Tuesday, 20 July 2010


today i'd like to explore the idea of productive idling
for which i'm most grateful to tom h
who has opened my eyes and sparked my curiosity
at the inaugural dark mountain festival
i was having a conversation on the topic
with some like-minded fiends over the weekend
and it struck me that there were several ideas
i needed to get straight in my own head
to avoid some potential confusions or misunderstandings...
so what is productive idling and what is it not?
i should start by saying
that we're dealing with something of a paradox here
for aren't we all taught from an early age that idleness is a 'bad thing'?
sloth being one of the seven deadly sins
now just in case we might have forgotten
the endless reproaches of our parents and teachers
society today screams at us from every angle:
'go, go, go!'
'eat, eat, eat!'
'buy, buy, buy!'
'work' work, work!'
'party, party, party!'
'spend, spend, spend!'
'consume, consume, consume!'
(...and all will be well)
not always in so many words perhaps
but the exhortations are ubiquitous
they leap from the pages of magazines
they are shouted from advertising hoardings
they blast out of the gogglebox
they blare from the radio
they spew from the mouths of fiends and family
this stuff even comes uninvited through the letterbox for god's sake!
the intimation is clear
by keeping ourselves busy in these socially-sanctioned ways
we will find the route to modern-day nirvana
but something quickly becomes apparent
on studying these exhortations -
all of them happen to involve some kind of direct or indirect consumption
when we buy, eat, travel or party
we are spending and consuming
when we work
we are earning the necessary cash to fuel that expenditure
in other words
capitalism and consumerism has got us exactly where it wants us
by the balls and in its lap
and despite appearances to the contrary
all this consuming is by its nature incredibly passive
as we stare at the television or listen to the wireless
we are helplessly bombarded with the words and images of others
there is no dialogue
no response is required
big brother is unstoppable
our only say in the matter is to switch over or turn off
when we shop or travel
what superficially seems active is in fact passive again
we choose from the limited range of affordable options
that the retailer offers
fosters or stella?
fairy liquid or insanesbury's own brand?
ford fiesta or renault twingo?
a week in the algarve or ten days on the costa del sol?
tweedledum or tweedledee?
oops - i've inadvertantly strayed into politics!
what this means is that the defining act of the idler
is to reject the whole idea of working hard to consume
beyond what is necessary to live in comfort
now 'comfort' is a flexible friend
(it can be a fabric conditioner for instance)
but here i'm talking about the first three of four categories
identified by nineteenth century philosopher william godwin:
1) subsistence (food, drink and shelter)
2) moral and intellectual development
(education, information, friends, books, etcetera)
3) affordable pleasures (tea, coffee, alcohol, cigarettes)
the fourth category that the idler rejects?
"superfluities produced by abridging multitudes of men
to a deplorable degree
that one man may be accommodated
with sumptuous yet, strictly considered, insignificant luxuries"
this fourth category - rolex watch territory -
which subjects ourselves and others to arduous toil
is the one that the exhoratations work so hard on
for without the constant pester power
without the and crafty enticements and incentives
most of us would largely ignore it and be content with our lot
'special offer!'
'70% discount!'
'four for the price of three'
'three bottles for 5 quid'
(one bottle only costs 1.67 - do the maths!)
it is also the type of consumption that enslaves others
those that toil endlessly in the mines
in the sweatshops
on the processing lines
that we might reap the fruits of their labours
but i think that idling is not just about rejecting consumerism at large
it's also about brushing off the expectations of fiends and relatives
and everyone else who wants a piece of you
'do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law'
as alistair crowley put it so well
what that doesn't mean is that doing whatever the hell we want is ok
or that everyone else has to suffer the consequences
for it is equally important not to break the golden rule:
to live by the maxim of 'do as you would be done by'
the point is that we are all responsible for our own happiness
for rejecting the demands of others if they clash with our own callings
or meddle and interfere with what we enjoy
by way of example
if i want to smoke a spliff to chill out in the evening
then who are you or the government to stop me?
which brings me to the 'productive' bit
for if idling is not passive, it must be active
it must translate into doing something useful with your time
let me offer some examples:
1) enjoying a good veggie meal, good vino and good conversation with fiends
2) daydreaming out of the window
3) going for an evening stroll with a loved one
4) tending the vegetables in the greenhouse
5) brewing one's own beer
6) taking a refreshing nap
7) writing poetry
8) doing a pastel sketch
9) giving or receiving a nice back scratch
10) doing a spot of yoga or stretching in the garden
11) playing with the kids
12) hiking across beautiful rugged landscape
13) making a proper pot of leaf tea
...not to forget composing a good blog post!
notice how none of these activities involves more than minimal consumption
on the contrary
many of them are completely free - in more ways than one!
(sshhhh! don't tell the idleness police!)
and certainly don't venture anywhere near
the rolex watch territory of Category 4
all of them involve the pleasures of doing something actively for oneself
perhaps for or with others in a mutually beneficial way...
ok, today's sermon over
and now that i have productively idled away so much of my time on this blog post
i shall idle away even more time on producing my next ditty
goodnight to all you idlers!

No comments:

Post a Comment