

With all that time, I cooked the majority of my meals from scratch, exercised twice a day, read, gardened, did crafty things.

It remains to this day a very bright spot in the middle of some very dark years.
posted by sio42 at 5:50 PM on August 26, 2013 [12 favorites]


Why is a dedication to work, no matter how physically destructive and ultimately pointless, considered a virtue?

Because right now that is how the current economic system we are in enables me to obtain money with which I may buy food and shelter.


That explains why I show up. That doesn't explain why I'd do it to destruction (if I did).
posted by DU at 5:54 PM on August 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


There's a nice scene in Local Hero in which the American oil company executive tries to by the beach from the fellow who owns it and who "works" it. The money offered, the executives explains, would mean that he wouldn't have to work.

"Oh, we all must work."

Trick is, getting a job like the beach comber's.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:57 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hate to admit it, but most of the time I love my job. When I have time off, I go a little stir crazy. I'm semi-freelance, but the steadier portion of my gig I'd stay at until they wheeled me out in a bag on a stretcher.

That being said, I've had to relearn how to have hobbies the past two-ish years. I didn't have any free time for the better part of a decade. Now that I do, I've almost forgotten how to just sit around and not have anything to do. I realized last year that I couldn't remember the last time I was bored. That's good and bad, I think.
posted by nevercalm at 5:57 PM on August 26, 2013


I'm only ever bored at work. I work on problems from a textbook and write programs via ssh at home, but that doesn't get the garden weeded or the workshop worked in or the community assisted.

I'd be twice the productive member of society with half the hours of "work" but we wouldn't have health insurance.
posted by DU at 6:04 PM on August 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'd love to work fewer hours for less money, so I could spend the extra time doing something I love, but can't make much money at, but for some reason you can't have a decently paying job and work 25 or 30 hours a week. I really feel like legislatively encouraging a 30 hour work week and nationalized health insurance. would help solve a lot of problems, including unemployment.
posted by empath at 6:10 PM on August 26, 2013 [15 favorites]


I guess it depends on the "idle" person's perception of "idleness" first of change (something is amiss from the habitual routines) and then of the expected consequences of this change.

People who actually need to work to survive/live probably feel that their life/lifestyle is at risk, but what they dread is not idleness itself, rather its expected consequences (famine, not being able to provide for their welfare, radically changing habits that depend largerly on income) which more often than note inexorably follow.

Other who don't have such pressing issues (or feel they have none) are probably just feel that their is a limit to the amount of any human behavior (just sitting and watching clouds, for instance) an human can tolerate before switching to some other behavior.It than expands to Maslow's hierarchy, as criticized, and other theories about human behavior.

I also guess that humans aren't actually able to be indefinitely idle - it seems to me as the negation of life itself, for anything alive is doing something merely by being alive - your body is actually doing lots of processes and will continue till you die.
posted by elpapacito at 6:11 PM on August 26, 2013


"What do you want to be when you grow up?"
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:25 PM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I really feel like legislatively encouraging a 30 hour work week and nationalized health insurance. would help solve a lot of problems, including unemployment.

vote green
posted by DU at 6:27 PM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


People who actually need to work to survive/live probably feel that their life/lifestyle is at risk, but what they dread is not idleness itself, rather its expected consequences (famine, not being able to provide for their welfare, radically changing habits that depend largerly on income) which more often than note inexorably follow.

Loss of employment is a rational fear; loss of "lifestyle" (read: McMansion you only visit to sleep between shifts) due to dialling back one's workload is not, and frankly ought to be in the DSM.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:30 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


(...at least in terms of the middle class; obviously there are people who actually need to work 18 hours a day to get by, and that's a whole other issue.)
posted by Sys Rq at 6:32 PM on August 26, 2013


DU how do you find the time.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:38 PM on August 26, 2013


I am very lucky that funding issues at work mean they can't pay me for five days. Of course, my salary is below-market for the industry (but i believe it's above the media household income for where I live) whether they keep me at 4 days or find the money for 5. Nonetheless, I am almost afraid will get funding for the fifth day because, frankly, the extra money so far has not seemed more attractive than the extra free time, despite my needing almost every penny of my salary and relying on income-based-student-loan repayment and needing my public service loan forgiveness when that happens.

