22 August 2017

Leisure and Idleness

Leisure and Idleness—There is something of the American Indians, something of the ferocity peculiar to the Indian blood, in the American lust for gold and the breathless haste with which they work—the distinctive vice of the new world—is already beginning to infect old Europe with its ferocity and is spreading a lack of spirituality like a blanket. Even now one is ashamed of resting, and prolonged reflection almost gives people a bad conscience.  One thinks with a watch in one’s hand, even as one eats one’s midday meal while reading the news of the stock market; one lives as if one always “might be missing out on something.” “Rather do anything than nothing”: this principle, too, is merely a string to throttle all culture and good taste. Just as all forms are visibly perishing by the haste of the workers, the feeling for form itself, the ear and eye for the melody of movements are also perishing.  The proof of this may be found in the universal demand for gross obviousness in all those situations in which human beings wish to be honest with one another for once—in their associations with friends, women, relatives, children, teachers, pupils, leaders and princes: One no longer has time or energy for ceremonies, for being obliging in an indirect way, for spirit in conversation, and any leisure at all. Living in a constant chase after gain compels people to expend their spirit to the point of exhaustion in continual pretence and overreaching and anticipating others.  Virtue has come to consist of doing something in less time than someone else.  Hours in which honesty is permitted have become rare, and when they arrive one is tired and does not only want to “let oneself go” but wishes to stretch out as long and wide and ungainly as one happens to be. This is how people now write letters, and the style and spirit of letters will always be the true “sign of the times.”

If sociability and the arts still offer any delight, it is the kind of delight that slaves,  weary of their work, devise for themselves. How frugal our educated –and uneducated—people have become regarding “joy”! How they are becoming increasingly suspicious of all joy!  More and more, work enlists all good conscience on its side; the desire for joy already calls itself a “need” to recuperate” and is beginning to be ashamed of itself. “One owes it to one’s  health”—that is what people say when they are caught on an excursion into the country.  Soon we may well reach the point where people can no longer give in to the desire for a vita contemplativa (that is, taking a walk with ideas and friends) without self-contempt and a bad conscience.
Well, formerly it was the other way around: it was work that was afflicted with bad conscience. A person of good family used to conceal the fact that he was working if need compelled him to work. Slaves used to work, oppressed by the feeling that they were doing something contemptible: “doing itself was contemptible. “Nobility and honour are attached solely to otium and bellum”, (peace and war), that was the ancient prejudice.

Friedrich Nietzsche--The Gay Science