Lutz's diligent research on a range of lazy and slovenly subjects, from French flâneurs to New York bohos, ultimately leads him to side with the bums. Flying in the face of yuppie values and critics of the welfare state, his "slacker ethic" emerges over the course of this history as both a necessary corrective to—and an inevitable outgrowth of—the 80-hour work week.
I just ordered Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America to top up an Amazon order so that I could get free Super-Saver shipping. I did, admittedly, read a review a while back and was looking for the chance to get it.
The work ethic is one of those evolutionary fossils that was once adaptive but has become detrimental to our well-being--like our proclivity for gorging on meat and fat. We evolved, socially as well as biologically, to cope with hardship and scarcity so we're geared up to gorge, fight, and work until we drop--and now we're stuck with it.
I have to say that for myself, though I like eating, and like fighting even better, I've never had any interest in working. In fact the focus of my entire moral and political agenda is on the badness of work and organizing things so that more people can get away with doing less of it. What I seriously don't get is why even amongst progressives, intent on promoting human welfare, so few understand the badness of work. They understand the badness of poverty, disease and ignorance and are committed to doing something about it but most just don't get the badness of work much less show any interest in doing anything about it.
Yesterday evening, while cooking dinner and waiting for the BBC News on PBS I found myself watching Heuell Hawser's feel-good travelogue, California's Gold. Howser, reporting on the avocado industry showed a processing plant where a crew of Hispanic women were sorting avocados into "ones" and "twos"--pretty green fruits for the supermarkets and ugly brown ones for guacamole. Howser stressed repeatedly, with approval, that the business of processing avocados hadn't changed for 50 years--no chemicals, no high tech, nothing inorganic--just a room full of women sorting avocados while, presumably, their male counterparts were in the fields picking them, also without the benefit of labor-saving technology.
I don't understand why neither Howser, nor most of his viewers, grasp how miserable the lives of these workers are. Of courseif they're progressive and enlightened, they believe that people who do these jobs should get decent pay and benefits--and I do too. But I don't know anyone who is grabbed in the gut imagining how utterly miserable these jobs are, how utterly inadequate any compensation--whether wages or benefits or working conditions--is to the sheer misery of the job. I don't understand why.
I looked at the women in the background, while Howser was interviewing the manager, sorting avocados and it wasn't that hard to imagine their lives. 8 am you go to work, get out onto the floor and start sorting the avocados--the ones and twos. And that's what you do for the next 8 hours--ones in this bin, twos in that one. Nothing to learn, no way to achieve, nothing of interest, no future, no way to excel, no chance of advancement, no scope for originality, no long-term goals, and nothing to show at the end of the day. Then you go home and cook, do some cleaning, go to bed, wake up and the cycle starts again. That's life, that's all there is. How can anyone watch this and not be moved--this is the life most people live and only a few of us, by plain dumb luck, have managed to escape it.
This is work--and I'm agin' it. I'd pay 10 times as much in taxes to see to it that no one is forced to do that work day after day, year after year with no hope and no possibility of escape--largely I suppose because it could so easily have been me: sorting avocados, scanning groceries, inputting data, working fast food. People look at pictures of starving kids and are moved. They read sob stories in women's magazines about dying children, feel compassion, and give until it hurts. Somehow they can imagine poverty and sickness, and empathize, but they can't seem to imagine the sheer misery of being locked into a life of endless drudgery, which is most people's lot. How can anything make up for being trapped in a restricted space for 8 hours a day, doing a job like this, buried alive?