A Proposal, for a four hour work day
My parents taught me to keep Sundays sacred to one of the seven deadly sins: Sloth. As non-churchgoers, I became accustomed to walking downstairs on a Sunday late morning to find both of them sprawled out in the living room or backyard sometimes talking and sometimes not. Long finished reading the Sunday newspaper, greetings lead to offering me the parts of the Sunday newspaper I preferred: comics and travel. I never read the sections that are what newspapers originally were meant for. Because then my head would be full of worry and would ruin the novelty of sitting on the couch facing out the living room window watching the birds and the flowers enjoy the breeze.
It’s true the world does not cleanse itself of wars, does not wash off the blood, does not get over its hate. It’s true. Yet is is equally true that we are moving toward a realization the violent ones are reflected in the mirror of the world, and their faces are not pleasant to look at, not even to themselves. And I go on believing in the possibility of love.
I am convinced that there will be mutual understanding among human beings, achieved in spite of all the suffering, the blood, the broken glass.
— Pablo Neruda (the greatest poet of all time)
My Sundays are a bit different now. It still includes extolling sloth, but now while savoring a nice cup of coffee.
What does “idleness” mean?
Is it vegging out in front of the tele? Is it checking your emails? Is it reading? Is it walking your dog? Is it perusing through WordPress blogs?
To me, the epitome of idleness is just waking up and staring at the ceiling. This differs from staring at the ceiling before going to bed because of the associated purpose of falling asleep. When I idle in bed, I refuse to get on with the actions of the day. I am just there — useless.
To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual–Oscar Wilde 1891.
I just finished a book “In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays” by Bertrand Russell. The admirable Russell wrote:
“Without a considerable amount of leisure a man is cut off from many of the best things…What will happen when the point has been reached where everybody could be comfortable without working long hours?”
Russell also suggests:
a world where no one is compelled to work more than four hours a day.
Russell made me think of the current strategy some companies are using in light of current economic tightening:
“We keep a large percentage of the working population idle, because we can dispense with their labour by making the others overwork. When all these methods prove inadequate, we have a war: we cause a number of people to manufacture high explosives, and a number of others to explode them, as if we were children who had just discovered fireworks. By a combination of all these devices we manage, though with difficulty, to keep alive the notion that a great deal of severe manual work must be the lot of the average man.”
While Russell does not delve into strategies for achieving worldwide four hour workdays, his idealism shines most in the last paragraphs of his essay:
“There will be happiness and joy of life, instead of frayed nerves, weariness, and dyspepsia. The work exacted will be enough to make leisure delightful, but not enough to produce exhaustion…At least 1 per cent will probably devote the time not spent in professional work to pursuits of some public importance…men and women, having the opportunity of a happy life, will become more kindly and less persecuting and less inclined to view others with suspicion. The taste for war will die out, partly for this reason, and partly because it will involve long and severe work for all…Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we have chosen, instead, to have overwork for some and starvation for the others.”
Sadly, the universal four hour workday remains limited to our dreams. But even in primitive times, the cavemen lounged around after times of intense hunting.
Soon Sunday will be over, and Monday will force us to conform to the rhythms of the day. Soon August will be over, and September brings preparing the kids for school. Soon summer will be over, and Winter adds holidays that paradoxically bring more work.
Don’t make excuses for not claiming your share of dolce far niente.