Work and Laziness

Part of the many Universal Basic Income discussions is the nature of work. It is a question of whether the people who were given all the basic needs to survive will lose interest in striving toward higher things and not live their lives to their full potential, simply watching TV, and doing nothing.

The complaint that you will become lazy if money were given to you usually comes from rich people and from their own self-reflections. It is the same type of complaint given by parents who punishing their children for becoming, behaving, and looking like them. As they hate themselves they cannot stand their own reflection.

Let’s explore this work and laziness relation a bit more by examine what work and laziness mean. From the Oxford dictionary definitions:

Work (wəːk): an activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a result.
Laziness (ˈleɪzɪnəs): the quality of being unwilling to work or use energy; idleness.

A more broad definition of work, which is hardwired into our system, is directly related to a job and the need to earn money. We work to get money, so that we can use it for our daily needs and to buy goods.

Photo source: "Meditation Sri Lanka" by Amila Tennakoon *3

Since we were kids, we were taught different types of skills, skills that will help us in the future. By giving us chores, tasks, and different lessons we needed to master at home and in school, we were prepared to be independent; we were trained to survive.

Those survival skills are not the same for everyone; they largely vary in relation to time and civilisation development. Tribes from Africa would probably not understand what office work means, and, if they could watch office people from a distance, they would probably think that as office people are lacking in basic survival skills, they are destined to die from starvation. The bushman could hardly survive in a modern city on his own, just as the office person would fail to survive in wild savannas or jungles.

For some, work may mean hunting or gathering, but, for someone else, it may mean breeding cattle, working in a factory, or being behind a desk, crunching numbers using a computer. Work can also have a creative nature: producing paintings, songs, novels, scientific discoveries, and inventions.

In one way, the nature of work is the physical or intellectual effort that will provide us with commodities, but it also has the nature of optimising both the processes and the work itself, making it less difficult to carry out. In that sense, the improvement of civilisation is nothing but discovering new ways to make our survival much easier in the long run.

Our greatest misunderstanding about the nature of work lies in our inability to predict what that “effort” will look like in the future. Just as there is a civilisation discrepancy between “lost tribes” and modern civilisations in their understanding of work, there can be a misunderstanding between two generations that are just few decades apart. When accumulated knowledge is exponentially growing, the ability to predict future can be increasingly difficult. Effectively, the blue collar working class will struggle to understand why some kid with a computer may earn more in a few weeks than they will earn during their entire lives by working physically-demanding jobs. In the same way, today’s office generation may struggle to understand why future people may be provided with resources for free for seemingly not doing anything.

Furthermore, this discrepancy in understanding different technological capabilities in human generations can cause the older generation (because they are missing the frame of reference) to confuse the already-optimised process for laziness.

For a physical worker, mental work can be considered laziness; however, for the intellectual worker, Buddhist monks in the middle of mediation, transcending mortal toils, can be also labelled as lazy.

So, is “laziness” an issue?

Our desire for laziness is the best thing that could happen to us; for all our comfort and technological progress, we can largely thank laziness. The desire to be lazy and have more free time, where we can enjoy and play, has created everything we have today. In the beginning, we needed to work very hard, in order to survive. Back then, to enjoy more in life we had two options: to go to war for looting/pillaging or to work harder.

With time, we gathered the knowledge of how to hunt, grow food, make fire, cook, and improve on tools, which made life easier. With every invention, we freed a bit more time for fun and leisure. Our laziness made our brains work better, shifting our efforts from the physical plane to the mental plane. All that, so we could find a way to be in our natural state of being: to wonder, to be amazed, and to play. Without that desire to be lazy, we would probably be satisfied with what we could find on the trees or could scatter on the open fields.

On the other hand, laziness, by definition, is an impossibility. The definition says that laziness is “unwillingness to use work (physical or mental) or use energy.” Just by being human, we use energy, and, even if we decide to lay and do nothing, we will think and use mental energy. Even the best-trained monks in states of deep meditation or people in a coma (a state of deep unconsciousness) will still spend some mental and physical energy.

