26

A Do Nothing Anti-Labor Day: A Modest Proposal

Edward Curtin

In a country with a Mount Rushmore that celebrates the ruthless and frenetic westward expansion, it might be a bit naïve to suggest a Do Nothing Day. I have nothing against laboring men and women having their day. I am a laborer myself, and national holidays are great – so many sales for stuff no one needs, and far too many people working on an ostensible holiday. But I have this ridiculous dream of a day when everyone just does nothing.

To rush less, to idle, and to do nothing sounds so un-American, yet it might be a solution to many of our country’s problems.

Quixotic as it may sound, if every person in the country could be convinced to lay aside his compulsive busyness for one day per month, for starters, this not-doing would paradoxically accomplish so much.

Nothing is a funny word, as Shakespeare well knew. There is so much to it; “much ado” as he put it. It is the great motivator. While it frightens people, it is also the spur to creativity.

Samuel Beckett once astutely said, “Nothing is more real than nothing.” It is the void, the womb, the empty space out of which we come and live out our days. It is the background silence for all our noise. Like the rain, it is purely gratuitous. Such a gift should not be shunned.

By doing nothing I mean the following: no work, just free play; no travel, except by foot or bicycle; no use of technology of any sort except stoves for cooking meals to share; no household repairs or projects; no buying or selling of any kind, including thinking of buying and selling. You get the point.

This not-doing doing could be called dreaming or simply being. It’s a tough task indeed, but fitting for the paradoxical creatures that we are. And that’s just for individuals.

Nationally, all businesses would be closed, factories would be idled, planes and trains grounded. Only emergency services – hospitals, police, etc. would be allowed to operate. Quixotic, yes, but our national leaders, Republicans and Democrats alike, are surely apt to agree since it would add one more day to their monthly schedules of doing “nothing.”

Making my point in a slightly different way, Mark Twain said, “Suppose you were an idiot and suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”

Think of how much we would accomplish by doing nothing! People might dream and think; they might hear birds singing or even sing themselves; they might have real conversations; they might feel the peace of a wild idleness; our ecological matrix would have a brief chance to catch its breath; a massive amount of energy would be saved and little carbon would be spewed into the atmosphere (a rather startling statistic could be inserted here). The benefits are endless – and all from doing nothing.

The immediate downside would be millions of mental breakdowns of the do-something addicts. Their agony from trying to do nothing would be excruciating. A friend from another country where they still take siestas and celebrate doing nothing was kind enough to suggest a rapid resolution to this mass madness. Kill these do-somethings.

Since they are not good for nothing while alive, she said, and can’t help contaminating the earth with their compulsive busyness, why keep them around. She advocated enlisting the help of the Pentagon for this work since killing is their business and they are good at it.

While acknowledging the aptness of her suggestion, I told her I thought the Pentagon was much too busy killing foreigners to get involved in a domestic caper at this time. It also raises a number of other practical problems, the biggest being how and where to bury so many busybodies all at once.

Furthermore, people who have so utterly forgotten their childhood’s lovely ability to do nothing are far too old and tough and set in their skins to be used as food, as another wag of my acquaintance suggested. Even trying a little tenderizer on their frazzled flesh wouldn’t work.

After all, when Jonathan Swift had that profound idea of how to solve the Irish famine problem, he was suggesting soft and tender one-year-olds be slaughtered and sold to the wealthy since they would make “delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled.” But older, compulsive, do-something people, set in their ways, while seemingly organic – a good thing these days – are tough and sinewy – a not very appetizing thought. I doubt there would be much demand for their meat.

Therefore, in all due respect, let me suggest another way to proceed. I think it best to let them go mad on Do Nothing Days. They will bounce back on the intervening go-go days but should eventually get so discouraged by having to stop once a month that they will do us the favor of committing suicide.

That way they’ll get what they didn’t want – a quite long stretch of days doing nothing, if eternity has days.

And the survivors can live guilt-free, since all they did was nothing to stop them.

As you can see, the downsides to Do Nothing Days are small compared to the benefits. But convincing people to adopt my plan won’t be easy. Long ago I stopped giving advice to friends and family since whatever I suggested seemed to encourage them to do the opposite. Yet here I go again, suggesting this big Do Nothing Day. So I will desist in the name of the law of reversed effort.

