Einstein's theory of antiwork.

From antiwork in the USA [] to “tang ping” (躺平) or “lying flat” in China [], people are fed up with the grind. Could it be that we shouldn't live to work, but work to live? That we shouldn't serve the economy, but the economy should serve us?


Working hard and being antiwork.

I enjoy working hard, especially toward a common good, a noble goal, or simply helping a friend. The fruits of labour are immediately visible and don't merely increase the profits of some intangible entity or harmful industry. Sadly, the former types of work are rare, and the harm of the latter is everywhere: advertising, factory farming, microplastics, forever chemicals, car-centrism, financial fraud, digital pyramid schemes, obesity, loneliness, depression, for-profit prisons, excessive symptom suppressing instead of curative medicine, wealth inequality, climate change, corruption, et cetera. Sift it all through and we get to greed, the root cause of most of society's problems.

Due to that greed we've evermore become cogs in a profit squeezing machine: unappreciated, exploited, replaceable—and, being valued as such, we behave similarly towards products and humans alike. Thanks, planned obsolescence. Thanks, Tinder* []. Just as Marx foretold, we're witnessing the “alienation of work” [][], to which I might add: the alienation of humanity. What was once more fulfilling craftsmanship has become a sterile numbers game, cold. We are mere profit maximizers. However good you imagine your company, in reality it's pretense. If they were legally allowed to they'd immediately replace you, pay you less, or treat you worse if it improved their numbers. You are not family. This alienation is a major reason why as long as I can remember I've never looked forward to “work”, or, having “a job”. The same routine five days a week, seeing colleagues more than my friends, for the rest of my life… No. Not impressed. I do not want to contribute to a cancer-like pursuit of growth. Considering the unlikeliness of stumbling upon one's dream job, i.e., vocation, there is little to no good reason to continue this kind of ruthless system. Sure, every job/vocation will have its periods of drudgery, but we can afford doing less of it. We are rich enough, short on time, and there's a vast amount of more interesting things to do or better work to be done.

Alas. This remains a remarkably touchy subject. People in Western “cultures” often take pride in their work regardless whether they enjoy it or regardless of its net negative consequences as aforementioned. In such work-obsessed societies it is often considered sacrilege to be critical of work. Therefore, I'll let one of the greatest minds in history do some unpaid work for me. I'm sorry Albert, “you're doing it for the exposure” [].

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—ASCII art of Albert Einstein [].

“Einstein struck a more serious pose when he addressed the Caltech student body near the end of his stay. His sermon, grounded in his humanistic outlook, was on how science had not yet been harnessed to do more good than harm. During war it gave people “the means to poison and mutilate one another,” and in peacetime it “has made our lives hurried and uncertain.” Instead of being a liberating force, “it has enslaved men to machines” by making them work “long wearisome hours mostly without joy in their labor.” Concern for making life better for ordinary humans must be the chief object of science. “Never forget this when you are pondering over your diagrams and equations!”” —Albert Einstein (1879–1955) []

Buckminster Fuller, another intellectual paragon, says likewise:

“We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian-Darwinian theory, he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.” —Buckminster Fuller (1895–1983) []

Clearly, the antiwork movement is not for the lazy. It's the other way around. To me, ironically, “antiwork” means striving for a society where people want to work, a society with a vision that people deem worthy to dedicate their life to. In that respect, I consider too ambiguous the r/antiwork slogan “Unemployment for all, not just the rich!” [], however witty it may be. The unemployed or partly employed are looked down upon far too often already, entirely unjustified. As long as a person does no harm, or doesn't refrain from preventing harm, then all is well. Nothing else matters besides living morally. Come on, it's not that hard to comprehend. Don't point at each other, we have a common enemy:

“People who dismiss the unemployed and dependent as ‘parasites’ fail to understand economics and parasitism. A successful parasite is one that is not recognized by its host, one that can make its host work for it without appearing as a burden. Such is the ruling class in a capitalist society.” —Jason Read

– – – – – –

* Dating sites are not inherently bad, but the way they are built can be. If profit is the bottom line, then those sites won't be optimized to find the most suitable partner as fast as possible, but to increase your time using it and consequently the money you have to spend to unlock more possible matches.

