The Last Taboo

Sex was a taboo of a previous generation. Normal people don’t think about sex. If you think about sex then you’re not a good person and you should feel ashamed. You need to get control of your mind and stop thinking about sex! Looking back we can see that this was just a guilt complex, a combination of obsession and denial.

Laziness is the taboo of our generation. I hope future cultures will look back and see that we were obsessed with working all the time. Anyone who wasn’t working enough felt ashamed. Be more productive! Your worth as a person is only as good as your job title / how much money you make / however you fit in to the production-consumption system.

I’m not saying people should do no work. I think people should work when they feel like working. But overworking is what causes a lot of problems. That’s when people get stressed out and start treating each other badly. Or maybe blaming other people because they’re not working enough. I have to do all the work around here!

Checking your email is working. As is maintaining your status within social networks. Unread messages! Have to read them and process them!

Whenever you feel like you don’t have enough time to do all the things you “have” to do you are working.

It’s hard to stop working so much. We’re conditioned to always think about working. If we’re not working we feel like we’re falling behind.

If you feel like maybe you’re working too much but you can’t stop, you can’t bear to feel like you’re lazy, then a good antidote is play. Try to find more play in your life. Eventually the play will help you transition to spending time without doing anything in particular and not feeling bad about it.

Overworking really is a problem! It’s like overplanting a field and not letting the soil recover.

In 1932 Bertrand Russell wrote a great essay called In Praise of Idleness. England was just starting to recover from the Industrial Revolution. That was the period where people working the longest and the hardest. Poor people especially, but also the rich people. Everyone worked way too hard and it sucked! People thought they were making progress but it was really a very dark time, more so than the Middle Ages in many ways. There are still places in the world where the Industrial Revolution is still happening, but the developed world was coming out of it by 1932.

Russell’s essay is very optimistic. He realizes that most of our production has been going toward things we don’t need. He predicts that as society reorganizes itself, people can start having more leisure time. Everyone can work 4 hour days. The time that previously only the “leisure” class had, to develop themselves personally and culturally and discover things about the world, that time can be had by all.

“Athenian slave-owners, for instance, employed part of their leisure in making a permanent contribution to civilization which would have been impossible under a just economic system. Leisure is essential to civilization, and in former times leisure for the few was only rendered possible by the labors of the many. But their labors were valuable, not because work is good, but because leisure is good. And with modern technique it would be possible to distribute leisure justly without injury to civilization.”

If you think this would be a better way for all of us to live, I think the key to realizing it is finding an alternative value system other than identifying our human worth based on the work we do. This is difficult. Most people have no idea how to understand their place in the world except in relation to their job. Who am I? I’m a __role__ at __institution__.

So I think the most valuable thing you can do to challenge this taboo is to find something that you know is important in the world. This is personal. Not something someone else says is important, something you know is important. Keep this in mind when you judge yourself and others and it will put things in perspective!

One Comment

  1. sheldonCM says:

    Hi Toby. I couldn’t agree more with this post. That reminds me of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “An apology for idlers”, which I always recommend to read :) As I often get critized for the way I live, work and play (how separate those ?? damn mad ppl), I reply that one should consider not being harmful before thinking of any kind of “productivity”. I guess many people thought being born some centuries too soon ;) Thx for your blog, I just found it (from pixelshaders.com) and it’s a pleasure to read.