We should embrace laziness, and, when we work, we should work in line with it. We do not like menial, boring, and repetitive jobs. Why else would we invent so many shortcuts? Food processing, the transportation industry, computer applications, automation, and mobile technology — everything ever invented is to make our lives easier. There is no need to consider laziness as a bad thing. We should accept it as a part of who we are and work in line with it, not against it.

The real issue about laziness is not the type of effort we are providing; our issue with laziness comes from the idea that those who are not giving any social contribution are taking more resources than they are providing. If you aren’t working, building, growing food, paying taxes... you don’t deserve to receive anything from what society has produced. That’s the idea most people hold.

We have created a belief system which says that, in order to live, we have to work, and, in some cases, people are convinced that we have to work hard, so we will contribute more for our families and for our society.

As the consequence of working hard, working also means having less time for play and fun. In order to support such a belief system, the “work” always needed a lot of advertisement. Over time, as the “work hard” idea prevailed, an entire indoctrination training system was created. Usually, it starts at a very young age, when people are trained to stay seated in one place for a certain number of hours. Later in life, that time will gradually increase. Everyone will preach how important it is to do this or that, how to behave, what to do, and how to succeed at work and life. Often, the system will use the carrot and the stick approach: on one side, trying to scare people with what will happen from not working hard, and, on the other end, the celebrities and wealthy people enjoying all the riches of a material life, presented as a prize for those who work hard.

Every single piece of this illusion is carefully constructed, and most people will follow the same path, lured by the carrot on one end and scared by the stick on the other. The paradox is that those who were presented as a “carrot” rarely ever got there by working hard to achieve the successes they are enjoying, and most of those people who worked really hard for their entire lives never got to the point of enjoying the riches by which they were lured.

That entire construction was created for the sake of advertising the same system of values that was supposed to keep the engine running indefinitely.

The best things in the world do not require any marketing: nature, air, water, food, sex... You know those are good; they do not need any advertisements. You know, as your life depends on those. It is imprinted in your DNA.

When we enjoy something, we are willing to engage. It is in our nature to be curious, to explore, and to play. But doing hard, boring, and repetitive things is not.

Before, in order to make things happen, ruling classes were compelled to create some kind of incentive that would push the working class to do the work that was necessary at the time. That incentive was created in the form of a system where you won’t be able to survive without working hard.

The system also created a false image, in which we all have the freedom to choose, improve, and work in the way we desire, assuring us that “with enough effort, anyone can succeed.” But, that was not and is not true. In reality, a pyramidal system does not allow everyone to succeed. Furthermore, those who are beginning from the bottom have significantly less numbers of choices than those on the top. Those beginning from poverty do not have the same access to clean water, quality food, sanitation, health care, education, and other privileges wealthy people enjoy.

Because of the system, the meanings of work and laziness have changed. Now — when we are technologically so advanced that soon there will be no need for any types of manual work, and there will be no need for many types of intellectual work — we need to go back to our roots and rethink work and its purpose — and change the system and its rules.

Increasing automation is only a problem when it is considered through the prism of the existing system, where only the rich elite has the privilege of enjoying resources. But, if we consider it as a tool of achieving the goal of laziness for everyone, then, instead of being a problem, the same tools become the solution.

As Swami Prabhupada once said: “First class-man is lazy intelligent. He knows the value of life. He's thinking soberly. Just like, you will find, all our great saintly persons. They were living in the forest, (performing) meditation, tapasya (austerity), and writing books.” *1

The goal of human beings from the beginning was to become lazy, and not just any kind of lazy. A person’s goal should be to become lazy-intelligent: one who spends his time on Earth exploring higher things, intellectually engaging himself in affairs that other animals cannot do.

“I choose a lazy person to do a hard job.
Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.”
- Bill Gates

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