I really don’t want to organize a movement to establish particular days for this not-doing. I don’t want to establish a cult and be a cult leader. I’m really too busy for that. My schedule is too packed for such a job. Maybe you have time. I have too much to do.

I say, “Nothing doing.”

I was once rushing to take groceries to my elderly mother when I ran into the sharp metal edge of a stop sign. Stunned and coming to on my back on the pavement with blood dripping down my face, it bemused me to think how fast I was stopped. Ever since, I’ve been on the go, laboring away.

Nothing showed me his face.

Yet here and there I have this dream of a Do Nothing Day. It’s the dream of a ridiculous man, isn’t it?

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Toby Russell
Toby Russell
Sep 3, 2019 2:39 PM

This reminds of another article that made a big impression on me a few years back: The Abolition of Work by Bob Black. A choice quote:

Liberals say we should end employment discrimination. I say we should end employment. Conservatives support right-to-work laws. Following Karl Marx’s wayward son-in-law Paul Lafargue I support the right to be lazy. Leftists favor full employment. Like the surrealists – except that I’m not kidding – I favor full *un*employment. Trotskyists agitate for permanent revolution. I agitate for permanent revelry.

Tim Jenkins
Tim Jenkins
Sep 3, 2019 11:01 AM

Imagine, if our national security states did abso’FUKUS’lutely nothing . . .

then we could open source all intelligence, science & engineering, in real time . . .

& Firkin’ GROWSOME ! great balls of fire for pro-Vision for our kids.

Fair dinkum
Fair dinkum
Sep 2, 2019 11:54 PM
MLS
MLS
Sep 2, 2019 10:01 PM

This is genuinely brilliant writing!

(and I’m not Ed’s mum)

nottheonly1
nottheonly1
Sep 2, 2019 8:31 PM

You may have similar memories of your own past, when you were much younger.
There is a word in Northern German folk tradition. It is called ‘klütern’. Klütern is
doing nothing specific, but everything that needs to be done is done. Wu Wei.
So I was doing nothing specific in my room, when my Mom would enter and ask
me: “What are you doing?” To which I would of course respond with “Nothing.”
That would aggravate her, as she would say “You cannot not do something. You
are doing something. What are you doing?” “Nothing, Mom. I am doing nothing.”
She would often reply – depending on her mood – “I’m going to tell your father
about it when he comes home from work.”

BigB
BigB
Sep 2, 2019 6:41 PM

We, as a civilisational society, need to embrace doing nothing – as per Ed’s description – do nothing: permanently. Otherwise we will end up doing nothing permanently: as a post-society civilisation.

In Capitalist Realism: we are conditioned by work. What we are is inextricably linked to what we do. What we do: we do for money …which is its own secondary reinforcement schedule defining us according to merit and skill. Self-esteem and wellbeing are bought and sold as a symbolic commodity exchange. We consume time to buy time. Our time. Leisure time. Meaningful time exchanged for …well, it depends on levels of conformism and hard work, with an element of luck. Such as geographic luck in being born into a developed society. If you are born in Darfur or Al Hudaydah (Yemen) …then no amount of anything can be exchanged for meaningful time or purposeful doing nothing. So, doing nothing is necessarily a bourgeois leisure pursuit.

One that is coded into the language. According to Lakoff and Johnson – TIME IS MONEY – is a meaningful semantic metaphor we live by. One that is embodied and has a physical neural basis. It is synaptically embedded in the Collective Cognitive Unconscious …and neurally networked at the personal and inter-pesonal level. It physically codes our ‘epigenetic DNA’ of language: and determines the scripts, norms, and narrative constructivism we use …consciously and unconsciously.

Which is why we have Capitalist Realism. It is not a metaphysical semanticism: but a physical reality that unconsciously codes our perception, conception, and action. Temporal commodity exhange of labour for capital is the realism of modernity. Which is why it might feel wrong to do nothing – with associations of guilt and anxiety – because we are in breach of the socially constructed and peer enforced norm of complying to the dominant behaviour of doing something, being busy, and being something.

