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This section was my workspace for philosophy essays between July 2006 and April 2008. I call this "Prehistoric Kilroy" because it gave me practice for more disciplined essays in Kilroy Cafe. Also see my philophical blog and Twitter feed.

Issue #17, 9/12/2006

The Tyranny of Leisure

By Glenn Campbell
Family Court Philosopher

In one part of Las Vegas is the Family Court, which graphically illustrates a deprivation of resources. Children who pass through this place, both as foster children and juvenile delinquents, are almost always in need of services that the government can't give them. Their problems usually trace to a lack of parental resources, mental health resources, mentoring resources, educational resources or monetary resources. Apart from the occasional "spoiled brat," almost all of the children here need more adult attention.

In other parts of town, you have the casinos, which are massive monuments to the waste of resources. Adults use these facilities to fritter away their time and money, to the benefit of no one.

It is wishful thinking to want to unite the two. Those wasted resources—in casinos and a million other adult diversions—will never be united with the needs of children. Still it makes me wonder why all this waste must exist.

The waste of excess resources is called "leisure." In leisure, people are using their time and money for some ultimately meaningless activity that contributes to no long-term goal. Why are people drawn to do this? Why can't they be productive all the time?

If you are fighting to just to feed yourself and your family, you wouldn't call this leisure. If you have already fulfilled your basic needs, and you look around for something to do, that's when leisure steps in.

Leisure (otherwise known as "luxury") tends to suck up whatever extra resources you happen to have. If for example, a worker gets a raise, they tend to buy a bigger house or acquire more high-maintenance goods until, effectively, they are just as poor and trapped as they were before.

The Pyramids of Egypt are a tragic monument to leisure. Here was a society that happened to be rich enough to have some extra resources—some "leisure"—but the leaders absorbed all these resources with these massively useless public works projects.

Leisure, I contend, is an affront to decency, and I believe it should be stamped out—at least in my own life.

For example, I never gamble; I won't go to sporting events; I don't drink; I don't watch TV; I won't go on a cruise; I refuse to "waste time" on anything.

Yet, I don't feel that I am depriving myself of anything, that I am stressed or that I am simply a "workaholic." I enjoy life, but I also believe that every moment is precious and shouldn't be frittered away on anything meaningless.

Leisure is a sin. It is a gross display of decadence that is especially offensive to the people who don't have it. How can you play tennis or buy a Mercedes when you know that thousands in the community are suffering for lack of these resource that you are now wasting?

Leisure is a delusion that is sold to us by advertizing and media. When we have extra resources, we are supposed to buy things with it. We are supposed to buy a boat, play golf, or go down to the casino to gamble. If we have the time or money, we are supposed to buy supposed "luxuries," which it turns out don't really make us happy.

I say that you can completely eliminate all leisure from your life and not have lost anything. This doesn't mean you need to "work" all the time, but you should never be doing anything frivolous or wasteful either.

A leisure-free life is not necessarily drudgery. It can be a happy and relaxed existance. A life without leisure doesn't mean that you are working all the time or that you never rest. You just avoid wasting resources.

A life without leisure can consist of a rich and lively variety of activities, each of which fall into one of these five categories....

  1. Production. This is otherwise known as "work." This is where you use your time to actually produce sometime -- be it gainful employment, fighting for a cause or doing some creative work. This is the time when you hopefully generate some long-lasting product.

  2. Maintenance. This is the time you spend in personal hygiene, attending to your health, and maintaining the various tools you need to get things done. Taking a shower or brushing your teeth is not leisure; nor is doing your laundry or changing the oil in your car. Going to work to make the money to support the the rest of your activities is actually maintenance, not production, if you are not producing any meaningful product. All of these things are probably essential activities, even if they are not directly "productive." They are certainly not "leisure."

  3. Education. This is the time you spend learning more about the world around you. Education is reading a useful book or learning a new skill, as long as it promises to have some value to you later. (Learning to belly-dance is leisure, not education.) Education does not necessarily have to be directed toward a specific goal, however. Random exploration of, say, a neighborhood or country you have never visited can be educational. Travel can be part of ones education, but only when it is active and exploratory. It is not educational to take a cruise or fly to Mexico and sit on a beach for a week; that would be empty leisure.

  4. Meditation. This is the time you spend doing pretty much nothing except thinking. Meditation gives you a chance to solve problems and integrate knowledge. Going to sleep at night is a form of meditation, as is going for a walk or sitting on a street corner watching the world go by. Sometimes driving is meditative or just lying in bed stairing at the ceiling. The important thing is that your mind is free to wander and is not externally occupied. Watching TV or surfing the internet may occasionally be educational, but it is not meditative, because it directly occupies your thoughts and keeps you from thinking about your problems. Meditation is a free-form opportunity to do just that.

  5. Negotiation. This is the time you spend interacting with others. This interaction can be relaxed, and you might call it socializing, but there is always some purpose in it. Negotiating is the process of getting what you want from someone else. Of course, they are never going to give you exactly what you want, so you have to compromise. Parenting is a long process of negotiation with your children. You want to push them in a certain direction; they resist, and you gradually find a middle ground. Negotiation does not have to be harsh or demanding; it can be fun and creative. Playing with your kid may seem like leisure, but as long as something is being taught and learned, it is really negotiation. Empty leisure, on the other hand, would be going to a party and getting drunk. There is no real negotiation or social development in that.

Within the categories above, there can be travel, romance, reading, an occasional movie and a palatable meal or two. You can live a rich, creative, sociable, and comfortable life without ever resorting to leisure. In fact, by avoiding leisure, you can end up being a lot happier than people wealthier than you who are burdened by their leisure.

As much as it is advertized otherwise, leisure merely drains the vital essance from your life. Wasted hours turn into years, and in the end you have blown away most of your potential on this planet.

Whenever you find yourself "killing time," you're in trouble, because the time you kill can never be brought back.

Reader Comments

“im not entirly convinced, and am not about to change my habits in the sightest” —felix, 18, student 8/30/07 (rating=2)

“Some good points, but I disagree that learning to belly-dance doesn't count as education. Even if the value of new knowledge isn't immediately obvious, nothing you learn is ever truly wasted.” — 8/31/07 (rating=3)

“Tyranny at its best..” —Calvin Roach 8/28/09 (rating=5)

Ratings so far: 2 3 5 5 5 (Average=4)

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