So, I think EmpressC is making an important criticism of these pieces: being able to work less than a "typical American professional work week" of 40 50 hours, while keeping body & soul together and maybe even enjoying a little indulgence, is a privilege. One I am very grateful to have stumbled into--so yes, I get the attraction of evangelizing about how great it is.

Additionally, being able to keep your hours rational without getting fired is good fortune. Also, not being completely spent at the end of your work week so you can put energy into free time is good fortune.

But the idea that maybe we should learn not to first ask a person "so what do you do?" or learn not to define ourselves by our professions is not such a bad idea. Not so much switching over to the equally cliched: "sure, I work in IT, but I'm really a writer" but ceasing to define ourselves by our activities and define ourselves more by our thoughts or our beliefs or our senses of humor or anything else might help us all relax.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:44 PM on August 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Last place I worked, I was yelled at for not taking any initiative, but initiative so meager as converting hand-added tables to spreadsheets was was seen as wasting time (more yelling). After a year or two of that, I tried to find other work, and had a few "bites" but started telling myself that work needed me (even if I'd not had more than a cost of living raise, ever) and that I couldn't quit.

Well, they didn't need me. (They never do. Don't forget that.) The last eleven months, unemployed and freaking out about it, have actually been less stressful than my last "job".

Dunno where I was going with this, just that the Protestant work ethic can do a number on your mind and on your sense of self-worth.
posted by notsnot at 6:46 PM on August 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


When I "hang out at the beach" or "chill in the park" I am absolutely bored out of my mind within 20 minutes.
posted by solmyjuice at 6:53 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why do we find free time so terrifying?

What is this "we" crap? When I have free time, I naturally fill it up with work. My own work. I'm still working on finding people to pay me for it, but some people seem to like it. And really, fun is just the work you really want to do.

Pascal said something like "All our problems stem from our inability to sit in a room alone."

Yeah, Pascal also gave us the wager that bears his name. Not all of his ideas were great ones.
posted by JHarris at 6:59 PM on August 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


"Wow, those serfs are just so uptight! They need to learn to relax."
posted by overeducated_alligator at 7:13 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I work all the time because I can't stand boredom. What else would I do but work on things? If I've worn myself out and I'm too tired to do anything but sit down, then I'll read something, because I can't just do nothing.

dialling back one's workload

How does one do that, exactly? In my experience "workload" is more like a switch than a volume knob: you've either got a job or you haven't.
posted by Mars Saxman at 7:13 PM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm fortunate to have a job that pays well enough that I can work part-time and still live the lifestyle I'd like to live (well, mostly). A little while ago I was speaking with a much younger co-worker and she asked me why I don't own a car. When I told her I'd like one, but then I'd have to work more in order to be able to afford it she looked surprised, as though she didn't know that not working as much as you can was an option.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:17 PM on August 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


I work in a field where some days I absolutely need to be grinding stuff out for a solid twelve hours. But then other days I really only need to be there for an hour or two. And yet even though this is blindingly obvious to everyone in the entire department we all keep showing up for our 8-5 routine because nobody wants to look like they're slacking off. And some people are so worried about this visible work ethic they will risk life and limb to "prove" how dedicated they are to the job. It would be funny if it weren't so disgusting and dumb.
posted by Doleful Creature at 7:42 PM on August 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


I generally take a half or whole Friday off every 2-3 weeks because I have a job where I can do that now, thank all the luck in the universe.

In my former jobs where I could not get that break, I was literally losing my mind.
posted by sio42 at 7:42 PM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Being out of work kinda sucks, but taking a one hour siesta every day is fantastic.
posted by double block and bleed at 7:42 PM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


never nice: It's a shame that CLAWS (Creating Livable Alternatives to Wage Slavery) never got off the ground.

Thanks for the appreciation. I'm D. JoAnne Swanson, the founder of CLAWS. For the record, it was going very well for quite awhile! I only turned it over to someone else in 2004 because I was overwhelmed and could no longer maintain it single-handedly. The new owner created a discussion forum on the site that was quite popular, but it died out - much to many people's dismay - when he could no longer maintain it.

