Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Out of Mischief

'In Praise of Idleness' (pdf) is the first of a collection of essays in a Routledge Classics Series on Bertrand Russell.

As a 1932 precursor to Tim Ferriss' 'Four Hour Workweek' he discusses some of the philosophy behind work, why we do it, and why we believe that 'Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.' The shifting nature of what we consider the basic necessities of life (and even of what we consider poverty) keeps us hard at it. Russell argues that work was also used as a means of the wealthy keeping the poor occupied saying, 'The morality of work is the morality of slaves, and the modern world has no need of slavery'. Russell doesn't argue that we shouldn't work at all. In fact he makes a few disparaging remarks of those idle who can do so because they inherit/marry money, but says that he does not think their idleness is as harmful as wage earners over-working or starving.

Over the course of the Industrial Revolution, Education has become primarily about training people to work. Ken Robinson is the most eloquent current advocate for increasing the time we spend on the creative side of education I have come across. Russell argues, rather than from the point of identifying strengths like Robinson, that wider education can be aimed in part at helping people use their leisure time intelligently.

I really think we can give ourselves a large collective pat on the back for our advances towards ending poverty. Our hard work ethic has paid dividends. It has also had costs. One example is our complaint about how much leisure time is spent passively in cinemas, watching sport, and in front of computer screens. Russell argues that this is in part because our active energies are fully taken up with work. He argues that if there was more leisure time, there would again be pleasures in which they took an active part. He uses the example of the dying out of traditional dances in the urban working population.

I for one would be all for more dancing round fires. Read his short essay at your leisure.

'Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning' Thomas Jefferson


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