My madcap adventures in Germany during my year as a Fulbright Scholar.

19 May 2007

Idle Thoughts

A friend recently pointed out this website to me. Just in case you're too lazy to click, it's a magazine that "campaigns against the work ethic" and attempts "to return dignity to the art of loafing, to make idling into something to aspire towards rather than reject."

I haven't invested the time to really gauge the contributors in the forum, to determine how serious they are. There seems to be plenty of irony there, but plenty also revel in the idle lifestyle, endeavoring to work just enough to get by and maximize leisure time.

While I certainly think that Americans work too much and consume too much (the two are inextricably linked, aren't they?), neither of which is good for the environment or makes us happy, I also think that work and productivity are good. And I can't shake the impression that the people writing the Idler forums are just lazy.

It seems almost anachronistic; I thought the Idler had more or less died out. He thrived in the pre-industrial days, was still around in Jane Austen's time, but his days were clearly numbered by the time Edith Wharton took up her pen. A gentlemen in the pre- and early industrial society could live on the income from their property or an annuity of some kind and have most of his hours free for reading, hunting and other idle pastimes. But he could do so only at an enormous cost to his younger siblings. Just this morning I was reading about the concept of youth in the pre-industrial age in Youth and History by John R. Gillis. (I actually study youth in the post-industrial/modern age, but I decided to be a good scholar and read the whole book, instead of just the part that covers my century.) The preference for primogeniture among the upper classes (nobility, gentry, bourgeoisie) often forced younger siblings (and, often, female siblings regardless of age) to "sacrifice for the good of all," since keeping the family property intact was often the only way to maintain settlements and annuities.

To draw an example from the book I just recently finished reading (again), Mr. Knightly (in Emma) can lead a relatively idle existence, nominally occupied with running his estate, but employing stewards to do most of the work, leaving most of his hours free for visiting, dining out, playing cards and engaging in other leisure activities. But he can do so only at the expense of his brother, who must work (in law, I think) to earn a living and support his family.

The idle existence was a privilege for the few, and I, personally, am glad that it's all but gone from society. I think we're better off without it.

Yet, somehow, I've managed to land in a city of idlers.

No one seems to work in this town. Stores, buses, trains, supermarkets, and restaurants are always full of people, regardless of the hour. When I was in Kiel the boardwalk was full of people running, walking, biking, skateboarding and rollerblading, and even on a warm, sunny Saturday there weren't that many people just sitting around. Here on every nice day, whether weekend or not, parks, beaches and lawns fill up with idlers who spend the afternoon reading, sunbathing and drinking.

I thought the leisure class was dead, so I don't know where these people come from. It really is reminiscent of an earlier era.

Take this photo I snapped a couple weeks ago:

Doesn't it remind you an awful lot of this?



Anonymous William Thirteen said...

'work' is a four letter word...

2:48 PM


Post a Comment

<< Home