A fast-paced, work-centred lifestyle has now become normal
In a strange way, possibly to compensate for this lifestyle, exhaustion has become a status symbol.
If we appear busy and exhausted, that means we’re ‘important’ and ‘in high demand’. Being busy has somehow become synonymous with being productive, so the busier we appear is the more productive we seem. The more productive we seem is the more money we’re presumably making.
I remember carefully rationing my days off from work. I would schedule them as efficiently as possible around errands so these ‘free’ days would also be ‘productive’.
Our beautiful, rare, and precious lives now march to the rhythm of ‘work, eat, sleep, repeat’. Our bodies no longer move to the rhythm of freedom.
Time for leisure doesn’t appear to be of value anymore. Is leisure of no valuable because we don’t make money from it? In a society where ‘time is money’, if you’re not using your time to make money then you’re wasting time.
If we can scarcely find time to sleep then how can anyone experience such a luxury as leisure? It has become something of a delicacy, reserved for the elite who can afford to pay for it.
With no time left for ourselves, we have nothing left to give to ourselves, let alone others. No time for fun. No time for a book or a movie, a walk or a game. There is no time to really grow as a person. Personal growth and evolution takes time; lots of time. It squanders time, has no sense of economy of time, and it happens in moments of leisure.
Last year, I read Civilized to Death by Christopher Ryan. A large part of the book focused on our hunter-gatherer ancestors, and the abundance of leisure they enjoyed.
The foragers lived in egalitarian societies, in bands of about 100 people. ‘Work’ and ‘play’ were almost indistinguishable, leaving them with plenty of spare time. They lived relaxed, unconstrained lives, sharing tasks with friends and only ‘working’ for a few hours per day.
'… before the evolution of the state, the average human being enjoyed economic and political freedoms, which only a privileged minority enjoy today. Men decided for themselves how long they would work on a particular day, what they would work at or if they would work at all. Neither rent, taxes nor tribute kept people from doing what they wanted to do.'
From the outside, the hunter-gatherer groups did not appear to have much material wealth. Most items e.g. pots and spears, were shared. Personal ownership was not a common occurrence. They would have small hunting groups, and if one person was successful, they would share everything with the rest of the tribe.
They had a culture of generosity, honesty and mutual respect (attributes that were necessary for their survival; for a peaceful tribe).
'Their wealth, measured in freedom and autonomy, was accompanied by what looked like material poverty.'
Last month, for a book club meeting we focused on Down and out in Paris and London by George Orwell. It's about Orwell's experience of poverty while living in two cities in the late 1920's.
I was glued to the pages despite the heavy themes and would HIGHLY recommend! ✨
He described perpetual hunger, chaos and boredom. In Paris we see Orwell half-starved, almost to the point of immobility. He's in bed and weak from hunger. On days when he can afford food, he survives on a diet of bread or potatoes then roams the streets in search of a job.
Finally, finallyyy he lands a job as a labourer in a hotel kitchen (as a plongeur). I'm sooo happy for him. At last he'll have money for food and shelter!
The reality of the situation, however, is that there is only enough money for food and shelter. His wages are so low that he isn't able to save anything. His working hours are so long (17 hours a day) that he has no time to look for other work. He is, in fact, stuck.
'The work of a plongeur: piled up mountains of useless drudgery'
'...he is no freer than if he were bought and sold. His work is servile and without art; he is paid just enough to keep him alive; his only holiday is the sack.'
'Except by a lucky chance, he has no escape from his life, save into prison.'
With no leisure time, the protagonist is not even afforded the luxury of considering another life for himself.
'If plongeurs thought at all, they would long ago have formed a union and gone on strike for better treatment. But they do not think, because they have no leisure for it; their life has made slaves of them.'
'To sum up. A plongeur is a slave, and a wasted slave, doing stupid and largely unnecessary work. He is kept at work, ultimately, because of a vague feeling that he would be dangerous if he had leisure.'
Orwell suggests that the rich are to blame. The poor are kept oppressed by a system that has been put in place to suppress the working class. He suggests that the goal of the wealthy is to keep the poor so busy that they're not able to think, let alone revolt.
‘I believe that this instinct to perpetuate useless work is, at bottom, simply fear of the mob. The mob are such low animals that they would be dangerous if they had leisure; its safer to keep them too busy to think’
‘The rich... imagine that any liberty conceded to the poor is a threat to their own liberty’
Both books raise so many interesting conversation points. I had to try to keep this post short, but the reality is there's just so much to talk about!
Even as I type this sentence, I've though of another interesting topic, but i'll save that for another post. 😁