Untimely Observations

In Defense of Laziness


We are told, by those who were not there at the time, that the founding fathers valued hard work and that the way to get ahead in this society is to work hard.

What does it mean, to work hard? When you sit at a desk, does it mean you push down on the pencil harder? Well, no… it means that you spend a lot of hours doing your task, and that in theory you pay attention and do it halfway well.

And yet, no one has stopped to think how working hard could be a bad thing.

The problem with hard work, other than the kind of work where you can space out, like farm labor, is that it takes over your brain. It’s like a form of inertia. When you have a hammer, everything is a nail. When you work hard, the only solution is more hard work.

Not working smarter, not eliminating excess, not rethinking the mission to be more efficient. Just grind! Ignore the rest of your life. Ignore your sentiment, your humanity, your family and your need to develop as a human being. Show up every day and push paper, people and pencils around until you get what you want!

In offices, schools and commuter vehicles across America, melancholy eyes turn to the window and watch the blue sky, out there so close you could touch it, waiting in a pristine state of beauty. It surrounds us, yet by our own rules we stay in here and it stays out there. Misery perpetuated.

This is not to be construed as opposition to a job well done. A job well done is a situation where you set a goal, recognize the “fullness” of the task as involving far more than mediocrity, and then apply yourself to conquer the obstacle. Harvest season is one of these, or writing a book, or building a house.

These tasks showcase more of the rhythm of life. Rest, then a task, with contemplation followed by diligent action, but nothing more. No immersing in work as a way to run away from your problems. No weltering in money so that you can claim you’re living the good life. No lording of titles, prestige and accomplishment in the small as an egotism that replaces the need to have a soul.

America and our brothers and sisters in Europe grew because we understood not hard work, but hard tasks. We aimed for the job that needed doing-well, and not the easy job that we could grind away at without thinking. We surged into new fields of the arts, sciences, philosophy and learning.

After that was done, the imitators showed up, probably the result of a population boom thanks to all the wealth received from our technology and learning, and they started imitating what others had done to succeed. Except that instead of reaching into the task and finding the goal, they took a surface look and saw method.

Thus the aggressive and war-like stance of a job well done got replaced by the job that would never be done. Show up, be there a lot and make a lot of noise, and then get paid. Create reams of paper that no one will ever read again. Grandstand, pass out business cards, deduct your false teeth and join a professional association.

If anything is killing the West, and making us vote against ourselves, it’s our misery. We work hard in a perpetual wartime mode, struggling for a victory that will never come. We hate ourselves, and imagine the natives in the tropics have answers we don’t.

After all, they’re not working hard and then looking out their windows balefully at the blue sky and wondering what they’re missing.