† I consider my country, Belgium, a culture of no culture. Unless one considers culture to consist of trivia game shows and beer, which I don't. I once asked my Chinese flatmate “how would you describe our culture?” After a moment's gaze at the ceiling he said: “Cold.” Fellow countrymen usually answer in a similar fashion.

Bias.

A recent example of the antiwork/unemployment bias is the cringeworthy Fox interview with Doreen Ford, a now former Reddit r/antiwork moderator. It's obvious Fox did not intend for this to be a Socratic dialogue, but instead, public humiliation—bullying. By merely choosing an interviewee with the charisma of a pebble*—and not that kind of pebble that flings you violently off your skateboard—they succeeded in their mission to paint the entire antiwork movement as a philosophy for weaklings. Given the likes of Einstein or Fuller, and others which will soon follow, that simply is untrue.

—YouTube: Fox interview with Doreen Ford [].

“you're not being forced to work”.

Fox may have succeeded in their mission but the anchor was consistently wrong. For one, “you're not being forced to work”. Yes you are. Rent or mortgages are ridiculously expensive, and society does not proportionally offer the choice between “working half as much for a half as big a house”. Working part-time immediately terminates one's legibility to apply for a loan, despite being able to pay for it. In fact, many people are “forced” to make ends meet through multiple jobs of common drudgery. Awful. Systems where wealth is accumulated through domestic and/or foreign exploitation; systems where soccer sissies [] earn more than teachers… in essence, systems that regularly reward clever vice/immorality/uselessness more than genuine virtue/usefulness are inherently flawed. Let's do better than supply and demand; it is not a law of nature, it is man-made, or should we say men-made economics: flawed.

“encouraging people to be lazy.

Secondly, leisure is a virtue, which is likely how Ford interpreted the word laziness. This prompts me to summon Bertrand Russell, as promised, yet another intellectual powerhouse whose work “had a considerable influence on mathematics, logic, set theory, linguistics, artificial intelligence, cognitive science, computer science…” [] To summarize Russell's stance on antiwork: reverence for work is inculcated by the rich so they can continue their own life of leisure. Full time work wasn't necessary then and still isn't now. We have the means to support a decent life for everyone even with four hour work days. Pause. Why rewrite what has already been written superiorly. Be delighted by the man himself, excerpts from his essay “In Praise of Idleness” []:

“I want to say, in all seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by the belief in the virtuousness of work, and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.”

“But their labors were valuable, not because work is good, but because leisure is good. And with modern technic it would be possible to distribute leisure justly without injury to civilization.”

“It will be said that while a little leisure is pleasant, men would not know how to fill their days if they had only four hours’ work out of the twenty-four. In so far as this is true in the modern world it is a condemnation of our civilization; it would not have been true at any earlier period. There was formerly a capacity for light-heartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency. The modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake…

“When I suggest that working hours should be reduced to four, I am not meaning to imply that all the remaining time should necessarily be spent in pure frivolity. I mean that four hours’ work a day should entitle a man to the necessities and elementary comforts of life, and that the rest of his time should be his to use as he might see fit. It is an essential part of any such social system that education should be carried farther than it usually is at present, and should aim, in part, at providing tastes which would enable a man to use leisure intelligently. I am not thinking mainly of the sort of things that would be considered “high-brow.” Peasant dances have died out except in remote rural areas, but the impulses which caused them to be cultivated must still exist in human nature. The pleasures of urban populations have become mainly passive: seeing cinemas, watching football matches, listening to the radio, and so on. This results from the fact that their active energies are fully taken up with work; if they had more leisure they would again enjoy pleasures in which they took an active part.”

