Reader G writes from New Zealand:
Re: returning to the office, here’s a contrary view. I have returned to the office after exclusively working from home for a while. (Life has been near-normal in New Zealand since mid-2020).
I did this by choice because I found I prefer a sharp barrier between the world of work and the rest of my life. Working from home, it’s easy to feel bad about stepping away for breaks, to work late, to keep an eye on online chat… I prefer to leave the office on time and leave work behind too.
Also, of course, my employers provide a reasonably ergonomic workspace for me with the associated amenities. Why should I fit out a home office and dedicate that space for the benefit of my employers? They don’t pay me any rent for it or buy me any extra kit.
I also prefer the social contact and the sight of other human beings and spontaneous interaction. I find video conferencing a poor substitute.
You’re correct, of course. If the office is right for you, that’s excellent. And your point about setting up a specialist workspace in your home is a good one. Why should you?
We’re traditionally against office life and the job system at New Escapologist but the real moral of the story lies in making a life that fits you and doing it creatively and out of free will. If you like working in an office, then that’s great!
I miss proper human interaction too. Not in the office context, mind you, which in my experience revolved around microagressions and colin the caterpillar. But face-to-face relationships with other people are irreplaceable, yes. I miss gigs and art shows and nightlife very, very much. I even speak as an introvert who has to stay at home for a couple of days with the curtains drawn if I happen to go out three nights on the run.
Human contact is too important to throw away even if it makes economic sense in the context of working from home. Video conferencing is garbage. I disliked it in the days of office life (20 minutes of a 60-minute meeting could easily be devoted to setting up a piece-of-shit technical “fix” to allow distant colleagues to have a say) and I positively despise it now. The remote quizzes and and so-called cultural events online during lockdown did not please me. “But it’s all we have at the moment,” is the usual refrain. But it’s not, is it? Books! Walks! Nature! Love! You’ve heard this all before.
“The hatred of laziness,” they write, “is deeply embedded in the history of the United States” and consequently the rest of the world:
The value of hard work and the evils of sloth are baked into our national myths and our shared value system. Thanks to the legacies of imperialism and slavery, as well as the ongoing influence that the United States exerts on the rest of the world both in media and in military force, the Laziness Lie has managed to spread its tendrils into almost every country and culture on the planet.
Strong, most excellent stuff.
They go into the etymology of the word, which conflates weakness with evil, and then into the use of “laziness” to justify slavery in America and oppression during the Industrial Revolution.
It’s the kind of thing I touched on in my “How the West Was Won (by Work)” chapter in Escape Everything! and again in The Good Life for Wage Slaves but didn’t quite have the expertise or guts to go into very deeply.
Colonial America relied on the labor of enslaved people and indentured servants. It was very important to the colonies’ wealthy and enslaving class that they find a way to motivate enslaved people to work hard, despite the fact that enslaved people had absolutely nothing to gain from it. They also needed to find ways to ideologically justify the existence of slavery because many people of the period recognized (as we do today) that it was a morally abhorrent institution.
Importantly, this history forms the basis of the Operating System on which we run today:
Decades of exposure to the Laziness Lie has had a massive effect on our public consciousness. It’s made many of us critical of other people and quick to blame the victims of economic inequality for their own deprivation. It’s made us hate our own limitations, to see our tiredness or desire for a break as signs of failure. And it has created an intense internal pressure to keep working harder and harder, with no limits and no boundaries. This ideology was created to dehumanize those whom society had failed to care for, and with each passing year, the number of people who are excluded in these ways seems to only grow.
What a wonderful essay. I am yet to read Dr. Price’s book, but I recommend it all the same.
Listen. I might have discovered a previously-unobserved source of human misery. If we can work out how to escape this thing, we can probably all be a lot happier.
We might even be happier at work and not want to escape it if only we could escape THIS problem instead. We could be happier at school, happier in our own heads and, yes, happier on the toilet.
I know it sounds grandiose to go claiming a new discovery and all, but describing sources of misery–revealing them for what they are–and working out how to escape them is sort of my job now. And I’m digging deep.
This is from a New Escapologist essay of 2019, one of my exclusive-to-Patreon efforts.
I wasn’t sure about the quality of the essay at first and my struggle with it was part of the reason I stopped doing Patreon.
The struggle might have been worth it though because, revisiting it now, it doesn’t seem too bad. It garnered some good feedback from readers at the time (including wise Henry and sage McKinley) and the truth of the essay still rolls around in my head today.
I’ve dropped the password on the essay and dusted it off for general consumption. If you’re interested, you can freely read it here.
Reader M has drawn our attention to a new book called Laziness Does Not Exist by social psychologist Dr. Devon Price. It looks good!
A review in Jacobin highlights the point that it’s awfully convenient for the world to point the finger at you and say “everything that has gone wrong in your life is your own fault because you are lazy” when most people really are doing their best in a world set up (The Trap) to consume them.
Well, look. It’s not your fault.
Here’s part of the blurb the back of the book (well, from the Waterstones website, but you know):
Dr. Price offers science-based reassurances that productivity does not determine a person’s worth and suggests that the solution to problems of overwork and stress lie in resisting the pressure to do more and instead learn to embrace doing enough. Featuring interviews with researchers, consultants, and experiences from real people drowning in too much work, Laziness Does Not Exist encourages us to let go of guilt and become more attuned to our own limitations and needs and resist the pressure to meet outdated societal expectations.
And so say all of us!
Reader M also shares a discussion about the book on Reddit.