How To Be Idle
By Tom Hodgkinson
(HarperCollins, 282 pages)
Imagine working three days a week. Now imagine only working three of those weeks a month for, say, nine months a year. Think of all the time for creative pursuits, for family time, for friends, for daydreaming … for naps. Sounds great, doesn't it? Well, in Tom Hodgkinson's world, that would be our schedule solely because that's the way it's supposed to be.
Hodgkinson, founder of The Idler magazine, posits that for the thousands of years before the Industrial Revolution, human beings worked to put food on their table and when there was enough food on the table, work stopped. When food ran low or when other things like shoes or kettles or beer were needed, work started again. Naturally, things such as planting/harvest cycles and shipping routes and the like meant that very many people worked very, very hard. But they also availed themselves of their ample "downtime" to think, drink and socialize (much like college students during every week other than finals), leading to stronger family bonds and a stronger sense of community, as well as more fanciful ideas (the Renaissance … hello?) and plenty of plain old fucking-off.
Once the oligarchical demands of the Kings of Industry became the law of the land, suddenly everyone had to be "productive" and "efficient" in order to be considered valuable members of society. By enriching factory owners, the unwashed masses were "contributing to the greater good." And yes, the advances of the last 150 years have seen better health care, longer lives, more comfortable standards of living … but a whole lot less napping. And that, according to Hodgkinson, is a very bad thing.
I tend to agree with him. And the ideal day he sets out (hour-by-hour for those accustomed to punching a clock) in How To Be Idle is the sort of inspirational instructional that more people should pay attention to. The chapter devoted to 10 a.m. is about sleeping in; the 1 a.m. entry is titled "Sex and Idleness." There are whole chapters that wax rhapsodically about smoking, drinking, taking a sick day, talking and, a favorite, "The Nap." Yet, as seemingly lethargic as such topics would appear, the anti-authoritarian way that Hodgkinson presents the entire concept of idleness gives it a vaguely revolutionary feel. Screw your boss and the system all by refusing to be the most efficient cog in their money machine and opting instead to drink, talk, nap and dream your days away. Sounds revolutionary to me.