(Nick’s Notes: This isn’t the first time we’ve seen good ol’ Nietzsche poke fun at how work is viewed in society. For another example of this see my essay, “Work, What is it Good For?”)
There is something of the American Indian, something of the ferocity peculiar to Indian blood, in the American lust for gold – and the breathless haste with which they work – the distinctive vice of the New World – is already beginning to infect Old Europe with its ferocity and is spreading a lack of spirituality like a blanket. Even now one is ashamed of resting and prolonged reflection almost gives people a bad conscience. One thinks with a watch in one’s hand even as one eats one’s lunch whilst reading the latest news of the stock market, one lives as one might always “miss out on something”. “Rather do anything rather than nothing” : this principle too is just a noose to throttle all culture and good taste. Just as all forms are visibly perishing by the haste of the workers, the feeling for form itself, the ear and eye for the melody of movements are also perishing.
The proof of this may be found in the universal demand for gross obviousness in all those situations in which human beings wish to be honest with one another for once – in their associations with friends, women, relatives, children, teachers, pupils, leaders and Princes: One no longer has time or energy for ceremonies, for being obliging in an indirect way, for esprit in conversation, and for otium at all. Living in a constant chase after gain compels people to expend their spirit to the point of exhaustion in continual pretence and overreaching and anticipating others.
Virtue has come to consist in doing something in a shorter time than another person. And so there are only rare hours of sincere intercourse permitted: in them, however, people are tired, and would not only like “to let themselves go,” but to stretch their legs out wide in awkward style. The way people write their letters nowadays is quite in keeping with the age; their style and spirit will always be the true “sign of the times.” If there be still enjoyment in society and in art, it is enjoyment such as over worked slaves provide for themselves. Oh, this moderation in “joy” of our cultured and uncultured classes! Oh, this increasing suspiciousness of all enjoyment!
Work is winning over more and more the good conscience to its side: the desire for enjoyment already calls itself “need of recreation,” and even begins to be ashamed of itself. “One owes it to one’s health,” people say, when they are caught at a picnic. Indeed, it might soon go so far that one could not yield to the desire for the vita contemplative, (that is to say, excursions with thoughts and friends), without self contempt and a bad conscience. Well! Formerly it was the very reverse: it was “action” that suffered from a bad conscience. A man of good family concealed his work when need compelled him to labour. The slave laboured under the weight of the feeling that he did something contemptible: the “doing” itself was something contemptible. “Only in otium and bellum is there nobility and honour:” so rang the voice of ancient prejudice!