That ‘being something’ is driving our appetite for destruction. The drive to ‘be someone’ or ‘be somebody’ is driving Progress and Prosperity cycles the physical substrate of planetary bio-integrity can no longer afford us. We are completely out of synch with the natural harmony of ‘doing nothing yet leaving nothing undone’ (Dao De Jing). We cannot conceive that ‘doing nothing’ is not inaction: but harmonised perfect action (T’ai Chi; Dao; Yoga). Nature does nothing – not in the sense we mean of purposeful agental and instrumental action. The gulf of differential meaning between ‘doing something’ and ‘doing nothing’ requires the imagination of a Being: who is self-aware as a rational, instrumental, self-referential, and self-maximising entity …as a player in a zero-sum game. Which is the irrational assumption that Capitalist Realism and the soon to be post-society is based on.

Our relationship with work, time, and money is a culturally constructed socio-linguistic conditioning that has become enculturated as a neuronally embedded and neurally networked reality. It is not so much a narrative construction we tell ourselves; as one we feel neurally bound to and compelled to tell. Psychology 101 tells us that the differential between the cultural conditional predictions we make and the feedback from reality is the basis for contentment, self-esteem, and status. All the while we are afforded the biological preference to ‘do something’ for the cultural payoff of ‘being someone’ we are content and adjusted to Capitalist Realism. But this leaves us acutely vulnerable to the ‘fallacy of extrapolation’: that reality will always accommodate our imposed Capitalist Realism. It will not.

Many, many, peoples expectations have been quashed. Most by being born in the wrong geographic zone. Many in the developed world feel they ‘have no future’. The stark truth is that they do not under Capitalist Realism. As R D Laing discerned: the mad are sane and well adjusted to the Capitalist Realism. The sane are perhaps mad to be so: the Yosarian ‘Catch 22’ of Joseph Heller. We need to imagine the post-society as a post-industrial post-work conception of ‘doing nothing’ permanently. Doing nothing but leaving nothing undone requires the deep insight into the Cognitive Unknown to make it Known. That means understanding the conception of Being for what it is: a pseudo-concretised something that does destruction to everything it is imposed upon. When the ultimate substrate is the interconnected fragility of the integrity of the natural processes sustaining us from without and within …that is a dangerous conception. But it just arises in the stories that propel us. Narratives we can contain and comprehend …and culturally modify by learning to do nothing …whilst leaving nothing undone …Wu Wei – doing nothing – is the ideal form of governance and culture.

Chris Rogers
Chris Rogers
Sep 2, 2019 7:14 PM
Reply to  BigB

BigB,
being old enough to live through Edward Heath’s three day week, with regular brown outs – we had loads of candles for light, its funny how the UK managed to survive and life went on.

Fast forward a generation to the offspring of the Thatcher/Reagan years, and we have massive underemployment/unemployment across much of the developed World, whilst many in the FIRE Economy languish within their terrible offices working 100 hours and more each week in the hope that at 35 – 40 they can retire as millionaires, alas, even with their millions, some but can’t resist from working within the FIRE economy, generating massive paper/digital wealth, whilst the majority living around them exist on meagre incomes.

So, much has changed, some individuals just can’t stop working, whilst others are denied any work whatsoever – it was never this way in the Nineteenth Century, where many made enough to retire on and promptly retired to tend gardens.

BigB
BigB
Sep 2, 2019 8:29 PM
Reply to  Chris Rogers

Chris:

That must be a young photo: that puts you at my age as they were my formative memories …sitting in the candlelit dark. Then the ‘Big Bang’. There was an opportunity missed to re-adjust our expectations to a more bio-physically affordable way of life – re E F Schumacher’s ‘Small is Beautiful’. Instead of the affordable ‘do nothing’: we chose ‘be something or someone’ via the insane FIRE of capitalist largesse.

According tot he standard textbook psychology of say, Jordan Peterson: the moment is “unbearable”. So we create plans and strategies to make the moment appreciable when we ‘get where we want to be’; or we ‘make it’. It’s the classic Trotterism: “this time next year we’ll be millionaires”. Then what: if the impelling psychological drive is the unbearableness of the moment? Another million. And another.

