Politics is work and work needs breaks

by KatjaGraceMeteuphoric2 min read4th Nov 20191 comment


Public DiscoursePolitics

A post written a few years ago, posting now during a time of irrelevance (as far as I know with my limited attention on politics or social media) so as not to be accidentally taking a side in any specific political debates.


Alexandra What has happened is shocking and everyone should oppose it.

Beatrice I’m eating a sandwich. It is better than I expected.

Alexandra I can’t believe you would write about a sandwich at a time like this. Don’t you oppose what happened?

(Claire is excited by the breakfast bread discussion but guesses that contributing a picture of her bagel is pretty inappropriate and looks at SMBC instead.)

People break up their time into work and leisure. You might think of work vs. leisure as roughly ‘doing stuff because other people pay for it’ vs. ‘doing stuff because you want to’. You can also think of it as roughly ‘effortful’ vs. ‘relaxing’. Often these categories align—other people pay you to do effortful things, and the things you want to do are more relaxing. They don’t always align. Helping your aged relative go to the doctor might be effortful but a thing you do because you want to, or your job might be so easy that you come home with a bunch of energy for challenging tasks.

I’m going to call these ‘resting-‘ vs. ‘challenged-‘ and ‘-boss’ vs. ‘-employee’. So entirely free time is mostly resting-boss and paid work is usually challenged-employee. But you can also get resting-employee and challenged-boss activities. This all maybe relies on some models of rest and attention and effort and such that don’t work out, but they seem at least close the models that most people practically rely on. For whatever reason, most people prefer to spend a decent fraction of their time doing non-effortful things, unless something terrible will happen soon if they don’t.

People mostly use social media as leisure, both in the sense that nobody would intentionally pay them for it, and in the sense that it is not effortful. When important political things are happening, social media naturally turns to discussion of them. Which, if you are lucky, might be thoughtful analysis of world affairs, with a bunch of statistics and rethinking your assumptions and learning new facts about the world. Which is all great, but it is not leisure in the ‘not effort’ sense. When I need a break from researching the likely social consequences of artificial intelligence, moving to researching the likely social consequences of changing identity politics in America does not hit the spot as well as you might hope. I assume something similar is true of many people.

When there are opportunities to move a lot of leisure time from resting-boss idle chat to challenged-boss political discussions, people can be appalled when others do not redirect their use of social media to talking about the problem. They are thinking, ‘when you are doing what you want, you should be wanting this! If you would really spend your limited time on pictures of animals that look like pastry when you can help to stop this travesty, you are terrible!’

However this means moving time that was in ‘relaxing’ to ‘effortful’, which as far as I can tell is not super sustainable. In the sense that people usually need to spend some amount of time relaxing to be happy and able to do effortful things at other times. Redistributing all of the relaxing time to effortful time makes sense when there is a very immediate threat—for instance, your house is on fire, or you have a deadline this week that will cause you to lose your job if you don’t dedicate all of your time to it. However if you have a problem on the scale of months’ or years’ worth of effort, I think most people would favor making that effort as a sustainable trek, with breaks and lunch and jokes. For instance, if you are trying to get tenure in a few years, many would predict that you are less likely to succeed if you now attempt to ban all leisure from your life and work all of the time.

When there are political events that seem to some people to warrant talking about all of the time, and some people who really don’t want to, I think this less implies a difference in concern about the problem than you might think. The disagreeing parties could also be framing work and leisure differently, or disagreeing over how short-lived the important problem is, or when the high leverage times for responding to it are.


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I think this framing of work and leisure with an incisive look at the never-ending conversations around the forever updating policial details of our social landscape is very pertinent. I also want to thank you for the detailed explanation. I am going to further investigate or rather ponder about, then, what has neoliberalism and post-capitalism done to define or re-define 'work' and 'leisure'. I mean the mere terms and not even the quality of theses concepts.