Leisure, which comes to be an important topic for discussion in modern society, is generally seen as time to alleviate the fatigue of labor, a time necessary for making people work again and a compensation of labor time. Therefore, leisure, at first glance, is a means, not an end. With the development of capitalism and capitalism’s desire to turn everything to a commodity, leisure also becomes an area of profit.
Specifically, it is argued by many socialist thinkers that by developing a leisure industry, capitalism seeks the ways of getting back the wage paid in order to buy labor time. According to these thinkers, as distinct from modes of production, capitalism sees in everything related to man a commercial issue and what is calculated is not only production, but also how the products are to be consumed, how people are made to consume. That is why, advertisement sector, entertainment sector, brands, mass media are so important. Certainly, there is a leisure industry.
I’ve been unwilling (before edit I wrote unable) to post since starting my new job. The feeling of failure still clings to life like the cigarette smell that remains long after the baking soda treatment you applied to that garage sale rug. Even after more than a month, the anxiety of a job search rents space in my mind. When I find myself wondering about the worth of my current vocational situation, I often recall how the small, kafka-esque, buggy little man at the unemployment office, half-jokingly, asked about my ethnicity and religious preference prior to granting my application to get those last two weeks of benefit checks. Things (and, in that case, my particular answers) could have been much worse just based on chance.
So, I’ve been exhausted lately…a pile of human hamburger trudging through a commute and sliming home to put in an appearance at real life. Roughly 50 hour weeks at the new office and very little else has piqued my (sparse remaining) interest in labor and leisure – hence the quote above and this shiny blue text.
If you’ve never heard it before, let me be the first person to tell you that the vast majority of us exist for no other reason than to make money for a few of us (and the pronoun us probably isn’t very apt here, either – these people occupy another stratosphere of the human experience). The world we’ve constructed is a funny-seeming, absurd mass labor farm akin to a Matrix-type scenario in which the beneficiaries aren’t even concerned with putting on a show of concern enough to alter our perception of reality. Hell, they’ve just made certain our education system is farcical enough that we’re no longer capable of perceiving reality at all.
With Occupy becoming a shell of a movement (see sophomoric & alienating, dow-rod brandishing black block mayday tactics as one example…the NATO whimper as another), it’s doubtful any systemic change is forthcoming, no? So, let’s just sit back and assess.
At least we have our time off.
I work 50-hour weeks. To be successful at my desk, you really ought to put in 60 or more. As it is just now, I come home, I do my best to conjure up the scraps of emotional and spiritual leavings I have left from a day full of monotony and meaninglessness and I try to refocus on what really matters – the few meaningful relationships I keep, my intellectual curiosities, personal goals, etc.
I’ve come to the conclusion that – even in a world where labor saving technology is rampant – we have no experience of meaningful leisure. If you buy Aristotelian ethics and political thought – in which, leisure is a requirement of citizenship (or “honorable action) – this is a bleak outcome. Do a quick back of the envelope calculation of what you consider leisurely. If you’re anything like me, you’ve come to see dining at restaurants, big bar tabs, vintage furniture shopping, and a night at the movies as your only recourse to recuperation from work. Our lives are just as disconnected from DIY leisure as they have become from DIY sustenance. We’re each and every one of us commodities, even when we’ve finished working. Mass (wo)man incarnate.
We depend on spending to rest. The only way to feel the experience of your free time comes at a hefty cost. That deep sigh of carelessness that used to come from the factory whistle now resonates through the ATM beeps, the clanging of the cash register, the live music that streams around the edges of the bar door as you’ve paid your cover charge.
Perhaps Adorno is right here. Could time off be nothing more than “a shadowy continuation of labor”? God only knows I spend enough downtime simply staring off in to space to suggest that it may be. If anything, it may have become a pastiche of consumer-voyeuristic-restlessness in which there is no possible reprieve. Let’s rephrase the positives here, then.
At least we’ll certainly see unemployment every 10 to 18 months in this economy.
I’ll close with a quote that’s, to me, powerful but that seems quite contrary to the American notion of the labor/leisure paradigm:
Leisure is essential to civilization, and in former times leisure for the few was only rendered possible by the labours of the many. But their labours were valuable, not because work is good, but because leisure is good. And with modern technique it would be possible to distribute leisure justly without injury to civilization. – Bertrand Russell (In Praise of Idleness)
*Interesting sidenote/rant – all of the dyed-in-the-wool (yet often well-meaning and intentionally optimistic) progressive types who I know well or otherwise who tend to bleat away about life-improving technology ubiquitous in our contemporary world seldom seem to work in a realm where labor-saving technology is rampant (i.e. labor is devalued). They’re typically serving at restaurants. Coincidence?