Reducing the essay to mere excerpts does a disservice to both Russell and you, so do yourself a favour and read the lot. Twelve pages of wisdom worth a lifetime.

“aspire to do anything more than dog walking?”

Thirdly, the anchor belittles dog walkers while it is in fact his job that's worse than useless, disseminating propaganda and whatnot. Russell would've worked the news anchor to his knees within seconds—a position he's likely used to, corporate puppet that he is.

—YouTube: Black Mirror like compilation of news stations using the same script [].

Dogs are amazing and deserve the utmost love []. Ironically, if it weren't for people working so bloody much there wouldn't be a need for dog walkers in the first place—for dog walking, too, “is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”

In case the irony was lost, never feel bad for having an ostensibly unprestigious job. Ambition is overrated. Whether a janitor or surgeon, being virtuous is what matters []. Consequently, avoid contempt and envy, for we each have our part to play [], powerless to choose our upbringing.

– – – – – –

* I do not intend this as an insult and I have no qualms with Doreen besides learning to pick her battles and perhaps toughen up a little. It's just how it objectively comes across in contrast with the anchor.

Antiwork is not an isolated ideology.

From 400 BC to 2022 AD.

Not only is antiwork not for the lazy, it's not a novel idea either. Witness this approximately 2400 year old quote by Antisthenes, one of the earliest advocates of Cynicism, a philosophy that pursues life in equilibrium with nature:

“…my choicest possession of all is, as you can observe, that I am always at my leisure, so that I can go off and see what is worth seeing, or hear what is worth hearing, and, what I value first and foremost, I can spend the whole day at leisure with Socrates here. And he likewise does not reserve his admiration for those who can come up with the most money, but spends his time in the company of those whom he finds pleasing.” —Antisthenes (445–365 BC)

From Antisthenes to Einstein, Fuller, or Russell, they all found themselves in favor of antiwork, but they've got another thing in common: they're dead. Fear not, academia is still very much alive. Just the other day I was listening to a niche math podcast while suddenly the guest, David Sulzer, unwittingly pinpointed the exact reason of existence of the antiwork ideology and the need for Universal Basic Income: most people do not like their jobs and would rather make a living doing something else.

“I continue to make music because I'm making a living at something else. It allows me to work on music I want to work on. Not everybody can…So, until we figure out our way out of that box, musicians are gonna have to make a living doing something other than create music. I wish I had a better answer for it…”

“…Anyway I'm lucky that while most of us musicians have to make a living doing something else, even if it's teaching, at least I'm doing something that I really care about. You know, science, studying nature, it's wonderful. As you already know, in some ways it's a tough living. It's tough in different ways that other livings are tough. It's still an enormous challenge all the time. I'm grateful that I can do something I care about. So many other people are doing jobs…most people don't really want to do their jobs. And for a scientist it's different, we actually do want to do our jobs.” —David Sulzer [].

So you see, again, it's not that people don't want to do anything, they want to do something meaningful. A grand symphony conducted by the soul, resonating from the heart. We were all children once, teeming with thousands of ideas. That is, until curiosity and wonder unwittingly erodes due to an archaic education system that's invented to create obedient workers []. What a humongous waste of potential. Instead, education should mold us all into philosopher kings, proficient in both science and art, the latter which makes the former worth doing.

“I've always had this feeling that art and science are not really any different, they're different parts of the same animal. The Victorians felt that instinctively. If you look at The Crystal Palace (1851), it was the works of all nations. It wasn't arts and science brought together, it was just works. Thanks to the glorious prince Albert. The Victorians generally… if you look at all the great scientists, they're generally musicians. Almost without fail. And they didn't see the distinction. All the great photographers—I'm a passionate collector of Victorian photography, especially the stereoscopic stuff—all those guys are artists and scientists. And they have to be because they're working in a medium that requires incredible knowledge of chemistry and physics… they also are creating art. Creating portraits, landscapes, beautiful things. They don't even think that there's a distinction. So that's how I am, and resisted the twentieth century concept that you have to be one or the other, and they try to split us, and they succeeded for a while. And I think that was bad, and I think now we're seeing a coming together, a rejoining of art and science.” —Brian May []

For your viewing's pleasure, from the archives of my hometown, some Victorian stereoscopic photography. Notice how both the ruling class and working class are loafing around. Quaint.

