Wednesday, 30 July 2014

In Praise of Idleness: "If Hadza nomads get by on 14 hours’ work a week, why can’t we?"

Some relevant ideas for our stressed-out times:

Replacing Happiness with Idleness

In Idle Theory, pain and pleasure are replaced by busyness and idleness. The Benthamite Principle of Utility may be reformulated such that it approves or disapproves of every action whatsover, according to the tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the idleness of the party whose interest is in question. And since idle and busy time may be measured using clocks, there is in principle no problem in measuring idleness, and therefore no obstacle to a reformulated "felicific calculus". At one step, Idle Theory gets round one of the strongest objections to Utilitarianism: that it is incommensurable. For while idleness is at least in principle measurable, happiness is not.

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.

JOHN LUBBOCK, The Use of Life

 Image for Idleness: relaxation or subversion?


What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad day light,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.




The Hadza

They grow no food, raise no livestock, and live without rules or calendars. They are living a hunter-gatherer existence that is little changed from 10,000 years ago. What do
they know that we've forgotten?

By Michael Finkel
Photograph by Martin Schoeller
"I'm hungry," says Onwas, squatting by his fire, blinking placidly through the smoke. The men beside him murmur in assent. It's late at night, deep in the East African bush. Singing, a rhythmic chant, drifts over from the women's camp. Onwas mentions a tree he spotted during his daytime travels. The men around the fire push closer. It is in a difficult spot, Onwas explains, at the summit of a steep hill that rises from the grassy plain. But the tree, he adds, spreading his arms wide like branches, is heavy with baboons. There are more murmurs. Embers rise to a sky infinite with stars. And then it is agreed. Everyone stands and grabs his hunting bow.

The Hadza — National Geographic Magazine

There has been a lot of comment on ideas to reduce the working week:
Futures Forum: The 3-day week: "Is this a charitable proposal wrapped in a business opportunity?"

This is from Boyd Tonkin of the Independent:

If Hadza nomads get by on 14 hours’ work a week, why can’t we?

BOYD TONKIN Friday 25 July 2014

You should cherish your hours of idleness even more keenly than usual this summer. For the work fetishists are on the warpath

For 150 years, reformers and idealists have dreamed of leisure and relaxation ample enough to allow human beings to thrive. In 1890, William Morris subtitled his utopian fantasia News from Nowhere “an epoch of rest”. Proper holidays, legally mandated after the bitter struggle to guarantee them, are not only one of the summits of civilisation. They offer a utopian foretaste of a more rational state of affairs. If the richest man in the world can recommend working less but better, who dares disagree? Mexican mining and telecoms magnate Carlos Slim, who this month overtook Bill Gates in estimated total assets ($79.6 bn to Gates’s $79.1 bn), thinks that in the future we should be working three days each week.

You should cherish your hours of idleness even more keenly than usual this summer. For the work fetishists are on the warpath. The present Government has failed to make work pay for everyone, despite the intentions of its universal credit (UC) reforms to safeguard the income of people who move off benefits. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that UC “in many cases provides little or no incentive for additional work”, while the Government’s own impact assessment calculates 2.8 million losers (and 3.1 million winners) under the new system. So the practical attractions of honest toil for families on low incomes remain, at best, balanced on a fiscal knife edge. What to do? Promote politicians whose USP is insulting their fellow citizens as work-shy shirkers. Quite brilliant.

In 2012, the Free Enterprise Group of Conservative MPs published their hardcore treatise Britannia Unchained, with its notorious jibes at Britons as gold-medal slackers, “among the worst idlers in the world” when they enter the workplace. “We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor.” Quite false on the first two counts: OECD figures have annual working hours in the UK as 1,625, compared with 1,482 in France and 1,406 in super-efficient Germany. Our benchmark age for retirement is due to rise inexorably. Already, the UK rate for employment among the over-65s exceeds that in the rest of Europe; only Denmark comes close.