The site is now for sale (see notice and contact info on the main page), so if anyone's interested in taking over, please contact the current owner. I would love to see it flourish again, and would offer whatever help I could to the buyer. If I could afford to re-acquire it and had sufficient time to get it going again myself, I'd gladly do so. Ironically, though, I'm spending the bulk of my time trying to find a job that will support me and subsidize my writing habit.

I started the Rethinking the Job Culture blog as a follow-up to CLAWS. It's updated once in awhile, as time permits. I update the Facebook page more regularly.
posted by velvet winter at 7:46 PM on August 26, 2013 [28 favorites]


Well, people get trapped by their stuff and their pursuing the lifestyle they want or are told they should have. I know tons of people that charged into buying a house and having kids and then buying an SUV and buying like brushed stainless steel appliances and granite countertops and they have to have this and this (and, for the record, they can get very snide if you're not on the Being A Real Adult train and still have the audacity to rent). And then they look around and realize no, they actually have to do keep working and have to keep working forever and make sad self-pitying remarks about how they'd LOVE to stay home but they have BILLS to pay when most of those bills are their fault.

My main job now is a freelance gig that basically pays me to work for 8 hours a day, but I can work from home and work on my porch when the weather is nice and the guy I work for will frequently tell us to go away when there's nothing to do and he doesn't like working anymore than we do. It also leaves me time to pursue other work since, aside from the occasional throw-in to finish a big project, I'm pretty strict since we defined what I get paid for as 40 hours a week. There are downsides: I'm self-employed so I pay a ton of taxes, we get benefits through my wife rather than me, and my career progression isn't going to progress since it's a small company, but I feel like the lifestyle tradeoffs are worth it. I've had interviews where they offered me what I'm making now and I say, "So you're offering me the same money I'm making now, but I'd have to go into an office and look busy for 60+ hours a week when I can work from my porch on a nice sunny day AND you're bragging about how you work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week? You're really gonna hafta sell me on this" and they're just aghast that I'm not hurling myself back into it for exactly what I'm making now.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:52 PM on August 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


"All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone"
posted by nerdler at 7:56 PM on August 26, 2013


Well, people get trapped by their stuff and their pursuing the lifestyle they want or are told they should have. I know tons of people that charged into buying a house and having kids and then buying an SUV and buying like brushed stainless steel appliances and granite countertops and they have to have this and this (and, for the record, they get very snide if you're not on the Being A Real Adult train and still have the audacity to rent). And then they look around and realize no, they actually have to do keep working and have to keep working forever and make sad self-pitying remarks about how they'd LOVE to stay home but they have BILLS to pay when most of those bills are their fault.

You know, while there is a grain of truth in this - this attitude can be taken too far as well. The budget I'm on and the salary I was making (up until last month) wouldn't have bought me a McMansion, but it did afford me a decent-sized apartment and a trip to Italy this year. Yes, I could have downsized to a job where I could have only afforded a trip to Topeka or something, and I could downsize to a smaller apartment, but you know, why don't I deserve to go to Italy and live in a home where I'm comfortable? I mean, I know that's not what you're saying, but that kind of "oh people are so materialistic" attitude can be taken too far as well, and leave people like me feeling that I should have been more self-sacrificing if I didn't want to work a 50-hour work week, and it all just comes back to that same prison structure. Another example:

A little while ago I was speaking with a much younger co-worker and she asked me why I don't own a car. When I told her I'd like one, but then I'd have to work more in order to be able to afford it she looked surprised, as though she didn't know that not working as much as you can was an option.

Or maybe she was surprised that you spoke so openly about your financial state. This comes across as a value judgement of that co-worker, frankly - fie, how silly she is for wanting a car! How much more noble it is to not have a car so one can have more free time! When, hell, it should be okay for someone to be allowed to have a car and more free time.

And that leads into - okay, Dr. Swanson, I took a quick look at the CLAWS site, and I apologize for what is going to sound like a callout; but your site is only a convenient illustration of what I see lacking in conversations on this issue. Namely - one thing I didn't see on the CLAWS site was: practical advice for what people like me could do to bring about this economic change. You know - what national economic policies should I be encouraging? Whose economic policy should I be voting for? Which laws should I be lobbying my congressmen to pass? Unfortunately, most of what I see and hear in such discussions about the sorry state of the working world today is attempts to raise awareness that the system sucks, or advice about how to simplify your life. And many of us are already well aware the system sucks, and are unwilling to pare back even further and give up the few last luxuries we have carefully selected and pared things down to, and what we want to know is how can we bring about the change which we already know we need.

