To be idle and not overworked is not a sin. In 2005, British writer and editor Tom Hodgkinson wrote “How to Be Idle,” a book that stands against work ethic and generally criticizes the Industrial Revolution. He is serious about spreading the spirit of idleness and is even a cofounder of “The Idler,” an annual magazine that has been promoting his ideas since 1993. Last year, he set up the Idler Academy in London, which he calls “a cafe, bookstore and a center of learning,” where people can celebrate a slow-paced life by enjoying music, literature, philosophy and history.
The Newcastle-born writer has written four books. He followed “How to be Idle,” published in 2005, with “How to Be Free” (2006), “The Idle Parent” (2009) and “Brave Old World” (2011). Hodkinson also writes for British newspapers such as The Guardian, the Sunday Telegraph and the Sunday Times.
On Monday night, Hodgkinson, a resident of Devon, England, stopped by the iconic bookstore Shakespeare and Company, in Paris, for an idling session with readers. Other authors usually come for book or poetry readings, but Hodgkinson played the ukulele, sang for his guests, and chatted with them about laziness. The bookstore, which was closed for the event, was packed with people who wanted to hear more about how to be idle.
Because the event was in Paris, the event was entitled “Travaille Jamais,” inspired by the popular saying “Ne Travaillez Jamais,” which means “Never Work,” first written as graffiti by Guy Debord in 1953 in an indictment against capitalism. Debord was a French Marxist theorist, as well as a writer and filmmaker. His graffiti became popular after it was photographed for a publication and then reproduced on postcards.
For Hodgkinson, it only proves that the campaign against working is timeless.
Although “How to Be Idle” was published almost seven years ago, many people still misinterpret and misunderstand the message. Hodgkinson often receives criticism from readers who say they can’t do nothing all the time because they have bills to pay. “How to Be Idle” may sound like a nonsense critique against a strong work ethic, mass media and organized religion, but Hodgkinson says that he is basically against the idea of structured and rigid lifestyles.
“I think if people want to work for 16 hours a day they should be allowed to,” he said. However, he explained, that should not be preferred over relaxing. The need to go to work is the result of the Industrial Revolution, because it changed how people lived. In his book, Hodgkinson admits that he doesn’t know much about Marx, but he understands the theorist was motivated by the misery caused by the Industrial Revolution.
“There is no time to amuse yourself with trivial chores, such as fishing, playing and gardening,” Marx said.
Knowing that his campaign against working would be seen as counterintuitive in this hugely-industrialized world, Hodgkinson does not simply argue in his book. He also compiles classic literary works from the likes of Bertrand Russell and Oscar Wilde to tell readers how great artists in the past embraced laziness.
The event in Paris followed the same vain as “How to Be Idle.” Hodgkinson played songs that promote idleness and the liberty of life, written by artists like John Lennon, and The Clash, as well as joyful children’s song like “You Are My Sunshine,” to which everyone hummed and sung together.
During his talk, he pointed out the interesting fact that the word “school” originally came from the Greek word “scholee” which means “leisure,” and that education was something people elected to do. It’s not something young people did against their will to prepare themselves for the job market.
“That’s the kind of school we want to run in London, where you can go and develop yourselves, educate yourselves, learn or civilize,” Hodgkinson said of the Idler Academy.
In between playing ukulele and singing, Hodgkinson casually explained how he dislikes Thomas Edison for inventing lamps. Today, however, such innovative figures are idolized in Silicon Valley.
“The boss of Facebook works 19 hours a day and sleeps with a BlackBerry under his pillow,” he said.
What the world needs is an antidote for such a lifestyle, and that is what he has been doing for the past two decades.
Hodgkinson himself says he prefers to do what he calls fulfilling work. In “Idle” he writes that it’s better to be average at many things than to be very good at only one. Hodgkinson encourages readers to beat their anxiety and grow and bake their own food. That way, people can declare their independence from industries that have taken over their lives.
Hodgkinson admits such a life would be very difficult to achieve these days.
“It’s getting more difficult with BlackBerrys and mobile phones and those e-mails,” said Hodgkinson, who once gave up e-mail for two weeks.
“Dealing with guilt is important but it can only be done though an intellectual process.”
During his idling session in Paris, Hodgkinson said that he is working on a new book about 10 years of trying, and failing, to live a balanced life between working and doing chores, such as gardening and cleaning chickens to be cooked, all in order to pursue a self-chosen, creative life.
“What I want to say is you can have a boring job and still be creative. I think the combination of these two things are good,” said Hodgkinson, who also admits he dislikes doing chores.
Hodgkinson says every country may embrace a different kind of idleness. The French are known for their long lunches and cigarette breaks. It’s all about mentality, he said.
“To look around the world through the eyes of radical anthropologists, that can really help,” he said.
“In Mexico, you can have two siestas every day without any guilt, and people can sit in a square, staring into space literally for an hour or even longer without any sense that they’ve got to do anything.”
“If such a life is possible in that part of the world, it means that the philosophy is there if you want it,” Hodgkinson said.
Hodgkinson suggests readers meditate when needed, and bicycling and walking everyday without distraction for 15 minutes. He also finds gardening and keeping pets “fantastically therapeutic.”
“What keeps me alive is being able to have a nap everyday,” he said. “I would lay down for 20 minutes and that’s lovely.”