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Surely self-improvement is not a bad thing, right? Surely we should be doing as much as we can to make ourselves self-actualized beings and get shit done and follow the 7 habits of the 12 secrets of the 4 agreements of highly effective badass people with the secret to living the happiness project of our lives.
On this episode of AEWCH, I talk author and philosopher Brian O'Connor about idleness, and how - as Brian says in this episode, not having shitty jobs is not enough. Instead, wanting to be and do better might just be part of the capitalist trap we're all stuck in. Brian is the author of the excellent and short book Idleness: A Philosophical Essay, a skewering of philosophical arguments against idleness. It's not a how to be idle book, since that would be pro-self help! Instead, it's just a good dissolving of all the reasons why we shouldn't be just kind of lazing around enjoying life.
Since Brian is also a scholar of the great critical theorist Theodor Adorno, we talk a lot about him, too. To supplement our discussion, you should check out Brian's very very good intro to Adorno called, well, Adorno. Adorno is a key to this discussion about idleness, because he identifies that even in a world without the same wage-labor relationship we have now, we'd still be working our asses off and trapped in the same arrangement we have now.
This episode was a huge challenge to my normal way of thinking, since I am all about self improvement. But it was a friendly challenge, and a powerful one. I learned a lot. Which I guess, um, means I improved.
In this episode:
- Brian's struggle with being idle
- Why Kant got idleness wrong and right
- Psychoanalysis and ending the perpetual cycle of productivity
- That time I pissed off my friend when all I wanted to do was compliment her on being so chill
- Why we lionize our own pain and struggle
- Whether or not boredom is productive
- How the military exploits idleness to kill people
- How mental work and physical labor mirror mental illness and physical pain
- How Bugs Bunny cartoons should inform our politics
- Why good jobs are not enough
- How sex workers can see how their jobs erode work
- Why everything small thing deserves attention, but that doesn't mean it's all good. Also, why object oriented ontology sucks.
- I nervously present Brian with my theory of phenomenology and occult critical response. But he was very very nice about it.
- Why libertarians get individualism wrong
PS: Sorry for the breathing into the mic! I think I had Brian's mic turned up a little too high. Anyway, just imagine him relaxing.
• Want to learn more about Brian and his efforts? Well, like any good Adorno scholar, he avoids most social media. That said, here's a link to a lot of his essays, as well as a great brief interview with him in the Irish Times. Brian is also the author of a more detailed approached to Adorno, Adorno's Negative Dialectic: Philosophy and the Possibility of Critical Rationality.
• David Graeber's little book, Fragments Of An Anarchist Anthropology is a great little work about egalitarianism and spiritual warfare.
• Adorno and Horkheimer (below) are two of the key figures in critical theory and the Frankfurt School, and Verso has recently published an easy to read conversation between them, Towards A New Manifesto.
• If you do want a book that tells you how to be idle, check out How To Be Idle: A Loafer's Manifesto by AEWCH dream guest Tom Hodgkinson (pictured below).
• For more on sex workers eroding the field of work, check out the appropriately numbered AEWCH 69 with labor theorist Heather Berg and sex worker Sovereign Syre!
• You Must Change Your Life by Peter Sloterdjik is an incredible book about filtering a sort of enjoyment and reform into all the small aspects of our lives.
• Here's "The Same Old Song" by Russell Means. Means's essay is not actually an essay, for, as he states at the outset, "The only possible opening for a statement of this kind is that I detest writing. The process itself epitomizes the European concept of 'legitimate' thinking; what is written has an importance that is denied the spoken." The essay is also found in the book Marxism and the Native Americans.
Thanks for listen folks. Now get out there and do nothing! Until next time.