The Palimpsest of Sawbones Surio

Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will

In praise of idleness….

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In keeping with the spirit of (the overratedness of) work that started with this earlier post, I present two interesting quotations for your reading pleasure:

Whoever is not in the possession of leisure can hardly be said to possess independence. They talk of the dignity of work. Bosh. True work is the necessity of poor humanity’s earthly condition. The dignity is in leisure. Besides, 99 hundredths of all the work done in the world is either foolish and unnecessary, or harmful and wicked.

–Herman Melville’s (Moby-Dick) biography

I want to say, in all seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work, and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.

Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth’s surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid.

–Bertrand Russell

And that was Bertrand Russell, who also gave the quip “Belief in a cause is a source of happiness to large numbers of people” (The conquest of Happiness). A pity it’s the belief in Mammon that’s replaced the beliefs of yesteryears. The above quote was from one of his essays titled In praise of Idleness and rightly so!

Our zeal for “improvement” just doesn’t know when to stop…… And that’s precisely the problem of today. When I was a little kid, I read in a Philosophy book that used the following anecdote to make a point:

When George Mallory was asked by a NYTimes reporter, “Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?” it seems he retorted: “Because it’s there”

Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew Irvine both disappeared somewhere high on the North-East ridge and their bodies were never discovered for 75 years! Indeed!

Luckily ol Bertie hints at a solution…..

When I suggest that working hours should be reduced to four, I am not meaning to imply that all the remaining time should necessarily be spent in pure frivolity. I mean that four hours’ work a day should entitle a man to the necessities and elementary comforts of life, and that the rest of his time should be his to use as he might see fit. It is an essential part of any such social system that education should be carried further than it usually is at present, and should aim, in part, at providing tastes which would enable a man to use leisure intelligently.

Tim Ferris, take a hike! Someone was there long before you were even a twinkle in your father’s eye. Most people, when they spend some time critically reflecting inwards (What’s the point of all this carousel?) do tend to figure that one out by themselves. Here’s ermine at SLS on one of his musings: “On(c)e you have individuated, you can make your own decisions.”.

I sincerely hope Bertie’s essay and Ermine’s post that puts the historical context right will send you down that path of “individuation” as well! Good Luck


Written by Surio

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Posted in Musings, Philosophy

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