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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 #18, 9/15/2006

The Weird Calculus of Self-Reward
"Because I'm Worth It"

By Glenn Campbell
Family Court Philosopher

A loyal reader responds to The Tyranny of Leisure:
    "Leisure is a sin." You lost me on that one.

    Glenn my man, you're going messianic on me. Leisure is only enjoyable to an individual if it is earned. People who live in a constant state of leisure are typically unhappy, unfulfilled sorts who are constantly wondering what they are missing. Personally, if I come off a particularly busy week/month/year I enjoy drinking a beer and watching a game. I enjoy sitting on a beach watching the bikinis walk by.

    Am I sinning?

    If you had said excess leisure is a sin (aka, sloth) I would have hopped on the train.

    Some (including me) would say your philosophy lacks balance, it lacks a human element. I assume you will retort "But I don't engage in leisure, and I feel perfectly balanced."


    You are certainly a unique man Glenn, as is everyone I suppose. You fall under the "Mad Genius" catagory, one I find fascinating.

    Everyone is not you, some need to strike a different balance than you have to find fulfillment. Many people are selfish (I know I sure can be.) but many others who enjoy an afternoon catnap are not. You could then argue that God didn't put us on this earth to be fulfilled, but to do his will. Since you never referenced God directly other than "sin" I assume the moral authority you invoke is your own. Thats fine, but it doesn't carry quite the same clout.

    If I work harder during the year so I can enjoy my weekends or vacation (in any way I may choose to) am I sinning if it involves a margarita and a palm tree? Could I be of greater use to humanity if I spent my vacation in Darfur with refugees? I suppose I could. But if I do not, is it a sin?

    Interesting topic, but I'm not buying it.

My correspondent writes: "If I work harder during the year so I can enjoy my weekends or vacation (in any way I may choose to) am I sinning if it involves a margarita and a palm tree?"

This illustrates the kind of reasoning that I call "The Weird Calculus of Self-Reward." It can justify all sorts of inane and wasteful acts.

The reasoning goes like this: I have worked hard or am a special person; therefore I deserve to do something inane and wasteful.

This attitude, I contend, is an artificial one created by advertizing. You have heard this warped philosophy almost since birth, so you tend to take it without question, but in reality it is a distorted worldview intended to sell commercial products to people who don't need them.

You hear the slogans continuously:

"Indulge yourself."

"For all you do, don't you deserve it?"

"Reward yourself."

"It's Miller time!"

My favorite one is: "Sure it costs more, BUT I'M WORTH IT." This is a clever marketing ploy that takes one-dollar hair color and sells in for ten dollars. It panders to the consumer's naturally low self-esteem. If you don't feel good about yourself, then buying the right product is supposed to make you feel better.

I am completely in favor of "Meditation" — one of my five allowed activities in The Tyranny of Leisure. I believe that after you have engaged in some intense and involving activity it is a good idea to take a "time out". It is vital to your health and balance to sometimes not engage in intense production but instead "kick back" by doing nothing or engaging in some low-level activity that keeps your mind free.

I have no objection to going to the beach and watching the bikinis, staying at home and painting your toenails, or hanging out with people you like and just chatting. These things aren't really leisure, I contend, but are Meditation, Education, or Negotiation.

The one thing I strenuously object to is the notion that you have to consume a product while kicking back. Do you really have to watch the game or down some brewskies whilst relaxing? At this point, you are playing into the advertizer's hand and sliding into meaningless mind-numbing leisure.

I'm not saying you can't have fun in your spare time. What I'm saying is that it shouldn't be meaningless prepackaged "fun" as defined by capitalist marketing.

An example: I have no objection at all to you going to Switzerland, a country you have never visited before, wandering around in some alpine villages and maybe seeing some places you have only read about in books. This, to me, would be a noble vacation. You are educating yourself; you are meditating; you are not necessarily "wasting time."

On the other hand, I would strenuously object to you squandering your vacation on a packaged tour, where you fly to Mexico, check into a resort hotel, sit on the beach for a week and drink margaritas. This is product consumption, nothing more. Except, perhaps, for a little Meditation, you will come back from the week on the beach without having expanded yourself at all.

I'm not saying you have to go to Darfur on your summer vacation. I'm only saying that everything you do should be meaningful.

Think about it: The whole notion of "The Beach" is a creation of media. Prior to the "Age of Leisure," the beach was just the transition between land and water. You might go there to explore and to beachcomb, but you didn't just "sit." The idea that you should go to the beach and just sit there all day is an entirely contrived modern delusion. Advertizing has picked it up as a symbol of self-indulgence and pummelled us with it.

Don't get me wrong: I enjoy a stroll on the beach as much as anyone. As my photos indicate, I am not opposed to bikini watching. To me, the beach—especially when occupied by airhead beachgoers—is another fascinating human and natural environment.

But you're not going to find me "sitting" much on the beach. I refuse to "tan." Yes, I like to meditate, and I may do it on the beach, but to me it is no different then meditating at line at the DMV. I am probably not going to consume any "product" there—brewskies or prawns from the barbie. I'm going to stay at this place as long is it is interesting to me, and then I will move on.

Moving on, you see, is always much more interesting to me than just sitting and consuming product.

Do you know those calendar photos of the perfect white sandy beach, with a single palm tree leaning out over a perfect blue ocean? Well, I have been to one of those beaches, on the island of Kauai. The calendar photo creates such whistful longing, but, guess what?, once you actually go there, there's nothing much to do. You might sit for a spell, take some photos, and wander up and down the beach exploring, but after that you lose interest pretty quick.

The pretty beach was a "product" created by the calendar folks. To a certain extent, it is an image that exists only in your mind and that is impossible attain or retain in real life. After a week on such a perfect beach, it will seem like a prison, and you'll be screaming to get back to something meaningful.

The Weird Calculus of Self-Reward is saying, "Here is a perfect idealized image of some prize. After how much you have suffered, don't you deserve it?"

What is missing in the calculation is a credible evaluation of the object being desired.

The advertizing says: "Sure this product costs ten times more than any comparable product, BUT I'M WORTH IT." People get so distracted by the "I'm worth it" part that they don't bother to evaluate the product itself.

The marketing world is full of this: Take an ordinary product, package it up as a decadent self-indulgence, and the suckers will buy it.

After a hard day of manly work at the jobsite, don't you deserve a Budweiser?

"Why yes, I do!" says the dimwit consumer. Budweiser has cleverly tied itself into the natural sense of inferiority we feel about having to work at the jobsite. This work is not meaningless drudgery, the advertizer is telling. It is a noble quest, and here is your reward for it at the end of the day: a nice cold Bud. Budweiser has successfully created a mythology for your otherwise meaningless life, and you have bought into it.

To me, what you do at work and what you do in your spare time are completely separate events. There is no "reward" connection between the two, except in you own deluded mind.

Your work is either meaningful or it isn't. If it doesn't happen to be meaningful, that doesn't give you license to continue doing stupid things in your free time.

You "free time" — the time when you are not working for money — is also either meaningful or not. Just because you are not required to make money at the moment does not give you license to waste what little free time you have.

My loyal reader writes: "You could then argue that God didn't put us on this earth to be fulfilled, but to do his will."

Ah, but what is His will? It seems to me that if there is a God, He would expect you to make the most of the one gift He has given you: your time on earth.

I don't think He wants to look down to see you squandering your gift with a couple of brewskies in front of the game.

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