The Free Enterprisers’ final slur on their people is technically correct but economically illiterate. A substantial literature already surrounds the UK “productivity puzzle”, whereby post-recession output and employment have risen while national productivity markedly drops: $42.1 contribution to GDP per hour worked in 2013, compared with a eurozone average of $43.7 and a G7 rate of $48.4. Explanations for the plunge range from the misallocation of resources and the post-crash investment famine to, in several studies, the long-term fall in real wages. Professor John Van Reenen of the London School of Economics argues in a paper that “low wages and weak investment mean a big fall in the amount of effective capital per worker and this accounts for most of the fall in labour productivity”.

No serious economist thinks it has anything to do with skivers chatting by the coffee machine or sloping off early to the pub. So what became of the excitable duffers responsible for Britannia Unchained? One of the gang, Elizabeth Truss, has joined the Cabinet as Environment Secretary. Another, Priti Patel, will now help to steer taxation policy as Exchequer Secretary at the Treasury.

Above all, we need a change of culture. More than 80 years ago, Bertrand Russell wrote a wonderful essay entitled “In Praise of Idleness”. I wanted to call it “invigorating”, but “soothing” might be an apter word. This manifesto for malingerers tells of Russell’s recovery from the Victorian creed that “Satan finds some mischief for idle hands to do”. Now, “my opinions have undergone a revolution. I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous”. Russell attacks not work in itself but the idolatrous and inhuman religion of labour. Even with 1930s technology, he reckons that four hours each day should be enough to secure a civilised life for all. Since then, advanced robotics have brought his fantasy much closer to reality. For Russell, the four-hour day will usher in an age of “happiness and joy of life, instead of frayed nerves, weariness, and dyspepsia. The work exacted will be enough to make leisure delightful, but not enough to produce exhaustion. Since men will not be tired in their spare time, they will not demand only such amusements as are passive and vapid”.

Lord Russell published about 70 books over 70 years, from German Social Democracy in 1896 to War Crimes in Vietnam in 1967. Plainly, he found it a little hard to practise what he preached. No matter. In the great thinker’s final decade, his advocacy of the four-hour day or (roughly) 20-hour week began to attract endorsement from some unexpected sources. When anthropologists in the 1960s started to look seriously at the world’s surviving hunter-gatherer societies, they showed that in New Guinea, the Kalahari or the Amazon entirely self-sufficient tribes flourished with almost exactly that workload.

Jared Diamond, the scientist who has done more than anyone to draw lessons from “the world until yesterday”, argued that “Hunter-gatherers practised the most successful and longest-lasting lifestyle in human history”. On a 24-hour clock, our species took to labour-intensive agriculture only at 11.54pm. Moreover, several viable communities undercut the 20-hour norm, with the Hadza nomads of Tanzania getting by on 14 hours of foraging every week. Richard Lee’s research among the Dobe people of the Kalahari found that their far from taxing routines yielded a daily calorie intake of 2,140, compared with an estimated requirement of 1,975. Not just slackers, but overeaters too.

So, from leisure-loving survivors in forest or desert to Nobel Prize-winning philosophers, reasonable idleness has an illustrious pedigree. Remember that glorious heritage of justified indolence the next time some punitive ideologue tries to confuse repose with laziness, or drudgery with purpose. Enjoy your “favourite island” this August, or even just your favourite armchair. By occupying them, you may help to bring an “epoch of rest” that bit nearer.

If Hadza nomads get by on 14 hours’ work a week, why can’t we? - Comment - Voices - The Independent

Looking at 'the productivity puzzle, on Radio 4's Analysis, Paul Johnson recently asked:

The End of the Pay Rise?

Monday 14 July 2014

Something strange has been happening in the British economy. For over six years now, wages have fallen for most of us, which is unprecedented in British modern history. And despite the return of economic growth, wages still have not picked up.

What has happened? And crucially is this a long term problem - is this the end of the pay rise? Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, explores the mystery of our falling wages and finds out how it is related to how productive we are, but also to how wages themselves are shared out between the top earners and the rest of us.

