Contra Mozilla

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Leisure and Life

I've started reading Josef Pieper's Leisure: The Basis of Culture, and already one passage has stood out to me:
"The original meaning of the concept of 'leisure' has practically been forgotten in today's leisure-less culture of 'total work': in order to win our way to a real understanding of leisure, we must confront the contradiction that rises from our overemphasis on the world of work. 'One does not only work to live, but one lives for the sake of one's work,' this statement, quoted by Max Weber, makes immediate sense to us, and appeals to our current opinion. It is difficult to us to see how in fact it turns the order of things upside down."
Pieper goes on to say that Aristotle would counter this by saying (as he does in the Nicomachean Ethics) that rather, "We work in order to be at leisure." Further, the actual word for "work" used by Aristotle translates as "not-at-leisure." This is a thing worth remembering, even for those of us who have gone into what is supposedly the most leisurely of all professions, academia*. This is not to praise mere "laziness" or "shiftlessness." The shiftless man is not at leisure either, but rather is at the business of staying on the move, and unemployed.

Putting that aside, the ending statement that this worldview of "total work" ultimately "turns the order of things upside down" really stands out because we are seeing it in the world today. The US, for example, has no legal provisions for maternity leave; and you can forget all about paternity leave, even at most places of employment where women get 3-6 months off. Nevermind that the father is often "up" alongside the mother at all hours of the night with a newborn: after getting 2-3 hours of sleep per night for 2 weeks running, I was still expected to be at work, teaching classes (and contributing to my group's research efforts).

That is not, however, the worst of the points at which we have gone wrong. Abortion claims 90% of those children diagnosed with Downs Syndrome in the US; they are murdered before they can be born, because they are seen as a burden to the parents and as "useless" to society. At the other end of life though by far less common in the US, the elderly retired increasingly opt (or are coerced into) suicide under the banner "death with dignity." Having attained an age at which "serious work" is no longer possible, they are disposed of as quietly as can be, if not by suicide then by abandonment to the nursing homes.

I say this not to condemn society's members for doing that--we deserve, and we will get plenty of that if we do not collectively repent--but rather to warn. If we do not recover the concept of leisure as being a high and noble purpose in life, then we are lost as a culture.

I wonder, too, if I can't perhaps find leisure among the retired elderly. Too many have become convinced that since they are no longer able to engage in the business of living, then they must commence the business of dying, whether quickly by suicide (or euthanasia) or more slowly by "boredom and booze," or self-induced depression and general withdrawal. I wonder at times if all of this isn't so many masks for despair, and if perhaps only the actually hopeful can find time for leisure in this life--might it not prepare us for leisure in the next?

*For what it is worth, I probably work close to 55 hours per week right now (possibly more if you count what I bring home), and I haven't yet started to do any research. That may be a rant for another day, though I have to guard myself against any envy of my myriad friends (and some relatives) who go to work at 9 and return at 5, and then have weekends and evenings entirely off. Life is better since finishing grad school, but sometimes not by much. On the other hand, some would say that mine is "leisurely work"--I don't exactly have to toil at my labors.

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