—Image: Victorian stereoscopic photograph, shot by Albéric Goethals [].

—Image: Victorian stereoscopic photograph, shot by Albéric Goethals [].

Athlete counterculture.

Alongside academics there are athletes who also pull, or at least pulled their weight against work: climbers. Rising consumerism and the expectation of falling in line with the humdrum way of life made many flee towards a complete opposite lifestyle of freedom. A ramshackle existence, but freedom nonetheless. They replaced the chains of work with a rope and harness, constrained only by their imagination and bravery. It wasn't always comfortable, but they were united in discomfort—truly happy.

“The idea of devoting your life to climbing didn't exist anywhere else. None of us ever expected to have a job. We were gonna be hobos basically. And we were gonna climb forever, and that was the extent of it.” —Yvon Chouinard

“Living in Camp 4, instead of making money, the idea was to reduce the overhead. It wasn't the way normal people live.” —Glen Denny

“One summer I went to a damaged can store and bought a bunch of damaged cans of cat food, that's what we ate. I mean it was a total dirtbag existence.” —Yvon Chouinard

Screenshot from documentary Valley Uprising; picture of loitering folk on a no loitering sign.

—Screenshot: Valley Uprising; picture of loitering folk on a no loitering sign.

“Life in Camp 4 really took on an anti establishment countercultural tone. There was a whole revolution of attitudes going on in our society at that time. Climbing was just a manifestation of that.” —Rich Calderwood.

“We hated authority. I still hate authority.” —Steve Roper

Narrator: “Warren Harding, an impish road surveyor with his own appetite for glory. His mother named him after a president, but in his thirties he was still living at home. Boozing heavily, and curing his hangovers with the adrenaline rush of climbing.”

—Quotes: Valley Uprising, documentary on the history of climbing [].

Screenshot from documentary Valley Uprising; picture of Camp 4 in Yosemite Valley.

—Screenshot: Valley Uprising; picture of Camp 4 in Yosemite Valley.

One objection to this lifestyle could be the seeming contradiction in climbers using gear that's produced by companies that thrive on capitalism, i.e., the gear wouldn't exist without the drudgery of work. False. My climbing shoes are made by La Sportiva, a company that wilfully does not expand, remains in Italy, and exports globally. Moreover, those who take care of their shoes can get them fixed. Quality over quantity, artisanry at its best.

Speaking of art, the most artistic and antiestablishment* sport, to me, is skateboarding. As Rodney Mullen said: “Skateboarders are a group of people that do not belong in groups.” []. Never before has a quote been so relatable because I've always felt like an outcast, like I belonged nowhere, except in the company of friends. Thus, unsurprising is my gravitation towards skateboarding, for despite being a lonesome wanderer, it has the peculiar ability to instill freedom, bliss—cruising around, beautiful weather, not a care in the world, completely detached from society. On a skateboard or on a wall everything makes sense.

“It's a lovely day. The birds are singing, the sun is shining, what more could you ask for?” —Ben Raemers (1990–2019) [].

What's lovely as well is that each of these sports make you see the world differently. When climbers see a house they don't merely see the house, but they think “Hmm, how could I climb that? There's a pipe, some grooves, and a protruding pillar. Doable!” The same happens to skateboarders: “Could I Ollie the sketchy inclined pavement over the plant, fly for two glorious seconds, and land on a steep decline?” The world literally becomes a playground []. Much to the dismay of mentally old people, who consider holy the atoms of an inanimate staircase, not to be jumped off. Screw them, live a little.

