What is leisure?

What is leisure?

"Leisure is only a problem in a society in which education is aimed at adjusting the individual to society instead of bringing out and developing the potentialities in him [sic] irrespective of whether they can be translated into hard cash or wages."

- unsigned editorial in Freedom magazine


We at CLAWS feel that leisure has gotten a bad rap, and we invite you to re-think your concept of "leisure time". It's not just what you do when you're not working. Leisure is a way of thinking, a way of being, a way of approaching life that brings joy...not just a distraction, a waste of time, or a way to occupy the hours until one is working again. August Heckscher puts it well in an essay called "Leisure in America", taken from Why Work? Arguments for the Leisure Society
(bold emphasis ours):

"What are the characteristics of free time at its best? It cannot mean time at which our momentary whim is completely in control of our activities. It cannot mean wholly unstructured time, when we wander without any bounds or limits. In every lifetime, and particularly in youth and old age, there is need for such idleness and contemplation; but the times that are most free are those in which we find ourselves engaged in what we have chosen, with some attainable objective in view and some rough pattern to govern our endings and beginnings. Hobbies can fulfill this function; so can civic activities, sports, travel, cooking. I say they can fulfill the function of freedom. Too often they do not; for they are undertaken with a sense of compulsiveness.

The quality of free time--the degree of freedom that it contains--depends upon characteristics both of the individual citizen and of society at large. The conformist is never free--not because he [sic] happens to be doing the same thing as others, but because he is doing it for reasons which have no relation to his inner being."

Heckscher has provided here a wonderful summary of the CLAWS way of thinking about leisure. In essence, it comes down to an attitude. It does not follow that because someone is doing a "leisure" activity (say, for example, flying a kite), that said person is enjoying true leisure. It may be a way of trying to "de-stress", wind down from work or distract oneself from feelings of emptiness. Nor does it follow, we might add, that because someone is doing a "work" activity, they are a wage slave. Whether or not someone gets paid for work is not the criteria here. The presence or absence of feelings of coercion, however, is important.

So when we say we are pro-leisure, we do not mean that "everyone should sit around drinking Pina Coladas all day", though we're reasonably sure that a day or ten of relaxation never hurt anyone. Although that kind of life might be fun for awhile, particularly if we've already spent years with our noses to the grindstone in the service of "getting ahead", it's likely that once we were fully relaxed, we'd eventually feel a desire to engage in something productive of our own choosing. The CLAWS concept of leisure espouses freedom: freedom to experience joy in both productive and non-productive activities, and freedom from fear of not being able to meet one's needs without being employed in the service of someone else's idea of what is productive and valuable.

And when we say we are anti-wage-slavery, we do not mean that all jobs are evil and people should never do anything productive. We are saying, however, that productive, paid activities (or lack thereof) should not be linked to people's anxieties about providing money, shelter, food, or survival. And how many of us really understand how to fully enjoy spending a big chunk of time at leisure, without guilt or shame?

Consider this wistful reflection from someone returning to work:
"I really thought that once I left work that I'd really enjoy having nothing to do and then I realized I don't know how to do nothing. I didn't have any hobbies. I didn't have any interests. Work was what I always really enjoyed."

If that rings true for you, you're not alone. We at CLAWS believe it's high time for more of us to begin learning how to do nothing. Don't laugh - it's not as easy as it may sound, at least not for those of us brought up on the Puritan work ethic! Really doing NOTHING may bring up anxiety about being seen as a "bum", an identity crisis (who am I without my job?) or a nagging sense of guilt.

Guilt about not being "productive enough" is a manifestation of the Puritan work ethic. If you feel guilty, inadequate, or undeserving when you are "goofing off" (meaning not engaged in something productive, usually for pay), consider the fact that if there were no wage slavery, concepts such as goofing off would be meaningless. There would simply be activities, and people doing them, or not doing them. Neither would be elevated as some kind of virtue, condemned as some sort of trap, or used as reason to deny them the necessities and comforts of life.

See also: The Living Gently Philosophy on Leisure

"Work and play are words used to describe the same thing under differing conditions."
- Mark Twain

"Few Americans even know what 'leisure' really means, and commonly confuse it with recreation or time off from work, even if that time is spent doing chores."
- Shannon Mullen, "Millenium Changes Definition of Leisure", USA Today (5/27/99)

"The individual, in our society, works for profit; but the social purpose of his work lies in the consumption of what he produces. It is this divorce between the individual and the social purpose of production that makes it so difficult for men to think clearly in a world in which profit-making is the incentive to industry."
- Bertrand Russell

"In a society that enforces a schizoid split between Work and Leisure, we have all experienced the trivialization of our "free time", time which is organized neither as work nor as leisure."
- Hakim Bey

"[Play] comes to be viewed by its participants as pleasurable but inessential, except as an interstice between sleep and productive labor. [But] the substance of human liberation may be realized in the play element...play represents the flowering of the imagination unfettered by the constraints of material necessity."
- Stanley Aronowitz, False Promises

"The creative and rewarding use of leisure should be at least as central a concern as the need for meaningful work."
- Paul Wachtel, The Poverty of Affluence