Otherwise these discussions about "the working world is awful but having more free time would be so awesome" end up reminding me of this cartoon.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:12 PM on August 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


"I am (::cringes::) priveleged with an education, experience, marketable skills, and a fairly well-paying job in something that's not going to be hazardous to my (physical) health nor is it as stressful as many jobs are. And I'm good at it.
And I still play the lottery sometimes (YES I KNOW SHUT UP) because I don't like doing it."


Sounds like all of my coworkers, who make a big deal about playing every week and it is literally all they have to hope for of an early escape, even though most of my group is going to retire in 3-5 years. I don't think retirement will EXIST when I'm in my 60's.

I'm with Empress on this: what on earth CAN anyone do about this? Most of us don't like it, but we don't have the power to change the culture and finances and insurance and law here.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:28 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I work all the time because I can't stand boredom. What else would I do but work on things? If I've worn myself out and I'm too tired to do anything but sit down, then I'll read something, because I can't just do nothing.

My wife is like you. Recently she and I drove cross country on a sightseeing vacation, and we spent a couple nights camped out on the edge of the Grand Canyon.

Morning happens, and we get up. I make breakfast and go sit by the canyon and chuck rocks over the edge and just generally watch the sun rise and fill the lower canyons with light. Probably 2 hours there, alone with my breakfast and my thoughts.

My wife says "while you were sitting, I got this and that done and folded this and moved that and reorganized this and... how can you just sit there when there is so much to do?"

And I replied, "how can you drive 2000 miles to one of the greatest natural wonders on the planet and do dishes ? When is the next time you'll get to watch a sun rise over the Grand Canyon ?"

Opposite attract, I guess.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:37 PM on August 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm decently comfortable, but I'm in a job that requires 6 days of work a week, compelte with sidelong glares if I happen to leave work at 5 (which usually means I'm going to a coffee shop to check students' papers until Mrs. Ghidorah gets off work), and there are tons of warning signs popping up nearly shouting that this job isn't going to last past the next couple of years. Possibly not past the end of this school year. Since I've take this job, and the six days a week that goes with it, my health, my mental wellbeing, and my ability to enjoy any part of my life have all gone right down the shitter. Anything less than all the time, though, isn't enough to get the job done (mind you, we went from five days to six days with no raise).

So I'm done. I'm out. This is going to be my last year, and it's terrifying. I absolutely love teaching, but the industry in Japan for EFL is so thoroughly Wal-marted that it's impossible to find anything that pays well without it being something you have to work yourself to death to keep.

Instead, I'm going to try to open my own (non-teaching) business, and work myself to death to see if it will ever be profitable.

I'm not about to stop playing the lottery, because I know that unless I win, the only way I'll ever be able to stop working will be dying. And people wonder why I'm so cheerful.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:41 PM on August 26, 2013


how can you drive 2000 miles to one of the greatest natural wonders on the planet and do dishes?

Household chores and work we do for our wage-paying overlords are not at all the same thing. Somebody's gotta clean that stuff up, or you'll get eaten by bears or coyotes or chupacabras or whatever. Alone with a beautiful view, breakfast, and thoughts is awesome, but that your thoughts didn't include the question of who's cleaning up after you is less awesome.
posted by asperity at 8:56 PM on August 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


Related (and, I believe, already FPPed): On the phenomenon of bullshit jobs.
posted by softlord at 8:58 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Article is bullshit. Who has ever told a child to stop reading or daydreaming?
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:14 PM on August 26, 2013


Why do we find free time so terrifying?

because it leads to stuff like this ... and this.
posted by philip-random at 9:28 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Who has ever told a child to stop reading or daydreaming?