“We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” —G. Stanley Hall (1846–1924)

Resistance to societal folly couldn't get more blatant than the following title: “Jobs? Never!!” You see, where academics use wit, skateboarders use their middlefinger—a stupendously artistic middlefinger:

—Film: “Jobs? Never!!” by Jim Greco [].

– – – – – –

* For brevity's sake I'm ignoring skateboarders' avoidable addiction to Instagram and their unavoidable dependence on the world's most capitalist companies that produce decent skateshoes.

Two downsides of not working.

Isolation.

Too much free time is not unhealthy in itself, but having no one to share the creative challenges and pleasures with is. From my own experience I can attest that it is excessive isolation that leads to unhappiness, lethargy, anhedonia, et cetera. Even though I'm rarely bored on my own—after all, the world is endlessly fascinating—many activities are more fun with or require companionship. While you're free, others are at their jobs, and when they're free, they've got far less time and energy.

It's saddening how frequently I encounter talented people whose beautiful endeavors the world gets robbed of thanks to work. Therefore, the diminution thereof urgently needs to be addressed more often and more loudly. Ask anyone if they would work less if they could, and most of them unhesitatingly answer “yes”. Continue to ask what they would do with their time, and none of them answer “watching TV”. However, when asking what they think other people would do, many think the opposite, that they would only watch TV. Both cannot be true simultaneously.

Homelessness.

The sole reason why the majority of people must slave away is protection from the elements—housing. Which is absurd considering how little active time we spend there. Either we're at work for eight hours, or we're sleeping the same amount. And when we're not doing that, we prefer enjoying activities that take place outside of our homes. It follows that the diminution of work is a reasonable stance.

This objection has been a common thread in my previous writing—annoyingly so (play, pride). But with good reason, its effects are pervasive throughout our whole lives. I realise that it's not that straightforward to just work less, and that's why, as David Sulzer indicated above, we need to find a better answer for it.

The future.

I'm optimistic in the long run but pessimistic for the near future. Despite there being plenty of possible pathways that directly or indirectly lead to the decrease of work: Universal Basic Income, cooperatives, degrowth, circular economies, tiny houses, cybersocialism [], etc., there are many more forces working against us. It's going to be an uphill battle, just as every other Copernican revolution has been since the dawn of men. But the struggle is worth it, do not despair. Galileo's odds were far worse, yet he showed them

“Eppur si muove.” —Galileo Galilei (1564–1642)

Galileo Galilei portrait.

—Image: Portrait of Galileo Galilei by Justus Sustermans, 1636. Uffizi Museum, Florence [].

“Eppur si muove”, “and yet it moves”—“attributed to Galileo after being forced to recant his assertion that the earth moves around the sun.” [] Unbeknownst to him this was probably the world's finest proverbial mic drop as a theoretical physics experiment []. Who da man?! Galileo da man.

If, however, unlike Galileo, you haven't found your guiding star yet, and you feel alone, remember that you've got a friend in me, and Diogenes of Sinope []:

“When someone said to him, 'Most people laugh at you', he replied, 'And doubtless donkeys laugh at them; but just as they pay no heed to the donkeys, I pay none to them.'”

—Angelino Desmet; 18 February 2022.
Edited: 22 February 2022.

Sources.

