The Virtues of Laziness

Slow down--there's no need to live life at a breakneck pace.

In her book Sexual Personae, Camille Paglia, the self-proclaimed feminist some feminists love to hate, writes: "Men, bonding together, invented culture as a defense against female nature." A champion of Western culture, she notes that if it were up to women, we'd all be living in grass shacks.

For those of you lucky enough to be unfamiliar with Paglia, let me simply say she has perfected the art of constructing profound-sounding sentences that wow readers too lax to employ either logic or critical thinking in their assessment of text. While not all of her conclusions are dreck, you have to ask yourself why so much of her stuff is suffused with shrill anger. Not that there isn't a lot to be angry about, but complaining about the condition of intellectual and political discourse on the one hand, while hurling personal insults at peers who disagree with you, seems a tad contradictory, if not outright uncivilized.

Perhaps Paglia might benefit from taking a break from her ponderous pedantry peppered with pettiness and treat herself to some time lolling about in a grass shack. Maybe she'd discover the benefits of slow and the joy of lazy.

Lazy is clearly not what Western culture is all about. Au contraire. Western culture is about industrious, ambitious, successful, forceful. It's about testosterone cum steroids. It's about doing your laundry where your only interaction is with a machine rather than a group of women by the river. It's about power rather than play.

With the exception of indoor plumbing, there's not much to say for the accomplishments of Westerners (Westerners in the sense of Europe and its spawn). Yeah, yeah; art, music, architecture, blah, blah, blah. But consider all the angst accompanying those achievements. Wouldn't it be marvelously freeing to live in a culture that only concerned itself with the immediate needs of daily living?

Please spare me the Hobbesian notion that life was nasty, brutish and short for our less technologically inclined progenitors. Obviously the man never visited Polynesia before the intrusion of Europeans. His description was informed by Medieval Europe where most people's lives did fit his depressing description.

Whether or not there ever existed an idyllic culture where women and men spent more time enjoying themselves than gnashing their teeth over the stock market, or worrying themselves to death over job security, is not the point. What matters is that we've bought into the idea slow is an insult and lazy a sin.

"You're so slow." "Why are you so lazy?" Both comments reveal a twisted attitude towards life. Perhaps we can blame the Protestant ethic that continues to percolate through the culture. This Anglo-Protestant mishegoss is at the core of the busier-the-better bull that strips us of our natural predisposition towards lethargy.

Think about it. We're mammals (or at least we're supposed to be, though we don't generally behave like them). If we compare our lives to those of other mammals, we definitely come up short. Take the cat, or dog, if you prefer. Domesticated, they spend their time sleeping, eating, playing or procreating. If they are not domesticated, we can add hunting to the list. (Yes, sometimes they fight, but if they progress from posturing to bloodletting, they at least don't carry a grudge and often manage to reach a detente. Dog parks provide good evidence of this behavior.)

On the other hand, humans (and men in particular, though some women are determined to ape their behavior) have a fondness for conjuring complex systems utterly unnecessary to sustain life, contribute to the good, increase the peace or celebrate pleasure. When Europeans (the consummate conjurers) stumbled across cultures rich in their own traditions, the Old World folks were quick to label the "others" as "lazy," "slow" and "uncivilized."

But those "lazy" cultures did not go about constructing elaborate weapons of mass destruction. It took Paglia's much-adored Europeans to figure out that gun powder--a Chinese invention used by them for fireworks--had more lethal applications. (Of course, the Chinese were neither lazy nor peaceful, but that's another story.)

The point is, neither all our busy industriousness, nor all our technological wizardry, has improved our basic human condition. If anything, we find ourselves in a more precarious state than our ancestors, few of whom shirked essential work.

But too many people aren't satisfied with doing what's needed; they've got egos to stroke and power to pursue. Those blessed with laziness understand power and ego are the playthings of the Dark Side, while laziness is next to Godliness.

Not to be confused with sloth, laziness is doing what's needed in as relaxed a manner as possible, with only life-threatening circumstances upping the pace to "hurry." Lazy is moving sloooowly, deliberately, carefully. Lazy provides the time to think about your actions. Lazy is enjoying the process as much as--or more than--the product. Sloth, on the other hand, is the avoidance of necessary work in the demented hope that it will all just go away. This is a critical distinction.

Simon and Garfunkel said it all decades ago, "Slow down, you move too fast." But many of the young people who sang these lyrics are now living another tune as they hurry hurry hurry around in their SUVs.

When I visit the East Coast and bask in the pleasure of my loud, in-your-face, extended, hard-working, but intelligently lazy family, I am once again reminded of what matters: getting it (work) done together (so it becomes an occasion to celebrate the social); laughter; endless conversations; meals that take three hours to prepare and two hours to consume.

And without fail, whenever I leave, someone is bound to say, "Take it easy." Yes, indeed.

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