I did enjoy this piece in the Times quite a bit on busy-ness and idleness. When I have thought about where I belong, and who “my people” are, the best answer I can come up with is that my people are “the intelligent idle,” or perhaps “the idle intelligent.” I feel this used to be a substantial and respectable portion of society and achieving this lifestyle was a major goal for humanity for millennia. It has seemingly lost its respectability – as part of a cultural evolution described in the sentence “The Puritans turned work into a virtue, evidently forgetting that God invented it as a punishment.”
Kreidel mentions the fear that we have with idleness – “perhaps the world would slide to ruin if everyone behaved as I do” – but excess is excess, and excess will be punished. It is the busyness which is sliding the world to ruin. He mentions that most of our work doesn’t really matter much – but it’s worse than that. Most of our work is positively destructive. Most of what we call production is really just consumption. It’s one of the great Orwellian convergences of the age. Thoreau noted the problem:
If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.
Eventually we simply won’t have any woods to show how industrious and enterprising we all are, and then it will be a sign of industriousness to grow woods instead of cut them down – and then we will learn that no human lifetime can suffice to grow one, not even an industrious and enterprising lifetime, and we will just have to wait. And in the near term, we will simply need more people whose pleasures are simpler and slower: in stars and fireflies, swimming in creeks and walking in woods, in the conversation of a good friend and the skin and hair of a lover. The funny thing is that these things end up being better anyway – I presume that if I need electricity for it, there are better pleasures elsewhere I’m neglecting.