Are you joking? I heard this all the time growing up.
posted by empath at 9:41 PM on August 26, 2013 [24 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: Dr. Swanson, I took a quick look at the CLAWS site, and I apologize for what is going to sound like a callout; but your site is only a convenient illustration of what I see lacking in conversations on this issue. Namely - one thing I didn't see on the CLAWS site was: practical advice for what people like me could do to bring about this economic change. You know - what national economic policies should I be encouraging? Whose economic policy should I be voting for? Which laws should I be lobbying my congressmen to pass? Unfortunately, most of what I see and hear in such discussions about the sorry state of the working world today is attempts to raise awareness that the system sucks, or advice about how to simplify your life. And many of us are already well aware the system sucks, and are unwilling to pare back even further and give up the few last luxuries we have carefully selected and pared things down to, and what we want to know is how can we bring about the change which we already know we need.

No worries, EC - I don't take it as a callout. (D. is my first initial, by the way - it's not an abbreviation for "Dr.")

"What can I do?" is one of the most frequent questions I get from people who read the site. In fact, I put together the site partly in the hopes of answering this question myself, and partly as a way to facilitate connections among others who were doing the same. When I launched the site, I honestly had no idea how difficult it would be to answer this question adequately, and frankly I'm still struggling with it 15 years later. The questions involved here are social, cultural, and ecological, as well as economic.

However, I do have two suggestions for you, for starters:

1. Support the basic income movement. (European citizens: Sign the European Initiative for an Unconditional Basic Income.)

2. Support gift economies and gifting culture. Start or join a gift circle. Charles Eisenstein's book Sacred Economics, especially Chapter 14: The Social Dividend has some suggestions. The book is available in its entirety online, in keeping with his gift model.

I wish I had more comprehensive answers for you. I wish all of us could have opportunities to use our gifts, do the kind of work we actually enjoy, and have ample leisure instead of just taking whatever job is necessary to pay the bills. That's one of the reasons I decry the coercive conditions of the job culture as it stands - because I want to work toward a world where that is possible for everyone, not just a privileged few. I don't kid myself that I'll see that world in my lifetime, but it's worth striving for nonetheless.
posted by velvet winter at 10:20 PM on August 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


Who has ever told a child to stop reading or daydreaming?

My mom. About every other week until I left the house for college.
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:41 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like to sit and stare and throw rocks at the breakfast dishes in my sink for two hours, but it does no good. Still there, still dirty.
posted by mannequito at 12:01 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Some observations:

- it is irrelevant that you, personally, like to work. If you lived in a society that allowed you much more leisure time, you could spend that time doing productive or useful things. I know I would. Your personal desire to work, or feelings that work is necessary to be happy, are just your feelings - they don't make an argument for the whole of society following you. Many people who want more leisure are actually arguing for a reduction in meaningless "busywork" - surely you are not defending that?

- it is also no argument to say that at the moment society is so organised that people cannot take a great deal of leisure time. The fact that at the moment we live in a peculiar, temporary and contingent form of society that does not readily allow us to have the kind of dignified, lower-stress and healthy lifestyle we might wish to have does not mean that we can never live that way.

- but someone must take out the trash! Yes, and those who want to do so should be much better compensated than they presently are. But in any case, moving society towards a form where everyone has more leisure and more control over his or her own time would be better for trash collectors as well as office workers. And some people actually would like to clean things up, if it were considered a socially admirable profession - it is a fairly obviously, indisputably benign activity.

- I for one would like to see more practical recommendations about how to change this. Whatever changes will be made, will be made at the level of legislation.

- Some other reading:
William Morris, Useful Work versus Useless Toil
Bertrand Russell, In Praise of Idleness
Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man under Socialism (individualism is only possible under socialism)
posted by lucien_reeve at 3:01 AM on August 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


just an awesome article
posted by eggtooth at 3:07 AM on August 27, 2013


Another point:

Those who are pushing this line that we need to rethink our attitude towards leisure are not advocating simple laziness.

Rather, we are suggesting that the way things are at the moment rewards valueless - or even harmful and predatory - "work".

To quote D. Joanne Swanson's blog (I hope she doesn't mind?):

"Look deep enough and it can be seen that the money system we have is actually dependent on gift culture and unpaid work…but because our culture is so deeply in thrall to a toxic ideology of work, and so preoccupied with determining which of the “dependents” are “deserving” and which are not, it can be difficult to dig deep enough to understand how the process actually plays out."

