The Frailty of the Protestant Work Ethic
BY MARTIN MIDDLEBROOK
I always said to myself that the moment I started to enjoy a beach holiday, it was probably time to slip this mortal coil. But this is what I have just done. Damn. Really enjoyed it. Damn. And it’s not as though I jumped into it with both feet, a scuba dive here, a windsurf there. I just sat on my sunbed for seven days and watched people endlessly walk by. I have goaded myself that this was all observational stuff, witnessing socio-economic shifts, a drama unfolding, a changing world. And that was all true of course - the beach demographic was an utterly fascinating thing. I could have stayed a while longer. Alain de Botton could have written his magnum opus on the correlation between poverty and obesity. It was profoundly interesting stuff to me.
But, although I became frequently bored and occasionally snorkelled in an ocean devoid of fish, or headed for the bar, anything to break the monotony, I couldn’t get up for very much else. I did get up at 5am on the first morning and witnessed the most spectacular of sunrises, but this was merely a symptom of crossing six time zones. I promised myself that I would witness the next six sunrises too, and honestly, I set my alarm - but I failed to rise. I could have beaten myself senseless for my indolence, but instead I had an English breakfast and basted myself like next year’s Christmas dinner with sunscreen.
Now, I know what your thinking. Your thinking, boy this isn’t much of an adventurers ‘call to arms’, preaching from the pulpit, the philosophy of stoicism - here’s a man who has plumped a few cushions and slumped into modernity’s sofa. And I confess you would be right. But boy, do I feel better for it, my head is buzzing with new plans. And this is something that I have just recently learned. Every so often my head needs a reset.
We are all different of course. I’m not an eight hour a night person, and neither am I Napoleon, chugging through a decent red before grabbing a power nap and crossing borders. I am somewhere in between. And those countless hours I have just spent staring on a beach have done me the world of good. So here is my point, after 377 words, I would like to propose the following. We live in a world where we are required to work and sleep at a phenomenally disproportionate rate. This capitalist triste with the devil has become poison to the happiness of many - and we have forgotten how to stop, how to rest, to sit back and look - and to do so without beating ourselves senseless for just being people. Just being people is no longer enough is it?
I recall as a child watching ‘Tomorrow’s World’, and being fascinated by all the labour-saving devices that the BBC promised would bring a world of leisurely laziness - that was it wasn’t it, the aprés WWII push to a life of 30 hour weeks and self-cleaning everything. It all seemed so gleamingly lovely. The gleamingly lovely has certainly materialised, but not the leisurely laziness. And I can’t help feeling this is our fault, and that by drinking in all this poison, we have forgotten how to recharge. How to live perhaps.
I am back in my apartment in Paris, the holiday will soon reside deep in my long-term memory, and occasionally I suspect I will dip in and take a look and try to remember what it was all about. Was it happy laziness, or intrinsically required, was it tipping a hat to some basic human need or a graze on my personal socialistion? I am still conflicted on these things, it is after all too soon to say. But I know this; when I sat in an airport lounge ten days ago looking at a departure board, very little was going on in my head. But now it has returned to that happy state of nuclear fusion, pumping out huge amounts of ideas, which experience tells me will soon manifest itself as new adventures.
I read once that the length of a national anthem is usually inversely proportional to that country's global importance. It’s a witty epithet for sure. But to extrapolate I might propose that we all stop once in a while, stare at the ocean and make obscenely unjust generalisations about the world - because on reflection, I think it may be the perfect tonic.