The Right to be Lazy (On this Site): Chapter I, A Disastrous Dogma

Paul LaFargue (Being Lazily Suave)

There is always a bit of contradictions or weirdness with the pro-lazy position and it’s really well emphasized in the quote LaFargue puts at the top of this chapter:

Let us be lazy in everything, except in loving and drinking, except in being lazy. – Lessing

People always want to make fun of the pro-lazy position, not least of which the lazy people in question! Satire and humor have always been a big part of the toolkit for slackers. Whether we are poking fun at other people or (perhaps our favorite target) ourselves we are always ready to draw a line in the sand…and then immediately undercut that line in the next second.

So to with this quote. Does being lazy mean being lazy about being lazy? Do we have to give a lot of effort to be lazy or do we just put ourselves on cruise control? But how can we be lazy in any effective way if we don’t put any effort into our laziness? If I had just sat down in the middle of the store that I worked in and did nothing then I would not have been as successful at being lazy as I was when I gave effort.

It seems then that some paradoxical (perhaps) nuance is then necessary. We can say that we are pro-laziness but pro-laziness in the most effective ways. We can dislike forms of laziness that are crude in some sense and unhelpful for us and our fellow slackers like the example I gave before. For what does sitting in the middle of the store that you work at really do for anyone? Anyone that values laziness and slacking would probably think you weren’t slacking in any meaningful way. It seems like there is a difference between being lazy and just giving up.

To me being lazy still seems to imply an awareness of your surroundings and perhaps some effort but a relaxed and fluid sort of awareness and effort. Nothing is being concentrated on to a big extent but it isn’t exactly being ignored either. At least not in any complete sense. It could be instead just viewed as a deadening or dulling of our senses and reflexes instead of a killing of it.

Regardless I do like this quote.

LaFargue next touches on a “delusion” that the “working classes of the nation” possess:

This delusion is the love of work, the furious passion for work, pushed even to the exhaustion of the vital force of the individual and his progeny.

This delusion sounds very much to me like the Puritan Work Ethic which I have mentioned before. Loving what you are supposed to do even if you don’t like it or even if it tires you more than it excites you and so on.

LaFargue doesn’t hold back on the evils of work that he sees:

In capitalist society work is the cause of all intellectual degeneracy, of all organic deformity.

I think (even as an anti-work guy myself) that this strong is a little too strong.

Is there really nothing else in a capitalist society that does not degrade us or make us yearn for a better life? Does not the plain existence of bosses make many of us grumble or cry out in frustration? Does the government with all of its many machinations and procedures sometimes make us feel like we too are cogs? Intellectual property laws are another way that our intellect can be controlled and devalued as well.

So I don’t know that work is the sole cause of these things. Is it a big player? Sure, I wouldn’t deny that. But just abolishing work in of itself wouldn’t eliminate all of the harmful laws, positions of authority and so on that exist in society today.

There is also some slight anti-civilization remarks made by LaFargue:

Compare the thorough-bred in Rothschild’s stables, served by a retinue of bipeds, with the heavy brute of the Norman farms which plows the earth…

It is interesting to note that however much LaFargue praises the more :”primitive” people he is at the same time also giving them more praise for not absorbing some of the ideals or ideas of modern civilization. And yet even though he claims this he still refers to the more primitive people as “brutes” and the like. It’s an interesting mix of backwardness and progressiveness all at once.

In terms of the claims themselves I am not sure how universal the dislike of work was prominent in the tribes or places that LaFargue cites or compares to modern Europe. I will have to take his word for it at some level then but I do remain skeptical that he could set up a dichotomy like this so neatly and evenly.

Another questionable example LaFargue gives is the Greeks:

The Greeks in their era of greatness had only contempt for work: their slaves alone were permitted to labor: the free man knew only exercises for the body and mind.

Maybe this is just me, but I am not sure if using society’s that rested on slaves existing at all so others could live more idle lives is a good example to use. Unless you want to state how the desire for idleness can turn into a disaster or something else. But it doesn’t seem like LaFargue is going for that.

I understand the need for historical backing and a use of history to make sure people don’t think your ideas have never been tried or could never work. I get that. But at the same time sometimes an example does more to harm your point that to benefit it. I also understand that LaFargue who “do[es] not profess to be a Christian, an economist or a moralist” is trying to meet them on their own terms and prove them wrong. And that’s an admirable strategy and a good one.

But so far I think he could be doing better.

A better example (though still a little lacking):

 Jesus, in his sermon on the Mount, preached idleness: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” Jehovah the bearded and angry god, gave his worshipers the supreme example of ideal laziness; after six days of work, he rests for all eternity.

I think these are both good appeals though I feel as if in how long the bible is with all of the stories and voices it contains singling out these two things is like singling out a few pro-work comments. It just seems to lack the sort of punch that I think LaFargue really wants to make.

But that second point is not only pretty good but pretty funny. At least if you accept that position about god. If you are a deist or something else then it would work for sure. But on the other hand if you think miracles are a thing or God intervenes in our daily lives or listens to our prayers then he surely hasn’t been resting, has he?

In the last two paragraphs LaFargue touches on for whom work is “an organic necessity” and the proletariat who need to free themselves from work so as to stop being perverted by the “dogma of work”.

Again, I don’t know much about how true that first paragraph is and the second is just more of the same: calling for the proletariat to revolt. So besides what I’ve said above and before I don’t think there is much left to say.

Overall I felt a bit dissatisfied with this chapter. I felt like LaFargue didn’t really take the opposition on their own terms well enough. He did it too loosely and quickly and often it just didn’t seem to have enough of a punch even when he did make a solid point. Other statements about civilization and who deserves or doesn’t deserve work as well as citing Greece (which used slaves) also struck me as an odd way to deflect criticism against the anti-work position and not altogether very useful.

I am hoping that LaFargue will step up his game from here because so far I haven’t been too impressed. Though I must say I of course love his vigor for disliking work and the fact that he made these arguments in the time that he lived is a wonderful thing of itself. In hindsight though I just don’t think (so far) they are the best you could make even if I respect his methods of trying to use the opposition’s own terms to prove them wrong.

Hopefully it will be onwards and upwards from here!

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