You must know of Nate Hagens? He was a trader and this is exactly what he found. The drive is a compulsion: the material payoff a disappointment. So we keep driving toward the net energy cliff. Well, we are over the edge and still driving. Which is driving the most polarised wealth differential in history. When Kahnemman proved there was no *homo economicus* – the rational maximal self-optimiser …all they did was alter to a Behavioural Economics to make more money. Are we just stupid or irrational at an emergent economic level: or what?

We have studiously ignored at every turn that cooperation is the best behavioural, psychological, and economic strategy. Cooperation is its own reward and does not need hugely overfinancialised capital accumulation: that does not even satisfy the few who gain and drives our unconscious extinction drive. Capitalist Realism has taken over the dreambus and no one knows how to stop it. The wayless way – Wu Wei – of doing nothing may just provide the impetus to prepare for a crash landing? We have to adopt ‘doing nothing’ to make the moment bearable and guilt-free to stop the death drive to ‘Thanatocide’ …a fate worse than death.

Chris Rogers
Chris Rogers
Sep 2, 2019 8:54 PM
Reply to  BigB

BigB,

That photo was taken in 2012 for a trade journal article written about me and my business experience in Asia at the time of the GFC, believe it or not, the photo was taken on my balcony and I had no trousers on, it was just a head and collar job – trust me, I’ve loads of grey hair now I’m afraid, but nice to have a professional photo on hand, it being the only one I have.

On a serious note, I do despair at it all, given the wealth of evidence we have, I despair at the Green Party and its sole focus on the EU and Brexit, I despair at our elected politicians pushing the perpetual GDP growth mantra, and the utopians talking about Techno Communism for the masses.

By the way, your input on the Global Warming article a few months ago was pure brilliance, it was one of the finest threads on this Blog, so I shared it far and wide in the hope a few persons would click on it and gain greater understanding.

However they try, you can’t buck the Second Law of Thermodynamics, until then, we need act as individuals – mind you I’m ashamed of myself being forced to fly regularly to Wales, my carbon footprint is huge, despite owning no car, purchasing most of my stuff second hand, and having a one child only policy, so really, really want a Corbyn Government, which will be a start.

MLS
MLS
Sep 2, 2019 9:57 PM
Reply to  Chris Rogers

My recollection of BigB’s contribution to the global warming debate was

1) not understanding the science and getting his bottom handed to him by a couple of people who did

2) waffling on in incomprehensibly pompous prose to try and disguise the above

3) strenuously denying what he now claims to have always said – viz that climate change is being exploited by corporations and caution must be applied.

He actually attacked me directly for making that very point so it’s quite naughty of him to now claim the opposite.

He’s a bit of a blowhard but a nice enough guy, and I agree with him about many things, but before today I’d have said only his mum would describe his meandering global warming contributions as ‘brilliant’

Assuming you’re not his mum, what was it about his contribution you felt the need to share far and wide?

Genuinely curious. 🤔

Chris Rogers
Chris Rogers
Sep 2, 2019 10:18 PM
Reply to  MLS

I enjoyed his contribution, actually, I enjoyed most contributors input as it was a rather heated debate – there’s lots of actual science to back up multiple cases, participating is the important thing, as well as caring – which is why i shared it around a bit and ask people to read all Comments for greater understand – nothing wrong in having your arsed kicked if it furthers your own knowledge.

And no, I’m not BigB’s mum, which would come as a shock to both my wife and nipper.

BigB
BigB
Sep 3, 2019 8:12 AM
Reply to  Chris Rogers

A brother from another mother, perhaps! 😀

BigB
BigB
Sep 3, 2019 12:51 AM
Reply to  MLS

MLS:

On the point of corporate manipulation of the AGW issue: I have never deviated from affirming that the agenda is being manipulated. On the very thread you mention I pointed out that the likes of the Club Of Rome were behind the initial ‘Limits to Growth’ study by the Meadow’s. However, the science is good – and verified by meta-analysis – the de-population agenda is spurious and weaponised. It is the global priviliged top fifteen-twenty percent of consumers that are overconsuming resources – not the excluded ‘overpopulated’ 85%.

If you want to trawl back far enough: when anyone praised Mikhail Gorbachev – you will find a comment of mine beneath pointing out his real agenda – leading the celebrity climate change charities and what I termed ‘corporate commoning’ …the manipulation of the tragedy of the commons to leverage TNCs in control of common resources – particularly water rights.

