Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Right To Be Lazy

Today, I happened upon an interesting person, Paul Lafargue, who (according to Wikipedia) was:

a French revolutionary Marxist socialist journalist, political writer and activist; he was Karl Marx's son-in-law, having married his second daughter Laura. His best known work is The Right to Be Lazy. Born in Santiago de Cuba of a Franco-Caribbean family, Lafargue spent most of his life in France, with periods in England and Spain. At the age of 69, he and Laura died together in a suicide pact.
And I was intrigued about this man. What had Marx's son-in-law actually argued, in 'The Right to Be Lazy'? Thankfully I discovered an online version and recommend it as a very thought provoking and entertaining read. Some extracts:
A strange delusion possesses the working classes of the nations where capitalist civilization holds its sway. This delusion drags in its train the individual and social woes which for two centuries have tortured sad humanity. This delusion is the love of work, the furious passion for work, pushed even to the exhaustion of the vital force of the individual and his progeny. Instead of opposing this mental aberration, the priests, the economists and the moralists have cast a sacred halo over work. Blind and finite men, they have wished to be wiser than their God; weak and contemptible men, they have presumed to rehabilitate what their God had cursed.

...Jesus, in his sermon on the Mount, preached idleness: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” Jehovah the bearded and angry god, gave his worshippers the supreme example of ideal laziness; after six days of work, he rests for all eternity.

...Our epoch has been called the century of work. It is in fact the century of pain, misery and corruption.

...Speaking of the labor of the workshop, Villermé adds: “It is not a work, a task, it is a torture and it is inflicted on children of six to eight years. It is this long torture day after day which wastes away the laborers in the cotton spinning factories”. And as to the duration of the work Villermé observes, that the convicts in prisons work but ten hours, the slaves in the west Indies work but nine hours, while there existed in France after its Revolution of 1789, which had proclaimed the pompous Rights of Man “factories where the day was sixteen hours, out of which the laborers were allowed only an hour and a half for meals.” What a miserable abortion of the revolutionary principles of the bourgeoisie! What woeful gifts from its god Progress! The philanthropists hail as benefactors of humanity those who having done nothing to become rich, give work to the poor. Far better were it to scatter pestilence and to poison the springs than to erect a capitalist factory in the midst of a rural population. Introduce factory work, and farewell joy, health and liberty; farewell to all that makes life beautiful and worth living.

...“The prejudice of slavery dominated the minds of Pythagoras and Aristotle,” – this has been written disdainfully; and yet Aristotle foresaw: “that if every tool could by itself execute its proper function, as the masterpieces of Daedalus moved themselves or as the tripods of Vulcan set themselves spontaneously at their sacred work; if for example the shuttles of the weavers did their own weaving, the foreman of the workshop would have no more need of helpers, nor the master of slaves.”

Aristotle’s dream is our reality. Our machines, with breath of fire, with limbs of unwearying steel, with fruitfulness, wonderful inexhaustible, accomplish by themselves with docility their sacred labor. And nevertheless the genius of the great philosophers of capitalism remains dominated by the prejudice of the wage system, worst of slaveries. They do not yet understand that the machine is the saviour of humanity, the god who shall redeem man from the sordidae artes and from working for hire, the god who shall give him leisure and liberty.

...Like Christ, the doleful personification of ancient slavery, the men, the women and the children of the proletariat have been climbing painfully for a century up the hard Calvary of pain; for a century compulsory toil has broken their bones, bruised their flesh, tortured their nerves; for a century hunger has torn their entrails and their brains. O Laziness, have pity on our long misery! O Laziness, mother of the arts and noble virtues, be thou the balm of human anguish!
It seems Lafargue was correct about a lot of things and funnily enough, earlier this week, I left this comment at the interesting blog, Duplicitous Primates:
...this evening I watched the episode [of Cosmos] where [Carl Sagan] discusses the possibility of extraterrestrial life and why there aren't aliens visiting us already. Unfortunately he neglects the possibility that when a species attains enough scientific knowledge and understands that everything is pointless, it doesn't see the value in making the huge effort to visit another bunch of equally pointless beings.
And maybe the really clever species are the ones that sort out the big problems, and then sit back (take the phone of the hook) and relax...