  1. Wikipedia: Antiwork.
  2. Wikipedia: tang ping.
  3. Ordinary Things: The Evil Economics of Tinder.
  4. Wikipedia: Marx's theory of alienation.
  5. Britannica: Marxism summary.
  6. Matthew Inman: The Oatmeal - Exposure (image: appendix a).
  7. ASCII Art: Albert Einstein - Theory of Relativity - Physics.
  8. Walter Isaacson: Einstein: His Life and Universe.
  9. Wikiquote: Buckminster Fuller, 1970s.
  10. Reddit: r/antiwork.
  11. YouTube: “antiwork reddit mod vs fox news (just the clip)”.
  12. YouTube: Rugby vs Football.
  13. Wikipedia: Bertrand Russell.
  14. Bertrand Russell: In Praise of Idleness.
  15. YouTube: This is Extremely Dangerous to Our Democracy.
  16. Ricky Gervais: I Absolutely Love Dogs.
  17. Dr. Michael Sugrue: Marcus Aurelius' Meditations: The Stoic Ideal.
  18. Nicky Case: “Fireflies”.
  19. New Books Network (Mathematics): Music, Math, and Mind - The Physics and Neuroscience of Music - David Sulzer (full transcript: appendix b).
  20. Sir Ken Robinson: RSA ANIMATE: Changing Education Paradigms.
  21. The Origins Podcast: Brian May - The Origins Podcast with Lawrence Krauss, quote at 13:35.
  22. Beeldbank Kortrijk: Kasteeltje.
  23. Beeldbank Kortrijk: found this image under the collection Albéric Goethals, but I cannot seem to locate this exact image any more.
  24. Pete Mortimer, Nick rosen: Valley Uprising.
  25. Jodi Wilmott, surfer - the bar: Rodney Mullen - Talk Story.
  26. VICE: Skater Ben Raemers’ Tragic Death Sparked a Mental Health Movement | Skating and Talking.
  27. Thrasher Magazine: Jim Greco's "Jobs? Never!!" Film.
  28. PlasticPills: Cybersocialism: Project Cybersyn & The CIA Coup in Chile (Full Documentary by Plastic Pills).
  29. Wikipedia: Galileo Galilei.
  30. NASA: What Is Gravity?
  31. Goodreads: Diogenes the Cynic: Sayings and Anecdotes, with Other Popular Moralists, by Robin Hard, §85.

Appendix.

  1. Matthew Inman: The Oatmeal - Exposure.
    Artist working for exposure, by Matthew Inman.
  2. New Books Network (Mathematics): Music, Math, and Mind - The Physics and Neuroscience of Music - David Sulzer, at 30m 42s.

    Galina Limorenko: “…from neuroscience, you're also an accomplished musician. So can you tell us how did you get interested in music?”

    David Sulzer: “That's a hard one for me…I've grown up with music. I've played instruments…since I was eight…I've always had a love for music. I did spend a couple of years making a living as a musician. It's an adventure, I'm glad I did it. But it's very hard making a living as a musician. I continue to make music because I'm making a living at something else. It allows me to work on music I want to work on. Not everybody can…I think these days most musicians make a living doing something else. There's just not enough money to support many people. This was not always true. I remember in the eighties and nineties—and this will sound like an exaggeration—I knew hundreds of people making a living as a musician. I mean personally I knew hundreds. Now I know very [inaudible: few?]. So, until we figure out our way out of that box, musicians are gonna have to make a living doing something other than create music. I wish I had a better answer for it. It's not only true for musicians, but on the other hand, I think because of the boom and things like television production and serials and so on, there are many more people making a living in film making than there were before. It's the people who are writing music for those films [that] make less…we used to be able to hire orchestras to play the film soundtrack, which was just great fun and you learned a lot and it was very creative. Frustrating but creative, and a real challenge. Now you're pretty much expected to make it all at home on your computer. Which is a different kind of challenge and worthwhile but, you're not working with an orchestra, and that's really a major loss. In that way it's like science; would you really rather do everything on your computer screen, all the time…and do it all with analytical methods by writing software, or would you rather work with other human beings. So that's a loss. I hope it comes back.”

    “Anyway I'm lucky that while most of us musicians have to make a living doing something else—even if it's teaching—at least I'm doing something that I really care about. You know, science, studying nature, it's wonderful. As you already know, in some ways it's a tough living. It's tough in different ways that other livings are tough. It's still an enormous challenge all the time. I'm grateful that I can do something I care about. So many other people are doing jobs…most people don't really want to do their jobs. And for a scientist it's different, we actually do want to do our jobs.”

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