“It is precisely to prevent us from thinking too much that society pressurizes us all to get out of bed. In 1993, I went to interview the late radical philosopher and drugs researcher Terence McKenna. I asked him why society doesn’t allow us to be more idle. He replied: I think the reason we don’t organise society in that way can be summed up in the aphorism, “idle hands are the devil’s tool.” In other words, institutions fear idle populations because an Idler is a thinker and thinkers are not a welcome addition to most social situations. Thinkers become malcontents, that’s almost a substitute word for idle, “malcontent.” Essentially, we are all kept very busy . . . under no circumstances are you to quietly inspect the contents of your own mind. Freud called introspection “morbid”—unhealthy, introverted, anti-social, possibly neurotic, potentially pathological. Introspection could lead to that terrible thing: a vision of the truth, a clear image of the horror of our fractured, dissonant world.”Tom Hodgkinson, How to Be Idle: A Loafer’s Manifesto
Why Capitalist Society Discourages Thinking
Those Immune to Propaganda
“The only communications truly without influence are those that one learns to ignore or never hears at all; this is why Jacques Ellul argued that it is only the disconnected—rural dwellers or the urban poor—who are truly immune to propaganda, while intellectuals, who read everything, insist on having opinions, and think themselves immune to propaganda are, in fact, easy to manipulate.”Tim Wu, The Attention Merchants
Stop Reading The News, Rolf Dobelli
Lost in Work: Escaping Capitalism, Emelia Horgan
Several Short Sentences About Writing, Verlyn Klinkenborg
Psychopolitics, Byung-Chul Han
The Refusal of Work, David Frayne
Intuitive Awareness, Ajahn Sumedho
The End of Burnout, Jonathan Malesic
Indistractable, Nir Eyal
The Passenger, Cormac McCarthy
Here’s to another year of good reading!
“We have got on to slippery ice where there is no friction and so in a certain sense the conditions are ideal, but also, just because of that, we are unable to walk. We want to walk: so we need friction. Back to the rough ground!”Ludwig Wittgenstein
In a political context, what could this “slippery ice” be?
Could we be too comfortable, sedated even, with the amount of “content” available to us that we never question the state of things?
Promises, Promises, Promises
On the day Liz Truss was elected head of the Conservative party and new Prime Minister of the UK a thunderstorm knocked out TV signals in the North West. In olden times some might have taken this as a sign of ill favour from the gods. When the storm abated Sky News was following Liz’s motorcade through London to Downing Street where she would deliver a carefully prepared speech to the media and her party waiting to applaud her arrival.
Like her predecessors Liz’s inaugural speech as PM was designed to appease both public demand, as represented (imperfectly) through the media and party demand, as represented through the majority Conservative vote. She promised many things, as she must, e.g. high-paying jobs (ha!), opportunities for those who deserve them (meritocracy anyone?), and a resolution to our cost of living crisis, but anyone who has lived long enough will know there’s always a discrepancy in politics between what is promised and what is done.
Time will tell, but we’ve heard it all before.
More Than Our Jobs
“Even if work is pleasant, it will still usually confine us to a prescribed and delimited role within the economic system, silencing those parts of ourselves that do not serve our allotted position in the capitalist process of production. The term role itself, ‘borrowed from the domain of the theatre, suggests that the existence foisted upon people by society is identical neither with people as they are in themselves nor with all that they could be’ (Adorno, 2001: 187)”David Frayne, The Refusal of Work, p.65
He Who Fights …
“He who fights, can lose. He who doesn’t fight, has already lost.”Bertolt Brecht
The Great Enemy of Freedom
“In a society in which nearly everybody is dominated by somebody else’s mind or by a disembodied mind, it becomes increasingly difficult to learn the truth about the activities of governments and corporations, about the quality or value of products, or about the health of one’s own place and economy.
In such a society, also, our private economies will depend less and less upon the private ownership of real, usable property, and more and more upon property that is institutional and abstract, beyond individual control, such as money, insurance policies, certificates of deposit, stocks, and shares. And as our private economies become more abstract, the mutual, free helps and pleasures of family and community life will be supplanted by a kind of displaced or placeless citizenship and by commerce with impersonal and self-interested suppliers.
Thus, although we are not slaves in name, and cannot be carried to market and sold as somebody else’s legal chattels, we are free only within narrow limits. For all our talk about liberation and personal autonomy, there are few choices that we are free to make[.]
The great enemy of freedom is the alignment of political power with wealth. This alignment destroys the commonwealth – that is, the natural wealth of localities and the local economies of household, neighborhood, and community – and so destroys democracy, of which the commonwealth is the foundation and practical means.”Wendell Berry, The Art of The Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays
The Business of Caring (Through Sport Fandom)
“It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitative as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (I know this look – I know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. Almost. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring – caring deeply and passionately, really caring – which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. Naïveté – the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball – seems a small price to pay for such a gift.”Roger Angell