The Right to be Lazy (On this Site): Appendix (With a Conclusion)

Paul LaFargue (Being dead and Lazy)

In order to dismiss the current philosophers who LaFargue disagrees with he uses a mix of history and philosophy against the “moralists”:

 Let us open the history of ancient peoples and the writings of their philosophers and law givers. “I could not affirm,” says the father of history, Herodotus, “whether the Creeks derived from the Egyptians the contempt which they have for work, because I find the same contempt established among the Thracians, the Cythians, the Persians, the Lydians; in a word, because among most barbarians, those who learn mechanical arts and even their children are regarded as the meanest of their citizens. All the Greeks have been nurtured in this principle, particularly the Lacedaemonians.”

I know I’ve pointed this out before but…LaFargue knows their were slaves in Ancient Greece so why does he keep using it as a positive example? Were the Greeks’ perspective so important that at the same time this fact about using slavery to make work less prominent in their society (at least for the nobility) needs to be glossed over? It hardly seems like something that one should just gloss over and try to use as a positive example. It just kind of reeks of intellectual lazi-oh.

Well, okay, touche’ LaFargue.

LaFargue also cites Plato:

“Nature,” said Plato in his social utopia, his model republic, “Nature has made no shoemaker nor smith. Such occupations degrade the people who exercise them. Vile mercenaries, nameless wretches, who are by their very condition excluded from political rights. As for the merchants accustomed to lying and deceiving, they will be allowed in the city only as a necessary evil. The citizen who shall have degraded himself by the commerce of the shop shall be prosecuted for this offense. If he is convicted, he shall be condemned to a year in prison; the punishment shall be doubled for each repeated offense.”

I don’t know about sending lying and deceiving people to prisons but then LaFargue seems to be all about the brutality if it’s for the social good so I guess he wouldn’t mind.

And as much as I am anti-work and support slackerism and people being lazy to some extent I am not sure how these occupations “degrade the people who exercise them”. I don’t know how work inherently degrades us or even what “degrade” is supposed to mean here. Is it supposed to mean that it tires us? Well hell, writing these blog posts have “tired” me out sometimes or have made my brain have less energy for a given day. I guess if that was the basis for the objection then I am being degraded by these blogs? Funny, I don’t feel degraded.

Perhaps I am just suffering from “false consciousness” though…

In addition to continuing to be unnecessarily brutal towards others LaFargue also quotes a fairly classist and condescending quote:

In his Economics, Xenophon writes, “The people who give themselves up to manual labor are never promoted to public offices, and with good reason. The greater part of them, condemned to be seated the whole day long, some even to endure the heat of the fire continually, cannot fail to be changed in body, and it is almost inevitable that the mind be affected.”

The classism and ignorance here is pretty appalling. Not only is this classist as shit (have I mentioned that? just wanna make sure…) but it pretty much dehumanizes anyone who works with their hands. What does “giving themselves up” to manual labor even mean? Is everyone that works hard just a stupid peasant? Is everyone that has dirty hands because maybe they enjoy manual labor to some extent also stupid? They’re probably suffering from false consciousness as well, I guess.

This last part of the quote is also a bit stupifying. Can people who do a lot of manual labor in their lives not be smart within the contexts that their life matters and not be considered dumb just because they find value in it? I just find this whole thing really presumptuous. Do farmers and people who work with their hands never have time for a book or time to study the stars or learn about the environment that surrounds them? What is defining “smart” here anyways? In general I kind of doubt there are many people who “give themselves up” entirely to manual labor. If there are then I would personally say that life is not for me and I wouldn’t encourage anyone I know to do it or to encourage others to. But I’m not gonna just presume that people who do it are stupid or don’t actually get any value out of it. Doesn’t that sound like it’d be a really condescending and elitist thing to do?

But that all aside (if you could somehow brush it all aside…) even if this was all true, then this really presumes that the people in public office are smart. Who says? Why would they necessarily be smart or smarter than those who get their hands dirty? Someone who is getting their hands dirty every day would certainly understand and know some things that someone who tends not to would know, huh?

Cicero’s quote that LaFargue uses next is little better:

“What can commerce produce in the way of honor? Everything called shop is unworthy an honorable man. Merchants can gain no profit without lying, and what is more shameful than falsehood? Again, we must regard as something base and vile the trade of those who sell their toil and industry, for whoever gives his labor for money sells himself and puts himself in the tank of slaves.”

It just sounds to me like Cicero had a few bad experiences with merchants and then decided that they’re all bad and all liars. I mean, in a state-capitalist market it’s pretty likely that, due to the fact because their costs are externalized by the state and the profits are internalized by them, that obviously they can lie a lot more easier. And maybe a lot more merchants were greedy and liars back when Cicero was alive. Obviously I can’t be sure but it seems a bit weird to somehow condemn an entire profession based on systematic incentives to be liars to begin with.

LaFargue says that these words have been hidden from us proles with “jealous care”. Geez, who is jealous about classism, ignorance and people who love generalizing too much from personal experiences or from a given geographic area?

I know for a fact that after read these quotes that jealousy isn’t my first go-to emotion here…

Finally (and I do mean finally) LaFargue addresses the elephant in the room (emphasis added):

But our moralists of Christianity and capitalism will answer, “These thinkers and philosophers praised the institution of slavery.” Perfectly true, but could it have been otherwise, granted the economic and political conditions of their epoch? War was the normal state of ancient societies. The free man was obliged to devote his time to discussing the affairs of state and watching over its defense. The trades were then too primitive and clumsy for those practicing them to exercise their birth-right of soldier and citizen; thus the philosophers and law-givers, if they wished to have warriors and citizens in their heroic republics, were obliged to tolerate slaves. But do not the moralists and economists of capitalism praise wage labor, the modern slavery; and to what men does the capitalist slavery give leisure?