I have noticed again and again recently that what are supposedly the greatest "successes" of our current capitalism are actually heavily dependent on the very things they despise. For example, the Wall Street Masters of the Universe had to be bailed out at great expense by the taxpayer. Or the innovations of Silicon Valley are actually heavily dependent on the funding and investment over decades of the state - the very government that libertarians tell us can never innovate. Anyone who has had an office job knows that it is because workers regularly work longer than their contracted hours that their business survives - that is why "work to rule" is well known as a form of strike action.

The point of capitalism was always to take humanity's worst instincts and make them work for good - "private vices, public benefits". The problem here is that we are seeing many of humanity's best instincts - towards cooperation, exploration, innovation, generosity - being subverted and enslaved to serve a tiny number of utterly unproductive people. "Leisure" is really just another name for "autonomy", and to a lesser extent "honesty", in this context.
posted by lucien_reeve at 3:13 AM on August 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


Pff. If I could retire now, I'd do it, and I don't think I'm alone in that.

Certainly not. I've had the luxury this years to spent a couple of months between assignments yet still being paid and it was wonderful, apart from the feeling of unease about maybe not getting a new one and getting fired and all that.

If somebody offered to pay me my current salary forever, (inflation adjusted when necessary, natch), but I didn't have to work?

In a heartbeat.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:48 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


From the great and wise Calvin & Hobbes: "There's never enough time to do all the nothing you want."
posted by cenoxo at 4:22 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Several of our friends work at companies that have recently instituted "unlimited" vacation policies. The way it's supposed to work is that you don't get any allocated vacation time, rather just take whatever you want whenever you want, so long as your work gets done.

I feel like this is a really insidious and sneaky way to get people to work more. On the surface it sounds like a great deal - all the vacation I want! On the other hand, you're going to look like a slacker if you take a bunch of time off when everyone else is working. So no one takes time off. Plus, now you don't have any "banked" vacation time and if you leave the company they have no obligation to pay you for that earned vacation time you didn't take.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:56 AM on August 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


Support gift economies and gifting culture. Start or join a gift circle. Charles Eisenstein's book Sacred Economics, especially Chapter 14: The Social Dividend has some suggestions. The book is available in its entirety online, in keeping with his gift model.

Unless I've not been seeing the right gift circles, I'm not seeing how a gift economy could help with housing. Bartering some basic services maybe ("I'll clean out your garage and help sort your papers in your office filing cabinet if you fix my leaky sink"), but the really big-ticket items, you still gotta have some kind of income for.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:25 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because the "If you just sit there, I'm going to have to do your work and mine as well if I don't want our kids to starve" instinct has its claws pretty deep in our collective psyche.
posted by straight at 6:32 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


No one should ever 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.
posted by Gorilla456 at 7:16 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


None of the ways in which I spend my free time add anywhere near as much to society as the time I spend at work, where in addition to the value that I add directly through my activity there, I earn money which is taxed to contribute to the general well being. I can then allocate the remainder to charities and businesses that I support. That's pretty effective! I suspect that the vast majority of people are in my shoes.

There's an AskMe right now about a screenwriter who is plagued by 'friends' who want her to give their bad screenplays to her agent. It's unclear to me that purposefully carving out more time for people to write bad screenplays is a good use of our societal resources-there already seems to be an abundance of bad screenplays.

And not that you shouldn't go write a screenplay! But due to the abundance of worthless screenplays relative to worthwhile screenplays, writing a screenplay is a waste of time until proven otherwise from the perspective of public policy and isn't something we should fund by proxy with a shorter work week. I'd rather we raised federal taxes by 15% for me and everyone who makes more than me and quintupled the foreign aid budget, and increased domestic programs for child nutrition, and paid teachers enough to make it an attractive career for top students, and etc.
posted by Kwine at 7:33 AM on August 27, 2013


In Bluebeard, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. wrote:
“... Simply moderate giftedness has been made worthless by the printing press and radio and television and satellites and all that. A moderately gifted person who would have been a community treasure a thousand years ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of work, since modern communications put him or her into daily competition with nothing but the world's champions.

The entire planet can get along nicely now with maybe a dozen champion performers in each area of human giftedness. A moderately gifted person has to keep his or her gifts all bottled up until, in a manner of speaking, he or she gets drunk at a wedding and tapdances on the coffee table like Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers. We have a name for him or her. We call him or her an 'exhibitionist.'