So, ‘nothing naughty’. The billionaire Inner Party of ‘philanthrocapitalists’ – previously father-figured by Gorbachev – have been cooking this agenda for decades …to be unleashed fully from Davos “the house is on fire” WEF in January this year. Which surprised some of us not at all.

Yet, still so many cannot compute that the house IS on fire (or FIRE as Chris says) and the agenda is being leveraged to a totally inappropriate outcome – the GND and 4IR natural capital agenda – that will only pour the gasoline of even more overfinancialisation and debt deflation on the flames.

As per the science debate: I have been meaning to say to you and Dungroanin that reductive positivism is dead. The proof in the positivist pudding is the event: with its *a posteriori* dissection and vivesection for certitude and proof positive. When the event is the potential loss of integrity of the integrated earth system: a posteriori certitude is death.

The scientist (you and DG) and the layman (me) can argue about the definitions of what is and isn’t science. But that definition in itself is in flux at the moment. We are in a state of ‘model crisis’ and ‘model revolution’ at the moment. The Kuhnian scientific paradigm revolution is not yet complete: but when we return to ‘normal science’ …we will be throwing Markov Blankets over everything to study integrated dynamic living biological systems. Systems with nested sub-systems and processes with nested sub-systems and processes …extending from cells to continents to the cosmos and beyond. Which is an interactive pluralism and manifest multiplicity of inter-connected processes.

Which will supervene over the Cartesian Method of inert analysis of reductive ‘dead’ parthood relations. And integrate that which dead inertia cannot incorporate: consciousness. As I was saying the other day: the earth system is a plurality of processes and nested biotic communities that function in their entire interwoven integrity …or not at all. That earth system includes human psychology (integrated constituent observer consciousness; second order cybernetics) …but also economy. An economy that is a biological system of source to sink bio-energetic and bio-physical flows – over which bio-physical inputs, the output known as money is merely a claim on future bio-flows …including energetically leveraged (mechanical work produced by burning hydrocarbons) human labour.

When we model the economy as a biological entity – defined by its flows – then we can see that it has to obey the Second Law. It is a biophysical system: not a perpetual motion engine as we conceive. The proof of theorem is in Hall and Klitgaard’s ‘Energy and the Wealth of Nations’.

When we can see that human bio-consciousness; human bio-economy; and human bio-ecology all function together and are manifestly unseparated and ‘inter-are’ …and that ‘human’ is extended in meaning to include all aspects of our co-evolutionary interspecies biotic communities – replacing all this reductive positivism disaggregation – we might get somewhere. Somewhere where science and spirituality coincide in nonduality. Somewhere where we can proceed to do normal science from again to using statistical but non-disintegrational Markov boundaries and perhaps Friston’s Free Energy Principle to model them. After all, an economy is just a bunch of self-organised networked minds acting in a self-optimising way. Perhaps we could get them to cooperate to produce a survivable outcome one day?

MLS
MLS
Sep 2, 2019 10:14 PM
Reply to  Chris Rogers

PS – how exactly does the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics apply in the context you are using it in?

Elementor
Elementor
Sep 2, 2019 10:24 PM
Reply to  MLS

It’s a face-off of the Pseuds! They look like they’re agreeing but they’re actually trying to outdo each other in “I am the bizz” bullcrappery.

One is like trying to give the impression he’s plugged in to the pulse of the entire western finance system. The other is trying to be the Buddha of the Forum, and we’re all supposed to be knocked on our asses by his stunning insights and wisdom.

It’s hilarious.

Chris Rogers
Chris Rogers
Sep 3, 2019 12:39 AM
Reply to  Elementor

Funny, I have no insights, I have a firm grasp of the prevailing economic system we inhabit and understand it to be unsustainable – please contest that proposition.

