Lazy. So?

Ronnie Maier did a great job in her recent blog post debunking the notion that unschooling = lazy parenting.  I suspect unschoolers will be making these points again and again as unschooling continues to pop up in mainstream circles and people unfamiliar with it react in familiar ways.

It’s good to be armed with reasonable language. (Thank you, Ronnie.) It keeps us from rolling our eyes and calling people Muggles. (Which isn’t so nice, and we’ve all done it.)

Now I’d like to have a go at that word “lazy.”

In fact, I’d like to defend it. Because from where I stand (well, sit, because I’m too lazy to stand) it seems that most people — particularly those who throw around phrases like “lazy parenting” — could use a little more lazy in their lives.

I think we’ve been clobbered over the head for generations with the idea that it’s bad — immoral, even — to be anything other than busy and productive and industrious (and if you’re a parent, a controlling taskmaster) hour after hour, day after day, for all the days of our lives.

That we (and our kids, and our spouses) only get to be “lazy” after we do all the work that someone thinks we ought to be doing, and even then, that our respite must not last too long, or venture too far outside the zone of acceptable leisure-time activities.  (No comic books!  No video games!  No daydreaming!)

You know who thinks like that? Tyrants.

Tyrants tend to call other people “lazy” when those other people aren’t doing what the tyrant thinks they should be doing.

Like defending empires, for example. Or multiplying fractions.  Or rattling those pots and pans. Or sitting in a call center with a telephone headset, harassing people who can’t pay their bills.

You know, productive work like that.

Disallowing the idle time necessary for creative engagement with the world — which is another way to frame the notion of “laziness” — is part of the same cultural indoctrination that says there is only one right way to live; that it’s perfectly legitimate to turn your sovereignty over to someone else for the majority of your time on the planet;  that “free time” is something you must earn, and that there is a standard level of busy we all must achieve in order to be considered worthy of taking up space and breathing up the air.

Blame it on the Puritans or the capitalists or the social engineers, but wherever you place the genesis — maybe it’s in Genesis — I think it’s well past time to call bullshit on the cult of productivity and make-work and let lazy have its due.

Two things tangentially related came across my feed recently.  One was from Dmitri Orlov, author of Reinventing Collapse, who argues in favor of a big chill-out.

The important thing to understand about collapse is that it’s brought on by overreach and overstretch and people being zealous and trying too hard. It’s not brought on by people being laid back and doing the absolute minimum.  Americans could very easily feed themselves and clothe themselves and have a place to live working maybe a hundred days a year.

You know, it’s a rich country in terms of resources. There’s really no reason to work maybe more than a third of your time and that’s sort of a standard pattern in the world.  But if you want to build a huge empire and have endless economic growth and have the largest number of billionaires on the planet then you have to work over forty hours a week all the time and if you don’t then you’re in danger of going bankrupt.  So that’s the predicament that people have ended up in.

The other was from James K. Galbraith, who made the case for lowering the retirement age in the U.S., because we really don’t need to be working as long as we are.

Only a small fraction of today’s workers make things. Our problem is finding worthwhile work for people to do, not finding workers to produce the goods we consume.  In the United States, the financial crisis has left the country with 11 million fewer jobs than Americans need now. No matter how aggressive the policy, we are not going to find 11 million new jobs soon. (…) The right step is to reduce, not increase, the full-benefits retirement age. (…)  Let them go home!

It’s heresy to suggest that the cure for what ails us is not more work, but less.

It’s heresy to suggest that we might actually be able to get what we need in far less time than the common expectation, leaving us lots of hours to fart around and, yes, be lazy.

And, sadly, it’s still heresy to question, even now, in light of all evidence to the contrary, the notion that work will make us free.*

* * *

*Not “Arbeit macht frei” (work will make you free”): sign placed at the entrance of Auschwitz and other concentration camps in World War II.


12 thoughts on “Lazy. So?

  1. >>>there is a standard level of busy we all must achieve in order to be considered worthy of taking up space and breathing up the air<<<


    And that sign over the entrance to Auschwitz sounds pretty much straight out of Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm.

  2. This paragraph is an elegant word sculpture:

    “Blame it on the Puritans or the capitalists or the social engineers, but wherever you place the genesis — maybe it’s in Genesis — I think it’s time to call bullshit on the cult of productivity and make-work and let lazy have its due.”

    It reads like textured poetry.

  3. “Lazy” is one of those insulting terms that can’t be made a good thing. Relaxing, thinking, waiting, thinking… those are good words for the same kinds of actions. Some people work very hard, producing things they shouldn’t have been producing at all. 🙂

    Sometimes the best thing to do is be still and see what happens.

    I’m going to link your post and Ronnie’s to my collection of things on accusations of laziness.

  4. i have days when i think i’m not doing enough around the house. picking up and putting away and keeping order. i did it for so long neurotically that in the last few years i’ve been giving myself permission to not put stuff away, to let the bathroom go for just a few more days, to leave the dust. yesterday, i had a list of things i “needed” to do. what happened instead was we accepted an impromptu invitation to go to the park that turned into picking up even more kids and going to the bookstore and then coming to our house to hang out. the bathroom remained funky, the floors needing swept…and somehow no one cared and we had an awesome fun day. i always try to remember that right now, these moments with my kids are so much more important than any to do list. ever. even if i sometimes let myself use that L word in my head. i just have to remember the other L word. love.

  5. thank you so much for this post, really.
    I´m not an unschooler in the sense that i did go to school and even some years to university until I left it to teach myself music and pursue my dream. To this day I have to fight the voices inside of me telling me what i should be doing…
    So good to come across this blog and calm down my sense of obligation.


    1. I haven’t, but I just looked him up. Sounds like my kinda guy. I’ve added him to my reading list. Thanks for the suggestion!

      (any chance we’re related, Lou?)

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