affluent ANGST is back! And slower than ever!
The internet is so seductively fast. So regrettably immediate. Blogs instantly published the world over with the press of a button (to those with internet capabilities, of course). What about deliberation? What about sauntering? Where are the slow blogs?
So here’s my first post in nearly two months. Take that, internet age!
Why has this post taken so long to write? Because I’ve been reading Carl Honore’s recent (2004) manifesto In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed.
Of course, actually, that’s not quite right. I read the book over a year ago. But given its subject matter, it feels like I just read it. And, while I enjoyed the entire book, I was particularly struck with the two chapters that deal with those logistical twins of the time-space continuum: work and leisure.
Ah, leisure. The guilty pleasure we all strive to have more of, and then feel badly about when we do. As a society, we seem to have a love-hate relationship with leisure. Even if, Agnes Repplier noted, “It is in pleasure that a man really lives … It is from his leisure that he constructs the true fabric of self.”
Bertrand Russell agreed. “To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization,” he suggested. And by last, I’d like to think he meant highest, most important, most advanced. As in, what would we all be doing if we didn’t have to work the majority of our hours to survive? (The basic premise here seems to be that as a society, we are technologically capable of providing everyone with a basically comfortable life. The realities of economic inequality, pollution, etc. tend to complicate things a bit, but let’s just leave that for later.)
In 1932, Russell published his famous “In Praise of Idleness” in Harper’s Magazine. Huh. Praising idleness? I’m surprised he even finished the essay. What a slacker. Just who was this Russell guy anyway?
Well, he was a lot of things. An educator. A philosopher. An activist. “During World War I he was fined, fired from his academic post, and finally imprisoned for antiwar protests,” recounts Tom Lutz in Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America. “His activism remained pronounced enough that he was again dismissed from his professorship at City College, New York, in 1940, after being deemed ‘morally unfit’ to teach by a New York court. He was arrested the last time and sent to prison for organizing a large peace demonstration in London in 1961, when he was 89 years old.”
Ah, self-improvement. How dreamy.
Of course, decades later, most folks still work much more than four hours a day. And society certainly expects that we will.
Who has time for self-improvement, anyway? Everyone taking time out of their day to relax, become a better person, get in touch with themselves. It all sounds so cult-like.