Chris Rogers
Chris Rogers
Sep 3, 2019 12:22 AM
Reply to  MLS

This post covers the actual energy side of the equation: https://www.businessinsider.com/oil-drum-energy-growth-2011-7

If you accept its proposition and emphasis on growth, then I trust you concur we live in a debt-based global economy and that much of said debt issuance is via banks & debt capital markets (privately issued debt) or sovereign debt, that is debt issued by the State with interest payable – all said debt must be serviced, and/or eventually paid off and in order for this all to happen, me must generate growth, which equates to higher energy demand – but, the above posted article indicates clearly we have real limits imposed on growth as we project growth further into the future due to constraints associated with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, namely, you cannot have perpetual GDP growth fuelled by ever increasing energy requirements as energy growth has real limits.

So, if the above, in the actual economic system we have today, is a reality, should we not address the economic system, the present underpinnings of that system – debt and access to cheap energy, and change the way we organise society making it less energy dependent, which means big changes to our lifestyles.

And in all of this I’ve omitted the elephant in the room, namely externalities, which take shape as pollution and environmental degradation, which impact us greatly and our ecosystem.

BigB
BigB
Sep 3, 2019 11:09 AM
Reply to  Chris Rogers

Quick rule of thumb: at 3% compound annual rate of growth …we have to double ALL existing source to sink bio-physical flows every 23 years. And double the doubling every 46 years.

Extrapolating from the recent Leeds Sustainability Centre research I have been quoting (papers available from Leeds but paywalled) …in the 13 year study period (1997-2012) UK national level energy throughput DECREASED 23%. To interpolate: instead of the computed doubling, we will be halving.

Even if this is “back of a fag packet” reckoning …the trend implications are clear. The bio-physical economy and our conceptual economy are pulling in opposition …and we are in the middle.

All our economic, political, and psychological calculus is based on a demonstrably false econometric. Austerity is the political imposition to maintain the falling rate of profit. The 46% of our contracting economy will be subsidised by us …whoever is in power. That is not accounting for exponentially growing debt to subsidise profit rates. Fiscal and monetary policy will suffer. Taxing the rich is a political non-starter. Progessive policy and taxation risks capital flight offshore, hyper-inflation and a collapsed currency. Free trade deals open us up to foreign capital colonisation and privatisation: bought for pennies on the pound. And someone called Jeremy cannot control entropy to prevent this.

Broken Britain is 22 years into its collapse trajectory: and we are still in total denial pinning all our broken dreams on a falsely predicated political economic calculus. Whoever spins the best political yarn gets our validation. This in itself is misplaced loyalty in a faith-based system …which beggars future populist demagoguery. We need to re-align our dreams to what is possible. Says he to almost no one at all.

Fair dinkum
Fair dinkum
Sep 2, 2019 11:59 PM
Reply to  BigB

Or, as Erich Fromm put it:
‘To Have Or To Be’

lundiel
lundiel
Sep 2, 2019 6:19 PM

Off topic but Johnson’s bottled it. I’m a leave voter but I’d do anything to get Corbyn in government, this is the one and only possibility….use it wisely.

Kitth
Kitth
Sep 2, 2019 7:46 PM
Reply to  lundiel

I too am a leave voter, but I would gladly stay in the EU if it meant Jeremy taking the keys to No 10. 75% of the PLP.would rather Brexit than see Corbyn in power. I’d love to see the look on their smug faces. BLAIR is pushing for a GE next year in the belief that they can get rid of him and put someone like Ben, Phillips in his place. Just watch the MSM go into overdrive . Interesting times.

Gwyn
Gwyn
Sep 2, 2019 5:58 PM

This is the song I was listening to as I read this article:

Agostin Barrios
Agostin Barrios
Sep 2, 2019 10:32 PM
Reply to  Gwyn

Excellent – played on an instrument the lifetime of which now spans three centuries – if we truly knew how to live together on this planet – we too could enjoy such longevity

Gwyn
Gwyn
Sep 2, 2019 11:23 PM

Glad you enjoyed it, Agostin. :o)

(And I agree with your comment).

Gwyn
Gwyn
Sep 2, 2019 5:54 PM

As the old Buddhist joke goes: ”Don’t just do something – sit there!”

Ben Trovata
Ben Trovata
Sep 2, 2019 5:45 PM

Contrariwise…G.B. Shaw asked us to consider connections between the word ” idiot”,and being a specialist. *************************************************”Mark Twain said, “Suppose you were an idiot and suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”