EVERY few years I dig out Bertrand Russell’s famous essay, In Praise of Idleness, and re-read it. This year a couple of newspaper articles caused me to go looking for it.
It is a great restorative for the kind of lifestyle I eventually adopted after a number of false starts.
Russell was an English philosopher and the essay was published in 1935 but it still has an authentic ring to it. That it has prevailed all these years is testament to the power of the essay as social comment.
He was, I suppose, a leftie, whatever that means, so he enjoyed taking the piss out of the establishment.
In the essay he says, “I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous …”
The 19th-century English writer, Jerome K Jerome, author of Three men in a Boat, also famously observed, “I like work. It fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.”
These are interesting observations, especially when our current crop of politicians and business leaders are saying things like, everyone is entitled to a job, and banging on about things like productivity and the dire need to increase it.
It is especially ironic when you consider that the relentless striving for productivity is slowly killing the planet on which we all live. It’s as if they think there are no alternatives.
I’m with Russell when he says that, “the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organised diminution of work.”
Russell was not advocating stopping work altogether. He was just explaining that we do far too much of it and that it is innately unpleasant.
A bit far-fetched you might think.
Since the beginning of humanity and up until the Industrial Revolution, which was a very long time, people managed, through a minimal amount of labour, to provide for their subsistence.
In Papua New Guinea these pre-industrial people still exist in the rural areas. They work to put food in their mouths and to provide comfort and shelter for themselves and their families.
Those of us compelled to live in westernised societies, including the urban areas of Papua New Guinea, work for much more than that however.
We work to consume, to gain material wealth and in the mistaken belief that this will make us happy. In that regard we have become dupes.
Dupes of the politicians, dupes of big business and dupes of their henchmen in the churches. We have been brainwashed to work so that they can be comfortable and, worst of all, we work so that they don’t have to work.
Not having to work very hard, to have time to sit around and chew the fat with friends and relatives, to think deeply about life instead of accepting a version of it from someone else’s loaded platter and, in the interests of many of the readers of PNG Attitude, to do enjoyable things like writing short stories, essays, poems and novels, is one of the hidden and unacknowledged beauties of the so-called Melanesian Way.
In that regard I think Bertrand Russell would have liked Papua New Guinea.