How do we reward such an exhibitionist? We say to him or her the next morning, 'Wow! Were you ever drunk last night!”
Write all the goddamn bad screenplays you want.
posted by usonian at 8:01 AM on August 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


My own theory is that the modern focus on productivity is a scam which is a distortion of a true historical virtue. Max Weber was a genius and his idea from 1905 was as accurate as a social science nomological theory could be, way more valid than what Sigmund Freud and his buddies came up with. But what was true in 1905 has been superseded. Hard work in 2013 will guarantee you absolutely nothing. Ninety-nine percent of your modern rewards will accrue to you by how clever and consistent you are at gaming the systems by which rewards are distributed.

Displaying the appearance of having a so-called work ethic is far more useful than possessing any such authentic personality trait. Measures of conscientiousness are obsolete. The hardest working guy I ever knew loved to say "your work ethic is how hard you work when nobody is watching you" and his bosses loved him for awhile and then they axed him for somebody else.
posted by bukvich at 8:05 AM on August 27, 2013


EmpressCallipygos: I'm not seeing how a gift economy could help with housing. Bartering some basic services maybe ("I'll clean out your garage and help sort your papers in your office filing cabinet if you fix my leaky sink"), but the really big-ticket items, you still gotta have some kind of income for.

Indeed. Unfortunately there's no real way around that, as far as I can tell. Even if you are fortunate enough to have access to land - and the ability and means to build your own off-grid home on it, where you could live indefinitely - you would still need money to pay property taxes, which means someone in the household would have to be a breadwinner. You could certainly seek out a home caretaker arrangement, or otherwise barter services for room and board, but good luck trying to find a way to live free of rent or mortgage for the long term.

Early on in life, I figured out that one of the most important keys to freedom from a life of debt servitude to financial institutions would be to avoid having to pay rent or a mortgage. If I could find a way to do that, I reasoned, I wouldn't have to work 40-50 hours a week at a job I hated just to pay for the roof over my head, and therefore I'd be able to free up enough time and energy for the writing I wanted to do, the spiritual life I craved, and the social services I wanted to provide. I knew I didn't want to have kids, and I knew I was willing to live simply (by North American middle-class standards, at least) so that I could devote the bulk of my energies to my creative pursuits.

Back in the days when I had a supportive spouse, I actually had an opportunity to try it. Inspired by books like Rob Roy's Mortgage-Free: Radical Strategies for Home Ownership and Ianto Evans & Linda Smiley's The Hand-Sculpted House, my ex and I bought five acres of land in rural Oregon, joined forces with another couple, and tried to start an off-the-grid, ecologically responsible homestead. We were going to build a couple of mortgage-free tiny homes on our land, start a permaculture food forest, and retire from the rat race as early as possible.

We didn't get far; the effort collapsed on the launching pad, in fact. But at least we tried.

Even if we'd succeeded, I later realized, there was always the risk that we would have ended up in a similar situation to David Lee Hoffman, who was ordered to tear down a working sustainable homestead he'd built himself and lived on for 40 years, because he didn't have the proper permits. Hoffman's story just breaks my heart. It fills me with rage at our insane, ecocidal culture, in which nearly all avenues to living a simple, eco-friendly life on one's own terms are blocked.

I concluded, reluctantly, that there's no viable way for people like me to be truly free of the consumer economy and the need to take a job on the employer's terms just to eat and have a roof over my head. Any escape would be partial at best. Depressing, but I don't see a way around it.

I remain completely convinced that we need radical alternatives to conventional employment - including an unconditional basic income - and I will continue to do whatever I can to promote them, even as I am forced to work within the constraints of the job culture to provide for myself.
posted by velvet winter at 6:17 PM on August 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


We cannot leap to a basic income too directly though. In the shorter term, our goals should be shortening the work week and eliminating bullshit and social control jobs, like administration and law enforcement. To do so, we should automate white collar jobs as quickly as possible, scream loudly whenever new bureaucracy is created, especially if automation could achieve the same ends, expose the corruption that benefits form wasting resources, reject Keynesian economic programs that make useless work, and advocate for a four day work week. Ideally, we want social control to decrease while systemic unemployment increases, so as to force the politicians to shorten the work week. In the long run, we might create a basic income through the same techniques, but don't expect it too soon.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:18 AM on September 5, 2013


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