Teleology and Being Lazy

He’s pointing towards the teleological.

Teleology is a framework that involves explaining a given phenomenon by what function it serves. What is the purpose of a given object? What end does it serve? These questions are things that teleology tries to answer.

An example would be asking why a spear has a pointy edge. In this case it’d to aid someone pierce something, historically an animal so a spear becomes helpful to primitive tribes hunt more successfully. These explanations of purposes and functions are practice teleology.

Teleology, furthermore, is most commonly associate with ancient philosophy. Namely it’s associated with Greek philosophy and more specifically, Aristotle. Understanding teleology isn’t just important for philosophy nerds though, I’d argue those who try to be lazy should harness the important framework of teleology too.

A few months back Mr. Furious of Disinformation spoke about Wu Wei, Flow States and the Art of Being a Lazy Fuck where he described laziness very simply:

This is my definition of laziness: the doing of things that are enjoyable at times when they are enjoyable.

This seems like an odd definition. If you enjoy working 50 hours a week and at any given moment then how could that be an example of laziness?

That could be the case but I suspect Mr. Furious might respond (and I’m inclined to agree) that most people don’t enjoy working 50 hours a week. Most people like having a break every now and then and if they felt less self-conscious about laziness they’d probably indulge more often.

But Mr. Furious further differentiates between healthy and unhealthy laziness which helps illuminate how is definition works:

…that a healthy laziness (as opposed to an unhealthy laziness, which does exist) is merely the spontaneous act of doing whatever seems most enjoyable to a person at a given moment.

For example, a few people I know insist that I’m not lazy because I work 50-plus hours each week and yet I still find time to write and work-out and such things. But I genuinely enjoy writing and exercise. And typically when I am engaging in such activities, I am doing so at times when they’re so enjoyable that they are not taking much actual effort to complete. My 50 hours of work each week are really the only parts of my life that take any kind of effort — well, that and when my wife puts me to work doing some kind of tedious work around the house (for me, although many people like DIY projects).

The opposite of laziness is “working hard.” But I think work only becomes hard when we’re not interested in doing it. I have to work hard at work because there are literally thousands of other things I’d rather spend my life doing.

This second passage explains the non-intuitive results that Mr. Furious might run into with his definition of laziness.

In fact, it explains things about my own life when I’m busy doing something I love. When I’m organizing an event for months on end (off and on and leisurely) and when it finally comes time to be at the event itself people think I’m a “hard worker”.

But for me it isn’t work. It doesn’t feel like a lot of effort in the end. Namely because it’s not something I look back on and regret and it isn’t something that I’m doing for some reason other than myself on some principle level. Sure there are other secondary reasons for organizing a given event that I enjoy a lot. But one of the main reasons is what it does for me. It makes me feel accomplished, I enjoy it for the sake of itself and not just for the conclusion.

That last bit is what a teleological justification would look like.

The purpose or function of the event organizing is the organizing itself and the many different pleasures that gives me. In other words, teleology and laziness can often be pretty intimately related. After all, under Mr. Furious’ definition, whenever we’re lazy we’re often doing things we like doing for their own sake and not just because their conclusion may strike out fancy.

Mr. Furious has some more interesting ideas on laziness:

The main idea here is that a healthy laziness is being spontaneous and doing enjoyable things at times when they are enjoyable. Sometimes activities we find to be enjoyable aren’t going to be enjoyable (for any of a myriad of reasons) and we shouldn’t do those usually enjoyable things at those times.

The spontaneous part of this is particularly interesting. Just an hour or so ago I decided, without any planning beforehand, to take a 10-20 minute break. I’ve had an eczema flare up and it’s been making sleep even more difficult than it is usually (I have restless leg syndrome). I didn’t plan to take a nap during the night, I just felt tired all of the sudden trying to really make sure I really read the article by Mr. Furious.

But now that I’ve taken the nap I feel a bit more awake and enjoyed the nap for its own sake. I even had an interesting and surreal dream even though the nap was so short. I did napping for the sake of it and I did it spontaneously as well and really, what’s more lazy than taking a nap around 9 PM at night?

This blog has already hosted some other things about the Tao and Daoism but in case you need a refresher on what Wu-Wei means, Mr. Furious has us covered:

Wu Wei is typically translated (with numerous, but less influential, exceptions) as “non-action,” “non-doing,” or “actionless action.”

Similarly Ryan Calhoun explained more at length in the aforementioned article about Tao:

This doctrine is known as Wu-Wei, translated imprecisely as non-action.

Putting it very roughly, you do not need to force your will onto the world around you in order for it to yield positive results.

There is also a principle of least action involved that many things are better left untouched than touched and then possibly worsened. You cannot know all possible effects of your actions. This doctrine does not urge people to never better things around them, but that such action should come naturally to them, that they should not be compelled whether under force or various social pressures to complete an action that they might otherwise not do.

Ryan has already gotten into why this is related to the philosophy of being a slacker, so I don’t think that requires much more explanation.

On a less explored note, the differentiation between “boredom” and “laziness” hasn’t been explored as much here.

People often conflate the idea of being “bored” (though as we’ve discussed before even boredom may not be all bad) with simply being “lazy”. I’m not sure how Mr. Furious defines boredom but it seems too narrow of a conception to me. We can often find what we want to be lazy with when we’re bored. Earlier today I was feeling a little directionless and listless but remembered that my “watch later” list on Youtube had a few long videos I had been meaning to get around to.

So instead of doing absolutely nothing (besides scrolling Facebook for the millionth time) I decided to lazily listen to these videos and relax a little. It was a good plan but it didn’t come from laziness so much as grasping with nothingness, AKA an active use of my boredom (or near-boredom) to be lazy.

More on the link between laziness and teleology:

…Flow/Wu Wei states are instigated when we are doing things for their own sake. When we sew because we like the act of sewing, not because we’re all that interested in making a beautiful dress. When we cook because we enjoy the process of cooking, not because we’re all that interested in the resulting meal. When we play basketball not because we really want to win, but because playing basketball is fun.

I’ve been working on this post off and on for the past few hours and pretty lazily. But even though it’s taken some effort it hasn’t felt like much. Probably because I did it teleologically.

Happy (teleological) slacking!


2 thoughts on “Teleology and Being Lazy

  1. Is it not a simpler solution simply to abolish the word, “lazy”?

    “Lazy” is such a negative word, such an unhelpful word – whether we are passively using it on ourselves, or whether it is employed by others who are trying to guilt people in to action. Children that are labelled “lazy” by their parents can be branded with it for life – even if only in their own minds. It can lead to all sorts of problems.

    “Lazy,” pfft! I have struck it from my vocabulary.

    • Hey, Rory, thanks for your comment!

      Well, it seems harder to put the genie back in the lamp once it’s been freed. There are many words that often confuse more than they clarify these days or have been distorted from what they once meant, etc. But that doesn’t mean we should try to “abolish” these words. Even if such a project was necessary or helpful I’m not sure how practical it would be. It’d be like trying to take any historically negative word (as lazy surely is) and somehow trying to root it out of the general populace’s language.

      So instead, I like what queer movements have done in reclamation of a word that was once mostly used by hateful people. You can still use queer in a mean-spirited way but it seems oddly in tension with those who self-identify as that same thing. Now, this may work better in some contexts than others. The slut-walk was another example of this which had some mixed results from other feminists.

      But it seems easier to me than to just admit a word has problems and try to reclaim it rather than try to somehow strike it from our collective memory.

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