So contextually…slavery was cool?

Uh.

So if we’re in a perpetual state of war then slavery is…okay? Am I reading this right?

I mean I know LaFargue was living in…the late 19th century. Okay, no, this is totally fucked up.

I don’t know what else to say. Didn’t see this one coming. So…good job?

I am just gonna move on.

They do not yet understand that the machine is the saviour of humanity, the god who shall redeem man from the sordidae artes and from working for hire, the god who shall give him leisure and liberty.

While I don’t like situating machines as “god” and “savior” I guess it is better than being a primitivist.

Conclusion

So here we are…and the results were way more mixed than I had thought.

Obviously LaFargue is a product of his time and yadda yadda (insert other apologetic for historically problematic views) and I get that. But that doesn’t seem to fully excuse these views. It gives them more sense and maybe makes it slightly more understandable but that doesn’t mean I am just gonna sweep under the rug of “history” the given problems that he has.

LaFargue is fairly consistently vicious, condescending, elitist, classist (or reinforces classist notions), justifies Greek slavery and has some fairly weak arguments at times for leisure and against capitalism.

Despite this stuff though LaFargue has plenty to say and I wouldn’t say this went without its own intrinsic value. He makes plenty of good points about the benefits of leisure. He gives flawed but decent enough examples that explain that leisure in industry works and works to the benefit of all (even if he doesn’t like all involved) and is entirely practical. He uses the logic of the ruling class against itself rather well in most cases. Sometimes the cases could be a bit strong but other times it seems to work in his favor.

In the later parts of the essay though I do think LaFargue’s flaws of classism towards the proletariat really came through. It’s easy in a sense to see why he would want the bourgeoisie revolution to continue, just with the proletariat. It doesn’t seem as if he actually much faith in the proletariat and seem to imply again and again that the phenomenon of “false consciousness” (an idea that supposes that people can value things and not actually value them for the reasons they give) is not only possible but an epidemic within the proles. To be clear, it is entirely possible to be wrong about the values you hold or at least be wrong that they are any good or should be convincing reasons to do what you do. But speaking for others is a tricky business and saying that mass quantities of people have certain values and that these values are actually distorting their perceptions or somehow completely blinding them is a difficult thing to know for sure.

It isn’t exactly that you can’t say that people who have differing views from you are wrong or that the values they hold may distort their opinions about reality. Both of these things are, to on extent or another, a given. But again, one must be careful with how far this line of thinking is taken. The “false consciousness” idea at its root may hold water in certain examples but it is often used as a tool to dismiss other people’s different thoughts and make them seem irrelevant to any opposition to your own. It also seems to be rife with a lack of nuance if you are just going to say that a person’s values are X and it has Y effect and that’s really all there is to it.

LaFargue seems, on one hand, sympathetic to the proletarian and their struggle and the idea that they should work a lot less. But when it comes down to it his solutions to the inequities he sees are using the state, keeping prisons, glorifying the torture of capitalists via their hunger and forcing them to work (or not? it’s kind of difficult to tell honestly) and overall I just don’t care for his solutions. But his analysis while flawed and a not quite as strong as I’d like in some cases I feel does a fairly serviceable job (no pun intended) of putting a dent in the work ethic. The quotes he uses that tell the strokes of peasants was especially effective for me as well.

So what do I think of The Right to be Lazy?

I guess my overall feelings surrounding it was frustratingly enjoyable.

At most points I had minor grievances or issues with :LaFargue (though occasionally I did not) and every now and again I’d find myself at a metaphoric standstill with his words. It isn’t surprising as I am no Marxist (not that there’s nothing worthwhile in it or that you can take from it) and thus cannot agree with some of his analysis and most of his conclusions about the solutions are. But even so the ideas he has would (at least in part) improve things. The ideas of reducing work to four hours in a day sounds wonderful to me.

For example, even in my shitty awful retail job that I left over a month ago or so four hours was like the perfect amount. Just as I was getting tired of being there I was able to leave while I didn’t make much money (around $30) it was a short amount of time. I didn’t come back exhausted, resentful or anything like that and I had made a little bit of money. If I had gotten four days of that in a given week (let’s say Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday) and then have Saturday and Sunday off and work those four shifts at night when I didn’t need to do much anyways it would have worked pretty well for me. That would have been around $300-$400 per month. With rent and all of my costs in a given month that I have I probably would have been able to save $100 or more in a given month which would have helped me buy more comics and pay off my student loans.

So while I can’t deny that idea sounds very attractive to me the means of it (laws, relying on the state, etc.) don’t really appeal to me as an anarchist. Still, I am sympathetic at reformist attempts towards that even if I don’t think they’d (probably) be very effective. And even if they were they wouldn’t get at the root of the cultural work ethic.

Regardless LaFargue deals out some critiques that while at times flawed are typically serviceable in spits of that and while his solutions and some of his analysis strike me as vulgar in some cases and even outright dangerous in others I’d still recommend his essay to any aspiring slackers. We need all the help we can get to understand our present circumstances and what to do about them and while LaFargue (at least for my money) may not cover all of the bases he makes a solid attempt with the result being many half-polished gems among the lot.

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