BBC Radio 4 - Analysis, The End of the Pay Rise?
BBC Radio 4 Analysis: The end of the pay rise? | University of Bath

There is some very interesting literature on the the theme of 'idleness':

Jay Griffiths says that Western society’s fear of idleness is part of our modern malaise. Playing for timeThe Ecologist 2001

Lord Layard is genuine and evangelical about the possibilities of the new science of happiness and its ability to transform poor people's lives… He argued passionately for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – a short-term therapy that focuses on thinking and behaviour – to tackle this.
"The notion that a few weeks of CBT will transform miserable people languishing in idleness and dependency into happy shiny productive workers is embarrassing in its absurdity," wrote a GP, Mike Fitzpatrick, in the British Journal of General Practice.

James Woodburn, perhaps the most remarkable of all British experts on hunter-gatherers, said to me recently: “there’s a chasm between hunter-gatherers and all other peoples – that’s the simple starting-point for all this work.”

How to be Free: Tom Hodgkinson: 2006
The two great influences on the development of medieval ethics were Christ’s Sermon on the Mount and Aristotle’s Ethics, which had come to Europe via Arab translations. From this material they developed an approach to life which was eco-friendly, neighbourly and based on cooperating rather than competing.
ANTI-CAPITALIST: Lending at interest, or usury, is at the basis of the capitalist system. And usury was quite specifically proscribed by medieval ethics. It was sinful, they said, to sell something that does not belong to you, which is time. It was also sinful to take advantage of someone else’s misfortune by lending them money.
ANTI-WORK: According to historian Jacques Le Goff, the medievals were opposed to hard work, because, he says, to put in long hours displayed a lack of faith in Providence. Theologically, medieval Catholicism was closer to an almost Taoist Oriental fatalism than today’s Protestant culture. And hard work might give you an unfair advantage over your brothers.
ANTI-COMPETITIVE: Craftsmen organised themselves into a system of Guilds. Guild members mutually agreed to keep quality high and prices uncompetitive. They instituted the notion of a “just and fixed price” for their wares. Goods were produced in small groups. This practice guarded against today’s problem which is giant companies producing a load of rubbish.
HOSPITABLE: Just as indigenous people today would share their last crust with you, so the medievals emphasised the importance of good hospitality. The monasteries would take in wandering men and give them beer, bread and bacon, and indeed, the (later) problem of homeless, in the Elizabethan age, was a direct result of the destruction of the monasteries.
PARTY-LOVING: The medieval calendar was absolutely studded with feast days and festivals. Of course, we all celebrate Christmas now, but Christmas then was celebrated for 12 days, during which no one was allowed to work. Every three or four weeks there was some excuse for a party. May Day was for having sex and every three of four weeks there was a long break.
NEIGHBOURLY: Christ had conceived of the world as a “brotherhood of man” and civility to your neighbour was paramount. This is because the medievals had a sense of collective responsibility: we are all in this together, so your well-being and my well-being are one and the same thing.

The Idle Foundation >>Home
The Abolition of Work: Bob Black: 1986 >>THE ABOLITION OF WORK

Idleness: In Three Men in a Boat, Jerome K. Jerome memorably remarked that ‘work fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours’… Similar siren calls are heard in Robert Fuller Murray’s poem ‘Indolence’ and Keats’s ‘Ode on Indolence’, and drowsy days in the sun also inspire Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’une faune… the torpor of the marriners of Tennyson’s ‘The Lotos-Eaters’ (… Parry’s grand setting of it)… Montaigne, in his Essays, takes a more analytical approach … Joseph Crosby Lincoln … the grasshopper who lives for the moment in his retelling of Aesop’s famous fable… self-proclaimed ‘member of the undeserving poor’ Alfred Doolittle for letting things take their course in My Fair Lady … Scottish-born poet Robert W. Service, who, echoing Jerome and Mole, declares that while it’s noble enough for others to sweat, ‘pounds and dollars to get’, it’s just as grand ‘doing nothing at all’.
BBC - BBC Radio 3 Programmes - Words and Music, Idleness

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